At last – a McCrae breakthrough

If you worry at a problem for long enough a solution will appear. This has just happened with my McCrae brick wall.

My gg grandfather John McCrae was born in about 1839/40, and married Mary Ann Mcinairney in 1861 in Kilmarnock. On his marriage certificate he gave his parents as John McCrae labourer dead and Mary McCrae ms Henderson dead. I found a death certificate for his mother Mary but not for his father. Mary McCrae died in 1860 and her son John gave her parents’ names as John Henderson labourer dead and Jean Henderson ms McCrae. That Mary Henderson married a John McCrae and also had a mother called Jean McCrae is possible, of course, but has always bothered me a bit. But despite a thorough search, I failed to find him or his mother in the 1851 census. It did occur to me that they might have been from Ireland: in the census John McCrae has his birthplace as Kilmarnock except in the 1891 census where it says he was born in Ireland.

I was also aware that when ScotlandsPeople put the 1851 census online they mucked it up and the Kilmarnock records were missing. I’ve no idea when they fixed it, but fix it they have. This week I was prompted to look again (thank you Rob for bringing up the subject of McCrae research again) and found this:

1851 John McCrae
1851 Census

In case you can’t read it easily, it says:
Lawsons Land, Strand, Low Church, Kilmarnock
Mary Henderson head of house, widow age 43, washer woman, born Ireland C. Antrim
Martha Todd lodger widow age 65, pauper binder of shoes, born Ireland C. Antrim
Susanna Bell lodger married age 21, hand sewer, born Ireland C. Antrim
John McRae lodger age 11, bearer, born Ireland C. Antrim
Wm Donigan lodger age 3, born Kilmarnock

I am positive this is the right John McCrae for several reasons:
– His mother was Mary Henderson
– He called one of his daughters Susan Bell McCrae
– His wife Mary Ann had a half sister called Sarah McKinnon who married William Donigan
– A bearer was the early name for a coal drawer, a job boys did in a coal mine
I don’t know who Martha Todd was but haven’t yet researched her.

I have no idea why they are all called lodgers. However, the entry for John has been added in afterwards by the enumerator, so must have been missed off when the enumerator was first copying the individual forms into his book. Very easy for a mistake to have been made, or for him to use ditto marks when they didn’t actually apply.

Then, of course, I looked for Mary Henderson, and not Mary McCrae, in 1841 – and there she was:

1841 John McCrae
1841 Census

And again in case you can’t read it easily, it says:
College Wynd, Kilmarnock
Mary Henderson age 35, born Ireland
John McCrae or McCree (difficult to read) age 12, born Ireland
Shusan Bell age 11, born Ireland
Elizabeth Lathan age 25, born Ireland
Robt Lathan age 6, born Ireland
Susan Lathan age 2, born Ireland

It must be the same Mary Henderson and Susan Bell. John McCrae is listed as age 12 – but could that have been 12 months and not 12 years? Has the enumerator made a mistake when copying the form into his book? I haven’t researched the Lathan family yet, but it seems as if Mary Henderson took in boarders to help provide her with an income.

College Wynd is close to Strand Street, where Lawson’s Land was, and is close to Fore Street where John McCrae was living in 1861.

Kilmarnock 1855
Kilmarnock in 1855

So it is looking very much as if gg grandfather John McCrae originated in Northern Ireland, somewhere in Country Antrim, and arrived in Kilmarnock with his mother Mary Henderson when he was only a few months old.

An additional link to these census entries is that in 1850 Susan Bell married Jacob Owens. In 1851 Susan Bell is said to be married, and Jacob Owen was living just a few doors away (and is on the next census page) with his mother and siblings, and his entry also says he is married. Very frustratingly, I’ve been unable to find a death certificate for Susan Bell or Owen/s on ScotlandsPeople, as I’m desperate to know who her parents were!

However, during my searches (which were aided by the very helpful Jonn on RootsChat – always a good place to post your problems) I discovered that John McCrae and Mary Ann McInairney had a child born in 1881 who died at 6 weeks old. He was called Jacob Owens McCrae.

There is now lots more research to do on my McCrae line, but I need to flex the credit card and buy more credits on ScotlandsPeople before I can go further. It also means research on that line takes me to County Antrim. I’ve avoided delving into Irish records as I know a lot were destroyed, so finding people there is difficult. But it looks like I’m going to have to bite the bullet and have a go.

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5 responses to “At last – a McCrae breakthrough

  1. Big breakthrough there – well done . If you are looking at irish ancestry – do you know of Chris Paton-he is an authority on it. He has written a book about researching Irish ancestry.He has useful blog – British Genes and often quotes useful sources for irish on that .He co- incidentally also lives in Ayrshire near Kilmarnock. Nice chap – very approachable I did an online course with him and have heard him lecture at Kew . .

    • Yes, I’ve heard of Chris Paton and subscribe to his blog posts. He sounds lovely, with a great sense of humour. Have to admit to stopping research when I hit “born in Ireland”! Must buy Chris’s book and see what it has to say.

      The McCrae breakthrough feels very special – it’s only taken about 10 years of banging my head on it’s brick wall for it to tumble just a bit!

  2. Fantastic!!!! Am so pleased that you’ve managed to break through a brick wall. But of course, there are now so many more questions. Good luck with the next steps in your research; looking forward to reading about them in due course.

    • Thank you. A breakthrough feels brilliant, doesn’t it? But with the McCrae’s the next step is researching Irish records, something I’ve tried to avoid up till now. Time to bite the bullet, but I need to gather my energies first.

      • Good luck. I’ve heard “the Irish records” spoken of in hushed tones, with much head- shaking. I’m feeling very lucky all (really – ALL) my ancestors so far have been Scots. Not even that – mainly from Fife, Angus and Perthshire. I know I’ll have to start looking for the Leslie’s in Elgin; but that’s for another day.

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