Penelope Burns, born in Glasgow in 1838, was the only daughter of John Burns, merchant and manufacturer, and Elizabeth Robb, daughter of Penelope Thomson and George Robb, merchant (born in Auchterless in 1769, and brother of my 3 x great grandfather Charles).

I knew, from the account of the court case surrounding the will of Elizabeth Thomson, that Penelope emigrated to America. I’ve now found records of her in the United States Federal Census. Apparently, she arrived in America in 1872, when she would have been about 34 years old. In 1880 she was boarding at a house in Alden Street, in the city of Worcester, Massachusetts, and working as a teacher of languages. In the 1900 census, age 62, Penelope is lodging at 33 Pleasant Street, in the same city, and still working as a teacher. In both records she is said to be unmarried.


I’ve been assuming that Penelope emigrated to America by herself, as an adult, and the ‘arrival’ date of 1872 in the US census record seemed to confirm this. However, I was forgetting the evidence from the 1851 court case, over the disputed will of Elizabeth Thomson, which not only notes that Penelope’s mother Elizabeth had died by this time, but also records that her only daughter, Penelope, is already in America.

In 1851, Penelope would have been 13 years old, so the assumption must be that she emigrated as a child, presumably with her father, John Burns, variously described as a merchant and manufacturer. So far, I’ve been unable to trace either Penelope or John in the US census records for 185o – an awful lot of men named John Burns emigrated from Britain and Ireland around that time! ‘Arrival 1872’ may be a mistake (for 1842?) or refer to her arrival in the city or state?

However, I have found some additional records for Penelope, from her time in Worcester, Massachusetts. The city directories for 1888 and 1889 list her as a music teacher, living at 35 Pleasant Street, while the 1890 directory describes her simply as a teacher. She was obviously quite versatile, able to teach both music and languages.