My Ancestors in Scotland

A Highland crofter from The Sunday at Home 1888. Artist F.S.W.

A Highland crofter from The Sunday at Home 1888. Artist F.S.W.

The research of my Scottish ancestry continues slowly.

Every region in the world had its own recording needs and thus the records from different places will contain different data.  In Van Diemen’s Land, for instance, a marriage record was likely to record whether a person was a convict under sentence, a former convict free by servitude, or free (never convicted).  The record also often gave us the ship they arrived on.

In Victoria, they didn’t care about this.  They recorded the birthplace of each party instead.

So when approaching research in Scotland, my first task was to determine which record gave me which information.  Since my single known Scottish ancestor (Annie McLeod) emigrated in 1853, the civil registrations beginning in 1855 are not all that relevant.  The earlier records are somewhat scanty.  For a marriage, they give the name of each party and where they were married.  A baptism is nice – it gives the mother’s maiden name.  I have not located many baptisms in my area of interest.

I’ve learned a bit about the region now. Annie came from Balelone, a … what was it?  A village? A locality on the western coast of North Uist? An area where more than two buildings could be seen at once?  I have not really figured it out.  A search of the 1841 census in Findmypast on location Balelone brings up 25 entries. Amongst them are several surnamed McLeod.

My Annie was living in Kilpheder in 1841. A search of location Kilpheder in the 1841 census via Findmypast also brings up 25 entries.

So where is Kilpheder?  The Google Maps site shows a township in South Uist some forty miles south of Balelone.  I looked at it and was not quite convinced.  The census clearly places them in Kilpheder, North Uist. But it took me a long time to find anything.  The only clue I was finding via google search was on the website of the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland which placed Kilpheder not too far from Balelone.  It took a bit more searching but finally I found it on the Scottish Places website.  Kilpheder – Annie McLeod’s Kilpheder – was a quarter of a mile north of Balelone. Just up the coast.  Over the hill maybe.

It was a coastal community, more of a family estate than a proper village.  The residents were fishermen and labourers, doing it very tough as so many Scottish families did in those years.  They lived on a windswept coastline, a land of grey rocks and flattened grass.

North Uist in Scotland  Gordon Hatton [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

North Uist in Scotland Gordon Hatton [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Discovering this locality helped everything fit into place.  Kilpheder contained just the one family of McLeods in 1841 – Annie’s family.  There was a pair surnamed Arbuckle.  A family of McCaskills and a couple of McDonalds.  That’s about it. The rest were grandchildren obviously staying with their mother’s parents, or single men presumably following the work.

Balelone was pretty similar.  There were the Alexander McLeods with three teenagers at home, Archibald McLeod who lived with them and might be Alex’s older brother.  Flora Arbuckle who was an elderly lady living with Murdoch and Harriet Arbuckle, most likely her son and daughter in law or even grandson and granddaughter in law.  They also had some grandchildren of different surnames. A family of McLeans, a couple of McDonalds and some McGillevrays make up the bulk.

Ocean and birds from The Quiver 1864

Ocean and birds from The Quiver 1864

Balelone was a small community and the family groupings were somewhat telling.  Very few children and what children there were seemed to be with grandparents rather than parents.  More than a few elderly persons and some couples old enough to have a whole big family, but very few with any children present at all.  They give an impression of struggle.  In the community of 25 individuals in Balelone there were only two children under 10 – Murdoch McLeod and Murdoch McKenzie, and each of them was aged 8.  I count seven women of an age to be parents, most of them married.

Kilpheder, equal in size, had more children so maybe was a more comfortable place to live.  Out of the wind perhaps? Donald and Marion Arbuckle had a newborn baby.  My Annie’s family had a healthy four children aged under ten.  John and Catherine Monk had two young ones aged 9 and 4.

That’s nine children under ten years out of a total population of 50.  Not a statistic indicative of a growing community.

Of course, it wasn’t a growing community and the problems of the Scottish people were what resulted in so much emigration.  I guess we all knew that.  Still, the census gives that further glimpse into their lives.  My Annie did not see many other children.  She lived in a world of probably hardworking but still struggling adults.  When she married she signed her name, so somewhere she learned to read and write.  She put a great deal into keeping her family together in later years, she had developed a family ethic so I would guess her family unit was tight in Scotland too.  More than this, it is hard to deduce.

This seems like a good beginning.