This page has been designed using two frames. The left hand frame (this one) contains the reasoning and the right hand one, the data. This is useful because a narrative such as this cannot be told in a linear fashion, but must of necessity jump around from one item of data to another. This is roughly what happens during the assembly of a tree such as this: data does not arrive in a consistent and logical order, but piecemeal. So the picture doesn't get painted in a consistent manner, but is coloured in gradually and each new item causes one to re-examine the whole picture, maybe re-arranging it.

Thus, for example, whilst discussing the 1796 Garvagh Church Visitation list, I need to consider also the light shed on it by the 1821 census. Use of a separate frame for the data allows you to move around the data whilst reading the narrative.


It is unusual to write a long page on just one family, covering but a few generations. However the family of John Torrence of Culnamen, who married a Jean Torrance, is pivotal to about half of the Torrens families who descend from the Bann valley. There are quite a lot of data available which probably refers to these families and very little true proof of the genealogy. However by dint of many emails and much heated argument, Line Lunney, Annie Fullerton and myself have complied a tree which seems to agree with all the available data. After we realised that this was the probable fit, most of the subsequent data we examined strengthened the original idea!

However there are a few question marks still hanging over the family and the story is an interesting bit of example of deductive logic as applied to an apparently insolvable bit of genealogy which I hope will make interesting reading, even for those not connected to the families.

Besides - we hope that this page will attract other descendants of Jean and John who may throw more light on the problems.

There is a problem with writing up a story such as this: as I write it I am aware of what I know now. Much of this is not true 'fact' but, if you will, proof beyond reasonable doubt. But the evidence proves the facts to me and to me only, who is presenting the story. Maybe I am seeing the facts in the wrong light! Yet we are all interested in finding the facts and, if I portray the story in too hard-set concrete, I could disguise uncertainties. It is proving quite a challenge to write up such heterogeneous data in a concise and readable fashion!

But then even history books have that problem!

The other snag in writing up a page like this is that I am forced to write it, as you read it, in a 'linear' fashion, starting at the start and carrying it through to the end. But the picture was not painted thus. Three of us spent a couple of years exchanging emails, arguing about the interpretation, examining and re-examining each piece of data in light of our interpretations of all the others. A circular examination must be expressed as a linear story!

The documents

Elsewhere on this site is a documents section containing transcripts of all the records found by J W Kernohan for J S Torrence. In text form, the files can be loaded into just about any suitable program and searched. The text contains the maximum possible information from the originals with as little added distraction as possible.

The three letters

The first evidence of the family comes from reading the three letters. These have been quoted elsewhere but are also available in the text archive as 1803Robt, 1804Hugh and 1804Robt.

The letter relevant to this story is the third, from young Robert at Nocarrah. From this we know that Robert's mother is Jean, she had fourteen children of whom five sons and five daughters are living in 1804 and all are married. We do not know the sex of the other four, they may have died young or they may have left families (this is an interpretation of 'My brothers and Sisters are all Married but Another Lad Named Alex.r he is Aged 50 Years'. Robert therefore has a brother, Alexander. Robert's father is mentioned but not named.

The quoted passage also gives an important clue that we will return to. We are now certain that Alexander is, in fact the oldest son - it was very common for the oldest son in families at this time to stay unmarried and to help his parents run the farm. Alex was unmarried in 1804 and, in 1821 census number 12 shows him clearly still unmarried living at No. 48. Interestingly the census lists him as 'spinster'. Kernohan's notes say this must mean widower. In light of all the evidence it quite clearly means bachelor!

Robert states that he is the youngest son and Robert's age at 26 gives his date of birth as 1778. Alex's d.o.b. is 1754.

Note also in the second letter (reply from Hugh of Mayoughill) that Robert has a brother John Torrence who is in America. Although the letters don't give is, Robert's father is named John and, by naming traditions, we might expect this John to be the third son.

John Torrence

It is 'known' that Jean's husband is named John: there can probably be very little doubt of the fact as it does fit so well, and, once you have made the link, all available data seems to strengthen the finding. Yet the only single item of data that actually indicates this, is a comment on the bottom of a letter from JW Kernohan to Jared Sidney Torrance dated 8th March 1920 (the text of this is in the archive file). It states:

From the reference by Robert to address reply to John or Robert, it would seem as if Jean's husband was John.

