Alexander McLeay

As we saw in the main article on the McLeay family, we have never been certain as to which one of John & Janet McLeay’s children was a parent to my g-g-grandmother Margaret McLeay. That person (my g-g-g-grandparent) could, technically, have been any one of five siblings: Alexander, Jane, Margaret, Jessie or Helen (see the article “The Missing Link”). However, recent 4th–6th cousin DNA matches via tends to indicate that Margaret and Alexander are less likely to be the biological parent of my g-g-grandmother. Jane, Jessie and Helen had always seemed unlikely starters, but we had no specific information that could preclude them. Recent DNA matches, surprisingly, tend to favour a pre-teen Helen as the mother of Margaret McLeay, and we hope that more DNA matching and some additional research may help to solve the riddle. In the meantime, it’s time to bring Alexander into the family story.

Whitehills, Parish of Boyndie

Alexander McLeay was born in the Parish of Cairnie, Aberdeenshire in June 1825. Like four of his eight sisters, who were also born at the same place, his baptismal record says he was born “in Crackans”, and from a late 18th century map, we know that was a farm about 2 km (1.25 miles) north east of the village of Cairnie. The farm seems to be bordered on the south by Banks Farm, and to the north by the Auchanachie Estate (main farm).

1825 SCOTLAND BIRTHS: Cairnie, Aberdeenshire 1Source: McLea, Alexander; 1825 Scotland O.P.R. Births; 178/ 30 44; Cairnie, Aberdeenshire.

Alexander, lawful son of John McLea and
Janet Mair in Crackans was born 15th
& baptized 16th June 1825

All the farms in the vicinity belonged to the Duke of Richmond who, at that time, was Charles Gordon-Lennox, 5th Duke of Richmond, a British peer, soldier, and a prominent Conservative politician. Other farms in the neighbourhood included Binhall, Auchairnie and Cairnwhelp — and members of our family are recorded as having worked on all of those at various times.

We know Alexander’s family had moved to the town of Keith by 1838, as his next four sisters were born there between that year and 1845. Keith lies about 6 km (4 miles) northwest of Cairnie, in the County of Banff. We know nothing more of Alexander’s childhood, but in 1841, just short of his 16th birthday, he was working as a “male servant” for the Robertson family at Auchairnie Farm, half way along the road back to Cairnie. This was almost certainly a farm job rather than a domestic one. Also at the farm on census night was a 14-year-old  John Stewart, who eventually married Alexander’s younger sister Jessie.

Alexander obviously kept working on the Duke’s farms for the next decade, because in the 1851 census he was employed as an “agricultural labourer” and living at The Riggins Farm, which was then run by the Morrison family. However, he was soon to move 25 km (15 miles) northeast to the coast, for in November 1852, Alexander and a young woman called Sarah Wood were “duly proclaimed in order to marriage” at the Parish Church in Boyndie—they married in December:

1852 SCOTLAND MARRIAGES: Boyndie, Banffshire 2Source: McLae, Alexander; 1852 Scotland O.P.R. Marriages; 149/ 30 211; Boyndie, Banffshire.

Novr. 28th and Decr. 5th 1852
Alexander McLae and Sarah Wood, both in this parish of Boyndie
were duly proclaimed in order to marriage.

We know Alexander was still in Cairnie Parish in March 1851, but was in Boyndie Parish by November 1852. We also know that in March 1851, the 19-year-old Sarah Wood was at Rettie Farm,3Source: Wood, Sarah; 1851 Scotland Census; 149/ 4/ 1; Boyndie, Banffshire. close by Boyndie, working as a house maid — so there seems little time for a courtship.

The family of Alexander McLeay and Sarah Wood. To date, I have established DNA connections to Alexander through his daughters Isabella (2) and  Jane (1). The ‘Steinson’ name is the local dialectical version of the common name ‘Stevenson’.


The left photo shows a view of Whitehills from the southern approach. The photo on the right is looking back to the south from the corner of Knock Street.

1861 Census

By the time of the 1861 census in April, Alexander and his family were living at 25 West Low Street, right on the ocean front of Whitehills. This village is only about 14 km east of Cullen, where Alexander’s uncle Donald and his family lived. On census night we find Sarah and four children in the house, while Alexander was away working as a ploughman at the Mill of Boyndie Farm (Rennie family), about 1¾ km (1 mile) south.4Source: 1861 Scotland Census; 149/ 3/ 10 & 11; Boyndie, Aberdeenshire. It is likely Alexander (36) was in the farm bothy (cottage for workers) with 10 other men for the seasonal ploughing before the spring planting.

1861 SCOTLAND CENSUS: 25 West Low Shore, Whitehills, Banffshire 5Source: McLeay, Sarah; 1861 Scotland Census; 149/ 1/ 4; Boyndie, Banffshire.

