52 Ancestors

52 Ancestors – ALL the Babies of Mary Brown Wood

unknown infant
photo credit: Michelle Jones, used with permission


Late last week I began to organize myself to finally write a post about finding the parents of Andrew Brown, my fourth great-grandfather.  But the thing is, I noticed something about his oldest son William that made me wonder if William is actually his son.  That set me off down the rabbit hole.  All of the chasing through twists and turns led to me learning all about William’s daughter Mary Brown.

And that, my friends, led me to set aside Andrew and then William to tell the tale of Mary Brown Wood.

Mary Brown is my 1st cousin, 4 times removed.  Before last week, I knew very little about her.  I can sum that knowledge up in these few paragraphs:


Mary Brown was born 17 December 1870 in Carnwath, Lanark, Scotland1 to William Brown & Janet Lorimer Fulton.

By the tender age of 3 months, she was living with her family of four, 15 miles from the place of her birth in Lesmahagow, Lanark, Scotland.2

At the age of ten years, she and her growing family of eight were now living 13 miles from Lesmahagow in Hamilton, Lanark, Scotland where Mary was enrolled in school.3

Then at the age of twenty, Mary is found still living at home with nine of her family members in Bothwell, Lanark, Scotland.  A mere 3 miles from Hamilton.  Mary is simply listed as a coal miner’s daughter on the census.4


And that was all that I knew about Mary.


Her name is Mary Brown.  That is the female equivalent of the John-Smith-needle-in-a-haystack that we all use as the example of the nearly impossible research problem.  Of course, researching John Smith, or Mary Brown, isn’t actually impossible, but a lot less fun and easy than researching – say – Julius Augustus Caesar Austin (an actual direct line ancestor of mine).  It’s slower and harder and there is a lot more room for error.

Years ago, when I last worked on cousin Mary, I hadn’t been motivated to slug through record after record of Mary Browns, all the while paying for each and every view on ScotlandsPeople.

But last week, when I suddenly wanted desperately to find the death record of Mary’s father William – a record that is still eluding me by the way – I dove into Mary and each and every one of her siblings whose names are oh-so-similar to John Smith.

Along the way, I discovered something that focused me right in.


Mary was missing babies.


Missing babies are very difficult for me to ignore.  When I know that they are missing, or suspect that they are missing, I CAN NOT let it go.  Such was the case with Mary and her missing babies.

It all started with an Ancestry member tree.  Mary had a hint and one of the trees seemed to be substantive.  You know, there were actual sources and full place names.  😉  In this tree, Mary had a spouse and six children, as well as one new census record.  Mary’s family on that tree looked like this:

  • Spouse:  William Wood, b. 1872, married 2 February 1894 in Bothwell.
  • Son, William Wood, 1895-1915
  • Son, John Wood, 1897-
  • Son, Hugh Brown Wood, 1900-1957
  • Daughter, Annie Wood, 1902-
  • Son, Edward Brown Wood, 1907-1925
  • Son, listed simply as Private to indicate that he is still marked as living.

That is a lot more information than I had.  So I set about using it as a guide as I purchased records on ScotlandsPeople to verify this new-to-me information.

And verify is what I did.

Mary Brown did marry William Wood.5 She did have children named: William, John, Hugh, Annie, Edward, and as it turns out David.

This Ancestry user tree and FamilySearch were in pretty close agreement.

But I still hadn’t answered my William Brown question, so I went looking for Mary Brown Wood on the 1911 census.  It took some work to manipulate the search terms and filters to find what I needed, but eventually, I got it.  And what did I discover?

Mary Brown and her husband William Wood were the parents of William, John, Hugh, Annie, David, and Edward.  But Mary was listed as the mother of 8 with 6 children living.6


There were two missing babies!


And since I CAN NOT ignore missing babies, I was up late.  I used what I knew about the Scottish naming pattern, I looked at the spacing between the children, I timelined each address from the records I already had.  And then I began the painful, and not-at-all-cost-effective process of tracking down those babies.

{at least it’s a wee bit less needle-in-a-haystack-ish to search for Wood than it is to search for Brown…}

The first missing baby was actually the first born baby.  He wasn’t too hard to imagine because there was a telling two+ year gap between Mary & William’s marriage and the birth of their son William.

Most of my Scottish folks have more like 3-6 months between marriage and the birth of the first baby.  Plus, the first baby I knew about was named William.  William should have been the name of the second son.  They were missing an Alexander – William Wood’s father’s name.

Sure enough, Mary Brown and William Wood had a son named Alexander Wood who was born 17 March 1894 in Bothwell, Lanark, Scotland7 – a respectable 13 whole months after their marriage date, I might add.

Sadly, Alexander lived for only 11 months.  He died of pneumonia on the 26th of February 1895.8

But then I stalled out.  I knew the other missing baby had to have died before 1911, the date Mary was listed as the mother of 8 with 6 children living, but I could not find the other missing baby.

I bought far too many records that did not belong to my Mary and William.

I changed my search terms, places, and dates.

