Sarah Jackson – A Light in the Dark

When I first began researching the family my grandmother was one of the few names I knew and finding her birth record was quite easy.

Scottish birth records are wonderfully detailed. As you can see with one document we have evidence of both parents which includes their date and place of marriage, their current address, the child’s birth date and name, and even the time of birth. For now, it’s the place of birth that is of interest. There was no hospital or clinic – Sarah was born at home.

The address, 66 Muse Lane was in Cowcaddens, one of Glasgow’s most notorious slums. Indeed, some have described it as the very worst in Europe. Frederick Engels, co-author of The Communist Manifesto wrote, ‘I did not believe, until I visited the wynds [side alleys] of Glasgow, that so large an amount of filth, crime, misery and disease existed in one spot in any civilised country’. The slums were ravaged by waves of sickness and arguably the most deadly was Typhus Fever. The infant mortality rate (190 per 1000 births) was triple that seen in other areas of the city. The population of Glasgow had quadrupled in 50 years and adequate housing and infrastructure simply did not exist in the slums. Each person in Cowcaddens had 5 square feet of space and indoor plumbing was virtually unheard of. The most modern community housing structure at the time was known as ‘the rat pit’, a name that soon came to describe the entire area. Such was the world into which Sarah was born. Certainly one could be forgiven for developing a sense of bitterness.

Census records are generally a very valuable tool for the genealogist. To follow an individual with known family members one need do little more than look for the recurring pattern of names. This approach did not work with the Jackson family in the 1881 census. It took a great deal of research, but the true picture eventually came into focus. The family was scattered. Ellen (Sarah’s mother) had died on 3 March 1881 just days before Sarah’s first birthday. Her father, Angus, was in hospital and near death. Both had contracted Typhus Fever. Her older brothers, James and Angus (ages 19 & 16) are found living together at an address described as 81 Stirling Street – Backland. Presumably this means they were not actually in that building, but in the lot behind – homeless in today’s parlance. James was listed as a Groom or Stable Helper while Angus was a Labourer in Foundry. Sarah and the rest of the children were found listed as inmates of the Glasgow Workhouse.

One must bear in mind that there was very little in the way of a social safety net in the 1880’s. Even those with a job were apt to be malnourished which helped the spread of disease. If you became ill there was no relief, no unemployment insurance, no sick pay, no nothing. Evictions were conducted very swiftly with no legal recourse. Such was life for Sarah on her first birthday.

The workhouse she was sent to was started as a lunatic asylum and housed some 1500 people. It was one of the largest poorhouses in Britain and had many deficiencies. In 1882 two separate reports condemned the building citing lack of proper sanitation, toilets used for washing dishes, no separation of sick and well inmates, poor ventilation, and lack of outdoor space. The reports revealed that 2 bath tubs were used for 290 inmates in a 12 hour day. Inmates were allowed one bath per week. Regardless, the Workhouse did not close its doors for 25 more years.

Sarah’s father eventually recovered and went on to remarry in 1885 (I had been blissfully unaware that I had a step-great-grandmother). The 1891 census shows Sarah as a 12 year old. It is the first and only time we see the Jackson’s living together as a family although both James and Angus have moved on. Notably, Sarah has three new sisters – only two of whom would survive childhood. As always, though, tragedy was lurking around the corner.

The 1901 census finds 21 year old Sarah living alone with her 15 year old half-sister, Lizzie. By the time Sarah married Hugh McCormick in 1902 she had lost 2 mothers, her father, 2 younger sisters, and 3 older brothers are unaccounted for. She lived in the most squalid conditions on earth and spent time in one of Glasgow’s most notorious workhouses. Her life story seems to be the perfect recipe for creating an angry, twisted human. However, she defied the odds. Everyone I’ve talked to who knew her described her in glowing terms. ‘Sweet’ is probably the adjective used most often. It’s not just that they speak well of her, but they actually go further and try desperately to impress upon the listener just how good a person she was.

