The Family of John McLeay & Janet Mair

On the previous page, we saw how our McLeay family emerged in Dingwall, Ross-shire, and how the children of Murdoch McLeay and Anne McRae dispersed to Banffshire and Edinburgh. This page will follow the line through the second son, John McLeay.

Cairnie, Aberdeenshire

Like his older brother, Donald, my 4g-grandfather John McLeay left Dingwall in the early 1820s to work as an agricultural labourer further to the east. Donald settled in and around the coastal village of Cullen on Moray Firth, while John went first to the Cairnie district in Aberdeenshire.

Possible photo of Janet Mair – attached to a letter from her grand-daughter Annie Stewart (1878–1941) with an inscription identifying the photo as Janet, and giving her birth date as 26 Nov 1804.

Here he met and married Janet Mair (sometimes spelt Meare). Janet always gave her birthplace as Huntly, Aberdeenshire, but we know almost nothing about her early life, except one later record gives her mother as Jane Webster. No birth for Janet has been found, nor a marriage or birth for Jane Webster (there are several birth possibilities for Jane, but we have no way of validating any of them). It might well be that Janet Mair was an illegitimate and unregistered child; if so, she certainly would not be the last for this family.

Whatever her origins, Janet married John McLeay at the little parish church in Cairnie, Aberdeenshire, in August 1823. John seems to have been working as a farm labourer on Crackans, a farm holding next to Banks Farm, about 2 km (1.5 miles) north of the church; this was the family home for at least the next 12 years.

Similar to many of our forebears, Janet Mair was already six months pregnant when she married. Her first child was Anne (1823),1Source: McLea, Anne; 1823 Scotland O.P.R. Births; 178/  30 35; Cairnie, Aberdeenshire. and four more arrived while at Crackans: Alexander, their only son (1825);2Source: McLea, Alexander; 1825 Scotland O.P.R. Births; 178/ 30 44; Cairnie, Aberdeenshire. Jane (1827);3Source: McLeay Jane; 1827 Scotland O.P.R. Births; 178/ 30 53; Cairnie, Aberdeenshire. Mary (1830);4Source: McLeay, Mary; 1830 Scotland O.P.R. Births; 178/ 30 79; Cairnie, Aberdeenshire. and Margaret (1835).5Source: McLea, Margaret; 1835 Scotland O.P.R. Births; 178/ 30 108; Cairnie, Aberdeenshire. Sometime before 1838, our family left Cairnie Parish and moved about 8 km (5 miles) northwest to Keith, Banffshire — by 1841, John was that town’s innkeeper at the hotel in The Square (now Reidhaven Square). The Crown Inn, as it is now known, is still there 180-odd years later.

1823 SCOTLAND MARRIAGES: Cairnie, Aberdeenshire 6Source: McLea, John & Mair, Janet; 1823 Scotland O.P.R. Marriages; 178/ 3 240; Cairnie, Aberdeenshire.

John McLea & Janet Mair both in this Parish having contracted bonds of
matrimony & consigned pledges were proclaimed & Married – James Green

Banks Farm as it is today, lying east of the Cairnie–Ruthven Road. Originally, this farm was on both sides of the Ruthven Road, with Crackans about 500 metres directly north of the old Banks farm buildings.  John & Janet McLeay lived and worked at Crackans until at least 1835, and their first 5 children were born there. By 1838, they had moved to the inn at The Square, Keith.

The chart above shows our ancestors in the McLeay-Mair branch. Recent DNA evidence tends to support the conclusion that Helen McLeay (later Helen McLaren) was the mother of the illegitimate Margaret McLeay (my g-g-grandmother), even though she would only have been 12 at the time; however, there are other possibilities, and these are discussed in the article “The Missing Link”.  This chart also highlights the seven illegitimate children who grew up in the home of  John and Janet McLeay, and those with whom I have a DNA connection.

See the relevant maps (maps open in new browser tabs):

Keith, Banffshire, 1841

John and Janet seem to have settled into life at the inn in Keith by 1838, as they produced four more daughters while living there: Janet, later known as “Jessie” (1838);7Source: McLea, Janet; 1838 Scotland O.P.R. Births; 159/ 50 268; Keith, Banffshire. Helen (1840);8Source: McLea, Helen; 1840 Scotland O.P.R. Births, 159/ 50 295, Keith, Banffshire. Isabella (1843);9Source: McLeay, Isabella; 1843 Scotland O.P.R. Births; 159/ 50 330; Keith, Banffshire. and Elizabeth, who died aged eight (1845).10Source: McLea, Elizabeth; 1846 Scotland Statutory Births; 159/ 50 358; Keith, Banffshire. Only three of the girls were living at home in 1841 (entries in purple are my direct ancestors):

1841 SCOTLAND CENSUS: Square, Keith, Banffshire 11Source: McLea, John; 1841 Scotland Census; 159/ 2/ 3; Keith, Banffshire.

