Dornans of Skerry East

I have been researching my family history for some time and have hit a bit of a dead end. Hopefully someone may be able to point me in the right direction.

My Great Grand Father was James Dornan (or Dornin) born in Skerry, East. Newtoncrommelin on 1st May 1877.

His mothers name was Martha and he had no father listed on his birth certificate. I'm told that he was not Catholic.

By age 14 he had moved Scotland and was working as a miner in Old Monklands. I am also from Scotland.

There seem to be a few Dornans in Newtoncrommelin engaged in Farming and Mining. I cant find anything much of either Martha or James, but there are Martha Dornans recorded marrying a a James McSeveney (McSaviny) and a Thomas Mooney.

Any help appreciated !


Skerry East is fairly small. 65 houses there in the 1901 census. Martha Dornan was single when she gave birth to James on 1.5.1877. I think therefore you can eliminate the Martha who married Samuel McSeveny on 21.4.1877. If that woman was James’ mother she’d have been “McSeveny formerly Dornin” on the birth certificate, and her husband’s name would appear too, unless for some reason he objected. This is that other Martha in the 1901 census:

The marriage of Martha Dornan to Thomas Mooney on 24.10.1882 seems likely to be the same Martha who was the mother of James born 1877. Both lived in Skerry East.


Martha’s father was William, a farmer, so this may be him in the 1901 census:

There were 4 other Dornan households in the townland, all were Presbyterian, and all were likely related:

Martha’s birth would have been before the start of statutory birth registration in Ireland (1864) so you would need church baptism records to find it and any siblings. That’s probably Newtown Crommelin Presbyterian church. Their records start in 1835 and are in PRONI (the public record office) in Belfast.

Possible death of William Dornan in 1901:


Here’s his probate abstract:

Administration (with the Will) of the personal estate of William Dornan late of Skerry East Newtowncrommelin County Antrim Farmer who died 9 August 1901 granted at Belfast to Agnes Dornan Spinster.

The will is on-line on the PRONI wills site and mentions son James, daughters Agnes & Jane and grand-daughter Martha Carson. William’s wife Catherine had pre-deceased him on 28.4.1901. The informant for her death was Martha Mooney of Skerry East:


This looks to be Martha Mooney in 1901:

She’s a widow though I don’t see Thomas’s death in the records.

The grand-daughter Martha Carson mentioned in William’s will is probably Martha born 25.4.1874 at Ballylig to James Carson (a miner) and Mary Anne Dornan.
Thank you so much for your input, both some new information and your insights. What has thrown me for a long time is that my Great Grandfather James had a lot of false information on his marriage certificate in 1896. He claimed he was older and his mother was married to a Dornan. His wife Margaret Starrs was also illegitimate. I guess there was a lot of stigma at the time which may have prompted the subterfuge, but also suggest he was estranged from his mother by then. james marriage.jpg

Martha (Dornan) Mooney died in Motherwell in 1933.
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A lot of information on birth, death & marriage certificates was taken on trust. Unlike today, no documentary evidence was required, so certificates from the 1800s are full of mistakes, lies and inaccurate information. An informant for a death certificate might not have known too much about the deceased’s parents and so would guess some of the information. Ages might be out by 10 years or more. A bride or groom might “promote” their father from labourer to farmer, and obviously illegitimacy was often glossed over, with an unknown father’s name added when there was none to add.

With an illegitimate birth, the father’s name can only be included on the birth certificate if he is present at the registration and confirms paternity. Otherwise his name is left blank. That’s the one time leaving a section blank is the norm. With a married couple there’s a “presumption of legitimacy” and so the father’s name is added automatically, unless he specifically objects. But with illegitimate births, you wouldn’t want the mother naming someone who might not actually be the father, and so the father must be there, in order to be named on the certificate. And the clue to look for then (on English & Irish certificates) is the fact that the word “formerly” is deleted under the mother’s name. In Scotland you also have the date and place the parents married recorded on the certificate. Which is omitted if they are not married. That information is not recorded on Irish or English birth certificates though.

If you are interested in finding out who James’s father was, it might be worth looking at the baptism records I mentioned previously. Sometimes the father’s name will be shown or mentioned. It may say “father reputedly John Smith” or similar. In cases where the couple still had a relationship and the father attended the baptism, both names will be inserted with “illegitimate” or similar in the comments section. I have even seen “Parents: John Smith and Jane Bloggs, his concubine”. Always entertaining stuff.

It sounds as though Martha didn’t take James with her when she married Thomas Mooney. James was presumably left with her parents (his grandparents). That may not have been a happy arrangement and could account for his departure to Scotland at such a young age.