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My father, Robert George Torrens (4 Aug. 1903 to 12 May 1981), was very interested in genealogy. For a wedding present was given a copy of part of an American book on the Torrens / Torrance / Torrence family (Torrence and Allied families, by Robert Torrence). This book lists our line down to 1938 or thereabouts, when it was published. Also I was given copies of our family tree.
I hadn't been particularly interested in genealogy when my father had been alive but, in a moment of boredom, I started drawing up the family tree in a drawing program. It was kind of interesting. But the drawing program wasn't the right tool. So I acquired a proper genealogy program - and was hooked.
Soon I'd entered my own line, then the whole of the Torrens section RMT book (if I'd known how much work that would be..), then I acquired the first Torrens book, by Jared Sidney Torrance, and entered the American branch of our line.
Then I started hunting Torrenses on the Internet. Soon after this one Linde Lunney found me: she appears to be the acknowledged expert on the Bann Valley Torrenses and their descendants: for many months we have been communicating by email and I have had a very diligent tutor.
It gradually became clear that the two American books didn't present a convincing picture of the early Irish Torrenses. See The Case Against Sergeant Hugh for a detailed explanation of our misgivings. But when you suspect errors in a major family tree you are left having to look at the whole available data afresh. Could we get enough data to reassemble the now dismantled branches and perhaps fit more together than previously?
I knew that my father had a lot of notes, but my brother had acquired them. Eventually he released them to me: there is a large box full of paper. No wonder he had to bring them to me in person!
It turned out that in 1977, after several years of searching, my father, Robert George Torrens, had contacted Robert Grier Torrence in Vermont. R. Grier T. was the son of Robert McIlvane T. who had written the 'sequel' to Jared Sidney T.'s book. It was clear to RGT that RMT had access to the original papers, the result of searches in the Irish Archives between 1918 and 1921, just before the bombing of the Four Courts.
I now have all the correspondence between RGT and RGT (they felt united by the commonality of initials). All R Grier's effects were in storage. He knew that his father had a lot of genealogy papers, but didn't know where they were in the store. But eventually he unpacked the correct box and there were all the papers from J W Kernohan to Jared Sidney Torrance, with all the reports on Kernohan's searches.
R. Grier offered to send them all to my father. Unfortunately soon after this my father died and I have a letter from my brother, Hugh Simon Torrens, to R Grier, informing him and asking whether R Grier wished the papers to be returned or put into safe keeping. R Grier's reply is on file - and does not request return of the papers. They are now in my possession.
These papers have been transcribed and are available in the documents area.
But the story really starts in the early 1900s when Jared Sidney Torrance was tracing his genealogy. Like a lot of good stories, it starts with a flashback....
Jared had investigated his American lineage through many names. He had his own line back to his immigrant ancestors and he had presumably also traced a whole lot of other American Torrances and Torrences. With a name as unusual as this, when you get several 'different' lines all apparently immigrants from the same place, surely they must have been related. Jared's line were all -ance, most of the others spelled their name -ence yet this simply added more allure to the quest. The letters (which I shall present on this site in due course) clearly indicate that Jared thought they were all related. He set about to prove it.
Jared was singularly lucky in having found three letters from home written to and from his early ancestors. The first a letter to home from a guilt ridden emigrant who had lost contact. This is reproduced as a photograph in Jared's book and the text is presented here as near as possible to the original, complete with quaint spelling.
