Archive – Collins – Methodists

Hello Fiona:

I regularly read your column with great interest. My wife and I have just returned from our first trip to Ireland, which we thoroughly enjoyed. For us, seeing the very striking Famine Memorial on the banks of the Liffey was very poignant, as my Collins ancestors are said to have come to Canada during this period. The ancestral home for both of us is County Antrim. Our Collins family lore states that my great-great grandfather Thomas Collins and his wife Eliza Smith emigrated from County Antrim to Smiths Falls in Upper Canada (now Ontario), in 1847 during the Potato Famine. He is said to have come to Canada with his 2 brothers, John Edward Collins and William Collins. We have the genealogical details of all 3 emigrating brothers, but not of their father who remained in Ireland. Their father, my 3x G-grandfather Collins, is said to have been a Methodist minister in County Antrim.

There couldn’t have been too many Methodist ministers named Collins working in Antrim at that particular time….  Any help you could give me concerning this book or any other hints would be greatly appreciated.

John Collins

Thanks John, it’s nice to hear that the Q&A isn’t just disappearing into the ether.

Ca. 1747 Methodism was introduced to Ireland – its appeal was to the common folk, dissatisfied with the hierarchical Church of Ireland.  Most Irish Methodists were drawn from the CoI, although at the start at least, a small number were also Presbyterian.  From its start ca. 1747 up to 1817, records of Irish Methodists can usually be found in their local Church of Ireland parish.

Ca. 1817 the Irish Methodist church split, between those who wanted to remain within the Church of Ireland (Primitive Wesleyan Methodists) and those who wanted to separate from it (Wesleyan Methodists).  On the basis of the evidence provided, it seems that your Collins ancestor was probably a Minister in the Wesleyan Methodist church, based in Antrim.

Up to 1850, County Antrim appears to have been criss-crossed by a number of Wesleyan Methodist circuits: Ballyclare; Ballycastle; Belfast; Belfast North; Belfast South (may have crossed into County Antrim); Carrickfergus; Coleraine; Lisburn; Moira (crossed into County Down).

If we can trace which one of these circuits the Collins’ father was a minister in, it may then be possible to trace early records of the Collins family.

The quickest and most direct way to determine this, are the Minutes of the Methodist Conferences in Ireland 1752-1851.  These published books provide the names of the Ministers on their specific circuits.  They also contain obituaries of ministers, which usually gives a brief summary of their circuits from the start of their ministries.

Once you’ve identified the circuit or circuits in which your Collins’ ancestors probably lived in the 1830s and 40s, you can then try to trace Membership registers.  Membership registers, also known as Class lists, were kept from the mid 1700s, but few of these early records survive.  What does survive dates from the early to mid-19thCentury onwards.  The information recorded is limited to (usually) the person’s name, often arranged in family groups, and particularly from the mid 19th Century, an address.  Frequently the Membership registers are annotated, and comments can include dates of death, removal or marriage.

Copies and originals of Methodist church records can be found in the Public Records Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) under the document reference CR/6.

Microfilm copies of the Methodist church records are referenced MIC/IE.

In relation to this query , Robin P. Roddie, Archivist of the Methodist Historical Society of Ireland, wrote to us:

“There have only been two Irish Methodist ministers by the name of Collins: one, William Collins, who was born Ireland 1735 became an itinerant Irish Methodist preacher in 1767 and after five years service in Ireland was transferred to England because he ‘had too much self esteem’ and ‘his wife was too expensive for Irish Circuits’. He died by suicide in March 1797. The second was Alfred Collins, born Donacloney, County Down, 26 November 1905. He died Bangor, County Down, 19 May 1990.

Robin also wrote,

“It may be helpful to know that a complete database is maintained at the Methodist Historical Society of Ireland archives at Edgehill College, Belfast of every Methodist minister who has served in Ireland, including lists of stations, dates of birth, death, marriage (where relevant) and family.”

Best wishes,