John McLea; 35; Inn Keeper; born Banffshire
Jannet Meare; 33; born Banffshire
Margaret McLea; 5; born Banffshire
Jannet McLea; 3; born Banffshire
Hellen McLea; 1; born Banffshire

We already know that neither John nor Janet were born in Banffshire, so this record isn’t as accurate as it could have been; however, the ages of the children are good (adult ages in the 1841 census are unreliable because of a policy to round them down to the nearest ‘5’). Their oldest child, Anne, would have been just 16, and she was working as a servant for the Reverend James Gardener at Rathven Manse,12Source: McLeay, Ann; 1841 Scotland Census; 164/ 7/ 1; Rathven, Banffshire. about 15 km (9 miles) north of Keith — we know Anne was living in Edinburgh by 1848. Alexander (then 15) was working at “Auchairnie”, a farm on the Keith-Cairnie road,13Source: McLea, Alexander; 1841 Scotland Census; 178/ 2/ 7; Cairnie, Aberdeenshire. while his younger sister Jane was a 14-year-old farm servant at “Auchanachie”, the neighbouring property and castle directly north of Crackans.14Source: McLea, Jane; 1841 Scotland Census; 178/ 7/ 7; Cairnie, Aberdeenshire. The next daughter, Mary (aged 10), was a female servant working at a house in The Square, close by the inn. From the occupations of the others at her address, it might have been a law office or a newspaper.15Source: McLea, Mary; 1841 Scotland Census; 159/ 2/ 1; Keith, Banffshire.

The Crown Inn at The Square, Keith, Banffshire. In these 19th-century drawings, the inn can be seen on the far left as we look east, and on the far right as we look west. John McLeay was the innkeeper from around 1841 to at least 1861. The inn is on the corner of Mid Street and The Square, later renamed Reidhaven Square. These drawings still hang on the wall of the current inn.

The McLeay family in 1851

In 1841, it was unlikely that John and Janet had any idea of the problems some of their daughters would create for them in the coming years. However, by the following census, the writing was on the wall as the first of a series of illegitimate grandchildren were dumped on their doorstep. It is a curious matter of historical note that the rates of illegitimacy in Banffshire at that time were way above the Scottish average (15% vs 9%). Why this was so has never been fully explained, but it is known that popular social attitudes in the north-east were not particularly critical of the phenomenon. Irish and Island figures were much lower, and it is thought the church and family in these places had a greater influence on daily lives. Scotland’s average of 9% was also statistically higher than in England or Wales which, in 1859, had rates of 6.5% — the effect can be seen for the first time within our family in the 1851 census:

1851 SCOTLAND CENSUS: Square, Keith, Banffshire 16Source: McLea, John; 1851 Scotland Census; 159/ 4/ 14; Keith, Banffshire.

John McLea; Head; Mar; 49; Farm Labourer; born RossShire, Dingwall
Janet McLea; Wife; Mar; 47; Farm Labourer’s Wife; born Aberdeenshire, Cairnie
Jane McLea; Daur; Unm; 24; Farm Labourer’s Daughter; born Aberdeenshire, Cairnie
Helen McLea; Daur; Unm; 11; Scholar; born Banffshire, Keith
Isabella McLea; Daur; 7; Scholar; born Banffshire, Keith
Elizabeth Duff; Step Daur; 1; born Banffshire, Keith
Elizabeth McLea; Daur; 5; Farm Labourer’s Daughter; born Banffshire, Keith

Although John was given as a ‘farm labourer’, the family were still at The Square, and he was noted as the ‘innkeeper’ in both 1855 (on daughter Mary’s marriage) and 1861 (census). Also, no other inhabitants of The Square are recorded as innkeepers in the 1851 census. Elizabeth Duff was the illegitimate daughter of John and Janet’s third child, Jane, and Robert Duff, a farmer in the Rhynie district — so, she is actually a granddaughter, not a step-daughter. Evidence for the paternity comes from a Kirk Minute in April 1850: “Compeared Jane McLea, confessing she had brought forth a child in fornication, and accusing as the father thereof Robert Duff and native of Rhynie …”Elizabeth’s birth was unregistered, and by the following census, she had moved to Huntly Parish; however, in 1866, when she was 16, she married a shepherd, John McLean, at Gartly.17Source: Duff, Elizabeth & McLean, John; 1866 Scotland Statutory Marriages; 198/ 6; Gartly, Aberdeenshire. Elizabeth lived the rest of her life at the Glen o’ Noth, Rhynie Parish, mostly living very close to her father’s two farms. It is very likely Elizabeth had some contact with her father, but her mother, Jane, moved to Edinburgh by 1859, and probably had no further contact with her. She died at the Glen o’ Noth in 1926, having had 10 children of her own.

