Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Family history: The Duke of Argyll's 1779 Census of his properties provides insight into 18th Century Argyllshire and my family's origins.

The pastoral life of the Scottish Highlands was about to change.

Family History: Digging deeper into primary sources and the indexes of primary sources.

by Tom Thorne

When I first discovered that The Census of the Inhabitants of the Duke of Argyll's Lands in 1779 existed I became very excited. This discovery meant that I could push back in time to discover my Highland Scottish origins into the 18th Century and with some confidence further back into the 17th Century. 

I was not disappointed. I found that this important primary document lists all the people living on the lands of the Duke of Argyll during 1779-80 and literally freezes in time the people related to me in 18th Century Argyllshire. 
The 1779 Duke if Argyll Census was very important to trace my family back at least a generation or two before the wedding of John and Mary Munro in 1789, an event that leads clearly to me. They are the progenitors of my Scottish family and provide the link from the18th through to the 20th Century. John and Mary came from the Tullich and Drimfern farms owned by the Duke of Argyll. Both of them were listed with their families in this important document. 
The first child of their 1789 marriage was my great-great-great-great grandfather Duncan Munro born in Argyllshire, Inveraray-Glenaray parish in 1790. Duncan  died in Bonhill, Dunbartonshire, at almost 92, in 1882. I found him in the 1881 Census first and then in the 1841, 1851, 1861 and 1871 Censuses.  Each of these documents revealed new insights into his life and family.
Duncan was my fortunate link back into the Highland origins of my Scottish family and so the discovery of the 1779 Census conducted by the Duke of Argyll was in research terms a breakthrough. Much of what we find here can be checked easily using the excellent indexes found on Family Search at this web address: 
The Family Search site enables the researcher to do a first check for births of the children listed in the Duke of Argyll’s 1779 Census and very often to connect family relationships. It also enables the researcher to discover useful things like the fact that surnames change. An example is the surname Mcilvoile which is also McMillan and then became Bell. Knowing that Scots clan names change over time enables the marriage of Archibald Monro and Isabel Bell to be confirmed as the same wife who in other documents  is called Isabel Mcilvoile. 
Family Search also provides information that shows that Duncan Munro and his wife Christian Fletcher  were married on 18 April 1765 not in Glenaray but in the very neighbouring parish of Lochgoilhead and Kilmorich and that also links them to Malcolm Monro, 88, in the 1779 Census who originally comes from the same parish. This free on-line service, provided by the Church of Latter Day Saints, enables a lot of basic fact checking and provides clues to examine other records.
Some of the Munros in the 1779 Duke of Argyll Census were quite old and as a result we are able to project further back in time to the middle to late, 17th Century with help from Family Search web site . In particular, there is my ancestor John Munro born in 1699 and Malcolm Munro, mentioned above, born in 1691. These men provide vital links that take us back as far as 1650. John (1699) is Mary Munro's grandfather who is the most likely candidate for the 1789 marriage that gives us Duncan Munro (1790-1882). My Duncan is named after his grandfather. A common Scottish practice.
It would be a large struggle to piece together this period in history without documents of this calibre and usefulness. The 1779 Census provides a complete list of husbands, wives with their maiden names and all of the children of these marriages along with their ages. The Census very often lists their position on the farm such as "senior tenant". Below is an example of such a snapshot that freezes time. Here is the listings for Drimfern and Tullich farms in 1779, where my ancestors lived at that time. The comments after their names have been checked with other sources. 

