The AIRD enigma

by Jim Low
Sent to and published in the
Troon@Ayrshire Family History Society Journal
Spring 2010.

WILLIAM AIRD (c1783 - 1860) from Straiton and Kirkmichael, Ayrshire. Who are his parents?

We often hear “why didn’t I take an interest in genealogy when I was younger and could have asked my grandparents the right questions.”  I was fortunate: I began my genealogy interest as a teenager in 1957. I interviewed all four of my grandparents and had the good fortune to have a grandmother’s sister, Anna Grace Tanner (1883-1971), who actually prepared a genealogy (I will refer to as “Aunt Grace”).  So I am lucky, one would think.  Now I kick myself and ask “why didn’t I ask the right questions?!”

Aunt Grace never married and after she died I inherited her massive collection of family trees, photographs and documents, some going back before 1850. Some of the pictures I recalled seeing earlier when she and I went through them together.  Some were identified on the back but many were not, especially those in frames.  I recalled some when she told me who they were. But memory fades over time.  When I inherited these, I was busy adding to my family tree by raising four children, so much of my research was put on hold.  The documents and pictures were filed away and looked at only occasionally.

When I retired a few years ago and had an empty nest, I started to examine my stash and kept discovering new items that added greatly to my family history.  But I still have not gone through everything.  Aunt Grace had prepared a descendant chart of her great-grandparents William Aird and Mary Hunter from Kirkmichael, Ayrshire and it stated William was born about 1783 and Mary about 1782.  She identified the father of Mary Hunter as David Hunter, but not the mother.  When I checked the Old Parish Registers (OPR) for the birth, sure enough, I find only the fathers named in that parish.  I guess at that time it was assumed the mothers had little to do with the birth!  To make matters more difficult, there were two David Hunter’s in the parish of Kirkmichael fathering children over the same period: David Hunter of Mossend and David Hunter of Berryhill.  However, after reviewing the various entries, I determined that my Mary Hunter was the daughter of David Hunter of Mossend, and found his marriage to Isabell Anderson in Kirkmichael OPR in 1773.

Over the years, I was able to determine that the years of birth of William Aird and Mary Hunter in Aunt Grace’s records were essentially correct, as they agreed with ages stated at death and in census returns.  The burial records gives ages but does not name the parents.

The enigma part starts with William Aird:  I have been unable to find his baptism registration in the OPR of parishes around Kirkmichael.  I also checked for him in Kilmarnock, for reasons I will mention later.

The marriage of William Aird and Mary Hunter was registered in 1806 in both Kirkmichael and Straiton OPR stating he was from Straiton and she from Kirkmichael.  The baptisms of their first six children were registered in Kirkmichael between 1807 and 1817.  My great-great grandmother, Isabella Aird, was the seventh child, born in 1820, and her baptism was never found.  However, Aunt Grace (Isabella’s grand-daughter) said she was born at Kirkmichael.  Later, a co-researcher and I discovered there were two more children, possibly twins, born about 1823, who do not appear in the OPR of Kirkmichael or Straiton.

According to the records of Aunt Grace, the entire family came to Canada in 1829 on the sailing ship “George Cannon” landing at Quebec.  They eventually settled in Montreal.

Research on the AIRDs has also been done by two other descendants of William Aird and Mary Hunter in Canada, who are fourth cousins of mine: Julia Dalgleish Sauter and Susan Markanen.  We did work independently, placed some information on the internet, and that is how we discovered each other.  We have been working together recently and Julia and I did a “marathon” research session throughout 2009, mostly through census returns and the Drouin Collection of births, marriages, and deaths in Quebec.  We also made separate trips to the archives in Ottawa.  We also made extensive use of and scotlandspeople, along with other internet resources in an attempt to trace the Scottish line.

