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Shaw Family: Scots-Irish to Pennsylvania 1794

   The focus of my trip to Fayette County, Pennsylvania was to research my McDowell line, Robert S. McDowell, born about 1828 married Margaret Shaw, daughter of Robert and Ruth Haney Shaw.  I mentioned in one of my earlier blogs that I had (wrongly) determined that Margaret’s father was William Shaw based on the 1850 census.  This is a cautionary tale, as the censuses from 1850-1870 do not give relationships, and assumptions can lead you down the wrong trail.   The majority of my research on this family was done prior to 2000 and I have learned a bit since then <g>.

   Thanks go to Maria Sholtis, Research Librarian in the Pennsylvania Room of the Uniontown Library.  Although I didn’t get a chance to meet her as she was on vacation, I spoke to her before she left about both my McDowell and Shaw families.  There were no files on the McDowells, but she pulled material for me on the Shaw family.   One of the clippings was the “Record of the Shaw Family” by John S. Ritenour also mentioned in that earlier blog.  According to the author, the information comes from the Shaw Family Bible.  There was nothing to tell me when the article was written or where it was published.  So my next step was to research John S. Ritenour.

   John was born 9 Sep 1851 in Bruceton, Preston, West Virginia and died 9 Oct 1925 in Pittsburgh, Allegheny, Pennsylvania.  He was the son of William Mandeville Ritenour and Elizabeth Augusta Shaw.1   Elizabeth Shaw was the daughter of David Downey Shaw, brother to my Robert.  Although I don’t know for sure, it’s possible that the Family Bible was in his possession or that he had at least seen it.  Since I have found no copies of the Bible pages, I can only hope that he transcribed it correctly.   At least I know that there was a connection to my family.

   The “Record” states

Third: Robert Shaw. [child of Robert Shaw and Jane Downey.]  Married Ruth Haney.  Was for 12 years steward of the county home of Fayette county.  Both buried in Laurel Hill. He was born in Ireland.    

   Some of this information I already knew from other sources.  His birth in Ireland was documented after 1880 by some of his children.  No death date was given, but he appeared to have died prior to 1850 when his wife Ruth and their children were living in the household of William Shaw, Robert’s brother.  Another error on my part was the assumption that Ruth had died prior to 1870 when she disappeared from census records.  In fact she remarried and died in 1888.

   Another resource I used at the Uniontown Public Library was a series of journals called La Fayette: The History and Genealogy of Fayette County.  Published quarterly during the 1980s and early 1990s, it contains references to many types of records.  I found a reference to the naturalization of Robert Shaw.  I was leaving the next morning (but persuaded my husband to let me stop at the Courthouse which opened at 8 am).  I slipped into the Office of the Prothonotary and was directed to a file cabinet which contained cards for naturalizations.  There were two Shaw naturalizations, but the second was much too late. I can’t tell if this is the father or son, but it definitely provides some information, such as his arrival (1794) and Declaration of Intent filed Mar 1820.

   I asked the clerk about the docket, and was told it contained no additional information.  Trying not to be too pushy, I asked if I could get a copy anyway.   She pushed back again, stating there was no other information, but finally agreed to make a copy from the microfiche.  She commented that I wouldn’t be able to read it anyway.  Sometimes the clerks don’t understand  how important it is for us to have copies of the original documents.  I thanked her profusely for her help and left with the documents.

   The documents were actually quite readable and the Petition for Naturalization states:

The petition of Robert Shaw of Dunbar township in Fayette County…on the first Monday of March eighteen hundred and twenty five in the court of common pleas at Uniontown stating on oath the he was born in the county of Antrim in Ireland...

   So now I know that the Shaw family arrived in the US in 1794 and that they came from County Antrim.  If I hadn’t pushed for a copy of the docket I wouldn’t have seen the reference to Antrim. But where?  And even if I discover where, are there any records for the timeframe prior to 1800?

   One of the first things I do when I have the names of a couple who married in Ireland is look at where the names overlap.  Our ancestors were not very mobile, so it’s likely they lived and married in the same, or adjoining parishes.  I use Grenham’s Irish Surnames, a CD to do this.  The information is taken from the time of Griffith’s Valuation (in the case of Antrim 1860-1862) which is long after my Shaw-Downey family emigrated.  There is a likelihood  however, that family members remained in the area.  I have plotted these parishes on a map of Antrim.

   Since my family emigrated in 1794 with three children born in Ireland (and three born in Fayette county beginning about 1794/5), a marriage in Ireland between Robert and Jane Downey should have occurred somewhere in the mid 1780s with baptisms for three children, Frances, Margaret and Robert taking place prior to 1794.  A birth for Robert and Jane would have occurred in the 1750s to 1760s.  There are very few Presbyterian records that survive prior to about 1820.  The Public Records Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) has three databases dating from the 1700s: the 1775 Dissenters Petitions; the 1766 Religious Census and the 1740 Protestant Householders. The originals of all three of these documents were transferred to the Public Records Office in Dublin, and ultimately destroyed in the fire in 1922.  Extensive transcripts were made of these documents prior to the fire, but none are complete.  Because of the timeframe, these documents would name the father of the Robert who emigrated, a name that is still unknown.  The localities for both Shaws and Downeys could be important, so I also plotted those on a map.

   Based on the map, I will begin my Irish research looking at records for the northwest portion of Antrim where both the Shaw and Downey names appear in the 1700s.  Because these parishes are on or close to the border of Derry, I’ll also have to keep in mind the possibility of some records being in Derry.

   Stay tuned and Happy Hunting!

1“Pennsylvania Death Certificates, 1906-1944,” digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 28 Aug 2015) entry for John S. Ritenour, 8 Oct 1925.


I’ve already started to receive registrations for the 2016 Ireland Research Trips.  It’s not too early to sign up! 

© Donna M. Moughty 2007- 2017