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Saturday, 24 August 2013

Following the trail of Donald McInnes

24 August 2013

My hope, with this my first attempt at blogging, I'll eventually attract an interested, distant family member who will stumble upon the story of our search and help us put more pieces together.

It is just over a year ago, the genealogy bug bit.  In the intervening year, I have learned a tremendous amount about my ancestors on both sides of the family, but most particularly about my maternal grandfather's family.

David Charles MacInnis, or Charlie as he was called, left us a few clues in his files.  It is unknown whether they were written by him, or provided by someone else, but we had the bare bones in a typed, Xeroxed family tree that took us back to his grandfather.  There were handwritten annotations, one in particular that had us in search of the Scottish ancestor who immigrated to Prince Edward Island.  The note said, the father of my great-great-grandfather was Charles McInnis, the ancestor who had immigrated.

A story for another day, is the search for Charles McInnis, but in the end we discovered, it was in fact Angus McInnis who emigrated from Scotland on the ship The Rambler in 1806.  He brought with him, his wife, three sons and their families.  In all, there were seventeen McInnis family members who arrived in Prince Edward Island in June 1806.  We are tremendously fortunate, the ship's list exists, allowing us to find our "McInnis" ancestors. They did not leave many other traces of who they were, where in Scotland they were from, why they left and how they lived. 

This summer, in pursuit of those elusive ancestors, my aunt and I travelled to Prince Edward Island for a week long immersion in family history.  We had a tremendous trip, learned so much and have a mountain of documents to transcribe, organize and analyze.

We found Donald!  Donald was the eldest son of our Angus and he was not anywhere to be found on Lot 33 or Lot 24 where the rest of the extended family appeared to have initially settled. He is a little piece of the puzzle we are putting together.  In genealogical terms, we are employing the FAN principle, looking for clues in our Friends, Associates and Neighbours.

Donald McInnes, Angus' eldest son, was buried in the St John's Presbyterian Church cemetery.  How did we know it was him?  Well his name, approximate year of birth and his wife's name all matched the information in the Ship's List for The Rambler  It was a lead, that required more evidence.

 In Memory of 
March 10, 1845
Aged 74 years

Now why is this so important? Well in a year of searching and as it turns out, many years of searching by a distant cousin, we have not been able to find a trace of Angus or his family in Scotland.  Finding Donald and the clues he left behind are helping us to develop theories on where our clan came from and why they left Scotland.

St John's Presbyterian Church and Cemetery, Belfast, Prince Edward Island

We also know where Donald lived on Lot 58, his former property is now called McInnis Point.  There is a road to his old property called McInnis Point Road. 

How do we know this is our Donald?  I admit some of it may seem a bit circumstantial, but given the population of the Island at the time, it is unlikely there were any other protestant men living in Prince Edward Island, named Donald McInnis, who were born about 1768.  In addition, we know that both his brothers, Hector and Allan, baptised their children at St John Presbyterian Church.   This information is found in the reference cards at the Prince Edward Island, Public Archives and Records Office as well as in the transcription on The Island Register.  Therefore, it was not improbable that Donald would also worship at St John'sFrom there, we found the record of Donald's purchase  of his property from Thomas Earl of Selkirk.  Selkirk of all people, left an enormous legacy and has left us additional clues.

The description of the property is very specific and matches with the current location of McInnis point, as well as the historical maps of the property on Island Imaged.  An undated map of the area shows that Donald deeded 80 acres to his son Angus in 1834, while his grandson Allan occupied the adjacent 80 acres in 1857.  If we doubted before whether this was our Donald, once we saw the map, there was no question.  His son Angus was a passenger on The Rambler and having a grandson named after his brother made sense.

On November 5, 1811, Selkirk settlers in Belfast Prince Edward Island, wrote a letter in support of Dr. Angus Macaulay.  Donald McInnes was included in that list of individuals who signed his name on the letter.  While I haven't seen the original letter, his name is included in the various transcriptions I have seen and on the Island Register, the transcript indicates that Donald signed his name, he did not mark his "X".  This tells us he was literate.  Directly underneath his name, is that of Angus McDonald.

