Sunday, 21 July 2013

A boy named Ruth?

I was puzzled to find a son named Ruth McConnell in the 1881 census. "Ancestry" is confused about this, too, and thinks it is a girl. I looked at the original and it definitely says Ruth and son. Strange!

I was looking at a Dreghorn family called both McConnell and Connell. Some of the children called themselves Connell and others McConnell. I have see this sort of thing previously before standardisation of spelling. The father David was a coal miner (1851 census and on 1858 marriage cert of daughter) ) who became a seaman (1861 census wife at home as "seaman's wife"). This is quite an unusual change of occupation. One of his sons, Allan Bone McConnell, became a sea captain.

Seamen can be hard to track as they are often at sea during the censuses. Sometimes you can find them with "vessels" as a location but it is hard to be sure since they are not with other family members. Allan B McConnell, since he was a captain, was easier to find. Masters and mates certificates can be viewed via the ancestry website. They give date of birth, address and vessels sailed on.
He started off on the City of Ningpu in Feb 1866 and served on the City of Glasgow and the City of Florence to gain his Second Mate's certificate on 1 April 1871. His address was West Portland Street Troon which is also what is on the 1871 census. He was living with his mother, the seaman's wife.
He continued on the City of Florence and gained his First Mate's certificate in November 1872.
In 1876 he was living in Glasgow when he gained his Master's certificate. He had also served on the City of Benares, City of Cambridge and City of Poonah.

Pictures of some of the ships of the SG line on which Allan served:

In 1881 census he is married with children and living in Bristol
In 1891 census the family in in Falmouth with son "Ruth" 3 months, born at sea. Being born at sea makes it impossible to find a birth record.
I can't find the family in the censuses after 1891. But I do find Allan's sister living with a nephew Ruthwell in 1901 in Barrhead, near Glasgow. So it is definitely a boy! But where did the name Ruthwell come from?

The answer I find in another mariner's record. In 1891 Allan reapplies for his master's certicifate. it seems the original one was lost when he abandoned his ship the SV Wamphray on 19 Oct 1891. Listed amongst ships he had sailed on was the Ruthwell from Aug 1885 to 31 Dec 1890.   Baby "Ruth" was named after the ship he was born on.

The address on the 1892 certificate is 12 Corunna Street, Glasgow. Allan died in 1918 in Glasgow. Son Ruthwell registered the death.

As for the abandonment of the SV Wamphray, it seems it was carrying coal from Glasgow to San Francisco and went on fire in the Weddell Sea near Cape Horn. The crew were all picked up by another vessel.


  1. I stumbled across this account as I was researching modern usage of Kay as a boy's name (I am a male Kay). But this was a great piece of detective work on your part to figure out the origin of Ruthwell's name.

  2. Thank you, Kay! I have not come across any male Kays before!