Donald Wallace: the outline of a life cut short

Kirkyard and Session House, Kirkmichael, Perthshire. Resting place of Donald Wallace's family, but not Donald himself. Photo: Su Leslie, 2013

Kirkyard and Session House, Kirkmichael, Perthshire. Resting place of Donald Wallace’s parents, but not Donald himself. Photo: Su Leslie, 2013

The metaphor inherent in the term family “tree” is apt in many ways – not least because some branches seem to bear more fruit than others – or at least more fruit that can be harvested.

Such is the Wallace branch of my tree. Donald Wallace was my 3x great grandfather. He died at the age of 41, and so gets written out of the story quite quickly, but in trying to learn more about him, I have begun to uncover rich and complex stories about other members of his family. Indeed, I’ve spent so much time pursuing these, that Donald himself has been somewhat neglected.

Like many (probably most) of my ancestors, Donald Wallace left little trace of himself in written records, although, having been born in 1830, the an outline of his life does appear in census and statutory birth, death and marriage records.


Donald’s birth is recorded in the Old Parish Register (OPR), for the parish of Kirkmichael in Perthshire. It reads:

Donald lawful son of James Wallace in Balnald and Ann Cunnison his wife born 13th and baptized 14th October 1830.

OPR birth record, Donald Wallace. Source: Scotland's People.

OPR birth record, Donald Wallace. Source: Scotland’s People.

The same parish register records that James Wallace and Ann Cunnison married on 28 September 1828.

Ann Cunnison had given birth to another child, Ann Symon, two years before her marriage to James. While birth record shows the father’s name as Charles Simon, there is no evidence he and Ann Cunnison were ever married. Ann Symon seems to have lived her early life in the Wallace household, and died quite tragically at the age of 58 – and event I’ve written about here.

OPR records show that ten children were born to James Wallace and Ann Cunnison, all in the parish of Kirkmichael. These were Robert, born 1829; Donald, b. 1830; Spence, b. 1832, Elizabeth, b. 1835; Alexander, b. 1837; Thomas, b. 1839; Charles, b.1841; John, b. 1844; Margaret, b. 1845; Christian, b. 1848.

1941 Census: Kirkmichael, Perthshire

The 1841 census shows Donald Wallace living at Balnald in Kirkmichael parish, with his parents and six of his siblings. This census contains a lot less information than those carried out later, but it does show that James Wallace was a shoemaker.

1851 Census: Craig of Solaire, Kirkmichael, Perthshire (probably)

While I haven’t been able to find a record for Donald in the 1851 census that I’m totally confident of, there is a Daniel Wallace, of the right age and birthplace, working on a farm in the parish of Kirkmichael. I’ve checked the OPR records for Kirkmichael for the period 1815-1840 (a huge window that would allow for age discrepancies on the census return), and there were no children named Daniel Wallace baptised in the parish during that time. Of course, this doesn’t guarantee that Daniel is actually, as not all children were christened and therefore entered in the OPR. However, given that Kirkmichael was a small rural parish with otherwise pretty comprehensive OPR records, I think it is ok to assume – until I learn otherwise – that it was Donald Wallace who worked as a farm labourer for tenant farmer John Fleming at Craig of Solaire, Kirkmichael.

1861 Census, Moneydie, Perthshire

The 1861 census shows Donald Wallace living at Kinvaid Farm, in Moneydie, Perthshire.

The household consisted of the tenant farmer – whose surname is unclear on the census but may be Line (or Lion)– his wife and two sons, plus seven servants; six men, including Donald, and Jean Morrison, whom Donald married later the same year.

Donald is listed as a labourer, living in the bothy (1), while Jane is listed as domestic servant.

1861: Marriage to Jane/Jean Morrison, Dungarth, Perthshire

Their marriage record, in the District of Dunkeld, Perthshire, shows the date of marriage as 13 December, 1861, at Dungarth. Donald was 28, and a labourer. His address is shown simply as Dunkeld (a small town in Perthshire). His parents were named as James Wallace and Ann Kinnison.

Jane’s age was shown as 22 and her address as Dungarth. Her parents were listed as Peter Morrison and Betsey Philips – both deceased.

