Wilson Armstrong 1886-1916

Wilson Armstrong was my 1st cousin 3 times removed. His father, Alexander and my great great grandfather, Robert were brothers. My great great grandfather being my paternal grandfather’s paternal grandfather. This is a branch of the family I discovered through DNA testing.

Wilson was born on 4 February 1886 near Halifax in Yorkshire. His father was from Rigg in Dumfriesshire but had moved to England for work. Wilson was Alexander’s 9th child and his 8th by second wife, Helen Taylor. He was named after his grandmother Isabella Wilson.

Tragically Helen died in 1888. The 1891 census shows Wilson living with his father and siblings in East Morton, Keighley. Alexander was a police constable and Wilson’s older siblings were working while he attended Parkinson Lane Board School. So it would seem that despite the loss of Helen, the family were coping fairly well.

Ten years later and things were not so good for Wilson. He had left school and had been working in a mill. He had fallen into bad company and had no fixed abode.

This information comes from the admissions register of the West Yorkshire Reformatory School. Wilson was sentenced to 3 years detention after stealing a jacket, two pairs of trousers and a cloth cap. When asked about the theft he stated “I stole the clothes so as to wear them as I was hard up”.

At 15 Wilson was a tiny 4’11”, with a fresh complexion, brown hair and greyish blue eyes. He claimed that he had been “harshly treated” by his father who had by this time retired from the police and was working as a labourer.

It’s a sad story but it would appear the school was not a terrible experience for the boy who, after being discharged in July 2003, continued to visit the school. After school he found employment as a farm servant but by 1906 he was a soldier with the Lancashire Fusiliers.

Wilson remained in the army and when the war started he was sent to fight on the Western Front.

He married Sarah Wilson in October 1915 but with a war on there was no time to enjoy married life.

Wilson Armstrong was killed in action in France on 18 August 1916. He is buried at Peronne Road Cemetery, Maricourt in the Somme.


James Brawley 1891-1956

James Brawley was one of my maternal grandfather’s seven brothers. He was the second child of Daniel Brawley and Ellen Keenan. He was born on 31 January 1891 at 12 Furnace Row, Newmains.


James grew up as part of a large family. By the 1911 census they were living in Main Street, Newmains. James and two of his brothers were steel workers. He continued in this line of work until WW1. Conscription began in 1916 and it was in April of that year that James joined the Navy. The Royal Navy Register provides us with a description of James who, at that time was 5″6 1/2″, with dark brown hair, blue eyes and a fresh complexion. The record also lists the ships on which he served. My mother recalls a photo of James in his naval uniform having pride of place at her grandparents’ house.

James remained in the navy until 1919 when, not content to return to life in Newmains, he decided on a new life in Canada arriving there in April 1920. The record below gives James’s religion as Protestant. I don’t know if that’s an error or if he deliberately tried to hide the fact he was Catholic.

His decision to leave Scotland clearly had something to do with a certain young lady. It was on 3 July 1920, in the parish of St Ignatius of Loyola in Montreal, that he married Elizabeth Sandford. The Sandford family were from Wishaw. There is a record of Elizabeth working in Canada as early as 1916. Elizabeth’s brother, Matthew Sandford had married James’ sister, Sarah in 1916 in Newmains.

James and Elizabeth had a daughter, Mary, on 7 April 1921. The family remained in Canada. James died in Scarborough, Ontario on 6 July 1956.

Philomena Brawley Born 1925

Philomena Brawley was my 2nd cousin once removed. Her parents were Hugh Brawley and Bridget Darragh. Hugh was the first cousin of my maternal grandfather who was also called Hugh Brawley. Philomena was born on 31 October 1925 within the family home at 39 Hope Street, Newmains, Lanarkshire. Her parents had been married in January that year and with Bridget already 26 years old they would have been keen to start a family. There was a big family of Brawleys in Newmains at that time and a lot of children. My aunt, Catherine Brawley was also born in 1925.

Philomena was born early and lived for just 3 days. She died just after 6am on 3 November. The cause of death is recorded as “prematurely born and convulsions”. It was Hugh who had the task of registering the death which he did later that same day.

