Unraveling the John Boles Mystery – Conclusion

BOLES, John Thompson & Christina, headstone

John Thompson Boles & Christina Montgomery Boles headstone, Stellawood Cemetery, Durban, Kwazulu-Natal.  Photograph by Maureen Kruger for the Gravestones in South Africa project on the eGGSA website.

John Boles is my 3rd great granduncle.  The disappearance of his entire family from Scotland in 1890 has been a mystery to me for several years.  With the discovery of the existence of his possible estate file, and the microfilm containing that file, I ordered the film from BYU and looked forward to learning new details that might finally answer my two big questions:

When did John Boles leave Scotland for South Africa?


Why did John Boles move his entire family of 9 to South Africa?


After ordering the microfilm containing his possible estate file, life got busy and I didn’t make it over to BYU to view the file before RootsTech.  So, I decided to look up the file while in Salt Lake City at the FHL.

To my utter delight, I found both John’s 27 page file and Christina’s 2 page file very quickly and made several discoveries.  The important first discovery was that they contained information that confirmed these estate files were about my John and Christina Boles.

MONTGOMERY, Christina, 1927 Estate File

Christina Montgomery Boles’ death notice.

The biggest discovery was that John and Christina had two children after they settled in South Africa – Alice and John.  They are listed as children numbered 10 and 11 on Christina’s death notice.  Child number 12, Isabella Miller, belongs in position 3.

I also learned that John owned land, several pieces of very nice land.


1930 map of Durban Harbour, from the collection of Allan Jackson.  Used with permission.

At the time of his death in 1935, John owned land that was part of the Farm Sea View.  This development is found west of Durban Bay just north of the sizable Clairmont Estate.

In addition to the land, John owned shares in several different mines.

He also had quite a list of movable property, nice furnishings, a piano, and many other possessions acquired during the years he lived in South Africa.

John and Christina’s estate files did not enlighten me on when they came to South Africa, but they did open my eyes as to why they came.

In Scotland, John was a coal miner.  This was not a life that afforded opportunity.  He would never own land.  His daily existence was hard and his earnings were meager.  His children would work from a young age and live a similar life.

In studying the estate files of John, Christina, and their children, I discovered that the entire family experienced a much better life, financially, in South Africa than they ever would have experienced in Scotland.  They helped manage mines and stores.  They owned land and homes and movable property of value, as well as shares in several mines.

This knowledge is bittersweet for me.  They went from being the poor workers to managing the poor workers.  My understanding of South African history and apartheid is limited, but it’s broad enough to know that my Boles family benefited from this cruel system.  I am happy that they were able to experience more comfort and safety in their new life but I am also saddened to know that it came at the expense of others.  History is complicated.

When they came is still a bit of a mystery.  I reviewed the documents I currently hold for this family and have this timeline:

  • 4 July 1889, Agnes Smellie Boles is born in Holytown, Lanark, Scotland and her father John is the informant.
  • 18 February 1890, John Boles dies in Holytown, Lanark, Scotland.  The informant is not his father John Boles, but his uncle Alexander Boles.  It is possible that John has already left Scotland for South Africa at this point.
  • 5 November 1890, the 7 living Boles children travel to Natal, South Africa aboard the Methven Castle, traveling with Chas M Boles.  A recently found record indicates that their father John Boles, residing in Dundee, was the surety name for the children.

John left Scotland sometime after 4 July 1889 and before 5 November 1890.  While I haven’t found an immigration record for John or his wife Christina, I know that neither of them traveled to South Africa with the children.  Did they come together?

My original goal in learning more about John Boles was to hopefully learn more about his parents, my 4th great grandparents.  Unfortunately, learning the end of John Boles’ life did not add new information about his parents.  I did learn more about John, Christina, and their children.  I do feel a sense of closure for their family, but as is the case with most research, I now have more questions than when I started.  Fortunately the questions are not essential to my research so I will be able to put them away and move on to other members of the Boles family.

It was a fitting end to find an image of John and Christina’s headstone pictured at the top of this post.

This research journey from Scotland to South Africa that John and Christina took me on deserves two follow-up posts – one about FamilySearch records and one about South African records found in various places online.

Happy Thursday, I hope you make a fantastic genealogy discovery today!



Shout Out!

Alice Elizabeth Grant Cheney Funeral Home Record, California, San Francisco Area Funeral Home Records, 1895-1985, accessed at

Alice Elizabeth Grant Cheney Funeral Home Record, California, San Francisco Area Funeral Home Records, 1895-1985, accessed at

Happy Monday!  I have a happy genealogy story for you.  A shout out for a new-to-me record collection, and for kind strangers.

Thursday I was preparing a class on Family History Basics.  Part of the class was a demo portion within Family Tree on FamilySearch.  I clicked around in my own tree and found an area that was missing sources, facts and some people.  The person related to me was James W. Cheney.  In the tree he had a wife name Alice G. Tinsley.  Alice wasn’t jiving with the other records I was finding.  I was pretty sure Alice didn’t belong with my James.  But I was also sure that someone named Alice Grant did belong with James.

