This is the story of putting together some clues about the Murdocks of Pictou, Nova Scotia and developing a solid idea of who the family was.
In my continuing search for Rachel, the mother of my great great grandmother Jessie Ruth (MacLeod) Murdock, I have been investigating an idea that she was in fact related to her father-in-law, William Murdock. Both were from Pictou, Nova Scotia, and I am finding very little other evidence of how or why a single young woman came to Providence from Pictou. I have previously described the MacLeod family that had adopted her in Pictou, and my investigation of the Murdocks’ surprising lives in Providence.
Now, it’s time to trace the Murdocks back to New Glasgow, Pictou, Nova Scotia.
Pictou, Nova Scotia
I knew that New Glasgow was the city that the Murdocks came from because it was often listed as a birthplace for the Murdock children and it was on Eliza Murdock’s death record. From my prior research on the Murdocks I knew that the family consisted of:
- William Murdock, shoemaker, later expressman and farmer, born 25 Dec 1825 in Pictou, died 1890. According to his Providence marriage record (to second wife, Maggie) and his death record, his parents were Robert and Mary.
- his wife Eliza Coghill, (or Cogill, Caghill, Cahill) Murdock, born approx 1832 in Nova Scotia, died 1864 in Providence. She had a possible brother nearby in Providence, Daniel Coghill.
- Their children:
- Mary Tanner Murdock, 1849-1899
- Martha M Murdock, 1852-1940
- Annie Murdock, 1856-1876
- Jessie McIntosh Murdock, 1859-1919
- Emma Scott Murdock, 1861-1865.
- William’s second wife Maggie Lawrence
- Their children:
- Louis Rufus Murdock (from Maggie’s family, not the son of William Murdock)
- William Clark Murdock
Thanks to the children’s names I clearly had some helpful evidence to pursue in Pictou records. The websites www.NovaStory.ca, Pictou County GenWeb and The Genealogical Association of Nova Scotia were helpful in my search for sources on the Pictou area. I quickly realized there was not going to be much previously compiled work on the Murdocks or Coghills/Cahills for me to look at. I was building the evidence myself.
Looking at books
Several books provided some further clues but no real answers.
- History of the County of Pictou by Rev. George Patterson, 1877 (I have the Mika Studio reprint, 1972) and its typescript index by Robert Kennedy (published by the Pictou Academy Educational Foundation, 1975) mention William Murdoch (someone too old to be MY William Murdock) twice: once, in a map of the town of Pictou circa 1793, and again, in a list of money owed in 1803 for the building of a bridge in Pictou.
- Historical and Genealogical Record of the First Settlers of Colchester County by Thomas Miller (Halifax: A & W Mackinlay, 1873) describes a Logan family among the first settlers of Truro in Colchester County. Janet Logan came from Londonderry, Ireland to Nova Scotia in 1760, with five adult children. Her oldest son was John, married to Mary, and John and Mary’s second daughter was Janet Logan, born in Truro, 1770. Janet married William Murdoch. from p. 121: “They resided for a time in a house which stood near her father’s and afterwards removed to Pictou Town, where they spent the remainder of their days. They had four sons: ”
- William Murdoch
- Rev. John L Murdoch
- James Murdoch
- Robert Murdoch (father of my William Murdock)
- William Murdoch
- Pictonians at Home and Abroad by Rev. J. P. MacPhie (Boston: Pinkham Press, 1914) recounts on page 34 the story of Pictou Academy, begun in the 1810’s, with rigorous educational programs. John L. Murdock trained for the ministry there, and was later awarded an M.A. degree from the University of Glasgow (p. 34 & 35). He served as a Presbyterian minister in Windsor, Nova Scotia for many years.
- Scotland Farewell: The Story of the People of the Hector by Donald McKay (Toronto: Natural Heritage, 2001) gives us one more insight. Describing again the formation of the Pictou Academy and its brilliant founders, he characterizes John L Murdock:
“… Such were McCullough’s standards that no one was surprised when John Logan Murdock, whose father was a shoemaker, went to Glasgow University in Scotland with three classmates to study for the Master of Arts degree and all four were awarded M.A.’s without need of further study.” — Scotland Farewell, p. 203
These clues go together something like this:
- My William Murdock of New Glasgow and Providence (1825-1890), shoemaker
- — son of Robert Murdock of Pictou Town (1802-1868)
- — — son of William Murdock of Truro and Pictou Town, shoemaker.
Looking at deeds
I was able to see some deeds on microfilm at the New England Historic Genealogical Society.
The first was badly written and reproduced, but shows the children and widow of the elder William Murdock, who died in 1830. “This indenture made the seventeenth day of January … 1831 … between Robert Murdoch of Pictou … Blacksmith … and Mary his wife of the one part & James Murdoch of Pictou … Tinsmith of the other part.” William Murdock, James Murdock, and “Mrs. Murdoch the said Robert’s Mother” (also called Mrs. Jane Murdock in other spots) are abutters.
