Tag Archives: Doing research

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

New article: How the British census was done – and the mistakes that come with it

I’ve written this article about the British census because I realised, on reading quite a few posts on a well known genealogy online forum, that a lot of people were under a misapprehension about how the census was taken.

If you’d like to know more about the British census – which is an essential post-1841 resource for family historians – you can find it here http://wp.me/P34D39-hk or you can click on its title under the ARTICLES tab above.

Interesting statistics: average age of death

I’ve been playing with the statistics feature of the software I use for my family tree, and it comes up with some fascinating stuff.

For my Strachan tree, the average age of death is 47. Hardly anyone died at that age, though: the average age is low because so many died within the first three years of life. In fact, around 13.5% of the deaths happened before the age of 3 and 20% had died by the time they were 10 years old.

At the other end of the scale, 3.5% of them made it into their 90s, 9.2% signed off in their 80s, and 15% popped their clogs during their 70s. That makes 27.7% reaching what we could call old age.

My Strachan tree dates back to the 1700s with most of the people on it living during the 1800s. Given that nearly all the men were coal miners and many of the women gave birth to an awful lot of children, and considering the crowded and unsanitary conditions in which they must have lived, my Strachans appear to have been a pretty tough lot.

Why more from Scotland than England?

I’m aware my “on this day” posts feature far more Scottish ancestors than English ones. There are two reasons for this.

Firstly, three of my grandparents were Scottish with only one from England, which means Scottish ancestors are bound to outnumber English ones in a roughly 75/25 split. As many of my Scottish ancestors went in for very large families it may well be more like an 80/20 split.

But another reason is that I don’t know the exact date of the birth, marriage or death for quite a lot of the Yorkshire people on my family tree due to being a bit of a scrooge when it comes to buying English certificates.

Scottish birth, marriage and death are available online via ScotlandsPeople: you have to pay to download the actual certificate once you’ve picked it out from the index, but it works out at less than £2 per certificate. For English ones, you have to send off to the GRO (General Register Office) – you can make the request online but then the GRO sends you a certified copy of the certificate via a document delivery service. Each certificate costs £9.25. So it’s cumbersome and expensive to get hold of English certificates, but easy and a great deal cheaper to get Scottish ones.

The GRO says “Current legislation in England and Wales does not permit the register entries (certificate information) to be made available online”. Scotland’s legislation obviously does and has no doubt made providing such information online a nice little government source of income. It’s a shame England and Wales doesn’t follow suit, although no doubt the cost of setting up such a system – which would involve taking a digital copy of every certificate issued since 1837 – is a major reason why it hasn’t happened.

I’m lucky, though, in that West Yorkshire church records have been digitised and are available via Ancestry, so an Ancestry subscription is well worth the money for me. North and South Yorkshire are apparently also being digitised and will be made available via FindMyPast. Once that happens I may find out more about my Yorkshire ancestors for whom I don’t yet have a lot of detail.

Which nth cousin are you, and are you removed?

Time I got to grips with how cousin numbers work, so I’ve been studying it on various online resources. This is how I find it easiest to work out.

– Find the nearest common ancestor, going back in time, for you and your cousin.
– Count how many generations there are between that ancestor and yourself (but NOT counting either the ancestor or yourself).
– Do the same for your cousin.
– If you both have the same number of generations going back to the common ancestor then you are xth cousins, x being the number of generations going back.
– If you are not the same number of generations then you are cousins removed. Take the number of generations between whoever is closest to the common ancestor, and add once removed, twice removed, etc. for how many generations separate you and your cousin.

So anyone descended from Thomas Strachan and Susannah Alexander (my gggg grandparents) and who is of the same generation as myself is my 5th cousin. Anyone descended from them but a generation further down the tree would be my 5th cousin once removed.