This passage does not occur in the letter as transcribed in JST's book but Kernohan was a reliable genealogist: that such a passage is quoted by him indicates its existence. We also know that there were only three men in the household, Alexander, Robert and their father. So I agree that any reference to John in the household must be to Jean's husband! Nevertheless although this 'fact' was unknown in JST's book, by the time RMT wrote his, it had become an undisputed known fact! Such are the perils of accepting undocumented genealogy!

The tree so far

As I progress I will show a series of links to GIFs of the tree so far. I am sure you won't all want to download all these GIFs so they are not embedded. Click on them to download them.

The tree so far

Garvagh Church visitation list

The Mayoughill family: Thomas is known to be the son of Hugh (1695-1779) so brother to Robert, the writer of the first letter, from America.

The four other families can be assumed to be brothers: in fact it was the entry in the 'Forty Shilling Freeholds' that led to this insight but such an assumption leads to a picture strengthened by all other known data.

Samuel, his wife Mary Ann and their children Alexander, Andrew, James Wilson, Mary, Thomas, Margrat, Samuel and Smyth.
We shall return to this family later, but look at 1821 census entry 6. This has to be Samuel's widow. Smith is still at home and she has two more children, Ann and William.

John and wife Elizabeth with their children Susanna, Mary, John, Alexander and Martha. We shall also return to John later, but we know he went to America so we don't expect to find him in the 1821 census.

Thomas with his wife Margaret and daughter Easter.
Look at entry 9 in the census. Thomas and Margaret certainly. Easter has presumably married and they have more children.
You may ask how they are listed as being in Moneydig. However Moneydig is literally across the road from Culnamen and presumably the reference was simply to ease locating them.

Hugh and his wife Ester with children Alexander, Jean and John

When we first examined the data we thought that Hugh and his wife were looking after their parents John and Jean. But it always puzzled me why Alexander should be living there as well. And where is Robert? However look at entry 10 in the Census. This has to be Hugh, widower. He has a son, John who must have been born in 1791 so was about 3 in 1796. Clearly therefore it is son John on the visitation list, so it must be that these three are his children and not his parents and brother.

But answering one conundrum does leave another conundrum: Jean and John (with Alex and Robert) do not appear on the visitation list at all. Why not? We simply do not know where they all were in 1796 or why they were not on the list! Maybe the pastor as only visiting parishioners with young families.

Comparing the visitation list and the census list leads to another observation. John in the census data is 22, so was born 17999 - after the 1796 visitation, so the son John in the visitation list must have died and the name has been re-used. Infant mortality was high in those days and the re-use of names was common.

If these four are indeed brothers, then they are also brothers of Alexander and Robert. So we seem to have located six brothers in 1796, but only five were living in 1804. One (clearly Samuel) must have died between 1798 and 1804.

Forty Shilling Freeholders

The list of 'Freeholders' is available. The relevant passages are shown in the right hand frame.

Here it looks as if this could be four brothers registering their freeholds in Culnamen in 1796. It was this observation that led to the insight that the Culnamen visitation list were the families of the four brothers and it also told us who were the heads of the families.

In 1806 we find the brothers again. Thomas and Hugh are there but note that Samuel is not, enhancing the observation that he died between 1796 and 1804. Neither is John present - but Hugh of Mayoughill, in the second letter, stated that John was in America! Alexander we have already met. Robert is now registering his own freehold. Which leaves James, Alexander and Andrew. These, one would suspect, are the third generation.

In 1814 (same file) we find the family again but now all are presumably the third generation.

The Six Brothers

So we have located six brothers.

Alexander we believe to be the oldest, born 1754.

Hugh was born 1761 (census age) and if the family is following traditional naming patterns, will be the second son, named after Hugh of Mayoughill, Jean's father.

The third son should be named after the father, so should be John. we don't know John's birth year, but, to fit in, it must have been 1762/3

Thomas (census data) was born 1764

Samuel we do not know a date of birth, but he could not have been older than Thomas as there simply isn't time between Hugh and Thomas for two births.

Robert is the youngest, born 1778 as he was 26 in his 1804 letter. However entry 10 in the census data appears to be Robert and gives his date of birth as 1771. We shall return to Robert later.

  1. 1754 Alexander [1]
  2. 1761 Hugh [2]
  3. 1762/3 John [3]
  4. 1764 Thomas [4]
  5. ???? Samuel [5]
  6. 1771/8 Robert [6]

The tree so far is getting a little bit involved for a GIF, but hopefully it is readable: it certainly is readable on a Acorn, which has a better screen display than Microsoft seem to be able to manage! This tree contains a few dates we haven't yet established, and also a bit more information about Samuel than we can prove, but more on that later.

