In my search for my wife’s ancestors I found several that were born in Macduff, Banffshire, Scotland. One cousin (twice removed), Isabella Lyall, moved around a bit but her birthplace and date was consistent on most records allowing me to find her on many types of records fairly easily – up to a point.
She was at home in 1841, in Macduff, as a child of one year, with her parents and two sisters. On the 1851 census she was staying with her grandmother, Mary McKay, also in Macduff and just a few blocks from her parents’ home. She was going to school at the time.
She married James Storm, a seaman, on 12 January 1861 in Macduff. Shortly after their marriage they moved to Findhorn, Morayshire, where James was employed as a seaman in merchant service. Isabella also had an uncle living there. The couple was residing in Findhorn at the time of the 1861 census (April). Unfortunately James died the following year in Findhorn, of Phthisis Pulmonalis (Tuberculosis) after suffering for two years with the disease. Isabella moved back to Macduff afterward, no doubt to be closer to her family.
In 1871 she is shown on the Macduff census as a housekeeper in the Thomson family household. At first glance there is no head of household shown and my first thought was that the individuals shown at the top of this page, two children aged 14 and 8, were part of the family at the bottom of the previous page. The surnames were different but that sometimes happens if a widowed woman with children remarries. In this case, though, the couple were not old enough to have children this age. I noticed there was a note by the enumerator that said of the Thomson family, “Head absent at sea.” That was the clue I needed to help me find Isabella on later records.
I looked for the lady, with surnames, Lyall and Storm, on subsequent Scotland censuses and on marriage and death records for the area. But she was not to be found.
Then I looked for the two children on the 1881 census and found one, aged 18, in a family with parents, William and Isabella Thomson. This Isabella was the right age to be Isabella Storm. I thought the child was most likely was the same girl as was listed on the 1871 census. Since there was no mother shown on the 1871 census I reasoned the missing head of that household might possibly have been widowed. On the 1881 census, there were three younger children that could well have come from a second wife, if the man had remarried.
I did a search for these younger siblings on the ScotlandsPeople.gov.uk website and up came birth records that showed their parents were William Thomson and Isabella Lyall! To top that, their marriage was shown on the birth records as 20 May 1871 in London, England. Quite obviously the 18-year old on the census was not the natural daughter of Isabella.
Don’t you love those Scottish records that have so much information about the families? It is interesting that Isabella used her maiden name for the second marriage but then again, that is not unusual in Scotland as women generally keep their own names.
From there I managed to find vital data about Isabella and William, on censuses from 1891 to 1911 and right to their deaths. I found William’s marriage to his first wife and her death just a year after their daughter was born. Her name was also shown on his death record. Both individuals must have felt a kinship right from the start, having lost their spouses too soon. They ended up living a long life together, Isabella dying in 1901 and William in 1915.
A whole family was fleshed out from one little note in a census. The enumerator obviously believed that just listing two minor children, with a housekeeper but no mother, needed a bit more explanation.
Was this serendipity or just plain close observation of a record? In any case it does pay to read everything!
Wayne Shepheard is a retired geologist and active genealogist. He volunteers 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 in several family history society journals. Wayne has also served as an editor of two such publications. He provides genealogical consulting services through his business, Family History Facilitated.