We discovered another AIRD family in Quebec but have not found a direct link of that family with William Aird and Mary Hunter.  The other AIRDs arrived over several years starting in the early 1780s: about a generation before William Aird and Mary Hunter.  We decided to trace these AIRDs and discovered they all descend from John Aird (bap 1719) and Ann Campbell (bap 1719) of Kilmarnock, Ayrshire.  Four sons came variously with the military, as merchants, and as traders with the Indians. One eventually returned to Kilmarnock.  Of the 13 children of John Aird and Ann Campbell, I wondered if my William Hunter could have been a grandson of this couple, so I searched for their descendants.  There were two possibilities but in both cases was able to confirm they were different William’s.  One son of John Aird and Ann Campell was John Aird who married Janet Hunter.  I was intrigued, as this was another AIRD who married a HUNTER.  They had a son, WIlliam, born in 1782, and I thought I found my William. But this was not the case.  However, two Aird and Hunter marriages a generation apart made me wonder if there was a connection joining Kilmarnock with Kirkmichael.

I could find no direct link connecting the two Aird families.  But I also wondered if my William Aird and Mary Hunter came because he had uncles and cousins living here.

A clue to a possible connection of the AIRD families between Kirkmichael and Kilmarnock exists in a letter written to Mary Hunter/Aird, the wife of William Aird, by her nephew John Hunter in 1862.  In that letter, reference is made to a relative in Kilmarnock.  Also, reference is made to David Hunter who is Governor of the Cunningham Combination Poor House at Irvine, which is just a short distance from Kilmarnock.  Susan Markanen has this letter and a transcript is on her web site at:

Another enigma related to my AIRD family appeared about a year ago as I was rummaging through the thousands of old photographs I inherited from Aunt Grace.  There were three snapshots, all taken about the same time, but not dated.  From the style, and with other pictures they were around, I estimated they were taken between 1900 and 1920.  I sent these to the Maybole site and they were published there, with my story, at:
On the back those pictures, taken at Kirkmichael, are identified John Aird with age given as 81, his son James, and wife who is unnamed.  Also is a picture of the Kirkmichael church where the comment is made about the house just outside of the picture being “the one in which our mother was born.”  These snapshots appear to have been sent to Aunt Grace’s father Richard Tanner by one of his siblings which refers to Richard’s mother Isabella Aird/Tanner, a daughter of William Aird and Mary Hunter.

Now, this was strange: nowhere in the family tree or other records of Aunt Grace was there any mention of these people.  Why was this picture in her files?  It appeared likely that a relative from my side of the Atlantic was visiting cousins in Kirkmichael.  Who was it who visited Scotland?  I search ship passenger lists and find two siblings of my great-grandfather visited the British Isles in the 1900 to 1920 period, and narrowed it down to likely a daughter of Isabella Aird who was on a ship to the UK in 1907.

From the clue as to the date of the trip and the names of the AIRDs with the age of one given, I search Kirkmichael and Straiton records for them.  Only one possibility matched: a John Aird born in 1827 at Kirkmichael.  He would have been 80 in 1907, so maybe the comment meant he was in his 81st year, or else she stayed a year and the picture was taken in 1908.  He died at Kirkmichael in 1914 at age 87.  This John Aird had a son James born in 1857.  I’m almost certain these are the AIRDs who appear in the pictures from Aunt Grace’s collection.

I was hoping that tracing this other AIRD family may have found a common link with my William Aird who married Mary Hunter.  I was able to trace their ancestors back to John Aird who married Mary Dobbie at Straiton in 1794.  From the 1841 census, which rounded down ages to the nearest five years, I determined he was born between 1772 and 1776, but could find no OPR record of his baptism.  He is not listed in later census, and suspect the record of his death is that of John Aird at Straiton in the OPR of 1849.  His wife Mary is not listed, so assume she died before the 1841 census.  I cannot find the parents of this John Aird, but suspect he could be the older brother (or young uncle) of my William Aird.