Sarah McLeay; Head; Mar; 28; Ploughman’s wife; born Boyndie, Banffshire
Jessie McLeay; Daur; 5; Scholar; born Boyndie, Banffshire
Isabella McLeay; Daur; 4; born Boyndie, Banffshire  🧬
Alexander McLeay; Son; 2; born Boyndie, Banffshire
Anne McLeay; Daur; 1; born Boyndie, Banffshire

On the same evening, the couple’s oldest boy, John, who was born around 1854 (no birth record has been found), was staying with Sarah’s mother, Isabella Wood neé Brodie, along the road at 12 West Low Shore.6Source: Wood, Isabella; 1861 Scotland Census; 149/ 1/ 2; Boyndie, Banffshire. Sarah’s father, Charles, like her husband, was also away working as ploughman, but a little further south at the Mains of Balvadie.7Source: Wood, Charles; 1861 Scotland Census; 149/ 5/ 2; Boyndie, Banffshire.

1871 Census

Ten years later, and with five more children in tow, we find the McLeay family still by the sea front on Shore Street (later called ‘Low Shore Street’):

1871 SCOTLAND CENSUS: 67 Shore Street, Whitehills, Banffshire 8Source: McLay, Alexander; 1871 Scotland Census; 149/ 1/ 4; Boyndie, Banffshire.

Alexander McLay; Head; Mar; 46; Farm Servant; born Cairnie, Banffshire 🧬
Sarah McLay; Wife; Mar; 39; Farm Servant’s wife; born Boyndie, Banffshire
Ann McLay; Daur; 11; born Boyndie, Banffshire
Walter McLay; Son; 9; Scholar; born Boyndie, Banffshire
Jane McLay; Daur; 7; Scholar; born Boyndie, Banffshire 🧬
Betty McLay; Daur; 5; Scholar; born Boyndie, Banffshire
George McLay; Son; 2; born Boyndie, Banffshire
Mary Ann McLay; Daur; 1; born Boyndie, Banffshire

Their oldest son, John, was working as a farm servant at the Rettie Bothy, the same farm his mother was working at in 1851.9Source: McCleay, John; 1871 Scotland Census; 149/ 4/ 9; Boyndie, Banffshire. Sadly, John was to die the following year from tuberculosis, aged 18.10Source: McLeay, John; 1872 Scotland Statutory Deaths; 149/ 10; Boyndie, Banffshire. Daughters Jessie and Isabella had left the family home, and their whereabouts unknown for 1871.

1881 Census

Children still kept coming and going over the next 10 years for Alexander and Sarah. All the older children had left home (John had died in 1872), and two new ones were added: Helen (1873)11Source: McLeay, Helen; 1873 Scotland Statutory Births; 149/ 35; Boyndie, Banffshire. and Forbes (1876).12Source: McLeay, Forbes; 1876 Scotland Statutory Births; 149/ 7; Boyndie, Banffshire. Alexander had an uncle named Forbes who had served in the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders, and had died in Edinburgh in 1870; it seems possible he named this son after him. Alexander and Sarah had 12 children in all.

1881 SCOTLAND CENSUS: 27 Shore Street, Whitehills, Banffshire 13Source: McLeay, Alexr; 1881 Scotland Census; 149/ 1/ 4/; Boyndie, Banffshire.

Alexr McLeay; Head; Mar; 55; Ag. Lab.; born Cairnie, Banffshire 🧬
Sarah McLeay [Wood]; Wife; Mar; 49; born Boyndie, Banffshire
Mary McLeay; Daur; 11; Scholar; born Boyndie, Banffshire
Jane McLeay; Daur; 9; Scholar; born Alvah, Banffshire
Hellen McLeay; Daur; 7; Scholar; born Boyndie, Banffshire
Forbes McLeay; Son; 5; Scholar; born Boyndie, Banffshire

The 9-year-old Jane in this record is not one of Alexander’s family, and may be a granddaughter, but the family continued to live by the seafront at Whitehills:

The cottage at 27 Low Shore Street, Whitehills, as it is today, and the view to the north (it must have been cold in winter!)

The years 1891 to 1906

The McLeay family had moved away from the seashore by the next census, and were living a few hundred yards away in Knock Street:

1891 SCOTLAND CENSUS: Knock Street, Whitehills, Banffshire 14Source: McLeay, Sarah; 1891 Scotland Census; 149/ 2/ 3; Boyndie, Banffshire.

