The Adoption Witness: Escalating Those Carstairs.

Double Genealogy: The Adoption Witness Update 7 Addendum 11*

We just got word that John Kelly’s son, Robert, died in Wayne County, Michigan.1 We had ruled John out as an ancestor, but this news reopens the case. Recall: John, born 1834, in Carstairs, was coal mining out of Legbrannock in 1851.2

We hoped to prove him forebear to that John Kelly who had gone farming in Legbrannock in 1881. That John advised of American birth, while withholding the state. Maybe Michigan – perhaps Wayne County.

John Kelly! May our “picture” below, be worth a thousand words, John Kelly! We have this John Kelly, of Carstairs, whose elder son, Robert, just reopened the case that his younger son, John, had closed. John Kelly Jr. had disappointed us; his birth particulars argued that he was not of our heritage. Next, US born John Kelly sits central in our big picture. Then we have “Candidate” John Kelly (one of very many so-named, on queue to prove oneself the true US born John Kelly) and his father, John Kelly Sr., both residents of Wayne County, Michigan.3 Also by Michigan mention, Scottish John Kelly, father of that John Kelly Sr. Oh and grandfather to John of Carstairs, John Kelly of yore.4

Panel left gives background mission; middle and right, our present attention.

Graphic at © 2020. All rights reserved

Wait! Where is John Kelly of Carstairs in that picture? Yes, we shall sometimes dub him “John 1834”. Truth is, we first had to conjure him, or an alternate, as a relative whom US John was venturing to visit. After all, very few young American men of the 1880s left their home of grand opportunity, for Scotland’s deteriorating conditions. Since US John had to have a British citizen parent, we figured one could be Scottish. An Irish settled in Scotland would work as well. The fact is, with so little known on him, we had to get lucky with this ploy, or enjoy our empty hand. We made a plan, hopefully to flush out supposed kin. Then we would have to prove them.

LEGBRANNOCK was a community of 155 in the 1881 census of Scotland’s Holytown. Its only Kelly that year was our US John. Implementing Item A of the plan showed none in 1871.

Thomas Kelly (1822-1876), was our second Kelly local; a resident there from at least 1841 until 1862. He then moved his family to the Dundee area of Angus. We tracked the four children he had with his wife, Mary Mooney in Legbrannock, and their five in Dundee.4 Thomas and Mary were Ireland-born. We noted his parents were Thomas Kelly and Mary Egan, but halted our interest when we could make no association with US Candidates.


Our third find in that neighborhood, and final, was that of John Kelly of Carstairs, who appeared in Census 1851. He came in, promising the sky. Besides history in Legbrannock, he got himself married to Mary Ramsay, in Law Carluke. Law was a very big buzzword noted in our underlying mission on the left panel, first graphic. Just accept that; no need to look. That was 1857. They had a daughter there, who died in 1859. Then for all intents and purposes, they disappeared.

We were giddy for the possibility they had emigrated, and produced son John, somewhere in the US around 1859. There would be plenty of their Carstairs family left behind in 1881, for John’s visit.

No leaves were left unturned, unsuccessfully looking for them out of country and specifically, in the US. Somehow they had to be in Scotland. It turned out that a series of inaccurate censuses had hidden them, including one in the name of Reilly. A much later census was located, which showed they did have a son John – in 1868 in Carnwath, Scotland.4 With that information, we were both able to discontinue him and to track back to a couple of those bad censuses, finding two recorded in Cambusnethan. Further, they had suffered a number of children who died in infancy, which sorrow however, documented that for the most part, they had stayed in Scotland. Still, their 1861 Census was never found. We abandoned them thus:

So as the couple was still unteased from Census 1861, a narrow window opened for them to be abroad in our relevant timeframe. Then only a US dalliance could explain John Kelly born 1834, as a forefather. QUITE IMPROBABLE.