Middlebury October 29th 1803
Dear Brother and Sister
In the year 1754 I Left my Native Cuntery
Ireland and Landed in America I left a farther and Mother in the
Parish of Augheduway in the County of of Londonderry
By the names of (His) Hugh Torrance and hers Elenor Tor-
rance - I am Now 67 years of age a widdower Since Janu
-ary the 29th 1798 I have five Children (viz) Two Sons & three Dau
ghters one of each is maried I am healthy for a man
of my years my family is so likewise I am in Posesion
of a Property addequate to all my wants
A history of my Life Since I Left my Native Cuntery
would Be nothing extraordinary or entertaining. But Be
-ing So far advanced in life and having never heard from
any of my Relations Since I left them. But threw the Med
-ium of our Public NewsPapers hear of of the wars Both Intern
-al and External must Conclude that it is unhappy for all grad
-es of People whatever I have thought it no Less than my
Duty as a Christian to writ to Learn if Posiable what the
Situation of my friends ware and invite them to a hospita
-ble Shore a Cuntery of Peace and Plenty or Learn at Least
their Circumstances and Request them to write me a leter
on the Receit of this, and Direct it to Robert Torrance
Middlebury, Addison County Vermont North America
- But should there be no Traces of my Family Left
then I Solicit the Friendly hand of some honnist harted furth
-er to Let me know what was the fate of my Friends or
what Cuntery that they have fled to and as in Duty Bou
-nd with gratitude Shall ever acknowledge their kindness
- But should my Brother (Thomas Torrence) or either
of my Sisters (whose Maiden Names were Jane, Marther and
Molly Torrance) yet remain in, I wish them to Leave a Cuntery whose
civil wars and entestine Broils has Destroyd the
Peace of its inhabitants and Leaves the unfortunate
to Suffer with want, and Fly to a Land of health
and happiness that abounds with all the Luxurys
that life Requires or Thinkin man can wish for -
My Famely all Sends there Compliments to there uncles aunts and Cousends
This from your Brother
and Mrs Jane Torrence
Augheduway in Ireland
N.B. Middlebury is 270 Miles from Newyork But Pasing
By Newyork to Albany By Water which can Be done every
Day By Coasting or River Sloops Leave But 111 Miles
from Albany to Middlebury - from Boston to Middlebury
it is only 170 Miles
But Should my Brother or Sister or any of my Cousins
write to me and send it By some Safe Conveyance to
America with Directions for it to be Put into the Mail there
whould Be no Doubt But it would reach me amediately.
Robert was clearly in need of contact with home and it's been so long that he doesn't know if his family still survive. So (fortunately for us genealogists) he lists his family - all except for his youngest brother, Hugh. And it is Hugh who replies! Also - again a stroke of fortune - he was so guilt-ridden that he penned and re-penned the letter. This version published is (probably) not the final version, but a near final copy that he retained and which was preserved, so that eventually it fell into the hands of Jared.
Here is Hugh's reply:
Mayoghle 1st of May 1804
I Take the oppertunity of Informing You
that We are all well at present Hoping these Lines May
find You in the Same We received Your letters on the 31st
of March and the 24th of Aprile Both Dated October 30th 1803
Which Gave us Great Comfort in Hearing that You and
and Your family were well we little Expected that Ever
we Should Have Rec d. Such Satisfactory Account Concerning
You it being So long Since any Account Came from you
that Our Conclusions were that You Had been Dead Long
ere this Your Mother Died in the 63 d Year of her Age
Your father Died in the 84th year of his Age Your Sister
Jeane Died in October 1802 Aged 74 years. Your Sister Martha
marid Wm Hog of Caheny and is Gone to America 30 Years
Ago She is in S. Carolina Your Sister Mary Marid Neal
McFebrich of Mayoghle She is a Widow these 15 Years
Your Brother Tho's Died the 10th of Apprile last Aged 65
Years I have 3 Children Viz one Son and 2 Daughters Jas Elen
and Sarah and 2 of them are Marid I winder Much of
Your not Mentioning Me in Your letter of Course You
Cannot Have forgot Me You May Remimber I was
About 7 or 8 years old when you left this Contry. I
Live on the Same place you Left us I am 58
years of Age and thank God has a Tolerable Good State
of Helth I understand you think there are Scarcly any
of your Relations in being on Acc't. Of the War which took
Place in this Kingdom but thank God we are all in
and About where You left us Towards the West of this
Kingdom and Dublin the Had prety Tight work for some
Time but the Ribles were Soon Scatered and Thousands of
them were Kill'd and oblig.d To fly their Contry and
Those who were found were Numbers of them Hang.d and
Transported into Diferent Kingdoms but Thank God none
of your Relations ever Suffr.d any Harm by it We are
all prety well fixed in ways of Living but I W'd Be Glad
that if you thought if Would Answer us to Go to that
Contry that You Would write to us in your next letter
in Case My Brother is Dead I Request that Some
of his Sons will write to Me and let (and let) Me
I Know What Kind of Settlement you have or if its
Long Since You Settled in that place When you write
Direct to Hugh or Ja's Torrance, Mayoghle I have
little More to Mention to you but My family all
Sinds their Compliments to you & your family Whilst
I Remain Your Afectionate Brother till Death
My Sister Jean has a Son in America named
John Torrance the last Account we Rec'd
From him he Lived in Chester 15 Miles From
Poor Hugh - he's evidently disappointed that his big brother had forgotten him. And of course he lists Roberts almost-forgotten family in some detail.
