The Adoption Witness on Ancestry: Our McArthur Clan and Culloden Moor

We are Dickson-McArthur on our mother’s side. Several online “Family Trees” posit that our McArthur lineage extends to John who fell at the Battle of Culloden, that massacre of Saturday, 16 APR 1746. While we may have a tinge of Highlander woven into our story, this outlander finds that the thread breaks one or two generations of proof, before that awful day.

It was Grandad Dickson, subject of Double Genealogy; the Adoption Witness, who first cloaked us in the soft green of McArthur tartan. He brought us a bolt of the softest woolen from one of his many trips back home. It was he, well into his eighties, who shipped his car to Europe in the mid 1960’s to meet-up with this travelling apple-of-his-eye for a looksee at all his favorite Scottish haunts. He made us care to tell the McArthur story, as close to truth we may.

Click: the family portrait and two migrations for our previous post on great-grandfather Robert McArthur. The latter trip landed him in Nanaimo B.C. CA, shy of the turn to the 20th Century. It ended in a fatal cage-fall; the mine disaster of Protection Island in 1918.

We will explore if Robert was preceded in calamity at Culloden. To do so, we will return him to Scotland where he appears in line 1 of our McArthur Clan. We confess bias; our Nana, Janet Gray Dickson (McArthur) was so thoroughly Presbyterian, that her roots must have been infused from the early 1700s, such that none could have been Jacobite.

The path backwards is fairly straightforward until level 4. Even there we have confidence in that the children’s birth order and birthdates are reflected as parents in level 3, such as with our own John. born 1810.

Double Trouble at Level Four: Robert McArthur and Jean Tarbet/Corbet(t)

The difficulty lies in determining parents for Robert and Jean. Search output at ScotlandsPeople presents topline data with choice to purchase that which is underlying. So, search for children of the couple results first, in a wall of five lines covering seven years, that uniformly scream Robert McArthur/Jean CORBET(T) as their parents.  

Their marital record is for Robert McArthur and Jean Tarbeit. However, at five to one, it is easy to dismiss Tarbeit as a spelling error and then to select parents for Jean Corbet. That journey would trend more toward Culloden, but we feel it to be the wrong choice.

No further children were documented for them after 1814 and Jean Corbet seems not to have made it to the Census era (1841) where many issues could have been sorted out. Notably however, the 1814 birth document for their twins showed the family to reside at Lennox Town, or the outskirts of Glasgow.

Jean McArthur 1786-1819 and Jean Tarbet born 1786

Glasgow holds a report for a Jean McArthur who died at childbirth of a stillborn on 16 AUG 1819. She was 33, or born 1786. Curiously, a Jean Tarbet was born that year, 1786, in Old Grennock, Renfrewshire, to William Tarbet and Elizabeth Orr. The couple had wed in Campbeltown Argyllshire in 1784.

We offer Jean Tarbet. We are Highlanders should she prove ours! Is Culloden around our corner?

Robert McArthur (1777-1791)-1861

Robert’s Death Report of May 1861, claimed he died of old age; 84, at 37 Wellington Lane, Glasgow. He was a master blacksmith, son of blacksmith Robert McArthur and Jane McArthur (Russell). His wife was Jane Tarbert.

Further, Jane Tarbet was cited as mother in the Death Registry for Margaret Wallace (McArthur) in 1886, at Maryhill Glasgow. Similar registry for our John, d 1864, only gave his father’s information.

Selecting Jean Tarbet as ours.

Census 1851 strongly suggests that those surrounding the widower Robert McArthur in Greenock Renfrewshire, were kin of Jean Tarbet b 1786, in Greenock, whose parents came from Campbeltown ARG (Tarbet and Orr). On the other hand, a relationship between Marion Smith (Russell) and the deceased Jane McArthur (Russell) seems quite possible. Note: only certain persons per household are listed here.

Another Greenock resident in 1851: John Russell, a weaver, born about 1784 in Alloa Clackmannan was visiting a merchant in Greenock, the evening of the census-take. A namesake was born to Adam Russell and Margaret Young in 1783. Alas, Adam and Margaret posted children to the Alloa Registry, but no Jane. In that Alexander Smith and Marion Russell had a daughter named “Margaret Young” Smith in 1845, this John Russell seems to be he who married Marion Martin in 1804

Crossover Relationships: While not proven, Mary Tarbet, niece in the Smith household, along with Russell heritage suggest relationships of those in that home, to both Robert and the deceased Jean McArthur of the second household.

Looking for Robert’s Culloden ancestors: Robert was captured living with Margaret Wallace for Censuses 1841-1861. As head of the household, she was responsible for census input, providing two places of birth for him: Alloa Clackmannanshire and Perth, Perthshire. She mentioned each, only once. Neither proved helpful in finding his past. However, Alloa for John Russell, combined with Robert’s marriage to Jean in nearby Denny Stirlingshire, places some promise for Alloa being somehow important.

No marital document supported a union of Robert McArthur and Jane Russell. Likewise, no birth information for a Robert, using those names was seen. They may have been illegitimate and not recorded, or identity hidden as from blended families. We could not work backward with the sparse information at hand. So –

That’s all, folks except for a little story weaving and tidbits.