Double Genealogy: The Adoption Witness by Marilee Wein © 2018

We had also said in that quoted passage, that given John of Carstair’s history in Legbrannock Holytown, Law Carluke and Cambusnethan – places key to our broader mission – that “perchance he was at least, a relative of some dilution”

Relative of some dilution! Here we are, energized by news that his son, Robert born 1866, emigrated to, and died in Wayne County, Michigan. What could that mean to our search for the true US John Kelly? We had, in fact, identified a candidate in Wayne County, on whom we could not otherwise move forward. Robert’s emigration could prove helpful should further context suggest the move was not mere coincidence, rather, prompted by kinship.

ROBERT KELLY (1866-1952)

SCOTLAND: As noted, the family of his youth seemed to disappear from a census perspective. His own oblivion was even deeper. When the dust settled, he was found abroad, having entered Her Majesty’s Service.5 During that time, he married Margaret McKinnon. They resided on Low Water, in Hamilton in 1911.4 Margaret indicated she had had eight children during the marriage, of whom five survived: Nellie, Andrew, Robert, Janet and William. Daughter Margaret evidently came later that year. Robert Sr. was a hewer of coal.

WAYNE COUNTY, MICHIGAN: Robert chucked coal mining for a labor gig in a Detroit (Wayne County) auto factory.3 In 1930, he and son William, resided with daughter, “Nettie” (Janet). He was now a widower and Nettie had married the Scot, Adam McIntyre. Adam departed Scotland in 1922; the others, 1923. Robert retired by 1940, having switched his living arrangement to daughter Margaret, who had married the Scot, John Butler. Then in Taylor, Wayne County, he was resident of the town of Wayne, upon death.


John Kelly became a candidate through his 1870 Census of Wayne County’s Grosse Pointe; Post Office, Detroit. He had met our criteria and was home in Michigan for Census 1880. John married Mary Young, but not until 1892.3 He could have been at Scotland’s Woodhall Cottage Farm in April 1881, then returned home in plenty of time to meet and woo, ahead of such marriage.

His was a farming family, aligning with US John’s Legbrannock position. Censuses variously reported his parents as Irish or Scottish. In fact, his father’s Death Index indicated that he, as well as his father, were born in Scotland. At any rate, they had a number of Scotland-born issue, and one in Canada, before the candidate’s birth in Michigan. They had verifiably spent a minimum of thirteen years in Scotland. It was time to visit Scotland with the possibility that the two Kelly lines had met there.

Scotland Years: John Kelly (1814-1899) and Catherine Collins (1815-1891); Candidate’s parents were in the greater Glasgow area for censuses 1841 and 1851, both professing Ireland births. Daughter Margaret, was but one month old in the first census, taken at Cadder. The second was for Shettleston, which showed John as a laborer.

Roman Catholic Old Parish Records revealed their 1838 marriage and births of children: Margaret 1841, Catherine 1843, Helen 1845, Rose 1847 and Mary 1849. Sarah was born in Canada about 1852. It was most fortunate for us then, that the family detained in Scotland long enough to register in its 1851 Census – it was a sophisticated instrument for its time, one uniformly retained for ultimate digitization. Of course, to make the family complete, we know Eliza and Alice came along in Michigan before John, followed by Isabella and Thomas.

The Glasgow marriage of John and Catherine told of her birth in Down, Down County, Ireland. That is consistent with her death record. John, it said, was native of Tyrone, Ireland, which is in variance to his death record. Both are in the Province of Ulster, Northern Ireland. It was not entirely one way; Irish to Scotland. There were Scots in Northern Ireland. Sometimes it was uncomfortable being Catholic in Scotland, sometimes the lure of better opportunity did not pan out. Sometimes mothers went home to birth. “Where born?” had different meanings, long ago. It matters when descendants want to know where an ancestor was situated at a particular time.

Candidate John Kelly and Mary Young had their first marital census at Gratiot, Wayne County. It was the same area as his youth. Their firstborn was the next generation John Alexander Kelly. Margaret, George, Mary Isabella, Edwin, Cecilia, Marion and Rosa, followed. He reported his parents as Scottish on his final two censuses and seems to have prospered. His home farm in Gratiot was mortgage free by 1910, and by 1920, his road was named Kelly.


