3rd Blogiversary: Brainstorming Family Folklore


Today is my 3rd blogiversary and rather than reiterate why I blog, which I’ve written about before, I thought I’d tap into my community of Genimates around the world for some brainstorming on a research challenge.

By the way, if you would like to participate in my blogiversary gift competition, why not pop over now to my blog post now and say G’day.

McDonald family folklore

Now, returning to my puzzle: A few weeks ago I was asked by a friend if I could prove or disprove family folklore that his McDonald family were at Glencoe when the massacre occurred. Being of a cynical disposition my first thought, was “not a chance”! I did say it was unlikely to be able to be proved but I’d see how I’d go tracing the family, working backwards. Luckily I was also given a bundle of Australian certificates which were very helpful. So I set to work determinedly to try to pin down as much as possible before Christmas.

I’d been told there were some likely trees on Ancestry, but being fond of recreating the wheel as well as being cynical, I set forth under my own steam to confirm ancestry. This worked well for a while as I quickly found the whole family’s immigration to Queensland in 1862, interlinking this with the family’s presence in the 1841 to 1861 censuses. The head of the immigrating family was Peter McDonald with his wife Ann nee Gard(i)ner and their six children along with Peter’s brother John.

Peter McDonald family in Queensland

In Queensland I traced the family’s life events through the online indexes and cemetery records and hit road blocks with electoral rolls, wills and school enrolments. Other options would be worth exploring (e g hospital records, land records) but only at the archives in Brisbane. Peter was impoverished at the time of his early death in 1870 and while there is one will at QSA, they have confirmed it is not for this man. Trove also gave me an interesting snippet about Peter’s death. Peter’s second wife, with whom he emigrated, died in 1864 only a couple of years after their arrival.

The Brisbane Courier, Friday 14 October 1870, page 2.

The Brisbane Courier, Friday 14 October 1870, page 2.

Census records

The census records told me of the family’s migration around the UK:  from Greenock (1841) to Bradford, Lancashire (1851) then Bury, Yorkshire (1861). Helpfully my friend’s direct ancestor had been born in London and the parish was nicely specified on the 1851 census and less specifically on the 1861 which took place within the year the family emigrated. I also found what I was reasonably certain was the birth of Ann Gardner McDonald on FreeBMD which could also be ordered.

Peter’s UK marriages

Peter McDonald’s death certificate had confirmed his parents’ names and this tallied with the presence of people with the same names in his Greenock household in 1841 (no relationships stated, as we know). His certificate had also alerted me to his first marriage which I found via ScotlandsPeople. As his second wife (with whom he emigrated) had been born in London like their daughter, I initially checked for their marriage in England via FreeBMD.

No luck there so back to ScotlandsPeople (SP) where I found it in Peter’s home place of Aberdeen, parish of Old Machar. Ironically having just been checking Ancestry’s online trees, I’ve found that Peter’s marriage to Ann Gard(i)ner is also referenced in the English records –the banns were published in April 1848 at St George the Martyr in Southwark, which begs the question of how Peter came to be in London[i]. There are certainly families with Ann’s mother’s maiden name of Sangster in Aberdeen so perhaps she’d been visiting Scotland when she met Peter. Searches for Peter’s first wife’s burial were unsuccessful but that is inconclusive given burial records are the least reliable of all the pre-civil registration records.

Looking for Glencoe

Originally my goal was to go backwards in time, hoping I’d be able to find Peter’s McDonald family residing nicely in one parish for a long time, perhaps enabling me to reach some conclusions about the possibility of whether they’d been in Glencoe in the late 17th century. No such luck! This is a family that moved, then moved, then moved some more. On the up side, they kept gravitating back to/near the Old Machar parish in Aberdeen.

 Peter’s parents

Peter’s father is shown as Daniel McDonald on Peter’s death certificate and mother as Elizabeth Martin.  This is the couple who were living with Peter’s family in 1841. Searching SP and Family Search might reasonably have been expected to turn up their marriage, but despite using wildcards, no joy! Logically they might have married in Old Machar as this was Elizabeth’s home parish. Were they not part of the established church? Did they not pay the fee to register their marriage? Were they married in the old Scottish tradition without a church service? Were they perhaps Catholic….no. Was my search incorrect in some way? I also checked the English records given their propensity to flit around…again zip.

Daniel was also known as Donald McDonald as Family Search and SP reveal the births of at least some of their children. This Daniel/Donald interchange is not a great worry as these are common Gaelic aliases. Unfortunately without their marriage date, and not certain I have all the children (there appears to be at least one gap), I can’t confidently use naming pattern conventions either. Nor does son Peter seem to entirely stick with them with his children.

