Saturday, June 25, 2016

Margaret McFarlane Bennett Brown (1826-1909) Scotland to Lower Canada to Michigan, USA

Climbing My Family Tree: Ayrshire Scotland
Ayshire, Scotland
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Margaret McFarlane, my second great grandmother, was born on March 10, 1825, in Scotland, according to her death certificate and several censuses in Canada and the U.S.  I have some discrepancies, though, on who her parents may be. Her death certificate (information supplied by her youngest son, James – remembering that the information supplied is only as good as the knowledge of the person supplying it, in a time of grief) states that her parents are James McFarland and Jeanette Braiden, both also born in Scotland. But the marriage record for her second marriage (which, frankly, already has one significant error that I know of – which I will get to later when it is relevant) states that her father is Andrew McFarland and her mother is unknown. Although I’ve seen some other family trees which indicate that her parents should be Thomas McFarlane and Ann Miller, they haven’t turned up in my research at all and I’ve yet to find a family tree containing them that doesn’t source that connection with anything but a reference to another tree. On the other hand, AncestryDNA has put me, my Dad, his brother, and both his sisters in a DNA Circle along with 22 other people, stating that “Mary Jane Bryden” is my third great-grandmother and another saying that my third great-grandfather is Andrew McFarlane. It’s easy for me to see how Andrew McFarlane can become McFarland. I can also see how Bryden could become Braiden, when dealing with Scottish accents coming down to later Michigan generations, and how Mary Jane could become Janet or Jeanette, especially since every reference I’ve found to Andrew McFarlane and Jane Bryden call her Jane (I’ve not yet found her birth record, but I found the marriage record and several birth records for their children, and the 1851 Canada East Census). And then there’s the matter of the name of Margaret’s oldest daughter, Mary Jane. For these reasons, I’m currently accepting that Margaret’s parents, and my 3rd great grandparents, are Andrew McFarlane and [Mary] Jane Bryden/Braiden.

Andrew McFarlane and Jane Bryden were married on June 19, 1825, in Ballantrae, Ayr, Scotland. While I haven’t found Margaret’s birth record, her brother James Carnochan McFarlane was born on June 4, 1830, and baptized on July 2, 1830 in Girvan, Ayrshire, Scotland, suggesting that the family lived in the Ayrshire [although the McFarlanes were historically a Highland clan, the clan fell out of favor with the government in the 17th century and clan lands were sold to pay off debts, causing clansmen to move out of the traditional clan lands around Loch Lomond]. Ayrshire is in the lowlands of Scotland, on the southwest coast. I discovered when looking into emigration from Scotland in the early 18th century that while Scots from the Highlands were mainly forced out of Scotland during the Clearances, or eviction of tenants from land in favor of sheep farming by the landlords, those leaving from the lowlands of Scotland, such as Ayrshire, largely left voluntarily in an effort to improve their economic status, and in response to advertisements the British government had made in the papers and on posters and via the lecture circuit, enticing people to move to British American colonies in order to help settle the country and preserve the borders against the United States of America. Moreover, many Scotsmen already had relatives in the area as the Scottish had been moving to the British American colonies for two centuries.

Climbing My FamilyTree: Map of Beauharnois Twp, Huntingdon County, Canada East, 1861
Map of Beauharnois Twp, Huntingdon County, Canada East, 1861
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I have not been able to find out exactly when Margaret and her parents and her brother James moved to the Beauharnois Seigniory in Lower Canada (Quebec), but I know they were there by 9 October 1834 because her next brother, Andrew McFarlane, was born in Beauharnois Canada on that day. Additionally, military payroll records show that her father, Andrew McFarlane, served with Margaret’s future husband in the Beauharnois Loyal Volunteers, during the uprising of 1838 in the Beauharnois Battalion, 1st company, Georgetown on the side of the British (for more of an explanation of the uprisings see the entry on William Bennett.) This means that they arrived before the severe economic depression began in Scotland, and were thus likely middle-class farmers or tradesmen when they left Scotland. Andrew and [Mary] Jane Bryden/Braiden had five more children born in Canada, based on the 1851 Census of Canada East, and baptism records: Elizabeth Ann Cowans “Lizzie”, born 20 March 1837; John, born about 1839; Helene, born about 1844; David, born about 1848, and Peter, born about 1849.

