Any American who attempts genealogical research of Scottish forebears is likely to run into a records gap when going back before 1850. The quantity and quality of census records, church records, newspapers, and other written documentation is poor -- for instance, the UK did not begin a census until 1841 and Scottish civil records (marriages, births, etc.) weren't really formalized until 1855. In the U.S., record-keeping tended to be somewhat better but there are still many gaps.
For James Lamont, we have a copy of his newspaper obituary in New York state, which was a trove of information, as well as his death record (kept on file in a small town in western New York) which listed his parents' names -- James Lamont and "Ann Mechie." Through the obituary and New York state and federal census records I was able to determine the year of birth (1814, most likely between January and May). While the obituary confirmed he was from Scotland, the only information about where in Scotland he came from was a reference in an 1870s "who's who" of Niagara County, New York, which listed "Knearden" as the family's place of origin in Scotland.
Here are some of the problems I encountered:
- There is no town called "Knearden" in Scotland that I could locate.
- Most Lamonts came from western Scotland -- Argyll. Family lore stated he came from Aberdeen, a small city in the east. But that did not make sense, considering James Lamont took up farm work when he came to America. He did not seem like a city fellow.
- James Lamont was Catholic, an extremely tiny segment of the Scotland's population in the early 1800s (the entire Catholic population of Scotland was estimated at about 30,000 people in the mid-1700s, or about 2% of the population)
- "Mechie" was probably misspelled, and perhaps a variant of Mackie, Mackaye or McKie.
After spending years trying to crack the "brick wall" I contacted the New England Historical Genealogical Society and commissioned their experienced genealogists to see if they could go further. Here's what they found:
We began our research by looking for the birth of James Lamont in Scotland. We were not able to find his record and decided to broaden our scope. Next, we looked for Scottish birth records for children of James and Ann (Mechie) Lamont. We were able to find one birth record for a couple of this name. Donald Lamond, son of James and Anne (Michie) Lamond of Ardoch, was born and baptized on 13 March 1814. Donald was baptized in St. Nathalan Roman Catholic Church in Ballater. The village of Ballater is in the parish of Glenmuick, Tullich and Glengairn in the Kincardine O'Neil district in Aberdeenshire [Aberdeen County], Scotland. Ardoch is located about 2 miles north- west of Ballater. It is possible “Knearden” is referring to the Kincardine O'Neil district. ... Next we turned to passenger arrival records. If James Lamont arrived in New York City about 1850-1851 it was before Castle Garden or Ellis Island were in operation. However, no arrival records was found for James or Helen/Ellen (____) Lamont in currently available digitized sources. It is possible the couple travelled via Canada to Niagara County, New York. Unfortunately, records for this time period in Canada are sparse and nothing was found for the family.Interesting. The "Knearden" misspelling was plausible -- I could see the editor of a rural "who's who" in New York making the mistake, especially if the source had a heavy accent or wasn't sure of the spelling himself. This could also take care of the issue of James Lamont being a farmer - he wasn't from Aberdeen city, but rather a very rural area of the highlands in Aberdeenshire, a county-like district reaching deep into the Scottish Highlands. Even more interesting was the James Lamond/Ann Michie couple. I had been searching on "Lamont" and ignoring variations, but "Lamond" is actually a common variation. "Michie" is a rare Scottish surname.
Nevertheless, there were still problems with the NEHGS findings. This couple only had one child, born the same year, but with a different name (Donald, not James). What was going on here?
I searched the records of Scotlands People for other children born to this couple. Nothing. This was odd, as most families at the time tended to have many children.
What about this place called Ardoch? It was listed on historical maps:
shown in this photo collection. It's one of about a dozen abandoned hamlets a few miles north of Ballater in the valley of the river Gairn, known as Glen Gairn or Glengairn. It's not far from Balmoral, the British royal retreat. Until the mid-1800s most of the people of Glengairn were Catholic, in a mostly Protestant Scotland. They were protected by the fact that Glengairn was so remote and several powerful landowners in the area were themselves Catholic. But changes in the economy of the area -- including the creation of "deer forests" for nobles, the expansion of sheep farming, and the sales of large tracts of land -- encouraged many to move elsewhere or emigrate. A large number of Glengairn inhabitants emigrated to Australia, as well as some to Canada. And, perhaps, some to the United States.
