I was very lucky as a child, that my Mother kept a baby book that documented my early years. I know that because I was the eldest, she paid close attention to it, my younger sisters were not so lucky. I think that she was interested in her family history and wanted to make sure that she passed on some of the information to me, through the book. As I became interested in genealogy myself, this book helped me get back into a time where I could find source documents for my ancestors. By naming my eight great-grandparents with each of their birth years and locations, she gifted me with those tools, and I am so grateful.
One great grandparents stood out to me – that was George Everett Scroggie who was born on August 30th, 1888 in St. Louis, Missouri according to her notes. Now, I had heard that George was Scottish and he had lived in Hamilton, Ontario so what is the story behind his birth in Missouri?
In talking with one of my cousins who so luckily is the keeper of the family’s old photos, she mentioned a couple of stories to me about George and his upbringing. She said that George and his siblings were placed in an orphanage after their mother’s death, by their father and his new wife, a “school marm”. The family in Scotland was not happy and sent for the children, bringing them back to Scotland, where they were split up to be raised. Was there any truth to this story…I intended to find out!
Working backwards, I found a passenger list from March 1899 for the Ship Dominion, that sailed from Boston to Liverpool, carrying passengers Alice (age 14), William (age 11), George (age 9) and Bessie (age 7) Scroggie.
I subsequently found each of the children living with different family members and friends. A death registration for Bessie was then found for August 1900, when she died from acute meningitis at the age of 8 years. Her parents are listed as George Scroggie (Settmaker, deceased) and Alice Marie Cunningham. These parents were also listed on George Everett Scroggie marriage registration from 1920 in Kent County, Ontario and his birth location was specifically Syenite, Farmington County, Missouri.
So, armed with a more specific location as well as parents names, I turned to the US records to do more digging. In the Missouri birth records, I was able to find a registration for Alice Scroggie and William Scroggie but not for George or Bessie. Alice’s registration, dated August 1885, claims that her father Geo. C. Scroggie is 21 years old, born in Scotland and is a paving maker. Her mother is Myra Alice Cunningham, aged 24 years, is an American who was born in St. Francois County, Missouri. The registration was made in Knob Lick, Missouri. So, Alice was born in 1885, William’s registration was for 1886, George’s birth was reportedly 1888 and young Bessie died in 1900 at the age of 8, making her birth year about 1892.
Moving backwards, a marriage record was found for the marriage license between George C. Scroggie of Syenite, St. Francois, Missouri and Miss Myra Cunningham of the same place.
Other records show that George Catto Scroggie was a stone dresser in Aberdeen, Scotland at the time of the 1881 Census of Scotland. The area of Knob Lick in Missouri was known for its Granite Mountains, and there was a quarry there during the 1880’s. It was run by a Scotsman who reputedly brought many masons from Scotland to work in the quarries. At some point between the 1881 census and his marriage in 1885, George emigrated to the area.
The children left the US in 1899, Bessie died in 1900 and on her registration, it says her father is deceased. So, my hypothesis was that the children left after their father passed away. Deduction says that he must have died between 1892 and 1899. A search of the Missouri death records did not turn up anything. When I opened the search up for a George Scroggie (using soundex), death between 1892 and 1899, I found it. He died on January 4th, 1899 in Douglas, Worcester, Massachusetts at the age of 34 years, 2 months and 10 days. He was a stone cutter, born in Scotland with parents listed as William and Chistina Catto (incorrectly transcribed as Cotter). How and when did he go to Massachusetts? A departure from Boston later that year for the children, does make logistical sense. So, he died and they left.
But my lack of knowledge of Myra Alice Cunningham and her death still plagued me. What had happened to her? A broad search for her across all US records, turned up and 1870 and 1880 census record for her, both in Liberty, St. Francois, Missouri. In 1870, she is 9 years old, is the second of four children to parents Frank (age 35, carpenter, born in Missouri) and Frances (age 30, born in Tennessee). By the 1880 census, her mother Frances (age 40, born in Tennessee) is a widow and there are six children listed (Augustus age 21, Mira age 19, Charles age 15, Frances and Laura both age 10, and Earnest age 6).
Nothing else was found for her – no birth and no death. And, going sideways in my search and looking for records for her siblings, did not yield a single birth or death registration that might confirm the parents. But a search for Frank Cunningham did produce a couple of key pieces of information – a marriage record from 1858 in St. Francois, Missouri between what is transcribed as Charles B Cummingham and Miss Frances Cantrill. Unfortunately, the scan of the document makes it very difficult to read. Also, several Civil War draft documents and a Civil War pension document for Charles F. Cunningham. According to his Civil War file, he died on December 20, 1875 in Knob Lick. The 1860 census for Liberty, St. Francois, Missouri lists a CF Cunningham (age 25, a carpenter, born in Missouri) with wife Frances (age 21, born in Tennessee) and son A.E. (age 1, born in Missouri) places the family together.
Unable to find anything more about Myra Alice Cunningham on Ancestry, I turned to the Newspaper archives to see if I could find anything. And this is where I hit the jackpot. I was able to find an obituary for her dated August 3, 1893 printed in the Iron County Register in the news section from Graniteville. The notice tells of her death on July 29th, calls her Mrs. Geo Scroggie, aged 33 years, mentions four little children aged from one to nine years and that her brother Everet Cunningham came up for the funeral. It also mentions a lingering illness for two years and a burial in the Middlebrook Cemetery.
A search back in time on Newspapers.com, yielded several articles about her illness, starting in February 1892. Also interesting were several articles published about her husband George in 1892. In one, he is serving on a jury, in another he is leaving for a few months to work and in another he is returning home to visit his family. All during the time that his wife is sick, indicating the working conditions in the quarries at the time.
Now, I know that Myra died in August 1893 and George died in January 1899, where were the kids during this time and is there any record of an orphanage? I contacted the Missouri Historical Society at this point an inquired about an orphanage. For a small fee, they checked the records from “Asylum” – a children’s home at the time. They were able to find several records – the first of which is the admittance of the three older children on August 5th, 1893, only one week after their mother’s death. Interesting how in her obituary, she pleads for her children to be taken care of, and within a week they are admitted to an orphanage. It’s hard not to judge, even though I understand how difficult it would have been for George to care for four little children while working in the quarries. Youngest sister Bessie, would be admitted in October of that same year.
It also seems that Bessie was “stolen” from the Asylum in November 1893 by her grandmother (suspect Frances Cantrell Cunnigham) and then returned in October 1894. Finally, all the children are sent to their teacher in New York in 1897. No clue as to who the teacher is and if their father George is involved or not.
By looking at various sources, I was able to piece together the timeline and confirm the events that were part of my great grandfather’s early life. He was born in Missouri, his mother died when he was 5 years old, he was placed in a Children’s Asylum, he was released four years later and sent to a teacher in New York, his father died eighteen months later, he was sent back to his father’s native Aberdeen, Scotland where he was raised by an Aunt and Uncle. Within ten years, he had emigrated to Ontario, Canada where he would marry and raise his children. What a circle of life, I am glad to have doggedly continued with the research to learn all of these details!
Scroggie family circa 1892 – l to r – Willie, George Catto, George, Alice, Myra Alice Cunningham and Bessie on her lap.