Another road leads back to Scotland

James Gray and Isabella Thompson. Photo c. 1890. Source: Peter Duncan / Gray family archive.

My son’s 3x great grandparents, James Gray and Isabella Thompson. Photo c. 1890. Source: Peter Duncan / Gray family archive.

Since I wrote the most recent post about my son’s paternal line (Opening the door on a new journey), I have been contacted by two relatives from the Gray branch of that family. Both have provided me with useful background information and in one case, photographs.

We knew that Andrew GRAY was the only one of my partner’s great grandparents not born in New Zealand. My father-in-law believed that his grandfather came from Scotland, probably from around Glasgow, but wasn’t really sure.

Arrival in New Zealand

From New Zealand Yesteryears I was able to find details of Andrew Gray’s arrival in NZ at the age of four. The passenger list shows that he traveled with his parents, James (farm labourer aged 36) and Isabella (aged 34), and his sisters Isabella (7), Agnes (2) and Ann (10 months) aboard the ship Matoaka, arriving in Lyttleton on December 1st, 1860. They had sailed from Bristol on September 2nd

Although the ship’s manifest shows Isabella’s surname as Gray, I know from James’ Will that her maiden name was Thomson.

Marriage of James and Isabella

The only likely record I’ve found for a marriage between James and Isabella was in Glasgow in 1852. The OPR record (from Scotland’s People, below) says:

Gray   James Gray, Carter in Glasgow, Isabella Thomson residing there, married 16th July by Mr John Graham, Independent Minister in Glasgow.

 

Marriage record, James Gray and Isabella Thomson, 1852, Glasgow. Source: Scotland's People.

Marriage record, James Gray and Isabella Thomson, 1852, Glasgow. Source: Scotland’s People.

To corroborate this, I searched for birth records the Gray children listed on the Matoaka’s passenger list.

The children

The eldest, Isabella, was shown as aged 7 in December 1860, so was probably born around 1853. However, a search in Scotland’s People didn’t find any records — in Church of Scotland, Catholic or other parish registers of any children called Isabella (or name variants) born to James and Isabella Gray/Thomson (name variants included here too).

I did have more luck with Andrew (born 1855), Agnes (born 1857) and Anne (born 1859). All three birth records show the same parent details, and the two older children were born at the same address — Crofthead Cottage in the parish of Cadder, about 7km north of Glasgow. The address for Anne’s birth is “Bishopbridge (Bishopbriggs?) in the District of Cadder.”

Statutory record-keeping

1855 was the year in which compulsory civil registration of births began in Scotland — taking the place of parish registers. As all the birth records I found for the Gray children are post-1855, I’m wondering if perhaps James and Isabella’s children weren’t baptised (at least not in churches for which records have been digitised).

Records for 1855 are particularly interesting as, for that year only, the birth register recorded some additional information:

  • Other children and whether they were living or deceased
  • Ages of both parents
  • Birthplaces of both parents
  • Parents’ usual residence
  • Baptismal name (if different)

Andrew’s birth registration tells me that James was aged 33, a mining labourer and born in Garnkirk, a settlement near the southern border of Cadder parish. Isabella was aged 30 and had borne two other children: one girl, living — Isabella; and a boy, deceased.

Isabella Gray Maiden name Thomson ?? 3rd child 30 Years, Muirkirk??? From birth record, Andrew Gray, 1855. Source: Scotland's People.

Isabella Gray Maiden name Thomson ?? 3rd child 30 Years, Muirkirk??? From birth record, Andrew Gray, 1855. Source: Scotland’s People.

As to her place of birth: I’m having trouble reading the hand-writing on the record. It looks like Muirkirk — a small town in Ayrshire.

What do you think?

Where to next?

My usual method for unraveling ancestors’ lives (certainly those born in the 19th century) involves beginning at the end — with death certificates. In Scotland, these include the deceased’s parents’ names, father’s occupation and whether the parents were alive at the time of their off-spring’s death.

Because James Gray and Isabella Thomson left Scotland in 1860, their deaths occurred in New Zealand.And while that may be convenient, death certificates here are costly to obtain and, in my experience, contain very limited information.