The oldest child, Anne (27), had married policeman Angus MacKay in Edinburgh in 1848 (noting her father as a ‘spirit dealer’),18Source: McLeay, Anne & McKay, Angus; 1848 Scotland O.P.R. Marriages; 685/01 690 63; Edinburgh, Midlothian. and they were living with their two-year-old son at Advocates Close.19Source: Mackay, Ann (McLeay): 1851 Scotland Census; 685/1 88/ 8; Edinburgh, Midlothian. Alexander (25) was still single and working as an agricultural labourer at The Riggins, which was next to his birthplace at Crackans.20Source: McLea Alexander; 1851 Scotland Census; 178/ 2/ 21; Cairnie, Aberdeenshire.

The next daughter, Mary, has not been found in the record for 1851; however, she was likely working in Aberdeen because, in 1849, she had given birth to Janet Alexander, an illegitimate daughter to John Alexander, an Aberdonian shopkeeper.21Source: Alexander, Janet; 1849 Scotland O.P.R. Births; 159/  50 389; Keith, Banffshire. Again, a Kirk Minute from 1849 gives the details: “Compeared Mary McLea residing in Keith, stating she had brought forth a child in fornication, and accusing John Alexander, presently residing in Aberdeen, as the father thereof …”Janet died aged 18 months, just before the 1851 census;22Source: Alexander, Janet; 1851 Scotland O.P.R. Deaths; 159/ 50 699; Keith, Banffshire. but, shortly after the census, her mother fell pregnant again, this time to a slater from Aberdeen, William Watt — there is a match for William in the 1851 census: a master slater, aged 25, and living with his parents in Aberdeen. Once again, the ever-watchful Kirk was able to record: “Compeared Mary McLea confessing she had brought forth a child in fornication, and produced a letter from William Watt residing at Skene St, Aberdeen, confessing the paternity of said child …”  Mary gave birth to her second illegitimate daughter, Agnes Duff Watt, in 1852, though it was nearly a year before Agnes was baptised — this child would also be dumped on her grandparents, John and Janet.23Source: Watt, Agnes Duff; 1853 Scotland O.P.R. Baptisms; 159/0 50 413; Keith, Banffshire.

The fourth daughter (fifth child) was Margaret, and she would have been 15 going on 16 in 1851 when we find her working as a domestic in Aberdeen at the home of a factory manager, David McDonald.24Source: McLea Margaret; 1851 Scotland Census; 168/A 19/ 62; Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire. It seems possible that Margaret had followed her older sister Mary to Aberdeen, but within five years she would be in Leith, near Edinburgh. Also missing from the family home in this census was Janet, who would have been not quite 13. She was known as “Jessie” for most of her life and may have been working ‘in service’ away from home. The younger three sisters (Helen, Isabella and Elizabeth) were all living with their parents on census night; however, on a puzzling note, an eight-year-old Isabella McLea was in the census for The Riggins where Alexander worked. Did she travel between Keith and Cairnie on census day and get counted twice? Or is this an unrelated ‘Isabella’? We will never know.

1861 Census

Ten years later we can see how Banffshire’s 19th-century problem with illegitimate children was affecting the McLeay family. Elizabeth Duff (Jane’s illegitimate child) had moved away to stay with a railway porter’s family in Huntly,25Duff, Elizabeth; 1861 Scotland Census; 202/ 5/ 6; Huntly, Aberdeenshire. while her now-married mother was living in Edinburgh. However, Elizabeth Duff had been replaced at the McLeay household by three more illegitimate grandchildren: Margaret (9); Agnes Watt (8); and Elizabeth Smith (5).

1861 SCOTLAND CENSUS: Square, Keith, Banffshire 26Source: McLay, John; 1861 Scotland Census; 159/ 2/ 35 & 36; Keith, Banffshire.

John McLay; Head; Mar; 59; InnKeeper; born Ross-Shire, Dingwall
Janet McLay; Wife; Mar; 57; born Aberdeenshire, Huntly
Isabella McLay; Daur; 19; Domestic Servant; born Banffshire, Keith
Margaret McLay; Gran Daughter; 9; Scholar; born Banffshire, Keith
Agnes McLay; Rel; Gran Daughter; 8; Scholar; born Banffshire, Keith
Elizabeth Smith; Gran Daughter; 5; born Edinburgh
… plus 8 lodgers: 2 agr. labourers and 6 railway labourers

Again, John and Janet are the innkeepers at the Crown Inn, but only one daughter, Isabella, remained at home; her younger sister, Elizabeth, died in May 1854, the only one of the couple’s offspring to die in childhood. There were eight lodgers living at the inn, and six of those were railway labourers, no doubt working on the Great North-of-Scotland Railway and its extensions. The line had only been pushed through from Huntly to Keith three years previously, in October 1856.

