Alison Cheyne

“Tell my Story”

Now and again, when you are researching family trees, you come across someone who  holds a fascination for you, who says “tell my story”‘ This is the story of one such woman.

To start with,  I was asked to look for the family of “Effie Ferguson” who was born in Dunfermline in 1903. I discovered that in fact, Effie (or Euphemia, to give her her Sunday name) was born in Oakley. She was the daughter of Daniel Ferguson and Jane (or Jeanie) McNeill. They had been married in 1893 in Muiravonside in Lanarkshire, but Daniel had moved to Fife because of work. Effie was one of 8 children.  

Moving back a generation I found that Daniel was the son of John Ferguson and his wife Alison Cheyne. He was born in Avonhead, New Monkland, Lanarkshire on the 23rd of January 1872.

It is Alison that I want to tell you about.   

Alison Cheyne was born about 1854 in Newton Village, Midlothian, the daughter of John Cheyne, a coal miner and  his wife, Jane Dunn.   On 23rd  June 1871 she married John Ferguson in Avonhead.  He was born about 1848 in Alloa, Clackmannanshire,  the son of Daniel Ferguson and his wife Janet Izatt..

The marriage produced two children, Daniel and his sister Jane (or Jeanie) who was born 18th July 1873. .

So, then I looked for John and Alison’s deaths. Sadly, John died on 20th  November 1873 in the Gorehill Pit, New Monkland, Lanarkshire, when his daughter Jeanie was only a few months old. His death registration told me little apart from it being a mining accident. I wanted to know more, if I could.

I looked at the Scottish Mining records but could find nothing. Then I searched the British Newspaper Archives, and found:

Glasgow Herald – Saturday 22 November 1873   AIRDRIE – Fatal Pit Accident –    At an early hour yesterday morning, a miner, named John Ferguson, residing at Avonhead, was accidentally killed in No. 4 Coal Pit, Arden. Along with three workmen he had been firing a shot, and after lighting the match, had entered the cage to be drawn up. After the cage started Ferguson attempted to leap off, but got entangled, and was drawn up the shaft some distance head downwards. Before the engine could be stopped he was jammed between the cage and the side of the shaft, and when extricated life was quite extinct. He was 26 years of age, and has left a wife and two children.  

But what of Alison? She was 19 when John died. When did she die? I could find nothing in the Scottish Records. Had she remarried?  About 10  months after John Ferguson’s  death, on 3rd Jul 1874 in Avonhead, Alison married James Haldane,  a collier. He was born Abt. 1851, probably in Tillicoultry, Clackmannanshire. At the time of their marriage he was a 23-year-old widower, she was 20, with no occupation shown, A bit quick? Well, she did have two small children to support after all.  

Then in 1878 the following article appeared in the newspapers: 

Glasgow Herald – 13 March 1878  Edinburgh Evening News – 13 March 1878 Sessions of Lanarkshire Remarkable Bigamy Case Before Sheriff Birnie yesterday, Alison Cheyne or Haldane pleaded guilty to a charge under a jury libel of marrying Thomas Malcolm, miner, Blantyre, on 29th December 1876, while James Haldane, to whom she was married in 13 July 1874, was still alive. From the statement of her agent, Mr Campbell, the case was in some respect remarkable. Accused, who is 23 years of age, when 16 years old was married to a sinker, who was killed, after two children had been born, at Black’s Pit, Rawyards. Nine or ten months afterwards she met Haldane, and married him on an acquaintance of ten days. He developed all the vices, and left her at the end of six weeks without having contributed a penny towards her support. Led, on the representation of a friend, to believe (though the Fiscal did not admit this) that Haldane was dead, she married Malcolm, with whom she had lived happily, until an evil-disposed person, because she would not give her money to buy whisky, informed Malcolm, who, greatly incensed, told the Police. The Sheriff, taking into account that she had been two months in prison, and that Haldane had deserted her at the end of six weeks, passed sentence of four months imprisonment. 

 At this point her two Ferguson children were probably with her mother, where they appear to have remained for some years.

So, who was Thomas Malcolm?   How on earth had Alison ended up in Prison?

Two years after she had been deserted, by James Haldane,  apparently in the belief that he  was dead she had married Thomas Malcolm, a Carter, on 29th  Dec 1876 in Thornwood, Bothwell, Lanarkshire. He was born 31st  December  1855 in Bothwell, Lanarkshire to William Malcolm, a Limestone Contractor, and his wife Margaret Russell. He is shown as a 21-year-old Bachelor and she 22 and a widow, working as a Farm Servant.

They had two children, William and Edith.

 As a result of the trial their marriage entry was cancelled, and their children were declared illegitimate.