Climbing My Family Tree: Birth and Baptism Record  in Beauharnois Siegniory in Lower Canada for Andrew McFarlane (1834 - ?)
Birth and Baptism Record  in Beauharnois Siegniory in Lower Canada for Andrew McFarlane (1834 - ?)
Lower Right
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When they first arrived they would have lived in a rough shanty, as those were the homes first built upon arrival while the clearing the land on the frontier. The History of Huntingdon and of the Seigniories of Beauharnois and Chateauguay by Robert Sellar contains several fascinating contemporaneous descriptions of life on that frontier in approximately the same time frame as Margaret’s family came to the Beauharnois Seigniory. A woman who had come to the area as a child with her parents in approximately 1830 described the described the normally simple chore of bread-making in those days as having “its own particular difficulties, the greatest of these being the obtaining of flour. Even if we had a bit of land cleared, there was a small, wee, tiny red worm that would eat the kernels out of the wheat and leave the fine long straw standing erect. Even when we had wheat, there was no mill to grind it nearer than Chateauguay basin fit to travel. The canoe had to be used. Sometimes we got a barrel flour from Montréal. There were no hops, but some neighbor would have a bit of leaven, that is, a small piece of the last baking covered up in the flour. This we would put into water a while to sweeten it before setting the bread. When the bread was risen, we would add a teaspoonful of saleratus (sodium bicarbonate) for there was no baking soda. We had no stoves, only square tin boxes for baking, that cost $2. We got nice hemlock bark and made a good fire, and when fit we put our loaf in the chaudron and buried it in the hot coals and ashes, which we heaped also on the lid, and let it bake. When ready the bread was fine was well raised and sweet too.” She continued “for light we had cruises, or just a saucer with some grease and a rag and it; they burn fine..… We made our own tablecloths, towels and trousers for the men out of flax. We sold the flax, then pulled it by hand and let it stand and bundles to dry a little; if we let us stand too long it spoilt the flax. Then we put a lot of nails through the end of a board, kneeling the other end to a block and, pulling the straw against the nails stripped the seed off by handfuls. Then we tied the straw in bundles and put in the water at the side of the river for nine days, afterward spreading it on the grass to bleach, turning it occasionally. At first, we heckled it (preparing the fibers to be spun and removing the fibrous core and impurities by pulling it through heckling combs), but that was hard work so we got a contrivance made to break it for knives underneath and three on top with a handle to lift the top one. That did more quickly. Then we scutched it (beat it) over a board and it was ready. We spun the tow (coarse broken fiber) and so make our thread and towels.” [If you wish to see this process here is a YouTube video of making linen out of flax using 19th century methods: Making Linen From Flax, from the 19th Century Daily Living Series.] They also made wool clothes entirely by hand, starting with shearing the sheep. Life on the frontier was not easy.

The McFarlane lot in North Georgetown was two lots down from the Bennett lot, where William Bennett, Margaret’s future husband lived, according to the settler's lists in Sellar’s History. In order to survive on the frontier, neighbors had to work together, and help each other, so Margaret and William probably saw each other frequently. In the 19th century marriages were often arranged to best suit the business alliances of the parents. I don’t know if their marriage was initially arranged by Margaret’s parents or whether it was a love match.

As William was 20 years older than Margaret it is possible that he was married before. I don’t know.  I do know that they were together at least as of early 1845, as their oldest daughter, Mary Jane, was born in the Unified Province of Canada on October 28, 1845. However, they did not or were unable to marry until ten months after their third child and first son, Thomas, was baptized on January 21, 1849.  William was originally Catholic when he emigrated to Lower Canada, while Margaret was Protestant (the Church of Scotland). The Catholic Church in British Canada did not like marriages between Catholics and non-Catholics, and the priest may have refused to marry them. The Church of Scotland was less stringent as to mixed marriages in that time so it is possible that they married in the Protestant church after giving up on being able to be married in the Catholic Church – after the birth of their first three children. Living on Canada’s frontier, they also probably had to wait for a traveling pastor to come through the area.