The three illegitimate grandchildren:

The youngest of the grandchildren was Elizabeth Smith, and I have dedicated a page to her tragic tale. For now, she was the illegitimate (and unregistered) daughter of Margaret (John and Janet’s fifth child, and last to be born at Crackans). Elizabeth’s father turned out to be Thomas Smyth, a “law-clerk”/writer who lived in South Leith near Edinburgh. According to a family bible, she was born at Leith on Christmas Day 1855 — however, in 1861, her mother was a 25-year-old domestic servant working for the Gibb family in Mayfield Terrace, Edinburgh.27Source: McLeay, Margaret; 1861 Scotland Census; 685/5 67/  12; St Cuthberts, Edinburgh.

Agnes McLeay (‘McLay’ in the census) was, of course, Agnes Duff Watt, the ‘natural’ child of Mary McLeay and William Watt, born in 1852. Her mother, too, had moved to Edinburgh and married. We will come across Agnes Duff again as the story progresses.

Margaret McLeay is the enigma I referred to in the introduction to the McLeay story. An addendum to this page summarises what little we know of her. She is my great-great-grandmother. The census gave her birthplace as Botriphnie, a neighbouring parish to the south-west of Keith, but her birth was not registered there, nor anywhere else for that matter. She was born around 1852, and John and Janet were stuck with yet another illegitimate child. These three would not be the last.

The eight children no longer at home:

In 1861, the eldest child, Anne (37), was living at Baylie Fyfe’s Close, today a well-known landmark right in the middle of Edinburgh High Street.28McKay, Ann (McLeay); 1861 Scotland Census; 685/3 4/ 10; Canongate, Edinburgh. She had three children, but her ex-policeman husband (Angus MacKay, now a “porter”) was in Edinburgh Royal Infirmary on census night;29Source: Mackay, Angus; 1861 Scotland Census; 685/3 102/ 12; Canongate, Edinburgh. we don’t know whether he was a patient or a worker.  Alexander (35) had married Sarah Wood in 1852,30Source: McLae, Alexander & Wood, Sarah; 1852 Scotland O.P.R. Marriages; 149/ 30 211; Boyndie, Banffshire. and she was living with four children at the family home in Shore Street, Whitehills, 25 km (15 miles) north of Keith near Banff town.31Source: McLeay, Sarah (Wood); 1861 Scotland Census; 149/ 1/ 4; Boyndie, Banffshire. Alexander was working as a ploughman away from home at the nearby Mill of Boyndie Farm, bunked in with about a dozen other farm workers.32Source: McLay, Alexander; 1861 Scotland Census; 149/ 3/ 10 & 11; Boyndie, Aberdeenshire.

In 1859, the third child, Jane (34), had married James Stewart, a mason’s labourer33Source: McLeay, Jean & Stewart, James; 1859 Statutory Marriages; 685/4 57; St Giles, Edinburgh. — on census night, they were living at 26 Simon Square in Edinburgh with their one-year-old firstborn.34Source: Stewart, Jean (McLeay); 1861 Scotland Census; 685/5 56/ 2; Newington, Edinburgh. Her illegitimate daughter, Elizabeth Duff, was living in Huntly, Aberdeenshire — but did Jane have another illegitimate child after Elizabeth? John and Janet’s fourth child, Mary (30), married a policeman, George Baillie, in 1855 at Edinburgh.35Source: McLeay, Mary & Baillie, George; 1855 Scotland Statutory Marriages, 685/3 125, Castle & Portsburgh, Edinburgh. This couple had two children by 1857, but George died of smallpox in 1859,36Source: Baillie, George; 1859 Scotland Statutory Deaths; 685/3 469; Canongate, Edinburgh. and Mary was still in their home at 27 Simon Square for 1861 (next door to her sister Jane).37Source: Baile [Baillie], Mary; 1861 Scotland Census; 685/5 56/ 3; St Cuthberts, Edinburgh.

