Sunday, January 26, 2014

52 Ancestors #4: Was Grandma's Grandma a Hussy?

Last year I virtually met Sarah Semple[1], a cousin who lives in New Zealand. She had written a book about our common Semple ancestors and we have been collaborating on and off ever since on my grandmother's grandmother, Margaret (Semple) Muir and her children. My grandmother was Alice (Muir) Jennings and her mother died in 1909 when she was only three years old. Alice lived with her grandmother until 1920 when Margaret Muir died.

Not too long ago I was purging my inbox, trying to create order out of chaos. I ran across an email my New Zealand cousin sent which included what she knew about James and Margaret (Semple) Muir and their children from her book on the Semple family.  I compared it to my tree and updated the document based on what Sarah and I had discovered in our recent research.

Reviewing all the information together in document form versus the structure of tree or pedigree chart got me thinking. Did James and Margaret (Semple) Muir ever live together in the U.S. and were some of her children even his? Or did any of the children belong to James? Maybe grandma's grandma was "hussy."

In order try and formulate an answer to that question, I compared the birth order and names of her children to Scottish naming conventions. There was one glaring unconventional name:

Was she mad at her husband, James, when Alexander was born? Was Alexander his child? I know Margaret and James eventually divorced, but when did they separate? So many questions I'd never considered before.

I created a timeline of documented events in Margaret's life to determine if any event could shed light on the question:

At no time since their marriage did the documentation I've been able to locate to date about this family indicate that Margaret and James ever lived together. Based on when the Scottish census were enumerated, the only chance for that was in 1881 and then after Margaret immigrated to the U.S. in 1890, 1900, 1910, and 1920.

At this point in my research I cannot verify that James Muir, Margaret's husband, even immigrated to the U.S. I did find a lot of James Muirs in the U.S. and in Scotland, who were coal miners, like he was; but I cannot prove any of them are MY James Muir. I have found a 1920 census record for a James Muir of the right age and occupation who lived in Nineveh Township, Adair, Missouri, who was a boarder in a house rented by a widow named Ida Logsden. In 1920 Margaret (Semple) Muir was also living in Nineveh. My working assumption is he was MY James Muir. I have found no record of his death.

So what do you think? Was grandma's grandma a hussy?

This is my entry for Amy Johnson Crow's 52 ancestors in 52 weeks challenge.

[1] Sarah Semple has become an email and research buddy. I've read almost all of her books and she she is great at discovering obscure documents. Sarah has also written a guest blog, which was terrific.

NOTE: I wrote about Margaret's oldest living son, Robert Muir, my great grandfather, and the research challenge he represents here. Robert's son, Henry, was problematic as well and I wrote about that here. The entire Muir clan has done their best to test my research skills!


  1. Maybe she named Alexander after the wrong father.

  2. My guess is that James came ahead to set up a home for his family. If he left sometime after Peter II was conceived, he could have went to US and set up homestead. Then came home to get his family and gotten her pregnant with the other kids. Then he may have come to US by himself, and she and the kids made a later passage. Then he could have been killed and that is why she never was enumerated with him. Also coal miners sometimes lived at the camp, so she may have lived with her parents and he may have stayed there. That would explain why he wasn't enumerated with her.

    1. You may just be right. Late last night we found James Muir on a passenger list. If it's our James, then he came to the U.S. three months before his wife and kids. Lots of double checking still to do before we're sure.

  3. My family emigrated from Wales to Utah; father, wife, and 5 kids. Two other kids also made it to Utah, but on different ships, and they weren't that old (17 and 19). The passage wasn't too costly and because they were Mormons, the church paid full or partial passage and guided them from Wales to Utah, steamship and steam rail, and hooked them up with a farm!

    1. Joan, that doesn't sound like a bad deal, especially the farm. I wonder why two of the children traveled separately?

    2. I'm still searching immigrant ship records and have found possible matches but have no way to verify them. Mormon missionaries made it easy to go from the Welsh coal mine to a farm in Zion. The Gill men weren't farmers, but the church helped them make a go of it. They started in Fillmore, Utah, (the frontier) and moved to Salt Lake City. They worked indoors with newspapers and books! They became business men and church leaders. Except for my father - he said I need a beer and cigarette and went to Nevada, where he stayed the rest of his life.
      I've just started blogging because of the 52 Ancestors thing. More fun stuff to follow.

    3. I have to admit to liking your Dad's attitude!

  4. I had a coal-mining relative from Cornwall, England who first immigrated to Mifflin County, PA and then moved near Streator, Illinois between 1891 and 1895. He died at his son-in-law's home in Ransom (close to Streator) of asthma and heart disease in 1902. Here's something to consider - in a letter that this son-in-law (James Spencer) wrote to relatives in the 1850's, he mentioned some family friends (actually very distant relatives) who had moved into the area and were staying with them until they could purchase their own farm. In my research, I found that one of the children born to these family friends was named "Spencer"...probably for "James Spencer". Could their be a special relative or family friend who was important in their lives for whom Alexander was named? I realize this doesn't address James and Margaret Muir's relationship. I can see that's a tough mystery to solve!

  5. Those darn Muir men!!! My maternal grandfather was Robert Muir from Ireland. I have no info, other than a name on ma's birth certificate. I'll probably never know which one he is in the "Sea of Robert Muir." And I'll probably never find grandma's family. That same birth certificate lists "mother unknown."