Ross-shire and Inverness-shire

Though we have a “missing link” in our McLeay lineage, our early research into the family quickly discovered a connection to the town of Dingwall in Ross-shire. Until 1889, Ross-shire and Cromartyshire were separate counties, but thereafter were combined into the single shire of Ross and Cromarty.  Census records told us that John McLeay, my 4G-grandfather, was born in Dingwall, and his death certificate provided us with his parents’ names: Murdo McLeay, shoemaker, and Anne McRae. From this information we found his birth record. He was born in 1802, one of at least seven children for Murdo(ch) and Anne:

1802 SCOTAND BAPTISMS: Dingwall, Ross-shire 1Source: McLea, John; 1802 Scotland O.P.R. Births; 062/ 10 174; Dingwall, Ross and Cromarty.

Born Jany 3     | John | Murdo McLea    | Shoemaker | Dingwall
Baptd 3 1802  |          | Annie MacRae

Once we had John’s birth record, his parents’ marriage was easy to find:

1796 SCOTLAND MARRIAGES: Dingwall, Ross-shire 2Source: McLea, Murdoch & MacRae, Anne; Scotland O.P.R. Marriages; 062/ 10 237; Dingwall, Ross & Cromarty.

Decr. 24th. 1796
Murdoch McLea Shoemaker Dingwall __ to __
Anne MacRae daughter to the late John McRae Inchrorie [Inchrory]

Anne McRea

The place name for Anne’s father in her marriage record appears to read “Inchrorie”, and for many years I was unable to identify that place. However, while using the online version of Streetmap UK in early 2020, I stumbled across “Inchrory” (modern spelling), a small farm holding in the Kilmorack Parish, quite close to the head of Beauly Firth in Inverness-shire, and close to the border with Ross-shire. With this information, I found what I thought was a possible baptism for Anne in that parish. However, a few months after finding this, I was contacted by George MacDonald, of Stornoway, Lewis, whose ancestors originated in the Kilmorack area, and he was able to identify another “Inchrory” for me — further north and quite close to Dingwall, and it only appears on a couple of old maps from the 18th Century. Although I can find no baptism for Anne, this is almost certainly the place she came from.

Murdoch McLeay

However, Murdoch’s baptism was found in the records of the Urquhart and Logie Wester Parish:

1766 SCOTLAND BAPTISMS: Urquhart & Logie Wester, Ross-shire 3Source: McLeah, Murdoch; 1766 Scotland O.P.R. Births; 084/ 10 127; Urquhart and Logie Wester; Ross and Cromarty.

May 18th. Bapd. by Do. [James Robertson] Murdoch son to Donald McLeah in Balnabine
& to his Spouse Hellen McIntosh before the Congregation

‘Balnabeen’ is a large estate just across the firth from Dingwall, on a promontory known as the Black Isle, about a 6 km (4 mile) journey from the town. A detailed search has not found a marriage record for Donald McLea(y) and Hellen McIntosh, nor have any other children of their marriage been found in the district.

The Children of Murdoch and Anne

Margaret was the first born in October 1797.4Source: MacLea, Margaret; 1797 Scotland O.P.R. Births; 062/ 10 164; Dingwall, Ross & Cromarty We know from later records that she married a dyer named Alexander Fraser, and had at least two children. She seems to have been widowed fairly early, and was living in Edinburgh by 1861. She died of apoplexy at 14 Allan Street, Edinburgh (her daughter Jane’s house) on 8 Jul 1869.5Source: Fraser (McLeay); Margaret; 1863 Scotland Statutory Deaths; 685/1 627; St George, Edinburgh.

Donald was born at Dingwall in July 1799;6Source: .McLea, Donald; 1799 Scotland O.P.R. Births’; 062/ 10 168; Dingwall, Ross & Cromarty but, before 1821, he moved to Seatown, Cullen — on the coast about 18 km (11 miles) north of Keith — where he worked as an agricultural labourer. He married Janet Innes in 1821,7Source: McLea, Duncan & Innes, Janet; 1821 Scotland O.P.R. Marriages, 150/ 50 401, Cullen, Banffshire. and had at least six daughters between 1821 and 1832. The first two were born at Seatown, but the remainder along the coast at Portsoy where he worked as a labourer. However, by 1841 the family had returned to Seatown, where Donald died in January 1868 aged 68.8Source: McLeay, Donald; 1868 Scotland Statutory Deaths; 159/ 00 1; Cullen, Banffshire. Like John, Donald had to bring up at least three illegitimate children, two of them by his youngest daughter, Elizabeth.

John, my 4g-grandfather, as we will see on the next page, was in Cairnie before he was 21, and we have a whole page to his story. The next child was Helen, born in October 1803.9Source: McLea, Helen; 1803 Scotland O.P.R. Births; 062/ 10 179; Dingwall, Ross & Cromarty. She married widower Ronald McLeod, a tailor, in Edinburgh in 1835 when she was 31.10Source: McLea, Helen & McLeod, Ronald; 1835 Scotland O.P.R. Marriages, 685/1 640 482, Tolbooth, Edinburgh. Helen and Ronald had only one daughter, Georgina (1838), who married her first-cousin John McLean in Edinburgh in 1866.11Source: McLean, John & McLeod, Georgina; 1866 Scotland Statutory Marriages, 685/1 14, St George, Edinburgh. Helen died at 1 Neslon Street, Edinburgh, in 1874 aged 70 years;12Source: McLeod (McLeay), Helen; 1874 Scotland Statutory Deaths, 685/2 294, St Andrew, Edinburgh. she had been a widow for over 35 years, as her husband had died in 1838,13Source: McLeod, Ronald; 1838 Scotland O.P.R. Deaths, 685/1 1000 433, Edinburgh. just 3 years after they married. 