I have searched Scottish records for James and Isabella’s births, and have found several possible matches for each. However, in the absence of any corroborating evidence (parent’s names for example), it isn’t possible to be sure which (if any) of these records is correct.

I will have to “bite the bullet” and order their NZ death certificates and hope that they are more informative than others I’ve accessed.

In the meantime, I plan to work forward, from their arrival on the Matoaka, to the lives they and their children built in their new country.

Jane Morrison: more information and lots more questions

Photo: Su Leslie 2014

Photo: Su Leslie 2014

I can’t believe it’s almost a month since I did any real family history research, but I guess that is how it goes.

The elusive Jane Morrison has been much on my mind, and conscious that I’d hit a brick wall at the beginning of her life I decided to take another look at the end.

The last record I had for Jane was the 1901 census, which showed her living at 2 Lawrence Street, Dundee with four adult daughters: Bessie aged 26, a jute weaver; Bella, 25, (actual name Helen, not my 2x great grandmother Isabella) a confectioner; Mary, 20, a jute weaver; Henrietta, 18, also a confectioner; and two boarders – Peter Young, 22, a telegrapher; and Andrew Balsillie, 22, a railway worker. Jane’s age was given as 57, and her marital status as ‘widow’.

I haven’t been able to find Jane in the 1911 census, nor have I found a death record in Scotland for her. Because Scottish statutory marriage records usually show parents’ names and whether they were alive at the time of the marriage, I thought I’d look for Jane’s children’s marriages and see if there were any clues there.

The children’s marriages

I was tempted to just look for the younger daughters’ marriages; those I knew were single in 1901. But in an attempt to be more thorough, I decided to work systematically through all of Jane’s off-spring who survived to adulthood – those she bore to my 3x great grandfather Donald Wallace and the five children of her second marriage to John Balsillie.

The first child to marry was Jane and Donald Wallace’s second daughter, Margaret. Margaret Morrison (b. 20 June 1864) married James Campbell Bennett a journeyman engine fitter of Harmony Row, Govan, on 31 December 1883. Margaret was 19 and a yarn winder. Her older sister Ann was a witness to the marriage.

Harmony Row, Govan. Photo: c. Mitchell Library

Harmony Row, Govan. Photo: Mitchell Library. These days Harmony Row is known for the local football club — the place Sir Alex Ferguson got his start!

The second marriage was that of my 2x great grandparents; Isabella Simpson Wallace (b. 2 May 1866) and Stewart Cameron Cruden, on 31 December 1886 at 5 Stewart Street Dundee (the bride’s address). The groom, aged 23 was a Draper’s Collector; Isabella was 20 and a jute weaver.

Next to marry was Ann Morrison (b. 4 September 1862) – Jane and Donald’s eldest child. Her marriage record shows that on 3 January 1888, at the age of 25, she wed Matthew Kelly aged 33, a factory carter of Lawrence Street, Dundee. Ann’s address on the record was Stewart Street, Dundee. The marriage was witnessed by Ann’s younger sister Christina Wallace and someone called George Watson.

On December 28 1893, Christina Wallace (b. 23 December 1871) married James Ramsay at Logie Hall, Scott Street, Dundee. James was aged 30 and a farmyard skinner of 114 Lochie Rd, Dundee. Christina was 22, and an Assistant Housekeeper of 5 Stewart St, Dundee. Christina’s stepsister Helen Balsillie was a witness, as was William Ramsay.

Mary Jane Bett Balsillie (b. 30 October 1877) married Peter K Young, 25 July 1902 at 25 Milnbank Road, Dundee. He was 23 and a lithographer/printer. She was 24 and a jute weaver. The witnesses were Nellie (Helen) Balsillie and David Young. Peter Young was of course, one of the boarders recorded as living in the Balsillie household on the 1901 census.

Henrietta Balsillie (b. 28 April 1882) married William Aird on 9 November 1904 at 25 Milnbank Road, Dundee. Both were 22. William was an electrician and Henrietta a confectioner. Bessie Balsillie was one of the witnesses. Jane Morrison was shown on the marriage record as being alive at the time.