Note: This list refuses to format properly when uploaded to the blog. Do your best. The first number is the age of the person in 1779. The second number is the year of their birth added by me. This enables checking for birth dates using the free Family Search website.
Drimfern Farm: 1779 Duke of Argyll Census
John Monro, tenant, 40 1739
Ann Sinclair, his wife 40 1739
Catherine Monro, child 17 1762
Mary Monro, child         15 1764  A possible for John Monro’s second wife in 1789
Betty Monro, child         13 1766
Jean Monro, child         11 1768
Peggy Monro, child           9 1770
Ann Monro, child             5 1774
Christian Monro, child     3 1776
Janet Monro, child             1 1778
Archibald Monro, sen. tenant 67 1712
Isabel Bell, his wife         56 1723   In some documents she is known as Isabel Mcilvoile
John Monro, son         26 1752   This is John Monro who marries a Mary Monro in 1789
Finlay Monro         12 1767    A late son of Archibald and Isabel when she was 44
Catherine McBean         22 1757   The first wife of John Monro age 26 above.
Christian Monro   1 1778   The first of four children of John’s first marriage.
Malcolm Monro         88 1691   A Monro who takes us back to the late 17th Century. From Lochgoilhead and Kilmorich Parish.
Donald Monro         28 1751   Son of Archibald and Isabel
Flory Bell, his wife         28 1751
Archibald Monro, junr. tenant 31 1748   Son of Archibald and Isabel
Effy McIntyre, his wife 24 1755
John Monro, child           1 1778   Looks like twins
Donald Monro, child           1 1778
Angus Monro         23 1756  
Mary Bell                 56 1723  Perhaps a relative of Isabel
Donald Monro         28 1751  From another Monro family.
Effie McBean, his wife 24 1755
Tibby Monro, child           4 1775
Mary Monro, child           1 1778
Duncan Campbell, cottar         30 1749
Mary McBean, his wife 27 1752
Alexander Campbell, child   2 1777
Christian Campbell, child           1 1778
John Walker, weaver 60 1719
Mary Walker, his wife 60 1719
Total population Drimfern Farm: 12 Men, 11 Women, 18 Children for a total of 41.
Tullich Farm Monros: 1779 Duke of Argyll Census
Catherine Monro widow 63 1716
John Monro 80 1699
Mary Monro his wife 76 1703  Mary Monro is her maiden surname. Monros marrying Monros. 
Duncan Monro their son 40 1739  Alive on Tullich in the 1841 Census at “105”    
Christian Fletcher his wife 33 1746  Christian and Duncan: married in 1765  
Mary Monro child 13 1766  Likely second wife of John Monro (Drimfern) 1789
Angus Monro child 11 1768
Donald Monro         child   9 1770
Ann Monro child   7 1772
Martin Monro child   3 1776
Christine Monro child   1 1778
Catherine Monro widow 40 1739
Allen Bell         tenant 34 1739
Sarah Monro his wife 21 1758
Note: There are other families with other surnames and a few more Monros living on Tullich Farm that do not figure in the marriage of John and Mary Monro in 1789.
Now project these people forward to 1789 when John Munro and Mary Munro married in Inveraray-Glenaray Parish. These people are certainly my ancestors because they are the parents of my g-g-g-grandfather Duncan Munro (1790-1882).  The Tullich Mary, 13 in 1779 is 23 in 1789. Is she the right Mary to be the mother of my Duncan Munro? It is relatively easy to eliminate other Mary Munros on other Argyll farms such as Achnagoul, Stronmaghan, Auchindrain. Any Mary Monros on these farms are far too young for a 1789 Marriage.
The other Mary found living at Drimfern could also be the the future wife of John Monro in 1789 when she would be 25 in 1789. There is some uncertainty whether the 13 year old living at Tullich maybe the the Mary in the 1789 marriage. One thing is certain. The Mary in question came from the Glenaray farms listed here. Also the Mary Munro in the 1789 marriage was the second wife of a much older John Munro who was 26 in 1779 and 36 in 1789. Just what happened to his first wife Catherine McBean and their children is not fully known at this time. Her death record cannot be found and that may be because she is sometimes a McBain, a McBean and even a Bane.

What we do know is in the next ten years from 1779-1789 John Munro had the following children with Catherine McBean or “Bane” or even “McVean” and all the children were born in the Glenaray-Inveraray Parish. Their first child Christina is listed in 1779 Census listings above. The others were born after 1779. The Family Search index provides the following children:
1. Christina, born  4 June 1778 and in the 1779 Census and 11 by 1789 “Bane”
2. Malcolm, born 26 January 1780 and 9 by 1789 “McVean”
3. Elizabeth, born  5 August 1781 and 8 by 1789 “Mcbane”
4. Sarah,  born 23 April 1784 and 5 by 1789 “McVean”
Then Catherine McBean, Bane or McVean died sometime after 1784 and John remarried in 1789. This was confirmed by the work of Douglas Beaton who also descends from John and Mary Munro’s youngest son Archibald who was born in 1798 the brother of my Duncan born in 1790. Here is the complete second family of John Munro all born in Glenaray-Inveraray Parish. The mother this time is Mary Munro. We don’t know whether the family is blended with children from John’s first wife. I am a direct decendant of Duncan Munro (1790-1882) the first entry on this list:
1.Duncan Munro born 1790 dies in Dumbarton in 1882. Married Janet McCunn in 1818
2. Grisell Munro born 1793 married Alexander Crawford in 1816 at the neighbouring Glassary Parish. The wedding is
    also registered in Glenaray Inveraray Parish.
3. Sarah Munro born 13 June 1791 

4. Isabella Munro born 1796

5. Archibald Munro born 1798 ( takes us to the Beaton connections)

Further evidence for the Glenaray origins of the family comes from the 1851 Census tract for Duncan Munro (1790-1882) the first born of this 1789 marriage. In that Census, Duncan told the census taker that he was born in the Glenaray. Here’s the transcript of that document. 

