Chain of Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness

I have a profile on the Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness (RAOGK) website (actually I have two, that one and one for my Unst work). I was recently contacted by a gentleman who was trying to track down the child of a couple and had no luck and wondered if there was anything I could do from within NZ as he had exhausted the online databases.

The couple were Mabel Meredith Maitland (b.16 Jun 1869, NZ) and John Arthur Mason (b. 1864, Woodford, Essex, England). They were married on 8 Jul 1891 in St Matthews Church, Dunedin, Otago, NZ, and their marriage can be found in the local paper, the Otago Witness.

MARRIAGES.
MASON-MAITLAND.-On the 8th July, at St. Matthew’s Church, Dunedin, by the Right Rev. Bishop Nevill, assisted by the Rev. R. T. Howell, John Arthur, eldest son of Thos. Mason of Merleswood, Woodford, Essex, to Mabel Meredith, younger daughter of the late W. G. Maitland, Moylneux, Otago.

There was also a report on the fashion and social attendance of the wedding in this newspaper report.

Also in the papers was their divorce, an extract of which is shown below. It was this report that showed that there was a child from this union, but that child was no where to be found in any of the online genealogy databases.

DIVORCE COURT
In the Divorce Court yesterday the Chief Justice heard the undefended suit Mason v. Mason, a wife’s petition for dissolution of the marriage.
Mabel Meredieth Mason, the petitioner, said she was married to John Arthur Mason in Denedin on the 8th July, 1891. There was one child as issue of the marriage.

I tracked down the divorce record which was found to be held in Wellington. It was free to go along to the Wellington Reading Room to view the document. However, I am not in Wellington, so it was not free to me. So I went back on the RAOGK website and found a Wellington based volunteer, and she was very happy to go along to the reading room and see what this document contained. It was a stack of about 15 documents, each with numerous pages, in a bundle and tied with a pink ribbon. They were folded legal docs and the pile stood about 3 inches high. She was so relieved when all the pertinent genealogical information was found on the first page!

Under “The Divorce and Matrimonial Causes Act 1867”

TO SIR JAMES PRENDERGAST KNIGHT CHIEF JUSTICE.
THE 26th day of November 1897.
THE Petition of Mabel Meredith Mason of the City of Wellington sheweth.
1. THAT your Petitioner was on the 8th day of July 1891 lawfully married to John Arthur Mason at St.Matthew’s Church Dunedin by the Reverend Bishop Neville.
2. THAT after her said marriage your Petitioner lived and co-habited with her said husband at Tapanui in Otago, New Zealand, Melbourne in Victoria Australia and at Plymouth in England and that your Petitioner and her said husband had issue of their said marriage one child to wit John Clifford Stuart Mason aged 1year and 10 months.

I have to assume that the quoted age of the child is at the time of the document, since we know the child still lives as Mabel is granted custody of the child, according to the newspaper article on the divorce.

His Honor said he though a divorce should be granted, He gave the petitioner the custody of the child, leaving power to the respondent to apply under the Children’s Custody Act, of he desired to do so afterwards.

This would mean that John Clifford Stuart Mason would have been born around Jan or Feb 1896. From the newspaper report on the divorce we know a little of their travels around that time.

About five years ago they left New Zealand. They arrived in England in January, 1895. Whilst they were in England there was a quarrel between her husband and herself, and she returned to New Zealand with her mother in February 1896. She left her husband three or four months before that.

So would she have traveled when heavily pregnant and had John in New Zealand, or perhaps on board the ship? Or is the three or four months wait between leaving her husband and traveling to New Zealand because she waited and had the baby before traveling? This would mean that John was born in the UK.

Mabel actually married three times. She has a helpfully unique combination of names and so searching Papers Past found her several times. After her divorce from John Arthur Mason she then married Frederick Stuart Des Barres on 1 Sep 1900 in the Registry Office, Napier, Hawkes’ Bay, New Zealand. This marriage also ended in divorce on 14 Mar 1912, as per another newspaper report. Then she married a third time, in 1913, to James Ambrose Eivers and shows up in the papers again trying to get back the jewelry that her second husband used as security on an overdraft.

Helpfully, Mabel’s son John also has a seemingly unique combination of names, so I searched for his names. Nothing came up to start with, so I dropped the surname, and up popped a war record in the Auckland Museum Online Cenotaph for a John Clifford Stuart Des Barres. Des Barres was his mother Mable’s second married name. Could this be him? Reading through the record, in the listing of his company:-

1st NEW ZEALAND CYCLIST COMPANY
Reg. No. Rank. Name. Occupation. Name and Address of Next-of-kin.
10747 Corporal Des Barres, Clifford Stuart Picture-show Manager Mrs. M. Eivers (mother), Opotiki.