While our imagined scenario for kinship is purely fanciful, it is surrounded by documented evidence and reveals our research direction on proofs being sought. Of John Kelly and Marion Forrest, we can say that circumstances found them in the Glasgow area in the early 1800s. They could well have had a son John, before Robert.

Robert Kelly (1807-1892) and Mary Clelland were parents of John of Carstairs. The death record for Robert disclosed John Kelly, a coachman, and Marion Forrest as his previous generation. Robert was born in the greater Glasgow area of Cambuslang. That is a couple of miles from Shettleston; a little longer crow fly to Cadder, where we first met Candidates’ father.

John Kelly Sr. (1814-1889): Candidate’s father whose death record specified the Scot, John Kelly, as his own father – who necessarily, would have been born before 1807. It occurred that John <1807 might be older brother to Robert 1807. Unfortunately, our window on their Glasgow past closes at the 1838 marriage of John 1814. It ends for Robert 1807, by his 1831 marriage in Carstairs. Obviously, that gives too little information to conclude that they met or were related.

Fancy ebbed, when it occurred that John 1814 had nine daughters. None were Marion. Further, his was a Roman Catholic line; the other, Protestant. Old Parish Registers certainly separated the twain. The Protestant line was Presbyterian, as noted on WW I Pension Records for Robert 1866. Sure, for many Kelly who married in Scotland, the question “are we Catholic or Protestant” became just as hazy as “are we Irish or Scottish”.

The Candidate’s Historical Geography: Residential expression for the whereabouts of the Kelly family farm in Wayne County MI, progressed from Hamtramck in 1827, to Grosse Pointe in 1848, and to Gratiot in 1895. Their Gratiot area became Harper Woods in 1951. Harper Woods is roughly twelve miles from Detroit.

Candidate’s Farmer Father in Detroit. At his death, ten of the eleven children of John 1814 were living. Great odds in those days. The land of opportunity had blessed him. After living for 85 years, he was still able to provide for them all, generously. In so doing, he named Margret O’Marra, Catherine Cogly, Sarah Kimball, Ellen Dewey, Rosie Dewey, Belle Gossi, Alice, Libby, John and Thomas Kelly, as well as grandchildren from deceased daughter, Mary Hubbard. John stayed on at the homestead. One of Senior’s houses went to Rosie Dewey, then a widow. It was on Macomb Street, Detroit.

Rosie was living at Macomb, as far back as 1880, with her husband Alexander. In fact, by 1920 a number children of John 1814 lived in Detroit. This is brought forward because Robert 1866 arrived there in 1923. It was becoming sketchy to tie farmer John, who was tilling fields a dozen miles out in Gratiot, to the decision of the coal miner in selecting Detroit auto works, as the best place to locate in vast America. A prosperous farmer John with holdings in Detroit, made a better argument. It was still feeling flimsy, though.

Emigration of Robert 1866; Driving Factors. If Robert were following closest kin, he could have considered La Salle IL with sister Janet Muir (1877 Cambusnethan), or Boston MA with aunt Marion Milne (1844 Carstairs). Such would have made more sense, than a presumed “removed” cousin.

We first saw Robert in America in 1930, a seven-year resident at the home of Adam McIntrye. He had preceded the Kelly family by a year. Perhaps the impulse had been daughter Nettie’s, in following Adam. Robert was already 57 at emigration; it seems more probable to be a decision of youth. However, Adam and Nettie did not marry until 1925, and Adam had left Scotland as a resident of Cardross Dunbartonshire. We could not determine if the couple had pledged their troth or even met, in Scotland.

Parallel paths without intersection: Despite that brush-by events in Greater Glasgow and Detroit were now added to those in Legbrannock Holytown, Law Carluke and Cambusnethan, we still could not intersect one path with the other. We failed to prove our worthy Candidate from Wayne County, Michigan with the good folks from Lanarkshire Scotland.