Doing a chart helps. Here’s how I’m related to Cathy:
Common ancestors John Strachan and Agnes Neilson
Gen 1 – siblings Robert Strachan and Samuel Strachan
Gen 2 – 1st cousins Joseph Strachan and Janet Strachan
Gen 3 – 2nd cousins Henry Strachan and Mary Lindsay
Gen 4 – 3rd cousins My father and Cathy’s father
Cathy and I are therefore 4th cousins.

Thanks to Mac for the email that prompted me to do this – he and I are 5th cousins.

Autumn is on its way

Summer is officially over, although we’re forecast a warm and sunny week, but the evenings and early mornings are starting to feel autumnal or, as my Yorkshire grandmother would have said, back-endish. This blog has helped me produce a genealogy “to do” list which is now starting to become a tad overwhelming, but it means I can look forward to cold and wet days as they keep me inside.

I’m currently working on the story of my Strachan grandparents as well as producing a page about my Logan ancestors from Aberdeenshire. I want to write a few more article-type features as the ones I’ve already done are proving popular. In particular, a recent discussion with some friends who also have Scottish ancestors has given me the idea of writing about clans and tartans: and, in particular, how they are mainly a romantic Victorian construct and have very little to do with how our ancestors lived. I do know that my Aberdeenshire grandfather wore a kilt when he went off to war with the Gordon Highlanders – it was the first time he’d ever worn one and after the war he never wore one again!

So I’m actually starting to look forward to cooler weather, with less gardening, horse riding and being outdoors and more time for family history.

Random thoughts sparked over the last few days

A couple of things had me thinking about family history over the last few days. I watched, on television, a repeat of the Olympics Opening Ceremony from last summer and was struck by how Danny Boyle’s “from rural serenity to industrial chaos” spectacular so very much summed up my family history.

In Yorkshire, my Green ancestors came from the small village of Worsbrough which, before the railways, the coal mines and the sprawl of Barnsley took their toll, must have been absolutely beautiful. They were innkeepers and, before the advent of the railway, that meant coaching inns where horses were kept and changed, coach travellers ate and refreshed themselves and sometimes stayed overnight. Today’s equivalent is probably a motorway services area.

Up in Ayrshire my ancestors entered the industrial age early, as they were coal miners from at least 1770. But the enormous growth in coal mining that resulted from industrialisation, with coal used to power railways, steam ships and factories, as the fuel burnt to smelt iron and eventually to create electricity, meant they were never unemployed, although they did move from mine to mine as pits closed and new ones opened. It was incredibly hard, physical labour, though, and the landscape of Ayrshire was irrevocably changed.

In Aberdeenshire, my ancestors clung on to a rural, almost peasant way of life as long as they could, and much of where they lived remains agricultural. But following the various branches, it becomes obvious that working as a farm servant and eventually getting a lease on a croft had ceased to be the young men’s dream before the First World War. And I don’t suppose any of my ancestors, when they walked along the beach at Cruden Bay, ever thought the north sea oil pipeline would run underneath it.

Then I met up with a friend who’s also a keen family historian, and we were swapping stories about the traumas and tragedies that can be found on both our family trees. It occurred to me that we often focus on such events because they are out of the ordinary, and they tell a story. A series of census entries and births for a happy family leading a blameless life doesn’t add up to a stand-out life story, unfortunately. So it becomes all too easy to know all about the joyless aspects of your ancestors’ lives and not much at all about their joyful moments. They must have had them, and they do seem to have been focussed on family and neighbours, many of whom were also work colleagues.

But have we lost the sense of community that was once so strong? I remember when I found an electoral roll list for the street my mother lived on when she was young, and copied it out to show her. Instead of looking at it, she went into her memory and managed to name, and give details about, nearly all the families who lived on the same street as she did when she was 10 years old. I know four of my neighbours by name and have regular conversations with two of them – that’s all. Most of the others I simply nod at in passing, and wave to if we happen to be putting the bins out at the same time. We may be far better off than our ancestors in monetary terms, but I suspect they may have had a richness to their lives we now lack.

Adam Logan, shoemaker: deserter of his wife and children

My gggg uncle, Adam Logan, appears to have abandoned his wife and children and set up with another woman. Tracking him and his family has proved a challenge, but an entertaining one.