The Kennedy affray of 1810

As good as Kernohan was at finding data, he did not find everything and even though most of the Irish records were destroyed in 1922 in the bombing of the four courts, there is still hope that some new records are yet to be discovered! Two of the records which Kernohan didn't find concern an affray with some of the Kennedy family - who also liven in Culnamen.

I shall not quote the full texts: if you want to download them, use the links, but the data on the right shows the list of Torrenses. Of the six brothers, we can spot Alexander (3), Hugh (9), Thomas (1). John is in America, Samuel has died and we do not know where Robert is - but he has stated in his letter that he was determined to visit America. Maybe he fulfilled his intention!

Alexander jr (4) is presumably Hugh's son who would have been ten! Thomas Jr (2) probably Samuel's son age 9. Alexander (5) must also be Samuel's son who would be 19. Andrew (6) another son of Samuel, aged 17, Samuel (7) also a son of Samuel, aged only 7! John (8) could be one of several: Hugh's son would have been 9, John Senior was in America, so probably not his son (but see later) Thomas had a son Jonathan, could be he aged 12!

So, although the exact identities are open to debate, we have a real family affray with members from Alex Sr aged 56 to children of 7 or so! This is a document which, on its own, gives little additional data but in context adds a lot of colour to the picture.

1818 family list from Garvagh 1st Church Records.

This is another piece of evidence, of little weight on its own but significant in context. The text archive contains the file as part of the file ChchRecs.

Widow Torrence, the widow of Samuel [5] No. 38 in census.

James Torrance: James Wilson Torrens, son of Samuel [5]. 37 in census

Alexander Torrance, son of Samuel [5] 34 in census

Andrew Torrance, son of Samuel [5] 40 in census

Samuel Torrance, son of Samuel [5] 32 in census

The 1821 Census

Kernohan extracted a lot of data on the Torrences. These contain a lot of Torrenses - most of whom we cannot connect, but it seems that they all should descend from Hugh Torrens of Culnamen of the 1663 Hearth money rolls. However the largest group of these are the families in Culnammen and is is probably a fair assumption that these are all descended from John, so all fit our tree.

We have already located the families of five of the brothers but I'll go through the list in order.

To remind you, the six brothers are

Alexander [1]
Hugh [2]
John [3]
Thomas [4]
Samuel [5]
Robert [6]
  1. At No. 4 is Thomas Torrence. We as yet have no idea how he fits the picture!

  2. At No. 32, Samuel Torence. Surely the son of Samuel [5]. Naming patterns would suggest he's the third son - but we'll return to Samuel [5] later.

  3. At No. 33 another Thomas Torrence. Surely the son of Samuel [5]

  4. At No. 34 Alexander Torence, son of Samuel [5]? But why would he be landless? According to our theory Alex was Samuel's second son, so would hardly have been without land. See the note on Alexander and John after the discussion of the 1821 census.

  5. At No. 37 James Torence. This is certainly James Wilson Torrence, son of Samuel [5]. See the 1818 family list from Garvagh 1st Church Records and the Garvagh First Presbyterian Church Graveyard list. These clearly establish the fact that James Wilson was usually called James and was married to a Margaret.

  6. At No. 38 Widow Torence, Samuel's widow

  7. At No. 40 Andrew Torence, son of Samuel [5]

  8. At No. 41 Hugh Torence. We really don't know why Hugh is. However, notice the family of Hugh Torrence [2]. Naming patterns say that all the Culnamen families would have had John as a first child. Hugh had a young son John who died - remember the name was re-used. Second son would have been named after Easter's father and Hugh's third son would have been named Hugh. This Hugh was born in 1793, so between Alexander and the second John, so does fit as son of Hugh [2].

    To add to the speculation: Hugh's date of birth calculates to be 1793, he should have been with his father Hugh in 1796 visitation list. He is not listed.

    Personally, I have severe doubts as to the accuracy of birthdates calculated from the 1821 census. Look at Robert the letterwriter, who by his own hand was 26 in 1804 but was listed as 50 in 1821.

    So it could be that Hugh is indeed the son of Hugh, and was born in 1796 after the visitation list.

