Category: Fanny McGregor

Mary Frances MacGregor

Lochend, Port of Menteith

During our first trip to Scotland, I said something to our guide about my three-times great-grandmother Mary Frances (Fanny) MacGregor. He teased me that the MacGregors were all ruffians and cattle thieves. I didn’t know much about her, but I was pretty sure she wasn’t a cattle thief. That was the spark that got me started researching my family history.

Five years later, I have learned a lot about my ancestors, but there are some questions I may never answer about Fanny and her origins.

According to the parish records of Port of Menteith, Mary Frances MacGregor was the “lawful daughter of Duncan and Catharine MacGregor in Lochend.” It says she was baptized on 26 December, 1789, however, her headstone gives her date of birth as 8 January, 1792. Perhaps she lied about her age, or perhaps the first child died and the baby born in 1792 was given the same name.

I have been unable to find a marriage record for Duncan MacGregor and Catharine MacGregor. Perhaps they had an irregular marriage, a legal, but informal, custom that did not require a church proclamation. I have not yet found any records of Fanny’s parents’ births.

The name MacGregor was proscribed, or legally banned, between 1603 and 1775. According to a family story, members of Fanny’s family used the alias Murray until they could once again call themselves MacGregor. Perhaps Fanny’s parents were born or married under aliases, which would explain why the records can’t be identified.

The Menteith district, where Fanny was born, is in the shadow of the Grampian Mountains, where the Scottish Lowlands meet the Highlands. There has been a large house at Lochend since 1715, probably built as the home of the estate manager. All the land in the area belonged to a handful of landowners and, when Fanny was a child, the homes of many tenant farmers would have dotted the landscape. On the shore of nearby Lake of Menteith was the hamlet of Port of Menteith, which has been in existence since at least the 15th century.  

The parish church, Port of Menteith

This area was once one the favourite hunting spots of the kings of Scotland, but in the late 1700s, it must have been a very poor. Most of the kirk sessions records, or records of the parish court, consisted of the names of parishioners receiving charity from the church. There was no mention of Duncan MacGregor’s family. I also checked some tax records for the area, without success so far. If Fanny’s family had lived in a house with seven windows or more, they would have had to pay a window tax. If they had owned horses or watches, they would have paid taxes on those too.   I do not know what Duncan’s occupation was. Whatever they were doing in Lochend, it appears they eventually left. According to a family story, Fanny finished her education in Edinburgh. She didn’t stay there, though. By 1818, Fanny had crossed the Atlantic and was living in Philadelphia, married to English-born merchant Robert Mitcheson.

Photos: copyright Janice Hamilton, 2012

Research Remarks:  Family stories linked my MacGregors to the Stirling area of Scotland, and Fanny’s home in Philadelphia was called Monteith house, so when I discovered there was a rural parish near Stirling called Port of Menteith, I suspected Fanny had a connection to it. Then I found a short biography of her son Joseph McGregor Mitcheson that confirmed it. I used access the Historical Catalogue of the St. Andrews Society of Philadelphia, With Biographical Sketches of Deceased Members.

The Scottish Archive Network website is a searchable electronic catalogue of some 50 archives in Scotland. It told me that the kirk sessions records for Port of Menteith parish are not in the National Archives in Edinburgh, but at the Stirling Council Archives, in the city of Stirling.

There are digitized historical tax rolls on the subscription access portion of the Scotland’s Places website, Maps and many other resources can also be viewed for free on this excellent site. The Scottish Genealogy Society also has resources online at, including taxation lists, university graduates, military records, trades and professions and prisoners.

Members of this family used both the McGregor and MacGregor spellings of the name. Also, MacGregor was Catharine’s maiden name; Scottish church records used the woman’s maiden name, even if she was married. Mary Frances was not a very common name and, with Scottish naming traditions in mind, I have attempted to look for an earlier Mary Frances, after whom Fanny might have been named. Fanny had a brother Andrew (baptized 1791) and a sister Christian (baptized 1793), so those also might have been family names. So far I’ve had no luck. Their grandparents would have used an alias, perhaps Murray, rather than MacGregor.