As a result of these pictures being published at the Maybole site, several descendants of John Aird and Mary Dobbie contacted me, but they could shed no further light on earlier generations.  One branch even migrated to Canada around 1900, and I finally met one descendant who lives only a two hour drive from me.

I then do some long-shot searching of this family.  I can find only one record in the OPR of the birth of a child of John Aird and Mary Dobbie: that of Margaret in 1800.  But I confirmed he had a son David, born about 1795, as David’s death registration in 1878 names his parents as John Aird and Mary Dobbie.  There may be other children who could be found if one could browse marriage and death records.  I check into the Margaret Aird born in 1800.  In the 1841 census, there appear three other people with John Aird: Margaret Aird age 35 (would mean 35 to 39 because of the 1841 census of rounding down adult ages to the nearest 5 years), Margaret Hunter age 12, and James McSorly, age 5.  Relationships were not shown in the 1841 census.  Who were they?  I found that John Aird’s daughter Margaret apparently never married but had two children by different men: Margaret Hunter/Aird (c1829-1915) by John Hunter, and James McSorly (1835-1869) by Philip McSorly.

The “Hunter” part intrigued me, since my William Aird was married to Mary Hunter, so followed the line of Margaret Hunter.  In checking the marriage and death registrations, I find Margaret Aird’s death at Straiton in 1877, age 77, single, and parents John Aird and Mary Dobbie.  Informant was John Broadfoot, son-in-law.  Margaret Hunter married John Broadfoot in 1851 and she died in 1915.  The death registration indicates she was illegitimate and that her parents were John Hunter and Margaret Aird. Death information was provided by her son-in-law John Broadfoot.  It indicates her father was “Poorhouse Governor.”  What’s this?  Poorhouse Governor?  That was the occupation of David Hunter, the nephew of my Mary Hunter who married William Aird.  Is there a connection?  In various online records, I can find David Hunter as the Governor of the Cunningham Combination Poorhouse, but no reference to a John Hunter as governor of any poorhouse.  Since the death information of Margaret Hunter was provided by her son-in-law, I wonder if he really knew his wife’s grandfather and just took a guess at the first name.  Going back to my information on David Hunter, I see he was born in 1809, and married twice, but with only one known child: Agness Hunter born in 1831.  His first marriage was to Elizabeth Smith in 1829, then to Elizabeth McOwat in 1850.  He died at Irvine in 1868.  Margaret Hunter was born about 1829.  I suppose it’s possible: perhaps he had an affair with Margaret Aird in the year before his first marriage.

When talking with my Aunt Grace in the late 1950s and early 1960s, she often talked of “Aunt Dalgleish” who was a wonderful aunt and sometimes visited the family in Cornwall and later Ottawa, Ontario, from her home in Montreal, Quebec. She ran a rooming house there, following the death of her husband in 1876.  “Aunt Dalgleish” was Mary Aird who married Robert Dalgleish.  She was the eldest daughter of William Aird and Mary Hunter, and died at the age of 96 in 1906, outliving 10 of her 12 children.  She was very popular in the family and the great-aunt of my great-aunt Grace.  Apparently she talked to Aunt Grace about her parents William Aird and Mary Hunter.  Why didn’t I ask Aunt Grace the right questions and wonder if Aunt Grace asked Aunt Dalgleish the right questions?  I wish I had asked Aunt Grace “Did Aunt Dalgleish ever mention her grandparents?” for her grandparents would be the parents of William Aird and Mary Hunter.

Who were the parents of William Aird (c1783-1860) of Straiton who married Mary Hunter of Kirkmichael and came to Canada in 1829?
Who were the parents of John Aird (c1772-1849) of Straiton who married Mary Dobbie?  I suspect the parents of William and John are the same.
Is there a connection between the AIRD family of Kilmarnock that came to Quebec in the 1780s and the AIRD family from Kirkmichael that came in 1829?
Go to the AIRD Descendant Chart

Go to the Genealogy Main Page

Go to the HOME page of this site