Some people just make it complicated

I’m continuing to work through all the records for Unst, and today I came across a death record for a little girl with the surname Meal. This was not a surname I had come across before, so I could tell straight away that this was going to be someone from outside of Unst, perhaps whose father had married an Unst girl. If nothing else, I knew this was not going to be an easy one to track down, because the death took place in 1857, so only a couple of years after statutory records began in 1855. We were into the less reliable era of Old Parish Records for any birth or marriage records. As it turned out, I had no idea how difficult it was going to be! A whole catalog of quirks made it very hard to track this little family down.

  • Father’s surname spelling change
    After a little research it became clear that ‘Meal’ was an alternate spelling of ‘Mail’, a fairly common surname from Dunrossness, Shetland. James Meal/Mail was a Boot and Shoemaker, which was an unusual enough occupation among the hundreds of Fishermen and Crofters to make him a little easier to find.
  • Mother’s names – all change
    Janet Elizabeth Jameson, the little girl’s mother, was baptised as Jenny Betty Jameson. I’m used to searching for both Jameson and Jamieson as those spellings get interchanged a lot; and I’m used to looking for Elizabeth’s and Betty’s interchangeably; but the Janet vs Jenny was a new one for me, and so the triple combination meant she was hard to find. She seems to be most frequently called Jane Elizabeth, from which it is easier to see how you get to both Janet, and Janey/Jenny.
  • They married in England
    Finding the marriage record did help to figure out who the mother was, with her name on the marriage recorded as Jane Betty Jamison (yet another spelling) – and her father’s name which truly sealed the find.
  • They lived in England
    Having married in England, in Monk-Wearmouth, Durham, they had two daughters there, and Jenny/Jane died there.

So the resultant family was Jenny Betty Jameson, from Unst, married James Mail, from Dunrossness, in Monk-Wearmouth, Durham. They had two daughters there, both called Joannah Elizabeth (a nod to the two grannies, Joanna Arnot and Elizabeth Leslie), both of whom died at a young age, the first in the same area, and the second in Unst – which is the death record that started this search. Jane also died in this area before the death of her second daughter. All this happened between the years of 1853 (marriage) and 1856 (Jane’s death) so this couple and their children never show up in a census record anywhere – both are in Shetland for the 1851 census. What is a mystery is why James took his daughter to Unst, after his wife died. Maybe a vist to the grandparents?

Joanna Elizabeth Mail Family Tree

Joanna Elizabeth Mail’s Family Tree


7 thoughts on “Some people just make it complicated

    • I haven’t done any family history for a while, so I havn’t written for a while. Hoping to get back into it properly again now. Had a big move from the UK to NZ that took up a lot of time last year.

      • Wow! Now that is worth writing about.
        We’ve been busy too. The girls have come up with new ideas for the blog so it looks a bit different.

        Well welcome back and enjoy your new home.

      • Lot’s of the people I’m writings about also emigrated to NZ, so I hope to write about my move and theirs in comparison sometime. Have to find an appropriate family that I can discover details about to write that post.

        I noticed the changes to the blog. Good to mix it up from time to time.

  1. I wonder, could the father have been taking the child to a relative’s home, because he was unequipped or not conditioned to raise a child without his wife? Just musing about this story… I enjoyed reading this post and can’t wait to read more!

    • It’s certainly a possibility isn’t it. I should see if I can find whether the house where the child died was a relatives house, see if there are any leads there.

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