52 Ancestors 2014, ancestor story

Ancestor Story – Helen Boles – 52 Ancestors

LanarkRoadCarlukeCarluke is the setting for parts of this tale.  Image found here.

On one of my very first visits to the Family History Library in Salt Lake City I found a record that started my journey of learning Helen Boles Muir’s fascinating story.  Helen is my 3rd great grand aunt.  I attribute many of my genealogical detective skills to her – her story forced me to gain some tricks in a hurry.

This is the story of Helen Boles.

Helen Boles is the daughter of James Thomson Boles & Isabella McLaren, my 4th great grandparents.  I first discovered Helen in the 1851 Census of Carluke, Lanark, Scotland.  She was 3 years old at the time of the census.

BOLES, James Thomson & Isabella McLaren, 1851 Census

Helen is not listed with her family on the 1861 Census.  When I discovered this, I wondered if she had died before 1861.  While searching for birth and death records in Carluke for any children of James & Isabella Boles, I came across this death record for Janet Boles.

BOLES, Janet, 1869 Death Record

Janet Boles is the illegitimate daughter of a Helen Boles.  The informant is a James Boles who is the father of Helen Boles.  When I found this record I thought it was very likely that this was my Helen but I needed to find more information.

The next record I found was the 1871 Census of Carluke, Lanark, Scotland.  The household members include James & Isabella, four of their children, and a grandson named James B. McLauchlan age 6.  The family is living at the same address that Janet Boles died at.  Maybe Janet is indeed the child of Helen.   But who is James B. McLauchlan?

James & Isabella Boles, 1871 Census

I was very curious about this James B. McLauchlan.  I went searching for a birth record.  What I found was a birth for a James Boles.

BOLES, James, 1865 Birth Record

James Boles is the illegitimate son of a Helen Boles.  I wondered if this could possibly be my Helen and the James B. McLauchlan of the 1871 Census.

Next I found the 1881 Census of Dalserf, Lanark, Scotland.  The household members include James & Isabella and their grandson listed as James Boles.  His age and birthplace match both the possible birth record and the 1871 Census.

James & Isabella Boles, 1881 Census

Let’s go back to Helen for a minute.  I began using the scotlandspeople website so I could search from home.  {Incidentally, this is my favorite website.}  I looked for a death record for Helen Boles.  I found this record {bottom entry}.

Helen Boles Muir, 1935 Death Record

Hot dog!  Helen lived to ripe old age of 87.  She had been married to a man named John Muir who died before she did and she must have had a child because the informant on her death record was James T. Boles, grandson.

This record sent me hunting for Helen’s marriage record.  Found it {second entry}.

Screen shot 2014-01-24 at 5.30.21 PM

Helen was married to John Muir on 1 December 1882 in Dalserf, Lanark, Scotland.  She is listed as a Dairymaid with her usual residence at Ashgillhead in Dalserf.  This is the occupation listed on Janet’s birth record and the address of James & Isabella on the 1881 Census.

I decided to make a loose assumption that the James Boles from the birth record & census record, and the James B. McLauchlan from the other census record were all the same person and that he was the son of my Helen.  Assuming all of this, I went looking for a marriage record for James Boles and this is what I found.

James T Boles & Isabella Crow Macdonald, 1891 Marriage Record

James T. Boles married Isabella Crow Macdonald on 31 December 1891 in Dalziel, Lanark, Scotland.  He lists his father as James Thomson Boles, coachman, deceased and his mother as Helen Boles, maiden surname McLaren.  This path was getting rather twisty for me.  I know that illegitimacy was a big deal during this time period and something to be covered up.  Knowing this I looked at this record and wondered if James was hiding his illegitimacy in a few twisted truths by listing his maternal grandfather as his own father and his mother as his mother but with her mother’s maiden name – so that she would have one.

I wondered if James’ death record might clear anything up.  I found this.

James Thomson Boles, 1937 Death Record

James Thomson Boles died on 13 January 1937 in Dalserf, Lanark, Scotland.  The informant on the record is his son James who is living at the same address that Helen was living at when she died 2 years earlier.  On the record he lists no father and as mother Helen Boles, domestic servant, deceased.  When I read through this record I felt a tremendous sense of completion and connection.  Finally at his death his family was able to be honest about his parentage – at least the part that they knew.

I found several more records for Helen, John, & James.  The most important to this story being the 1861 Census of Culter, Lanark, Scotland.

Helen Boles, 1861 Census

Helen Boles is a domestic servant.  Among the other servants we find Mary & Agnes Muir.  Possibly sisters of Helen’s future husband John?