Philomena Brawley is buried in Cambusnethan Cemetery. The plot is unmarked. Her grandfather Peter Brawley (1871-1940) and uncle James Brawley (1896-1917) are also buried in plot E3217.

Bridget and Hugh went on to have a daughter, Catherine, who was born in 1927.

A Family Mystery — Daniel Brawley and Ellen Keenan

Daniel Brawley and Ellen Keenan were my great grandparents. I don’t remember being told many family stories but the one that did stick in my mind is that my mother’s grandparents got married in Scranton, Pennsylvania.  There was no explanation given as to why they were in America and it seemed no one really knew the story. It has taken a while to get to the bottom of this and I really can’t tell you about one without the other so this is the story of my mother’s paternal grandparents.

Daniel Brawley was born on 1 May 1864 in Old Monkland, Lanarkshire.  His parents were James Brawley and Sarah McLauchlan.  Daniel was the third of ten children.  The family eventually settled in Newmains, Lanarkshire.

My great granny was registered as Helen Keenan but was always known as “Ellen”. She was born on 16 December 1869 in Newmains. She was the eighth of ten children. Her parents were Patrick Keenan and Agnes Haughey.

While both Daniel and Ellen were born in Scotland they were of Irish descent. Daniel’s mother and Ellen’s father were born in Ireland and all of the grandparents had been born in Ireland.

Life would not have been easy. Their living conditions were poor and, as can be seen from the photo, hardly adequate for such big families.

I recently discovered that in her early teens Ellen was forced to leave Newmains and her parents to take up employment as a bleachfield worker in Paisley. She would have been away from her family for months at a time.

Daniel found work at the local ironworks as a labourer. Coltness Ironworks was the main employer for the local community and the reason the Brawleys settled in Newmains.

So Daniel and Ellen both grew up in Newmains and the families would most certainly known each other from the time the Brawleys arrived in the village. So my question was – why did they marry in the United States? This was not a time of destination weddings after all.

I started digging and I discovered a second cousin who was also looking for Daniel and Ellen. Her grandfather was Daniel And Ellen’s first child, Daniel. The story in her family was that her grandfather was born in Pennsylvania. He returned to Scotland with an American accent and was bullied by local children as a result. My cousin had managed to track down Daniel and Ellen’s marriage record showing that they were indeed married in Scranton, Pennsylvania. The date of their marriage was 11 December 1888. Neither of us, however, could track down a birth record for Daniel.

I also checked through passenger lists for Daniel and Ellen trying to work out when they left Scotland with no success.

The next record I found was the 1891 census which showed the couple back in Newmains and living at 12 Furnace Row. Daniel is again recorded as a labourer. By this time the couple had had another son. I found the birth record for James who was born in January 1891 at 12 Furnace Row.

I started to suspect that Daniel had not been born in the USA after all but there was no record for a Daniel Brawley in Scotland either. So I had to try a different search and I found him.

Daniel Keenan was born at 15 Furnace Row, Newmains on 30 October 1887. He was given Brawley as a middle name but he is recorded as illegitimate and there is no father listed. So, this was not the great romance I had imagined of a young couple heading off to America to start a great adventure. It would appear that Daniel was keen to leave Newmains but he did so with his brother James and not his young girlfriend. Ellen, it would seem, was just a fling before he headed off for good. Had they intended to stay together surely they would have married before he left if her pregnancy had meant she was unable to travel. So I’m assuming (hoping) that he didn’t know she was pregnant when he boarded his ship. Knowing the baby’s birth date narrowed down the timeframe for Daniel’s departure but I still don’t have a passenger list. I did ask a professional genealogist who advised that many records from that time no longer exist.

Daniel’s ultimate destination was the town of Moosic. I’d love to know what drew the brothers to that particular place. Perhaps they responded to a recruitment advert or maybe they had a family or other connection there. It’s possible there were other Newmains men already there.

