No, this is not the name of a rock band. Hugh McKay was my wife’s great-grandfather and he married twice, both times to women named Isabel. That confused us for a while as he appeared on censuses from 1851 to 1901 with a wife of that name but on the 1861 census, both the woman’s age and place of birth changed. That led us to find the death record for the first Isabel, on February 15, 1856 and a second marriage for Hugh on May 15, 1857.
Hugh was born in Banffshire. He had five children between 1847 and 1856, with the first Isabella: John, Barbara, Hugh, George and Isabella. He had five more between 1858 and 1869 with the second Isabel: James, William, Robert, Jessie and Mary. This all seems easy to put together in hindsight. But before we figured it all out, we were actually looking at a different family, thinking they were connected.
We had found out his name from the 1869 birth record of his son, Alexander. His mother was shown as Isabella, nee Scott. That, in turn, led us to their marriage in 1857. The 1871 census showed Alexander (age 1) along with three other children: James (12), William (11) and Mary (4). That information helped us to identify the family on the 1861 census as well. The curious thing was that the 1861 census showed two children born before 1857, Barbara (13) and George (9).
1857 marriage record for Hugh McKay and Isabella Scott in Dallas, Elgin. Hugh was born in Macduff, Banffshire, Isabella in Edinkillie, Morayshire. (Image from records obtained through ScotlandsPeople)
We set out looking for those children and found a family of a Hugh and Isabel in Gamrie, Banffshire, on the 1851 census, with children named Margret, George, Isabella and Barbara. The wife’s maiden name, we discovered, was Isabel Smollet. We actually carried this family on our family tree for a while because, what are the odds that the father, mother and three children would have the same names in two different families from the same area. Quite high, as it transpired! A closer inspection (finally) showed the ages and places of birth were different than what was on later censuses although we did not recognize this in the beginning.
1839 marriage record for the wrong Hugh McKay to Isobel Smollet in Forgue, Aberdeenshire. This family resided in Gamrie, Banffshire in 1841 which confused us into thinking he was our Hugh. (Image from records obtained through ScotlandsPeople)
It all worked until we found a grand-daughter of Hugh and Isabel on the 1891 and 1901 censuses. She had been born in Perthshire in 1887. From the census data, we found her birth record and parents’ names, George and Ann (nee Phillips). More searching led us to find that family on other census records. His age there did not match up with the Hugh McKay and Isabel Smollet family. So they were all pruned from our family tree.
Finally we realized that Hugh had married a different Isabel, or rather Isabella Thompson in 1845. The ages of their children, especially George, were in line with other data. Not everything fit, however, as the marriage record for George and Ann showed the maiden names of both mothers as Anderson. That was clearly a mistake, on the part of the clerk no doubt, since his parents’ forenames were correct. We have also not found the birth records of the children of Hugh and Isabella although we know their names from the censuses. That was part of the problem in identifying the actual family.
1845 marriage record for Hugh McKay of Gamrie, Banffshire and Isabella Thompson of Aucterless, Aberdeenshire. Austerless is only 7 miles from Forgue and both are about 20 miles from Gamrie. The marriage was also recorded in the parish register of Gamrie and Macduff. (Image from records obtained through ScotlandsPeople)
We are pretty confident that we have the right relationships now even though not all records have been obtained. What is clear is that at least two Hugh McKays had an attraction to women named Isabel! And also to children’s names of Barbara, George, Isabella and William!
Wayne Shepheard is a volunteer with the Online Parish Clerk program in England, handling four parishes in Devon, England. He has published a number of articles about various aspects of genealogy and is a past Editor of Chinook, the quarterly journal of the Alberta Family Histories Society. Wayne also provides genealogical consulting services through his business, Family History Facilitated