Robert McArthur’s likely birth year: by hunch, not fact; were we to take this matter a tad further, to assess the Culloden possibility, we would work with Robert McArthur’s birth as about 1787.

Margaret Wallace gave three of his four cited dates: 1841; 60/b 1781, 1851: 60/b 1791, and (April) 1861: 73/b 1788. May’s 1861; 84/b 1777, was given by grand son-in-law, James Wilson.

If Robert and Jean were similarly aged, he would have been mid-50s, in Census 1841 and mid-60s in 1851. We can see a scenario where Margaret might answer “about 60” equally to the age question in 1841 and 1851. Clearly, her answer in 1851, resulting in the 1791 birthdate, would be an estimate in the wrong direction, for then he would have been 14 against Jean’s 19 when they married in 1805. This notion makes 73 (or 74) more plausible for 1861.

How then, might that age disparity within a month, of 73 versus 84, be explained? The Registrar asked for age at death. Young James had a lot of oldtime data to mind, including names of two long-deceased. We opine that Margaret sent the hapless in-law off, saying Robert was about 74, born in the “1780 somethings” and James muddled those two inputs, with aged 84.

Their lifestyle in the 1850s in Greenock: This was Robert’s only census with meat on the bones. Again, his daughter, Margaret was the responsible reportee. She was listed as a master baker employing as many as five men and two boys. In fact, neighbor and probable relative, Marion Smith, was a boot and shoe merchant. Similarly, Andrew Orr employed 100 men in his business as a Roper Sailmaker. Thus, the family appeared successful, living in a bit of a bustling commercial situation.

Margaret was sharp, but very busy. One can almost sense frustration over the evening time taken to complete the census. Her own McArthur was crossed off in favor of Wallace. Stirlingshire was crossed off as Robert’s birthplace, in favor of Alloa Clackmannan. His widower status was overwritten. Oh my, that 4-month old babe, William, was probably fussing. Robert’s “6o” was first input to female, then changed to male. Had she known how important her data would be to us, she would have been more precise! The question of the day; did she offer confections and tea?

Culloden; We could not prove -or disprove – connection of our McArthur Clan to the Battle of Culloden, but we shed a Scot’s tear, for the fallen. We did not assess the possibility with the Argyll side.

The Adoption Witness: Thanking his great grandmother, Jean Tarbet, for our Highlander genes, we now return our great grandfather Robert McArthur to Canada, to his dear wife, Mary Hay Gray.

Our McArthur ancestry can be traced to Robert and his wife, Jane Russell, who were born in Scotland around 1760. Descendant Robert, born in 1862 and wife Mary Hay Gray, emigrated to Canada in 1910. CLICK HERE to read our collection of stories.

Please scroll below Notes and Sources to comment or question.


1 Cited Birth, Marriage and Death data were found in Old Parish Records (OPR) and/or Statutory Registers (SR) at ScotlandsPeople and are © Crown Copyright National Records of Scotland. This includes, but is not limited to:

OPRB 20/10/1786 Jean Tarbet: William Tarbet/Elizabeth Orr 564/3 20 322 Old Greenock// OPRB 16/10/1814 McArthur, William: Robert McArthur/Jean Corbet 475/ 30 257//OPRB 03/07/1831 Mary Tarbet: Alexander Tervate/Marion Lawson 632 30 59 Carnwath// OPRM 05/02/1784 William Tarbert/Elizabeth Orr Campbeltown Argyll 507/20 167// OPRM 10/06/1804 John Russell/ Marion Martin Shotts LNK 655 30/186// OPRM 26/01/1805 Robert McArthur/Jean Tarbeit 476 20 24 Denny STR// OPRM 29/04/1836 John McArthur/Janet Watson New Kilpatrick 500 30 257// OPRD 16/07/1819 McArthur, Jean 644/1 520 357 Glasgow// SRD 1861 McArthur, Robert 644/6/166 Blythswood Barony// SRD 1864 McArthur, John 626/A1 32 Cadder LKS// SRD 1886 Wallace, Margaret 622/1 300 Maryhill LNK// SRD 1905 McArthur, Robert 647/ 602 Hamilton LNK// Census 1841 McArthur, Robert 564/93/5 Greenock West// Census 1851 McArthur, Robert 564/76/1 Greenock West// Census 1861 Wallace, Margaret 644/4 19 12 Blythswood Barony//

2. The link “we previously posted” goes to “Robert McArthur and Mary Hay Gray: Migrations, Catastrophe and Triumph” whose Notes and Sources give additional references.

5 thoughts on “The Adoption Witness on Ancestry: Our McArthur Clan and Culloden Moor

  1. We could find a relation yet. An entire branch of my family came from Argyllshire in 1738 &1739 among the surnames is McArthur. PS There is a wonderful little town on the Kintyre Penninsula called Tarbert.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi.
    Good Wishes Marilee. Well Done.
    Done Well In Deed. Indeed
    Nice Job Sorting That. The
    👍 🤔
    Census Data Sensibly. Look

    Forwards Too. To Mores.
    Take Care. Stay Safe.
    Till Next… Shiro 😎

    Liked by 2 people

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s