By the mid-1840s when William and Margaret started living together, Mr. Sellers’ said in his History, “the revolution that has taken place in the conditions of the habitants has been such that it has been a complete revolution. With rare interruptions their houses so close were they formed continuous streets on both sides of the St. Louis from the 4th concession to Beauharnois. They were invariably of wood, one story with an attic, divided into rooms, the larger serving as kitchen and living room, the other the bedroom, a big Three Rivers double stove set in the partition, heating both. The children climbed the ladder to sleep in the attic: when the weather was warm the barn was used as a sleeping place. In winter, buffaloes were spread on the floor where the younger members slept. Houses and barns were thatched with straw; in front of each house was the V-shaped oven, perched on a wooden table and beside it a sweep well. Outwardly the houses look trim, being kept whitewashed, in the inside they were clean and bare of furniture. Madame did her cooking with few conveniences. On the stove was kept the big pot and a smaller one served for extra needs. There was no necessity for more, for the menus were simple, consisting mainly of bread and milk in the summer and when the cows went dry bread with cupfuls of peas soup dipped from the pot-au-feu kept simmering on the stove. Pork was the chief meat and the fatter the better. Every habitant had a few sheep, kept more for the wool the family spun and got woven into cloth or blankets than for their flesh. So few were there wants that each family was sufficient in itself; excepting molasses nothing in the grocery line was bought and of dry goods what was traded was for Sunday wear.”

William and Margaret had eleven children that I know of:  Mary Jane (bn 28 October 1845 in Canada East, married John Young on 12 July 1870, and died 15 July 1923 in Brown City MI); Charlotte Marguerite (bn in 1846 in Saint Martine, Canada East, married Charles Gray on 19 October 1873, married Joseph Bone on 20 November 1897 in Clark, Washington, and died 16 February 1916 in Portland OR); Thomas (born about 1858 in or near Ormstown, Canada East, married Margaret Cody, and died on 24 June 1934 in Reed City MI); Elizabeth (born 29 February 1852 in Canada French near in or near Beauharnois County, married William Henry Lewis on 18 August 1880, dd 23 September 1914 in Osceola MI); Dorothy (born about 1855, married Robert Watson on 25 December 1875 in Saginaw MI, and died in Battle Ground WA  on 31 December 1927); Andrew (born 26 November 1858, married Anna Gregor on 10 April 1885, and died 30 January 1920 in Brown City MI); Sarah (born about 1858 – ?), William (born about 1862 in Canada, married Teresa Tracy on 6 July 1884 and died after 1940), Janet (born 15 July 1863, married on 13 October 1886, and died 28 March 1932 in Flint MI); John Edward (born in September 1865, married Emma Masters on 28 October 1889 and died in Maple Valley MI on 2 March 1935); Lucretia (born in or about 1868, married William H. Baker, and died after 1905); and James (born in April 1871 in Michigan, married Martha Wengert on 27 January 1892, and died in 1958). Margaret gave birth over 26 years (she had to love that man). She had children born in each of four decades! So in addition to cooking, cleaning, laundry, gardening, sewing, quilting, farm work, etc. -- all without electricity or running water, or central heat or air conditioning – she always had kids around to raise, care for, and love. That’s a strong woman.

In the early years of their marriage, the couple lived in the southwest corner of what became Quebec in Beauharnois township. I found William and Margaret and their first four children in the 1851 Canada East census, for Beauharnois Township, living in a French-speaking area of Canada in a one-story brick house. Margaret’s parents and seven of her siblings are found on the same page, 26 entries above (also in a brick home).

Climbing My Family Tree: Bennett's and McFarlane's on 1851 Census Beauharnois County Canada East
Bennett's and McFarlane's on 1851 Census Beauharnois County Canada East
{Page 1 of the 3 page census}
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In or about 1869, the family immigrated to Lapeer County in Michigan, USA. They may have been attracted by the excellent farming on land that had already been logged by the Michigan timber companies, and/or may have been enticed to move there by entreaties of family already there as both the Scots and the Irish tended to move in family groups (I’ve not yet sorted out who might already have been there, but there was a large Scots settlement in neighboring Sanilac county and my own family tree shows several generations of mixed Irish and Scot stock living in Lapeer and Sanilac counties in Michigan). They lived in Burnside Township of Lapeer County, Michigan, until William’s death at age 84, on 27 December 1890.

After her husband’s death, Margaret initially lived with her youngest son James, who was 18 at his father’s death, on the family farm, according to William’s obituary.  But by June 18, 1894, according to the 1894 Michigan Census, she was living in the household of, or it appears, perhaps, next door to her son John and his wife Emma and their three young children James, Albert, and William. That may be because James got married in 1892 to Martha Wingert.

