Mcrae – coal miners from Ayrshire
Henderson – from Antrim in Northern Ireland
It took a long time to sort out the origins of my great grandfather John McCrae but it’s amazing what perseverance can produce. It looks as if he, and certainly his mother, came over to Ayrshire from Northern Ireland but from then backwards nothing more is known.
Mary McCrae or Henderson about 1803 – 1860
Mary McCrae or Henderson was born in about 1803 in Antrim, Nothern Ireland, and was the widow of a labourer and the daughter of John Henderson and Jean McCrae, according to the information her son gave for her death certificate. This is rather confusing, and I suspect either her son got it wrong or the registrar got confused. If true it means that Mary was born Henderson but became McCrae, which is the same surname as her mother. The only possible baptism I can find for her is in November 1800 at St Anne’s Shankill when a Mary Henderson was registered as a foundling but who knows whether that’s the right Mary or not.
What is known is that Mary Henderson age 35 and born Ireland was living at College Wynd, Kilmarnock in 1841 with son John McCrae or McCree (handwriting is difficult to read) who is listed as age 12 and born Ireland, but I strongly suspect there’s been a mistake by the enumerator and his age should read 12 months. Also in the household is Shusan Bell age 11 born Ireland. A major reason for taking this to be the right family is that Mary’s son John McCrae would have been born in around in 1840, and he named one of daughters Susan Bell McCrae.
I don’t know who Susan Bell was, although there is a baptism for a Susan Bell in January 1829 at St Anne’s Shankill (same church as the Mary Henderson baptism) who was the daughter of David Bell and Anne Holmes. Whether it’s the same Susan or not is a good question.
Whether Mary married or not is a moot point, and if she did was her husband named McCrae? There’s no sign of a husband from 1841 onwards. In 1851 Mary Henderson is in the census as a widow age 43 and a washer woman, born in County Antrim. Living with her is Martha Todd widow age 65, a pauper and binder of shoes born County Antrim, Susanna Bell described as a lodger age 21 and a hand sewer born County Antrim, John McCrae also listed as lodger age 11, a (coal) bearer born County Antrim, and William Donigan (Dumigan) lodger age 3 born Kilmarnock. (Young William was to grow up and marry one of Mary Henderson’s granddaughters.)
Mary died in 1860 at Low Church Lane, Kilmarnock of consumption, and was buried in St Andrew’s Burying Ground. Her age is given as 57 and her son John McCrae was the informant.
A seach for John McCrae, husband of Mary and father of John, has turned up absolutely nothing. There are McCraes in Kilmarnock in around 1800, when he was most likely to have been born, but he could have come from further afield, including Ireland, and I’ve been unable to pinpoint him. So that’s a dead end at the moment. It’s also possible his surname was McRee, which is an old Ayrshire name derived from McCrae and is also found in Ireland.
John McCrae about 1839 – 1904
John McCrae, my great grandfather, was born between 1838 and 1840, according to his ages given for the census and on his marriage and death certificates. For the census he said he was born in Kilmarnock except in 1841 and again in 1891, when the census has him born in Ireland. No baptism record for him has been found. On his marriage certificate he gives his parents as John McCrae labourer deceased and Mary McCrae ms Henderson deceased, although it’s possible he was illegitimate. In the 1841 census he’s at College Wynd, Kilamrnock with his mother Mary Henderson, and is listed as age 12 though I think this should read age 12 months. Also in the same household is Susan Bell age 11.
In the 1851 census John is still with his mother Mary Henderson and Susan Bell, at Lawson’s Land, Kilmarnock, along with two lodgers. His mother died in 1860 and he was the informant for the registration of her death.
The 1861 census finds John McCrae living at Fore Street, Kilmarnock, a 22 year old collier boarding with Grizzel Owens and her collier son Jacob. Also living in the same building was 21 year old Mary Anne McInerney (a name subject to a host of variations of spelling), who he married later that year. John stated he was age 22 and a coal miner on his marriage certificate. Susan Bell, who was with John and his mother in 1841 and 1851, had married Grizzel’s son Jacob Owen but in 1850 but she wasn’t living with him in 1851 or in 1861, as in the latter census she was living on her own in Low Church Lane and earning a living as a needle flowerer (embroiderer).
Fore Street wasn’t the most salubrious of addresses. In 1875, in ‘Rambles Round Kilmarnock’, Archibald Adamson wrote “I pass through the Cross and enter Fore Street, or, as it is generally termed, the Fore-gate … which, by-the-bye, is a narrow, confined thoroughfare, lined on both sides with low-roofed, old-fashioned houses. Their ground floors are mostly occupied with brokers’ shops, at the doors of which furniture, old boots, and clothing of every description are exposed for sale. Strange smells greet the nostrils, and stranger sights the vision. Here unwashed children gambol in the gutter, and poverty-stricken men and women jostle each other as they pass up and down. Notwithstanding all this, the Foregate was at one time a most respectable street, and the first families lived in it.”
John McCrae and his wife Mary Ann had eight children, and the family can be tracked in the census. In 1871 they are living at Dean Lane, Kilmarnock, John a coal miner, his wife a hand sewer, daughter Sarah a bonnet maker, daughter Susan working at a tobacco factory, and the younger children at school or at home. By 1881 they have moved to 40 Mill Lane, Kilmarnock. John is still a coal miner, as are his sons. John and Mary McCrae are at 24 High Street, Killmarnock in 1901, John age 62 working as a coal miner along with his youngest son who is a coal miner’s drawer, and living with them is a 15 year old granddaughter and a 19 year old boarder.