William Malcolm was born 2nd Apr 1877 in Auchentibber, Lanarkshire, and Edith Mary Malcolm was born 8th July 1878 in The County Prison, Beckford Street, Hamilton, Lanarkshire

(It was impossible to find out about the conditions in Hamilton Prison, but from reports of other such establishments of the time, it is possible that there were was no segregation of male and female prisoners. While the men were probably in cells, the women often had to make do with the floors and corridors. They were possibly abused by the guards and other prisoners, and any comfort would be at the discretion of the Matron or Governors wife. Her confinement was possibly a very public affair.)

Thomas Malcolm married legitimately in 1879. – not to Alison. It would appear that he did not want his children. A record of Sheriff Court Paternity Cases I found  as I was writing this shows:

Register of Extracted Decrees

Pursuer Alison Cheyne or Ferguson or Haldane, Carmouth, Bridge of Earn, Perthshire (formerly at Longriggend, Airdrie)
Defender Thomas Malcolm, Carter, Drumloch Limeworks, Glassford
Child’s Date of Birth 22 April 1877
Year Extract Issued 1880
Sheriff Court Hamilton
County Lanarkshire


Pursuer Alison Cheyne or Ferguson or Haldane, Carmouth, Bridge of Earn, Perthshire (formerly at Longriggend, Airdrie)
Defender Thomas Malcolm, Carter, Drumloch Limeworks, Glassford
Child’s Date of Birth 4 July 1878
Year Extract Issued 1880
Sheriff Court Hamilton
County Lanarkshire
NRS Reference SC37/7/24 p. 290
Notes Child born in Hamilton Prison

I wish I had seen this when I was doing the original research, it would have saved me a lot of time hunting for Alison.

The next time we meet the “ Malcolm”  children is in 1881

1881 Census

Address: 1 Braehead,Tillicoultry, Clackmannanshire

Helen Spiers Head Widow 40 Ross & Cromarty
Barbara Allan Boarder Unmarried 26 Millworker (Wool) Tillicoultry, Clackmannanshire
George Allan Boarder 4 Glasgow, Lanarkshire
William Malcolm Boarder 3 Blantyre, Lanarkshire
Mary Malcolm Boarder 2 Hamilton, Lanarkshire

William Malcolm died as the result of an accident on 20 Sep 1882 in Braehead, Tillicoultry, Clackmannanshire. His death registration shows his cause of death to be “Injury to Brain – result of Accident  3½ days” His death was registered by Helen Spiers (Nurse). The RCE shows that he had fallen in the house and had been concussed for 4 days. He was 5 years old.

1891 Census

Address: Stirling Street, Tillicoultry, Clackmannanshire

Helen Spiers Head Widow 50 Children’s Nurse  Ross & Cromarty
Williamina McFarlane Boarder Unmarried 16 Millworker Kennet, Clackmannanshire
Mary E Malcolm Boarder 12 Millworker Hamilton, Lanarkshire
James Colquhoun Boarder 6 Scholar Glasgow, Lanarkshire
Helen M Divine Boarder Under 1 Glasgow, Lanarkshire

So, who was Helen Speirs? Why were the children sent to Clackmannanshire? There were connections with the area in the Ferguson and the Malcom families. Was she a relation? I tried unsuccessfully to find out. Mary lived with Helen until her marriage in 1899.

But where was Alison? Well……..Yes, I know now, but it took some time to find her.

1881 Census

Address: Balhepburn Farm House, Rhynd, Perthshire

Thomas Robb Head Married 62 Farmer of 215 Acres all arrable Employing 3 Men 2 Girls 1 Boy Perthshire, Perth
Catherine Robb Wife Married 59 Perthshire, Perth
David Robb Son Unmarried 19 Farmer’s Son Edinburgh
Henry Robb Son 11 Scholar Perthshire, Rhynd
Elizabeth Robb Daughter Unmarried 29 Farmer’s Daughter Leith
Alison Cheyne  Servant Unmarried 23 Domestic Servant Nottingrange 
Isabella Pollock Servant Unmarried 21 Domestic Servant Lanarkshire

This is where things become “interesting”  Girl?  23 ? Really?  In fact, she is 27, and Single? Let’s not go there.

But then things became clearer……

On the next farm …..

1881 Census

Address: Balhepburn Bothy, Rhynd, Perthshire

Robert Sinclair Head Unmarried 18 Farm Servant Perthshire, Perth 
George Traill Unmarried 19 Farm Servant Fife, Auchtermuchty

Finally, she married George Traill, now a Carter, on 21st March 1885 in 173 Shamrock Street, Glasgow (by Declaration- a civil ceremony), son of Ebenezer Traill, a Cotton Weaver and his wife Christine Anderson.  He was born 16 Dec 1860 in Back Wynd, Auchtermuchty, Fife.

 According to their marriage registration George was a 25-year-old Bachelor and Alison (using her maiden name) a 26-year-old Spinster, a Dairy Maid. Whether this marriage was also bigamous is uncertain. Alison was in fact 31. A pattern was emerging.