 Are you still with me?….or have you hit the snooze button …..zzzzz.Snooze

 1851 census: Peter’s parents

Back to the 1851 census: luckily Daniel and Elizabeth were both still alive and living back in the Aberdeen area. Unluckily Daniel’s place of birth looks like Miffee, Perthshire on the census forms (shown the same way on Ancestry and Findmypast transcriptions). Google search for Miffee–no outcome, or anything close. I posted to the Family Search forum and also the RootsWeb Aberdeen forum where someone kindly pointed out that FreeCen’s transcription has this edited as Methven. Try as I will I can’t get Methven from the written form but perhaps the enumerator just didn’t know how to spell it or couldn’t get Daniel’s pronunciation right. One possibility is that it might even have been Muthill?

Extract from the 1851 census providing Daniel McDonald's place of birth.

Extract from the 1851 census providing Daniel McDonald’s place of birth.

 Death of Peter’s father

Fingers crossed I hoped for an 1855+ death for Daniel/Donald…only to miss by a couple of months! So near and yet so far! I did find his burial in the churchyard of the Old Machar parish in November 1854. On the plus side the ages for Daniel are reasonably consistent so I searched SP for Perthshire under D*, and came up with too many hits for confidence. Fewer for Methven, and so I have a tentative birth for him with father Donald (no mother stated) when the family lived at Lonleven (Loanleven). However I would be reluctant to use this as definite. Nor does the family continue to appear in the Methven parish registers for more than a brief period, so it’s unlikely it’s their home parish. If there had been a mother-father/husband-wife combination I might have had a better chance of picking them up elsewhere but with Donald McDonald…..

 Death of Peter’s mother

Elizabeth lived well beyond her husband’s death and after flitting back to Greenock where it appears to be her living with a daughter and son-in-law, Jane Seal*, she dies back in Old Machar parish in 1866 of “irregular habits” – in the workhouse. Her certificate reveals her parents and from this I could find her baptism, but of course this goes nowhere to establishing the McDonalds potential association with Glencoe.

If I were in Scotland I’d be hastening towards the Kirk Session records for Old Machar for both Daniel and Elizabeth to see what they might reveal about the family’s history. Ditto in regard to the workhouse records available through the Aberdeen Archives. Ditto in regard to Valuation Records.

Across the various records Peter’s UK occupations are listed as wool comber (1839), wool carder (1841), file grinder (1848), wool scourer (1851), and machine guider (1861).

What have I missed? Is there a stone I’ve left unturned, a blind spot I’m not seeing? I keep wondering if they may have come across from northern Ireland but as yet I haven’t fully explored that option for which I have no evidence or justification. I’m sure I’ve left some information unstated but otherwise it would be a treatise.

Any brainstorms welcome, please.


[i] Ancestry’s London Marriage records, as alerted by the Wilkie family tree on Ancestry. http://trees.ancestry.com/tree/13694603/person/343643346?ssrc=

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22 thoughts on “3rd Blogiversary: Brainstorming Family Folklore

      • Hi Frances, have sent you the whole page in case that helps. Thanks for the link but as the Perthshire is very clear I don’t think that can be it.

        I like your Ruthven/Riven Methven/Miven concept: perhaps the latter was pronounced that way at the time even if it’s changed over time. I’ve found a site called X Marks the Scot so I’m going to put it out there & see what comes back. I know we get a wry smile when people pronounce Australian place names incorrectly (even news reporters) so this is a definite possibility and would explain why it was corrected in FreeCen. (BTW Ruthven St in Toowoomba is pronounced as it looks). Thanks for this tip ;-)

      • Thanks for sending me the page. It’s a real poser. Definitely ‘Mi’ and although he uses the long s I don’t think it could be ‘Misf’. So… Miffer looks most likely to me, followed by Miffee, Unfortunately that’s as far as I can get at the moment.
        ‘Perthshire’ is, as you say, very clear.

        Good luck with your hunt – let’s hope some Scots can throw light on it.

      • Thanks for your help Frances. I tried X marks the Scot and apparently it is pronounced generally as I would have expected with a hard “th” sound though it’s also possible there are local variations. Maybe there’ll be a “local” who’ll have the answer. Wait and see I guess.

      • I’ve had comments on another site that Methven can be pronounced locally as Meven (like heaven). I can see how that might become Miffen, in the “wrong” enumerator’s hands. So perhaps FreeCen is bang on the money…I feel reassured now.

  1. Happy 3rd Blogiversary to you…a great achievement and I, for one, am so grateful you started this… long may your busy fingers and enquiring mind stay partners, so that, we, who love to go along for the journey, can indulge ourselves… selfish aren’t I, but you have taught me so much, made me laugh, ponder and dare I say, shed a tear at times. Thank you, Pauleen…

  2. Happy Blogiversary Pauleen. Like others have said I too love reading your blog. Sorry I don’t have anything to help you with your conundrum but it was a good read.

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