The Mystery of Mary's Cleughheads

Ian Shankland, UK

In Family History or Fairy Story? I wrote about the difficulties I found researching my own family line - my research stopped at an entry in the Birth Register of Applegarth, Dumfriesshire, for my great-grandfather, which misspelt the name and omitted any parentage information:

Register entry

This was a brake on my progress - but not to my interest or imagination. Was the birth illegitimate, as the father's name was completely left out? Some of the other entries in the same register were marked as illegitimate, and this one wasn't. And why was the mother's Christian name not given? and her surname misspelt? Was the mother perhaps a stranger to the parish - she had had her baby there but didn't live there - and the clerk didn't know her full name? And who was Mary, where was Cleughheads, and why was it referred to as Mary's Cleughheads?

I thought that a lot of the mystery would be solved when I got William's marriage certificate, of 1858: this gave both parents' names, as William Shankland (deceased), and Janet Martin. But despite extensive searching I totally failed to find either a death record for William Shankland at any time prior to 1858, or a marriage record for his marriage to Janet Martin.

My only remaining clue was "Mary's Cleughheads". I had no idea what this meant. The Censuses for the Applegarth area show that Cleughheads was a house - or to be more exact, two houses, known as Cleughheads East and West or as Cleughheads Upper and Lower. The Applegarth Registers have several entries for events at Cleughheads involving Shanklands:

1821, Jan 23: Death of Mary Shankland, Cleughheads, aged 80
1827, Feb 8: Birth of William, son of - and - Shanklin, at Mary's Cleughheads
1832, Jan 1: Marriage of Wm Hastie in Kirkmichael and Agnes Shankland in Cleughheads of this parish
1832, Feb 20: Death of John Shankland, Cleughheads, aged 89.
1839, Jan 23: Death of Mrs. Shankland snr, Mary's Cleughheads, aged 91

This indicates that a Shankland family occupied the house for a period of about twenty years or so in the early part of the 19th Century. One would assume that the mysterious William must be connected with this family.

The next piece in the puzzle comes from a newspaper cutting from the Dumfries Standard of September 1854. In the "Deaths" section, it reports:

At the Grape Inn, Whitesands, Dumfries, on 18th inst, in her 80th year, Janet Corrie, affectionate spouse of the late Mr. William Shankland, Innkeeper, formerly farmer, Cleughhead, in the Parish of Applegarth. Much respected by a wide circle of friends.

This on its own doesn't get us any further forward, as we can't tie up either William or Janet with anyone mentioned in the Parish Registers. But a third piece of evidence is provided, rather unexpectedly, by a Memorial Inscription in Terregles Parish in Kirkcudbrightshire, near the Dumfriesshire border:

Here lyes John Shankland in Kirkland in this parish
who departed this life March 7 1752 aged 56 years.
John Shankland
died in Cleughhead Applegirth [sic] Feb 19 1832 aged 90 years.
Also Janet Carson his spouse
died at same place 3rd March 1839 aged 91 years.
Also William Shankland his son
died in Dumfries Oct 20 1849 aged 75 years
And Robert and Helen
children of the above William Shankland
who died young.
Also Janet Corrie
spouse to the above William Shankland
who died at Dunfries 20 Sep 1854 aged 80 years.

The last inscription on this stone clearly identifies the same person as the newspaper cutting - Janet Corrie the wife of William Shankland. But the stone also identifies William Shankland as the son of John Shankland and Janet Carson; and the death dates of John Shankland and Janet Carson allow us to tie them in with the entries in the Parish Register given above. So "Mrs. Shankland snr." who died in 1839, is Janet Carson; she is known as "senior" because there is a Mrs. Shankland junior, i.e. her daughter-in-law Janet Corrie, living at the same place.

Now, this is really significant progress, as both these couples are well represented in the IGI, with entries for their marriages and for the births of their children! This means that we can start drawing up a family tree:

Family Tree

This family seem to have been quite mobile. John Shankland and Janet Carson were probably born in Terregles or Troqueer; they married in Troqueer and their ten children were all born there, but they died at Cleughheads and their memorial inscription is in Terregles. Their son William married in Troqueer, but he and his wife obviously lived at various times in Annan (where their first child was born), Kirkmichael (where Jean and Robert were born), then presumably Cleughheads with their parents, and finally in Dumfries.

Mary's Cleughheads

Why did they move to Cleughheads? The first entry in the Applegarth Parish Register for Cleughheads may give the clue to this: it shows the death in 1821 of Mary Shankland, aged 80. This may indeed have been the "Mary" whose name is associated with the house in the references to "Mary's Cleughheads", especially if she had been living there a long time. Was she married? - i.e. was she a Shankland by birth, or by marriage? The subsequent entries in the Register for a "Mrs.Shankland" may imply that she wasn't.

Searches in our database show that there was a Marion or Mary Shankland born, in Terregles, in 1740, who would obviously have been 80 in 1820/1821, and who was the elder sister of a John Shankland born in Terregles in 1742. These dates and place tie up so well with the family tree above that it is really tempting to suppose that this brother and sister, both born in Terregles, were the John Shankland who married Janet Carson and the Mary Shankland who lived and died at Mary's Cleughheads. What could be more natural than for John to move in with his sister in Cleughheads? especially if, in the early 1800s, she was getting old and maybe infirm before her death in 1821 at the age of 80. If we were to accept this, then we have reached one further generation back, to a William Shankland, father of both John and Mary, who was born I estimate about 1715. This in turn may be the link to the John Shankland in Kirkland mentioned on the memorial inscription at Terregles - died in 1752 aged 56, so born around 1695 - who could in turn have been William's father. We will probably never find any evidence to prove this!

Well, this is all quite impressive, but how does William, my ancestor, who was born in 1827, relate to this family tree? So far, the only thing that connects him to the two generations in the chart shown above is that they, and he, were at Cleughheads at the same time.

The breakthrough was recent, and totally unexpected. The following Death Certificate was included in a batch transcribed and sent to us by Bill Shankland of Glasgow as part of his extensive research in New Register House in Edinburgh:

Parish: Glasgow, Gorbals 644(12)/815 - 3rd September 1875
Ann Shankland, Flour-scone maker, single, aged 72, died on 3rd September 1875 at 68 Norfolk Street, Glasgow.
Father: William Shankland, farmer, deceased.
Mother: Janet Shankland, maiden surname Corrie, deceased.
Cause of death: cardiac disease.
Informant: Janet Martin, sister.

This certificate positively identifies Ann Shankland as the daughter of William Shankland and Janet Corrie, who we know lived at Cleughheads during the time we're interested in - and it also identifies Janet Martin as her sister! We already had a record of a Janet Shankland marrying a Matthew Martin in 1840 in Glasgow, but we had no way of connecting her with the family above. In the Scottish records we have already seen that Janet, Jane, Jean and even Jessie are used interchangeably, so it seems that Janet Martin is the fourth child of William Shankland and Janet Corrie, shown above as Jean. We had been searching for a Janet Shankland nee Martin; we have found a Janet Martin nee Shankland.

The conclusion is uncomfortable ... if I am descended from an illegitimate child of Janet Shankland before she married Matthew Martin, do I really have a claim to the Shankland surname at all? Am I going to be drummed out of the Shankland One-Name Group? Readers, I am at your mercy!

Ian Shankland, July 1995