Frustrations of the family historian

As I’ve mentioned before, my interest in family history began back in 1972, when I was 16 years old. My father’s cousin Edna was visiting from New Zealand and were all invited to a big Robb family gathering in East Ham to meet her. Edna told us that, during her visit to Britain, she had been exploring our family’s history. She had been able to confirm that the Robbs originated in Scotland, and even claimed there was a connection to the famous Rob Roy MacGregor.

But what really fired my imagination were three typewritten pages which Edna had put together, with information about the Robbs going back three generations. Edna gave us a copy of the sheets to take away, and in the days that followed I set about trying to plot the details on a family tree. At first I was confused. The pages seemed to run together information from a family Bible with a ‘memorandum’, and the latter seemed to be written by two different people (my 2 x great grandfather, William, and his son, Charles Edward). Eventually, I managed to make sense of the document, but I wish now that we’d asked Edna where she found the information, and who owned the original. Now she’s no longer with us, and her surviving family in New Zealand have no record of her researches.

The information in the memorandum and Bible extracts enabled me to make a start on tracing my family’s history, and provided the foundation for my own research when I returned to it many years later. Many of the details contained in Edna’s sheets have been confirmed by other records, but it’s frustrating that much of the information remains unsupported by official evidence.

For example, John Brechin in Aberdeen recently put me in touch with Stuart Donald, the official archivist for the Episcopal diocese of Aberdeen and Orkney. I asked if he could confirm the information in William Robb’s memorandum that his aunt, the sister of my 3 x great grandfather Charles, had been baptised in St Paul’s Chapel, Aberdeeen, in March 1805. Unfortunately, Stuart could find no record of this baptism.

Or to take another example: William Robb’s memorandum (written in 1880) states that his father, Charles Edward Stuart Robb, born in Aberdeenshire, married Margaret Ricketts Monteith on 15th October 1802. But I’ve been unable to find any record of this wedding online, or any trace of Margaret’s birth. William also claims that his mother was ‘the only daughter of John Monteith and Matilda his wife who was the daughter of Viscount Stormont who was engaged as well as my Father’s father in the affair of Prince Charles attempt to gain the crown 1745/6.’ Again, I’ve found no trace of a John and Matilda Monteith who had a daughter Margaret (this would have been in the early 1780s), and neither is there any record of a Matilda being born to either of the Viscount Stormonts who were alive during this period.

As for the involvement of Charles’ father (George?) in the 1745 Jacobite rebellion, this has also proved impossible to substantiate. I recently obtained a copy of Frances McDonnell’s Jacobites of 1745: North East Scotland, but the only Robbs it mentions in its exhaustive list are Elizabeth Robb, 1712, a knitter from Aberdeen, who was transported in 1747, and James Robb, a servant to the Sherriff Clerk in Aberdeen. I’ve also bought a copy of the new edition of No Quarter Given: The Muster Roll of Prince Charles Edward Stuart’s Army, 1745-46, but again it has proved disappointing. In the general index there are only two Robbs: John Robb, a member of Gedd’s company in the Duke of Perth’s regiment (no indication of where he came from), and James Robb, a servant from Balkie, Airlie, of the Forfarshire (Ogilvie’s) regiment.

And yet, there is the fact that my 4 x great grandfather (George?) gave his youngest son, my 3 x great grandfather, the name Charles Edward Stuart Robb. And the fact that Charles’ older brother William, an Episcopal minister, was the chaplain to Lord Elibank – like Viscount Stormont, a member of the aristocratic Murray family. How did he obtain this post, one wonders? 

I’m not quite sure where to go next with these questions. One reason for posting all of this information on this site is my faint hope that someone will find their way here who can help to fill in some of these frustrating gaps in my family’s history.

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