I found the reference to Fanny’s baptismal record on and viewed a copy of the parish record on the Scotland’s People website. There must have been numerous MacGregors in Port of Menteith parish at the time: besides the couple named Duncan MacGregor and Catherine MacGregor at Lochend, there were couples with the same names at nearby Auchreig, Cardross, Gartmore and Court Hill.

Philadelphia and the Mitcheson Family

If St. James the Less Episcopal Church looks like a little piece of England transplanted across the Atlantic, it is supposed to give that impression. This U.S. National Historic Landmark, with gray stone walls and arched red doors, was patterned after an English parish church and was built in 1846 to serve the families who lived in what was then a rural area near Philadelphia. Robert Mitcheson, my great-great-great grandfather, helped found St. James the Less. Perhaps it reminded him of the church near Durham, England, where he was baptized.

Eventually many members of his family were buried in St. James the Less Cemetery. The Mitchesons purchased two plots, each of which includes a tall monument and several other gravestones. One plot was for merchant Robert Mitcheson (1779-1859) and his wife, Mary Frances (Fanny) McGregor (1792-1862) and several of their children and grandchildren. The other was for their son, Reverend Robert McGregor Mitcheson and his family.

This monument is in memory of Robert and Fanny Mitcheson and several family members including grandson Joseph M. Mitcheson, a U.S. naval officer during World War I.

When my husband and I visited Philadelphia last spring, that cemetery visit was one of two priorities. I also wanted to do some research at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania (HSP), a four-storey red brick building on downtown Locust Street that houses a vast collection of historical and genealogical documents.

I had been unable to find a record of Robert’s and Fanny’s marriage, or of their children’s baptisms, online. I still haven’t found the marriage, but I did find the baptismal records in the HSP archives. The couple’s seven children were baptized at St. John’s Protestant Episcopal Church, in the Northern Liberties area north of the city. As far as I know, these records have not been digitized.

But the most interesting discovery I made was that Robert and Fanny may have living descendants in the United States. I am descended from their daughter Catharine, who married Stanley Clark Bagg and moved to his home, Montreal. Most of her descendants are Canadians.

I knew that two of the Mitcheson children died as babies and two others lived to adulthood but had no children. Younger son McGregor J. Mitcheson‘s line died out in 1959. That left oldest son Robert McGregor Mitcheson (1818-1877) and his wife, Sarah Johnson. Their son, Dr. Robert S. J. Mitcheson, was married but childless. Of their two daughters, Helen Patience died young, while Fanny Mary married someone named Smith, so it looked like finding her was going to be a challenge.

A search for Mitcheson in the HSP catalogue brought up one hit: records from the Family Bible of Lloyd Jones and his wife, Eliza Loxley. When I opened the document, I had to smile. Fanny Mary Mitcheson (1851-1937) married Uselma Clarke Smith Jr. (1841-1902), and their descendants appear to have spread across the United States, from Long Island to Chicago and California.

The large cross in the rear row is the grave of Rev. Robert M. Mitcheson. Daughter Helen is next to him, while Robert’s wife, Sarah Johnson, son Robert and his wife, Lucie Washington, are in the front row.

Research notes: When I first started researching several years ago, very few Philadelphia records had been digitized. That situation has improved, and I eventually found Frances Mitcheson’s 1862 death certificate at That certificate revealed that Fanny was buried in St. James the Less Cemetery. The statement that Robert Mitcheson helped to found the church comes from an article about his son, lawyer McGregor J. Mitcheson, in Historical Catalogue of the St. Andrews Society of Philadelphia, With Biographical Sketches of Deceased Members.

If you had ancestors in the mid-Atlantic United States, you should try to visit the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, but be well prepared. The library is huge and it can be overwhelming if you don’t have a good idea what you are looking for. The society’s website is

As for St. James the Less Church, it is now associated with St. James School, a small middle school serving students from the surrounding disadvantaged neighbourhood. When the head of the school showed us around the cemetery, he told us there was a dispute between the congregation and the diocese several years ago. Had we come then, we would have found the church abandoned and the graveyard overgrown. Now the former parish hall has been converted to classrooms and the cemetery is well maintained. The school’s website,, has more information about this historic building and the political figures, businessmen and Civil War Union Army officers buried there.