    We have also trace, in the Kilrea First Presbyterian Church baptidms, the faily of Hugh:

    We do not know the marriage date for Hugh Torrens and Margaret Torrens. But they were born 1793/5, so marriage 1815-1820. It is quite possible that Ann was not the firstborn. In this family we would expect a Hugh: there is none. There is no gap where a son Hugh could be if named for his father, as the third son. However if Hugh was the son of Hugh, then the first son would have been Hugh. If no record survived of him, the family would indeed be as it we have found ot. It's circumstantial evidence, but does not contradict the theory!

    This is all speculation but we as yet have nowhere better to fit Hugh, but proof/disproof would be nice!

  9. At No. 42 Thomas Torence [4]

  10. At No. 43 Hugh Torrence [2]

  11. At No. 44 Robert Torence [6] but the letters give Roberts y.o.b. as 1771, the census gives it as 1778. There is therefore a question mark here.

  12. At No. 46 Alexander Torence [1]

  13. At No. 48 John Torence aged 31 weaver [1791]. Who was John Torrence? He is a landless weaver. The only John we know of who he might be is the son of John [3]. But John [3] went to America between 1797 and 1804 and it seems unlikely that he would have gone leaving all or part of his family behind. In 1797 young John would have been 6, or 13 in 1804. Given the fact that 14 year olds were often servants and that census ages are often inaccurate there is room for speculation that here is the son of John [3], but why would he have left part of his family? It is possible that Elizabeth died. The three daughters could well have married young - and they were probably older than young John, so John [3] was widowed with no dependant children. This is all too speculative! We need more information!

Alexander and John

It is noteworthy that only two male Torrenses are landless in Culnmen. At No. 34 Alexander Torence and No. 48 John Torence aged 31 weaver [1791].

One theory is that these two are Torrenses from outside Culnamen that have married local girls and moved in. However my current pet theory is different - and it is a pet theory strongly disagreed with by Linde Lunney who had been studying the families longer than I and is much closer to the families.

In 1796 Garvagh Church visitation list is shown the family of John Torrance. It seems too much of a co-incidence that our two landless friends have the same names as his only two male. This could be pure coincidence: neither name is exactly uncommon, but could they be the remains of his family? We have learned from the letters that John [3] went to America. But if these are his sons, he left them behind. This seems unlikely but my theory is that his wife Elizabeth had died, the girls were married, the two sons were servants and, his family fragmented, John went to America alone.

Both are theories, we need more evidence!

Births, Marriages, Deaths and Gravestones

There are lots of gravestones and other church records which have not been fully examined and which may throw more light on our picture. Most of the known record are on Lavonne's website but some I will comment on here.

Garvagh First Presbyterian Church Graveyard

Kernohans's data is in the file ChchRecs in the text archive

This is the family of Samuel Torrens, son of Samuel [5]

The second stone is James Wilson Torrens, son of Samuel [5]

Did Robert visit America

In 1804, Robert [6] stated in the letter to his uncle ”Im Determined to Go to America in the Course of Another Year if Helth Permits”

Robert is noticeable for his absence in the 1810 Kennedy affray. However the 1821 census shows him aged 50, with a younger wife and a young family, the oldest of whom is 9 so would have been born in 1812. It looks as if Robert may well have gone to America in 1805 as he vowed, and returned after about 5 years, in 1811. Quite possibly he met his new wife in America!

Samuel Torrence: a double family

The 1796 visitation list shows Samuel's wife as Mary Ann and we have identified his some from the 1821 census, which adds more children still with his widow. His children, with their census years of birth are:

Note that there seems to be a large gap or ten years between Andrew [1783] and Thomas [1792]. Mary was born in this gap, but it is still large.

Look also at the use of Wilson and Smith as given names. Nothing unusual in either - but to have two such in one family is rare.

So it has been proposed by Annie Fullerton and seconded by Linde Lunney, that Samuel married twice, his first wife being a Miss Wilson who died, possibly in childbirth. His second wife was Mary Ann Smith and Samuel is their first child.

This is highly plausible and seemed to me the only explanation. Until I started studying the traditional naming patterns when it struck me all the Culnamen families were apparently sticking religiously to the tradition - yet Samuel's first family used neither John (Samuel's father) nor Samuel, who should have been the third son. We do not find John at all - maybe he died young, and it is not until the second family that Samuel uses his own name.

Of the first children, Alex is Samuel [5]'s older brother. James and Andrew do not occur in Samuel's generation or earlier. Of the second family, Thomas is a brother. Smyth is new. So I was tempted to suggest that it was not Samuel's first wife that died but Mary's first husband, who had been a Wilson.

