John, William, James or David?

Searching for more documentary evidence.


Mugshots from Barrhill – the four Stevenson brothers from the surviving family photograph. You can find the previous parts of this story here and here.

Right time, right place?

Mabel’s son, (my husband’s grandfather) was born on 21 December 1908, a few months after Mabel’s 20th birthday. Assuming that this was a full-term pregnancy, conception would have taken place around the middle of March 1908. As Mabel had been working as a maid in a country house near Barrhill, it seems fair to assume that she met the father of her child there. When there is not much else to go on, we have to hypothesize.

In March of 1908, John Stevenson was 22. His brother William was 19. James was 17 and David, the youngest, was just a few months past his 16th birthday. There’s nothing conclusive we can draw from any of this. I was more interested in trying to prove where they were living around this time. Cousin L from 23andMe had mentioned that the brothers all went to New Zealand. So, was it possible that some of the brothers could be eliminated by proving they left for New Zealand before 1908?

I couldn’t find any of them recorded as passengers on the available ships’ manifests for voyages from the UK to Australia or New Zealand. But by cross-referencing information about the family on with searchable death records at, I was able to locate death records for three of them. John, William and David had all died in New Zealand according to the index. The NZ government website told me that one of the pieces of information listed on the death certificates should be the number of years that person had lived there. I applied for the certificates online and waited to have them emailed to me.

The death certificates yielded the following information:

  • David Maxwell Stevenson died in 1965 and had been living in New Zealand for 54 years. This meant his approximate year of arrival was 1911.
  • William Stevenson, “retired dairy farmer”, died there in 1963 after living there for 51 years. So he arrived there around 1912.

The death certificate for John Stevenson was difficult to read. He died in 1918 when he was only 33. He had been married for a year at the time of his death. The figure in the “number of years” column is unclear – it could be a one or it could be a nine. As he had married the previous year, and records seemed to indicate that he met his wife there rather than traveling to New Zealand with her, I went with “9”.

These dates didn’t help eliminate any of the brothers as the father of Mabel’s child.

James Stevenson was nowhere to be found in the New Zealand records.  Nor was he in the 1911 Scottish census, at least locally to Barrhill. Unfortunately a wider search of the same census revealed hundreds of young men by the name of James Stevenson. My feeling is that he may not have gone there, but at this point it is just not clear where he went.

A new family member

A few weeks ago we got another match on Ancestry, connecting my husband to this same family of Stevensons. Looking at this person’s tree, I can see that she is a direct descendant of David Stevenson. I’m hoping that if I ask her the right questions, she may have some answers that will help sort out this paternity mystery.

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