The Crosby side of my tree is descended from the McDonalds; or is it the MacDonalds? There is also a spattering of McDonnells in the tree; or is it the MacDonnells? Quite frankly, to be honest, I don’t know. Complicating matters is the marriage of, as my Grandmother Catherine used to say, the McDonalds & MacDonalds. I have checked with my father and my aunts and all relate that same story — their mother told each of them that her father was a McDonald and her mother a MacDonald. Added to the family lore is that the MacDonalds were from the Highlands of Scotland, while the McDonalds were Lowlanders. Family lore also tells that my grandmother Catherine (McDonald) Crosby was descended from royalty.
Its difficult to know if my grandmother told these tales to her children to fascinate them and feed their imaginations. But I can’t say that any of the family lore, or legend, is true. However, neither can I say it is false.
My Grandmother’s name appears on vital records consistently as MacDonald. However, this is far from conclusive. On her marriage certificate she is known as MacDonald, but she provided this information. Her death certificate lists her parents, Jacob and Flora as MacDonald; but there is a problem here as well. My uncle Harry is listed as the informant on the death certificate and, as often is the case with death certificates, the informant was mistaken. Catherine’s father was actually Angus John McDonald, not Jacob. Jacob Khattar was Flora’s second husband. This mystery could be solved with Catherine’s birth certificate, but that has yet to be discovered. The birth record of Catherine’s sister Annie has not been found either.
My father’s birth certificate has the MacDonald name. However, his marriage certificate lists his mother as Katherine McCloskey — an error which has never been explained.
I did a search on the Internet to find out the difference between the Mc/Mac prefix. The answer below, found on a bulletin board, best describes the usage:
Historically, Mac was a surname prefix for Irish or Scottish sons. Many people believe that “Mc” is Irish and “Mac” is Scottish,”Mac” is Highland and “Mc” is Lowland, that “Mac” is noble and “Mc” is common, that “Mac” meant a legitimate son and “Mc” was an illegitimate son, etc.. but Mc is merely an abbreviation of Mac, and both forms are in use in both places . In reality, no such differences exist. “Mac” is the Gaelic word for “son.”
Vital Records in Nova Scotia for all the ancestors of Catherine have, thankfully, been consistent. McDonald appears almost exclusively for my Great Grandparents and beyond. Even so, whenever I search vital records in Canada or the U.S.A. I look for both variations of the name. The same is true for the other names in the family. MacDonnell/McDonnell, MacInnis/McInnis, MacIntyre/McIntye, McDougall/MacDougall.
In Nova Scotia the name Mc/MacDonald is very common. It is as common as Smith in the U.S. The commonness adds to the confusion while researching. It becomes difficult to remember which part of the family you are researching and can send you off in a tangent at a moment’s notice. More than once I have verbalized my own frustration, when by myself and often accompanied buy an expletive! Its confusing.
One night I was searching the Canadian censuses for my Great Grandmother Flora and I was frustrated that I could not find her family on the roles. I was pretty certain that I knew the census district where the family lived and, seeing how my searches for Mc/Mac were coming-up empty, I decided to do a manual search. The 1891 census for the River Denys district was 56 pages long so I started looking at each page. I scanned the column for McDonald/MacDonald and wasn’t seeing any. I took a break to give my eyes a rest. After a few minutes I looked back at the screen and saw something that I had missed.
On several pages the last name “Donald” appeared often. Well, whoever the census taker was had placed the Mc/Mac after the root name. In other words “McDonald, Thomas” was recorded as “Donald Mc, Thomas”. NO WONDER my searches were coming back empty! I went back to the search page and entered “Flora Donald Mc” and sure enough I found my great grandmother. She was living in the same house as all the other Donald Mcs in the family. I looked at the census and found several pages where the census taker added the families of “Donald Mc, Leod Mc, Innis Mc, Intry Mc, Dougall Mc” and so on. The transcribers, whose job it was to index the names “as they appear” on the census, did their job. The problem was with the initial census taker.
My discovery of the Donald Mc type entries has caused me to manually look through many pages of census records, in the hopes of finding a missing ancestor. It is just one more step that must be done in the Mc/Mac search. I have come across another oddity on the pages. Sometimes the Mc/Mac is moved from the last name column to the first name column: “Donald, Mc Flora”. Even though I have never found such and entry for my ancestors, the mere presence of the name format forces me to search this variation.
At the time of this writing my McDonald research is at a brickwall. I have stalled at Dougall McDonald on one branch and Roderick McDonald on another. Someday, if I am able to get past my brickwalls, I will be researching my ancestors in Scotland. Hopefully, the frustration that I have experienced with Nova Scotia will have prepared me for the land of Mcs & Macs.