The Kinnear Family from Angus

in the Scottish Highlands

John Kinnear and Janet Bruce

My story begins in the eighteenth century with John Kinnear who was born about 1715 in the village of Menmuir, and who married Janet Bruce in about 1735. Three children that we know of were born to them:- William b.1736, James b.1738 and Elizabeth b.1739, all in the parish of Lethnot and Navar (link) which lay immediately to the north of Kirkton of Menmuir.

William Kinnear and Janet Adam

William, the eldest of these three, married Janet Adam from Edzell in 1764, when he was 28 and she was 27.  At least four children were born to them:- John b.1767, Mary b.1770, Anne b.1772 and William b.1775, all in Edzell, a small village on the eastern border of the County. 

William Kinnear and Janet Stirling

Our descent continues through William, the youngest son of this family. This William is the first for whom I have an occupation: he was a ploughman.  He married Janet Stirling in 1802 in Rescobie, just outside Forfar, when he was 26 and she was 28.  Their first son Charles was born three months after the marriage was solemnised, and seven more children were born to them over a sixteen year period, six boys and just two girls: all at West Mains of Turin in the parish of Rescobie.

Andrew Kinnear 1807-1874 and Betty Watt 1808-1888

Andrew, William and Janet’s third son was born in 1807.  In November 1832  he married Betty Watt from the county town of Forfar. The groom was 25 and his bride was 24. Two months later, their first son John was born to them (January 1833). Then followed David b.1836, Andrew b.1838, Mary b.1840, Betty b.1844, and lastly Agnes b.1847. In contrast to earlier generations, and because of the Government Censuses in Scotland and the registration of vital statistics, which began respectively in 1841 and 1855, we know that Andrew lived to be sixty-six, and that Betty his wife was eighty when she died. Like his father before him, Andrew was a cottar and a ploughman. (Cottar - the Scots term for a peasant or a tenant farmer in the Scottish Highlands.) Andrew and Betty spent the whole of their lives in or near Forfar - they were married in Rescobie; their children were born either in Rescobie or Aberlemno; Andrew died at Bowriefauld in the parish of Dunnichen, and Betty his wife died at Kingsmuir just outside Forfar.

Of the six children of this family, I was unable to find any record for Andrew, Betty and Agnes in the 1851 Census. Since none of them were old enough to have left home to work elsewhere, I sadly conclude that they all died young. 

In the 1851 Census John aged 18 is working as a farm labourer in Aberlemno. His brother David aged 14 has just started out as an apprentice tailor and also lives in the parish of Aberlemno.  Mary aged 11 is still living at home with her parents, and goes to school.

Mary Kinnear

In due course, when she was 14 or 15, Mary would have left home, like her brothers before her. There would not have been much choice of employment for a young woman living in rural Angus in the 1850’s, even though the county town of Forfar was not very distant. No surprises then that in the 1861 Census Mary is to be found working as a domestic servant on a farm at West Mains of Turin, only a short distance from the parental home.

The Censuses have proved to be a wonderful record of what our ancestors were doing with their lives in the nineteenth century - but they can only give us a brief glimpse every ten years. An awful lot can happen in a decade. An awkward eleven-year-old could metamorphose into a beautiful bride at age twenty-one - or she could be carried away by an epidemic of scarlet fever, or cholera, or die of consumption in her early teens. None of these things happened to Mary Kinnear: she continued to work as a domestic servant throughout the 1860’s, and her life was probably uneventful in most respects - except for one - which no doubt caused considerable upset within the Kinnear family.

Sometime towards the end of 1867, when Mary was 27, she would have had to confess to her parents, and then to her employer, that she was pregnant. Her parents must have been upset, angry too, maybe; but they did not reject her, or her baby daughter, when she arrived into the world in May 1868. Indeed Betsy Watt Kinnear was born in the home of her grandparents, and was brought up by them for the next twenty years.

What became of her father, John McLeod, is still a mystery. (link) All that I can say is that his name is on Bessie’s birth certificate (he was illiterate, and made his mark X); that John McLeod accepted his daughter as his own; this is surely proof that this was not just a temporary liaison; and that Mary and John probably intended to marry.

That this did not come about cannot be explained. I have searched in vain for the premature death of John McLeod; I could find no record of a crime committed, or of imprisonment, let alone deportation to the colonies - perhaps only Mary Kinnear could tell us what happened to him…

Betsy Kinnear grew up in her grandmother’s house, while her mother went back to work as a domestic servant. In 1874 Mary Kinnear was married to William Henderson, a widowed farmer, and for many years they lived contentedly and worked at East Cotton of Gardyne, by Guthrie (Angus). (I have visited the farmhouse, and am still the proud owner of a wonderful Spode Tower pattern (blue & white) dinner service from that home.)

It is through Mary Kinnear that my paternal grandmother Betsy Watt Kinnear (otherwise Betsy McLeod Watt) traced her descent.

Betsy Watt Kinnear

So - this next part of my story concerns my grandmother, who was born Betsy Watt Kinnear in 1868. When she married my grandfather in 1905, she gave her name as Bessie McLeod Watt, and her age as thirty-three. 

I think that sometime after her twenty-first birthday, and with the tragedy of the recent death of her fiancee, Bessie decided to put the past behind her, and travelled south, first to live with a widowed aunt in Warrington in Lancashire; then to London, as a teacher of dressmaking.

In the process, she took four years off her age, and did her best to hide the awful stigma of being born illegitimate.

When I first began to search the 1881 Census for a Bessie McLeod Watt, you will understand that I couldn’t find her ! It took a lot of patient research and ingenuity to tease out her story - but who could blame her for what she did ?  And we can be glad that her mother, Mary Kinnear was eventually able to marry and settle down. The consequence of that was that my grandmother had a half-brother Andrew Charles Henderson, fifteen years her junior.

Looking for more details? Try the Family Groups page, where you will find Census references, birth, marriage and death records.