Christina Traill was born on 17th March 1882 in 40 Moss Street, Glasgow, Lanarkshire, this was 3 years before her parents married. Again, more questions, why did they wait ? Had they heard some news about Mr Haldane?

1891 Census

Address: New Keppochhill Road, Glasgow, St Rollox, Lanarkshire

George Traill Head Married 30 Carter Auchtermuchty, Fife
Allison Traill Wife Married 36 Wallyford, Midlothian
Christina Traill Daughter 9 Scholar Glasgow, Lanarkshire

* Allison was 41

1901 Census

Address: 598, New Keppochhill Road, Glasgow, St Rollox, Lanarkshire 

George Traill Head Married 42 Contractor’s Carter Auchtermuchty, Fife
Allison Traill Wife Married 47 Dalkeith, Midlothian

Alison was 51

George died of Smallpox on13th March  1902 in The Belvidere Hospital, Glasgow, Lanarkshire.  His death was registered by JOHN GAILEY, his Son in Law.

There was no trace of Alison on the 1911 Census.

Christina Traill had married John Gailey on 17th November 1898 in Craigbank House, Glasgow.  He was born about 1876, in Ireland.

1901 Census

Address: 2 Masterton Street, Glasgow

John Gailey Head Married 25 Contractor’s Carter Ireland
Ann* Gailey Wife Married 19 Lanarkshire, Glasgow
William Gailey Son 1 Lanarkshire, Glasgow
George Gailey Son 1 mo Lanarkshire, Glasgow

By 1906 John Gailey is a Coal Dealer. They had 5 children, but one died in infancy.

On 28 February 1908 Christina and her four surviving children sailed from Glasgow to New York on the ‘Columbia’  to join her husband. 

1910 Census

Address: Eagle Mills, Brick Church Road, Brunswick, Rensselaer, New York

John Gailey Head Married 32 Farmer b. Ireland
Christina Gailey Wife Married 27 b. Scotland
William Gailey Son 10 b. Scotland
John G Gailey Son 7 b. Scotland 
Alice Gailey Daughter 5 b. Scotland
Agnes Gailey Daughter 3 b. Scotland

It would appear Alison followed in 1915  to settle with them. On the Passenger List she is shown as Mrs Alice Traill, age 55. Actually, she is 61. 

1915 Census

Address: Brunswick, Rensselaer, New York

John Gailey Head Married 33 Farmer Scotland
Christina Gailey Wife Married 32 Housework Scotland
William Gailey Son Unmarried 17 School Scotland
John Gailey Son 13 School Scotland
Alice Gailey Daughter 11 School Scotland
Nancy Gailey Daughter 9 School Scotland
Alicon Traill Mother in Law Widow 38* Scotland


1920 Census

Address: Farm, Crossroad, Brunswick, Rensselaer, New York

John Gailey Head Married 42 Farmer b. Ireland
Christina Gailey Wife Married 37 b. Scotland
William Gailey Son Single 21 Farm Labourer b. Scotland
John Gailey Son 17  Farm Labourer b. Scotland
Alice Gailey Daughter 15 b. Scotland
Agnes Gailey Daughter 13 b. Scotland
James Gailey Son 3 b. New York
Martha Traill* Mother in Law 65 b. Scotland

1930 Census

Address:  1 Hoosick Road, Brunswick, Rensselaer, New York, USA

John Gailey Head 54 Married Farmer b. Scotland
Christina Gailey Wife 48 Married   b. Scotland
Alice Gailey Daughter 26 Single Stitcher in Factory b. Scotland
Agnes Gailey Daughter 24 Single Stitcher in Factory b. Scotland
James Gailey Son 14     b. New York
Alice Treville Mother in Law 77 Widow   b. Scotland
Conrad W Unsole Boarder   Single Farm Labourer b. Germany

Oh No! She hasn’t?, I thought. Not another marriage?  Then I found her……Phew!, she hadn’t.

1940 Census

Address: Hoosick Road, Brunswick, Rensselaer, New York

John Gailey Head Married 59 Farmer (own Farm) b. Scotland
Christina Gailey Wife Married 57 b. Scotland
William Gailey Grandson Single 16 New York
Mary Gailey Grand Daughter 14 New York
Alberta Gailey Grand Daughter 6 New York
Robert Gailey Grandson 6 New York
Alice Traill Mother in Law Widow 86 b. Scotland

Alison Cheyne died in 1950 in Troy, New York. She was 96. But what of her children?

Daniel Ferguson and his family emigrated to Ohio, USA

Jeanie Ferguson married and died in 1963 In Paisley.

Edith Mary Malcolm married and died in 1952 in Uddingston.

Christina Traill died in 1973 in Troy, New York, She was 91.