Category: Perthshire

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.

McFarlane Mysteries

The McFarlane farm in Melrose, Ontario.

There are lots of stories about my three-times great-grandparents John and Marjory MacFarlane. He was born in 1791, she was born in 1801. He was a stonemason who left Scotland after a fight with his brother and business partner, Donald. He invested in an oatmeal mill in Upper Canada and lost everything when it burned down. They had nine children, two of whom died as children.  

Unfortunately, I cannot yet document any of these stories. There are a few facts, however, that can be confirmed.

The marriage of John MacFarlane and May Robertson on 26 December, 1823 was recorded in the records of Clunie parish, Perthshire. Their first child, Janet (my great-great-grandmother,) was baptized in Clunie parish on 26 June, 1825.

The family arrived in Upper Canada around 1833. They settled in Melrose, Tyendinaga Township, Hastings County, near today’s Belleville, Ontario, where they were included in the 1861 census of Canada. One of John and Marjory MacFarlane’s descendants is still raising cattle across the road from the original family farm.

I been unable to confirm John MacFarlane’s date or place of birth although, according to a copy of a family letter, author unknown, he was born 4 March, 1791.

John’s wife is referred to in various documents as Marjory, May and Margaret. There is a baptismal record for a Marjory Robertson, dated 15 March, 1801 in Caputh parish, however, her gravestone in Ontario gives her dates as 1804-1870. Was that the baptismal record of another child, or is there an error in the monumental inscription?

It does seem probable that the family lived in or near tiny Clunie parish. Family stories say they came from near Dunkeld and the Tay River. Both Clunie and Caputh parishes are very close to Dunkeld, a cathedral town with an old bridge over the Tay.

A view of the countryside over the wall behind Clunie Parish Church.

Gravestones, marriage and census records confirm most of their children’s names and some dates: Janet (1825-1901) married James Drummond Forrester; Christina, born 1827, was included in the 1861 census and then disappeared; John (1828-1907) married Letitia McKinney; Margery (1831-1835) died as a child, according to a family letter; Jean (1833-1883) married Ed Carscallen, and her marriage and death records confirm family stories that she was born on the Atlantic; Donald was born 1835, according to family records, and probably died as an infant; William (1838-1917) married Mary Jane McKinney; Margery, or Marsley (1840-1886) married James Balcanqual; Donald (1843-1900) married first, Helen Pegan, and second, Mary Anderson.

I am curious to know whether John MacFarlane was a stonemason before he came to Canada as one family story suggested. Maps and gazetteers dating from the 1800s indicate there were quarries in the Clunie region, so it is a possibility.

Did John build a mill in Melrose? Again, it is possible. In his book Historic Hastings, Gerald Boyce says, “The centre’s first grist mill had been built in 1833 by Mr. McFarlane …” More research is needed to clarify whether this was my John MacFarlane or someone else.

Research notes: Two topics worth discussion arise from this article. The first is Genealogical Proof Standard, or GPS. (See The five central points of GPS are: the genealogist must do a reasonably exhaustive search; cite sources fully; analyze the collected information; resolve any conflicting evidence; write a coherent conclusion.

There are several conflicting pieces of information about this family, and I need to gather additional, reliable evidence to sort out fact from fiction. Maybe I’ll find all that evidence some day but, in the meantime, I do know enough to begin to tell their story.  

There is an inconsistency in the spelling of the family’s name. The gravestones in Gilead St. Andrew’s Cemetery and Melrose Cemetery, where most of these people are buried, spell it Mac, while family members now insist it is Mc; just another genealogical challenge, but no big deal.

The second topic involves one of my favorite genealogy research tools: maps. As well as being beautiful, old maps often show the locations of roads and structures that existed in our ancestors’ times, but are no longer visible. The National Library of Scotland has an extensive collection of digitized maps at I also found a good map showing Clunie Parish Church and its surroundings on the excellent Scotland’s Places website,

A solidly researched history of Hastings County, first published in 1967, has recently been updated and can be ordered from Historic Hastings,Volume One, with New Introduction and Expanded Index, by GeraldE. Boyce, is published by Global Heritage Press, Milton, 2013.