Thursday, August 7, 2014

Mystery Behind the Documents

Documents are certainly important to a genealogist or family historian as they provide the skeleton compiled of facts and dates about our ancestors. And sometimes a skeleton is all we are lucky enough to get. For some of our ancestors we never can find letters, or diaries or recollections of others about them and we have to settle for the skeleton.

I recently built the skeleton of one of my ancestors, using ScotlandsPeople to acquire vital records and census information. Agnes Riddell McCormick is actually the step-daughter, or possibly the daughter, of my first cousin twice removed, Robert Riddell (1861-1944). Every public family tree on that includes children lists Agnes as Robert's daughter and oldest child. But for some strange reason I couldn't find her birth registration using Riddell as her surname.

Then I noticed that her year of birth based on the age listed on several census records would have been 1884. Robert Riddell married Catherine McCormick on 19 December 1884. What if Agnes was born before the marriage, which seemed likely and not all that unusual in Scotland I've discovered. One of my Scottish research instructors at a genealogy conference called it "try before you buy!"

After a lot of search variations, I found Agnes. Her name when her birth was registered was Agnes Riddell McCormick and she was born on 21 February 1884, ten months prior to her mother's marriage to Robert. No father was included on the birth registration and Agnes was identified as illegitimate.

Snippet from Agnes Riddell McCormick's birth registration;
personal collection

Agnes lived with Robert and her mother, Catherine, until she married on 1 January 1903. On her marriage registration her name is listed as Agnes McCormick and only her mother was listed as her parent.  Even on her death registration no father was listed. Yet the birth registrations of her seven children tell a different tale.

The surname Agnes used when she registered the births of her three oldest children -- John, Jean, and Agnes -- was McCormick the same name listed on Agnes' birth registration in 1884. Even when her husband, John, registered the birth of their fourth child, Ann, he listed his wife's maiden name as McCormick. And then things changed. Child number five, born in 1907, was named Robert Riddell Douglas, after his mother's step-father/father. When John Douglas registered his son, Robert's birth, he listed his wife's maiden name as Riddell. The use of Riddell as Agnes' maiden name continued for the birth of her youngest two children, Catherine McCormick Douglas and Charles Douglas.

Snippet from Robert Riddell Douglas' birth registration;
personal collection

What happened in 1907 when Robert Riddell Douglas was born that caused the change in maiden names? Did Robert Riddell finally acknowledge Agnes was his child? Was he such a softie that naming a grandchild after him caused the acknowledgement? Did he no longer care that Agnes may have been someone else's child? Or am I reading way too much into the documents? It's times like these I wish someone would have left a diary!

Agnes Riddell McCormick was born on 21 February 1884 at Hamilton, Scotland. She was the illegitimate daughter of Catherine McCormick, who subsequently married Robert Riddell on 19 December in New Monkland. Agnes McCormick married John Douglas, a railway carter, on 1 January 1903. They lived in Glasgow the entirety of their married life and had seven children from 1901 to 1911. (Yes, another illegitimate child!) Agnes Riddell (McCormick) Douglas died on 15 June 1929 of pulmonary tuberculosis. Her husband, John, died the following year on 29 Nov 1930 of a cerebral hemorrhage.

No comments:

Post a Comment