I only had one daughter so far.  Annie.  But Annie is the name of William’s mother.  I was missing a daughter named Janet – for Mary’s mother.

I found one.

Janet Brown Wood died 24 December 1912 of bronchitis and heart failure.  She was only a year old.9

My heart broke for Mary Brown Wood.

Her precious daughter, named for her own mother, died on Christmas Eve.

Worse still, she died in 1912.

That meant there was another baby yet to find.  One who died before 1911.

But that baby eluded me.

Instead, I found Mary Wood, born 29 August 1913 in Cowie, Stirling, Scotland.10 Mary lived a little bit longer than Alexander and Janet, dying at 18 months of meningitis on the 4th of January 1915.11

Oh, Mary.

How many more babies did you lose?

At this point, I went back and looked for babies who were born and died before 1911 and finally found the baby that had pushed me to keep searching and led me to find Janet Brown Wood and Mary Wood.

There was another Alexander Wood.

Alexander was born 16 April 1910 in Cowie, Stirling, Scotland.12.  His life was the shortest.  He didn’t even live a full two months, dying 6 May 1910 in Cowie.13  His cause of death was infant debility.

In the end, although not really the end because there is more to do, I discovered that Mary Brown Wood had 11 children, that I have found so far:

  • Alexander Wood, 1894-1895
  • William Wood, 1896- 1915
  • John Wood, 1897-
  • Hugh Brown Wood, 1900-1957
  • Annie Wood, 1902-
  • David Wood, 1905-
  • Edward Brown Wood, 1907-1925
  • Alexander Wood, 1910-1910
  • Janet Brown Wood, 1911-1912
  • Mary Wood, 1913-1915
  • Mary Wood, 1915-

Four of those children died as infants.  Three of them right in a row.

But are there more?

The firstborn daughter should have been named Janet for Mary’s mother.  Is there another Janet?  Were there any more children after Mary Wood born in 1915?

I have so much more to do!

But Mary, I found those two missing babies, plus three more.

They are no longer forgotten – no longer “unknown infant”.

They are known to me and I have told their story.





  1. “Scotland Births and Baptisms, 1564-1950,” database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:FQ95-VLY : accessed 8 December 2014), Mary Brown, 17 Dec 1870; citing Carnwath, Lanark, Scotland, reference, index based upon data collected by the Genealogical Society of Utah, Salt Lake City; FHL microfilm 6,035,516. 
  2.  1871 Scotland Census, Lanarkshire, Lesmahagow, enumeration district (ED) 13, page 10, household schedule #46, lines 20-23, Townfoot, William Brown Household; database, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 8 January 2017); citing Original data: Scotland. 1871 Scotland Census. Reels 1-191. General Register Office for Scotland, Edinburgh, Scotland, Roll: CSSCT1871_146. 
  3. 1881 Scotland Census, Lanarkshire, Hamilton, enumeration district (ED) 18, page 43, household schedule #426, lines 10-17, 13 Ann Street, William Brown Household; database, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 8 January 2017); citing Original data: Scotland. 1881 Scotland Census. Reels 1-338. General Register Office for Scotland, Edinburgh, Scotland, Roll: cssct1881_260. 
  4. 1891 Scotland Census, Lanarkshire, Bothwell, enumberation district (ED) 2, page 44, lines 22-25, page 45, lines 1-6, household schedule #246, 35 Baird’s Sq, William Brown Household; database, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 8 January 2017); citing Original data: Scotland. 1891 Scotland Census. Reels 1-409. General Register Office for Scotland, Edinburgh, Scotland, Roll: CSSCT1891_224. 
  5. Scotland, “Statutory Marriages 1855-2016,” database, Scotlands People (http://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk : accessed 7 January 2018), marriage entry for William Wood and Mary Brown, 1894, Bothwell in Lanark; citing Statutory Registers no. 625/1 4. 
  6. 1911 census of Scotland, Stirling, St Ninians, Bannockburn, Cowie, p. 26 (stamped), No. of schedule 160, lines 16-23, 22 Wallace Row, William Wood Household; image, Scotland, Scotlands People (http://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk : accessed 7 January 2018). 
  7. Scotland, “Statutory Births 1855-2016, ” database, Scotlands People (http://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk : accessed 7 January 2018), birth entry for Alexander Wood, 1894, Bothwell in Lanark; citing Statutory Registers no. 625/1 90. 
  8. Scotland, “Statutory Deaths 1855-2016,” database, Scotlands People (http://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk : accessed 7 January 2019), death entry for Alexander Wood, 1895, Bothwell in Lanark; citing Statutory Registers no. 625/1 41. 
  9.  Scotland, “Statutory Deaths 1855-2016,” database, Scotlands People (http://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk : accessed 7 January 2019), death entry for Janet Brown Wood, 1912, St Ninians in Stirling; citing Statutory Registers no. 488/1 166. 
  10. Scotland, “Statutory Births 1855-2016, ” database, Scotlands People (http://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk : accessed 7 January 2018), birth entry for Mary Wood, 1913, St Ninians in Stirling; citing Statutory Registers no. 488/1 356. 
  11. Scotland, “Statutory Deaths 1855-2016,” database, Scotlands People (http://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk : accessed 7 January 2019), death entry for Mary Wood, 1915, St Ninians in Stirling; citing Statutory Registers no. 488/1 2. 
  12.  Scotland, “Statutory Births 1855-2016, ” database, Scotlands People (http://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk : accessed 7 January 2018), birth entry for Alexander Wood, 1910, St Ninians in Stirling; citing Statutory Registers no. 488/1 134. 
  13.  Scotland, “Statutory Deaths 1855-2016,” database, Scotlands People (http://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk : accessed 7 January 2019), death entry for Alexander Wood, 1910, St Ninians in Stirling; citing Statutory Registers no. 488/1 53. 

