52 Ancestors, ancestor story

52 Ancestors – Finding Andrew Brown’s Parents

Thankerton, photo by Frieda Oxenham, used with permission. Originally posted here.


Short lives, lived by people with common names, before civil registration began, are difficult to trace.

Difficult, but not impossible.

My fourth great-grandfather, Andrew Brown, led one of those short lives, with a common name, before civil registration.  Learning his story seemed impossible when I first began researching my Scottish ancestors many years ago.  But it was not, in fact, impossible – just slow and difficult.

For many years, the only trace of Andrew came from the records of his wife and children.  Until I found him on a marriage record, the first record I found in which he appears for an event about his own life.  As years passed, additional bits and pieces were gathered.  Some were promising, others confusing, and plenty were missing.  Last year I found a handful of records that tied it all together.  But I was still missing two highly desired documents.  Just last week, I found one of those two records.  The remaining item, still missing, was for his child.  But the record that was found helped clear up some mystery surrounding that child.  So now it is time to tell the story of Andrew Brown from the beginning.


A Challenging Beginning


Andrew Brown entered this world in 1828 at a disadvantage.  He was born to unmarried parents at a time when illegitimacy was considered shameful.  His baptism record states:


Brown       James Brown in the parish of Liberton and Margaret Thomson in this Parish a natural son named Andrew born August 18th bapd Decemr 21st 1828″1


Natural son.  Not lawful son.  A slightly kinder way to say that Andrew was illegitimate.

My Scottish family members were poor.  They were usually laborers, servants, or miners.  There were many illegitimate births in the Scottish branches of my tree.  Those children, precious to me, but labeled and shamed, were often raised by grandparents.  The mothers did not always go on to marry.  The stigma had a lasting effect.

But for Andrew, his birth did not prevent him from being raised by his mother.  Nor did it prevent his mother from marrying.

Six years after Andrew’s birth, his mother Margaret married John Baillie on the 17th of October 1834 in Wiston and Roberton, Lanark, Scotland.2

While discovering that marriage cheered my heart, finding Margaret, John, their children AND Andrew living together in Wiston and Roberton on the 1841 Census3 filled my heart to bursting.  Not only did John Baillie marry a woman who would have been labeled as a fornicatrix, but he welcomed her young, illegitimate, son into their home.  In my family, that is unprecedented and has been matched only once more.  At least, in the records I have found so far…


Beginning His Family


On the 15th of June 1849, Andrew married Mary Robertson in Wanlockhead, Dumfries, Scotland.4    Andrew was living in the parish of Wiston, Mary in the parish of Sanquhar.  A record for banns can be found in each parish.5

Mary was older, but exactly how much older is difficult to determine.  In reviewing the records of her life, she has an approximate birth year that ranges from 1821-1827 making her somewhere between one and seven years Andrew’s senior.

Andrew and Mary’s first known child is William Brown, born in about 1849 in Muirkirk, Ayr, Scotland.6

In the Spring of 1851, Andrew is found living as a servant in the household of David M Lapraik in Muirkirk and working as an agricultural laborer.7  Mary and William are also in Muirkirk, living in the village.  Mary is listed as a handsewer.8  Both Andrew and Mary are listed as married despite being in separate households.

Andrew and Mary welcomed their second child, Alexander Robertson Brown, 27 September 1851 in Pettinain, Lanark, Scotland.9  I hope this move provided a job and living arrangements that kept the family under the same roof.

Exactly twenty-five months later, a third son, Andrew Brown, was born to Andrew and Mary on 27 October 1853 in Covington and Thankerton, Lanark, Scotland.10  On the baptism record for Andrew, son of Andrew, an address of Mainz is listed.  This becomes very important in the quest to find Andrew Brown’s death record.

At this point in 1853, Andrew and Mary have three known children – William, Alexander, and Andrew.  In FamilySearch, there is a fourth child listed for Andrew and Mary.  A daughter named Catherine, ID# KNHZ-Z8V, who is listed as being born in 1854 in Scotland.  I can find no trace of Catherine.  Is she really their daughter?  I don’t know.


Death & Leaving Mary to an Uncertain Future


Three-hundred-and-sixty-four days after the birth of Andrew, Andrew Brown dies on 26 October 1854 in Covington and Thankerton, Lanark, Scotland.11  That record holds little information and reads:


Octr 26        Andrew Brown, Mains        aged 25


With the overwhelming number of death records for an Andrew Brown born in 1828, the address of Mainz/Mains was a crucial detail to tie this death record to my Andrew Brown.