After assembling these and other records this is the timeline of Helen’s life:

  • Helen Boles
  • Born – 1 June 1847 in Cambusbarron, St. Ninians, Scotland.
  • Baptized – 27 June 1847 in Gargunnock, Stirling, Scotland.
  • 1851 Census – Resides with parents in Carluke, Lanark, Scotland.
  • 1861 Census – Domestic Servant for William & Marion Aitken in Culter, Lanark, Scotland at the age of 13.
  • 1865 – Helen gives birth to James Boles in Carluke, Lanark, Scotland.  Helen is an 18 year old Farm Servant at the time.  No father is listed on James’ birth record.  James is illegitimate.  We learn from this record that Helen is illiterate as she signs the record with an x as her mark.
  • 1868 – Helen gives birth to Janet Boles in Carluke, Lanark, Scotland.  Helen is a 21 year old Farm Servant at the time.  No father is listed on Janet’s birth record.  Janet is illegitimate.  She is likely named for Helen’s younger sister who was born and died ten years previously.  We learn from this record that Helen can now sign her name.
  • 1869 – Helen’s daughter Janet dies in Carluke, Lanark, Scotland at the age of 14 months.  Cause of death is listed as Epilepsy, 3 weeks.  The informant is Helen’s father James Boles.
  • 1871 Census – Cook for Thomas & Margaret Stodart in Walston, Lanark, Scotland.  Her son James is living with her parents in Carluke.
  • 1881 Census – Dairymaid at the Mauldslie Dairy, living as the head of household with another Dairymaid named Elizabeth Noble.  Her son James is living with her parents in Dalserf.
  • Married John Muir – 1882 in Dalserf, Lanark, Scotland at the age of 32.  John was 10 years her junior.  This is important to note as he could not have been the father of her two children.
  • 1891 – her son James married Isabella Crow Macdonald.
  • 1891 Census – Living in Lesmahagow with her husband with no occupation listed.  Her son James is living in Bothwell with his new wife.
  • 1901 Census – Living in Lesmahagow with her husband with no occupation listed.  Her son James is living in Dalziel with his wife and their four living children.
  • Widowed sometime between 1901 and 1935.  I have been unable to find John’s death record or an entry for John or Helen in the 1911 Census.
  • Died – 1935 at the age of 87 in Dalserf, Lanark, Scotland at the same address listed on several records of this time period for her grandchildren and her son James.  This leads me to believe that Helen may have lived with James and his family or one of his adult children after the death of her husband John.  Helen was the grandmother of 9, 6 were still living at the time of her death.



My heart goes out to Helen.  She began working outside her home as a servant by the tender age of 13.  She had two illegitimate children at a time when illegitimacy was a big deal.  She suffered the death of her infant daughter.  She eventually marries at the age of 32.  She has no more children that I can find.  By the end of her son’s life, the sting of his illegitimacy no longer prevents the informant from being truthful about his parentage.  Helen’s story had come full circle.

I have a very tender place in my heart for Helen and her life.  While researching her life and the lives of her descendants, I felt her influence many times.  I had a distinct feeling that she wanted her story told and told accurately.  When I had pieced everything together, I remember re-reading through all of the records.  As I read Janet’s death record and was reminded that Helen’s father James Thomson Boles was the informant of Janet’s death and that he had registered her death the very day she died, I had a clear image in my mind’s eye of a grandfather walking down the road, head down in sorrow.  By image I do not mean that I was able to imagine this happening.  For just the briefest of moments I saw a heartbroken grandfather walking to the registrars office.  This family is very real to me.  They have my heart.

Note: In order to streamline this story for the reader I left out many records that helped me reach my conclusions.  Also it is interesting to note that so far in my research, every individual with the surname of Boles from Lanark County in Scotland is related to this family.  With such an uncommon surname for this location, researching has been especially easy enjoyable.  Okay, both.

21 thoughts on “Ancestor Story – Helen Boles – 52 Ancestors”

  1. Great post. I do enjoy Scottish research, I am such a big fan of their certificates and the amazing amount of information found on them – so much more than those in England & Wales. I did some work for a client a couple of years ago whose Scottish side was rife with illegitimacy. But I do find it interesting that often these illegitimate children are given the surnames of their reputed fathers.
    My husband has Scottish ancestry, so I’ve had some great fun with tracing those roots back!

    1. Scottish records are fabulous! They have so much detail. I agree English and Welsh records don’t compare. I have come across plenty of illegitimacy as well – it takes a little more digging but makes the stories even more interesting.

  2. Great sleuthing! And a lovely re-telling of Helen’s story. It mirrors that of several of my ancestors (also Scottish) and I too feel such affection and kinship with them. Thanks for posting.