Sarah’s half-sister Lizzie went on to marry and raised a flock of children. She named the 6th of her eight children Sarah McCormack(sic) Hewitt. Following up on a DNA match I corresponded with my 2nd cousin, Andrea McIntyre who had this to say,

andrea mcintyre
Oct 18, 2018 at 8:07 am
Hi, I thought that was your grandmother, that was the only aunt that my mother Sarah who was called after your grandmother knew and remembered as she used to visit and slip them half a crown to help them out, but knew of no background of their family, my mum was told her own mother Elizabeth Jackson was an orphan, which makes sense now with doing family tree, I saw that also about Angus Jackson and wife in Belvidere Hospital. Thank you for info Andrea

I never met my grandmother as she passed away before I was born. I think I missed a real treat. She was born and raised in a very dark time and place yet, by all accounts, was a beacon of light. She refused to let circumstances turn her into a reflection of her world. She rose above all that and made life better for everyone. Those of you who carry her name have some mighty big shoes to fill. Good luck.

Inside the model housing

ps. if anyone out there has a picture of Sarah it would be greatly appreciated

The Helen Jackson Mystery

Helen was my Great-grandmother, of that we’re reasonably sure. She was first identified in the marriage record of Sarah Jackson and Hugh McCormick:

December 31st 1902
North Woodside Hall
Raglan Street Glasgow
After publication according to the forms of the Church of Scotland
Hugh McCormick, Carter, Bachelor
Age 24 (?)
15 Stirling Street Glasgow
Parents – Hugh McCormick, Carter
Catherine McCormick – MS Hattrick
Sarah Jackson, Glass Painter, Spinster
Age 22
56 Water Street Glasgow
Parents – Angus Jackson, Shoemaker, Deceased
Helen Jackson, MS Crow, Deceased
J H McCormick
J Bowers (?)
John Ronald MacGregor BD Milton Parish

National Records of Scotland

At this time everything seems fairly straightforward. However, the waters are muddied with the birth record of Helen’s first child, James Jackson (b.1861). The birth record reads as follows:

Angus Jackson, Shoemaker (Journeyman)
Helen Jackson, MS Dunlop
Married – 29 August 1859, Belfast Ireland

Informant – Helen Jackson, Mother

She gave her maiden name as Dunlop and provided a different marriage date. At first one is inclined to believe this is a different couple. However, a search of Irish records shows that there were no Jackson or Dunlop marriages on the day in question. Moreover, there is not a single record of an Angus Jackson ever marrying a Dunlop. Indeed, the only record for an Angus is this one which supports information she gave on other records –

Ellen Crow
Angus Jackson
21st March 1860

You will note the difference in forename and it’s a recurring theme. Apparently Helen and Ellen are interchangeable names.

This inconsistency is troublesome enough on its own yet it is just the beginning. Upon her death in 1881 Angus was hospitalised and near death himself. Both had fallen prey to one of the waves of Typhus Fever that ravaged the slums of Glasgow. The task of reporting her passing fell to the aforementioned James who seemed less than well informed as to his family history. This is a transcript of Helen/Ellen’s record of death:

Deaths in the District of Bridgeton
Burgh of Glasgow
Belvidere Hospital
3 March 1881
Ellen Jackson
Aged 40
66 Muse Lane, Cowcaddens
Married to Angus Jackson, Shoemaker (Journeyman)
Thomas Finlay, Seaman (Merchant Service), Deceased
Susan Harvey, Formerly Finlay, MS Donaghy, Deceased
Cause of Death – Typhus Fever as cert by James W Allen MB
Informant – James Jackson, Son, 39 Weaver Street, Glasgow
Registered 7 March 1881 at Glasgow, Jas Gardner Assistant Registrar

National Records of Scotland

He managed to get the address right. At least it agrees with the information Helen/Ellen gave upon Sarah’s birth in 1880 – 66 Muse Lane. After that he seems to have lost his way. His paternal grandfather, James Jackson, was a seaman in the merchant service, but Thomas Finlay? Susan Harvey? Finlay? Donaghy? He raised more questions than he answered.

At present we believe Susan Harvey might have been born in 1815 as there is a marriage record for Susan Jackson and John Harvey in 1860. This suggests she was likely Angus’s aunt. Perhaps while unraveling the tangle of names James supplied we might just stumble across a Dunlop.