Ellen was not prepared to remain a single parent. As soon as she was able she and Baby Daniel sailed on the Steamship Manitoba heading for Moosic, Pennsylvania. The name was transcribed as “Keauan” which made it difficult to find. Also on the ship was Daniel’s younger brother Hugh. I can imagine the Brawley and Keenan families getting together to discuss how to deal with the situation. If Daniel couldn’t or wouldn’t come back, Hugh would accompany Ellen to track him down. The Manitoba arrived in Philadelphia on 9 December 1888 and Daniel and Ellen were married just two days later. You can see from the marriage record that Ellen lied about her age.

Why did Daniel and Ellen return to Newmains? I suspect (and young Daniel’s family believe) that it was Ellen who wanted to come back. She couldn’t settle and missed her family. It wouldn’t have been easy for her with no friends or family support. She would have been left on her own while her new husband and his brothers worked long hours in the mines. I don’t know exactly how long they were there but it is unlikely that Daniel would’ve had an American accent. The couple went on to have twelve (!) children in total. They remained in Newmains until their deaths; Daniel died in 1935 and Ellen in 1941.

They are buried in Cambusnethan Cemetery. I have visited their grave and was saddened to see there is no headstone. The small marker in the picture had been moved from another plot.

The photograph below was taken in 1912 and shows My great grandfather with his eldest son. I do not have a photograph of Ellen.

Married On This Day – Hugh Brawley & Catherine Cosgrove

My maternal grandparents were married in St Brigid’s Church, Newmains on 6 August 1920. Hugh was 21 years old and a labourer at the local iron foundry. Catherine was 20 and a pottery worker. I don’t have a photo of their wedding day. I’m not sure that one exists. The best man was Hugh’s brother, Peter and Catherine’s bridesmaid was her cousin, Sarah Duffy.

Sadly my grandparents died a long time ago. I never met my grandfather and was very young when my grandmother died. I would love to know what she wore and what kind of celebration they had. I know it would not have been a lavish affair but I’d like to think it was special for them.

An Unwanted Child- Thomas Rae 1898- 1898

My great grandparents, Robert Armstrong Rae and Margaret McGarrity had their first child just two months after their marriage in April 1899. They were the parents of my paternal grandfather and their marriage took place at their home in Craigneuk, Lanarkshire. The bride would have been quite obviously pregnant and this may have caused some disapproval among family and friends. Births so soon after a wedding are not uncommon in my family tree so no big surprise. What did surprise me was a record I found in the cemetery records for Globe Cemetery in Motherwell

I visited North Lanarkshire Heritage Centre to try and locate the graves of the Rae family ancestors. On the list was 6 month old Thomas Rae who was buried in August 1898. His parents are recorded as Robert Rae and Margaret McGarrity. So, Sarah was not their first child? Next I checked the death records to find the cause of death. While the address from the cemetery records matches the death record, the parents do not. The parents on this document are Archibald Smith Rae and Sarah Rae whose maiden name was also Rae. Archibald registered and was present at the death.

I then checked the birth records which show Thomas Rae born 28 February 1898 and the parents are Robert Rae and Margaret McGarrity.

From other research I’ve done I know that Archibald Smith Rae is, in fact, Archibald Smith. He was married to Robert’s sister, Sarah (except she wasn’t actually his sister but he thought she was – a story for another time). Thomas wouldn’t be the first illegitimate relative that the couple cared for and I can only assume this is what happened here. Margaret and Robert gave their child away and he was to be raised as Thomas Smith.

I don’t understand why false details were given to register the death while the real parents are recorded in the cemetery records. It was illegal to knowingly provide false information when registering births, deaths and marriages so why would Archibald risk that? Margaret and Robert went on to have a big family and they named my grandfather Archibald Smith Rae after the man who helped them when they needed it most.

Daniel & John Brawley 1913-1913

Daniel and John Brawley were born on 8 March 1913. Their father was Daniel Brawley, my maternal grandfather’s eldest brother. The twins’ mother was Mary Berry. This was Mary’s second pregnancy; their daughter Margaret having been born the previous year.