Falling down those Carstairs did not diminish the candidacy of John Kelly (1857-1924). He simply could not be proven by this family. We would have to look elsewhere.

Perhaps he disproved himself; we have signatures. The first belongs to the yet unidentified, US John Kelly. The rest are from the Candidate’s hand. Three factors should be considered before the top signature below, is judged against the three beneath it; pen nib size and writing space; date and purpose of the event; other parties to the document.

Signature: To those considerations, imagine it is 1882; you are a young American man about to gift your innocent Scottish infant a damning label. Perhaps it was the sweet babe’s mother, standing beside you, who had just signed above your waiting line, to lead this decision. Either way, the Registrar strongly disapproves. Like every other registrant on this page, you are handed a too broad quill with which to scratch your name onto the log (which the “crop” does not justifiably show, to be much too thrifty, for its intended inked intake). You begin to show your child his rightful legacy; a most unassuming “John” appears and off the line. Then, feeling ever so small, you nail that line. The awful final moment of withdrawing your promise arrives. In your guilty bravado, might an uncharacteristic little flourish begin to etch the name your son shall never use?

After taking these issues into account, one has to imagine the 1882 scribe in the fine nib of the succeeding records.

The Candidate, his middle initial “A” and “Jr.”: John had only three censuses as household head, where he was responsible for data input. It is important to note that he offered plain John Kelly for two of them.

Sometimes he used “Jr”. His father was party to the marital record, in which he was distinguished as Sr. While Jr. is missed on the 1892 specimen shown, it appears on a companion piece, which however, is not included as it could not be ruled out, a copy (in those days, in another’s writing). As to the probate pieces, the “A” was required since the will specified the beneficiary as John A Kelly.

Candidate’s “e” is atypical and differs entirely from the 1882 document. One would have to accept signature evolvement toward sophistication over decades, to continue. Giving slim benefit to much doubt: all “J” and “K” in his group show variation, even on the same day. Otherwise, if the 1882 “K” is stripped of much of its “serif”, some similarity can be seen on mix-and-matching of its fore and surname within the Candidate’s group. This is likely wishful descendant-in-waiting thinking. We certainly cannot rule this Candidate in, based on his data. We are simply not going to rule him out. Yet.

He might be let go, should an unbiased reader say “He should be canned!”

Disclaimer and Copyright: The matter of James Dickson’s adoption remains speculative, as declared in “Double Genealogy: The Adoption Witness”. Also noted, should that be true, the matter of selected biological parents remains far more speculative. The good man replied “No” when asked if he had a middle name. It is a disrespect to his memory to use the author’s work in support of an expanded name or initial. He lived and died as James Dickson.

Our copyright statement

* Update 7 Addendum 11 modifies Chapter Sixteen: John and Washerwomen; Kelly Closest To Home page 67.

Notes and Sources

1 Memorial ID 204213065 for Robert “Rab” Kelly (1866-1952). Parkview Memorial Cemetery Livonia, Wayne County MI. Memorial ID 28927704 for John Kelly Jr. 12 Feb 1857-11 Feb 1924. Mount Olivet Cemetery, Detroit, Wayne County, MI

2 Cited in Double Genealogy: The Adoption Witness. Published by Copyright © 2018 Marilee Wein and/or in past posts at © 2018-2020. See Copyright Statement above.

3 US Census Records 1850-1880 for the family of John A Kelly (1814-1899) in Hamtramck, Grosse Pointe and Gratiot. Censuses 1860-1920 for John Kelly (1857-1924), Censuses 1880-1930 for Kelly children of Gratiot, in Detroit. Censuses 1920-1940 for Robert Kelly 1866-1952 and his children in Detroit – viewed at and Original data at NARA.