John Clifford Stuart Mason/Des Barres

John Clifford Stuart Mason/Des Barres
Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 31-B53

He died on 30 Sep 1916, by which time his mother had married a third time and was now Mrs. Eivers. It is definitely him! And there’s even a photo of him! It seems he had dropped the John and was more commonly known as Clifford Stuart.

Knowing how he was referred to, I was then able to find a report of his death in Papers Past, in the New Zealand Herald.

Roll of HONOUR.
DES BARRES.-On September 30, 1916, killed in action in France, Corporal Clifford Stuart des Barres, eldest son of Mrs. J. A. Eivers, Te Telo, Whakatane; aged 19 years.

I stopped briefly when I saw the mother’s name here, wondering if I’d mixed up two different people. But then I realised Mabel Meredith was also Mrs James Ambrose Eivers.

According to his war record he was born in Ireland, so I guess Mabel did wait until after he was born before traveling back to New Zealand with her new-born, and it’s no wonder we couldn’t find his birth in England or New Zealand.

It seems rather fitting that this chain of Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness should find this man, who died serving his country in WWI on the eve of ANZAC day.

Tracking Martha Johnson

I was contacted through this blog by the great-great-grandson of Martha. He was looking for information on her birth and death details.

Birth

We knew from her marriage record to Donald Sutherland on 23 Jan 1840 that her maiden name is Martha Johnson, and that she lived in Ungersta. Interestingly, on her son James’s marriage record she is recorded as Martha Jamieson. Being a little less specific about her surname and searching for Martha J* soon reveals the following record in the Old Parish Records of Births and Baptisms in Unst.

Day of the
Childs Birth
Day of the
Childs Baptism
Baptisms 1816
1816
April 1
1816
April 3
John Jameson in Ungersta a Daur Martha

Seeing this record explains the discrepancy and also the difficulty in finding it. This is a common problem with patronymic surnames, since that record is indexed as Martha Jameson, not Johnson as she was actually known.

Death

Finding her death record was a little more difficult however. From census returns we know she died between 1861 and 1871 since in 1861 she is in Unst with her family, but in 1871 she is nowhere to be found and her husband, who is still living in Skaw, is recorded as Widowed. She didn’t die in Unst though as there is no sign of her in the Unst death records.

So, since I was in Edinburgh at the ScotlandsPeople Centre I had a thorough look at all the Martha’s who died anywhere in Shetland between 1861 and 1871, still no sign. Expanding my search for Martha Sutherland’s in the whole of Scotland I found one possibility, a married woman called Martha Sutherland who died in The Sunnyside Lunatic Asylum in Montrose – a long way from Unst!

No. Name and Surname.
Rank or Profession, and whether
Single, Married, or Widowed.
When and Where Died. Sex. Age. Name, Surname, & Rank or Profession
of Father.
Name, and Maiden Surname of Mother.
Cause of Death, Duration of
Disease, and Medical Attendant
by whom certified.
77 Martha
Sutherland

Married

1867
March
Thirteenth

Lunatic Asylum
Sunnyside
Parish of Montrose

F 50
Years
Phthisis

Six Months

as certified by
J.C.Howden
M.D.

The informant didn’t know enough about her, or didn’t bother to find out enough, to fill in her husband’s name, which is usually recorded below the word Married, nor her parents names. So, this could be her, but equally it could be anyone.

Upstairs in Register House, above the ScotlandsPeople search rooms, is the Historical Records search room, so I looked for admission records for the Sunnyside hospital in their catalog index. I found them, but they are not digitised, and they are stored in the University of Dundee Archives. I was ready to pop over to Dundee the following day to get a look at them, only to discover that Thursday (the last day of my visit to Scotland this time) was the day their archives are closed! I definitely had a “so near, and yet so far” feeling then.

Sunnyside Hospital

Sunnyside Hospital. Photo courtesy of the Memories of Sunnyside webpage.

So, I emailed the Dundee Archives in the hope that they could look up the Admission records and find the Martha Sutherland who died in the Hospital and see if there was any additional information recorded that would refute or prove that she was the one we were looking for. I wasn’t sure how well indexed such records were, whether looking one person up, even with such a narrow date window (1861 – 1867), would mean literally turning every page.

