Charles McDonald, Barbara Robinson and Margaret McDonald

I hired a professional genealogist in Scotland this week to check some records for me at the GRO in Edinburgh. I told him about Margaret McDonald, and how I had found a birth record for an unnamed, illegitimate baby girl (born 17 July 1848, baptized 6 August 1848) whose parents were Charles McDonald and Barbara Robinson. I suspected that this was Margaret McDonald, and asked him to check for Kirk Session records that might clarify that. Following are details from the Inch Kirk Session Records (CH2/637/5) from his report:

7th March 1848
Barbara Robinson
Compeared Barbara Robinson residing at Cairnryan as servant to Charles McDonald confessing that she is with child in uncleanness.  Being exhorted to repentance and be honest and ingenious in declaring the true father of the child with which she is pregnant declared that Charles McDonald, her master, is the true father of her child.

Charles McDonald
The Session ordered the officer to summon said Charles McDonald to appear next meeting of Session.

4th April 1848
Compeared Barbara Robinson, Charles McDonald being three times called at the door did not compear.  Barbara Robinson being asked if she still continued to accuse Charles McDonald of being the father of the child with which she is pregnant replied she did.

Charles McDonald
The Session ordered the officer to summon Charles McDonald Pro Secondo to appear at next meeting of Session to be held on first day of May next.

2nd May 1848
Charles McDonald still did not appear but a letter sent to the Moderator written at Cairnryan on 4th April 1848

“To the Rev. James Ferguson, Minister of Inch.
You summoned me before your last Session last month and I did not attend and I do not wish you to summon me any more. The woman said before witnesses that the child was not mine but I have kept her and I will have to keep her and it both and have to pay Poor rates and all you want and Barbara Robinson to the bargain, for I think I will not get much help from you as I am not going to see either her or it want as long as I am able to do for them and I want no more summons to come to me.  (signed) Charles McDonald.”

They were both summoned to the next meeting of Session Pro Tertiens.

6th June 1848
Compeared Charles McDonald and being asked if he had been guilty with Barbara Robinson confessed that he had been guilty with her.
The Session laid the parties under scandal accordingly.

1st August 1848
Compeared Charles McDonald and Barbara Robison having been guilty of the sin of fornication, craving absolution from scandal.  They were accordingly taken on discipline and the moderator, after a serious rebuke and solemn admonition did, in the name of the Session, absolve them from the scandal of sin and restored them to church privileges.
(Signed) James Ferguson, Moderator.

While the baby’s name is never mentioned in the records, he points out that Charles Robinson said that he would take responsibility for the baby, which was baptized 6 August 1848–the Sunday following their absolution. Margaret McDonald is thereafter named as the eldest daughter of Charles McDonald and Margaret Adair, born in 1848. His conclusion was that Margaret McDonald is definitely the unnamed, illegitimate baby.

While finding more evidence to support this connection is great, the most interesting part for me is the “drama” unfolding over the five months of Kirk Sessions. I especially like the character insight of the letter that Charles wrote to the moderator, James Ferguson. Charles is an interesting character:

  • he was almost 60 years old when he married 25-year-old Margaret Adair. I don’t know how old Barbara Robinson was at the time, but she was his servant when she became pregnant, and it sounds like she remained in his household after his marriage to Margaret. My assumption is that was in her late teens or early 20s.
  • he and Margaret had at least seven children–he was about 60 when the first was born, about 75 when the last was born.

Part of me wonders what brought Charles and Margaret together given the age difference. What about Charles and Barbara–was their relationship consensual? Was Charles a charmer, or a dirty old man? What drove him to have so many children at his age? Or were the children simply the result of his “drive”?

Part of my love for genealogy is searching for connections between people, and also people and history. But I love when I run across enough detail about a person to start learning about their character and personality.


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