But Robert in America had, unbeknown to him, an Irish nephew who clearly was in awe of his distant uncle, after whom (we presume) he had been named. He very much wanted to follow his uncle into the new world. It seems that Young Robert may actually have realised this ambition but returned to his homeland, as we shall see.
Here is young Robert's letter.
Mr. Robert Torrance
County Vermont North
America to be put into
the Mail at New York
Nocarah, 16th of June 1804
I write to let You know the State of Your friends in Ireland
and that they are all in Helth at present hoping the Arival of
these lins May find you in the Same
We Received Your 2 letters one on the 31st of March and
the other on the 20th Aprile both Dated October 30th 1803 which
We never Expected to have Rec'd any acc.t Concerning You it
being So long time Since Any Acc.t Came from You that our
thoughts were that You had been Dead Longe ere this You think
there are Scarcely any Remains of Your family left in Ireland
on acc.t of the wars which we have had in this Contry but I
Can Inforn You to the Contrary and that none of Us or your
friends Ever Sufered any Hurt By it. little it ever took place
in this North part of the Kingdom Towards the West of Ireland
and Dublin for About 2 Monthes the had prety Tight play but
the Ribles were Oblig.d to Yield with much Loss but I have wrote
You a letter before this which Shall Give You the Whole inteligence
of the Mater, Your Mother Died in the 63rd Year of her
Age Your father Died in the 84th Year of his age Your Sister
Jean Died in Oct.r 1802 Aged 74 Years She had 14 Children
10 of which are alive viz 5 sons and 5 Daughters I am the
Youngest of her family named Robt I am Aged 26 Years My
brothers and Sisters are all Maried but Another Lad Named
Alex.r he is Aged 50 Years he & I remains with my Father who
is Yet Alive he is Aged 86 Years and Thank God has a Tollerable
Good State of helth I have often heard My Mother Reflect on
You that You were So ungrateful as Never to Send her a letter
or any acc.t of What Situation you were in the World She
Enjoyd a God State of helth whilst alive She was as Clever a
woman of her Years perhaps as you W.d have found Not four
Days Before She was Laid in the Coffin She was More Youthfull
like than a Woman of 40 Years of Age & as Capable of doing
business as Ever she was in the Course of her Life She Continued
Scarcly 3 days under the Disorder which Caried her off on
Friday Evening She went to bed in her proper helth and About
12 O Clock was Taken Bad with a Vomiting and pain in
her Breast but the Vomiting Soon were Got Stop.d but the Grevious
pain in her breast Continued on Still that the passage of her Breast
stop.d So that she Could not Swallow anything which Continued
on her to Monday Morning About 6 O Clock then put a Period
to her Existance
Your Sister Marthar Maried Wm. Hog of Caheny and is
Gone to America About 30 Years Ago Your Brother Tho.s was
Marrid to a Marg.t McComb and liv.d in Mayoghle he died the
10th of Aprile last Aged 64 Years he having 2 Sons and 4
Your Brother Hugh Marid a Jean Cochran and Lives in
Mayoghle he has 3 Children one Son & Two Daughters Your
Sister Mary Maried Neale McFetrich of Mayogle She is a widow
15 Years She has no family in Your next I expect youll let
us Know if it is Long since you Settled in Middlebury and whether
You follow farming or Dealing My father Requests that if You
Know any thing Concerning his Brothers Sam & Thos. Torrance
Youl let him Know in Your next letter for he has Never heard
ant Acc.t from then Since Before the Amerca war Land is Geting
high in this Contry Good Ground is from 20 to 30 Shillings