Well, I was very pleasantly surprised. It was an easy look up for the archivist to do, and by the time I left Register House on Thursday aftenoon (where there is no internet access) and could read my email for the day, I had a response from them with the details from the Hospital Records. It was a woman from Unst, with a husband Donald Sutherland who lived in Skaw. It was our girl! She checked into the Hospital on 9 January 1865, at age 48. It was recorded as her third attack, the first being when she was 36 years of age.

The record also shed some light on why she was there. It records the Supposed Cause as “Death of an infant from being overlaid and death of a child thereafter from burning.”

It just shows that it really is worth following every possible lead, even if you don’t think it’s likely that someone would be so far from home when they died, Unst to Montrose is quite a long way from home.

I’d like to try and find the children who died but that will be the subject of a future blog post.

Tracking Alexander Pennant

While the period from 1851 onwards makes life easier for the Scottish family historian, trying to figure out how people fit together going further back than that is much harder.

  • Census: In 1851, census returns include the relationship between the different people recorded in a house, in 1841 you just get the names.
  • Birth Records: From 1855 the Statutory Birth records contain the names of both parents and their marriage date, whereas before that Old Parish Records only gave the father’s name.
  • Marriage Records: From 1855 the Statutory Marriage records contain the names of both parents of each party marrying, as well as their residence and occupation, whereas before that Old Parish Records only give the names and residence of the marrying couple.
  • Death Records: From 1855 the Statutory Death records include the age, residence, occupation, and parents names of the deceased, as well as sometimes another relative as the informant, whereas before that the few Old Parish Records that exist only give the name, age and residence.

Working on my complete Unst Family Tree there are of course many times when I come across people of the same name and a similar age. When these people are living in the era before 1851 more care is needed.

Today I’m tracking Alexander Pennant and his family. I find him in the 1841 census as follows (remember there are no relationships recorded:-

PLACE NAME and SURNAME, SEX and AGE,
of each Person who Abode in each House
on the Night of 6th June.
OCCUPATION
Here insert
Name of Village,
Street, Square, Close
Court, &c.
NAME and SURNAME AGE Of what Profession,
Trade, Employment, or
whether of
independent means.
Male Female
Littlegarth Alexander Penant 76 Fisherman
William do 66 do
Christian do 35
Anderina do 30
Ursla do 22
Catherine do 21
Map of Littlegarth, Unst

Map showing Littlegarth, Unst
Click on the map to go to the zoom-able version on the NLS website

It seems likely from this that the four women are sisters and either Alexander or William are their father, and perhaps their mother has died. Following the four women through later census returns and eventually finding their death records, I find they are all children of Alexander Penant and Janet Sinclair. Knowing the name of his wife, I can now find that they were married on 25th January 1800 with Alexander from Littlegarth, and Janet from Uya.

Littlegarth

Littlegarth with the Blue Banks of Fetlar behind

Now that I know the four women were daughters of Alexander, I can see from the 1851 census return that William is the brother of Alexander, as the four women are still living in Littlegarth with him and are listed as his nieces.

Name of Street, Place, or
Road, and Name or
No. of House
Name and Surname of each Person
who abode in the house
on the Night of 30th March, 1851.
Relation
to
Head of Family
Age of Rank, Profession,
or
Occupation
Males Females
Littlegarth William Penant Head 77 Fisherman; Crofter
Christian do Niece 46 Spinner; Knitter
Anderina do Niece 41
Ursula do Niece 35 Spinner; Knitter
Catherine do Niece 31 Spinner; Knitter

Alexander is not living with them, and a little searching turns up his death in the Old Parish Records Obituary for 1849, recording that he died in Littlegarth.

There’s another Alexander Penant also living in Unst at Savedale in the 1841 census. He lives there with a woman of the same age called Barbara.

PLACE NAME and SURNAME, SEX and AGE,
of each Person who Abode in each House
on the Night of 6th June.
OCCUPATION
Here insert
Name of Village,
Street, Square, Close
Court, &c.
NAME and SURNAME AGE Of what Profession,
Trade, Employment, or
whether of
independent means.
Male Female
Savedale Alexander Penant 60
Barbara do 60

Likelihood is that this is his wife, and sure enough there is an Alexander Penant marrying a Barbara Christie on 29th May 1827 recording them both from Snabrough (nearby to Savedale where they lived after marrying).

Map of Snabrough

Map showing Snabrough and Savedale on Unst
Click on the map to go to the zoom-able version on the NLS website

Alexander Penant's Children

Alexander Penant’s Children

Clearly these two Alexander’s are not the same person, so we must take care not to confuse them. They are different ages too, Janet’s husband was born around 1765, whereas Barbara’s husband was born around 1780.