I can’t find a place named Dungarth in Perthshire, so I’m thinking it may have been the name of a house – perhaps where Jane was employed. Dungarth is also shown as the address the marriage took place.

The witnesses to the marriage were Andrew Kinnison and Margaret Rutherford. The latter name is totally unfamiliar to me, and while I don’t yet know who Andrew Kinnison was, I am working on the basis that he was a relation of Donald’s mother Ann – a brother or nephew perhaps?

Jane Morrison is one of the ancestors about whom I’ve learned quite a lot – and have written about here:

Chipping away at the Wall

More Information and Lots More Questions

Two steps forward

… so I’ll not retell her story here.

1871: Census, St Madoes, Perthshire

The 1871 census was taken on 2 April. It shows the family’s address as Woodside, St Madoes Donald’s occupation was listed as farm labourer, and the household consisted of Donald, Jean and four children; Ann, Margaret, Isabella (my 2x great grandmother) and James.

I know from FamilySearch and Scotland’s People that Donald and Jane had six children together:

Ann Kinnison, born Auchtergavin, 1862

Margaret, born Auchtergavin, 1864

Isabella Simpson (my 2x great grandmother), born Pitfour, St Madoes, 1866

James, born St Madoes, 1868

John, born St Madoes, 1870

Christian, born Longforgan, 1871

Neither Christian nor John appeared in the 1871 census because Christian was born later that year, in December; and John had died of bronchitis, aged five months, in February 1871.

As a sad aside: James Wallace died of croup in February 1873, aged 3 ½. Both boys died in wintertime of respiratory illnesses – as did their father.

1872: Death, Longforgan, Perthshire

Donald Wallace died on January 23rd 1872 at Mill End, Castle Huntly (now an open prison), Longforgan, Perthshire. He was 41 years old, and died of pneumonia. His occupation was shown as farm servant; probably for the Castle’s Laird, George Frederick Paterson. (2)

The informant on the death record was Donald’s younger brother Charles Wallace, who gave his address as 62 Cross Lane, Dundee. Donald’s parents James Wallace and Ann Kinnison; were both still living at the time of their son’s death.

For me, family history research is about sharing stories. I’ve had this post about Donald Wallace sitting unfinished for a while because, while I have been able to research the skeleton of his life, I don’t feel that I have much of a story to tell about him.

Here was a man who lived his life in a relatively small area; moving from place to place as his work took him. He and his family probably lived in housing provided by his employers, and his death left his widow and children not only without a breadwinner, but homeless as well. Barely a year after Donald’s death, Jean Morrison married again — to a widower named John Balsillie.

Elizabeth Cruden (nee Brown), Alexander Cruden, David Ramsay, Margaret Ramsay (nee Cruden), Isabella Cruden (nee Wallace).

Isabella Wallace Simpson, third daughter of Donald Wallace, seated far right. Next to her her grandaughter (my grandmother), Margaret Ramsay, Margaret’s son David Ramsay (the young boy), Isabella’s elder son Alexander Cruden (my great grandfather) and Alexander’s step grandmother, Elizabeth Reoch Brown. Photo: Cruden-Ramsay family archive.

It’s tempting to say that Donald Wallace lived and died so long ago it’s hardly surprising that his story lacks detail and texture. Yet his daughter Isabella, who was five when he died, lived until 1944, and was very much a part of my mother’s life. My mum has great knowledge of much of her family, but this Wallace branch seems sadly bare, and it’s unlikely that will ever change.


(1) Wikipedia Bothy

(2) Wikipedia Castle Huntly




14 thoughts on “Donald Wallace: the outline of a life cut short

  1. I love old family pictures. I have a collection of them I inherited. Fortunately, my mother wrote on the back who they all were, otherwise the information would, by now, be lost.

  2. I know that feeling—that you want to know more of the story, but just can’t find anything that fills the gaps. But, of course, so many of us live lives like Donald’s (only longer, we hope). We are born, we grow up, we have a family, we work, we die. We leave a much bigger trail behind these days, what with always having cameras in our hands and social media and email, but nevertheless, how much will people 100 years from now know about us?

