Wednesday, January 11, 2017

James Muir (1848-1926)

James Muir was likely the twelfth child of Robert and Henrietta (Brown) Muir. No parish church record exists for his birth. His birth date, 13 June, is listed on his death certificate and in my Grandmother's genealogy notebook. The birth year is more confusing. My Grandmother believed it was 1847. James' second wife believed it was 1845. I have settled on 1848. The closest record to his birth is the 1851 Scotland Census. That census was enumerated on the night of 30-31 March, which would make James Muir 2 years old, and that is his age as recorded on the census. He would turn three in June, hence 1848 as his year of birth.

When the 1851 Scotland census was enumerated, he was living with several siblings in Kirkton village, but his parents were not at home the night the census was taken. It is likely his mother had died by this time. We know she died before 1856.

Ten years later, James was living at 2 Birkenshaw in Larkhall with his father and several siblings. He was 13 and already working full-time in the coal mines. His father was no longer working in the mines but his older brothers still living at home were also miners. I have been unable to definitively locate James Muir in the 1871 census.

He married Margaret Semple on 4 Jul 1873 in Swinhill, Dalserf, Lanarkshire. She was the single mother of a young girl named Janet "Jessie" Semple. Margaret was pregnant with their first child at the time of their marriage, and that child was born on 4 October 1873. Their first son was named Robert Muir, after his paternal grandfather. Sadly, little Robert died on 25 January 1874 of hydrocephalus, which is the build up of too much cerebrospinal fluid in the brain. It is commonly called "water on the brain."

Parish church in Dalserf; photograph commissioned by me and taken by
Andrew Scorgie in 2013

My great grandfather also named Robert Muir was born on 16 March 1875. After my great grandfather, six more children were born in Scotland:
  • Peter Semple Muir (14 February 1877 -- 23 March 1877)
  • Peter Semple Muir (5 July 1878 -- 8 September 1878)
  • Peter Muir (12 July 1879 -- 23 July 1879)
  • Henrietta Brown Muir (29 July 1882 -- 9 January 1884)
  • Margaret "Maggie" Muir (6 May 1884 -- 29 August 1966)
  • Peter Semple Muir (3 February 1886 -- 30 October 1947)
Peter Semple was Margaret's father's name and naming a child in his honor was obviously important to her.

On 27 May 1887 James boarded the Anchor Line steamship Ethiopia in Glasgow and sailed to the United States. He arrived in New York City on the 6th of June and traveled to Streator, Illinois. Because the 1890 census was destroyed by fire, I do not know if he had relatives or friends who had already immigrated and settled in Streator or if he saw advertisements for Streator at the train station. 

James' wife, Margaret, and the living children followed him to Illinois, arriving in the U.S. on 30 September 1887. Margaret's daughter, Jessie, also traveled with her mother and half-siblings.  Margaret and James had two more children in Illinois: Alexander Muir (13 May 1889 -- 6 May 1957) and Jane "Janie" Muir (29 November 1894 -- 23 January 1990).

In 1900 James was living in Mystic, Iowa, a lodger at the home of Mrs. Margaret Greenbank. Appanoose was described as "one continuous mining camp" when James arrived. He claimed he was divorced. His wife, Margaret (Semple) Muir, however, was living in Reading, Illinois. According to her census records, she still believed she was married.

James married Margaret (McIntosh) Greenbank on 9 January 1913 in Princeton, Missouri. Princeton is in Mercer County, Missouri, which borders Iowa. I am left wondering after looking at the map, if Mercer County was a "Gretna Green" county, meaning it was possible to get a quickie marriage. Or perhaps county officials didn't look too closely at your documentation. I've found no evidence that James Muir actually divorced his first wife, nor can I find any evidence that Margaret Greenbank was divorced from her husband, Thomas, who was still alive, though living in the Mount Pleasant Hospital for the Insane.

Proximity of Appanoose County to Mercer County; image courtesy of

I have not found James in the 1910 census. When the 1915 Iowa state census was taken, James claimed he had lived in Iowa since 1895. If that is true, then he left his first wife when their youngest child was barely a year old. In 1920 he lived in Nineveh, Missouri, and was a boarder in the home of Mrs. Ida Logsdon. Her home was very close to the home James' first wife and the home of their daughter, Maggie, and her husband, Robert Caswell.

The 1925 Iowa state census indicated James was still married and back in Mystic, Iowa, and lived with his second wife. At the time two of Margaret's sons by her first husband also lived in the home as well as 11-year-old Robert H. Muir, who was listed as a grandson. I believe he was actually the son of Ethel Greenbank, one of Margaret's daughters by her first husband. James Muir did have a grandson named Robert Muir, Jr. He was born in 1912 so it is possible he was living with his grandfather in 1925 though I do not know why this would be.

James Muir died on 18 March 1926 at his home in Mystic of arteo-sclerosis and chronic bronchitis at the ripe old age of 81. He was miner, retired from the Egypt Coal Company. He was interred in Highland Cemetery in Mystic on 20 March 1926. His second wife was the informant listed on the death certificate. She is also buried in Highland Cemetery.

James Muir was my great great grandfather.

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