Saturday, November 25, 2006

Who was Maggie?

From a Gamble descendent living in Canada in the general area the family emigrated from, comes the following insights into some of the family who wrote the letters from St. Vincent that we have been reading; in particular, about Maggie Neill, who we find out was a foster sister to Mary Ann Gamble...
I always wondered about the relationship between Maggie & Mary Ann. At first glance, they would appear to be sisters (some of the letters from the children are addressed to "Aunt Maggie" or "My Dear Aunt" etc.) -- but there are a few things that make me wonder -- such as the odd wording of the letter, as you noted. Mary Ann was born in 1840 or 1841 in Ireland (my family history stuff is in a box in the closet, so I'm pulling these dates from my memory), & Maggie in 1860 in Scotland, so if they were sisters, there was quite an age gap between them -- she would have been closer in age to Mary Ann & Alex's oldest daughter Elizabeth (Lizzie), who was born in Scotland in 1863.

I obtained Maggie's birth certificate information from Scotland some years ago, & William Neill was listed as her father. Her mother's name was Margaret Irwin. However --
William Neill's wife, who died in Beaverton in the early 1880s (& whom Mary Ann writes about in the letters as "my mother"), was named Elizabeth (unless the registrar got the name wrong, which is certainly possible.)

So far as we know, she never did come west. She died in Beaverton in 1949 at age 89, and is buried in the cemetery of "the old stone church" just outside Beaverton, St. Andrews. We have been there several times, as it is only about an hour's drive from where I live now (it would be about 1.5 hours from Toronto). There is a headstone there for her, & little corner markers that say "Neill." The plot, as marked by the corners, is big enough for two other graves, and although there are no markers & the cemetery has no records, I would presume that William & Elizabeth Neill are buried there beside her. I believe William's obituary in the newspaper refers to burial in the cemetery there.

When my parents & I visited Beaverton for the first time in 1984 -- 35 years after her death -- there was still instant recognition from the older residents when we'd mention Maggie's name. People remembered her as wearing long black skirts down to her ankles. She lived by herself in an old house that had hard dirt floors (the house was later torn down, but I have a photo of it from the historical society.) We don't know what happened to the loom -- I would imagine that if she still had it when she died, someone bought it or threw it out...I later wrote to the local historical society for some information about the family, & the lady who responded told me she'd received rag rugs woven by Maggie as a wedding present, so she did have it for many years after William Neill's death, and perhaps that's how she supported herself. She also told me that Maggie was credited as being a major source behind a history book about Beaverton that was written in the 1950s -- the title is "A Township on the Lake" by Mary Houston Ritchie.

After we went to Beaverton, I sent an account of our trip to some of the relatives, including Grandpa's brothers & sisters, & my Great-Uncle Allan (Grandpa Bo's oldest brother) sent me a letter back with anecdotes & tidbits that he could remember from the family history. I have just dug the letter out & this is what he wrote:

"About Maggie Neill she was Grandma Gamble's [Mary Ann's] foster sister. No more said or talked about. You see by letter Grandma told if she come, she be treat like the rest."

Unfortunately, he passed away not long after that rather cryptic comment & we never did learn anything more from him...