(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.
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.*
(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:
One 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.