So as I noted, I’ve been working on a presentation on black sheep ancestors—which I’ve found a fair number of hanging out on my family tree. Some I’ve found by accident, some I obviously went looking for—like good old H.R. I’m going to write about a few of the side characters in my presentation because of their interesting stories and the great resources I found to research them.

SmithAbner1902I was trying to be better about following out the siblings of my direct ancestors and researching the siblings of Hugh and Jane Alison Massy starting with Rowland Hill and Elizabeth Massy Alison (because siblings marrying siblings). I’d hoped the double family tie might lead me to more information on my Massy-Alison family. But while the Rowland Alison family did move briefly to Detroit and it appears Jane and family followed along right after Hugh’s death, Rowland and family quickly moved on to Chicago where they settled and the research hasn’t yet led me to further revelations on my direct line. But it did lead to a few interesting characters like Abner Smith.

Rowland had at least 5 children including Edith who married Charles Lee Caswell in 1870. The couple had two children including Charles Lee Junior who studied at Northwestern University Law School and was admitted to the Bar by the Supreme Court of the State of Illinois on 1896. He worked in practical law in Chicago until he made junior partner in the firm Smith & Caswell with Judge Abner Smith upon the Judge’s retirement from the Circuit Court Bench in 1903. Smith and Caswell can each be found among the turn of the century who’s who for Chicago prior to the fall of 1905 when Abner became the president of Bank of America and Caswell appears to have gone on to found Caswell & Healy.

DarrowonSmith19090602By April the following year Smith and several others were indicted for conspiracy leading to the wreck of the bank. Among those who lost the majority of their investments was Clarence Darrow who paid out of pocket to all small depositors and served with his partner Edgar Lee Masters (Spoon River Anthology) as attorney for the receiver, Daniel Healy, at Abner’s hearings. There are great detailed write ups in the Chicago Tribune Archives—like this one, “Smith Plea Met by New Charges”.  Abner tried every appeal possible before turning himself in to the Cook County Jail for transport to the State Penitentiary in Joliet, Illinois in May of 1909. And then the process was lengthened when the Sheriff actually refused to transport him.

SmithARasclChiTrib1909In the end he served a year and a month, and on parole in July of 1910 returned home to Chicago and practicing law. His wife Ada died in 1914, he was enumerated as a widowed lodger in 1920, and when the census came round again in 1930 he had married his former partner’s widowed mother, Mrs. Edith Alison Caswell—Rowland’s daughter and my 1st cousin 5 times removed. Abner died in 1932 at the age of 89 and Edith died a year later.

One of my biggest finds from this side trip is that the Tribune archives are fabulous for researching the notable and infamous—especially if you have Chicago roots. And as cases get messy enough you may be able to continue your research in legal reviews or biographies of notable lawyers.

For example, Reports of Cases at Common Law and in Chancery Argued and Determined in the Supreme Court of the State of Illinois Vol 239 (available in Google Books) has a detailed and verbose review of the case which charged that the defendants wrongfully, wickedly, fraudulently, feloniously and unlawfully conspired, combined, and confederated… to cheat and defraud and injure the public…” and that’s leaving out a ton.

Happy hunting,


So, I spent the majority of the night of day #6 searching Google Books, the, the website of the University of Glasgow and what felt like a billion other possibilities. I came away with a tremendous amount of information about the Inglis family including Rev. Hary Inglis’ marriage to Mary Bryce and the transcription and film numbers for their children’s baptisms. But I didn’t find the connection. And so armed with every ecclesiastical biography I could find I started day #7 chasing Inglis’ and the hint of an Alison connection.

FastiEcclesiaeScoticanaep212It took me all morning and the rediscovering of a brief biography that had actually been among the first I’d found. [Note to self (YET AGAIN) and all interested… make sure you go line by line through a document.  Skimming might mean you miss the clue you’re looking for.] In the Fasti ecclesiae scoticanae, in a successional list of Forteviot ministers I found Hary and a brief summary of his life including notes on both of his wives the widow of Mr. Maxton and Mary Bryce the widow of Alison of Tofthill.

