In the most recent episode of Who Do You Think You Are? US Bryan Cranston, star of the TV shows Breaking Bad and Malcolm in the Middle, traced his Cranston ancestry back through American and Canadian records to his great great grandparents, Joseph Cranston and Sarah McLeod.
Bryan Cranston’s Irish Origins
During the course of his search, Bryan discovered that Joseph Cranston was born in Co. Armagh in Ireland. As the Irish researchers for WDYTYA, we investigated the origins of this Cranston family in Armagh. Cranston is not a typical Irish surname. According to George Black’s Surnames of Scotland the name is Scottish in origin. However, a quick ‘Surname Search’ on Irish Ancestors
found that in the mid-19th century there were 68 Cranston households recorded in Ireland, the majority of which were found in counties Cavan, Armagh and Fermanagh. The survey is based on the surnames that appear in Griffith’s Valuation
. Bryan Cranston already knew that his great great grandfather was born in Armagh, so a closer look was made of that county. Griffith’s Valuation recorded the Cranston name in the civil parishes of Loughgall, Kilmore, Grange, Mullaghbrack, Tartaraghan and Drumcree. Although Bryan’s ancestor had left Ireland by the time of the Valuation, which was compiled between 1847 and 1864, the presence of the surname in specific parishes were a clue to his ancestor’s possible place of origin and his parents or siblings may have remained in Ireland and been recorded in the valuation.
The next step was to identify church records for these identified parishes for evidence of the baptism of Joseph Cranston, but what was the family religion? This was easily determined when a search of the Calendars of Marriage License Bonds for the Diocese of Armagh found a reference to Joseph’s marriage to Sarah McLeod in 1843. The fact that the couple married by license suggests that one or both of them belonged to the Church of Ireland, the established church. McLeod is also a name of Scottish origin and is not common in Ireland. At the time of Griffith’s Valuation there were 39 McLeod households in Ireland, only two of which were found in Armagh. If Joseph’s wife also originated in Armagh, locating her place of birth might lead us to the correct Cranston family. The two McLeod households in Armagh in the 1850s were in the civil parish of Ballymore.
The civil parishes of Kilmore and Mullaghbrack are adjacent to the civil parish of Ballymore. The names Cranston and McLeod appear in this trio of parishes in the 1850s and this may have been the place where Joseph Cranston and Sarah McLeod originated. There are surviving registers for the Church of Ireland parishes of Ballymore (1783) and Kilmore (1789), but those of Mullaghbrack only partially survive. These registers are available on microfilm in the Public Records Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI)
. We inspected the registers for Ballymore and Kilmore in PRONI, where we discovered gaps in the Ballymore register. Although no evidence was found for the baptism of Sarah McLeod, there was a Joseph Cranston baptised in the Church of Ireland parish of Kilmore, Co. Armagh on 18th May 1822 to parents Henry and Jane Cranston of Drummagard Primate. Joseph had brothers, James (b. 1819) and Robert (b. 1820). The townland address of this family was most likely Drumard (Primate), which is today located on the Red Lion Road, just outside of Portadown. The evidence gathered from the surviving records points to the likelihood that this Joseph Cranston, born in Drumard (Primate) in 1822 to Henry and Jane was the great great grandfather of Bryan Cranston.