I did some checking in findagrave and there was an Alice Elizabeth Grant Cheney.  She seemed like a pretty good potential match for the Alice belonging to my James.  I did some basic searching and couldn’t find an obit.  I was hoping an obit would tie up some loose ends.

This is when I thought I would try something out.  I posted a help request in Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness on Facebook.  I asked for help locating an obituary to match the Alice Elizabeth Grant Cheney on findagrave.

Within a few minutes a kind stranger had found the funeral home record above.  This fabulous record was step one in proving that my James was not married to Alice G. Tinsley but was married to Alice Elizabeth Grant.  Isn’t that record amazingly detailed?  I love that the obit is at the bottom of the page!  I was however a bit embarrassed that I hadn’t found this myself.  Somehow I missed it.  (Insert sheepish head shake here.)  But a story with a happy ending nonetheless.

So – two big shot outs.

One – Hooray for the new-to-me collection, “California, San Francisco Area Funeral Home Records, 1895-1985“!

Two – Hooray for kind strangers willing to help at Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness!

But also, hooray for being able to clear up the Alice confusion.  I love a good puzzle.  I love it even more when I solve it.



I Know Where Mary is Standing!


A few weeks ago I wrote about John Boles, my 3rd great granduncle who just up and disappeared.

And then the coolest thing happened!

I got an email from a stranger named Helen.  She came across my blog post and got curious.  She decided to do a little digging and she found my family.

In South Africa.

I had not even considered South Africa before.  She sent me a few documents she had found and I happily reviewed them and updated my tree with her excellent and accurate information.  She also mentioned that she lives in Carluke, Scotland and would be happy to help in the future if I needed anything.

I instantly thought of this photo of my great grandmother.

Mary Brown Young, Scotland.

Mary Brown Young, Scotland.

I told Helen about the photo and asked if she might be able to recognize where Mary is standing.  She replied that Carluke is a very small place and it’s quite possible she would be able to recognize it and to please send it to her along with Mary’s birth date.

So I did.  I included Mary’s birth date and the address at which she was born – Chapel Street.  I clicked send and wondered if I might finally know where Mary was standing.

A few hours later I received Helen’s delightful reply:

“I recognised it the moment I saw it, and when I saw the address Chapel Street I knew exactly where it was.”

She included photos from google maps.  I compared and sure enough, Mary is standing in front of 76 Chapel Street, Carluke.

I finally know where Mary is standing!

She is standing in front of her home.  The home in which she was born.  And that home is still standing.

One day, I hope to stand in front of this home too.

Once again I am overwhelmingly grateful for the 52 Ancestors challenge.  My one post led to a kind stranger solving two of my genealogy mysteries.  Thank you Amy and thank you to my new friend Helen.  I am so grateful.

Leave a comment

Answer to “Who Is On That Swing?”

Estelle Duval on swing

Estelle Maffit, Montana

I originally posted this photo with the comment that I wasn’t sure if this was in fact my great grandmother Estelle.  At the prompting of a reader I reposted the photo with some additional images to compare.  In that post I listed facts and photos but did not share my thoughts.

You, my wonderful readers, all believe this image is in fact Estelle.  Thank you for the input.

Now, my thoughts.  When the photo loaded in the original post, I was surprised.  It was the largest I had seen this photo so far and I was struck with how different Estelle looked from all of the other photos I have.  Something about it reminded me of her older sister Hi.

Then, as I gathered other photos and looked at their faces carefully I drew the same conclusion that you all did.  I believe this sweet photo is of Estelle.  I think the things about her face that caused my initial surprise are the way her brows are scrunched and the roundness of her cheeks.  The brows are likely scrunched because of sun.  Her rounder face is probably attributable to her younger age, position of her head and the lighting.  And of course, Estelle and Hi are sisters so they are bound to favor each other in different positions and settings.

Thank you for weighing in.  And thank you Deborah for prompting me to share.  It was a good exercise.  I drew my own conclusion, kept it to myself and then got oodles of confirmation from each of you.  Thank you all!

This small photo that I have loved well, will continue to be a treasure I can attribute to my great grandmother Estelle.


Ancestor Story – James Young and his convenient death date – 52 Ancestors

YOUNG, James, 1870 Death Record

Death record for James Young, middle entry.

A few weeks ago I wrote about James Young (1824-1895).  He was my end of line individual until I finally found his death record and learned the names of his parents, James Young and Janet Robertson.  I wondered if my new James Young was also the son of a James Young.

Well, it turns out he wasn’t.  The backward streak of James Youngs was finally broken when again I found a death record.  This James Young was considerate enough to die after civil registration started in Scotland.  This means his death record has the names of his parents.  Hooray!  I pushed the line back another generation to Thomas Young and Janet Ferguson.