A quick spin in offered indexed listings for the marriage of Charles Alison and Mary Bryce on 05 Oct 1747 as well as the birth of their son, Charles in Nov of 1750. Dates are lining up neatly! I also have already noted that Hary’s son John (my Harry Alison’s uncle) started his career in the church at Tibbermore and his bio appears later in the Fasti ecclesiae—followed immediately by his successor, Thomas Taylor whom married Harry’s sister, Mary Alison. Everyone’s in the right place at the right time.



I spent the rest of the day pulling together the original baptismal and marriage records and building a better picture of the families. And as always it leads to more questions about the Bryces, Alisons, and the other connections listed in Harry’s memorials–like Lord Melville and Baron Montcreiff who appear to have been instrumental in Harry’s joining the British Army.

All in all it was a very successful day and a fabulous way to close my Salt Lake trip! I can’t wait to go back again!

Happy hunting!


I went into my second to last day with a long list of things to hunt down and copy. But I was very prepared—mostly I’d been through indexes so I had mapped out where in the original documents I needed to go. It worked so well that the list I thought would take me through the rest of my stay was done by lunch—even with the wonky print server. So the rest of the afternoon was spent working on a nagging idea.

Many of Captain Harry Alison’s memorials (such as these ones here and here) detail the sponsorship of his relatives, Dr. Inglis of Greyfriars (sometimes called his uncle) and Baron Moncrief, in helping him get started in his military career. So, I spent a bit of time noodling out just who these men were. Dr. Inglis was my primary target as more than one source explicitly describes him as an uncle. So I spent the afternoon looking into the Inglis family.

GlencorseResearching the Rev. Dr. Inglis, in full, the Reverend Doctor John Inglis was very interesting as he is from a very large and prominent family of overachievers. John served as a Minister of Greyfriars, in Edinburgh, Scotland from 1799 until his death in 1832. He was a mix of politician and clergyman also serving a Dean of Chapel Royal appointed by George III until his death. In Edinburgh he married Maria Moxham Passmore and they had four sons and a daughter. One of the sons, John Inglis, later Lord Glencorse, served as the Chancellor of the University of Edinburgh and Lord-Justice General of Scotland appointed by Queen Victoria. Lofty friends for Harry! But following out this line was wandering a bit far of field considering I had no solid connection to them.

But reaching back farther into his career, I found that Dr. Inglis was first ordained in Tibbermore Parish in Perthshire and that’s where his story starts to cross the Alisons. This was the parish in which Harry’s mother, Jean Maxton, was baptized. Better yet, Inglis was the youngest son of a Hary Inglis, minister of Forteviot, Perthshire—where Harry was baptized.

And the closing messages started up. So I gathered my stuff and headed out with questions buzzing around in my head.

To be continued…

Happy hunting,


Image from The Peerage, Baronetage, and Knightage, of Great Britain and Ireland for 1863.

I knew I wouldn’t keep this up while I was in Salt Lake but the next blogs will continue to offer highlights from my recent trip to the Family History Library…

Day 2 was spent mostly on B2, the British Research Floor, further exploring my military ancestors and their relations. Among others, I searched for information on Major Wade Rothwell whose sons, Thomas and Frederick, settled in Warwick, Ontario and married Harry Alison’s daughter, Frances, and her niece (and my 3rd great aunt), Mary Anne Massy.

Interestingly, I couldn’t find him anywhere in the records. And I spent a good chunk of the morning trying to search the internet for any additional information I could find beyond one appearance as a Lieutenant in A List of Officers of the Army and of the Corps of Royal Marines in Google Books. But, through a combination of general searching on the internet and in, I was able to uncover a bit more of his story including his brevet promotion to Major while serving as a Captain in the 6th Garrison Battalion on 4 June 1814. The article below is from 1809 when he first transferred to the Garrison.


