Tuesday 31 January 2017

Connecting People Through Their Occupations

As I mentioned in my previous post, I have been doing a lot of work recently on our Scottish ancestors. These involve the McKay family. And you cannot imagine how many are named John, James, Alexander or Hugh. Not to mention Margaret, Isabella, Janet and Jane. The common surname and not inconsiderable times the forenames were used, among related and unrelated families, has often left us wondering who really was related to whom and if any were related to us.

Luckily, in Scotland birth, marriage and death records often show the parents’ names and the maiden names of mothers. They can be very helpful in sorting out families and certainly have been in the case of those people I have been chasing.

What I did not expect, when I started back in on the McKays, was that they moved around a lot, probably because of what they did for a living.

We know that the most recent generation of our Scottish McKays lived and worked in Findhorn, Morayshire, Scotland. And many of the men were blockmakers. That is not an occupation that will be familiar to most people. We still debate exactly what it was that they did. As they lived primarily in seaports I am quite sure they were involved in the manufacture of blocks for pulleys used for tackle, sails, fishing nets, etc.

Census records showed me where many spouses had been born for those families that spanned the 1851 to 1911 periods. From there I could navigate backward to find marriage records. For example, a James McKay (1813-1872) was born on the north coast of Banffshire, in a little village called Macduff,  but married a girl from southern Perthshire, about 130 miles to the south. That could not have been easy travelling in the 1840s. Likely they went by ship around the east coast of Scotland.

I had been looking for James’ brother, Hugh, for a long time. I had information on his two marriages. The first was in Auchterless, Aberdeenshire, about 20 miles south of Macduff.; the second was in Dallas, Morayshire, 45 miles to the west of Macduff. He and his second wife ended up in Findhorn, on the Morayshire coast, 50 miles from Macduff.

The father of James, Hugh and six other children had been born, as far as we can determine, in Nairn, Nairnshire, which is another 15 miles to the west of Findhorn. My wife has four generations of grandfathers named Hugh which has added to the confusion at times. All of them appear to have been born in Nairn. They were farmers and weavers, for the most part.

Many of the McKays made their way to Banffshire around 1800 where Hugh McKay (1772-1850) took up, or brought with him, the trade of weaving. I have not yet sorted out whether any of his relatives came with him but I suspect there were a few given the profusion of McKays in the Macduff area. Hugh married a lady from Macduff in 1802 and they had eight children there. All three of his sons who survived to adulthood, became blockmakers.

As I said, I knew that James had married in Perthshire. He had already left home by the time of the 1841 census and I was sure he had married around 1845, so I looked for him in Perthshire. What convinced me I had found him were entries in the 1841 census, in Perth, for Jas. D. McKay and Hugh McKay, both blockmakers, and both born outside the County of Perthshire.

Looking for one brother led me to find a second one that had eluded me for some time. I would not have looked for Hugh in Perth as his working and personal life was in the northern part of the country. In this case seeing their occupations helped identify both men.

The oldest brother, John, had moved west to Findhorn in the early 1840s and is shown on censuses through 1881 as a blockmaker there. He did expand into other businesses but his main trade helped identify him as part of our family.

Hugh was working as a blockmaker in Macduff in 1851 but had relocated to Findhorn by 1861. Similarly, James plied the trade in the seaside town of Montrose, Angus. But by 1861, he had joined his brothers in Findhorn. All of them lived the rest of their lives there, as did one sister who had arrived with her family around the same time.

As I indicated, the McKay families were found in many different locations around northeast Scotland over the decades. One of the simple things that helped me tie these men with very common names together, though, was their occupation.

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 in several family history society journals. He has also served as an editor of two such publications. Wayne provides genealogical consulting services through his business, Family History Facilitated