Twenty-five years is a short life.  Andrew spent his years as an agricultural laborer or ploughman.  For part of those years, he lived in the beautiful area of Covington and Thankerton as seen above.  I am glad to know he lived and worked in such a lovely place.

His death left Mary as the widowed mother of at least three young children.  She would go on to have a daughter named Christina Greenshields Robertson, twenty-eight-and-one-half months after the death of Andrew.12  Like Andrew, Christina was illegitimate.  For many years, other genealogists listed Christina as a Brown, daughter of Andrew and Mary.  But she was not.

Like Andrew’s mother Margaret, Christina’s illegitimate birth did not prevent Mary from going on to have a second marriage and additional children.  But that is Mary’s story, not Andrew’s.

In just twenty-five years, Andrew was able to experience work, marriage, and fatherhood.  I hope that he experienced joy.  I hope that he loved and was loved.

At the end of his life, Andrew left behind a widow and at least three sons.  Those three sons would go on to give him a large posterity.  The last time I counted in 2014, I knew about 169 descendants of Andrew.  As of today, I have identified 188 descendants.  There are likely many, many more, but Andrew left behind sons with the surname of Brown and tracking everyone down has not been simple.

Thank you, Andrew, for being part of my story.  And thank you for helping me find the details of your birth, childhood, and adulthood.  I felt your nudges and now your story has been told.




Happy Monday, I hope you make a fantastic genealogy discovery this week!  Have you considered joining the 52 Ancestors challenge?  You can learn more here.



Thankerton photo originally posted here.



  1. Scotland, “Search Old Parish Registers (OPR) Births and baptisms (1553-1854),” database, Scotlands People (http://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk : accessed 25 May 2017), entry for Andrew Brown baptism, 21 December 1828, Wiston and Roberton Parish; citing OPR Registers no. 660/ 20 24, p. 24 of 130. 
  2. Scotland, “Search Old Parish Registers (OPR) Banns and marriages (1553-1854),” database, Scotlands People (http://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk : accessed 25 May 2017), entry for John Baillie marriage, 17 October 1834, Wiston and Roberton Parish; citing OPR Registers no. 660/ 20 109, p. 109 of 130. 
  3. 1841 Scotland Census, Lanarkshire, Wiston and Roberton, enumeration district (ED) 1, page 14, line 920, Newton Toll, John Baillie Household; database, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 23 January 2018); citing Original data: Scotland. 1841 Scotland Census. Reels 1-151. General Register Office for Scotland, Edinburgh, Scotland. 
  4. Scotland, “Search Old Parish Registers (OPR) Banns and marriages (1553-1854),” database, Scotlands People (http://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk : accessed 25 May 2017), entry for Andrew Brown marriage, 15 June 1849 in Wanlockhead, Banns registered in Sanquhar Parish; citing OPR Registers no. 848/ 20 196, p. 196 of 209. 
  5. Scotland, “Search Old Parish Registers (OPR) Banns and marriages (1553-1854),” database, Scotlands People (http://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk : accessed 23 January 2018), entry for Andrew Brown marriage, 15 June 1849, Wiston and Roberton Parish; citing OPR Registers no. 660/ 20 123, p. 123 of 130. 
  6. 1851 census of Scotland, Ayrshire, Muirkirk, 607/ 2/ 14, p. 14 of 37 (stamped), lines 4-5, Village, Mary Brown Household; image, Scotland, Scotlands People (http://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk : accessed 23 January 2018). 
  7. 1851 census of Scotland, Ayrshire, Muirkirk, 607/ 4/ 11, p. 11 of 15, line 10, 36 Hall, Andrew Brown in Household of David M Lapraik; image, Scotland, Scotlands People (http://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk : accessed 23 January 2018). 
  8. 1851 census of Scotland, Ayrshire, Muirkirk, 607/ 2/ 14, p. 14 of 37 (stamped), lines 4-5, Village, Mary Brown Household; image, Scotland, Scotlands People (http://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk : accessed 23 January 2018). 
  9. Pettinain Parish (Lanarkshire, Scotland), Old Parish Registers OPR 653/1-3, p. 66, Alexander Brown baptism, 2 November 1851; FHL microfilm 1,066,603, item 3. 
  10. Scotland, “Search Old Parish Registers (OPR) Births and baptisms (1553-1854),” database, Scotlands People (http://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk : accessed 5 November 2010), entry for Andrew Brown baptism, 6 November 1853, Covington and Thankerton Parish; citing OPR Registers no. 634/00 0020 43. 
  11. Scotland, “Search Old Parish Registers (OPR) Deaths and burials (1553-1854),” database, Scotlands People (http://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk : accessed 14 July 2009), entry for Andrew Brown death, 26 October 1854, Covington and Thankerton Parish; citing OPR Registers no. 634/ 20 66, p. 66 of 66. 
  12. Scotland, “Statutory Births 1855-2016,” database, Scotlands People (http://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk : accessed 14 July 2009), birth entry for Christina Green (Greenshields on image) Robertson, 12 March 1857, Pettinain in Lanark; citing Statutory Registers no. 653/ 6. 

