I have traced back to a John McAllister born in 1856 in St Quivox, Ayrshire in Scotland. I have his marriage certificate which names both his parents (Thomas McAllister and Martha Strachan) however I also have his birth certificate that only names the mother and labels him as illegitimate. On his birth certificate he is named "John Strachan" but then amended to "Archibald Strachan". Archibald is Thomas's father's name.

He then appears in the 1861 census. Martha McKie (MacKie is the surname of a previous husband/partner) is named as head of the house with her two sons William McKie and John McAllister.

Thomas and Martha marry later in 1861.

He then appears on the 1871 census as Archibald McAllister (same age) but from then on the name Archibald is never seen again and he goes as John McAllister.

Does the fact that Thomas is named as the father on John's marriage certificate give any certainty or does it only indicate that is who he considered his father (or even believed was his father)?

Does the fact he is named "McAllister" in the census while his mother is listed as "McKie" give additional weight to Thomas being the father?

Obviously not even an explicit legal document tells if he really is the biological father - only that he claimed to be.

To make things slightly more complex, Martha's family seems very dysfunctional with several illegitimate children.

UPDATE: After looking back at my records I have corrected some information above - in particular the marriage is not later in the year he was born but later in the year of the census.

  • 2
    +1 for asking this question instead of taking the certificate at face value. And welcome to G&FH.SE!
    – Jan Murphy
    Commented Dec 13, 2014 at 23:41
  • Would checking a will be helpful? I don't think that illegitimacy is removed when the parents marry, so the father (Thomas) might have needed to make special arrangements or requests for John to inherit anything. You may find telling comments written there such as 'John McAllister, of my own blood', etc. Commented Dec 17, 2014 at 8:33
  • @CanadianGirlScout I've tried the wills index on Scotland's People but there is nothing there - I don't know how complete it is but also he was a probably poor coal miner so quite probably had no will.
    – neil
    Commented Dec 17, 2014 at 23:03

2 Answers 2


Unfortunately it isn't definite proof that he is, but equally does not rule him out either. DNA testing will be the only way of proving 100% and everything else will be about the weight of evidence. So objectively gathering as much as you can both for and against would be the way forward.

Is John named on the birth certificate as McAllister or Strachan? This is a small piece of evidence in favour. Usually illegitimate children named on birth certificates have the mother's maiden name if the identity of the father wanted to be kept secret. If he was named as McAllister then this lends weight to the argument that Thomas was his father.

Another place to look might be to see if Martha claimed poor relief. Often the Church would name (and shame) the father. This isn't my area of expertise though so I may be slightly off with this recommendation.

  • John is named Strachan on the birth certificate but is named McAllister on a census before the marriage. I'll have to see if there are other parish records that might name and shame.
    – neil
    Commented Dec 14, 2014 at 17:20
  • @neil I think it would be good to add those additional details into your question via an edit to it.
    – PolyGeo
    Commented Dec 15, 2014 at 2:35
  • 3
    Don't trust the last names on the census. I've often seen children I know have different last names share the same name as their family on the census records. Commented Dec 15, 2014 at 13:40
  • @PearsonArtPhoto The name on the census probably strengthens the case as it is shown as McAllister when Martha's is not. It appears she wanted to identify him as a McAllister (see additional info I've added to the question).
    – neil
    Commented Dec 17, 2014 at 23:05
  • The Kirk session records aren't online and are held in Kilmarnock - I'll have to try and plan a visit there.
    – neil
    Commented Dec 17, 2014 at 23:07

Martha Strachan is my great-great-great grandmother.

She was married to James Mackie (engine keeper) and she had a son William Muir Mackie.

James Mackie died and Martha went to live with William and his wife Helen Fitzsimmons in a village named Annbank,(Tarbolton Parish). William died and Martha continued to live with her daughter in law and her children.(Francis, James, John, Matthew, Martha, Agnes, Helen & Euphemia (my great grandmother).

I had noticed in a census that these children were named Strachan, this is wrong, Mackie was definitely their surname.

A few years later Martha went on to marry Thomas McAllister and lived near Mauchline. I would have thought that Martha would have been of an age by this time that there would not have been any more children. I must be wrong on that account. I would love to know more about Martha before she married James Mackie.

  • 1
    Welcome to G&FH SE! As a new user be sure to take the Tour to learn about our focussed Q&A format which is quite different from bulletin boards, discussion forums and other Q&A sites you may be used to. As it stands your "answer" does not appear to be directly addressing the question asked and will most probably be deleted soon. I suggest that you use the information and gaps that you have to ask a new question. You can always link to this one by copying its URL into the beginning of your question.
    – PolyGeo
    Commented Mar 22, 2017 at 22:23
  • Thanks for getting in touch. I need to look back at the data properly but Martha is also my great great great grandmother so I think that makes us 4th cousins.
    – neil
    Commented Mar 23, 2017 at 18:23
  • I've just created a chat where we can discuss this - chat.stackexchange.com/rooms/55936/martha-strachan - there are things that don't seem to tally between our two versions of history.
    – neil
    Commented Mar 23, 2017 at 23:30
  • Hi Neil, for some reason I cannot access the chat Commented Mar 27, 2017 at 14:01
  • I don't know why it didn't work - I haven't used the chat before. If you email me on [email protected] - I don't want to post my real email address publicly but that will forward to me for the next week.
    – neil
    Commented Mar 30, 2017 at 19:31

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