There is a problem either way. We do not know Samuel's birth year but if our reasoning is correct it was, at the earliest 1766, 2 years after Thomas [4], so Samuel was a mere 14 then! This supports the second theory. But Mary Ann (Widow Torrence) was 54 in 1821, so y.o.b. 1767, which supports the first. We clearly need more facts here!

But this well illustrates the problem with a work like this: it must be that Samuel [5] is in fact older than Thomas [4] and was born between 1761 (Hugh's birth year) and 1764 (Thomas' birth year) - but this is when we believe John [3] was born and there is barely time for Jean to have had two children in that time. Or Samuel born before then and is in fact the second son: this would destroy all our reasoning based on naming traditions. I think we can still accept that Alexander is the oldest son but it begins to look as if Samuel is no 2. Back (again) to the drawing board! Such a speculative task is near impossible to complete!

Since the above reasoning has proven false I should delete it. But I shall not as it illustrates well the involved and circuitous reasoning that one must follow to get a believable picture.

There exists a legend in the line of Annie Fullerton that, way back in her family, there were seven sons. But, try as we may, we have never found them. We have John and Jean's six sons - but we could never find a seventh! Maybe it's a false legend.

But here we are, with a bit of logic that knocks our reasoning flat. Yet we know that John and Jean were very name-challenged. All of the known children were named for grandfathers, grandmothers, father, mother and uncles. John and Jean were using traditional names: but we have not fitted them to the traditional pattern. But they must surely have fitted!

So: re-examine the 'facts'.

  1. Alex is the oldest son, born 1754. We do not know for certainly that he was the first-born, but it seems a safe assumption.
  2. Second son's name should be Hugh. We have a Hugh who is clearly too young!
  3. Third son is John, birth year unknown.
  4. Samuel must have been born around 1759 or earlier
  5. Hugh was born 1761

These facts seem to be contradictory but there is a solution. The second son was, indeed Hugh. But he died sometime after Samuel was born and before 1761. So the name Hugh was re-used.

Suddenly all of the known facts fall into place and make sense!

And maybe we have found the seven sons of the legend, except that the first Hugh must have died at age 4 of so! This is hardly old enough for a legend to have started around these seven sons! Our brothers now are:

  1. 1754 Alexander [1]
  2. about 1755/6 Hugh (died about 1760)
  3. about 1757/58 John [3]
  4. about 1759/60 Samuel [5]
  5. 1761 Hugh [2]
  6. 1764 Thomas [4]
  7. 1771/8 Robert [6]

This is a much better picture. In the 1796 data, Samuel appears to be 'more senior' than John, Hugh or Thomas. He does not seem to be the youngest - he has a very large family. Putting his as the fourth son makes him younger than John, but older than Thomas or Hugh.

The picture also seems to indicate that the five sons were born consecutively: a daughter could have been born around 1763, the rest have to be between 1765 and 1770 - unless one was older than even Alex. But a consistent picture of the family does emerge! We may even be able to locate some of the daughters now as we have a better idea of their possible birth years.

The Seven Sons

I have mentioned before the legend of the seven sons. But a boy who died age 4 is hardly going to give rise to a legend! However the legend does not state which generation the seven sons were: for over a year we have been thinking that John and Jean were the most likely.

Yet sometimes the obvious escapes notice. Samuel, in 1796, had six sons. And, in 1821 census we find his widow, with young William, who was not born in 1796! These might be the seven sons of the legend - except that the legend is active in Annie Fullerton's line and she is not a direct descendant from Samuel!

It is always very difficult to incorporate such a 'folk legend' into genealogy. We ourselves have seen how easily myths can be accepted when studying genealogy, but this is a folk legend that has passed down a line who were not studying the subject. It is felt that there is a degree of probability about it. We have not yet found seven sons who would seem to be likely!


Such a page can never be finished - until such time as I complete the design of our time machine! It is little more than the wildest speculation. By rights we should now be off to the record office, looking for these brothers born about the expected time. Unfortunately these records no longer exist so our speculative 'best fit' is the best we can do! Every time we examine the data we have, or remember something we didn't include, or find another morsel of information, we may tweak our theory a little more but there's never going to be any proof!

However it is written up here for general interest and as a repository of our current 'best theory'. But more than than, it is hoped that others will join in the discussion: the more brains that attack such a picture, the better it gets. So please, if you have any thoughts, corrections, disagreements, more data or simply opinions, contact me!

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