  3. You do great honour to your ancestors by talking about them and their stories. Do you ever wonder – like I do – about their reaction if they could meet you and see the world now? What stories they would tell and questions they would ask!

    • Thank you Joanne. I do wonder what it would be like to meet ancestors. At one stage I had a list of those I’d like to invite to dinner (and quietly interrogate). I wonder about their curiosity about my world. My older relatives always seems particularly lacking in curiosity. My parents emigrated and it always seemed that those who stayed behind weren’t really interested in our shiny new lives. But then perhaps that that was a mechanism for avoiding unfavorable comparison with their own lives. At the moment, the person I’d most like to talk to is my gg grandfather, George Leslie. He was born in 1822 and although I have baptism records for him, his early life (and his parents’ lives) are a complete brick wall. Frustrating!!!

      • You mentioned your older relatives lacking in curiosity to ask about your .life. In fact, I encounter that whenever I get together with my siblings – which may happen only once a year or less.
        My life is so different from their’s that it seems like they have no context with which to even engage in conversation about my world. If I do talk about what I’ve been doing, their eyes glaze over. They simply have no basis to discuss what’s happening in my life.
        At first it really offended me … now I accept it for what it is.

        • That’s a really interesting point. I think that lack of context does come across as lack of interest. I’m glad you have learned to accept it — for your sake. Life throws enough opportunities for hurt at us, it’s great that you’re batting them back.

        • I can. I guess the trick is to carry on. And while our families can be pretty effective at knocking us down, they ‘re often also there to pick us back up.

  4. Lovely family photos, Su. You are able to get a good sense of his short life from what you have learned about the time and place in which he lived.

    I would also accept that 1851 Daniel as being Donald. Even looking at the typed names, you can see the structural similarities. A loosely formed ‘d’ can easily look like ‘el’. I presume what you see on the census is the information transferred from the householder sheets, as it is in England, so there is a good chance of misreading while transcribing to the enumerator’s copy.

    I think 1911 is the first time we see the actual form our ancestors filled out.

    Thanks for sharing.

    • Hi Christine. Thanks for that; it is great to have a sanity check on my suppositions. You are right, it is the enumerator’s book that is scanned and put on Scotland’s People. It’s a great resource and I’m so grateful to have mainly Scottish ancestors 🙂

      • I’ve probably mentioned I thought I was 25% Scottish until I discovered my grandfather was a fibber! Our records in Victoria are just as good as the Scottish ones. Both have oodles of information once civil registration came in. Some of the earlier Scottish parish registers give clues to the persons heritage with the alias’ added. My husband has one Scottish ancestor, probably originating from elsewhere as McMillan isn’t a common name where he ended up – in Durness, Sutherland.

        Happy Hunting! 🙂

        • Hi Christine. That’s interesting. Did your grandfather tell people he was Scots? We found when we came to NZ that Scottish immigrants were more welcomed than English ones. I wonder if the same was true in Aus? Also great to hear that Victoria has good records. I’ve tracked down a few members of my partner’s family to Melbourne and Ballarat and have not pursued this line of research. Parish registers are a bit of a lucky dip. I’ve been fortunate with some, where the Minister or Clerk has obviously been a bit more enthusiastic (or maybe literate) than others. I also love the Minutes of the Kirk Sessions — an absolute treasure trove of illicit behaviours.

        • My grandad had Irish roots, though his father was born in Lancashire, his mother and all four grandparents were born in Ireland.I always thought it was that he hid. I know there was a stigma against the Irish here. When he married in 1926 he called himself Drummond, but he was still on the electoral rolls as Holland until WW2 when he reverted to his original name for a little while. His kids all grew up thinking they were half Scots.

          If you want any help with Victorian research I do have the BDM cd-roms which sometimes hold more information than online indexes.

  5. It’s fascinating — and terribly sad — they way stereotypes affect individual lives. The “Irish stigma” seems to have been quite widespread, yet now it is an ancestry I think people take pride in having. Thanks for the offer of help; I’ve lost my way a bit with my family history. Life has been too busy and I’ve sort of dropped the threads and am having trouble picking them up again. Hope all is well with you. Cheers, Su.

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