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.
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.
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!