27 December (1) – great grandfather John McCrae

A separate entry today for my great grandfather John McCrae as there’s a lot to say about how I eventually managed to discover just who he was.

27 December 1861 (born about 1840)

My great grandfather John McCrae was born in about 1840. As I’ve already written about him under the McCrae tab (see above), here I’ll discuss how I managed to piece together his life as it wasn’t easy. My starting point was my grandmother – Helen McCrae’s marriage certificate gave her parents as John McCrae and Marion McNainey, so as well as finding Helen’s birth certificate at ScotlandsPeople – which has her parents as John McCrae and Mary Ann McNarnie – I could also look her for and her parents in the census.

I found the McCrae family in Kilmarnock in 1891 at High Church Lane, John a coal miner born Ireland and wife Mary Ann born Kilmarnock, with all their children born in Kilmarnock. In 1901 John and Mary Ann, this time both born Kilmarnock, are at High Street. The 1911 census showed Mary Ann McCrae in Riccarton and a widow, so that gave me a rough date of when John McCrae died.

On accessing John’s death certificate, I discovered he died in August 1904 at The Infirmary, Kilmarnock of cardiac failure and passive congestion of the lungs. The informant was his son Matthew who didn’t know his grandparents’ names: this wasn’t very helpful, so the next step was tracing John backwards in the census. 1881 has he was at Mill Lane, Kilmarnock and his wife is listed as Mary Ann Marshall (which turned out to be her mother’s maiden surname). John said he was born in Kilmarnock but Mary Ann said she was born England (in Newcastle, as it turned out). John, a coal miner, and and Mary Ann had 6 children with them. In 1871 they are at Dean Lane, Kilmarnock with 4 children and 2 lodgers, William Dunnagan and Sarah McKennon who my later research proved to be connected to the McCraes and the Marshalls: Mary Ann is listed as Marion. Again it says John was born in Kilmarnock and Mary Ann in England.

As John and Mary Ann’s oldest child was 9 in 1871, they must have got married about 10 years previously, and sure enough I found a marriage for them in Kilmarnock in 1861. They married on 27 December 1861 at Fore Street, Kilmarnock and coal miner John McCrae said his parents were John McCrae labourer dead and Mary McCrae ms Henderson dead. That meant he might not be with his parents in 1861, and I found him at an address in Fore Street lodging with Grizel Owens and her son. Also at the same address (which must have been a tenement building) was Mary Ann McInairney with her grandmother, mother and siblings: her grandmother and mother have the surname Marshall, and one of her siblings is Sarah McKinnon (who is the Sarah McKennon who was lodging with John and Mary Ann in 1881).

At that point I hit a problem, as I couldn’t find John in the 1851 census, so I looked for death certificates for his parents. His mother died in Kilmarnock in 1860. The informant was her son John McCrae so the information about her would have been simply what he knew: he said she was Mary McCrae widow of a labourer, who was not named, daughter of John Henderson labourer dead and Jean Henderson ms McCrae. So if this is correct, Mary Henderson had both a mother and a husband who had the surname McCrae (which is perfectly possible but also makes me a little bit suspicious about how accurate John’s knowledge was). No death certificate could be found for John McCrae’s father. I then searched in vain for the birth of John McCrae: it was before official registration of births so I was reliant on parish baptism registers, and there was nothing.

And that was that for quite a while …. until I discovered that when ScotlandsPeople first put the 1851 census online, they missed out a chunk of Kilmarnock and added it later. So I searched again and lo and behold – there was John McCrae age 11 at Lawsons Land Street, Low Church, Kilmarnock along with Mary Henderson widow age 43. The 1851 census entry adds light and confusion in equal measure, however, because Mary Henderson age 43, widow and washer woman, means Henderson could be either her married or her maiden name, as in Scotland widows frequently reverted to their maiden name. But her place of birth was given as County Antrim, Ireland and with her are 4 people: the first is described as lodger with ditto marks for the rest but I doubt if they were all lodgers. The first is Martha Todd age 65, pauper and binder of shoes, born Antrim, the second is Susanna Bell married age 21 and a hand sewer born Antrim, the third is John McRae (as the name is written) age 11 bearer born Antrim, and the third is Wm Donigan age 3 born Kilmarnock. Wm Donigan is the William who was lodging with John and Mary Ann in 1871, and Susan Bell must be who John and Mary Ann named their daughter Susan Bell McCrae after, so there was obviously a close connection with the 1851 lodgers.

This made me search the 1841 census again, and this time I found who I’m sure is John McCrae at College Wynd, Kilmarnock, which is next to the Low Church. He is with Mary Henderson age 35 born Ireland and Shusan Bell age 11 born Ireland. It says John McCrae or McCree (writing is not very clear) is age 12 born Ireland but I feel sure the age for John McCrae ought to read 12 months, and the enumerator failed to transcribe correctly when completing his book. There are two more children in the household: Robert Lathan age 6 and Susan Lathan age 2, both born Ireland.

So it looks as if John McCrae was born in Country Antrim, Ireland in 1840, and came to Kilmarnock with his mother and other family connections either just before or just after his father died. The other possibility is that he was illegitimate, and although his father was John McCrae he wasn’t married to mother Jean Henderson. I admit to not having done any research into their Irish roots as I know researching Irish records is a nightmare – but it is a task I intend to try and tackle in 2014.

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