The next born was Janet, who arrived in December 1807.14Source: McLea, Jannet; 1807 Scotland O.P.R. Births; 062/ 10 189; Dingwall, Ross & Cromarty. We know little about her, but she seems to have had an illegitimate son, the John McLean mentioned above (named after the father); John was born in Dingwall around 1835, but is next heard of in Edinburgh when he was a private in the 74th Highlanders (later to become part of the Highland Light Infantry). Janet is recorded as being deceased in 1866 when her son married his first cousin Georgina McLeod.

In 1810, Murdoch and Anne had an unnamed child on 8 Apr 1810.15Source: McLea, Unn; 1810 Scotland O.P.R. Births; 062/ 10 194; Dingwall, Ross & Cromarty. This child was baptised four days later, but is likley to have died shortly thereafter. The last child for the couple was Forbes, born in May 1812.16Source: MacLea, Forbes; 1812 Scotland O.P.R. Births; 062/ 10 200; Dingwall, Ross & Cromarty. We know nothing of his early life, but in 1851 he was lodging at 165 Rose Street in Edinburgh.17Source: McLeay, Forbes, 1851 Scotland Census; 685/1 116/ 9; St George, Edinburgh. At this time he was a private in the 93rd Highlanders (later to merge into the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders), and was sharing digs with three other soldiers. In 1861, Forbes had left the army and was working as a porter for a clothes shop. By now, he was living with his oldest sister, Margaret, at 14 Allan Street, Edinburgh. This was the home of his niece, Jane Fraser. As we saw above, Margaret died there in 1863, and Forbes, who never married, followed her on 21 May 1870, aged 58.18Source: McLeay, Forbes; 1870 Scotland Statutory Deaths; 685/1 537; St George, Edinburgh.

When Forbes died, only Helen and John remained of Murdoch and Anne’s children. John was to be the last of his siblings to join his ancestors, outliving Helen by more than nine years.

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1. Dingwall: 1740–1820 — 6 Comments

  1. Dear Sir/Madam.
    Are you aware that there is another Inchrory much closer to Dingwall that is much more likely to be the farm on which Ann Macrae was born?
    Kind regards

    • Hello George,
      That sounds very interesting. I have only been able to locate the Inchrory about a mile or so SW of Beauly in the Parish of Kilmorack, Inverness-shire. That I thought worked well with Anne McRae’s birthplace of “Ardnagrask”, which is 1.5 miles north of that Inchrory. Her father had been a soldier in the 114th RoF, and married at “Teanassie”, which is about 3 miles further west on the River Beauly – so I thought the proximity of those places made my identification of Inchrory look reasonable.

      However, it would be very interesting to know if there was another Inchrory closer to Dingwall (where she married). I’ve just scoured the Archi UK historic map of the area, and can’t see anything that would fit (given that the spelling may differ – “Inchrarie” was on her marriage record). Can you give me a close position as to where your Inchrory might be? I’d love to find it on the map.

      Many thanks for the information,


  2. Hello Alan
    After a long break from research I came across your website and delighted to find common ancestors in Murdo McLeay and Annie Macrae.
    I descend through their son Donald and then through his daughter Ann who married William Eddie.
    Ann, Mary and Elizabeth are the only daughters of Donald and Janet Innes that I know of and I would like to find the others if you could point me in the right direction.
    There are many Macrae surnames in my line but so far have been unable to link any to Murdo and Annie.
    Most of my ancestors in this maternal line come from the Cullen, Portsoy and Seatown areas so your story has been of great interest.
    Kind regards

    • Hello Maggi,

      Lovely to hear from you – we must be related (probably 5th cousins). As far as I can make out, Donald McLeay (my 4G-Granduncle) and Janet Innes had six girls in all (no boys). In order: Ann (15 Aug 1821 – 28 Jun 1903)); Mary (9 Jun 1823 – 7 Aug 1892); Janet (12 Aug 1825 – ?); Margaret (30 May 1827 – ?); Helen (31 Jul 1829 – ?); and Elizabeth “Betsy” (10 Feb 1832 – 12 Mar 1915).

      The first three were born at Seatown, Cullen, while the last four were born a little further east in Portsoy. I know Ann and Mary lived and died in Cullen, and that the youngest (Betsy) went to Australia and died at Ayr in North Queensland (I live in Brisbane). I don’t have any other information on Janet, Margaret and Helen. Obviously, one of Ann’s descendants moved to South Africa!

      I have census records for Donald & Janet for 1841, 1851 and 1861, their marriage and death certificates, and the baptisms for all six children. I can send you copies if you like (and/or link you to the family Dropbox site).

      Very happy you made contact.

      Best regards


      • Hello Alan
        Our ancestors must have walked the same paths, lived beside each other and been part of each others lives, yet there are no linking surnames apart from Macrae and McLeay.
        It was well over 10 years ago when I last researched this side of my family and the only certificate I have is the death cert for Ann McLeay so I would be most grateful for any you send me. e-mail would be fine.
        And I have to say the descendant of Ann who came to South Africa was me !
        Kind regards

        • Hi Maggi,

          Yes, I gathered from your SA email address that you’d be a descendant of Ann’s. 🙂

          I’ve sent you a link to my Dropbox site via email so you can access the family files. I’ve explained my filing system in that note. If that doesn’t work, I’ll be glad to bundle the files for the McLeays of Cullen for you. I’d be grateful for Ann’s death certificate if you have it … I know she died aged 81 on 28 Jun 1903 in Cullen, and was married to William Eddie – I must have taken that information from another tree.

          Best regards,


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