Meet the family.


(for the first part of this story, see previous blog post here

Drumlamford House, Barrhill, Ayrshire

According to her baby’s birth certificate, Mabel had been working as a housemaid in a large country house called Drumlamford, in Barrhill, Ayrshire, before becoming pregnant.

I haven’t been able to find much information about Drumlamford around the turn of the century. It was a large scale although somewhat plain-looking house set in 1500 acres of land. The Valuation Rolls (register of property tax) of 1908 and the census of 1911 both indicate that the estate was used for typical Edwardian country pursuits – several gamekeepers are listed living on the estate as well as dairy workers, grooms, coachmen, housekeepers, housemaids and a chauffeur. There were several trout-stocked lochs for fishing. Mabel’s father, George Earley, worked as a coachman on the estate, and had occupancy of a tied house called Drumlamford Cottage.

Drumlamford House, Barrhill

A housemaid’s job was tough enough. An unmarried, pregnant housemaid may not have been tolerated and it’s possible that Mabel lost her job or was unable to continue working as her pregnancy progressed. Her mother was dead and her father had remarried several years before. Presumably there was no offer “to do the right thing”; or perhaps she rejected it. Her expectations, fears and state of mind can only be guessed at. She travelled to London at some point in her pregnancy and gave birth there; I hope to visit the London Metropolitan Archives this summer and get access to the patient registers for the Queen Charlotte Hospital. Perhaps they will shed a little more light on her confinement.

After the birth (again, we don’t know when), Mabel entered domestic service as a cook in London. Somehow she survived. Her son was taken care of and eventually she took him back to Scotland.*

The Stevenson brothers of Barrhill

So who was the father? Living family members never spoke of who he was. When I began to “unravel” this mystery it was clear that no-one still living knew his name. Trust a genealogist to air the dirty laundry!

There were a few clues to his identity:

  • Mabel’s son was given the surname “Earley” – her family name.
  • By the time he got married in 1935 he had changed his name to “Stevenson, formerly Earley”. (Although Mabel had married by this time, her husband’s last name was Watson).
  • He was probably from Barrhill, Ayrshire.*

Screenshot 2017-04-26 at 12.58.32 PM

(Excert from marriage register entry for “Douglas George Stevenson, formerly Earley”. At some point Mabel’s son had chosen to use the surname Stevenson over Earley. Did this mean that he knew who his birth father was?

DNA testing has become a powerful and reliable tool in helping confirm ancestral relationships. In this case, I was able to make significant progress in overcoming the “brick wall” of unknown paternity with DNA results. Through a DNA match I was able to connect with a third cousin of my husband’s. Her description of her family background, after some research, gave me some likely suspects to be relatives of him, his brother and all of our children. As an added bonus, I was thrilled that she was able to provide a photograph:


Great GrandMother Annie Broadfoot- Great Gr Uncles Jonny-William-David-Jamie StevensonOne of these four young, hot-blooded Scots was, almost certainly, the father of Mabel’s child. He is my husband’s great-grandfather and my sons’ great-great grandfather. The four brothers are John, born 1885 (standing, left); William, born 1888 (standing, right); James, born 1890 (seated, left); David, born 1892 (seated, right). Their sister Annie is standing in the middle, and seated are their parents – Annie (McKie) Stevenson and William Stevenson.

The problem is, which brother was it?



*Location threw me off the scent for a long time. As Mabel gave birth in London, I thought she must have met the father in London. A recent conversation with the oldest living person with knowledge of the family said “his father was born in Barrhill” but had no other information on the matter.


Tough women – Mabel Fanny Earley

I’m doing a mini-presentation to family this weekend on (mainly) solving the mystery of a previously unknown great-grandfather on the Stevenson paternal line. The DNA matching we have pinpoints the family but there were 4 brothers and any one of them could have been the father. My catchy title for the presentation is “Who Do You Think He Was?” The photograph is from one of London’s “lying-in” maternity hospitals in 1908, where my husband’s great-grandmother gave birth to a son in December of that year. The pregnant, unwed mother made the trip from rural south-west Scotland to London when heavily pregnant, possibly to partake of the “modern” facilities at the Queen Charlotte Hospital in Marylebone. The hospital allowed unmarried mothers to give birth there if this was their first child. Presumably this was more support than she may have been given by remaining in Scotland. After the birth she remained in London for several years, working in domestic service as a cook in a private household. Her young son spent some time in the care of a children’s home or school about 15 miles from where she was working. It’s impossible to document what their life must have been like at that point, but eventually she was able to take her son back up to Scotland where her father and stepmother lived. She eventually married and had at least two more sons. I’d love to post a photograph of this tough and resilient woman, Mabel Fanny Earley, but unfortunately there don’t seem to be any in the family. A DNA match in Canada who was essential to the discovery of the father has sent me a fabulous photo of the 4 brothers and their parents and given me a lot of information on the family. I will post those after I have shown them off at the weekend. These kind of discoveries are why I love what I do.Midwife at another London lying in hospital, 1908

Finding Philip – a brief introduction (in memory of M.P.H).

Philip Holmes

A few months ago I posted this picture on my personal Facebook page. I had seen it on a private forum for people who are searching for lost family by using simple direct-to-consumer DNA testing kits. A lovely woman called Carol, from the UK, posted this photograph of the man she believed was her maternal grandfather, Philip Holmes.  She had never met him. Her mother had grown up not knowing her father and the name and the picture were the only pieces of information they ever had.

Carol was frustrated with the search. Her Mum had DNA-tested with Most of her DNA matches were distant – 5th to 8th cousins, meaning that they shared a set of 4th great-grandparents or beyond. That can be very hard to trace, even if you can identify the ancestor you have in common. The majority of her results appeared to connect to her grandmother’s side.

I started working with Carol, analyzing her DNA results and thoroughly going through her matches. I will be posting more on the story in the near future, but I am happy to say that we were able to solve this 80-year-old mystery last week. One new DNA connection, and a great family tree meant that we were finally able to connect Carol’s Mum by DNA to a man called Philip Holmes who was born in 1903. There comes a point in DNA searching where the paper trail and the DNA line up, and this was it. We had found our Philip.

Sadly Carol’s Mum had been unwell and passed away the day after I was able to confirm the match. She is heartbroken at the loss of her Mum, but wants to continue the search to see if we can find living descendants of Philip. She has given me full permission to write about the search, which I hope to do sometime in the future, at a more appropriate time.

In the meantime I have 2 other people I am working with in search of missing relatives. The work is long, slow and detail-oriented but the results are game-changing for the field of genealogy and literally life-changing for the people involved.