The joy of ancestors who do the unexpected

Every now and again, you come across an ancestor who gives you a surprise, and they can be fascinating to research. Let’s be honest, someone who is born, works, marries, has children and dies in more or less the same place, and leads a life normal enough to leave no other record behind, lacks a bit of sparkle for a family historian! But one of today’s people led me to a Strachan descendant who had quite a life, and she was certainly intriguing to research.

While checking out the census entries for Mary Wilson Strachan, born 1862 and married to John McVie, I clicked on their children to see whether they’d all been born in Kilmaurs, Ayrshire – which they had. But when I clicked on their daughter Mary Lindsay McVie, born in about 1884, I was led to her entry for 1901, when she was a domestic servant in Kilmarnock, then to an entry in London for the 1911 census. London? I had to look into it.

The 1911 census has the household schedule for 60 Hartismere Road, Fulham. The head of the household is John McLaunahan Hamilton, age 42, a journalistic artist working for a newspaper, born in Renfrewshire, Scotland. He has completed the married and children columns, saying he’d been married for 20 years and had 4 children born, 3 living. The second person is Mary Lindsay McVie, a boarder age 26, single and born in Kilmaurs, Ayrshire, with nothing in the occupation column. Finally, there is Phyllis Estella Hamilton, age 4 born in London, with nothing in the relationship column. Intriguing. John Hamilton says he’s married, not widowed, and it looks as if young Phyllis is his daughter. So where is his wife and his other children?

They proved easy to find. In 1901 John M Hamilton, age 32 and a journalistic artist, was living in Cathcart, Renfrewshire with wife Jeanie K Hamilton born Barrhead, Renfrewshire and two daughters, Maggie R Hamilton age 9 and Jeanie K P Hamilton age 5, plus a visitor and a domestic servant. In 1911, there is a Mrs J M Hamilton age 41, married for 20 years with 3 children born and 2 living, born in Barrhead, Renfrewshire with daughter Jeanie Hamilton age 15 born in Glasgow. Neither give an occupation, and they are living at 48 Fernhurst Road, Fulham – which is only a few streets away from Hartismere Road where John Hamilton is living with Mary McVie. Plus there is a marriage for his other daughter Maggie Ried Hamilton in Fulham in 1909.

So Phyllis Estella Hamilton, born in Kensington in 1906, appears to be John Hamilton’s daughter but she is not the daughter of his wife Jeanie. Which leads one to the conclusion that she is the daughter of Mary Lindsay McVie, and that John Hamilton has left his wife and is living with Mary.

How did they meet? Did she start working for the family as a domestic servant in Scotland, move to London with them, and then went into a relationship with her employer that resulted in his setting up two households – one for his wife and daughters and one for himself, Mary and their daughter Phyllis? Hopefully he made a good living as a journalistic artist, as that can’t have been a cheap way to live!

It must have been something of a family scandal at the time. What did Mary McVie’s family make of it? However, that isn’t the end of Mary McVie’s story. Looking to see what became of her after 1911 unearthed quite a story.

John McL Hamilton died in 1915 age 47, his death registered in the July-Aug-Sept quarter at Chelsea, London. However, also in the July-Aug-Sept quarter of 1915, Mary L McVie married John C McAuley at Newcastle, Northumberland. When she left John Hamilton is a mystery, but given the following I suspect she had left him some time before then, and returned to Scotland with her daughter Phyllis.

Mr McCauley was actually Charles J McAuley from USA, and in 1916 he was issued with a Certificate of Registration of American Citizen at Glasgow. He was from Alabama, residing in Glasgow where he was an electrical engineer, married to Molly McVie McAuley, who was born in Kilmarnock, and he said he had a daughter Phyllis born in London in 1906 who was currently residing in Kilmarnock. He gives the name of Mrs Thomas Watson of 30 Titchfield Street, Kilmarnock as the person to contact in case of death or accident, which could well be a sister of Mary McVie.

Charles McCauley then travelled to New York in June 1916, and Molly McAuley age 30 with daughter Phyllis McAuley followed in September 1916. The 1920 USA census has Molly L McAuley age 33, widow, arrived USA 1916 and born Scotland, working as a solderer at a novelty factory and living with daughter Phyllis E Hamilton age 13. They are in Waterbury, Connecticut. So Charles John McAuley died between 1916 and 1920. Could he have died in WW1? A search of the Commonwealth War Graves site produced the certificate for Sergeant Charles John McCauley of the Canadian Railway Troops who died in September 1917 in Belgium and is remembered at the Coxyde Military Cemetary. It says he was the husband of Mary McAuley of Waterbury, Connecticut.

The 1930 USA Census has Mary McAuley age 43, widow, living on her own in Naugatak, Connecticut, working as a domestic nurse. Her daughter is close by, though, as Phyllis married Charles Varian, manager of a quarry, and had children. Phyllis died in 1990 and her death record gives her name as Phyllis E Varian, father’s surname Hamilton.

So yes, Phyllis born in 1906 was the daughter of Mary McVie and John Hamilton, who had left his wife and was with Mary in 1911. But for whatever reason the relationship didn’t last long, and Mary married Charles McAuley in Newcastle in 1915, possibly returning first to Scotland, and John Hamilton died at about the same time. Mary and her daughter Phyllis then went to Connecticut to be with John McAuley in 1916, but her husband was killed in WW1. Mary and her daughter continued to live in Connecticut, where daughter Phyllis married and had children.

It’s amazing what you can discover about someone through online research these days

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6 responses to “The joy of ancestors who do the unexpected

  1. Judy; You should start writing novels, you have an uncanny ability to fill in the missing detail with only brief hard facts to work with. I so enjoy your blog. Keep up the fantastic reporting. Cousin Colin.

    • Funny you should say that, Colin. In the past I have written a novel, sadly not published, although an agent liked my writing style. But I have had short stories published. Maybe I should have another go at a novel.

  2. Judy, you continue to amaze me with your tenacity in researching our family. Your blog is a joy to read. Fourth Cousin Cathy

  3. That’s an amazing bit of research. Did John Hamilton leave a will at all? That might make interesting reading too. Friend Kath.

    • Sadly he didn’t. But Mary McVie’s story was reminding me of your Jemima for a while, until it became obvious she wasn’t with John for all that long.

      I did almost all the research using Ancestry, which is a great resource if you have ancestors who migrated to USA or Canada.

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