What  a surprise, Donald was one of the Selkirk Pioneers!

This didn't make sense. The Selkirk Pioneers arrived in August 1803 and our McInnis family group came in 1806.

Memorial at Belfast, commemorating the 800 Highlanders who arrived in August 1803 with Thomas Earl of Selkirk.

At this point, I must pause to thank Lucille Campey  Ms. Campey is a leading historian on Scottish Settlers to Canada.  I heard her speak at the British Isles Family History Society of Greater Ottawa  September 2012 conference.  Ms. Campey's talk on Lord Selkirk, together with her two books were like a compass pointing us in the right direction.  A Very Fine Class of Immigrants - Prince Edward Island's Scottish Pioneers 1770-1850 presented the history of Scottish immigration to the Island, while The Silver Chief - Lord Selkirk and the Scottish Pioneers of Belfast, Baldoon and Red River provided detailed insights to the arrival of the 1803 Selkirk Pioneers.  Careful reading of these two books gave the essential historical context to assess the documents I would later see, as well as gave me suggestions on further references to explore.

What I believe, is that Donald did come with Selkirk and then returned home to bring his family.  Why would he go ahead by himself?  Selkirk recruited families, not individual men.

The clue lies in the Lord Selkirk Fonds in Library and Archives CanadaI still have to go and visit the archives, but the clue is in the description of the Lord Selkirk fonds:

Angus MacDonald of Lot 58,  was granted 330 acres with Donald McInnes, "Settled 1806" and "Have been settled since the Earl of Selkirk was in the Island".

But who was Angus MacDonald?  Donald's wife was Margaret McDonald.  A little Googling has pointed me to details on the family of Findlay MacDonald.  Findlay was Margaret's father, Angus was her brother.  This MacDonald family came from the Isle of Mull.  I must of course do some more thorough research so that I have evidence that this is true, it's enough for now to let me work through the story.

So Donald did come with Selkirk in 1803, but settled in 1807 as indicated in the deed.  He came with his father-in-law and partnered with his brother-in-law Angus.  Then he went back to Scotland and returned with his McInnis family.  When they returned in 1806 they must have spent that first winter in Pinnette with the MacDonald's, looking for property on which to settle. In 1807, my great-great-great-grandfather Angus McInnis, purchased property on Lot 33 where he settled with his two other sons Hector and Allan.

This is another delightful tidbit, that keeps the compass pointing toward Mull. 

Donald has left us more clues to follow that might lead us to his place of birth.  A visit to Library and Archives Canada is in order so we can see the reference to our Donald in the fonds of Lord Selkirk.

I also intend on reviewing the Lord Selkirk papers from early August 1803 until he returned to Britain.  I am hoping he may reference either Donald McInnes or Angus MacDonald in his notes.

I must also find evidence to support the information I found regarding Findlay MacDonald and his children, so that I may confirm that Donald did indeed marry the daughter of Findlay.  If this is true, then I may be able to confirm that Findlay MacDonald did come from the Isle of Mull.  If Findlay came from Mull, then it is very probably that Donald came from Mull, providing an area of focus for finding the roots of our Ancestors.

I would be delighted to hear your comments.  Please do connect if you are researching the same family lines.



  1. Dena,
    It would appear that you have done quite a bit of research, though I am puzzled at the connection to McInnis Point in Lot 50 Queens. I recently stumbled upon a family connection to John & Flora of McInnis Pt. The earliest record being 1839 (baptism) and the earliest plot record being 1880. I would be pleased to discover there is a connection, but since John & Flora were noted as Catholic the 1881 census I am doubtful.

  2. Dena,
    It would appear that you have done quite a bit of research, though I am puzzled at the connection to McInnis Point in Lot 50 Queens. I recently stumbled upon a family connection to John & Flora of McInnis Pt. The earliest record being 1839 (baptism) and the earliest plot record being 1880. I would be pleased to discover there is a connection, but since John & Flora were noted as Catholic the 1881 census I am doubtful.