John McCrae died in 1904 at Thir infirmary in Kilmarnock, at age 64, of cardiac failure and congestion of the lungs. The informant was his son Matthew McCrae of 19 Boyd Street, Kilmarnock.
Agnes McCrae born 1862
John and Mary Ann’e eldest child, Agnes was a live-in domestic servant in 1881 for a baker in Kilmarnock. She married Robert Douglas, a brass finisher, in Kilmarnock in 1885. For whatever reason, her mother on this marriage certificate is given as Janet McCrae ms Wallace but it’s definitely the right Agnes so it’s a mystery why her mother’s details are incorrect – but provides a lesson in not to believe everything you read on a certificate. In 1891 she’s living with her parents along with her 5 year old daughter Mary Douglas. She died two months later of consumption (TB) at the age of 29. In 1891 her husband Robert Douglas is living in Derby, England, as a lodger in the household of George Blake, and in 1894 he married George Blake’s daughter Elizabeth. Had Agnes gone to Derby with him or not? Had Robert Douglas abandoned his first wife and child or not? Agnes’ daughter Mary Ann Douglas continued living with her McCrae grandparents and did not join her father, who had children with his secnd wife. Mary Ann Douglas married in 1908 to William McMurray, a labourer, when she was working as a tobacconist’s assistant. In the 1911 census, she and her husband are living in Dalry, with a young daughter, and William is a locomotive fireman at the steelworks.
Sarah McCrae born 1864
At the age of 16, Sarah was a bonnet maker (probably of the famous Kilmarnock Bonnet). In 1885 she married Samuel Downie or Downey at Kilmarnock, a hammerman born in Ireland, and they had nine children, not all who survived childhood. The family can be found in the 1891 and 1901 census in Kilmarnock, and are then in Riccarton in 1911 by which time Samuel Downie was a coal miner. Sarah’s widowed mother, Mary Ann McCrae age 73, is living with them along with her brother and a niece. Samuel Downie died in 1929, and Sarah died in 1938 age 73 in Kilmarnock.
Susan Bell McCrae born 1866
In the 1881 census she is “working at tobacco” and at her marriage in 1889 she was a mill worker winder. She married John Boyle, pit headman, in 1889 at John Dickie Street, Kilmarnock. I can’t find them in the 1891 census but their son Andrew was born in in 1892 and daughter Janet in 1896, both in Kilmarnock. Susan Boyle is in the 1901 census at 24 High Street, the same building as her parents, with her two children but no husband. By 1911 she has remarried (although I can’t find a marriage record) to John Devine, a dyer’s labourer, with three children as well as Janet Boyle, the daughter of her first marriage, all living in Neilston, Renfrewshire. Susan’s death certificate is a bit of a mystery – she died in 1942 at Abercromby Street, Glasgow and is described as Susan Devine formerly Boyle, widow of John Boyle cab driver, with no mention of John Devine, which makes me wonder whether she was actually married to him. Her parents’ names given by the informant Ellen, her daughter with John Devine, are correct.
Matthew McInerney McCrae born 1870
In the 1891 census he is a coal miner in Kilmarnock, living with his parents. He married in 1895 to Annie McCubbin, a mill worker, and they are at 41 High Street, Kilmarnock in 1901 with two young children. Matthew’s younger brother was also living in the same tenement. By 1911 the family had grown, Matthew is still a coal miner, and they are living at 19 Boyd Street, Kilmarnock. Matthew lost his son John McCrae in 1919: John had enlisted in 1914 as a stoker in the Navy and was killed in Russia in 1919. Matthew McCrae died in Kilmarnock in 1941, age 70, and had at least seven children, all born in Kilmarnock.
John McCrae born 1873
With his parents age 8 in 1881 but not with them in 1891 and I can’t find him. He died in 1897, age 24. His death certificate says he was a coal miner, single, and died of otitis media (ear infection) and meningitis at Kilmarnock Infirmary.
Helen (also Ellen or Nell) McCrae born 1875
This is my grandmother. In 1881 she’s at school age 5 and in 1891, age 16, is a mill worker living with her parents at High Church Lane, Kilmarnock. She was a witness at her brother Matthew’s marriage in 1895. Her marriage to Henry Strachan took place at the Commercial Inn, Hurlford in 1896. They had eleven children, one who died in childhood, and moved from the Kilmarnock area to the Cambuslang area in the early 1900s. Helen Strachan nee McCrae died in 1944 of a cerebral haemourage at the Glasgow Royal Cancer Hospital, having gone there to visit someone, but had a seizure and died on hospital premises. My father was away in the army, in Somerset, at the time. She is buried in Westburn Cemetary.
William McCrae born 1878
In 1881, age 12, he is already a coalminer. He married in 1899 at Kilmarnock to Nellie Mirrlees, and in 1901 is living with his wife and baby daughter Margaret in the same building, 41 High Street, as his brother Matthew. In 1901 his daughter Margaret died age less than one, although William and Nellie went on to have more children: in 1911 they are at 29 New Street, Riccarton with four children. William McCrae died in 1955 age 76 at Kilmarnock.
James McCrae born 1884
In 1901 he is with his parents, working as a coal miner’s drawer age 19, and in 1911 he is a visitor, along with his mother and a niece, in the houshold of his sister Sarah who married Samuel Downie. In WW1 he enlisted with the Royal Scots Fusiliers, and in 1915 married Mary Langan while on leave.