Sarah McLeay [Wood]; Head; Mar; 58; Farm Servant’s Wife; born Boyndie, Banffshire
Walter Mcleay; Son; Mar; 28; Farm Servant; born Boyndie, Banffshire
Forbes McLeay; Son; Unm; 15; Joiner (Apprentice); born Boyndie, Banffshire
Jane McLeay; Daur; Unm; 26; Cook (Dom Serv.); born Boyndie, Banffshire 🧬
James M. McLeay; Grandson; 3; born Boyndie, Banffshire

On census night, Sarah and three children were in the family home, while Alexander (65) was away working at Nether Dallachy, a farm run by Robert Napier, just over a kilometre (three-quarters of a mile) to the southwest of Whitehills.15Source: McLeay, Alexander; 1891 Scotland Census; 149/ 3/ 9, Boyndie, Banffshire. Also living with Sarah was her daughter Jane’s illegitimate son, James. James had been born in 1888, but Jane eventually married the father, James Mitchell, in June 1891 (better late than never!).16Source: McLeay, Jane; 1891 Scotland Statutory Marriages; 149/ 3; Boyndie, Banffshire.

The photo on the left is of Knock Street, where the family lived in 1891. The right-hand photo is of Nether Dellachy, the farm where Alexander was working at census time.

The 1901 census shows that the ageing Alexander and Sarah had moved out of the village and were living nearly 3 km (2 miles) to the south in a cottage at Lochside that was owned by the Mill of Boyndie. Their 13-year-old grandson, James Mitchell,  was still living with them, and Alexander (75) is registered as a “pauper”, presumably now too old to work as a ploughman:

1901 SCOTLAND CENSUS: Lochside, Boyndie, Banffshire 17Source: McLeay, Alexander; 1901 Scotland Census; 149/A 3/ 7; Boyndie, Banffshire.

Alexander McLeay; Head; Mar; 75; Pauper; born Cairnie, Aberdeenshire 🧬
Sarah McLeay [Wood]; Wife; Mar; 69; born Boyndie, Banffshire
James Mitchell; Grandson; 13; Scholar; born Whitehills, Banffshire

This was to be Alexander’s last census, as he died at Lochside five years later:

1906 SCOTLAND STATUTORY DEATHS: Boyndie, Banffshire 18Source: McLeay, Alexander; 1906 Scotland Statutory Deaths; 149/0A 18; Boyndie, Banffshire.

Alexander McLeayPauper, formerly a Farm Servant
Married to Sarah Wood
died: 19th September 1906  (11:00 am)   at: Lochside, Whitehills   age: 80 years

father: John McLeay, Farm Servant (deceased)
mother: Jessie [sic] McLeay M.S. Mair (deceased)

cause: Arterial Haemorrhage   doctor: Roderick Mackay M.B. Ch.B.
informant: George McLeay, Son (present)

Sarah Wood, widow

Sarah, despite having had a dozen kids, was to outlive Alexander by the best part of 20 years. By 1911, she had moved back to Low Shore Road, facing the sea where they had lived for so many years, and her grandson James Mitchell was still living with her:

1911 SCOTLAND CENSUS: 15 Low Shore Road, Whitehills, Banffshire 19Source: McLeay, Sarah; 1911 Scotland Census; 149/A 1/ 8; Boyndie, Banffshire.

Sarah McLeay  [Wood]; Head; Widow; 79; born Boyndie, Banffshire
James Mitchell; Relative [grandson]; Single; 23; House carpenter; born Boyndie, Banffshire

The 1911 census was the first where married women were asked to give the number of children they had given birth to, and the number still alive — Sarah didn’t answer that question. In 1921, Sarah had moved a short distance east to Seatown (this might be ‘Seafield’), and had one granddaughter living with her:

1921 SCOTLAND CENSUS: 97 Seatown (Seafield?), Whitehills, Banffshire 20Source: McLeay, Sarah; 1921 Scotland Census; 149/A 2/ 13; Boyndie, Banffshire.

Sarah McLeay  [Wood]; Head; 88 years 8 mths; Widow; Home duties; born Boyndie, Banffshire
Mary McLeay; Granddaughter; 17 years; Single; Servant, Private (worker); born Boyndie, Banffshire

However, sometime in the next 5 years, she moved to Reidhaven Street, and this is where she died in 1926 at a very creditable 93 years:

1926 SCOTLAND STATUTORY DEATHS: Boyndie, Banffshire 21Source: McLeay, Sarah; 1926 Scotland Statutory Deaths; 149/0A 0009; Boyndie, Banffshire.

Sarah McLeay(Widow of Alexander McLeay, Farm Servant)
died: 13th March 1926 (12 noon) at: 2 Reidhaven Street, Whitehills   age: 93 years

Charles Wood, farm Servant (deceased)
Isabella Wood M.S. Brodie (deceased)

Arterio Sclerosis; Cerebral Haemorrage   doctor: H.G. Cowie M.D.
George McLeay, Son (present)




5. Whitehills: 1850–1950 — No Comments

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