Margaret, now 25, had also moved to Edinburgh, probably following her older sisters Anne, Jane and Mary. In 1861, she was a domestic servant in the house of a builder, Alexander Gibb, who lived in Mayfield Terrace, St Cuthbert’s.38Source: McLeay, Margaret; 1861 Scotland Census; 685/5 67/ 12; St Cuthberts, Edinburgh. By this time, Margaret had at least one illegitimate daughter, Elizabeth Smith (born 1855, the daughter of Thomas Smyth), who, as we saw above, was living with her grandparents in Keith.  Janet (Jessie) (22) had married John Stewart/Stuart, farm labourer, in 1856;39Source: McLeay, Jessie & Stewart, John; 1856 Scotland Statutory Marriages; 155/ 22; Keith, Banffshire. on census night, they were living at Moss Street, Keith, with two young children.40Source: Stewart, Jessie (McLeay); 1861 Scotland Census; 159/ 3/ 6; Keith, Banffshire.

Helen McLeay has not been found in the 1861 census, but was possibly living with her older sister Jane in Edinburgh. This looks possible because she married Peter McLaren the following year, and both gave their address as 26 Simon Square,41Source: McLeay, Helen & McLaren, Peter; 1862 Scotland Statutory Marriages; 685/ 4 264; Saint Giles, Edinburgh. where Jane and her husband lived until at least 1871. Helen and Peter had their first child at this address in 1863.  Five of the McLeay sisters — Anne, Jane, MaryMargaret and Helen — had all moved to Edinburgh between 1848 and 1861. By the following census, Helen had moved north to her husband’s hometown of Auchterarder in Perthshire.

I like to think of these five sisters, and their aunt Helen, as our “Flooers o’ Edinburgh”, as celebrated in this famous Scottish country dance tune:

The Crown Inn, Keith, today. It is essentially the same building on the outside as it was when four generations of our family lived there during the mid-1800s. Mid Street is seen heading north to the left of the inn.

1871 Census—enter Jessie Littlejohn

Sometime between 1861 and 1871, John and Janet had left the Crown Inn and were living in Moss Street, just a short walk from The Square. John was described again as a labourer, and all his children had moved out — but there were still two illegitimate children at home, though their recorded relationship to the head of household is out by one generation:

1871 SCOTLAND CENSUS: Moss Street, Keith, Banffshire 42Source: McLeay John; 1871 Scotland Census; 159/ 3/ 10; Keith Banffshire.

John McLeay; Head; Mar; 69; Labourer; born Rosshire, Dingwall
Jannet McLeay; Wife; Mar; 67; born Aberdeenshire, Huntly
Margaret McLeay; Daughter; Unm; 19; Agric. Servant; born Banffshire, Keith
Jessie Littlejohn; G Daur; 1; born Banffshire, Keith

As you can see from the purple highlighting, everyone in the house on this census night was a direct ancestor of mine; however, Margaret McLeay is actually a granddaughter to John and Janet — and Jessie is Margaret’s illegitimate daughter, so she should have been recorded as a great-granddaughter. I will deal with Jessie more fully in articles on the Littlejohn and Craig families, but suffice to say, for now, she was born at Moss Street on 15 Jun 1869,43Source: Littlejohn, Jessie; 1869 Scotland Statutory Births; 159/ 94; Keith, Banffshire. so she was close to 22 months old.

The family had presumably left the Crown Inn by mid-1869; however, an 1865 valuation record shows John McLay, labourer, as the tenant/occupier of a stable in Land Street. Land Street was the next one west from Mid Street, and the stables could be connected with the Crown Inn, but we can’t be certain.

Where are the others?

All of John and Janet’s children had, by then, flown the coop. Anne (47) was living with her husband, Angus, and four children at Bailie Fyfe’s Close in Edinburgh,44Source: MacKay (McLeay) Anne & Angus; 1871 Scotland Census; 685/3  4/  11; Trinity College, Edinburgh. while Alexander (45) and Sarah were still at Whitehills with a growing family of six.45Source: McLay, Alexander; 1871 Scotland Census; 149/ 1/ 4; Boyndie, Banffshire. Jane (44) and husband James continued to live at 26 Simon Square, Edinburgh — they, too, had six children, including a set of twins.46Source: Stewart, Jane (McLeay); 1871 Scotland Census; 685/5 60/ 2; Newington, Edinburgh.

The widowed Mary remarried in 1864, this time to an ex-policeman, Bannerman Mitchell.47Source: McLeay, Mary & Mitchell, Bannerman; 1864 Scotland Statutory Marriages; 685/4 93; St Giles, Edinburgh. On census night, this family were living at Physic Gardens (which no longer exists), immediately behind Bailie Fyfe’s Close where Anne was living.48Source: Mitchell (McLeay), Mary; 1871 Scotland Census; 685/3 8/ 17; Trinity College, Edinburgh. By this time, Mary had another two children by her second husband — in all, she had six children from four relationships. In April 1865, Margaret married John Buchan,49Source: McLeay, Margaret & Buchan, John; 1865 Scotland Statutory Marriages; 685/3 84; Canongate, Edinburgh. a mason and, by 1871, they were living with their two (legitimate) children at Arthur Street in Edinburgh.50Source: Buchan, John & Margaret (McLeay); 1871 Scotland Census;  685/3 46/ 9; St Cuthberts, Edinburgh. Her illegitimate daughter, Elizabeth Smith, had turned 15 and might be the one recorded as an inmate at the Dean Bank Girls Reformatory in Edinburgh.51Source: Smith, Elizabeth; 1871 Scotland Census; 685/1 110/ 34; St Cuthberts Edinburgh. This was a school for children charged with petty crimes, but it was well thought of by social reformers at the time.