pr Aere and Taxes of all Kinds as high in proportion if You
think it Would be favorable for us or any of Your friends to Go
to that Contry I expect Youl let us Know in Your next letter
however Im Determined to Go to America in the Course of
Another Year if Helth Permits My father and all our family
Together with Your friends in Mayoghle Send their Complements
to You & family
I am yours . . . . . . Rob't Torrance
We don't know whether there was further correspondence. Jared mentions none and none survived, as far as we know, in Ireland. However the three letters give a lot of information on the family. This is included in the tree Mayoghill,
Robert's letter of 1804 gives his age as 26 - so he would have been born 1778. However this does not seem right: he also says "Your Sister Jean Died in Oct.r 1802 Aged 74 Years". Jean was his mother. She died nearly two years before the letter when Robert would then have been 24/25 (if his age was indeed 26 when he wrote the letter) so his mother would have been at least 50 when he was born. This sounds highly optimistic and places some doubt on Robert's stated age. We have not seen the original of this letter but only a transcript, so we suspect a transcription error may exist here. See also The Torrens families of Culnamen.
There are three related wills from the Aghadowey area: these three wills all link very well together. These are given as the text files 1770 Ban Alex, 1748 Ban Arch W, 1717 Ban Alex in the documents area. In the third file, Alexander of Mullaghinch bequeaths "To my brother's son Robert Torrans. £2.". Now Mullahinch is but three miles from Nocarah, and about two miles from Mayoghill. It is very clear that Alexander was related to Hugh and we suspect that the Robert in the will is the self-same Robert of Middlebury. No other Robert is known amongst the Bann Valley group at that time. If so it means that Hugh of Mayoughill is the brother of Alexander of Mullahinch and this fit between the two trees does fit all known facts.
The first recorded Torrenses in the Bann Valley were Hugh of Culnamen and Hugh of Mayoughill. See The Early Hughs of the Torrens Family in Ulster. We are trying to establish how the whole group is related as it seems likely that Hugh of Culnamen is the ancestor of the group. Much of this study has been devoted towards the descendants of Jean mentioned in the above letters. See The Torrens families of Culnamen.
My father was at Trinity College, Dublin, in 1922 at the time of the destruction of the Four Courts, he actually watched the shelling. I have transcribed, from my father's notes, a personal recollection of another incident when he nearly lost his life in the troubles.
Also there is an interesting story of how Jared made contact with J W Kernohan and there is a blow by blow account of JWK's finds. JST knew exactly what he wanted JWK to find: JWK never found it. Maybe it never existed - but JST's brief shows that he had made a wrong assumption. If this assumption is un-made (as it now has been) maybe the link does exist, but not where JST told JWK to look. The text of these letters is available
Also available is a transcript of the extract from the 1821 census on the Torrens families in Aghadowey and Desertoghill. This was made for JWK by Philip Crossli and some of its was found its way into PRONI as Crossli MSS Pt B T283 B. The original as sent to JST was a little more detailed. 12K TXT file.
There is also a bundle of Transcribed letters including the American letters and some letters from Jared Sidney T, with some replies.
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