Thursday 19 September 2013

“Ted” was his name – or so we thought

According to my wife’s father, Bill McKay, his brother’s name was Ted. That is what he was called his whole life. His parents called him Ted. So did his brothers and sisters. His wife knew him as Ted and even put that on is gravestone.

Bill McKay alongside his brother's grave on a visit to Scotland in 1969
We naturally assumed, then, that his name was Edward or Theodore or something similar and concentrated our searches for Ted or Edward MacKay. We didn’t find him though!

Quite by accident, I heard from one of his granddaughters. I had posted a message to the Moray County, Scotland list on Rootsweb in August 2004. I was looking for information about Isabel Scott, wife of Hugh MacKay. They were grandparents of Bill and Ted. I was not specifically looking for data on Ted but had been tracing back the family and had found Bill and Ted’s parents, Alexander MacKay and Mary Ann Milne and, from them, Alexander’s parents, Hugh MacKay and his wife, Isabel Scott, living in Findhorn, Morayshire, Scotland. This was before the 1911 census had been released so I did not have the benefit of seeing the whole family listed. We only had the names of Bill’s siblings as he knew them – including, of course, Ted!

Isabel Scott was born in Knockyfin, Morayshire (sometimes spelled Knockphin) and I wanted to know more about the area as well as her family. That was the subject of my 2004 Rootsweb query.

An email arrived in November 2007 from Ted’s granddaughter who said, “I am also a descendent of Isabel Scott - just got her birth certificate yesterday so was looking for the same place!” Isn’t it neat when you find another cousin on the mailing lists! And from a message posted over three years earlier!

We started comparing notes about the family. She knew her grandfather had a brother named Bill but did not know he had moved to Canada or anything about his family. We were shooting in the dark, looking to expand our knowledge about the MacKay family left in Scotland.

One of the first things she told us was that her mother’s father, Ted, was actually named Augustus Storm Mackay. What a surprise! And no wonder he called himself Ted!

From then on all of the pieces fell right into place. As documents were released for viewing on ScotlandsPeople, we were able to confirm Ted’s real name on the 1909 birth, 1933 marriage and 1911 census records.

No one really knows why he was saddled with that particular name. His parents lived next door to a family by the name of Storm in Findhorn Village, Kinloss. Alexander was a salmon fisherman and his neighbour, James Storm was a yachtsman. They were both born in Findhorn, of similar age, likely involved in the same industry and probably also close friends. That may explain part of Ted’s name. Where the name, Augustus, came from is still a mystery, though.

Anyway, through an accidental contact made by asking a question on a Rootsweb mailing list, we found a new set of cousins and found out the true identity of an uncle.

Ted’s birth record was downloaded from Scotlands People and reproduced here with the kind permission of the Registrar General for Scotland.

Sunday 15 September 2013

Mistaken Assumptions from Register Notes

This is a story illustrating the confusion of surnames used by one family and what erroneous conclusions can be drawn from limited information. I found this while transcribing parish registers of Plympton St. Mary parish, Devon.
On the face of it, there are a curious set of comments on the baptism register from Plympton St. Mary parish. On two baptism entries, in 1873 and 1874, children are shown with only one parent, Elizabeth Nicholls. No father is indicated.  A statement was made on both occasions that might lead one to think there was some hanky-panky going on!
The 1873 baptism for Mary Nicholls has a note that says her mother, Elizabeth, was “living with her deceased sister’s husband.” The 1874 baptism for Mary’s brother, Ernest, had a similar note which said Elizabeth was “living with her sister’s widower, Thomas Mackenney.”
In 1859 Thomas McKenny had married Eliza Nicholls, the sister of Elizabeth Nicholls.
1859 marriage record for Thomas McKenny and Eliza Nicholls, Plympton St. Mary parish
1861 England Census - Thomas and Eliza Mackenny family, residing at North Side of Underwood, Plympton St. Mary parish
Eliza died in 1870 leaving Thomas with six young children. In 1871, Elizabeth Nicholls was living with her brother-in-law and his children. Perhaps she had come to help out after her sister’s death the year before.

1871 England Census - Thomas Mackenny family and Elizabeth Nicholls, residing at Sydney Cottages, Plympton St. Mary parish
By 1881 Elizabeth had apparently married Thomas as she is shown with the MacKenny surname. The couple now had three more children, presumably together, all with the surname MacKenny.
1881 England Census - Thomas and Elizabeth MacKenny family, residing at Dark Lane, Plympton St. Mary parish
Civil registration documents show Thomas and Elizabeth were married in Plymouth in 1872. Birth records for both Mary and Ernest were registered with the name of MacKenny, even though the baptism entries said their name was Nicholls.
This is an example of the prohibition against a man marrying his deceased wife’s sister in effect at the time. The refusal to approve such marriages was part of early canon law based on the interpretation of texts from the Old Testament. It became an absolute civil ban with passing of the Marriage Act of 1835. It was not repealed in Britain until 1907. While the births of the children were recorded by civil authorities with the man’s surname, it is obvious that the church refused to recognize the union, if they even knew. Nor would the church have sanctioned the marriage ceremony in the parish in which they lived. Very likely the marriage itself was done under license and the parties did not tell the entire truth about the relationship of the sisters.
Regardless, the baptism information could lead one to search for quite different people without having first looked at other records for the family and unraveling a bit of history first. The note in the register about the mother’s living arrangements does give a clue about what was going on.
By the way, the prohibition against a wife marrying a dead husband’s brother was not lifted until 1921.
Curiously, I have not found a baptism record for the last two children born to Thomas and Elizabeth after 1874. The marriage record for one of them, Bessie, indicates she was married after banns; so she must have been baptized someplace.
The lesson here is that not all is what it may seem from entries and notes in the parish registers. It is always necessary to look at all the information available, as well as review the data in light of historical conditions, in order to get the real story.
Baptism and marriage images reproduced here are used with the kind permission of the Plymouth and West Devon Record Office (PWDRO), Census records are the property of The National Archives and published under their Open Government License. Images were downloaded from Ancestry or FindMyPast , or copied from my own microfiche.