Ancestors in the asylum – part 1

5 of my relatively close ancestors died in asylums between the 1870s and the 1940s and I have decided this summer to trace the details of their time in the asylum. 4 were in public asylums and 1 was in a private asylum. Their asylum stays ranged from 1 year to 40 years. 3 were related, a grandfather and 2 grandchildren. I’m particularly interested in why they were admitted to the asylum. This blogpost is intended to serve as an introduction to my asylum research.


John was my 2 times great grandfather. He was born in 1861 in Ettrick, Selkirkshire to John Stevens and Elizabeth Tullie and married Elizabeth Gamble in Ballymoney in 1895.

The General Register of Lunatics in Asylums tells me that John was admitted as a pauper (ie under the poor law system) to Hartwood Asylum, Shotts and he was there for 12 months until his death in February 1905. He died from acromegaly (a hormonal disorder causing bones to increase in size) and acute endocarditis (a heart infection).

This is Hartwood Asylum:


I intend searching for John in the Hartwood Asylum records and the North Lanarkshire poor law records ay North Lanarkshire archives and in the national asylum records at National Records of Scotland.


Allan McDonald was my 4 times great grandfather. 2 of his grandchildren were also in asylums. Allan was born in the parish of Southend in Argyllshire in 1795 to John McDonald and Mary McLachlan. He married Mary Ann Cameron in the same parish in 1827.

I know that Allan was in the private asylum, Sir Gabriel Wood’s Mariners Asylum in Greenock in 1861 and he died there in 1870 after a stay of at least 9 years. He died from asthma and chronic bronchitis.

This is Allan:


This is Sir Gabriel Wood’s Mariners Asylum:


This is a private asylum and its records have not been deposited in any archive. The trustees don’t have the historical records. However the asylum still exists as a care home and I am waiting to hear if the home has retained its historical records. Otherwise I intend researching this private asylum in newspapers and libraries.


Mary Ann was the sister of my 2 times great grandfather and the granddaughter of Allan McDonald mentioned above. Mary Ann was born in 1860 in Arbroath to Alexander Hunter and Mary Ann McDonald.

The General Register of Lunatics in Asylums tells me that Mary Ann was admitted to Kirklands Asylum in May 1910 as a pauper and was transferred 16 months later to Govan Asylum which was at Leverndale Hospital, Renfrewshire. She died there in August 1923 after 12 years and 1 month at Leverndale. She died from cholecystitis (inflammation of gall bladder) and gall stones.

This is Leverndale Hospital:


I intend researching Mary Ann in the national asylum records at the National Records of Scotland, in the poor law records at the Glasgow City Archives and in the Govan and Kirklands asylum records at the NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde Archives.


John was the brother of my 2 times great grandfather, the brother of Mary Ann Hunter and the grandson of Allan McDonald (both mentioned above).

John was born in Arbroath to Alexander Hunter and Mary Ann McDonald.

The General Register of Lunatics in Asylums tells me that John had 2 spells in asylums. John was admitted to Govan asylum as a pauper in July 1884 and was transferred 5 months later to Barony Asylum (also known as Woodilee, Lenzie) from which he was discharged as recovered another 5 months later in March 1885. John was readmitted to Govan Asylum in July 1896 where he was to die 28 years and 8 months later in February 1925. John died of a stroke.

This is Woodilee:


I intend researching John in the national asylum records in the National Records of Scotland, in the asylum records at the NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde Archives and in the poor law records at the Glasgow City Archives.


Jane was the 1st cousin of my 2 times great grandmother. She was born in the parish of Daviot and Dunlichity in Inverness-shire in 1870 to James Mann and Ann McCulloch.

The General Register of Lunatics in Asylums tells me that Jane was admitted to Inverness Asylum as a pauper in January 1901 and she was to die there after 40 years and 2 months in Inverness Asylum in February 1941. Jane died from senile dementia.

This is Inverness Asylum:


Unfortunately I know from previous research that the relevant poor law records haven’t survived. However I intend researching Jane in the Inverness Asylum records in the Highland Archives and in the national asylum records in the National Records of Scotland.

My next blogpost will be published in June with an update on my asylum research.

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 …..