29 thoughts on “52 Ancestors – ALL the Babies of Mary Brown Wood”

  1. Carnwath and Lesmahagow connections in my tree too. Scotland’s People is a great resource but can get expensive. Especially when you’re searching for a common name!

    1. Yes! Very expensive for those common names. I try to make use of findmypast and Ancestry to help narrow things down before I purchase a record for someone with a common name, but sometimes, you just can’t find enough and you waste credits. Sigh. But the good news is that there is a scotlandspeople! I wish more places in the world had something like it. Thanks for stopping by and saying hi! 🙂

  2. Amazing work, Amberly—what dedication. What heartbreak. Poor Mary. I also ache for the parents of all those babies who died so young.

    1. Thank you. I don’t know how they did it back then. So many childhood and infant deaths. Every so often I find a family without childhood death and I am so happy for them!

  3. Amberly, I read this post with tears in my eyes, and my head nodding at how familiar your search is. I’ve done the same thing several times — usually prompted by a disruption in the naming pattern that has convinced me of missing children — and have, like you, found more than my heart could bear. It was a revelation to discover than later children were given dead siblings’ names though; I’m still a bit freaked out by that.

    1. Oh Su, we are kindred spirits, aren’t we? It is difficult to describe the mixed feelings of heartbreak and honor that come on a journey like this. Sorrow for the mother’s pain, but such a deep feeling of respect for their hardships as you find their babies and tell their stories. But you, my friend, seem to know exactly what I mean. ❤️

      And yes, the reuse of names takes some getting used to doesn’t it? I’ve had a few beginners think they were helpful by pointing out two children with the same name as if I made a mistake. There is always more to learn. 😉

  4. I don’t like to leave the missing/unknown infants alone either. They deserve remembrance as much as those who lived long, full lives, maybe more so. There were times when people didn’t even name and infant until they were five years old or so, just called them “Baby” (there were three of those in one of my spouse’s cousin’s family – so sad). I’ve been working on my mother’s paternal line the last several months and there are those gaps which signify a missing child or miscarriage. Since there was no birth control, it wasn’t unusual for babies to appear every 1-2 years. It is also sad to find a child in their mid- to late teens gone, no record of marriage, and then to find there’s a memorial on Find A Grave, or the number of children born to children living increases. One of my several times great uncles lost every child born within a couple months of the birth and the last were fraternal twins, a boy and girl who didn’t live but a day.
    I’ve also been fortunate that the most common names are not heavily represented in either my or my spouse’s or his ex’s lines, but those few that are can be very frustrating. I’m pretty much stuck using whatever is available with no cost, which I know is limiting what information I need. However, I made incredible progress once the number of documents, sources, etc. have become available on line and I try to take advantage of the free days on the various pay websites.
    Oh, yes, the rabbit holes, sometimes it’s a good thing to jump down one, the prize is often worth it.

    1. I have a hard time understanding the common nature of childhood death historically. I know it was common, but wrapping my mind around what that was like is a different story.

      I love finding the missing babies and telling their story like you do. What I left out of this post is that she also lost a son in Flanders. So much loss and grief. 😢

        1. I completely agree. I imagine they never forgot, but probably didn’t talk about it much. Childhood death was so common back then. (But maybe I’m wrong…) I’m sorry for your family’s loss. Every young death is so painful. <3

  5. A compelling but tragic story. I cannot imagine struggling through the deaths of those children! You did great detective work. Now those little ones will not be forgotten.

  6. I love that you’re doing #52ancestors, too! Your compelling story of tracking down Mary Brown’s missing babies is a reminder to me that I have a bunch of ScotlandsPeople searching to do as well. Thanks for the reminder of the naming convention pattern – it’s not infallible for my line but I know they named their children that way, so it makes sense that THEY were named according to that pattern.

    1. Thank you, Anne! I’m glad I could serve as a reminder. 🙂 Good luck tracking things down. In my family, they were pretty good about following the naming pattern up until about 1905-ish. Most of the time when I think they didn’t follow it, I’m just missing someone who I later find. I am always fascinated to help others with Scottish research and see how closely their family followed the naming pattern.

  7. Update on Mary Brown born 1915. She died, single, aged 18 at 54d, Fallin, Stirlingshire, Scotland from phthisis. I have added her death and certificate onto my tree on Ancestry UK.

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