Elizabeth Robb and John Burns

In this latest post in my series on the second generation of the Robb-Thomson-Young family in Glasgow, I turn to Elizabeth Robb, the second child of Penelope Thomson’s marriage to George Robb, merchant, the brother of my 3 x great grandfather Charles.

The old parish registers for Glasgow include the following record:

John Burns merchant Glasgow and Elizabeth Robb residing in Barony, lawful daughter of the deceased George Robb Esq. merchant Glasgow, married at Glasgow the 16th day of August 1836 by the Rev. Nathaniel Paterson minister of St. Andrew’s Parish Glasgow.

I understand that John and Elizabeth only had one child. Penelope Burns was born in Glasgow on 26 January 1838. The witnesses were Elizabeth’s brother George, and Alexander Burns. This record describes John as a manufacturer rather than as a merchant.

St. Andrews parish church, Glasgow

This is, in fact, the last definite record we have for John and Elizabeth. I’ve failed to find them in the 1841 or 1851 census records, though we know from the report of the court case concerning Elizabeth Thomson’s will that Elizabeth Burns had died by the latter date.

The same court report states that Penelope Burns was now (i.e. July 1851) living in America. Since she would only have been 13 at this date, it seems likely either that John, Elizabeth and Penelope emigrated when the latter was very young and that Elizabeth died there, or that John and Penelope emigrated after Elizabeth’s death. However, I’ve yet to find any documentary evidence to support either possibility, though emigration or travel would account for the absence of Scottish records for the family after 1838.

Some time ago, I wrote about Penelope Burns’ life in America, based on the US records I’d been able to find. I can now add somewhat to this story, though with the cautionary note that I’m still not absolutely sure this is ‘our’ Penelope. The Federal Census of 1880 finds a single, white, Scottish-born woman by the name of Penelope Burns working as a teacher of languages, and lodging, together with a number of other teachers, in the home of Eli Thayer in Worcester, Massachussetts.

Eli Thayer (Wikipedia)

Although the census record describes Thayer as an inventor, he was also a member of the US House of Representatives and a leading figure in the anti-slavery ‘Kansas Crusade’. Most relevant to our story, Eli Thayer also founded Oread Institute, a school for young women in Worcester. Presumably, Penelope Burns and the other teachers lodging with the Thayer family worked at the school. In fact, a history of the institute lists Miss Penelope Burns as an honorary member of its association, membership of which was open to ‘any person who taught at the Oread Collegiate Institute at any time between 1849 and 1881.’

The only discrepancy between these records and what we know of Penelope, daughter of John and Elizabeth Burns, is her date of birth, which the 1880 census gives as 1841. However, a record in the 1900 Federal Census, which appears to be for the same person, gives her date of birth as 1838. This record finds teacher Penelope Robb, 62, lodging in Pleasant Street, Worcester. The Worcester Directories of 1888 and 1889 give the same address for Penelope.

Oread Castle, home to the Oread Institute (Wikipedia)

This later census record raises another doubt, since it gives the date of Penelope’s immigration to the US as 1872, when we know that she was in America by 1851. Perhaps the earlier visit was only temporary?  She was naturalised as a US citizen in 1880, the record again sowing doubts about her age. According to the Naturalisation Index, Penelope was born in 1840, rather than 1838. However, the fact that she gives the same birthday – 26 January – suggests that this is probably the same person, and that she was in the habit of shaving a couple of years off her true age.

As with her father and mother, I have no information about the date or place of Penelope Burns’ death.

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