An unexpected helping hand

Robert Muir and Margaret Lavery Marriage record for Robert Muir and Margaret Lavery. (Click on the images to expand them.)

Tracing one’s family back to their country of origin can be daunting; often the birthplaces found on census records are just countries, with no indication given of province or county. Therefore, when I found my great-great-grandfather on the 1920 United States Federal Census, I groaned inwardly when I read the birthplaces of his parents: Scotland and Ireland.

William Muir’s parents were a Robert and Margaret Muir. As I noted yesterday, I found them in the 1860 United States Federal Census living in Charlestown, Massachusetts. While Margaret Muir gives a vague birthplace of Ireland, Robert Muir, born circa 1830, gives a more specific birthplace: Orkney, Scotland. Wondering if Robert was consistent in his birthplace, I searched for their marriage. Robert Muir married Margaret Lavery in Charlestown on 30 November 1856. Once again, Margaret lists her birthplace as Ireland; however, Robert becomes even more specific, listing his birthplace as Kirkwall in Orkney.

Robert Muir naturalizationFinally, in his petition for naturalization, Robert once again states that he was born in the Orkneys, Scotland.

Relieved that I would be saved from searching for all Robert Muirs born in Scotland circa 1830, I googled Orkney. As it turns out, Orkney refers to the Orkney Islands, a cluster of islands off of the northern coast of Scotland.

Searching for genealogical information on the Orkney Islands, I found Orkney Genealogy: Family Heritage of the Orkney Islands of Scotland, which contains a database for births and baptisms of the Orkney Islands by surname. Based on the birthdate found in Robert’s naturalization record (18 September 1830), and the parents’ names found on his marriage record (William and Margaret Muir), I was able to find a match: a Robert Muir, born 19 September 1831 – or one year and a day later – to William Muir and Margaret Guthrie.

Robert Muir birth record Birth record of Robert Muir, Orkney Genealogy (

Using this site, I was able to find all of Robert’s siblings, along with a transcription of the marriage record of William Muir and Margaret Guthrie. I was even able to find Robert in the 1841 Scotland Census living in Kirkwall, along with his parents and siblings. With all of the snags and brick walls I have hit with my other immigrant ancestors, finding the origin of Robert Muir seems almost too easy!

Katrina Fahy

About Katrina Fahy

Katrina, a native of Dedham, Massachusetts, earned a B.A. in History and Art History from St. Anselm College. Previously, she interned at the New Hampshire Historical Society, constructing biographies of New Hampshire quilt makers as well as transcribing a mid-nineteenth century New Hampshire diary and creating an educational program based on its contents. Katrina's research interests include New England and South East regions, as well as the American Revolution.View all posts by Katrina Fahy