Adam Logan was born on 18 July 1789 at Kilmarnock, Ayrshire: the OPR entry for his birth says “Ann and Adam Logan twins, 4th daughter and 7th son of James Logan shoemaker in Kilmarnock and Sarah Weir spouses, their first marriage, born 18th July 1879 and baptised 19th July 1789 by Mr Kennedy.” There is no evidence that Ann survived beyond infancy but Adam most certainly did and lived for 83 years.

In 1814 there is a marriage of Adam Logan and Margaret Duncan in Kilmarnock. The OPR entry simply says “29 July 1814 This day Adam Logan in this Parish and Margaret Duncan Low Church Parish gave in their names to be proclaimed in order to marriage. Three days.” I felt sure this was “my”Adam Logan, as it’s an unusual name and the date and location are an excellent fit. But there are no baptisms to be found for any children, although I eventually discovered that they did have children – their later census entries state they were born in Kilmarnock.

However, in the 1841 census Adam Logan age 50, shoemaker, is at Chapelton, Lanarkshire with Ann Craig age 40 and Janet Logan age 2, and in 1851 is in Chapelton, with Ann and three children, and gives his birthplace as Kilmarnock. Tracing him through the census I eventually went looking for his death certificate – Adam Logan shoemaker died at Chapelton in 1873 and his son has given Adam’s parents as James Logan shoemaster and — Logan ms Weir. So I knew I had the right Adam.

I assumed his wife Margaret Duncan had died, although there’s no marriage for Adam Logan and Ann Craig, and in the later census she’s described as housekeeper. So looked for Margaret Logan ms Duncan’s death certificate – and found that Margaret Logan widow of Adam Logan shoemaker, parents surname Duncan, died in 1867 in Glasgow. The informant was her daughter Sarah Munn.

So Adam Logan had moved to Chapelon in Lanarkshire and taken up with Ann Craig, leaving behind his wife Margaret with whom he’d had a daughter Sarah. Perhaps she wasn’t their only child.

I next found a 1836 marriage of Sarah Logan to James Munn at Neilston, Renfrewshire, and they were living in Cross Arthurlie, Neilston in 1841. In 1851, by which time she’s living in Ayrshire, Sarah Munn gives her birthplace as Kilmarnock.

Looking for Margaret Logan in the 1841 census, I found her in Neilston, Renfrewshire – where daughter Sarah had married – with daughters Jane and Ann Logan. Margaret was in Neilston in 1851 and 1861, giving a birthplace of Clachan, Argyllshire: this is on the Kintyre peninsula and not that far, by sea, from Ayrshire. Her 1867 death certificate gives her father as Duncan Duncan, a tailor, and her mother Mary Duncan ms Robb. No luck tracing them, unfortunately.

To see whether Adam Logan and Margaret Duncan had had other children, I looked for marriages in Neilston of someone with the surname Logan and then tracked them in the census and other online records. This turned up Mary Logan who married John Baxter in 1838. They are in Neilston in 1841, in Stirlingshire in 1851, then on a ship to Australia in 1853 where Mary Baxter sadly died in 1854. Her Australian death certificate states she was Mary Baxter formerly Logan, and her parents were Adam Logan and Margaret Logan formerly Duncan.

Jane Logan, who was with her mother in 1841, married John Cochran in 1847, is in the 1851 census in Cross Arthurlie, Neilston with husband John and two children, then they migrated to Massachusetts, USA in about 1860. She and her family are in the 1880 USA census in Lowell, Massachusetts.

Ann Logan, also with her mother in 1841, is in the 1851 census as a lodger in Paisley and states she was born in Kilmarnock. I’m not sure what then happened to her, although she might be the Ann Logan who married George Wyse at Paisley in 1852, but I haven’t been able to trace that couple.

