Saturday, 5 November 2016

Brick Wall: On the hunt for Mathesons and McKenzies in Urray

Updated 2 Sep 2019 with birth and death years

Since I know that my great grandfather Frank Matheson was born in the old parish of Urray, Ross and Cromarty in Scotland, and that all of his at least eight siblings were also born there, it has belatedly struck me that I may find some clues to his parents, my 2nd great grandparents, Donald Matheson (abt 1798-1859) and Margaret McKenzie (abt 1798-1865), and their origins, searching with the place name Urray. It would be wonderful to find the names of their parents. How hard could it be? No, don't answer that.

Urray is described as a scattered village consisting of Easter, Old and Wester Urray and is near the Muir of Ord, which today is a short 21 minute train ride from Inverness, but was much more difficult to reach before a bridge was built in 1814.

There are many Donald Mathesons and Margaret McKenzies associated with the parish of Urray in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, even though according to the a recently (for me) discovered resource, the Statistical Accounts of Scotland, 1791-1845, the 1791 population of the parish totalled 1,860. The Statistical Accounts are described by the National Library of Scotland as "an invaluable source for research on Scottish life in the 18th to 21st centuries". The 1791 account, you'll see, is written in Old English, so it takes time to digest.

But let's go back to the number of people with the same name. Between 1700 and 1800, lists over 300 births and baptisms with the name Donald Matheson. Now, many of these are the same person, listed as the father, for example. The same can be said for the name Margaret McKenzie for the same period. Still, in an area with a population of 1,860 in 1791, it is clear that traditional Scottish naming patterns were very much followed. See page 2 here.

So far, I'm not finding the names Grant or Cumming, which came to light after recent DNA relationship discoveries, associated with either Matheson or McKenzie.

Today, the parish of Urray is part of the largest local government area in the United Kingdom, but sparsely populated Highland Council. In 2015, it had a total population of 234,110. The capital of the Highlands is Inverness, where I spent a few days in 2011. It has a population today of about 50,000. The Highland Council also includes place names familiar to me from memories my mother spoke of, and from my family history: including Nethy Bridge, Aviemore, Beauly and Black Isle. Not for the first time as a family historian, I wish I could have a conversation with my parents and their parents and grandparents. It would clear up so many mysteries. If only this were possible.

Meanwhile, this is quite the brick wall.

The never ending story continues....

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