1851 British Census: Strathleven Place ( a large estate), Dumbarton - Dunbartonshire
Munro, Duncan, Head, married, m, 61, Formerly shepherd, born Argyllshire, Glenaray
Munro, Janet, Wife. married, f, 68, Dunbartonshire, Row
Munro, John, Son, unmarried, m, 30, flesher (butcher), Dunbartonshire, Dumbarton
Munro, Archibald, unmarried, m, 24, flesher, Dunbartonshire, Dumbarton
Mitchell, Helen, unmarried, f, 20, House Servant, born Lanarkshire, Glasgow
Note: Helen Mitchell became the wife of Archibald Munro in 1854 and is therefore my gggreat grandmother. Why she is living with her future husband and Duncan and Janet is not known. She comes from Barony, a parish of Glasgow where her father Walter Mitchell was a weaver.
We are now ready to examine other people and documents that take us from my 18th Century Argyllshire, Inveraray and Glenaray roots towards the present day. The next article will show what happened when Duncan Munro (1790-1882) moved south to the Dumbarton-Bonhill area in 1818 and married Janet McCunn (1783-1869) from the Row Parish. Although Duncan remained a shepherd all his life his family began to move into the 19th Century industrialization of Scotland cantred at the Glasgow and Clyde River region.
© Copyright Tom Thorne, 2012, All Rights Reserved.


  1. I must say that the formatting of any lists is difficult to control from my computer to the blog. Obviously there are software problems when a Mac file is uploaded from Pages to the blog. I have tried to fix it while on line to no avail. it is irritating but the information is still intact. Sorry. Tom

  2. Hello Tom

    Through a very circuitous route and totally unexpectedly I have located this blog and have enjoyed looking through your family history material as well as some of your other writings.

    It’s about a year since we corresponded and your research seems to have developed during that time.

    I note in particular your suggestion that “Mary Munro aged 13 at Tullich” in the Duke of Argyll’s 1779 Census is a likely candidate to be the second wife of your John Munro of Drimfern.

    I think I can put that suggestion to rest for you.

    I believe that Mary Munro is the one who married Duncan Macneil in 1989 and is my ggg grandmother

    Below I have transcribed her birth, marriage and death records.

    In the 1841 and 1851 census returns she is a widow with McNeill family members at Blarghour and Barbea respectively in the the Kilchrenan and Dalavich Parish

    Parish of Inveraray & Glenaray
    Born 31.05.1766, Mary Munro lawful daughter to Duncan Munro in Tulloch and Christian Fletcher his spouse

    Parish of Kilchrenan & Dalavich
    19 Oct 1789 Booked for proclamations, Duncan Macneil and Mary Munro both in the parish of Kilchrenan and married on the 22nd current

    1859 Statutory Deaths 509/00 0003
    NAME: Mary MACNIEL, SEX: F, AGE: 95
    OCCUPATION: Widow,
    WHEN DIED: 11 am 24.03.1859, WHERE DIED: Bralecken
    CAUSE OF DEATH: Debility, 8 days
    WHERE BURIED: Inshcarich Burial Ground
    FATHER’S NAME: Duncan MUNRO, deceased, OCCUPATION: Farmer
    INFORMANT: Duglad TURNER, son in law,
    REGISTRATION: 29.03.1859 at Achindrain (1859 Cumlodden , Argyllshire page 1 #3)
    SOURCE: Transcribed from original

    All the best
    Laurie McNeill
    Dunedin, NZ

    1. Thanks Laurie. Your note is definitive on the Mary issue. Tom

  3. How does one get access to the 1779 Argyll Census?

    1. I have a PDF file that you can have or you can get the PDF from Auchindrain's People web site. I am always interested in people who want this PDF if they are doing Argyll family history work. Some of my biggest family history breakthroughs have come from common connections through the Duke of Argyll's 1779 Census. Tom

    2. Tom, I ordered a hardcopy of this about 10 years ago through inter-library loan and located a possible ancestor in Barnaline / Barnalean. I wasn't aware of the census being available as a pdf and would love to have a copy. I tried to google the site you referred to but wasn't able to find a site under that exact name. Are you able to forward to me? sgillis(at)

    3. Hi Tom, I'm a bit late to the party but I have traced my maternal line back to Braleckan which was a settlement west of Iverarary. That is where my search has stopped, I am currently searching online for the 1779 census. I am looking for a William Buchanan and Catherine Stuart who had a daughter Davinia in 1784 in Braleckan. As it turns out the name Davina is still in our family, so it has been amazing to trace it back this far.

  4. I have to correct this story definitively. The Mary in the 1789 marriage to John Munro is Mary Munro, born 1766 at Clonary farm near Inveraray. Her father was Martin Munro born 1739 and her mother was Jannet McViccar also born 1789. Martin's family and Jannet's came from the Glenaray and they moved to Auchindrain township in 1768. We find them at Auchindrain in the 1779 Duke of Argyll's Census. There are eight children in Mary Munro's family. The house they lived in is preserved at the Auchindrain Museum south of Inveraray on A83.

  5. Jannet McViccar was born in 1739 not 1789.

  6. Hello again Tom. It's great to see you have resolved your "Mary issue". Has this step back to Glenaray suggested a link to my Munro's at Tullich? Regards from "down under" - Laurie McNeill