So Adam Logan and Margaret Duncan had at least four daughters, and may well have had more children who I haven’t traced. The children were born in Kilmarnock from 1814 to about 1826, but by the mid 1830s Margaret and her daughters were in Neilston, Renfrewshire and Adam Logan was in Chapelton, Lanarkshire. So when did Adam up and leave his wife and children – and why? No answers to that, of course, apart from use of the imagination. Perhaps it because I’m female, but I feel rather sorry for Margaret and her daughters.

Margaret was living on her own in 1851 and working as a housekeeper, although her daughter Jane Cochran nee Logan was living on the same road. In 1861 Margaret is in Neilston living as a lodger with Rosana Gray, Rosana’s children, and another lodger. She died in 1867 age 74 at Crown Street, Glasgow. The informant was her daughter Sarah Munn who was living in Glasgow by then, so it looks as if Margaret may have spent her last few years living with her daughter.

Adam lived for considerably longer. In 1841 he was living in Chapelton, Lanarkshire, where he remained for the rest of his life, working as a shoemaker and living with Ann Craig and a two year old daughter, although there was an older daughter also in Chapelton. In 1851 he’s a shoemaker, now age 60, with housekeeper (not wife) Ann Craig and three children: the eldest is Helen Logan age 14 so she was born in about 1836, meaning Adam had left Margaret and daughters by then. In 1861 Adam Logan age 71, shoemaker journeyman, is with housekeeper Ann Craig, son James, and two grandchildren, and he’s there in 1871, retired and age 82, with Ann Craig housekeeper.

Ann Craig died on 2 April 1873 at Chapelton, of apoplexy (a stroke), informant James Logan son, and Adam Logan died 11 days later on 13 April 1873 at Chapelton, of diarrhea, informant James Logan son. It’s rather sweet that should die so close in time to each other, and makes you think they must have been a happy couple, but I can’t help wondering whether Adam ever thought about his wife Margaret, or kept in touch with the daughters he left behind.

Relatives marrying each other

Sometimes you make unexpected connections when researching an ancestor. I was checking up on Archibald Strachan, who went to the USA, and an Ancestry search came up with a death for an Annie Miller Strachan in USA. I knew there was an Ann Miller who married a Strachan on my tree – what I wasn’t expecting was to find a death certificate saying her parents were Samuel Strachan and Janet Mitchell. It seems that John Strachan born in 1856, who was detailed in my post of 8 July, didn’t marry Ann Miller – he married Ann Miller Strachan, who he was related to and who was the sister of Archibald Mitchell Strachan.

John Strachan was the great great grandson of Thomas Strachan and Susannah Alexander, through their son John Strachan, his son Thomas Strachan and his son John Francis Strachan. Ann Miller Strachan, though born the same year as her husband, was actually of a generation above him as she was the great granddaughter of Thomas Strachan and Susannah Alexander through their son Samuel Strachan and his son Samuel Strachan.

There are quite a lot of instances of people marrying close or not so close relatives on my family tree, and I suspect there are more to find out as I do more research. Perhaps it’s only to be expected when people lived in close-knit communities, such as coal miners, or in more sparsely populated areas, such as north-east Aberdeenshire. But it also seems to point to the fact that the extended family was very important to people back then, and they knew how everyone was connected to each other.

My trip to Scotland

Day one took me through Northumberland, with a couple of stops to see Roman sites, and then up into Scotland. On the road heading towards Jedburgh, this is the sight you’re waiting for.

Scotland sign
It’s in a lay-by and viewpoint, so you can park there and admire the undulations of border country.

Then it was off to Jedburgh, where there’s an abbey next to the river.

In the car park I met Donald, a dale pony cross having a bit of break during a journey in a horsebox.

The next day I spent in Edinburgh at the records centre, trawling through the Longside kirk session minutes. This took all day, by the end of which my eyes felt as if they were on stalks. But the Longside minutes proved very useful as it was obviously a parish that took chasing up couples who’d “sinned” before marriage very seriously indeed. Made notes of lots of names that might belong on my tree, then struck gold: my gggg grandparents, who married in 1800, were fined 10 shillings each for indulging in pre-marital fornication. More about this is another post.