Janet (32), now always known as Jessie, was by then living back at The Square with her husband, John, and two children; but their surname was spelt “Stuart” in the census.52Source: Stuart, Jessie (McLeay); 1871 Scotland Census; 159/ 2/ 28; Keith, Banffshire. Helen (31) had married Peter McLaren, a mason, in 1862;53Source: McLeay, Helen & McLaren, Peter; 1862 Scotland Statutory Marriages; 685/ 4 264; Saint Giles, Edinburgh. they had one child in Edinburgh in 1863, but by 1865 had moved to Peter’s hometown of Auchterarder in Perthshire — by 1871 they had five children. The last of John and Janet’s surviving children, Isabella (28), married railway worker Murdo McRae in 1862, only a few days after her sister Helen had married.54Source: McLeay, Isobell & McRae, Murdo; 1862 Scotland Statutory Marriages; 159/ 62; Keith, Banffshire. Murdo may well have been a lodger at the Crown Inn, as many of its guests were railway workers at that time. They had three children in and around Keith between 1863 and 1870 and, on census night, they were all at Lochcarron on the west coast, where Murdoch had been born in 1823.55Source:McRae, Isabella; 1871 Scotland Census; 076/ 5/ 14; Lochcarron, Ross & Cromarty .

Left: The Square, Keith as it is today, looking east (c.f. the drawing above). Right: Land Street. one street west of the inn, and where the McLeay family had occupied stables in 1865.

The Last Census (1881)

By 1881, John and Janet were living in Back Street, two streets east of the Crown Inn, and now both in their late 70s. Although all their children had left home before 1871, they were still looking after two great-grandchildren, the illegitimate offspring of their granddaughter, Margaret McLeay.

1881 SCOTLAND CENSUS: Back Street, Keith, Banffshire  56Source: McLeay, John; 1881 Scotland Census; 159/ 3/ 32; Keith Banffshire.

John McLeay; Head; Mar; 79; Garden Labourer; born RossShire, Dingwall
Jannet McLeay; Wife; Mar; 77; born Aberdeenshire, Huntly
Jessie Littlejohn; G. Grand Daur; 11; Scholar; born Banffshire, Keith
John M. McLeay; G. Grandson; 9; Scholar; born Banffshire, Keith

By now you will have noticed that Jessie has a younger brother, but there is still no record of their mother’s whereabouts; indeed, she might well have been deceased by this time. John had been born in Back Street on 4 June 1871, just two months after the previous census.57Source: McLeay, John; 1871 Scotland Statutory Births; 159/ 90; Keith, Banffshire. He is marked on his birth certificate as being illegitimate — but, unlike his sister Jessie, no father is named. This census gives John a middle initial of “M”, and that might be some clue to his father; but, we will never know.

And their other children …

Anne had died at Bailie Fyfe’s Close just before Christmas in 1872 aged 64, leaving a husband and five children (one daughter had pre-deceased her).58Source: MacKay, Anne (McLeay); 1872 Scotland Statutory Deaths; 685/3 1307; Canongate, Edinburgh. Angus would remarry two years later, but he died in 1884.59Source: MacKay, Angus; 1884 Scotland Statutory Deaths; 685/3 419; Canongate, Edinburgh.  Alexander (55) was living on Shore Street, Whitehills, with his wife, Sarah, and four children still at school.60Source: McLeay Alexr & Sarah [Wood]; 1881 Scotland Census; 149/ 1/ 4/; Boyndie, Banffshire. This couple had 12 children in all, and Alexander died aged 81 in 1906.61Source: McLeay, Alexander; 1906 Scotland Statutory Deaths;149/0A 18; Boyndie, Banffshire.  Jane (54), now a widow, was then living in Leith Street, Edinburgh, with three remaining children and an adopted grandson.62Source: Stewart, Jane (McLeay); 1881 Scotland Census; 685/2 89/ 2; St Andrew, Edinburgh. They had six children in all between 1859 and 1869, but her husband, James, died from TB in July 1872.63Source: Stewart, James; 1872 Scotland Statutory Deaths, 685/ 5 611, Newington, Edinburgh  Jane had moved back to Nicholson Street in the Old Town for the 1891 census, and died there in 1900, aged 73; she had been a widow for almost 28 years.64Source: Stewart (McLeay), Jane; Scotland Statutory Deaths; 685/4 741; St Giles, Edinburgh.

