When I was a kid, I sometimes heard that we had some Irish ancestry on my mother’s side, the Agin family. My grandfather Harry Agin (1900-1970) died when I was nine years old, so I never got the chance to ask him about his family origins. As a teenager, I asked my grandmother Anna Sabol (1904-1988) what she knew, but the only answer she gave was that the Agins were “a League o’ Nations.”
It turns out my grandmother was more right than I realized. Through my research, I have learned that Harry’s mother Mathilde (Tillie) Miller (1872-?) was a German immigrant while his father Jacob Sylvester Agin (1868-?) descended from an ethnic smorgasbord of families that go back to colonial times.
Through Harry’s grandmother – my great-great-grandmother Rhoda Wyckoff (1850-1907) – I can trace my lineage back to some of the pioneering families of the Dutch New Netherland colony. Some were ethnically Dutch and some were not. These ancestors – Walloons, English, Danish and who knows what else – added to the Dutch colony’s unique ethnic diversity, which persisted long after the colony became New York.
Still, the national origins of the Agin family remained a bit obscure. I was able to trace the Agin family line back to my fourth great-grandfather James Agin (1759-1836). I learned, from an affidavit James filed when he applied for a Revolutionary War veteran’s pension, that he was born in Somerset County, N.J. After his service in the war, he eventually settled in Hunterdon County, N.J. with his wife Ann (maiden name unknown). The couple had seven children, including my third great-grandfather John Agin (c. 1784-?), the oldest.
The only documentary evidence comes from a secondary source. In A Skech of the Agin Family of Old Amwell Township in Hunterdon County, New Jersey (Fonic Publishing House, Ringoes, N.J., 1889), a brief family history published many decades after James’ death, author Cornelius W. Larison says of James:
He was of Irish extraction. His wife it is said was a Welsh woman.
Perhaps that was all the evidence I needed. But now I have 21st century, scientific proof that the Agins were indeed Irish. The breakthrough came when I connected, through this blog, with other people tracing the Agin family’s roots.
One of these correspondents, Mark C. Agin, has done tremendous work tracing the Agin family line. He descends from James’ son Charles, one of two Agin offspring who moved to Ohio in the 1830s. Mark explained that he and three other men with the Agjn or Agins last name created a family surname project through Family Tree DNA.
Two of the men are descendants of James Agin. The other two descend from an Isaac Agin (c. 1795-1873) who lived in Pennsylvania. While Isaac’s connection to James has not been documented, his obituary appeared in the Hunterdon Gazette noting that he was “formerly of this place.”
The tests all show a link to the Clan Egan of County Offaly in south central Ireland. As the clan’s website explains, the Clan Egan are “descendants of Aodhagáin, hereditary Brehons (or Judges) in Connaught, Leinster and Ormond.” The name has developed many variations over the years, including MacEgan, Egan, Eagan, Eagen, Keegan, Agin and Agins.
Since James was one of 64 fourth great-grandparents, I can now say for certain that I’m 1/64th (or 1.5625%) Irish!
The tests also strongly suggest that Isaac was James’ nephew, which means that James had a brother who does not appear in the surviving documentary records.
Unfortunately, we know from James’ pension application that the courthouse in Somerset County was burned by the Redcoats in 1778, destroying any official Agin family records. In a deposition, James said his date of birth was recorded in a family Bible his mother owned before she passed away. Sadly, no one knows where that Bible might be today. Perhaps it is languishing in an attic somewhere. Perhaps it was destroyed long ago. But it’s fair to say that James Agin’s mother’s Bible is probably the only way we will ever learn who James’ parents or siblings were – or how the Agins made their way from Ireland to America.