On a 1908 Pennsylvania death certificate for John Stewart, 82, his birthplace is listed as "Cold Rain" Ireland. Irony aside, I think it can be safely assumed that this is a butchering of Coleraine, Ireland, in County Derry (Londonderry). enter image description here

My question is, what does this actually indicate? Was he born in the town of Coleraine? The civil parish? The Catholic parish? The informant on the death certificate is his daughter's husband, M'Clure Hartzell, who lived on the farm. It is likely the informant heard the deceased say where he was from at some point. So what would a man born in 1820s Ulster mean by saying he was from Coleraine?

  • Have you found a baptism record for him?
    – PolyGeo
    Dec 16, 2020 at 20:27
  • 2
    There is no irony in "Cold Rain Ireland".
    – RonJohn
    Dec 16, 2020 at 21:05
  • @PolyGeo No. Just found this death certificate and was wondering what he would have meant by it.
    – user5836
    Dec 17, 2020 at 13:17

3 Answers 3


As someone who lives a few miles from Coleraine, to me the town of Coleraine is where he was born. Simple as that.

The 1831 census of Coleraine parish has 7 Stewart families in the town a mix of Presbyterian and Church of Ireland. Heads of household were Fanny, James, Alexander, Susan, Joseph, Andrew & John. The Church of Ireland parish records start in 1769. None of the Presbyterian churches has records that go back to the 1820s. The west side of Coleraine is in Killowen parish. Their Church of Ireland records start in 1824.

  • thanks very much for looking up the Stewart families. The family in question were Presbyterians in the US, so that should narrow it down.
    – user5836
    Aug 17, 2021 at 11:59

In a different context, one of our community members cautioned against premature connectivitis syndrome (PCS) when connecting up people, and I think the advice to "think INCHWORM (rather than leapfrog)" is equally valuable here, when you are thinking about a place name.

Your question suggests you already know that civil parishes and Catholic parishes in Ireland are two differnt things. But the goal of finding someone's birthplace in Ireland is to identify the townland. IrelandXO's Guide What is a townland? says:

Townlands are the smallest subdivision of a geographical division of land in Ireland. They are of no small importance to the family historian because they can provide a traceable address to the present day, especially for ancestors who lived in rural or less populated areas.

They also say the townland "pre-dates the Norman invasion and is the smallest territorial unit to have survived since medieval times."

Their research guide has research strategies and links to sites that can help you identify the townland from clues like the one you've found in this record. Look for other records in the US to see if you can get more information. Did John Stewart naturalize? Can you find an obituary? Do you have a place of origin in Ireland for other members of his family, his associates, his neighbors?

Search widely and exhaust all known US records before you try to leap across the water to Ireland on the basis of one clue.

Special caution: When correlating information from records, be aware that the place name reported as where someone is "from" can change depending on circumstances.

  • People who were born in a very small place may give the name of the nearest larger town when asked "Where are you from?" because the hearer is more likely to know the larger town than the smaller one.
  • People whose family moved when your person of interest were very young may be come to known as "from" the second place when it is not their actual birthplace.

It is because of pitfalls like this that makes depending on just one record perilous. When you put the reported birthplaces on a timeline, and better yet, when you can examine the reported birthplaces for an entire group of siblings, migration patterns for the family can be revealed.


  • Thanks for the reply and I am working on all of the things that you mention. My question really is, what would a person from Coleraine mean by saying that that was where they were born, from a cultural perspective? My own answer to that question varies depending on who asks it.
    – user5836
    Dec 17, 2020 at 13:15
  • 1
    (This is not enough for an answer but too much for a comment.) Have you found his obituary? One version is available via newspapers.com (New Castle (PA) Herald) and another via newspaperarchive.com (New Castle News). The one from the News mentions a wife (but not by name), children by name, and surviving sisters by name. If you can't track John back to Ireland, try tracking his sisters. What do their death certificates and obituaries say for a birthplace? He died in 1908; have you found him in the 1900 census? Any earlier censuses?
    – shoover
    Dec 18, 2020 at 3:41
  • @DRShort I've added to my answer. I can only answer based on my own experience. If other community members can address the cultural issues more directly, I invite them to add their own answers. That's the whole point of this Q/A format. If you discover resources that answer the question for you, please write them up as a self-answer. I stand by the main point of my answer, that it's rarely a good idea to hang a proof on the basis of the information in one source.
    – Jan Murphy
    Dec 18, 2020 at 7:29
  • 1
    @shoover Gentle reminder that we shouldn't answer Qs in the comments (yes, I've done it too, leaving breadcrumbs when I didn't have time to write an answer). But if you must, better to tag the person who wrote the Q.
    – Jan Murphy
    Dec 18, 2020 at 7:33
  • @shoover Thanks very much for the information. I am actually tracing this fella as a means to learn more about one of his sisters. In theory, John Stewart's obit should be available on the New Castle Public Library website (ncdlc.org/family-local-history), but the search feature is clunky and has not turned it up yet. I do have a copy of his Will, which names his wife and two children, but no other relatives. A 1930 census record for his daughter gives his place of birth as "Northern Ireland."
    – user5836
    Dec 18, 2020 at 15:45

In your original post you asked whether Coleraine might mean the civil parish or the RC parish. Presbyterians in Ireland didn’t use the parish system for their churches, so it wouldn’t be normal for them to mean a parish, and they especially wouldn’t be referring to an RC parish. As I said before, to me Coleraine just means the town.

There’s mention of the importance of townlands in Ireland as a way of identifying where your family came from. That’s absolutely correct and critical in rural areas. But not if you live in a town. A town is just a town, and so if you came from Coleraine, you would just say that.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.