Thursday, 1 October 2009

Orange Order records in Scotland

There was a piece on Radio 4 this morning (and a written story here) about the Orange Order in Glasgow, discussing how there were more parades in Glasgow each year today than in Belfast. The Orange Order is one of those organisations which thousands of us have ancestors in, but for which very little material can be found.

I have a great grandfather who was an Orange grandmasters in Ulster, and one who was said by family tradition to have been a grand master in the Royal Black Institution in Glasgow, apparently of all of Glasgow, though there could be a degree of ancestral inflation there! Apart from finding him having signed the Ulster Covenant in Glasgow in 1912, can I find anything on any of these people within these organisations? Can I heck! I have tried through the main lodge HQ for the Black Institution in Glasgow, who did helpfully forward my request to a lodge in Knockloughrim in Derry (where my Glasgow based man stated his home address to be in the Covenant), but to date we can't find which lodge he belonged to as Knockloughrim lodge started many years after he left Ireland.

The lodges of the Orange Order and the Royal Black Preceptory, not to mention the Ancient Order of Hibernians on the Catholic side, must have records going back for years on membership. Wouldn't it be great if their parent bodies recognised the genealogical value of such records? Obviously there may be a degree of sensitivity about membership in some quarters, but if the lodges would agree even to some limited access - perhaps up to pre WW2? - can you imagine how that could help with many people's family history? If it was possible to create a centralised database of members by surveying the records of surviving lodges, what a resource that would make!

Also of interest, one of the British genealogy mags this month has an article on an Orangeman's story from England. The piece was illustrated, but I was amused to note that the banner of King Billy in the drawing showed him riding on a brown horse, and not a white horse! As a media student in Bristol, I made a documentary about King William III - specifically about a statue made of him in my home town of Carrickfergus in 1990, for the tercentenary of the Battle of the Boyne. The townspeople were absolutely furious about it, as it showed him standing, and not on a horse. Apparently, according to the mayor at the time, this was because they did not 'want to create a triumphalist image', but actually the popular belief was that they could not afford the horse! It was made in bronze (copper would oxidise to green!), then was cast in Dublin at a foundry under the name of 'Lord Carrick', and placed on a plinth higher than the statue itself and in a direction on a line of site to the Boyne. As an example of symbolism gone wrong, this was an anthropologist's dream, and my media course was partly an anthropology course, so I had a field day!

There's a whole chunk of life in the west of Scotland that is virtually impenetrable to family historians, but which for many defined their existence in both political and religious terms. We're always taught as family historians never to judge the past from the present perspective. But it would be nice to have the tools to tell our ancestors' stories in contemporary terms!

So come on lads - I'm sure King Billy would have approved of us being able to find out which of our ancestors believed in him...!

(Rant over...!)

Professional genealogical problem solving and research


Anonymous said...

I wouldn't hold your breath. I worked in a printers many years ago and we were approached by the local order with a view to us printing stuff for them. A condition was that one of them would attend the print run and make sure none of the usual set up sheets or scrapped sheets (bad printing) would be allowed to go in the bin where they could later be retrieved. We declined the work. By their very nature they are a very secretive organisation.

Chris Paton said...

I know - maddening isn't it! :)


Kilsally said...

Chris, did you try getting in contact with historian and Orangeman Dr David Hume Phd at Schomberg House in Belfast. They have archives!

Chris Paton said...

I'm not sure who I contacted in Belfast, though it was a few years ago, and all I got was a very polite brush off. At the Scottish end, I tried the Royal Black Institution in Glasgow, and they did kindly put me through to a local member in Kilcronaghan in Derry, who was not an archivist, but who was very helpful, and did quite a bit of running about on my behalf, though sadly nothing could be found - I was acting on a mixture of family tradition which stated he was a masetr of an RBI lodge in Glasgow, and a statement in the Ulster Covenant of 1912, signed in Glasgow, where my man listed Kilcronaghan as his home address. On the Glasgow end itself, the RBI could not help.

I think my point is that there is no organised way in Scotland for records to be accessed, many are still held by lcoal lodges, some are lost, and in many cases, it isn't clear which lodges our ancestors may have been members of. Despite having three grandmasters in my tree at great grandfather level, Orangeism is not something which was passed down to my branch of the family, so we know very little about their time as members.

I suspect historic senitivities will ever prevent any such movement in my lifetime. One of my grandmaster great gramps in Belfast had eight children - three of the daughters duly married Roman Catholics in the Ardoyne, and he was kicked out of his lodge. I may write to Dr Hume to see if he can shed any light on that, but I suspect I wonlt get far! lol :)


helicoptermo said...

Orange Order membership data, with a focus on Ireland, Canada and Scotland, 1852-2002

Maybe this will help. Here is website link:


Chris Paton said...

Thanks Kelly, but I'm afraid the dataset has the following disclaimer: "Please note: this study does not include information on named individuals and would therefore not be useful for personal family history research."

Possibly useful for contextual information, though I note mention of a collection entitled "Scanned Scottish reports of proceedings and digitised Scottish membership data for 1967-2001" used - however, I suspect this is also statistical in nature.

Thanks again,


Ed Stewart said...

Found this quite interesting. My great grandfather, Thomas Proctor Stewart, born 1855 Kilcronaghan, Co. Derry, died Brooklyn, NY 1930, was remembered by his family as a strong Orangeman. Local folks were good enough to take me to the Black Hill Orange Lodge outside of Tobermore, where he may have belonged. I believe his older brother, John, signed the Ulster Covenant there. Certainly family records would be of interest.