27 thoughts on “52 Ancestors – Finding Andrew Brown’s Parents”

  1. How sad to die at 25. Isn’t it a shame that those death records don’t include cause of death like so many more modern records do? And a question—was there no prohibition on baptism of an illegitimate child? If not, that seems remarkably progressive in attitude—not visiting the “sins” of the parents on their innocent child.

    1. I think so too – both about dying at 25 and that no cause of death was listed. I am very curious about what lead to his death.

      Great question. I am speaking only from my own research experience in Scottish records (which is considerable as my great grandma was born in Scotland), but I find that most of the time, illegitimate children were baptized and the father was listed on the records. In the rare case when he was not, you can see definite efforts to shield the mother and child from notice. The child might live with the grandparents with a different last name, or the child might be listed as the child of their grandfather with a convoluted representation of their mother on the record (ie actual first name listed, but maiden surname of HER mother listed). The Kirk session (church governing body) would go after fathers of illegitimate children and force them to recognize their children so that those children would not have to rely upon the charity of the church. The child was given the father’s last name and the father was expected to support that child.

      While the children were allowed baptism, there wasn’t much else in the way of progress for those individuals. They would be listed as illegitimate on their death record and sometimes on their marriage record. It was a cloud they never escaped, not even in death.

      1. Thank you so much, Amberly, for that background. Of course, I have no experience with these things, but I find it so interesting how different cultures and religions operate. On the one hand, this is quite progressive since the child could be baptized and since the father was held responsible (though without DNA testing, how could they ever be sure who the father was, if he denied paternity?). On the other hand, to stigmatize that child for life is so cruel. But it was true in many cultures even if there were some differences.

        Judaism treats the issue differently. Here’s a page I found about it—it says it better than I can. https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/the-mamzer-problem/

        Thanks again for answering my question!

        1. So true, it would be challenging to prove paternity back then. I haven’t viewed any of the Kirk Session records myself, so I don’t know for certain how they did it. But a person’s word and honesty were much more highly prized back then so maybe a lot of it had to do with that…?

          Wow! I just read the article at the link you shared. First, I am surprised that children born from adultery or incest are in the same category. Not that the child is EVER at fault, but for the parents, those two types of relationships are not equitable in my eyes. My entire Scottish branch would be in big trouble under Judaic law. (Suddenly I am questioning that phrase – am I using it correctly?)

          In your own tree have you found any instances of children born outside of (or too soon after) marriage? If so, from a genealogist’s standpoint, how did it effect their life and the lives of their descendants?

          1. I think Judaic law is fine, though I usually hear and say Jewish law or Jewish traditions?

            Yes, of course, I have found “illegitimate” children if you mean children born before marriage. But as that article explains, a child born of pre-marital sex where neither parents was married not considered a mamzer. Only those born of adulterous or incestuous relationships (yes, hard to equate those).

            It also seems the main consequence is not being able to marry a Jew. I should read more though.

            1. Thank you for that input, I wonder if I hear the phrase Judaic law at church maybe when we are studying the Old Testament…? It just came right to mind as natural. I’ll have to pay more attention.

              Are the phrases Jewish law and Jewish traditions completely interchangeable? I would imagine there are some traditions that are not law, but I don’t want to assume. 😉

              I must have missed that children born before marriage were not part of the definition of mamzer. Thank you for pointing that out!

