The Chimney Sweep of Stornoway

Duncan Macdonald, 41, Chimney Sweeper, Stornoway, b. Applecross, Ross and Cormarty
Mary Macdonald, 38, Wife, b. Stornoway
Margaret Macdonald, 19, General Servant (Domestic), Daughter, b. Stornoway
Duncan Macdonald, 1 year 6 months, Grandson, b. Stornoway

Duncan Macdonald, 53, Chimney Sweep and General Labourer, 2 Newmarket Road, b. Applecross
Mary Macdonald, 50, Wife, b. Stornoway
Mary Macdonald, 30, Fishworker, Step-Daughter, b. Stornoway
Duncan Matheson, 11, Scholar, Son of Step-Daughter, b.Stornoway
Christina A Munro, 8, Scholar, Daughter of Step-Daughter

These are the only census records of a ‘Sweep’ in Stornoway. Whether there were others, or people took responsibility for their own flues, remains unknown.

What the Macdonald family does provide is an insight into those tricky areas of parentage and, in particular, that of the paternal parent.

The daughter Margaret, who is 19 in 1891, is clearly the same person as the Step-daughter Mary of 1901. I suspect that her name was in fact recorded as ‘Marg’ and has been mis-transcribed.

Whether she is the daughter of Duncan and Mary, or of one of them from a previous marriage/relationship could only be ascertained by seeing her birth certificate, a task that is perfectly possible to perform online but that I am currently unwilling to go to the expense of carrying-out.

A similar problem arises with her son, Duncan. His family name begins as Macdonald but changes to Matheson. This strongly suggests that his father was a Mr Matheson and that the family decided that he should take his father’s name, despite his parents not marrying and thereby legitimising his birth. That was the law in Scotland . Children born out of wedlock in England remained ‘Illegitimate’ even if the parents married after the birth.

The reason for Duncan being given his ‘new’ name is very likely explained by the arrival of his half-sister, Christina. Mr Munro’s liaison with young Margaret proved fruitful in a way that they might well have preferred not to have been the case and Margaret and her parents could then have decided that each child should use their respective father’s names.

If the father had attended the registration, then his name would be recorded and that might be what happened with Christina, thus allowing her to use the name Munro in later life. However, it is also possible that Margaret alone registered the birth in the name of Munro, a practice that certainly took place.

I trust this all makes sense because I have attempted to distil several fairly dense paragraphs from the official explanation into an illustration from this particular family…

…and my chimney’s still waiting to be swept.

Ref: Illegitimacy-


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