As for the origins of the Lamonts in Aberdeenshire, I found this account taken from a 1938 clan history (The Lamont Clan: 1235-1935):
The earliest appearance of a Lamont in the Braemar district was in 1483 when an Archibald was in trouble for cattle lifting. Tradition insists that the first of the clan in that airt was a daughter of a Laird of Lamont who was married about this time to a McGregor of Inverey. Following the old Celtic custom of leine-chneis she took her retainers with her, and so was founded a new branch of the clan still to the fore to this day.Braemar is located to the west of Ballater, perhaps 10 miles distant -- certainly not out of the realm of possibility for Lamonts from Braemar to settle in the hills north of Ballater.
"Lamond" is apparently a medieval spelling, and the same 1938 account explains more history about the Braemar branch and their connection with the main body of the Lamonts in western Scotland:
(In 1682) the Braemar branch of the clan, realising that Archibald [Lamont] was now a power in the land, applied to him for recognition and protection. Their petition, which is still to the fore in the National Library, is striking evidence of the strength of the bond between chief and clansmen though living beyond the ken of one another. "Ther will be in this countrey of the bray of Marr," it commences, " about fourtie men of our name of MackLamond trewlie come from your honor's country long since and be reason of some accidents hes turned our right name as is knowne to be verie usuall in highland countreys. Wee all of our race knowes our owine genelogie our selfes. Wee live heir honestlie altho' not rich nor in great power be reison we want on above the rest as a cheiffe to owine us & keip us unwronged." The bearer of this appeal, which must have been personally presented at Ardlamont was to explain in detail a particular grievance: “…all these who descended of him were commonly called Gordones, altho' the right name is Lamond. Otheres of us be reason of our predecessor's blackness are called Mcgildui.”I called a local historian, who confirmed that the Lamonts were "thick around Braemar," not so much around Ardoch or Ballater. There were not any census records of Ardoch or the other forgotten hamlets in the Glen Gairn area, north of Ballater.
One thing I have learned in years of doing research is always look at the original source -- sometimes clues lie in the records themselves which may not be apparent from database searches or second-hand information. So I went to Scotlands People and downloaded an image of the baptism of Donald Lamond, born to James and Ann Michie and recorded by St. Nathalan Catholic church in Ballater:
|Transcription listed below|
I was curious. What was on the other side of the notebook of the baptism list from St. Nathalan? I downloaded it from Scotland's People:
|Transcription listed below|
Wow. Was the elder Donald Lamond of Shenval who sponsored infant Donald Lamond the same person as the father of James Lamond? Probably not, as on April 6 1814 another birth was recorded for Donald Lamond of Lary and his wife Elspet Lymon. But considering the closeness of the three hamlets (Ardoch, Shenval and Lary) and the common forenames (two James and three Donalds) suggests some family connection -- most likely brothers and cousins -- is possible, or even likely.
Here are some other hypotheses: Was it possible that infant Donald Lamond had a middle name James, or the infant James Lamond of Shenval was for some reason brought up by James Lamond and Ann Michie of Ardoch? In the 1841 Censuses for the Parish of Crathie and Braemar and the Parish of Glenmuick, Tullich & Glengairn there are no traces of Donald Lamont or Lamond, but there are many households in which infants or young children are living with adults with different surnames -- perhaps relatives, or paid guardians, or orphans. Here is one household in the Glenmuick, Tullich & Glengairn census from 1841:
Enumeration District 5: From the junction of the Gairn with the Dee up the North bank of the Dee until opposite Terquach; thence to the top of the hill above Terquach; then east along the top of the hills above Terquach Micras & Gaelic in a straight line until it reach the Gairn at a point west of Culsh.These are hypotheses, not definite answers. Still, the origins of this family loosely match the data we have from James Lamont of Niagara County, NY. The birth year of 1814 matches, and there were no other James Lamonts or Lamonds born that year. James Lamond and Ann Michie were the only couple in Scotland having a similar name to the parents on the Niagara County death certificate -- I did extensive searches of the Scotland's People database to see if any other couples with similar names were recorded, and came up empty. And then there's the family lore, which has the family coming from Aberdeen and the Niagara County book of local notables which lists "Knearden" but is very likely to a misspelling of "Kincardine."
Euphemia Christie 70
Jane [Christie] 50
Jane McHardy 25
Lewis Symon 1
I feel there is a family connection, but more research is needed. The smoking gun could come in several ways:
- Another paper record from Scotland, the U.S. or Canada which confirms something about James' origins.
- A document from the U.S. that states James' exact birthday -- if I can match it with one of the dates in the St. Nathalan records for March 2014, I would have confirmation of the line.
