Local family finds relatives in South America

Richard and Isobel Wallace looking at the old photos which sparked the quest.
Richard and Isobel Wallace looking at the old photos which sparked the quest.

A fading photograph from the early 20th Century has led to an east Antrim couple unearthing the story behind a lost chapter in their family history.

And the result has been the discovery of a family in Argentina that they were totally unaware of!

Younger generations of the Argentinian family taken 20 years ago at the family ranch near Buenos Aires.

Younger generations of the Argentinian family taken 20 years ago at the family ranch near Buenos Aires.

The amazing story of lost family connections started for Isobel and Richard Wallace when they were going through old photographs.

One, which Isobel’s late mother had told her was her grandmother, Agnes Craig of Ballyboley, particularly intrigued. On the back of the mount was elaborate printing from the photographer, who was in Florida, Buenos Aires.

Richard, a retired teacher, was taking a family history class some time later and began to piece together his wife’s family as a part of illustrating how the internet could help to track down information.

Some details about the family were known, including how another of the Craigs – Alexander – died in a mining accident in Alberta in 1907. Richard was able to access information on this accident on the internet.

And through work on the church registers at Ballyeaston, he was also able to detail the members of the Craig family.

This resulted in the pieces of the jigsaw coming together in relation to the South American connection. Agnes Craig’s sister Ellen had been the first to make her way to Argentina, along with another local woman named Mary J McKinty. Richard was able to find online the ship’s list which showed that Ellen sailed from Newport in Wales on the ship Iberia in January 1899.

He says at that time he was looking for Agnes Craig, but soon realised the importance of the shipping list he had accessed.

“It was by sheer chance. She had sailed from Newport in Wales and her voyage took 50 days. There was no occupation listed for her but later we found out she had gone out to be a governess in Buenos Aires. While she was at the ranch she met John Lacy Clark, an American from Kentucky, who was visiting his godparents and learning the Spanish language. They were married and it seems that her sister Agnes and brother Thomas went to Argentina for the wedding,” he explains.

But it was through Ancestry.com that the mystery of the missing family was finally revealed. The Ballynure couple, having identified that Ellen had got married in October 1902 to John Lacy Clark, then found details of the American posted on the family history site.

The details on Clark had been posted by one of his descendants and a communication began, which was interpreted from Spanish by a granddaughter of Clark’s second marriage named Patsy Davis in Wales.

The story that emerged was that in 1902 Agnes Craig and her brother Thomas had gone to Argentina to live with their sister. The photograph which Isobel Wallace had of Agnes had been taken at that time.

Agnes decided not to stay in South America, however, and came home in 1909, while her brother Thomas remained in Argentina until 1914.

While in Argentina she was godparent to Robert Alexander (Roberto Alejandro) Clark, one of the five children of John Lacy Clark and Ellen Craig.

When she returned home she married Ballycarry farmer and local poet William James Hume and settled down on the outskirts of the village. She died in childbirth when she was 46, leaving six children, the eldest of them 15 years of age.

Her brother Thomas came back from Argentina in 1914 on a ship to Liverpool and, along with other ex-patriots joined up. He served with the Scots Guards and was to be killed in France in 1916.

Ellen Craig died of consumption at the age of 40, leaving five children, the youngest 12 years of age. Her husband remarried and had a second family.

Once contact had been established with the Argentinian family, Richard says he was able to find out many more details about the Craigs including photographs taken on the ranch, and in turn they received details from Northern Ireland with great interest.

“We learned from them that John and Ellen came back with their children to Ballyboley in 1909, along with Agnes, and they then left from Cork to travel to visit his family in New York,” Richard says.

The Argentinian family had memories of their Uncle Thomas, who was killed in the First World War, but not of Agnes, probably because she left earlier.

The story included the fact that all five of the children of William John Craig and Isabella Houston of Ballyboley crossed the Atlantic for new lives.

Richard believes the death of William John Craig at the age of just 28 was the catalyst for this.

His widow remarried, which resulted in her giving up the rights to the family farm, but her new husband Hugh Smyth of Larne died within a few years, leaving her with two more children.

The children of William John Craig were to receive monies from the Will when they reached the age of 21, and it is after this time that the Craig family starts to emigrate, leading Richard and Isobel to believe they had enough money to think of starting a new life elsewhere, perhaps through the sale of the family farm, managed by their uncle who was a local schoolmaster.

Ironically, Isabella Smyth died at her home in Larne’s Bank Road just two days before her son Thomas arrived back at Liverpool in 1914.

Richard says he has been totally amazed at the amount of information which has now been gleaned, much of it from the internet and some from family members and scattered memories. Isobel said “I grew up with mummy saying that the photograph was taken of her mummy in Argentina and that she went out to help her sister, but she never knew how long her mother was there,”

“My mother left her own home at Ballycarry when she was a young girl to work in Belfast and she never came back to live there, so she would have missed out on any information which may have been discussed at home,” she added.

Her mother, Iza Campbell died in January 2016 in her 103 rd year, the last surviving child of Agnes and William Hume of Ballycarry.

Richard Wallace is also intrigued with another of the Craig family. Sarah Craig married James Alexander Huxley of Larne and the couple and their son Thomas Hanna Craig Huxley made a new life in Edmonton, Alberta. But Sarah died at the age of 30 in 1913 and her husband enlisted with the Canadian Expeditionary Force and was killed in France; his name is on Larne War Memorial.

Richard is wondering about the Huxley connection, since James remarried shortly before he died, but so too did his new wife after he was killed in the war.

The story of Thomas Hanna Craig Huxley seems destined to be a subject for exploration for some time to come.

Given the success over the Argentine family, however, Richard remains optimistic.