It’s been a long journey since I first started researching my Britton ancestors in about 2006. I met my fellow Britton researcher Ruth online in 2009 striking up a friendship across the world where we have collaborated for over a decade. We have always felt that all the Brittons born in Fermanagh Ireland in mid-late 1700’s were related but lacked a paper trail to be able to confirm it. I did my first DNA test in 2010, followed by Ruth in 2014. It has been through autosomal DNA testing that we have finally been able to make some breakthroughs!
I first wrote about my 2nd great grandmother Catherine Britton in 2017 when we were able to confirm relationships between my ancestor Thomas Cassidy who came to Australia as a convict in 1830 and his brother James Cassidy who emigrated to the US sometime before 1840 or possibly as early as 1828. We had several DNA matches with other cousins suggesting relationships to possible siblings in Fermanagh, Ireland but lacked DNA confirmation (refer previous blog post).
The only documented information we had about Catherine’s father (who I am calling our ‘Unnamed’ Britton Patriarch – 52Ancestors #7) is a reference from a book about the ecclesiastical life of Father Philip Cassidy. When speaking about Catherine (the grandmother of Father Cassidy) it says ”.. her father was an Anglican clergyman who was a military chaplain for the garrison at Fermanagh in the North of Ireland.’’ (Source: Life of Father Philip Cassidy, PP Archdeacon, Benedictine Monks, Arcadia, NSW, Fr Peter Charles Klein SYD). Searches for more specific information have proved fruitless, although we do know that Ruth’s family were prominent members of the Church of Ireland at Boho and later lived in Tullyholvin townland. The Cassidy’s were also from Boho parish, but were Roman Catholics who lived in nearby Gortgall before being evicted from their land in 1826. Catherine and Stephen’s marriage was known as a ‘mixed marriage‘ and no doubt led to difficulties with relationships between the two families.
Tullyholvin Lower is also the home of the historic Linnet Inn. When my husband and I visited Inn the back in 2011 we were thinking my Cassidy’s may have gathered there but had no idea that Ruth’s Britton ancestors were former owners of the Inn. James Britton, the third son of James Britton and Mary Laird (Catherine’s nephew), was the first Britton owner at Tullyholvin Lower and established the public house, then known as ‘The Britton Inn’. The Inn was very different in the early days, more like a small bar. Now that we know these Brittons were also my relations, we were very disappointed that our return visit this year was cancelled as a result of the Covid-19 travel restrictions. If only the walls had ears and could tell us more!
‘The Ribbon Informer’ was written in 1874 by Peter Magennis (1817-1910). It is an account of events that are said to have taken place in Fermanagh, starting in 1826 relating to ‘ribbonism’, in particular the informer Dominic Noone. It is believed to be mostly facts with some fictitious characters. The Ribbonmen were an agrarian secret society, their objective to prevent landlords from changing or evicting their tenants. There has been some suggestion that Stephen Cassidy (Catherines husband) may have been the leader of the local group of Ribbonmen (see previous blog post). Given Ribbonmen opposed ‘Orangeism‘ (the ideology of the Protestant Orange Order) there would have been tensions between the Britton and Cassidy families.
In the Magennis ‘Ribbon Informer’ story, the local innkeeper named John Egan, is described as a ‘seneschal of the local court‘, ‘of this village‘, ‘not a papist‘ and an ‘Orangeman who respected decency‘. Could this inn have been ‘The Britton Inn’ and a reference to one of our Britton cousins? They were certainly occupying land at Tullyholvin by 1825. It is perhaps unlikely that it could be a reference to the James Britton who established the public house, as this was some time later. Did they run another inn in the area before the one at Tullyholvin Lower?
When did Catherine and her family arrive in Ireland? Perhaps they came from Scotland in the 1600’s as part of the Plantation of Ulster? We know members of the Britton family were recorded as sidemen in the Church of Ireland at Boho in the 1700’s. Tithe records also suggest there were other Brittons living in nearby townlands including Aghaherrish, Lesky, Farnaconnell and Tober.
In 1879 Magennis wrote another story called ‘The Treasurer’ which was about the Cassidy’s. It was serialised and published in the Lisbarrow Gazette. The events in both of these Magennis stories occurred within his lifetime so he may have been personally acquainted with both the Britton and Cassidy families.
This was my Britton Tree in 2017 constructed from paper records. We knew Catherine had a brother named Thomas identified from newspaper accounts in 1828. Thomas Britton had at least two children, a boy and a girl and lived in a ‘snug little farm‘ at Mullaghdun, in the next house but one from James and Catherine McCourt. Little else is known about them.
By the time of Griffiths Valuation in 1864 the land in Tullyholvin Upper which included a forge, was owned by William Britton (eldest son of James Britton and Mary Laird), the forge occupied by Bernard Magee. A reference from Magennis’ ‘The Treasurer’ suggests that circa 1826 there were two forges in the town. The busiest one run by an ‘orangeman‘, described as a ‘wag‘ and a ‘newsmonger’, ‘whose nephew had papist sympathies‘. Could this be another reference to a connection between the Britton and Cassidy families? In 1826 the forge was more likely to have been operated by Williams’ father, grandfather, or perhaps even an uncle?