- A DNA match with someone descended from the Aberdeenshire Lamonts/Lamonds. I started this line of research but unfortunately not many Lamont descendents from anywhere are in the 23andme or GEDMatch databases. (Note: if you have Lamont/Lamond/Michie names from Aberdeenshire in your tree, and use genetic genealogy tools, please search for my 23andme profile OR check your GEDmatch kit number against M841892)
- A piece of information from someone reading this blog.
Transcription of St. Nathalan, Ballater, baptism records from November 1813 to autumn 1814:
November 30, 1813Update: I have published additional posts relating to Aberdeeshire here: Ardoch Scotland revisited (2016) and Ardoch, Scotland in 1830: Recreated map and census (2019)
TO Andrew Thomson and Marge Gordon[Tamedour Grashie?] a daughter 27 [Cur] and baptized Anne. Sponsor John Youll and Ann Callanach Fergach
Dec 2 1814
To Alex Durevard and Jannet Farquarson [Dyke-head Corgall] a [daughter] born 28 [Ult] and baptized Elisabeth [ipie] & Jane Farquarson [Cochbridge] Sponsor
Feb 20 1814
TO Alex Lamont and Mary Farquarson [Dalduna Corgark] a daughter born 18 [Curt] and baptized Margaret. Alex and Mary MDonald sponspors.
March 5, 1814
To James McGregor and Jannet Mitchie [Clashindrian PG or “Clashinruich” where Father Lachlan McIntosh had a chapel?] a son born 3rd and baptised James. Donald MKenzie here and Jannet MIntosh sposnors.
March 13 1814
To James Lamond and Anne Michie Ardoch a son born this day and baptized Donald. Sponsor Donald Lamond Lary and Mary Duresand Ardoch.
march 21, 1814
To John McIntosh and Jane Shaw [Tonghaoith] Braemar a son born 20 [Cur] and baptized Alexander. Alex and Shusanna Shaw Corgallie Braemar are sponsors.
March 26 1814
To James MHardy and Jannet Lamond Auchindryne Braemar a daughter born 23 Cur and baptized Marg. John and Jannet Lamont their sponsors.
March 31 1814
To Donald Lamond and Helena Farqu [Ghenvae …] [probably SHENVAL] a son born 28 Cur and baptized James. Sponsor John and Margret Grant, Torran [a hamlet next to Shenval and less than a mile from ARDOCH]
April 5 1814
To John Lamont and Mary Farquarson [Corga] a son born Cur and baptized Donald ipse Marg Durnward Sponsors
April 6 1814
TO Donald Lamond and Elspet Lymon Lary a daughter born & Cur baptized Elspet. James Donald and Marcelly Lamond Sponsors
June 17 1814
To Jane Fleming Aberarder and one calling himself McDonald whom she never saw before or after. A daughter born May 26 and baptized Agnes ipse and Agnes Fleming Tullochnacraig sponsors.
June 18 1814
To Robert McKay and Ann MHardy Cockbridge [Corgar] a son birn this day and baptized George. [William] MKay Glenlivat and Sophia Wallie Cockbridge, sponsors.
To Alex MDougall and Elisabeth Donald, Lary, a daughter born 24 and baptized Jane. Sponsored James Donald and Jane Donald Lary.
July 3, 1814
To Charles Anderson [Loinchork] and Dianna [xxx] from the south both unmarried a son birn March 31 a baptized Robert Stuart sponsors John Callanach and Anne MGregor [Remerafo]
July 20 1814
To James Callanach nd Mary [Symongleach] a son birn 19. Cur and baptized Alex. Sponsors John Fleming and Mary Ferguson [Auchintoul]
July 27 1814
To Callum Keir and Elisabeth MKenzie, Morven, a son born 24 Cur baptised John. Sponsors John Keir Mulloch and Jane MGregor, Morven
Aug X 1814
To Will Callanach and Jannet Coutts [Gleach] a daughter birn this day and baptized Anne. Sponsor Mary Furguson and Charles Coullyty.
August 28 1814
To William and Anne Michie [or Ritchie] Ardoch a daughter born 27 and baptized Mary. Sponsor Donald Coutts [Benebroch] and Mary Reid, Dalfad
Sept 1 1814
TO Donald McDonald and Elisabeth McGregor [Blarglas] a daughter born 28 and baptized Anne. Sponsor Ann xxx MGregor Morven.