Searching for all the children born in Unst to father Alexander Penant, we end up with a list of 12 children (click on the diagram to see the list of children in FamilySearch.org). Their birth dates ranging from 1802 (just after Alexander married Janet) to 1819 (still before Alexander and Barbara were married). Their birth dates combined with the higher likelihood that children were born in wedlock, suggest that these are all the children of Alexander and Janet. Those that I have found death records for I have been able to verify both parents names.

On the right track?

When working on a family tree one has to be careful to follow the correct path back through your ancestors. This can often be difficult when there are people with the same name born at around the same time. How do you determine which one to follow; that is, which one is your ancestor. This can also be made more difficult by errors in records, which unfortunately do happen.

In trying to produce a Complete Unst Family Tree I feel I have the luxury to follow all these different people and therefore work out who is who. It is never a waste to follow the ‘wrong’ person, as it is still someone from Unst who fits into the tree somewhere.

As an example, I will illustrate three men called James Sutherland who were born very close together. If you were looking for the ancestors of a James Sutherland in your own tree, which would you follow?

My reminder of possible confusion

My reminder of possible confusion

There are so many examples of such in my Unst Tree now that I have adopted a process of making a note of it in the birth event of each.

Modern (post 1855) Death records, should give you all the information you need to sort out such confusion, listing as they do the names of the parents and spouse. Modern Marriage records will also list the same useful information for fully identifying people, but in this example, some of the marriages were pre-1855 and so then the parents are not listed.

James Sutherland b. around September 1808

James Sutherland's Family Tree

James Sutherland’s Family Tree

This James was born to father Thomas Sutherland, and mother Agnes Jamieson, and was Christened on 4th October 1808. He and his wife Dorothy can be found in the census returns living in the north of Unst, initially in Norwick, and then later, and for most of their lives, in Sotland. He worked as a Fisherman, and died on 14th April 1886, in Burrafirth, Unst (same year and place as one of the others to add to the confusion) leaving his wife Dorothea Anderson, a widow.

James Sutherland b. around September 1810

This James was born to father James Sutherland and was Christened on 29th September 1810. I have yet to find his Death Record, but since there are only two James Sutherland’s of appropriate age living in Unst in the census returns, he either died, or moved away in early life.

James Smith Sutherland b. around March 1808

This James was born to father John Sutherland, and mother Osla (Ursula) Smith, and was Christened on 13th March 1808. His Death record indicates he worked as a Tailor, and died 2nd May 1886, in Burrafirth, Unst as a Single man.

James Sutherland, Tailor and wife Mary

A James Sutherland, of the same age, and his wife Mary can be found in the census returns living in the north of Unst, initially in Spragatup, and then later, and for most of their lives, in Towrie. He worked as a Tailor. When they married on 9th March 1843 he is recorded as living in Papal, Unst. He died before his wife Mary who died on 18th February 1892 in Haroldswick, Unst. The question in my mind is which of the above two James Sutherland’s is the one that married Mary?

Finding the right James Sutherland

James and Mary Sutherland's Family Tree

James and Mary Sutherland’s Family Tree

I find it unlikely that there were two Tailors on Unst with the same name, but unfortunately the first issue of Manson’s Shetland Almanac was published in 1892, by which time both (if indeed they are different people) were dead. It also seems likely that the man who married Mary who lived in Papal in 1843, was related to John and Ursula (who had a son James) who in 1841 lived in Papal. I can therefore only conclude that the Death record is wrong when it indicates that James died as a single man.

Errors such as this in record, especially the modern (post-1855) can make it difficult to be absolutely certain about relationships in a Family Tree. You have to look at all the other evidence you can gather to overturn what has been erroneously recorded.

So close, but never knew

I’ve been contacted by a number of people who have ancestors from Unst, looking for for more details about them. On several occasions it has enhanced my tree by providing me with information about the married name of a woman in my tree who had “disappeared”. It feels like a very fair swap, I give them her ancestors, and they provide me with her descendants.

Group of servants

A group of domestic servants in Edinburgh.
Photo Source: Shetland Museum

In one particular case, the young woman from Unst had, as many girls did, moved south to work as a domestic servant, in Edinburgh. She met and married a man in Edinburgh, and I was contacted by one of their descendants. He knew that she was from Unst from her marriage record but had not found any more about her.

Along with providing the details about her life in Unst, and ancestors’ details, I sent him the link to the census return which showed where she lived in Edinburgh, working as a domestic servant, before she was married. It turned out that he had lived within 250 yards of that address while growing up. As he said, “how can you be so close without knowing”. It was an wonderful coincidence.