I’m a salmon swimming upstream.
My 7th great grandfather Stephen Arnold sailed from Ireland to America in the early 1700s.
So says the best information gathered so far from nearly 30 years of my genealogical research, along with research by a professional genealogist I hired a while back.
My quest is to find out where Stephen lived in Ireland. This is not easy.
My larger goal is to go a few generations further back to find out if he was actually Irish, Scottish, or from Northern England.
My hunch is the latter. Most “Scotch-Irish” were not Irish at all, and many were not Scottish. They were marginalized English farm laborers looking for a better life. Queen Elizabeth founded some colonies in Northern Ireland (in an attempt to take over the Island—a precursor to the past century of Irish guerilla warfare) and many poor English citizens sailed over to Ireland to attempt a better life. A few decades later, many of them set sail for the even more promising opportunities in the New World.
But in order to know if Stephen Arnold was in this category, I have to find him in Ireland. I have done an extensive video on his life in America, along with his descendents down to my grandfather. But ll I know about his early life, really, is that he appeared on the scene in the frontier of Virginia in about 1752. Nearly everyone in that part of the country at that time was Scotch-Irish. Stephen Arnold married Jane Finney, and I have likely identified her family as living in Londonderry (a Northern Irish port city) in the late 1600s and early 1700s. Jane’s father married a woman named Ann Arnold. Did Jane marry her cousin (not uncommon back then)? If so, Stephen may also have lived in Londonderry.
That’s about all the evidence I had to work with when I visited vast libraries in Northern Ireland. The attendents looked at me with pity. The records are too manifold to be of use without more specific information.
I checked some church records. No luck. Tax rolls, a census, and a list of Protestand households in 1740 all proved unhelpful. I spent the last hour that day thumbing a giant, thick leather book from 1745 with crazy ancient handwriting and the pages burnt around edges (it was probably saved from a fire). This list of 18th century grand jury indictments didn’t help me either. (Stephen Arnold got thrown in debtor’s prison in Virginia. I thought I might find him getting into similar trouble in the motherland.)
So, no success there. That’s okay. I searched records for 15 years before moving from my 3rd to 8th great grandfather all in one day. These days, I’m fiddling with Y DNA research that tracks common paternal ancestors to find some clues and identify others who’ve been on the same trek and hit pay dirt. We’ll see.
I did gain something from the experience of taking a two hour bus trip from Belfast to Londonderry. I saw the likely countryside of my ancestors. It didn’t look particularly interesting until we hit the town of Dungiven, nearer to Londonderry, and I saw the hills and moutains of that area. They look earily similar to the mountains where I gravitated to in Chattanooga, and also like the mountains of Southwestern Virginia, where I grew up, only 30 minutes from the 1000 acres secured by Stephen Arnold in 1752, on the edge of Indian territory.
In my chapter called “The Spirit of Scotland” in my book Old Money, New South, I ruminate on why the Scotch-Irish (and Northern Englishmen, who live in the same mountain range) chose the Appalachians so often for their homes. The answer is that they intinctively recognized the landscape as home. Recent discoveries of a green mineral known as “serpentine” under the Appalachians was followed by a similar discovery of the same mineral underneath the mountain range that cut north/south through Northern England and Scotland. Serpentine is not found anywhere else on the coasts or under the Atlantic. The going theory is that these European mountains and the Appaplachians were all one range before the continents split up and an ocean divided them. The Scotch-Irish really were finding their homeland. Literally.
On the way up, I was moved by these mountains, and particularly by the Sperris Mountain in Dungiven. At that point I didn’t realize that this town in Londonderry County is right next to the town of Feeny. “Finney” is a British derivative of Feeny, and my Finney and Arnold relatives may have lived at or near that very town.