  3. So interesting on so many levels! I, too, have relatives named Muir from Lanarkshire, Scotland, who were living in Dalserf at the same time as your Muirs. I wonder if we’re cousins?

    I also have illegitimacy in my Scottish lines. I hope you’ll contact me. I’m on Ancestry and my tree is public: http://trees.ancestry.com/tree/11910416/person/ or through Facebook, Tangled Roots and Trees is my FB page.

  4. I do not yet have that John Muir in my tree or Helen Boles. I could see that John’s father was William Muir. Can you read the maiden name of his mother. I looked the marriage record up on ScotlandsPeople but could not make it out. I just started working on my Muirs in Lanarkshire. Robert Muir (1800-1869) is as far as I can get. He was born in Ireland but married Henrietta Brown in Scotland. I finished his oldest daughter and his son, James, who is my great great grandfather, but still have a lot of other children to research. I would think your John Muir, if he is related to my Muir’s would be a grandson or great grandson of my Robert Muir.

    1. I just checked my tree for Muirs. I have an Isabella Muir b. 1860, parents William Muir & Margaret Ross, husband Alexander Boles (brother to Helen). The only other Muir is the John Muir I mention in this post b. 1860, parents William Muir & Agnes Wallace, wife Helen Boles.

      I haven’t researched John & Isabella’s lines as they married into my tree. Let me know if you find a connection!

  5. Hello, I stumbled upon your research on the Boles family and could not believe the coincidence! Yesterday I learned that my granny-Jean Boles born in Holytown December 8 1887 was illegitimate. She was her sister’s child, Helen Murray with no father on her birth certificate. She married William Boles in 1910 and emigrated to Canada. Alexander Boles and Isabella Muir were my great-grandparents. I know exactly how emotional you felt. My granny had a hard life, and it was only when she came to Canada that she felt free to use Helen Murray’s married name Reid as her maiden name. She named her daughter Helen Boles-another Helen Boles. I have not researched far back enough on Alexander Boles and Isabella Muir other than to find Isabella’s parents as you noted. Fascinating! My great grandparents gave birth to their twins-Alexander and William (my grandfather) at Ashgillhead Dalserf. I hope you will contact me. I’m on ancestry.ca and my Boles family tree is public. Sheila Laundry nee Boles

    1. Hello Sheila!

      I have been taking a summer break from my blog. Your comment was so exciting that I had to get right on here and let you know that WE ARE RELATED!! Your Alexander Boles who is married to Isabella Muir in my 3rd great grand uncle. Helen is his sister! I descend from their oldest sister Catherine. Their parents are James Thomson Boles and Isabella McLaren. James’ parents are likely James Boles and Mary McKenzie. Isabella’s parents are likely Alexander McLaren and Catherine McIntyre. I have a photo that is believed to contain Isabella at the end of her life. I have several records on this family. Have you researched past William? It would be great to compare notes!

  6. I’m honoured to be related to someone whose work I admire so much. I’m relatively new at this. I am a playwright and I am fascinated with the life of a coal mining family in the 1800s. I will continue my research. And hopefully we can compare notes. Thank you Sheila

  7. A young girl working away from home as a servant was incredibly vulnerable to being taken advantage of by her employer, other servants, or by anyone who shows her an interest and kindness, I’m sure. You’ve done an incredible job tracking down all of this and future generations will benefit. Well done.

    1. Thank you, Virginia. It was such a privilege to learn Helen’s story and preserve it for generations to come. ❤️

  8. James Boles and Isabella McLaren were my great great grandparents. Their daughter Alicia (k/a Alice) married Robert Williamson parents of my grandfather Adam and grandparents of my late father George. I am now living in Ashgillhead Road Ashgill – straight across from the miner’s cottages ( no longer there) where the Boles family lived at one time. Coincidence!!!
    I too have a photograph of Isabella McLaren as an old lady.
    Elizabeth Collins nee Williamson

    1. Hello Elizabeth!! It’s so wonderful to hear from you. I would love to see a scan of the photo you have of Isabella McLaren.

      I love your Alice Boles!! She was also one of my first serious research projects. Have you had any luck finding any family headstones in the local cemetery? I think it’s fantastic that you live in Ashgillhead!! I’m planning to visit Scotland in October.

    2. HI Elizabeth, i would like to get in touch with you as well. my Boles family tree is public. Alexander Robertson Boles was my great grandfather, his son William was my grandfather. I
      have been especially interested in Scottish mining history. My grandfather worked at Mossend before he came to Canada in 1913.

      1. Hello Sheila! I don’t know that she will see this. I am making a note to send you both an email and introduce you.

Leave a Reply