4 Birth(B), Marriage (M) and Death(D) data were found in Old Parish Records (OPR) and Statutory Registers (SR) at ScotlandsPeople also Scotland Censuses (C) 1841 – 1911 and are © Crown Copyright National Records of Scotland. This includes but is not limited to: a) SR-D 1892 Robert Kelly 633 15 – cites father as John Kelly ; b) SR-D 1876 Thomas Kelly 282/2 220; c) SR-D 1911 John Kelly 647/00 0144; d) SR-M 1857 Kelly/Ramsay 629/00 0031; e) SR-M 1895 Robert Kelly/Margaret McKinnon 647/143. f) C 1871 John Kelly 628 11 19 HS 88; g) C 1881 John Kelly (mistaken as Reilly) 628 9 18; h) C 1891 John Kelly 647 23 22; i) C 1841 John Kelly, Bedlay Steps, Cadder 626 5 17; j) C 1851 John Kelly, Shettleston 622 3 7; k) C 1911 Robert Kelly, Hamilton 647 13 33.

5 At UK, British Army World War I Pension Records 1914-1920. Robert Kelly, son of John at Low Water Hamilton, in 1886. He was attestation no 2294 Original data: The National Archives of the UK (TNA). Cites marriage to Margaret McKinnon or Clark.

At for John Kelly (1814-1899) and John Kelly (1857-1924) Michigan Death Records 1867-1952;Michigan, Deaths and Burials Index, 1867-1995 Ancestry; Michigan Death Records 1897-1920; Michigan Wills and Probate Records 1784-1980 for John Kelly. Wayne Packets, 25198-25233, 1899

20 thoughts on “The Adoption Witness: Escalating Those Carstairs.

  1. Wow, what detailed work. So hard to solve ollllllld mysteries! Do you think Robert lived in corporate housing in Detroit like so many workers who came to town to work in an auto plant?

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I first heard about the company housing when I read the novel The Dollmaker (one of my favorite books). It kind of blew my mind because I grew up in Michigan and had never heard of it. Then I read up a bit on it. I wonder if they were a bit too early for it.


  2. So much work, Marilee! Carstairs is some distance from all the other places that your ancestors came from in Scotland. It is famous for its prison for the criminally insane. I would usually assume (from living in Scotland) that a Scot with the name Kelly would be of Irish origin and probably Catholic. Your work is so detailed and I have to admit that my concentration is so poor of late that I struggle to follow your amazing writing. It takes me a week to read a silly magazine. It is a symptom of my deteriorating mental health. The political situation here is beyond belief and reminds of living in a dictatorship in Egypt with President Mubarak. Roll on the inauguration. K x

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, but this Mr. Kelly of Carstairs was living in Holytown. Now, not having lived in Scotland, (lucky you) those names were unique enough to fascinate, especially when imagined rolling off a native tongue. Game on, though, when he gave his actual origin neighborhood as Ravenstruther, whilst living in that of Legbrannock. On top of that, as you say, Kelly are almost uniformly of Irish origin and Catholic. The family of this Mr. Kelly had long been in Scotland. His, and his sibling’s documents were located under the Church of Scotland. How that happened is anyone’s guess. I bet they harkened back to Irish Catholic. I proudly think I have some of that in my otherwise Scottish-Norwegian background.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I had a friend whose last name was McMillen. The family had changed it from McMullen (obviously Irish) and became Protestant. We were still treated as an unwelcome minority in my childhood,


      2. Depending on when, so many Irish were unwelcome in Scotland because of their effect on jobs. I wonder if converting to Protestantism helped to soften. I’d imagine if a Scot wanted to have a mad on, he’d keep it on. Such is the way once a bigory is born. I wonder too, if many Irish converted, other than due to marriage.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Despite that Andy has never been able to find out who his mother was. Her name was common and the hospital refused to reveal the information to the social work department on his behalf. They said the records were lost but it has left Andy with an emptiness even though he has found 2nd DNA cousins.


      4. So close, but no confirmation. I can’t imagine the turmoil in knowing that the whole world (in a small appointed bureaucracy) has and purposely keeps from me, my most fundamental me. That the secret was meant to allow for my adoption in the first place and keep me safe, would not dispel my need. Old “lost” records are harder to find by staff who have no skin in the game.

        Liked by 1 person

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