Searching for an emigrant for 15 years

This is the story of how I helped a distant cousin, Kate in Maryland, USA to find out about her great, great grandfather, whose origins she had been trying to trace for 15 years, using a combination of DNA family history research and traditional paper based family history research.

For those who haven’t tried it yet, there are 3 types of DNA tests used in family history research (Y DNA, mitochondrial DNA and autosomal DNA) all of which can be used to connect with cousins and investigate ethnicity.


In this case my autosomal DNA had matched with that of Kate in Maryland, USA and Kate had a tree on the My Heritage website where I spotted her great, great grandfather John Lees Barr born in Scotland around 1860. Now this caught my attention because I have ancestors with the surnames of Lees and Barr on my maternal line.

Now it should have been simply a case of looking for a John Lees Barr born in Scotland around 1860 and such an unusual name should have been easy. However I know from years of researching my Barr family that Lees is often used as a middle name but never in the official records. Therefore unsurprisingly there was no John Lees Barr and lots of John Barrs born in Scotland around 1860.

As a result my next step was to find John Lees Barr in the USA records and work backwards. I found John’s death certificate on the Ancestry website. He had died in Pennsylvania in 1928 and his death certificate named his Scottish parents. From there I traced back 118 years to the birth in 1810 of his grandfather John Barr who was the son of my 4 times great grandparents, John Barr and Agnes Lees.  So I discovered that Kate in Maryland and my mum are 4th cousins with the same 3 times great grandparents.

This is Annie Barr, the daughter of John Barr who emigrated to the USA and the grandmother of Kate in Maryland:

Anne Jones Barr Schmoll.jpg

When I contacted Kate she was absolutely thrilled as she had been searching for the Scottish roots of her great, great grandfather for 15 years but had got absolutely nowhere! I’m finishing this story with Kate’s reaction: ‘Oh I hope you can feel it because I am hugging you like crazy in my head.’


Originally published 22 December 2017:

Today I think it particularly apt to explain why I started my family history obsession as it’s the 100th anniversary today of the death of my great-grandmother Euphemia Barr.

When my grandfather died in 1990 the whole family were quite shocked that his mother, Euphemia Barr, was not buried in the family plot in St Kentigern’s cemetery, Glasgow.

I then made it my goal to find out where Euphemia was buried.

So, the lady herself ….. Euphemia was born in 1882 in Glasgow to George Barr from Pollokshaws and Margaret McIntosh from Dull, Perthshire.

Euphemia went to Oatlands School (photo attached of Euphemia dated I believe in her late teens) and then worked in the Scottish Co-Operative Wholesale Society (SCWS) factory in Shieldhall where she met and fell in love with my great-grandfather William Armour.

I believe this is Euphemia in her teens:

Euphemia (teenager)



However he is still remembered as a ‘lady’s man’ to this day. In 1903 a SCWS colleague Louisa Milne got pregnant by him but died giving birth to his son, James.

In 1914 Euphemia and William married and Euphemia had 3 children in quick succession, William (my grandfather), Frances and Elizabeth. This is my great-grandparents:

Euphemia and William

However Euphemia was not strong at the best of times and died 8 days after giving birth to Elizabeth (Actually Elizabeth was far stronger than her mother and only died 2 years ago). Euphemia died in Rottenrow Maternity Hospital and I’ve attached a photo of what remains.

My great-grandfather remarried in 1919 to his housekeeper, Elizabeth Welsh. Apparently the social pressure was such in Kelvinbridge that they were practically forced to marry!

Anyway, by the time I got this far with my family tree research, an Australian descendant of Euphemia’s brother Jack contacted me and confirmed that Euphemia was buried in the Eastern Necropolis cemetery with many Barr babies who had died tragically young. We now take Euphemia flowers twice a year and we’ve placed a small monument to the Barr family as no headstone exists:

Barr memorial

Euphemia might have died a century ago today but I’ve inherited a remarkable collection of her possessions.

I have school-books, laundry lists, favourite poems copied out in her best handwriting, 2 boxes of her postcards and letters including letters from her brother Jack pleading with her to emigrate and her brother George’s CV, newspaper clippings re medication, the last surviving piece of china hand-painted by Euphemia and finally and, most poignantly, the last letters Euphemia wrote to my grandfather during her final days of life at Rottenrow Hospital.

This is Euphemia’s hand-painted china:

Euphemia's china

Euphemia might not have survived on this earth for very long but she was a wonderful lady who inspired me to do, so far, 27 years of family history research …..