Other Britton families occupied land in nearby Lesky townland between Tullyholvin and where the Cassidy’s had previously resided in Gortgall. Mullaghdun however is in the Civil Parish of Cleenish, just south of Gortgall.
Paper records identified a number of other ‘likely’ siblings of Catherine living in Boho Fermanagh (or nearby) in the late 18th century. Their ages are only estimates based on their marriage dates, so they could be much older. Based on this information, it is possible there were at least seven children.
|Thomas||Bet 1780-1800||Believed to be married with a son and a daughter in 1829.|
|John||Bef 1785 m Mary Hamilton||At least 7-10 children, descendants in Australia and Ireland.|
|William||Bef 1786||At least one known son Noble Britton.|
|Catherine||Bef 1788 m Stephen Cassidy||At least 4 sons, descendants in the US and Australia.|
|James||Bef 1788 m Mary Laird||At least 11 children, with descendants in UK and Canada.|
|George||Abt 1794 m Catherine Laird||At least 8 children, descendants in the US.|
|Margery||Bef 1800 m William Elliot||At least one son Robert Britton Elliot with some descendants in Australia.|
Thanks to DNA we now believe we have confirmed the connections between some of these siblings and it is highly likely that over time more will follow.
We have now identified many Britton DNA test takers who have well documented pedigrees back to several of these children. Unfortunately, a number who have only tested at AncestryDNA cannot be included in this study, as we are unable to compare chromosomes, which is necessary to confirm ancestry back this many generations. However, we do now have 29 kits where we can undertake chromosome analysis, this includes data at GEDmatch (the preferred comparison platform), FamilyTreeDNA and My Heritage. Descendants of test takers, who may have also taken DNA tests, have not been included in this analysis.
As part of the analysis process it was necessary to compare the DNA results of all testers looking for matches on a common chromosome, in the same segment area, for at least 3 descendants from different family lines. Where this occurs, it suggests the group all share a common ancestor. This process is referred to as ‘triangulation‘.
The table below shows details of the identified triangulated groups, comparing matches by sibling group. The ‘cousinship‘ of the siblings descendants are considered ‘DNA confirmed’ if they meet the triangulation test. Where there are only two people matching on the same chromosome and same segment area, it is considered that these may be an ’emerging groups’ (EG’s). In these cases, another match is required to confirm the shared segment came from the same ancestor. The relationships for those in an EG can only be classed as ‘DNA tentative’ as the segment match has not been confirmed by triangulation. The DNA cousins whose matches appear in the table below are also shown in the ‘DNA Connected’ pedigree later in this post.
The table above shows the likely four siblings we have identified so far, Catherine, James, John and George. The analysis also suggests a genetic link to Jane Britten, she married Henry Brooks in Fermanagh and emigrated to the US in about 1819. Based on her age she could either be the oldest child of our ‘Unnamed‘ Patriarch Britton or his sister.
The DNA of our Patriarch Britton
By mapping each of these chromosome groups we are slowly building the genetic profile of our ‘Unnamed’ Patriarch Britton ancestor. The following chart shows the segments we believe descendants have inherited from ‘Unnamed’ Patriarch Britton (or his wife). The legend indicates the family lines whose matches have been used in the mapping process.
These segments are scattered across the world in Australia, Ireland, England, Israel and the USA as you can see in the pedigree below. We also believe there are descendants in Scotland but there’s no confirmed genetic evidence of that – yet!
For the purpose of this chromosome map, other ‘potential‘ segments have also been shown to help with the ongoing analysis process. ‘Triangulated’ and ‘Emerging’ groups are as described previously. We have also included ‘Shared Ancestor’ segments – these segments potentially include Britton DNA. ‘Shared Ancestor’ segments are those where the split between an ancestral couple has not yet been determined, so the segment may belong to the Britton ancestors’ spouse. For more detail about the Triangulated and Emerging Groups and Shared Ancestor segments associated with this research, please click here.
Our ‘DNA Connected’ Britton Family Tree – as at June 2020.
The following chart outlines our Britton ‘DNA’ family tree developed from the DNA evidence discussed above. It is not a complete tree, there are many more descendants. Only DNA testers that have a confirmed ‘Britton’ DNA segment have been included.
Ruth and I have been collaborators across the globe since 2009. We are ‘double’ cousins being related on both my paternal and maternal sides, yet we share no DNA. Thanks to all our DNA cousins we have been able to prove our genetic links on both our common lines. It was wonderful to finally meet in Enniskillen in 2017, the home of our shared Britton ancestors. With your help, we hope to enjoy many more exciting discoveries in the future!
NOTES: Ancestors referred to in this post can be viewed on Wikitree, please click on the relevant link to access their profile. Sources for the paper trail and DNA confirmations (where they exist) are referenced there. Source material associated with the Cassidy family can be accessed here.
For the purposes of this study, only the closest DNA tested descendant in any direct line is included. Children are excluded as the DNA they inherit is less than the parent and does not add value to the analysis.
We have recently initiated a project ‘Brittons of Ireland’ at FamilyTreeDNA that we hope in time will identify more potential cousins. We encourage anyone with Britton/Britten/Brittain ancestors from Ireland who have had their autosomal DNA tested to join. If you tested at another company it is free to transfer your results to FTDNA, so please join us!
We also have established a Facebook group Brittons of Fermanagh, if you have information you would like to share.