After Edinburgh it was up into the Cairngorms, through Braemar. Absolutely stunning scenery and the weather was glorious – warm and sunny. It is magnificent up there, though odd to drive past ski lifts when there’s no snow around. Difficult to take photos of distant views as they never come out as it looks in real life. But it is jaw-droppingly beautiful.

Highland view
Typical Highland view

Next day went to Balmoral, which was better than I was expecting. They’ve made it into a very good visitor attraction, and I’m not surprised the Royals love it there.

The castle itself is not huge, for a castle, and the grounds are mainly natural, but with a very interesting kitchen garden.

Queen's kitchen garden
This is the Queen’s veggie plot!

A walk along the River Dee was blissful.

River Dee
Beautiful scenery, lots of bird life and incredibly peaceful.

Then it was a drive towards the coast the next day, stopping to see castles, scenery and visit the Museum of Farming Life at Aden Country Park. There’s an excellent exhibition there, with a very good booklet that I bought telling the story of the transition from the early farmtouns to modern day farming. My ancestors were very much part of this transition so I found it fascinating.

Horseman's cottage
A reconstruction of a farm worker’s living room in the 1930s.

I made friends while there with two very nosy young cattle.
Friendly cattle
There’s also a rebuilt farmer’s cottage on the site, moved stone by stone and decorated as it was in the 1950s.

It was then time to visit ancestral haunts: first on the list was Collieston, where my gg grandfather Alexander Fraser lived and worked at least twice before he took over the family croft.

Although not fisherfolk, my Fraser ancestors were familiar with the sea and the little fishing villages dotted along the Aberdeenshire coast.

Next stop was Cruden old Kirk. Last time I was there I took photos of the Fraser gravestone, giving details of my great grandfather, his second wife and two of their children. It was lying on its side then, as it had broken. So huge disappointment this time as it was no longer there – gone due to Health and Safety regulations I expect.

Cruden Old Kirk
There was no-one at the Kirk to ask, but I wonder what happens to stones that are removed for safety reasons.

Off to Mosside Croft next, north-east of Hatton. It was a ruin last time I saw it and it clearly hadn’t been touched since. Sad to think that over 100 years of blood, sweat and toil is now going to waste, but at least it’s still there.

Mosside Croft
I’d love to know when this cottage was built, as it isn’t the one that would have been there in 1841.

A wider view of the croft shows the steadings alongside, where the farm animals lived and machinery was stored. There are two here and the one nearest the cottage is clearly a lot older than the second one.
Mossude and steadings
My mother remembers holidaying here in the 1920s, and the field in front of the cottage was sown to crops, with grazing for the cows behind. My half great grandmother made cheese, they had hens for eggs and meat, and kept a pig for fattening up.

It seems very isolated now, but it wasn’t really: nearby crofts were only a very short walk away and a lot of farming tasks would be co-operative, crofters helping each other with ploughing and harvesting.
Nearby crofts to Mosside
That’s Hardslacks to the right and behind of Mosside croft.

Up towards Peterhead next, as many of my ancestors were quarry workers at Stirlinghill – a quarry that’s still in operation. Next to it is Lendrum Terrace, an address that turns up on the census as my gg aunt Mary Ann Fraser married David Ewan Michael, and they lived at Lendrum Terrace.

Lendrum Terrace and Quarry
In those days the view out to sea, taking in Boddam and Peterhead must have been spectacular. Today it’s somewhat marred by a rather large blot on the landscape.

View from Lendrum Terrace
Yes, it’s a power station!

Power is something Aberdeenshire produces plenty of: there are wind turbines everywhere. I know not everyone is a fan, but personally I think they look much nicer than a power station.

I had thought of perhaps spending a day in Aberdeen in the Local Studies Library but didn’t in the end: the weather was far too good to spend a day inside. So much of the time was spent soaking up the sun and fresh air.

Then it was a long drive back home, and farewell to Scotland – until next time.