Probably the most intriguing find was this one on Black Kalendar, a website dedicated to cataloguing cases of murder, attempted murder, manslaughter, etc. in Britain from 1254-2015. This was a fabulous fluke find while googling “Lieutenant Wade Rothwell.” It notes his fine and six month sentence for participating in a duel that left a fellow Lieutenant dead… One more scoundrel on the family tree. The reference is a minimal article from the Hampshire Chronicle available through The British Newspaper Archive but it confirms that Rothwell was in the 9th Regiment. (Search on “Obrie” or “Roth Well”—with a space. The indexing is wonky.)

My fail of the day was finding a the reference down to the bundle number in the British National Archives site of a pension for an Owen Byrne (possibly my 5th great grandfather), only to find that the relevant microfilm roll ended exactly before his entry AND is wasn’t on the next roll. A Specialist did his best to assist me but he was stymied as well. My options are to have someone look it up for me at Kew or order it direct from them. And, no, for some reason it’s not in either though theoretically it should be.

Happy hunting!


There is nothing like going into a research trip while still recovering from a performance weekend! But I am happily on vacation, crossing off a bucket list item by taking a week to do research at the Family History Library in Salt Lake Cityona trip hosted by the Oakland County Genealogical Society.

I spent the majority of my first day on B2 (British Isles) tracking my Massys and Alisons during their time serving in the British Military. As noted before I had located a detailed service record for Hugh Massy but hadn’t been able to find the equivalent for his father-in-law, Harry. Well, with the help of one of the specialists, and after going through a lot of microfilm, I finally found an equivalent record for Harry Alison. A service record with his birth date and place, marriage date and place, outline of service at home and abroad, promotions, and children’s birth dates and location of baptisms. That by itself was a tremendous find for me. And I have a stack of baptismal records and a new web resource to play with.

DetailAlisonHarryServiceRecordNot bad for a first day’s work!

Happy Hunting,


AlisonSarrellMg1863Today marks the 142nd Anniversary of the death of my 4th Great Grand Uncle, a strange, and interesting, figure in history whom I only learned about by accident.

Charles Wright Parker Alison was the second son of Captain Harry and Frances (Sinclair) Alison and the brother of my 4th Great Grandmother Jane (Alison) Massy. Charles was born in 1811 (possibly on St. Vincent in the West Indies) and raised around the world while his father served as a Paymaster for the 90th Regiment Light Infantry (the Perthshire Volunteers). His youngest brother in a memoir credits Charles as being “the only one of the family that left his mark in the world.” Where his older brothers followed their father into the military, Charles took another route to service. He instead joined the Foreign Service and had a highly successful if eccentric career as an envoy for the British Empire.

Charles early career included stints in Albania, Egypt, Syria, Samos, Serbia, Bosnia, and Wallachia. On 20 Feb 1857 he was appointed Oriental Secretary at Constantinople and in December was promoted to Secretary of her Majesty’s Embassy there. In 1858 Queen Victoria appointed him Her Majesty’s Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary to the Shah of Persia and in 1860 he was appointed a Companion of the Order of Bath.

After likely meeting while he served in Constantinople, Charles married Eliza (Sarrell) Baltazzi, the widow of banker Theodore Baltazzi, on 28 Feb 1863 in Paris, France. But the marriage was short-lived. While Charles was on assignment in Tehran, Persia, Eliza traveled to Cairo, Egypt with her daughter Helen Baltazzi, fell ill and died on 27 Dec 1863 at the Hotel D’Orient. Charles did maintain some connection with her family as her nephew Henry Hardy Ongley was appointed with him in Persia as well as served as his personal secretary for a time. Charles was also one of the godparents of another nephew, Philip Charles Sarrell, in 1866.

In The English Amongst the Persians historian Denis Wright notes that Charles did “acquire an Armenian mistress” and with her had at least one child, Victoria. He also spends a bit of time on his career and rumors about his conduct in Tehran.1 In fact there is an interesting Chancery case noted in The Weekly Reporter in January of 1875 regarding both Alison’s alleged children and a subsequent marriage between his mistress, Vardine Rafael, and his nephew Henry Ongley.

