I knew exactly where the headstone would be.
We got out of our car at the gate, greeted by a blue Church of Ireland sign, and walked the gravel driveway to the churchyard. It seemed an unlikely place for a church, almost nothing around, except the modern house next to the road, perhaps belonging to the minister of the small white-washed church that sat in the center of the churchyard.
This was our first time in Northern Ireland, but we had come prepared with water-proof footwear and raincoats. It had rained all morning as we had looked through another cemetery and the forecast called for rain throughout the rest of the day. We had two more cemeteries on our itinerary, but this cemetery was the only one we were sure we would find an ancestor that day.
The gravel driveway ended and two whitewashed stone pillars marked the entrance to the churchyard. After passing the pillars, I made an immediate left and found John Bones, my 7th great-grandfather.
I wish I could say I had an inherent ability to locate headstones in cemeteries. Instead I had a stranger’s description.
In an article about migration from Antrim to Augusta, Georgia, there is a section that discusses how visits back to Ireland were common among this group:
The earliest return visit I can trace – 1822 – is touching. This was documented in stone. Just inside the gate at Duneane Parish Church is a lone headstone to John Bones, who died in 1799, age 66.
As a tribute of filial gratitude
To one of the best of Parents,
This stone is erected by an affectionate
Son, who, after a long absence from
His native country, visits the
Grave of his Father with feelings
Of undiminished regret.
1st Septr. 1822
Records do not indicate which of the emigrant sons of the patriarch John Bones of Duneane returned home and erected this gravestone for his father.¹ [underlining added.]
It isn’t exactly known when John’s children — John, Samuel, Robert, Jane (with her family), and William — and his wife, Elizabeth, emigrated to America. They most likely came between 1802 and 1804. The oldest son, James, arrived in 1810 with his wife and 9 children. Brothers James and Samuel had participated in the 1798 Rebellion for a free and united Ireland, most likely leading to difficulties for their family and the need to seek a better situation elsewhere. The family settled in different parts of South Carolina and Samuel ended up in Alabama.
A look at when each of the brothers died narrows down which one may have erected the headstone. The only brothers alive on 1 September 1822 were James, John, and William. John was a merchant, but died 30 September 1822. James was a farmer and William was a merchant, so William seems the more likely brother.
There is a lot to be gleaned from the inscription itself. There is so much emotion in these few words. The son that erected the headstone thought highly of his father and felt a great deal of affection for him. If this headstone was erected by one of the sons who emigrated first, then it’s possible that son had not been in Ireland for 20 years or more. And the phrase “undiminished regret” brings tender feelings of sorrow and loss that can still be felt almost 200 years later.
More pictures of the cemetery, church, and John Bones’ headstone:
This post is part of my Ireland Genealogy Trip series.
- Brown, Katharine L. “Antrim to Augusta: Adaptation and Identity among Ulster Emigrants in Augusta, Georgia, 1800-1875.” Scotch-Irish Studies 1, no. 2 (2001): 33-55.