I still have more research to do on James and his family.  So far I have identified eight children with a few suspicious gaps.  I know that he was born 26 October 1800 in Renfrew, Renfrew, Scotland to Thomas Young and Janet Ferguson.  He married Janet Robertson.  His first child that I know of was born in 1824.  In 1841 he is living in Renfrew with his wife and seven children working as a Cotton Hand Loom Weaver.  1851 finds him at the same address and occupation living with his wife and six children.  In 1861 he is living in Renfrew with his wife and two daughters working as a labourer.  He died 8 January 1870 in Renfrew.

Without this death record I would have really struggled to find as much as I have so far.  So Grandpa James, thank you for living fifteen years past the beginning of civil registration.  Fifteen years…  I wonder if I might be able to squeak in one more generation?  Maybe Thomas or Janet lived past 1855?  I haven’t checked yet.  I think I need to click on over and give it a look!



James Young on Repeat

Screen shot 2014-05-12 at 11.19.01 AM

The evening of Mother’s Day brought some research time.  Some super fabulous, tree growing, exciting research time.  See the end of the Young line up there?  The couple handily highlighted in yellow with an asterisk?  James Young and Janet Robertson?  Yes them.

They did not used to be there!


Their son, James Young was my previous end of line individual.  The last time I worked on him was many years ago when I was a fresh faced, tentative researcher.  I had gently attempted to find his death record and was quickly overwhelmed with the sheer number of James Youngs there are in Scotland.  I set it aside for other research projects.

Well, last week I was tidying up some things in Family Tree on FamilySearch and noticed that someone had made a mess with James Young (1824-1895).  I cleaned up the mess and began sourcing James and his family.  Sunday evening I completed attaching the sources I had for James.  I decided to re-look at my previous searches for his death record.  They were not good.  I didn’t use very good search parameters and the results were massive.  No wonder I set it aside.  I’m older, wiser and a far more seasoned researcher now.  So I started a new search and found his death record on scotlandspeople after purchasing one list and one record – that came to $2.37 for a long desired death record.  His death record contained exactly what I needed to verify it was a record for my James and it had his parent’s names!  I just pushed my Young line back another generation!!  I was able to go on and find his birth record in the OPR (Old Parish Registers) and a possible match for him with his parents and siblings in the 1841 Scottish Census.


But seriously?!  Another James Young?  And Janet Robertson?  Oh boy.  Where are the unusual names when I could use them?

It seems I descend from a loooong line of James Youngs.  My great grandmother Mary Brown Young even had a brother named James Young who died at the age of 7.  The name James Young stopped there for my line.  That is FIVE James Youngs in a row that I know of.  I descend from lots of oldest sons.  I wonder if my new James Young is also the son of a James Young?

I plan to find out.

Do you have any lines with common names repeating for multiple generations?

note – I have been meaning to write a post about scotlandspeople for many months now.  It is one of my FAVORITE websites.  This post is reawakening the niggling.  I need to do that.  But May is a very busy month for me so in the meantime, if you have Scottish ancestors and you have never used scotlandspeople – IT IS FABULOUS, give it a try!


Ancestor Story – Don, Jason, Ira Stearns Hatch, & A Tangle of Cousins – 52 Ancestors

jason, baby - b&wJason

My husband Jason isn’t a genealogist.  It’s not that he doesn’t find it interesting, he does.  But he’s busy and doesn’t love it like I do, so it’s not a big priority for him.

Two weeks ago I started a new group of people in my Family History Class at church.  He decided to join in.  The first week is really basic and talks mostly about why we do family history.  This past week we discussed an article and then took a tour of the FamilySearch website.

Several hours later my husband was mentioning something he noticed in the photos section on FamilySearch so we pulled it up and looked at photos of his ancestors that other family members have uploaded.  This was the first time I had really looked in his tree.  I noticed a name that was familiar for some reason – Ira Stearns Hatch.  It only took a moment to decide that I knew where I had seen that name.


I called my sister and asked if she would know a name from her husband’s tree if I mentioned it.  She did me one better and pulled out her husband Don’s fan chart to find the very name I was calling about – Ira Stearns Hatch!

A moment of calculating later and this is my conclusion:

  • Don & Jason are brothers-in-law & 4th cousins once removed.
  • My sister Tara & I are – of course – sisters, but also 4th cousins once removed-in-law.
  • Our children are 1st cousins & 5th cousins once removed.
  • Don is my kids uncle but also their 4th cousin twice removed.
  • Jason is my sister’s kids uncle but also their 5th cousin.

Such a fun discovery!

Ira Stearns HatchIra Stearns Hatch

Ira Stearns Hatch is not my ancestor but it turns out he is the ancestor of my children & my nieces and nephews.

My husband is now wondering how many of his friends he might be related to.  I heard recently about the Are we related? app.  I have a feeling if I tell Jason about it he just might start asking everyone to log in and see if they are somehow related.  🙂