By contrast to Wright’s descriptions, one of Alison’s contemporaries and friends, Sir Austin Henry Layard described him thus:

He had real genius and was singularly gifted. He was, perhaps, the man the most highly endowed by nature that I have ever known. His qualities of head and heart were equally remarkable. He was generous, affectionate, and unselfish, of the most amiable disposition and the most equal temper. He was an accomplished linguist, speaking and writing Turkish, Persian, and Greek, and several European languages, with perfect facility, and having a sufficient knowledge of Arabic. He was a skillful musician, playing on several instruments, and would have been an excellent artist had he given himself seriously to art. His memory was singularly tenacious, and although he had not read much, he had retained all that he had read.2

A description that echoes the list of accomplishments his brother described of most of their siblings as well as their mother.

Charles served in Persia until April of 1872 where after a twenty day illness he succumbed to pneumonia attended by the British Doctor to the embassy and the Shah’s own chief physician, as well as the tender ministrations of his sister Mrs. Julia Dixon (Alison) Hill. He died the 29th of April and was buried in the Armenian Church of Saints Teddy and Bartholomew in Tehran, Persia.

I’d love to find out more about Charles and I am very curious to know if his line (the children of Vardine Rafael) survived.

Happy hunting,


  1. Wright, Denis. The Persians Amongst the English: Episodes in Anglo-Persian History. London: I.B. Tauris, 2001, p. 26.
  2. Layard, Austen H. Early Adventures in Persia, Susiana, and Babylonia: Including a Residence Among the Bakhtiyari and Other Wild Tribes Before the Discovery of Nineveh. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011, 439-440.

As I mentioned yesterday, part of this trip was inspired by the detailed footnotes in Eleanor Neilsen’s The Egremont Road which has a lovely section on the Alisons and their allied families. And one of the main sources she pointed to was a memoir created by Peter John Alison, Harry’s youngest child, which is held at the Western Archives at Western University in London, Ontario. So, another one of our stops was in London so that I could look at the manuscript as well as an Alison photo album that I found in their catalogue when I was searching for the memoir.

The Archives is located in the D. B. Weldon Library on campus and getting to it was a little trickier that I thought it would be. But when you reach the building it’s huge and, at least for the day I was there, it was consistently packed. Luckily, the Archives are tucked into the back corner of a large Main Floor and you feel miles away from anyone when you’re tucked into the cozy reading room and working.

It’s suggested that you contact the Archives ahead of time for materials that they need to pull from storage (as pulls are only done three times a day) so I had struck up a conversation with one of their staff by email and both boxes were pretty much waiting for me on arrival. I settled in and spent most of the day on Peter’s memoir which, according to the top page was created to satisfy a persistent cousin to whom he remarks:

You have asked me so often to write you an account of my early days in the back woods of Ontario, Canada, that I think I will have to do as the Unjust Judge did with the widow – Grant your request to get rid of you.

The document gives a rough background to the family but it is full of interesting tidbits about his parents and siblings through the eyes of the baby of the family (he was six at the time of their move to Canada). He didn’t display a lot of respect for his elder brothers whom he felt were no help to their father in the initial establishment of their households in Warwick commenting:

My eldest brother had been in the Army with my father’s regiment, and my next brother had been in the Navy, they were not fitted for the bush life at all. It was pitiful to see them using an axe, the one most useful tool of those early days. They would chop around a tree like a beaver, then of course, they would not know which way the tree was going to fall, except it had decided leaning in one direction.

But he did admire his sisters (at least in retrospect) and their accomplishments:

My sisters were all highly accomplished for my mother had them taught by the best French and English masters, it was delightful to hear them play and sing to the piano, harp and guitar, and they spoke Greek and Italian as well as they could English.

In the memoir he shares his memories of his sisters Frances and Julia’s courtships (with Thomas Rothwell and Robert Hill respectively) in detail and humorously.

The manuscript by itself was worth the trip but the other item I had pulled turned out to be a photo album given to Frances (Travers) Alison, Peter John’s wife, in February of 1880. Very few of the pictures are labeled but among the ones that are is a picture of Peter’s brother, Brisbain. I would love to be able to identify more of the images through my research but we’ll see how that works out.

The staff at the archives were very helpful and a pleasure to work with!

Happy hunting,



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