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The Case of the Will of William Kelsey

January 30th, 2011
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In this post from August, 2009, I describe finding an abstract of the will of my great, great, great grandfather, William Kelsey, listed in the index of Wills Calendar at the Public Records Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI). In the post I make the connection to my ancestor, William Kelsey, as the abstract for this will makes mention of Hugh Rea as an executor of this will and knowing that Hugh Rea was a son-in-law of William Kelsey. The abstract also lists a George Knox as the second executor.

In a letter written in 1964 by my grandmother’s Aunt Rose, she provides a number of clues regarding the family of her mother (my great, great grandmother), Henrietta Kelsey Bannon. In the letter (transcribed here), Rose tells us that Henrietta’s parents were William Kelsey and Mary Emily Knox. That Henrietta’s mother Emily Knox claimed she was a lineal descendant of John Knox the Reformer. That she had three brother’s who went before her to America: Alexander, Dwight, and Arthur. That she had an un-named sister who was married to Hugh Rea of Belfast and that she had an elder brother named Henderson who inherited the family farm upon the death of father.

The most intriguing claim made by Rose was that her grandmother, Mary Emily Knox, was a “lineal descendant” of John Knox the Reformer. I researched this claim a number of years ago and concluded that Mary Emily could not be a descendant of John Knox, the founder of the Presbyterian church, for the simple reason that John Knox had no descendants who bore the Knox surname beyond his two sons who died without issue (see John Knox? John Not!).

The genealogy of the Knox family is discussed in detail in the oddly-titled “Genealogical Memoirs Of John Knox” by Rev. Charles Rogers (London: 1879). In this book, the author presents a number of different (although seemingly associated) Knox families. I have read through this book a number times over the years looking for clues as to any connection to my great, great, great grandmother, Mary Emily Knox, but always decided that whatever I was looking for was not to be found in this book. However, this past week I thought I would make another pass at the information, focusing on the Irish Knox families described in the book.

One entry on page 51 caught my eye: “John, elder son of Alexander Knox of Eden Hill, inherited the family estate, and had (with several daughters) two sons, Alexander and George.” Could the George Knox listed by Rogers as a son of John Knox of Eden Hill, be the same person as the George Knox listed as executor of William Kelsey’s will?

The name "William Kelsey" appears in the Freeholder’s Records of Northern Ireland. These records can be found on-line at the Public Records of Northern Ireland (PRONI) which defines these records as “lists of people entitled to vote, or of people who voted, at elections. A freeholder was a man who owned his land outright (in fee) or who held it by lease which could be for one or more lives (for example, his own life or for the lives of other people named in the lease). From 1727 to 1793 only Protestants with a freehold worth at least 40 shillings a year were legally permitted to vote. Between 1793 and 1829 both Protestants and Catholics with 40 shilling freeholds could vote, but in 1829 the franchise level was increased to 10 pounds, so 40 shilling freeholders were no longer allowed to vote. This last measure increased the influence of landlords by effectively confining membership of Parliament to the propertied or monied classes.

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  1. Christine Knox Schacht
    June 11th, 2014 at 10:54 | #1

    My great grandfather was Robert Dalzell Knox, the son of George Knox and Marion Dalzell. George and Alexander Knox were brothers, who had a sister Mary Emily Knox.

  2. john gelston
    July 4th, 2015 at 05:16 | #2

    @Christine Knox Schacht
    I am researching Marianne Dalzell, daughter of Robert Dalzell of Marlfield, Portaferry. She married your great great grandfather George Knox. I wonder if you can tell me anything about the Knox family from George onwards. I have read “the Will of William Kelsey” so know the background to the Knox family.
    I can provide details of the Dalzell family if you are interested.
    John Gelston

  3. D. M. DeBacker