Where's Waldo, er, William?

Margaret McCrie's Handwritten History

Researching the McCrie family tree is a classic case study in genealogy – and finding William McCrie's roots is an illustration of its frustrations and joys. So where in the world did William come from?

As a starting point we had a family history captured by his great granddaughter Margaret (nee McCrie) Mead. From her notes we knew that William was born in Ayrshire, Scotland on June 10, 1802. He was the first of four children born to a Mr. McCree and Mr. McCree's wife, the former Ms. Brown. That's a pretty good start.

Margaret Records William's Teaching Position

The Ancestry.com site had no birth records for William McCree. It did have some family trees put together by other genealogists who identified his parents as William (Sr.) and Margaret Brown, or as William McCrae and Janet Culbertson. Birthdates ranged from 1802 to 1803. Hmmm.

The FamilySearch.com site had a birth record for a William McCrae born January 4, 1802, in Old Cumnock of parents William McCrae and Janet Culbertson. Right year, but Ms. Culbertson? Hmmm.

FamilySearch.com also had an entry for a William McCree born on 7 June 1803 in Ochiltree of Hugh McCree and Jean Brown. Okay, the last names are good, but 1803? And Ochiltree? Hmmm.

Per Margaret Mead, the William McCrie's lived in Kilmarnock, where most of their children were born. Kilmarnock isn't too far from Old Cumnock, yet...

Further research showed that Hugh McCree and Jean Brown had four children: James, William, Kathy (recorded in the Stair parish as "Cree"), and Hugh (also in Stair, but as McCree). Right names, wrong order.

So, we had all this conflicting evidence as to where and when William was born, and more importantly, to whom. Should we trust Margaret Mead who said he was born in 1802, or trust family trees which place his birth in Old Cumnock at the right time but to different parents, or trust our instinct, which leaned towards his birth in Ochiltree (the parish to the west of Old Cumnock) in a different year but to a Mr. McCree and Ms. Brown?

1851 Census

The 1841 Scottish census was helpful in placing him at Woodhead School in Galston parish, as both a teacher and the father of the children Margaret Mead recorded. Maybe the transcriber recorded him as William McCue, but it put him in the right place with the right children. But it still didn't answer the question as to where he was born and to whom.

William McCree's Birth Recorded in Ochiltree Parish Register

The breakthrough came when we found a site, freecen.rootsweb.com, that transcribed the 1851 census for Ayrshire, and fortunately that census recorded where residents were born. There he was, William McCrie, in Galson, at Woodhead Farm (not Kilmarnock), as a teacher, husband to Margaret, and father of seven (the eighth wasn't yet born) of the right children, and having been born in Ochiltree. Maybe Ancestry.com mistranscribed his name as William McCaie (which was why we couldn't find him), but hey, now we knew he was indeed born in Ochiltree. That put his birth in 1803 and his parents as Hugh McCree and Jean Brown. Almost simultaneously, we found a family tree on Ancestry.com built by a distant cousin who came to the same conclusion, and who traced William's ancestors even farther back. Eureka!

William's Mother's Birth Record, to William Brown

William's Grandparents' Marriage Recorded in Ochiltree Parish

Armed with the above information, we researched the microfilmed records of the Ochiltree Parish Register and found William McCree's birth entry. Not only did it identify his parents, it also identified the farm on which he was born – Burnockston – which then provided the chain of evidence to William's grandparents, William Brown and Katharine Campbell. Now we were on a roll.

But not all is certain if we try to go farther back, at least not yet. Katharine Campbell, of Dalrymple Parish, is likely the Kathrine born in that parish in 1754, as there are no others born between 1732 and 1769 with that name. William Brown is possibly the William born in Dalrymple Parish in 1743 of William Brown Sr. That is less certain but at this point is our odds-on favorite.

Similarly, tracing the Hugh McCree side of the family is problematic. There were McCree's/McCrae's living in Ochiltree, Old Cumnock, and New Cumnock around the likely time of Hugh's birth. Some genealogists, notably Michael Glenn, believe Hugh was born in Old Cumnock in 1787 of John McCrae and Jean Cowan. That's not likely, as his birthyear would have him marrying, in 1801, at the age of 14 to a woman 22 years old. Unlikely on both scores.

We believe it far more likely that Hugh was born to a James McCrae (more frequently recorded as McCree in his other childrens' births) and Agness Black in 1776 in New Cumnock. That would put Hugh in the age range of 25 when marrying a woman of 22 years old. Plus, Hugh appears to have conformed to common Scottish protocol when naming his children, and his first-born son's name, James, would likely be the name of his own father. All of that is likely, but still unproven.

And so the search goes on.

But now we know when, and the parish where, William McCrie was born; who his parents and some of his grandparents were; and what farms they lived on. Although not everything we learned from Margaret (McCrie) Mead was accurate, she left an invaluable trail for her family to follow.

We can finally answer the question: Whence Waldo, er, William?