That leaves Betsy Esplin Balsillie (b. 15 April 1874), Helen Walker Balsillie (b. 25 January 1876) and John Balsillie (b. 18 October 1879) for whom I have not found Scottish marriage records.

Henrietta Balsillie in Detroit

A descendent of Henrietta Balsillie and William Aird got in touch recently and sent me his family tree details. This showed that Henrietta and William’s third child, Mina, was born on 29 November 1907 in Detroit, Wayne County, Michigan, USA.

Given that I hadn’t found a Scottish death record for Jane Morrison, I had been wondering if she might have left Scotland. My family (particularly the maternal side, which includes the Cruden branch) seems to have quite a history of migration, so I was quite confident that I would pick up Jane’s trail somewhere outside of Scotland. The evidence that at least one of her daughters had immigrated by 1907 led me to look for Jane in the United States.

Travel records

On Ancestry.com, I found a Mrs Jane Balsillie aged 62, travelling to New York as a second class passenger aboard the Columbia in April 1906. With here were three younger women also called Balsillie: Bessie aged 28; Nellie, aged 21; and Jane aged 18. Given that I hadn’t found marriage records for Betsy (Bessie) or Helen (Nellie) Balsillie in Scotland, I assumed that Jane was travelling with her daughters – although Betsy would actually have been 32 and Helen 30. The younger Jane is a mystery though. Aged 18 in 1906 means she would have been born around 1888. I have found no record of Jane Morrison bearing any children after Henrietta in 1882, and no child called Jane Balsillie appears in the 1891 or 1901 census returns.

I am wondering if this person was Mary Jane Bett Balsillie, but as she had married Peter Young in 1902, and would have been aged about 28 in 1906 – perhaps not.

I decided to put that mystery aside and see if I could find other evidence that might suggest I had the correct Jane Morrison – and what happened to her.

I found a second travel record for Jane Balsllie – this time returning alone to the UK in June 1908 aboard the Furnessia. I also found a third record for travel back to the US in April 1909, aboard the Lusitania.

This final record was the New York, Passenger Arrival Lists (Ellis Island) for 23 April, 1909. Jane’s age was given as 65 and her Scottish place of residence as Dundee.

RMS Lusitaia coming into port, possibly New York, 1907. Source: Wikipedia

RMS Lusitania coming into port, possibly New York, 1907. Source: Wikipedia

I’m not sure how confident I can be of these records. In the 1906 passenger manifest, three out of four of the names “fit” although the ages aren’t quite right. The 1908 passenger manifest contains very little information, beyond the name, age and nationality, while in the final record the age and place of residence in Scotland match.

I doubt there is any way of knowing for sure if these records relate to my relatives. However, as Jane Morrison/Balsillie, Helen Balsillie and Betsy Balsillie all disappear from Scottish records after Henrietta’s marriage in 1904, and I need a working hypothesis to move forward; I have chosen to proceed on the basis that the travel records I found are for my relatives and that after 1906, I should look for these women in the United States.

Because I knew Henrietta’s child Mina was born in Detroit, I assumed that Jane and her unmarried daughters followed Henrietta and her husband to the United States. However, travel records for the Airds show that they arrived at Ellis Island in May 1907, a year after Jane’s first entry to the US.

I am much more confident of the Aird travel records because they show Henrietta (a fairly uncommon name), William and two children arriving on the 13 May 1907 aboard the Caledonia. The children’s ages and names (Jeannie M. and William L.R.) match the Aird family tree I’d been given – William Lawrence Robertson Aird was born in 1905 and Jean Morrison Aird in 1906.

Where to next?

I’m not sure whether it is ageist or sexist – or both – to assume that Jane, a sixty-something widow, would have followed younger family members in migrating rather than being the one who led the way. Either way, it seems that my next set of research questions will centre around:

Where in the United States various family members might have settled

What happened in their lives?

What happened to John Balsillie jr?

Who is mysterious younger Jane who travelled to the US in 1906? Is it Mary Jane Bett Balsillie? Was she widowed? Did she leave her husband?

Did any of Jane’s older children from her marriage to Donald Wallace also emigrate? I know that Isabella and her husband Stewart Cruden lived in New Jersey during the 1920s-30s. What about the others?

Watch this space!