A Quick McHistory

Whenever any discussion of McCormick ancestry arises one of the first questions asked is, are they Scottish or Irish? At this point my answer has to be that they have strong connections to both Ireland and Scotland, but are of neither. They are Dalriadan.

Before there was Scotland or even the Kingdom of Alba there was Dalriada – also spelled

dalriada map
Map of Dalriada

Dál Riata or Dál Riada . At its height, toward the end of the 0600s and early 0700s, Dalriada consisted of the Inner Hebrides, parts of Northern Ireland (Ulster) and Scotland’s west coast. It was a natural union of inhabitants for whom Sruth na Maoile (Eng – North Channel, Straits of Moyle, Sea of Moyle) was neither a border nor a barrier, but a roadway to be travelled and embraced. Its capital is believed to have been Dunadd in Argyle and Bute. Perhaps its most important site was the monastery on Iona from which Celtic Christianity spread across the isles with St.Columba.

It was an idyllic, beautiful kingdom and I wish I could say peaceful, but such was rarely the case. Invaders came from all quarters and eventually Dalriada ceased to exist as a political entity. Currently all of its territory is occupied by the UK. However, conquerors may come and go but the kinship of the people who formed this natural alliance remains. In that sense Dalriada is forever.

MacLaine of Lochbuie Crest

The McCormicks (there are many different spellings) are a sept of Clan MacLaine of Lochbuie. The following has been taken from the Clan’s official website and demonstrates the Dalriadan affinity with some clarity.

Biadh is deoch do MhacCormaig – “Food and Drink for MacCormicks”.

Following the death of Iain Og in 1539, Moy Castle was occupied by Iain Og’s brother, the Maclean of Scallastle. Murdoch Gearr, now Iain Og’s heir, fled to Ireland to his cousin, the Earl of Antrim. Antrim was impressed with young Murdoch, who had sworn to expel his uncle from Moy, and gave Murdoch a boat with a force of MacCormick warriors.
Murdoch and the MacCormick sailed for Lochbuie, and recaptured the castle, expelling Scallastle and his supporters. In gratitude to MacCormick, Murdoch had carved into the lintel above the east facing doorway of Moy Castle, the Gallic words meaning “Food and Drink for MacCormicks” – meant to signify that anyone who bore this name would always be welcomed at Moy Castle.
To this day, the MacCormick sept holds a seat of honour within Clan Maclaine of Lochbuie.

The Dalriadan theme is further emphasised by the Clan’s coat of arms which has a red lion in the first quadrant of the shield signifying descent from Dalriada. Indeed, the clan’s estate was granted by one of the Lords of the Isles in the mid 1300s. Alas, in 1920 the MacLaines were once again dispossessed of Moy Castle and the estate through a lawsuit. (I will write them to see if they require our further assistance. However, I will make it quite clear that they cannot expect us to save their bacon every 500 years).

The modern history of the McCormicks seems to begin in Ireland, but as I’ve found, that could change as more information is discovered. It had long been assumed that our immediate family (beginning with Jim and Ruth) was the first Canadian connection. However, recent discoveries show that is not the case and that McCormick descendants were prowling about London, Ontario in the late 1800s (more on that in a later post). Similarly, it was assumed Hugh and Catherine were the first to settle in modern day Scotland but evidence shows his older sister preceded him to Glasgow. In short, the tale that begins in Ulster leads us to Canada, the USA, England, Australia, New Zealand, Wales, and even places like Malaysia. I shall endeavour to bring some of our ancestors stories to life in these pages. The journey is convoluted and without end, but filled with tribulations and courage, struggles and perseverance, tragedy and hope.


Shortly after posting this I received the following email from Clan Chief, Lorne Maclaine of Lochbuie, 26th Baron of Moy,

Good evening Bill,

I think you and I could become good friends!

Yes.. I would welcome the MacCormicks help once again to re-take Moy Castle, but sadly the PC police might get annoyed with our probable methods. Ooh that it was a few hundred years ago when such things were possible.

Thanks for your sentiments, and food and drink is always supplied at a Lochbuie Gatherings, especially to the MacCormick team. In fact the current senior Clan officer is a MacCormick.

Best wishes,

Lorne Maclaine of Lochbuie.