              I am fascinated by how religious law and traditions impacted families over time. Some choices and consequences we learn about as genealogists make no sense to us without that religious context. One that I have struggled with is in my Québec research. I come across many children listed as ondoyé. That word “ondoyé” (or “andoyé”) is used where you would normally see the first name of the child on their baptism or burial record. The first few times I saw it I just thought it was a name I hadn’t come across yet. It is not a name but it essentially means that a child was born and it was obvious to all present that the child would not live so an emergency baptism was performed by one the attendants of the birth prior to death. For Catholics, that is a very important distinction from being stillborn because of their belief that baptism during life is required. The very frustrating part is that many priests did not list the gender of the child in those records. Technically they could feminize the word if they chose to “ondoyée” to distinguish the male and female children. Some priests did, but most did not. They just used the masculine “ondoyé” for everyone. I really want to be able to add those children with their gender to my tree when I find them. It feels so hollow to add a child with no gender. Especially when I consider how precious that child would have been to their mother, father, siblings, and grandparents. I want to honor the child and the pain of their immediate family members at their loss. Sadly, I usually cannot. But before I understood the religious traditions in these instances, I was confused and not recording things accurately in my tree.

              1. I think I’ve read about ondoye before—did you blog about it? Or maybe Cathy Meder-Dempsey did?

                Jewish law and Jewish tradition are quite different things. Law is law—supposedly comes from God and must be obeyed (though Jews have fought for centuries over what that means and what the law means and different denominations have different ways of interpreting and applying the “law”). Traditions are just that—not mandatory but practiced for so long that it’s part of our culture. For example, the naming traditions are not law, just tradition whereas the rules for kashrut (dietary laws) are law. Certain traditions about foods we eat on holidays (like doughnuts for Hanukkah) are not law, whereas eating matza during Passover is law.

                But, of course, in modern terms people follow the traditions and the law as they choose, depending on their level of observance.

        2. Here’s one oddity—a child born of a married man and an unmarried woman was NOT a mamzer, but one born of a married woman and an unmarried man was. Apparently men under (ancient) Jewish law were allowed to have more than one wife, so that would not be adultery, whereas women could not have more than one husband, so that relationship would be prohibited.

          1. Oh, that is an oddity. I suppose in the context of men being allowed more than one spouse it does make sense. But it still feels a bit strange. Thank you for the insights!

            1. You’re welcome! I assume the same is/was true in the Mormon church—that only men could have multiple wives, right? It’s probably all from the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible.

              1. Yes, sort of. Women could go on to marry again after divorce or death of a spouse, but only men could have more than one living spouse. Of course, now polygamy is not allowed at all. I think you are right about it all stemming from the Old Testament.

                It’s a good thing I wasn’t born back then (times when polygamy was common and accepted). I don’t consider myself a vocal feminist by today’s standards – but I am definitely a feminist by the actual definition. I believe legal rights, education, occupational opportunities, etc should be equitable and reflect skill and competence of the individual without any bias against gender, race, religion, sexual preference, or ethnicity. But I’m not a fighter, I’m more of a peacemaker and don’t feel entirely comfortable with how extreme opposites sides seem to be going lately. But man, throw me back into days of polygamy, no voting rights, no property rights, lesser educational opportunity, no respectable employment opportunity and I would have been in BIG trouble. I think I would have been a fighter for sure. I feel very blessed to live in this day and age. And so grateful to the courageous women and men who fought for every right and privilege we now enjoy. I know we still have quite a ways to go as a society, but I feel very safe and like I can do anything I decide I want to do.

                1. I am with you on all that as well. I tend to be more argumentative than a peacemaker, but I also hate real conflict. But I can’t imagine living a hundred years ago. Even 50 years ago (and I was alive then) women were not supposed to work outside the home, were not really accepted in many professions, were demeaned and insulted if they asserted themselves, and were expected to defer to men. Yes, things have changed, but as you said, there is still a long way to go. The MeToo movement has made it clear how much women are still mistreated.

                2. Yes! I could not agree more. I am glad that so many women have felt empowered to speak up. We need more rallying around those who are hurting and less shaming.

  2. It seems amazing that you have been able to trace 188 descendants of your Andrew – through three sons who passed on such a common surname – Brown. It is hard to research when the records do not belong to the person of interest. But you pulled it all together nicely.

      1. All I could think of the whole time I was reading this was if you might have found something which would help me with my 2nd great-grandfather William A. W. Dempsey. He lived a bit longer, left more children, but I have no birth, marriage, or death record for him. It’s so frustrating.

  3. I have many Scottish ancestors who were miners, which was a profession looked down upon by many in the time period you mention. Miners developed a culture of their own and many daughters had illegitimate children. The culture as I’ve read about it condoned the “try before you buy” sex before marriage. Many couples with children would eventually marry but not always.

    1. They lived such hard lives, didn’t they? Do you have any favorite resources for this time period? Particularly books? I’m always looking for additional insights into my Scottish ancestors, particularly the miners and servants.

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