Six months later, on 19 December 1894, Margaret married John Y. Brown, who was also born in Scotland. He had never been married before and was a peddler at the time of the marriage (thereafter he became a farmer). The registrar made a significant error in the ages of the couple in the marriage record saying they were both 54. A comparison with later documentation assures me that the marriage record is for my Margaret but that the age listed for her should have been approximately 68 (Margaret may have shaved 4 years off her age for the event but I strongly doubt she shaved off 14 years!).

Climbing My Family Tree: Marriage record Margaret McFarlane Bennett to John Y Brown 19 December 1894
Marriage record Margaret McFarlane Bennett to John Y Brown 19 December 1894
Third Entry
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The 1900 Census shows Margaret (74) & John (60) Brown living and farming next door to Margaret’s son James’ family (James and Martha now have 3 sons and 2 daughters, ranging from 7 years to 8 months old (and two doors down from son Andrew’s brother-in-law, Anson J. Bentley, which confused me for a while since I knew I knew the name but couldn’t find a daughter married into that name – I finally went back to my actual tree software and traced the name to son Andrew’s wife’s sister Grace Gregor Bentley’s husband Anson. This genealogy stuff is starting to make me think in webs!)

Margaret was widowed again when John Y Brown died on 6 February 1909 of Oedema of Organic Heart Lesion (which appears to mean a swelling caused by a buildup of fluid in the tissues of a narrowing of the arteries going into the heart, or, essentially, heart failure). The more personal information was supplied by Margaret’s son, James, who didn’t know his birth date but said he was 67 when first married, and that he was a cabinet maker. He reported that John Brown’s parents’ were John Brown and Jeannie Young. (As I’ve mentioned before, the information on death certificates, other than the date and cause of death filled out by the doctor, is best taken as clues rather than facts, as it is only as good as the knowledge of the person giving that information.) John was buried two days later in the West Burlington Cemetery in Clifford, Michigan.

Margaret died eight months later on 15 October 1909 at age 87, 7 months, and 6 days. Her cause of death was listed as Old Age. James supplied the information for her death certificate too. It appears that She was buried four days later in the Deanville Cemetery, in Lapeer County, Michigan, which is the cemetery in which her first husband, William Bennett, was buried.

If anyone reading this is related to Margaret McFarlane or William Bennett or their parents/siblings or children, and would be willing to share any information or stories or pictures they have with me, I would love to see to speak (or email, probably email) with you. If you wish to dispute any of my conclusions, I’d still like to hear from you – maybe together we can figure it out. (I’m also interested in John Y. Brown.) Please leave me a comment below or email me at the address on my Contact Me page.

I’d really like to find out more about William and Margaret’s early years: where they were born, more about their families of origin, how they got to Canada and when, when they met, how they lived, etc.

I’d also like to find out more about how they lived in Canada and when and why they decided to move on to Michigan. I’d love to know how they made the trip, and how they lived after they got to Michigan, where the farm homestead was, what it looked like, etc.

And I’d really love to see pictures of any or all of them!

Much thanks to Judy Wilcox for her help with information regarding Martha Wengert, James Bennett, and the Wengert family and James and Martha's family, and the links for William Bennett and Martha Wengert, and her encouraging emails. (I’m related to her husband twice!)

“McFarlane” History,; ;;; Transcribed militia pay lists for companies in the Beauharnois Battalion during the Rebellion of 1838,; Quebec, Vital and Church Records (Drouin Collection), 1621-1967 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc., 200 - Original data: Gabriel Drouin, comp. Drouin Collection. Montreal, Quebec, Canada: Institut Généalogique Drouin; 1851 Census of Canada East, Canada West, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia; transcription of the Cadastre Abrege for 1854, ;  The History of Huntingdon and the Seigniories of Beauharnois and Chateauguay, From Their First Settlement to the Year 1838 and Revised to the 1900s by Robert Sellar, (150th anniversary edition, the Gleaner, Huntingdon, Québec, June 1975; originally published by Huntingdon, Québec, the Huntingdon Gleaner Incorporated. 1888.); Courtship, Love, and Marriage in 19th Century English Canada, by Peter Wald (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1993); U.S. Federal Census for 1870, 1880  and 1900; Michigan Death Records; Michigan Death and Burial Index.