Tuesday, May 10, 2011

My Ancestor Did What?

[NOTE: This post was originally published on Thursday, May 12, 2011. Unfortunately due to technical issues with the Blogger site, the post was lost so this is my attempted rewrite of the original.]

There are some occasions when I am amazed by the events that I uncover in my ancestors lives. The lives of James Mitchell and Rosannah (sometimes Rose Anne or Rosean) Dowds, my 3X great grandparents is just such a case.

I'm fortunate enough to know the names of all sixteen of my great great grandparents. I also know the names of all sixteen of my 3X great grandparents on my father's side of the family or my paternal line - but only six names of 3X great grandparents in my maternal line (so more work needed there with a heavy dose of Irish records education thrown in for good measure). While I have tended to concentrate on my Hadden ancestors (my father's paternal line), I have recently spent time researching my father's maternal family, the ancestors of my grandmother Agnes Little.

Agnes' great grandparents, and therefore my 3X great grandparents were James Mitchell and Rosannah Dowds. Both were born in Ireland, James in County Fermanagh and Rosannah in County Derry. James and Rosannah married in Glasgow, Scotland on 4 Septemeber 1855. It seems that neither was literate as they both signed the marriage registration with an "X."

In 1861, James and Rosannah can be found in the Scottish census records for that year living on the Glasgow Road in Old Monkland with their first child, a one year old daughter named Margaret. James was employed according to the record as a "Predsman in Pit." I have no idea as to what that job refers to and the job title is a best effort to decipher the poor penmanship of the census enumerator. Any assistance with identifying the nature and type of job that this refers to would be most welcome!

Although I would have thought it would have been easy to find the family in subsequent census reports like 1871 and 1881, that is not the case. Failing to find the family in those records, I turned to the Scottish National Archives that includes a searchable catalogue of their records holdings. To my astonishment, I found records relating to Rosannah and two criminal trials. According to these records Rosannah Dowds Mitchell was convicted in the High Court at Glasgow on December 28, 1877 of theft by housebreaking. For this crime, she was sentenced to eight years in prison. The record of this trial notes that this was not Rosannah's first offence!

I have contacted the Scottish National Archives and requested a fee estimate to receive a copy of the files and I will of course share the results of the process and the contents of the files if I am lucky enough to receive them. While it is possible that their was another Rosannah Dowds Mitchell living in the same vicinity as my ancestors, I suspect the Rosannah who is the subject of the court file is 'my' Rosannah as she appears in the 1881 Scottish Census as a "Prisoner" at the General Prison for Scotland in Perth, Perthshire, listed as "Rose Ann Dowds or Mitchell," a married 45 year-old 'hawker' who was born in Ireland. Similarly in the 1871 Scottish, Rosannah can be found as a 'criminal prisoner' in a Glasgow prison which may be related to the previous conviction noted at the 1877 trial.

I suspect that Rosannah's convictions may be related to stealing in order to provide basic sustenance for her children but this may only be my way of rationalizing my great-great-great grandmother's criminal ways! The photo above right from the Scotland National Galleries depicts a gloomy High Street in Glasgow, Scotland during the Mitchell family's time there. Only a review of the trial documents may enlighten me as to her true motives.

Sometime after Rosannah's release from prison, she and James moved their family to Greenock in Renfrewshire. They lived on Charles Street in Greenock when their son William married Agnes Sweeney in 1886 and they were in also living on Charles Street in Greenock when their daughter Helen married Dougald Carmichael in 1889.

Tragedy struck the family again however when on the morning of February 16, 1899 the body of James Mitchell was found drowned in Cowdenknowes Dam. A subsequent 'Record of Corrected Entry' was registered by the Procurator Fiscal, a Scottish public prosecutor who investigated all sudden and suspicious deaths similar to a coroner that we might be more familiar with. The Procurator Fiscal determined that James Mitchell drowned in the Dam sometime between 4:00 p.m. on February 15th and 10:00 a.m. on February 16th. The drowning was further determined to be accidental. Sadly, James was listed as having no fixed address but usually resided at the Smithston Poorhouse (also known as the Smithston Poorhouse and Asylum).

As for Rosannah, she died in December of 1905 at the age of 59 years, the victim of a stroke. A generation of hardship and tragedy in the family ended.


  1. An interesting story. Possibly came over from Ireland due to the famine. However I never remember if 1845 0r 1865. But poverty in Ireland drove many to cross to Scotland. My great grandparents (parents of Margaret Wilson who married John Stalker Gaull) came over following the famine and both were illiterate according to marriage certificate of 1872 in Hamilton near Glagow and also orphans. Joseph Wilson worked in the mines and Ellen or Eileen Kerr worked in a factory. I wouldn't be surprised if Agnes has committed a simple theft just to put food on the table.

  2. Sorry put Agnes instead of Rosannah. That was the name in the last comment.

  3. Just stumbled on this blog to day Ian I am assuming that you have checked the poor law records of Glasgow and Lanakshire.these are held in the Mitchell library Glasgow As I wondered who supported Margaret and any other children when her mother was in prison. ?