I spent a good chunk of this past weekend on ScotlandsPeople, downloading birth, marriage, death, and census records. In particular, I was researching my mother-in-law’s paternal line–the Begg family. However, it’s not Begg for long.
Her grandfather, Samuel Begg, was born on 28 Jun 1878 in Muirkirk, Ayrshire, Scotland. His birth register only lists the name of his mother, Annie Stevenson Begg, and it clearly states that he is “illegitimate”. Annie would have been about 17 at the time of his birth, and was working as a domestic servant. But with no father listed, how can I track his paternal ancestry? Fortunately for me, a note in the margin gives a pretty direct hint at his father’s identity:
Paternity of child found by Dec. of Court. See Reg . of Cor. Entrs. Vol. 1 P 71. 2nd April 1879
Page 71 of the “Register of Corrected Entries for the parish of Muirkirk in the County of Ayr” says:
In the Fourth Column of Entry No 127 in the Register Book of Births for the year 1878, before the name of the child’s mother, insert Samuel Hall Engineman, …to the following effect:
In an action relating to the paternity of a child named Samuel Begg born 28th June 1878, at the instance of Annie Stevenson Begg, Kames Row, Muirkirk, against Samuel Hall, Engineman, New Terrace, Muirkirk, the Sheriff Court of Ayrshire on the
29th da7th day of January 1879, found that the said child was the illegitimate child of the parties aforesaid.
I don’t know the exact details of how it would have worked, but Annie apparently sued for child support or, at the very least, to have the father’s name recorded, and the court agreed that Samuel Hall was Samuel Begg’s biological father.
So the documentation makes it clear that Samuel Begg’s parents were Samuel Hall and Annie Stevenson Begg. Unfortunately, Samuel Hall died barely two years later on 18 Dec 1880 at age 23, of “phthisis”, better known today at tuberculosis. He was listed as single in the register of deaths, and had no other children that I know of, so matching DNA with his descendants is out of the question. His death register, however, confirms that he lived at 34 New Terrace, and lists his parents as Alexander Hall and Mary Scott. It was signed by his father, so I can be fairly certain that the information about his parents is correct. So I started researching Alexander Hall.
(An interesting side note: the registrar of Muirkirk who recorded Samuel’s death was named John Begg. I wonder what relation he might have been to Annie.)
My preferred method of researching the parents of a known individual is to track them forward in time through census records until they are no longer found, then search for death records after the last census year where I found them. The death record should hopefully give information about where and when the person was born, as well as the names of his/her parents. This information helps in tracking them back in time in census and other records from the family where they are listed as parents to the families where they are listed as children.
Tracing forward from Samuel’s death in 1880, the family is found in the 1881 census living at New Terrace in Muirkirk with two children: Alexander (17) and Margaret (13). The 1891 census has similar information, except that the two children are about ten years older, listed as 26 and 21 respectively, and their address is now 34 Railway Terrace #2. In the 1901 census, Mary Hall is living with her son, Alexander, in the same house at 34 Railway Terrace #2. Neither Alexander (the father) nor Mary appears in any census records after 1901. Their birth places in the census records vary: Alexander is listed as having been born Ayr, Newton, or Newton on Ayr; and Mary as being born in Monkton, Prestwick, or Newton.
As I mentioned, tracking the family forward in time gives me a sense of when Alexander and Mary may have died. Since Mary appears in the 1901 census without her husband, who was with her in the 1891 census, I can assume that he must have died sometime between 1891 and 1901. Sure enough, a search of death registers at ScotlandPeople turns up the death of an Alexander Hall on 11 Jan 1893. But how do I know that this is the right Alexander Hall? Three clues that match other evidence I’ve already found in the census records:
- the death register says he is “married to Mary Scott”, which matches the information found on their son’s death register and the census records;
- the death register is signed by “Alexander Hall, son”. From the census records before and after this death, I know they had a son named Alexander;
- most importantly, the death register says that he died at “34 New Terrace, Muirkirk”.
One glaring discrepancy is apparent, though: the addresses of New Terrace and Railway Terrace. Because 34 New Terrace was the same address listed on Samuel’s death register, and the 1891 census has the family living at 34 Railway Terrace #2, I am assuming that New Terrace and Railway Terrace refer to the same location. This is supported by the fact that they lived at Railway Terrace in the 1891 and 1901 censuses, but New Terrace is the address listed in 1893 on the death register. Also, the David Jack family is listed as their next-door neighbors in the 1881 census (where no specific house numbers were listed–just “New Terrace”), and again in the 1891 and 1901 censuses, living at 35 Railway Terrace #2. Still, I’ll want to do a bit more research to determine that for sure.
But there are other important clues in the death register that will now help me in researching Alexander Hall moving back in time.: the names and occupations of his parents, listed in his death register as “James Hall, Fisherman, (Deceased)” and “Margaret Hall, M.S. More, (Deceased)”. Do I know for sure that these are Alexander’s parents’ names? No. All I know is that Alexander’s and Mary’s son gave that information to the registrar. They are important clues, but they will need to be verified by additional records that corroborate the information or provide the correct information.
And as I soon discovered, the trail to further information is full of forks and sudden curves.