The boys were born in the family home at 16 Hope Street, Newmains. More info on Newmains housing at that time can be found here. It’s possible they were delivered by Daniel’s aunt, Mary Hagan, who was the local midwife. The babies were premature and sadly neither survived the day.

I would never have known of their existence but for the cemetery records held at the North Lanarkshire Heritage Centre. While looking for other Brawley family I found the record of these two babies who are buried in the same coffin in a public plot at Cambusnethan Cemetery.

Even though it’s over a hundred years ago I feel sad when I see these documents and read the time of birth and death. I’m surprised to see that Daniel left Mary to go and register these events the following day. I suppose that must have been procedure but it would have been so hard for both of them. Different times.

Andrew Rae 1838-1873

My 4th great uncle, Andrew Rae was born on 12 March 1838 in Sanquhar, Dumfriesshire. He was the 6th of 10 children of my 4th great grandparents, James Rae and Grace or Grizel Halliday.

From the birth records of his siblings I can see that the family moved around between Dumfriesshire, Lanarkshire and Ayrshire. It was in Old Cumnock, Ayrshire Andrew married Margaret Whitfield Rae (hopefully no relation) on 7 December 1860. Andrew was a coal miner and Margaret was a dairymaid. Between 1862 and 1872 the couple had 7 children

  • James – Born 1862
  • Mary – Born 1863
  • George – Born 1864
  • Hebron – Born 1868
  • Agnes – Born 1870
  • Andrew – Born 1872

In 1873 Andrew was still working down the mines. In May of that year while working in Pit No 1 at Lanemark Coal Company in New Cumnock. During his shift he suffered a fall injuring his leg. The injury was so severe that the leg had to be amputated. I am not an expert in medical procedures of that time so can only imagine it being quite a horrific experience.

News is such an injury must have come as a horrible shock to Margaret. As well as her obvious concern for her husband she must surely have panicked at the thought that Andrew would not be able to continue work down the mines and thus provide for the family.

Worse was to come, however, as Andrew developed septicaemia and nine days after his accident he died. He was 35 years old.

He left behind a widow and children aged between 3 and 13 years old. I still have to discover what happened to them.

A Woman of Mystery – Mary Wilkinson c1832-1871

The story of my great great grandmother, Mary Wilkinson is very confusing and there are a number of pieces missing. Mary was my maternal grandmother’s maternal grandmother and I would love to know more about her background. Mary, it would seem, did not have a problem lying to the authorities which makes finding out the truth about her life pretty difficult.

I first came across Mary’s name on the marriage record of my great grandmother, Sarah Helferty. Sarah’s parents are recorded as Arthur Helferty and Mary Wilkinson.

From there my next step is to find a marriage record for Mary and Arthur but I couldn’t find anything.

I believe I have Mary in the 1851 census working as a servant in Glasgow but I can’t be 100% sure it’s the same person. I’m the 1861 census she appears with husband, Arthur and her two children, 8 year old William Duncan and 5 month old Martha Helferty. William is recorded as Arthur’s stepson. While Arthur and Mary were both born in Ireland, the two children were born in Glasgow but I haven’t found a birth record for either one.

In 1864 Mary gave birth to a second daughter. While she used the name Ellen Helferty during her life she was registered as Helen Wilkinson and there is no father listed on her birth certificate. Her mother is recorded as Mary Wilkinson, shirt maker, no domicile. Strangely the baby was born in Kilmodan, Argyll.

My great grandmother was born in March 1867 and it took a bit of time to track her down as her surname is spelled ‘Halford’. She was born in Glasgow and was also illegitimate although Arthur does appear as her father. Her mother is recorded as Mary Stewart nee Wilkinson (widow). Widow? Stewart? I have no idea where that name came from especially as her first child had the surname Duncan.

The next major event in Mary’s life was the death of her son. William Duncan was just 18 years old when he died of typhus fever at the fever hospital in Glasgow in January 1870. His death was registered by Mary who gave her name as Mary Duncan nee Wilkinson. She provided the father’s details as William Duncan, iron dresser (deceased).