Mary (50) and her second husband, Bannerman Mitchell, were living close to her sister Margaret at 31 Arthur Street (which no longer exists);65Source: Mitchell (McLeay), Mary; 1881 Scotland Census; 685/3 46/ 1; St Cuthbert’s, Edinburgh. with them was Mary’s son Angus, a child by her first husband, George Baillie. In an interesting sidenote, Mary was at this address in 1874 when she was the informant on the death of her first cousin, John McLean, son of her father’s sister Janet.66Source: McLean, John; 1874 Scotland Statutory Deaths; 685/2 589; St Andrew, Edinburgh. John had married another first-cousin, Georgina McLeod, daughter of Mary’s Aunt Helen, who had also lived at Bailie Fyfe’s Close.67Source: Lean, John & McLeod, Georgina; 1866 Scotland Statutory Marriages; 685/1 14; St George, Edinburgh. This was a close family, indeed.  Bannerman died in 1885 at Arthur Street,68Source: Mitchell, Bannerman; 1885 Scotland Statutory Deaths; 685/3 213; Canongate, Edinburgh. and Mary then lived with Angus at Brunton Terrace in the New Town until she died in 1906.69Source: Mitchell (McLeay), Mary; 1906 Scotland Statutory Deaths; 685/3 555; Canongate, Edinburgh. Margaret (45) was living at 132 Pleasance in Edinburgh with her husband, John Buchan, and their two children.70Source: Buchan, John & Margaret (McLeay); 1881 Scotland Census; 685/5 27/ 10; St Cuthberts, Edinburgh. Margaret had no more children and was the last of her siblings when she died in December 1916.71Source: Buchan (McLeay), Margaret; 1916 Scotland Statutory Deaths; 685/5 749; Newington, Edinburgh. You can read more about her illegitimate daughter, Elizabeth Smith, here.

Jessie (42) was living at 22 Square, Keith with four children in 1881.72Source: Stewart, Jessie (McLeay); 1881 Scotland Census; 159/ 2/ 8; Keith, Banffshire. Her husband, John Stewart/Stuart, was not at the home on census night, and his whereabouts at the following census was also unknown. He had been a farm servant, and may well have been working away from home. Jessie had eight children in all, and was a widow by 1901 when living with her youngest daughter, Annie, and son-in-law John Fraser at The Square.73Source: Stuart, Jessie; 1901 Scotland Census; 159/ 2/ 50; Keith, Banffshire. The son-in-law was from Paisley, Renfrewshire, and that was where Jessie died in August 1910, aged 72.74Source: Stuart, Jessie; 1910 Scotland Statutory Deaths; 573/1 918; Paisley, Renfrewshire. Presumably, she had moved with Annie and John when he returned to Paisley between 1901 and 1910, meaning none of the McLeay family remained in Banffshire. Helen (41) was still living in Auchterarder in Perthshire with her husband, Peter McLaren, and six of her nine children.75Source: McLaren, Helen (McLeay); 1881 Scotland Census; 329/ 9/ 13; Auchterarder, Perthshire. She was to die in Auchterarder in 1903 aged 63.76Source: McLaren, Helen (McLeay); 1903 Scotland Statutory Deaths; 329/ 55; Auchterarder, Perthshire.

The youngest surviving child of John and Janet’s brood was Isabella. In 1881, she was a 38-year-old widow living at 12 Catherine Street, Glasgow Anderston, with four of the five children she had with Murdo McRae.77Source: McRae (McLeay), Isabella; 1881 Scotland Census; 644/10 26/ 17; Anderston, Glasgow. Murdo had died of pneumonia in February 1878 at Wishaw, Lanarkshire (probably while working on the railways).78Source: McRae, Murdo; 1878 Statutory Deaths; 628/ 43; Cambusnethan, Lanarkshire. It might be that Isabella was the first of the family to move to Glasgow. She then married a widowed policeman, James McDonald, in 1881,79Source: McLeay or McRae, Isabella & McDonald, James; 1881Scotland Statutory Marriages; 644/9 499; Kelvin, Glasgow. and bore him two daughters — she was still living with those daughters at 56 William Street, Anderston, in 1901.80Source: McDonald, Isabella (McLeay); 1901 Scotland Census; 644/10 31/ 25; Anderston, Glasgow. Isabella collapsed in a tramcar late one night in April 1902 at the corner of Renfield and Sauchiehall Streets in Glasgow, and died in an ambulance wagon on the way to the Royal Infirmary. She was only 59, and left her second husband a widower. They had been living at 83 Earlston Avenue, Dennistoun, just north of the Glasgow Necropolis.81Source: MacDonald (McLeay), Isabella; 1902 Scotland Statutory Deaths; 644/3 994; Dennistoun, Glasgow; + RCE 0237.

