Posted by: downtothesea | January 18, 2010

Madness Monday: Remembering To Read What Isn’t There

I have been making myself crazy for a good six months now, trying to find my 3X great grandparents, Owen and Helen (Kelly) McCabe, in the 1851 Scotland census.

Helen (baptized “Lina” and known variously as “Helena,” “Lena,” and “Ellen”) was born in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1827 to Hugh and Helen (also “Eleanor”) (Henderson) Kelly.  The Kellys were Catholic and I am trying to ascertain if Hugh and Helen emigrated from Ireland to Scotland.

Owen was born in 1827 in Co. Sligo (quite possibly the parish of Riverstown), and like many other Irish came to Scotland in search of work (and, in the late 1840s, to escape the horrors of the Famine).

Their firstborn, a daughter, and my great-great grandmother, yet another Helen, was born in Scotland in 1851.  Thanks to Scotland’s People, I was able to download a scan of her baptismal record (click on record to enlarge):

So we have Helen baptized on 4 June, 1851.

The census of Scotland in 1851 was taken in March of that year.  Helen (Kelly) McCabe would have been about 6 months pregnant with her daughter at the time.  So where were Owen and Helen (Kelly) McCabe in the census?

I tried every spelling of McCabe I could think of, every one I had seen:  McAbe, McCab, McCabbe, McKibb, Mc Cabe, as well as every spelling of Owen’s name I had seen:  Orsen, John, Eugene.  Nothing.  No Owen and Helen McCabe.  A couple of single Owens, recorded as lodgers–that was it.

Yesterday I was stuck at my parents’ house on an extended holiday on account of a snowstorm.  In between looking after my mother, who is currently ill with the flu and helping my father shovel, I logged on to Scotland’s People and reread all of the documents I had downloaded from the site.

I reread Helen’s 1851 baptismal record, wondering if I had missed some clue in the record that could lead me to her parents in the 1851 census.  And indeed, I saw what I had missed.

A blank space.

As it turns out, a biiiiiiiiiiig blank space.

There is a space directly to the right of my great-grandmother’s name in the baptismal record.  In the space the priest was to record whether a child was “lawful,” that is born to married parents.  Note that the child above Helen in the record has “lawful” penned into the right-hand space after his name.  Helen has no such note.

Could it be that her parents weren’t actually married at the time of her birth?  The record seems to suggest so.

In which case, perhaps I must go back to the 1851 census and focus my search not on a married couple, Owen and Helen McCabe, but on a single Owen McCabe and a single Helen KELLY.  Maybe that will bring me the results I seek.

And so another genealogical caveat from experience:  do remember to read between the lines, even if all you encounter is a blank space.



  1. Excellent reminder. Thanks for sharing!

    Keep these ancestor stories coming!

    Bill 😉
    Author of “13 Ways to Tell Your Ancestor Stories”

  2. Scotland has poor Law records patchy from 1848.
    If either was in need then a claim may have been made . Glasgow’s have been indexed and are in the Mitchell Library but not on line. Edinburgh ??
    You did not say of the baptism was in a Catholic church [ I know little about their] records. but if in a protestant church then the subsiduary records held in the National archives might find a note on them The church was very keen to establish parentage incase the child became a burden on the parish..

    • Hi Hazel,

      Thanks for the info! Yes, it was a Catholic baptism. Still, good information to know, and I do thank you for taking the time to respond.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: