Earlier this year, ‘Grandad’, my maternal grandfather, died at the age of 82.
His death leaves my Nana as the only surviving grandparent. The funeral, and wake, gave my small family time to be together, and after talking at length, I volunteered to research our family history.
Whilst I go by ‘Mac’, my full last name is actually ‘Macdonald’. My Father’s side is largely from Aberdeenshire, and my Mother’s side a mix of Cornish and Welsh. While I never met my paternal Grandfather (another William) due to his death 3 years before my birth, ‘Nan’ (his wife, my Father’s Mother, Pamela) is a woman I respected a great deal growing up. She lived in an annex in my parent’s house and her continual presence will forever be a big part of my childhood. The 10 years I knew my Nan were happy ones; but her death is one of the most painful and enduring memories of my childhood.
‘Nana and Grandad’ – my mother’s parents – lived about 30 minutes drive away while I was growing up and while I was still in primary school, we’d see each other every other week. Grandad would pick me up from school and give me sweets that I wasn’t supposed to tell my mum about, this and his truly terrible jokes, and love of cricket are what I will choose to remember him by, rather than the shell that was left once his Alzheimer’s had forced us to watch him lose himself.
Nana’s lunches, ‘the garden of moss’ and red pie; that – and so much more – is what they as people will always be to me.
But what that doesn’t answer how they got here, and for that, what follows is what I’ve found so far.
Dad is an only child, and Mum is one of two, so the first few layers of the tree were simple. My Nan…well…this is where it gets complicated.
Nan was a bastard child, born in rural Aberdeenshire in 1925 to a 20 year old ‘Lillias Williamina Philip Craig Ironside’ – which has to be one of the most impressive farmer’s daughter’s names I have ever heard. Nan’s birth certificate lists her father as a ‘George Peter Horne’, however he has been impossible to find anywhere. Nan never spoke about her family, and what she knew about them, or otherwise, went with her to the grave. We do know that she was adopted by her Grandparents – ‘William Mitchell Ironside’ (one of two) and ‘Lillias Davidson Craig’ (one of ten) – and had friends (and probable relations, including possible Uncles James and Adam) in New Deer, Aberdeenshire, and would visit annually. Lillias W.P.C. Ironside died in 1999, at the age of 94, a year and 6 days before, and 523 miles away from, her daughter.
I believe I have been able to trace Lillias’ side approximately 4 additional generations to her Mother’s Father’s, Father’s, Father (my Great-Great-Great-Great-Great-Grandfather) ‘David Craig’, born in Arbroath, Forfarshire, in approx 1779, death unknown, and his wife ‘Elizabeth Middleton’ born 3rd September, 1774 in Brechin, Angus – and dying there on 29th May 1862.
Paternally, we have her Grandfather, ‘James Ironside’, (b. 31.07.1851, d. 10.03.1923, New Deer), the youngest of 5, his parents were ‘William Ironside’ (b. approx. 1810, d. 15.10.1886, New Deer) and ‘Jane Milne’ (b. 27.1.1807, d. 23.05.1869, New Deer). He married ‘Jane Mitchell’ (b. 25.04.1847, d. 02.12.1933, New Deer) – the 5th of 7, and eldest of two girls, her parents being ‘William Mitchell’ (b. 08.09.1814, d. 07.03.1877, New Deer) and ‘Jane Murray’ (b. approx. 1813, Tyrie, Aberdeenshire, d. 28.01.1882 Monquhitter Parish, Aberdeenshire (near what is now Ellon)).
My Paternal Grandfather, ‘William Macdonald’, (b. 1923, d.1986) was the elder of two – however his Father, yet another ‘William Macdonald’ (b. 27.08.1880, Aberdeen, d. 1962, Maryculter, Aberdeenshire) was one of nine, and his Mother, ‘Annabella Barclay’ (b. 10.12.1903, Slains, Aberdeenshire, d. 1987), was one of five. This ‘William Macdonald’s parents were ‘John Macdonald’ (b. 1845, d.1923) and ‘Jane Gerrard Forbes’ (b. 1852, d. 1926), I mention Jane (my Father’s, Father’s, Father’s, Mother) here for reference later.
The Macdonald line would appear to begin with a ‘George Macdonald’ (exact dates unknown, but approx 1780-1790, born in Dunvegan, Isle of Skye), who married an unknown ‘Stewart’ (dates also unknown) – they are parents to another ‘George Macdonald’ (b. 22.02.1813, d. 17.04.1887, Glenrinnes, Banffshire). If this is correct, then it would seemingly align with my Grandfather’s belief that we are ‘Clan Macdonald of Sleat‘ and the reason for George’s relocation from Dunvegan to Glenrinnes would most likely be due to the Highland Clearances.
While not directly down the Macdonald line, the furthest I’ve been able to trace Dad’s ancestry is to ‘John Forbes’ and ‘Mary Tulloch’ (exact dates unknown, approx mid-1700’s). They are the aforementioned Jane’s Father’s, Father’s, Father’s, Parents – and/or My Great-Great-Great-Great-Great-Great-Grandparents.
My Mum’s side has a similar progression, one of two born to John (b. 1930, Dawlish, Devon, d. 2013) and Margaret (b. 1930), the family members quickly stack up once John is the youngest of four born to ‘Cecil Harry Downing’ (b. 12.03.1897, Dawlish, d. 1987, Slough) and ‘Florance Honor Trewin’ (b. 08.09.1898, Launceston, Cornwall, d. 1970) and Margaret is the middle of five born to ‘Maurice George Jefferis’ (b. 1899, Wareham, Dorset, d. 1958, Portsmouth) and ‘Fanny Lydia Cooper’ (b. 07.09.1899, Pontypridd, d. 1981, Basingstoke).
It is unknown how many siblings John’s father Cecil had – little is known about his parents ‘Henry Downing’ and ‘Elizabeth’ (maiden name unknown), except that they were born approx. 1876 and approx. 1874 respectively. John’s mother Florance was 7th of 9, but again little is known of her parents ‘Thomas H. Trewin’ and ‘Mary Ann’ (again, maiden name unknown), and again born approx. 1858 and approx. 1859 respectively.
Sadly, this is where the Downing ancestry appears to end.
The Jefferis side still has some interest. While my Nana may ‘only’ have been the middle of five, and her father Maurice the middle of three born to ‘Thomas James Jefferis’ (b. 1849, Ellingham, Hampshire, d. unknown) and ‘Caroline Mary King’ (b. 1863, Whiteparish, Whitshire, d. unknown). Thomas was the youngest of 6 to ‘John Jefferis’ (b. approx. 1806, d. approx. 1891, Ellingham) and ‘Catherine’ (b. approx 1811, d. approx. 1887) (again, maiden name unknown), while Caroline was also the youngest, but of 5, born to ‘George King’ (b. approx. 1829, d. unknown) and ‘Rachel’ (b. approx. 1827, d. unknown) (and yet again, maiden name also unknown). This would mean that, as well as John and Catherine, and George and Rachel being my Great-Great-Great-Grand Parents, they were also alive at approximately the same time as the aforementioned George Macdonald (b. 1813, etc) and only a mere 550 miles apart.
Nana’s mother Fanny was the eldest of 12 – yes, twelve – to be born to ‘Walter James Cooper’ (b. approx. 1874, Cardiff, d. 1951, Talywain) and ‘Lousia Kate Summers’ (b. 1881, d.1961), but little of their ancestry is known to me at this time, beyond Walter being one of five, and his parents name’s being ‘John Cooper’ (b. approx 1829, d. unknown) and ‘Maria’ (b. 1837, d. unknown).