Just over a year later, on 17 March 1871, Mary died. Tragically her death occurred within the City Poorhouse.

It’s always heartbreaking to find an ancestor having to turn in desperation to the poorhouse. She left Ireland optimistic of a brighter future but she was taken young leaving behind a young family. From a research point of view this gave me a new source of information. Fortunately I was at the Scotland’s People Centre at the Mitchell Library in Glasgow when I found the death record so I could immediately request the Poor Law register.

Transcript of Poorhouse record no 1369612

Mary Wilkinson Resides 57 Princes Street 2 up right with Elizabeth Dickie.

Place of birth: Ireland Date of inspector visit: 1.20pm 10 February 1871 Status: single Age: 40 Occupation: cleaner Religion: Protestant Disability: Febricula and bronchitis

Dependants: Helen age 7 born Glendornal (in fever hospital). Martha age 10 born Saltmarket (in fever hospital). Sarah age 31/2 born Saltmarket (in fever hospital) William age 10 1/2 57 Princes Street

Daughter of William Wilkinson a labourer dead and Martha Gilly cannot tell where she is.

First application. Settlement Ireland

Remarks: in lodgings at 3/ a week. Putative father of children Arthur Helford with whom she has cohabited for many years.

Particulars of settlement: in 57 Princes Street, Glasgow. Prior for 5 years residing in the summer season in Lochgoilhead and spending winter months in Glasgow.

13700999 11am 2 March 1871 Mary Wilkinson applies from 57 King Street back 2 up. Prostration of strength and children

Sarah and Martha both in fever hospital. Helen and William 2/3/1871 self and two children admitted to house by indoor inspector.

On 17 March 1871 mother died in Poorhouse.

21 March 1871 Helen and William given to aunt Ann Hafferty residing No 7 Dyers Lane by inspector

Quite a lot of information there. First of all I was surprised to see Mary was Protestant as I believed all of my maternal side were Catholic. It may explain why she never married Arthur though.

Why did Mary not know her mother’s whereabouts? I know nothing of when Mary left Ireland. She may have come with her parents as a child or on her own later on. I was disappointed that the record did not record the town or at least county of her birth. She named her eldest daughter after her mother suggesting at least some affection or respect.

And then there is another William. Without the Poorhouse record I would never have known Mary had another child.

William is recorded as Wilkinson with no father listed. He died just a few months after his mother in June 1871. His father’s details are missing from this record too.

After Mary’s death the children were given into the care of Arthur’s sister, Ann. I hope that they were able to stay together.

Mary certainly had a tough life. I cannot be sure of the kind of person she was. She used three married names but was never married. She lied about this information but perhaps that was to cover the embarrassment of having illegitimate children. I wonder if Arthur believed she was a widow. At the time of her death she had lost a child and had two ill in hospital and little William who suffered ‘debility from birth ‘. I’d like to think she was a good mother or at least tried her best. I’d love to know more about her life as she travelled between Argyll and Glasgow. Did she have her children with her?

I hope at some point to have all the relevant records including her early life in Ireland. I’ll keep looking.

Hugh Brawley 1902-1947

Hugh Brawley was born on 8 April 1902 in the town of Rock Springs, Sweetwater County, Wyoming, USA. His father was James Brawley, younger brother of my great grandfather, Daniel Brawley. James left Newmains in 1888. Hugh was the seventh of eight children. His mother, Sarah McGlynn was born in Pennsylvania.

In 1919, without telling his parents, young Hugh and a friend left Wyoming and headed to Illinois to join the Navy. This article from the local paper tells of how they later passed through their home town. I wonder if he’d been refused permission to go and what his parents reaction might have been.

When his time in the Navy was up he returned to live with his parents in Rock Springs.

Hugh married in 1937.

The photograph of Hugh was kindly sent to me by his daughter in law who told me that Hugh and his family left Wyoming for California looking for new opportunities at the start of the war. Sadly Hugh was killed in 1947. He was working for a logging company and was crushed to death when a chain broke causing logs to fall on top of him.

He is buried at Rock Springs Cemetery, Wyoming