Of Welts and Wedlock

A six year-old boy appears in the 1901 census for Strond. The family is headed by an 80 year-old Crofter called John Maclean and his 70 year-old wife Catherine. The other two members of the household are their 33 year-old daughter, the Weaveress Anne Maclean and their 27 year-old Fisherman son, Angus. The boy, John Kerr, is John and Catherine’s grandson.

His birth certificate shows that he was born on the 22nd May 1895, the illegitimate son of a Crofter, Donald Kerr, and the Weaveress, Ann McLean. There is nothing particularly unusual about this, until one digs a little further.

Donald, born in Strond on the 6th December 1858, was the son of John Kerr, a Merchant (Grocer), and Jessie Macleod, a Shoemaker’s daughter from Greenock. He was illegitimate.

Ann(e) M(a)clean was born in 1868. Her mother, Catherine Maclean, was born Catherine Kerr. Catherine’s parents were Angus Kerr, a Shoemaker of Strond and his wife Margaret. John Kerr, who fathered the illegitimate Donald, was their son.

So, little John was not only born out of wedlock, to a father who himself carried that same stigma, but he was also the son of a pair of 1st Cousins.

Now, as I have commented before, there was no law against 1st Cousin marriages and, whilst they still attract controversy regarding their impact upon health, overall it seems that they were probably far more common than might be assumed. Many of us, I suspect, would find one or more such liaisons in our past were we able to trace them. Neither John and Jessie, nor Donald and Ann ever married but the families appear to have remained ‘friends’.

Donald’s parents, the unmarried John Kerr and Jessie Macleod, had a daughter, Susan, on the 21st May 1861. She died in 1946, some 21 years after her brother John, the illegitimate son of an illegitimate son, who passed away in 1958. He died alone, and single…

Note: John the Merchant had an older brother, Donald, and he too followed the path from Shoemaker to Merchant in Strond. In the 1861 census there is a 4 year-old girl called Mary Kerr living with Donald and his mother, Margaret. This child was Margaret’s ganddaughter and, as far as I can tell, the first of her son John’s trio of children born out of wedlock.

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