The Final Curtain

In all, John and Janet had, at best count, 62 grandchildren — five of these had been illegitimate births who had, at some time, lived with their grandparents. They had also brought up two illegitimate great-grandchildren. At this reckoning, the McLeay family had a 9.25% illegitimacy rate — which, by the standards of north-east Scotland at that time, quite reasonable. In fact, this family was close to the Scottish national average, though 50% more than the rest of Britain.

John and Janet, for all their efforts, were to seek ‘poor relief’ from the parish in their old age. John died from a chronic kidney complaint in October 1883, while Janet had debility of age and passed away in February 1885. Both were 81, and the informant for their death certificates was George Christie, the well-to-do husband of Agnes Duff Watt. Agnes was John and Janet’s granddaughter, and the second illegitimate child of their daughter Mary.

1883 SCOTLAND STATUTORY DEATHS: Keith, Banffshire 82Source: McLeay, John; 1883 Scotland Statutory Deaths; 159/ 83; Keith, Banffshire.

John McLeayLabourer
(Married to Janet Mair)
died: 15th October 1883 (2:30 pm)
age: 81 years  at: Back Street, Keith (Banff)
father: Murdo McLeay, Shoemaker (deceased)
mother: Anne McLeay M.S. McRae (deceased)
cause: Chronic inflammation of Kidneys – 1 year
doctor: James J. George F.R.C.S.  informant: G. Christie, Grandson in law, Fife Keith, Keith

1885 SCOTLAND STATUTORY DEATHS: Keith, Banffshire 83Source: McLeay (Mair), Janet; 1885 Scotland Statutory Deaths; 159/ 17; Keith, Banffshire.

Janet McLeay,
(Widow of John McLeay, Labourer)
died: 15th February 1885 (5:00 am)
age: 81 years at: Land Street, Keith (Banff)
father: — Mair, Farmer (deceased)
mother: Jane Mair M.S. Webster (deceased)
cause: Debility of Age
doctor: R.S. Turner M.D.  informant: George Christie, Grandson in law, Regent Street, Fife Keith

By 1891, Jessie Littlejohn was working for George and Agnes as a domestic servant at Regent Street, Keith;84Source: Littlejohn, Jessie; 1891 Scotland Census; 159/ 4/ 15; Keith, Banffshire. her brother John, though, was living in Glasgow with a couple from Keith: Angus and Jane MacKay (no relation, as far as I can tell).85Source: McLeay John; 1891 Scotland Census; 644/09 111/ 14; St George, Glasgow. Angus, too, was a policeman and, once again, we have this family curiously connected to the constabulary — remember, Anne, Mary (twice), and Isabella (second husband) had all married policemen. Sometime before 1900, Jessie Littlejohn would leave Keith forever (possibly following her aunt Isabella) and move to Glasgow as well — and there she became a ‘Craig’.

As a footnote to this story, it seems that, aside from the daughter Elizabeth who died aged 8, the only descendant of John and Janet McLeay to put down roots in Keith was the granddaughter Agnes Duff Watt, who married George Christie. The rest, children and grandchildren, had moved to Edinburgh, Whitehills, Glasgow, Auchterarder and Paisley — and the family’s connection to the town of Keith was now at an end.



2. Keith, Banffshire: 1820–1885 — 4 Comments

  1. Wow. Some fantastic information there! I’m the current landlady of The Crown Inn and stumbled across this whilst looking for some history of the pub.

    • Hi Emma,
      Great to hear from you. My wife and I briefly visited the pub a couple of years ago, and hope to come for a stay on our next visit to Scotland (whenever that might be given current events!). The black-and-white illustrations I have on the page are from photos I took of paintings on the barroom wall when we stopped in for a quick beer. I’ll definitely be in touch when we’re next up your way.

  2. Hi Craig ..I am a descendant of Alexander McLeay and Sarah Wood . I found your research fascinating and your story so well written ..

    • Thank you Mary. I’m glad you found the story useful. I had for a long time thought that I must have been descended from Alexander and Sarah as well – the parent of my 2G-grandmother (Margaret) had never been identified, and it looked like Alexander was most likely of his siblings to be her father. However, DNA evidence, while connecting me to Alexander’s descendants, indicates that I have a much stronger connection to one of his younger sisters, Helen – and she was only 12! I had always discounted her because of the age, but now we know why Margret was never recorded in the baptismal records.

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