— Nova Scotia, Pictou County Land Records. Deeds, v. 13-14, 1829-1831. Volume 14, p. 341-343.
In the 1855 deed, Robert, blacksmith, had purchased some land at auction from the estate of Ann Freeman. In this one his wife was recorded as Janet, which matches the second marriage record I have found. On the next page, a deed is recorded selling this same property to Richard Clark Murdock, blacksmith (would be his son, brother of the younger William Murdock). James McIntosh is a witness.
— Nova Scotia, Pictou County Land Records. Deeds, v. 39-40, 1854-1855. Volume 40, p. 258-260.
There are many more deeds to explore, but these begin to help me match up all the various pieces of data I am finding.
Add some poetry
You truly never know where you will find an answer to a family history puzzle. In this case, I found it in a book of poetry. This lead originally came to me from Mitch Scharoff, a fellow Murdock researcher. He was pretty sure about the links to my William Murdock (in fact he tipped me off to most of the books mentioned here), but the names are pretty common and I wanted to prove this for myself. It was only when I put the book information together with the names, above, and the deeds, above, that it brought the whole solution into clarity. Mitch was right, and he and I are fifth cousins once removed.
A Complete Work of Robert Murdoch, P.L.P., containing his Poems, Songs, Toasts and Epigrams, with a sketch of the Life of the Poet from his school days up to the time of the publication of this work. (Halifax, N.S.: W.M. McNab, 1890).
While I knew Robert Murdock was the name of William’s father, I could recognize right away that this author/poet was too recent to be him. In his “Life of the Author” he gave the following sketchy facts:
- “my father was the youngest son of William Murdoch, who was drowned off Pictou Island when out fishing”
- “My mother was the daughter of the late Thomas and Rachel Tanner, who emigrated to this country in the year 1819, from Brandon, County Cork, Ireland.”
- “My birth dates back to 26th Nov., 1836.”
- “In the year 1847 my mother died, leaving me and two sisters, the eldest a young woman and the other a mere child of five or six years.”
- [around 1854] “My father married Janet Gordon, of Gairloch”
- [I] “eloped with a fine girl, Ann, daughter of the late Angus and Abigal Kell … on 17th of April, 1859, by whom I became the father of twelve children …”
- “My brother, Richard Clarke [Murdock]“
- “my present wife, Maria J, daughter of George Langill.”
I would draw a couple of conclusions from this:
- He omits his mother’s, father’s and sisters’ names.
- When he says his mother left him and two sisters, I believe he meant AT HOME. Later, he specifically mentions another brother, Richard Clarke Murdoch.
- The name of his grandmother Rachel jumped out at me, since I am trying to find out if William’s family could contain a younger Rachel.
- The name of his grandfather, William, seemed like another possible link to my William Murdock.
- There was a passage about his younger sister that seemed poignant:
… my father got married to Janet Gordon, of Gairloch, and I can, with the greatest truth and pleasure, say that she was one of the best stepmothers that was ever put over orphan children ; my mother, I say with truth, never treated me nor my little sister better. I firmly believe had she been more harsh and severe it would have been better for us both ; but it was not her nature, she being always of a quiet disposition.
- This quote, above, seems like something you might say, looking back after many years, about a sister who had a baby while unmarried, which is what I suspect Rachel’s situation was.
Some things I missed
- The oldest daughter was Mary Tanner Murdoch, and I knew William’s mother was Mary, but I did not instantly suspect that his mother was Mary Tanner.
- Mitch gave the basic outline of this to me about a year ago. Not sure why it took me so long to find a little more backup and examine the whole thing.
- Find the children of each of William Murdock’s siblings, to see if Rachel is among them, or look for any links from the Murdocks to the MacLeods.
- Look for a will or probate record for William Murdock’s widow, Maggie (Lawrence) (Murdock) Knight who died in Providence, Rhode Island in 1921.
- Follow up with the Public Archives of Nova Scotia on a court case I found in The Journal of Historical Geography 30 p. 70-86 footnote 91 (Katie Pickles, Locating widows in mid-nineteenth century Pictou County, Nova Scotia): PANS RG 39 C Vol. 2 #16 Queen v. Murdoch, July 23, 1862.
Follow up on a note in Ancestry.com tree Laprise Family Tree, owner rllaprise, “Marriage William Murdock/Ann Harris 1828 7 Aug (Pictou, Nova Scotia) Colonial Patriot newspaper, 13th Aug. 1828 issue.”
- Look at Pictou deeds for further information about the earlier William Murdock and any possible parentage.
- follow up on 1855 deed witness James McIntosh, since I am wondering why one of William’s daughters has the middle name McIntosh.