Wednesday, 15 May 2013

From Question to Quest

It began with a very simple question, ‘Who were they?’  Like so many others, I wanted to get to know my family, I wanted to know their stories. My line of the Sproules came from a townland called Tullymoan, in Urney, County Tyrone. I was born in Derry, and we knew very little of the Sproule family history. I set off to find the answer to that simple question, ‘Who were these Sproules?’

As I followed the Sproules back in time, I found myself further and further from the gentle rolling hills of rural Ireland and the sedate Presbyterian culture of Urney. Eighteen months on, that simple question has become, ‘The Sproule Quest’.

Worthy of the Word ‘Quest’?

The word ‘quest’ implies travelling to far distant lands, having exciting adventures, with perhaps some wild romances thrown in.

Needless to say, I did not leave my comfortable living room. However, my trusty laptop and I spent many happy hours travelling fearlessly through the genealogy online world.  We learnt the best routes, made great new discoveries and gathered precious pieces of evidence along the way.

But this journey was not mine. It was those long dead Sproules that I was tracking through the mists of time who were the true adventurers. It is for them that I claim the term ‘Quest’. Their long forgotten stories tick all the boxes to qualify, and it is their adventures that I wish to share here.

Clady Bridge by Jim Hamilton

The Beginnings

I was born a Sproule, the daughter of Robert Sproule of Derry, who was son of Robert Sproule of Tullymoan, in the parish of Urney, Co Tyrone. The Tullymoan Sproules were farming folk on rich, rolling land near Clady, close to the border with Donegal.

My Grandfather was the youngest of a large family, and he had left the Tullymoan farm to join the Royal Irish Constabulary in 1901. Eventually he settled his family in Derry. We had lost touch with Tullymoan Sproules,  and I was left with just a few pictures of my Grandfather, and a couple of family stories to help me on my search.

The Sproule in Jamaica

One family story that had been handed down gave a hint of what was to come, though at the time I didn’t take it very seriously. It was said that an uncle, Andrew Sproule, had gone to Jamaica, made his fortune and had left all of his money to the Presbyterian Church in Urney. As children we were not too amused by this Uncle Andrew, who we felt should have left his money to his poor relatives!  But even as children, the story seemed totally unbelievable, it was too farfetched.

As with much family lore, I found that there was truth in this story, but it was not quite accurate. Firstly, the ‘uncle’, who I would have thought should have lived in about the 1920s, in fact died in 1801! My great, great Uncle Andrew Sproule, of Arnotto Bay Jamaica, did indeed leave a fortune, much more than the hefty £1000 that he left to Urney.  In fact, he left specific instructions that the Urney money was to be distributed to the poor, which it was for a long time thereafter. The Jamaican connection plays a major part in the Sproule story, as does Bombay!

My Goals

I have two goals now.
I feel it is important to document this line of the Sproule family tree, but more than that, I would like to try to tell their stories. To do this, I will have to set the context, to explore widely different worlds such as the nature of those times in Tyrone, the culture of the white plantation owners in Jamaica, the East India Company and the structure of the British rule in India and so much more.  My goal is to use this blog to paint these pictures and to tell the story of the Sproule Quests.

My second goal is to find the origin of the Tullymoan Sproules. The Sproule family came to Ireland from Scotland. There is some very good genealogy work done on the original Tyrone families, though there are big holes in the evidence! However, no-one has ever found where the Tullymoan Sproules originate. They do not fit comfortably into any known lines. They may also be important to the whole Tyrone Sproule story, as there is a view that they were the very first settlers in Ireland.

My goal to trace the origins of the family and to use this blog to document the search.  It is tricky, but I have some very good lines of enquiry!

I hope you will wish me well on my quest, as I wish you well on yours!

Next Chapter - Sara Dreenan Wife of Robert Sproule of Derry


  1. Hi Kate, My name is Matt Sproule and I live in Brisbane, Australia. I love the work you have been doing, well done.

    I too have been trying to trace the Sproule Genealogy and have been using as my research. I note with interest the Tyrone County Sproules as I am sure our family history is from Tyrone County, although I guess in terms of research I have a long way to go.

    We are having a Sproule Family reunion in Sydney, Australia next weekend and I would like to print your blog and have it available to show my family here, if that is ok with you ?

    Anyway I look forward to further postings from you.

    Kind Regards
    Matt Sproule

  2. Hi Matt, thanks for your comment! I hope you have a great time at your Sproule family reunion - I'd be delighted if you show the family the information on this blog. There will be more interesting family stories coming soon! Kind regards, Kate

  3. Hi Matt, I have set up a Facebook page to share information - Comments and info welcome from all!

  4. Hi Kate, Funnily enough I have been invited by James Sproule who lives in London to like your page today and have just done that, James has an extensive PDF document that he sent me (called "Eight Centuries of the Spreul & Sproule Families FIRST EDITION" it's 317 pages long), I am seems it's a small world in the Sproule Family. Fantastic work and I will try to post a few pictures on your facebook page during our reunion next weekend :) Kind regards Matt

  5. That would be great, Matt! Regards, Kate