The Story behind the Stone – the families, estates and stories of Kirkmichael, Cullicudden, the Black Isle and beyond

From Kirkmichael to Alness, Aberdeen and New Orleans:
the dispersed family of Finlay Ross, carpenter, and wives Henrietta Shearer and Henrietta Cameron

text: Dr Jim Mackay    photography as set out below each image

with thanks to Sheena MacBean for use of extracts from her family letters

This is the story of Finlay Ross, a carpenter at Newmills in the parish of Resolis, who drowned in late 1829 or early 1830 whilst crossing the Cromarty Firth. A simple headstone bearing the legend “F. ROSS” in Kirkmichael commemorates his passing. His first wife, Henrietta Shearer, had previously died. His second wife, poor Henrietta Cameron, left with two stepchildren, two of her own children, and a baby on the way, had to apply to the Kirk Session for parochial relief. The two stepchildren emigrated in the 1840s, settling in New Orleans, Louisiana, one boy settled in Alness, one boy moved to Aberdeenshire, and one girl stayed in the parish of Resolis.

I was greatly assisted with this story by Sheena MacBean, a volunteer at the archaeological excavation in the nave at Kirkmichael in 2017, and a descendant of Finlay Ross herself. It was Sheena who in the first instance informed us who the “F. ROSS” stone in Kirkmichael commemorated. She subsequently provided me with copies of letters from the children who settled at New Orleans. They make wonderful reading. Sheena also provided me with a copy of the notes in the family Bible belonging to her great great grandfather Finlay, the son who settled in Alness. Thank you, Sheena!

photo by Andrew Dowsett


Finlay Ross, carpenter (1789–1829/30)

Finlay, according to the notes from the family Bible, was born in the parish of Kincardine, up on the north edge of Ross and Cromarty, on 31 November 1789. We know nothing about the family as the parish registers for this period are not extant. Janet (Jessie), one of Finlay’s daughters, wrote to her sister Lily in 1866: “let me know if you hear from your aunt and uncle at Kinkardin” so clearly some of the family were still resident in the area.

By the way, Lily’s name can be found in a dozen variations including the more formal Lilias, the same as her grandmother, Lilias Cameron ms Munro. Except where a quotation is involved, I shall use Lily for the daughter and Lilias for her grandmother.

A Balnagown memorial dominates the central area of Kincardine churchyard; it is likely that some of Finlay’s relatives are buried in this graveyard; photo by Jim Mackay

I think our first sighting of Finlay Ross is in September 1814, within the Resolis Militia List of adult males (SC24/21/6/1). He is one of numerous carpenters, masons and plasterers at Braelangwell, where clearly a big construction project was proceeding, following the sale of the estate after the death of David Urquhart of Braelangwell. He is listed as “Findlay Ross carpenter x <30”, indicating he was under 30 years of age. His first marriage to Henrietta Shearer cannot be found. I suspect he may well have married Henrietta in Resolis at this time as there were Shearer families in the parish and there was a long gap in the marriage register until Reverend Donald Sage arrived in 1822 to put things to rights. However, the first definite sighting is in Inverness, where Finlay and Henrietta had their first child Peter.

December 1817 … 1st Finlay Ross and his spouse Henrietta Shearer had a child Baptized … named Peter witnesses John McLean and Thomas McRae

Not very helpful. The family Bible records say Peter was born on 30 November. The family then moved to the parish of Resolis, to Newmills, where subsequent children were born.

Mill buildings and houses at Newmills; photos by Jim Mackay

The Resolis register entries are more informative:

1820 … Finlay Ross Carpenter Newmills & Spouse Henrietta Shearar had a daughter born 20th & baptized 22d. June named Janet

1822 … Finlay Ross House Carpenter at Newmills & his Spouse Henrietta Shearer had a child born the 19th & baptized the 22nd. Augt. named Alexander

Sadly, Henrietta Shearer must have died shortly thereafter as Finlay remarried a couple of years later:

Finlay Ross and Hennrietta Cameron Both in this Parish were contracted and married in due time the 13th day of January 1826

In the Militia List for the parish of Resolis in 1825 (SC24/21/6/4) at Newmills we have “Finlay Ross wright >30 under size”. He was thus over 30 years old by now, so his birth year can be approximated (loosely 1784 to 1795). I note he was considered to be short in stature. This was also recorded in the Militia List in September of the following year (SC24/21/6/6): “Newmills … Finlay Ross wright >30 under sizes 2 ch”. Note the “2 ch” for two children. Now, we know that children Peter and Janet survived to adulthood, so the note “2 ch” tells its own sad story – the youngest child, Alexander, like his mother, was now deceased. But by August 1828, the Militia List (SC24/21/6/9) gives “Newmills … Finlay Ross housecarpenter >30 3 ch Ex” – he now had three children and was excused from the ballot for military service. This new child was by his second wife, and was again named Alexander:

Finlay Ross House Carpenter at Newmills and his Spouse Henrietta Cameron had a child born the 1st and baptized the 11th of January 1827 – Alexander

There is a family story that Finlay served in the Battle of Waterloo, but I think if that were true his having been an ex-soldier would have been noted on the milia balloting papers.

There were two more children, the final one giving a clue to the further disaster that had struck the family:

Finlay Ross Housecarpenter at Newmills and his Spouse Henrietta Cameron had a child born the 23d July and baptized the 10th August 1828 named Lilly

Henrietta Cameron at Burnside had a child born the 28th of April and baptized the 25th of May 1830 named Finlay

The copy of entries in the family Bible by the surviving Alexander confirms the sad story: “Finlay Ross was Born after the death of Father and the age is not on record in the Bible”.

The story passed down in the family, Sheena MacBean tells me, was that Finlay drowned whilst crossing the Cromarty Firth. Sheena and I have checked all the newspapers of the period to try to pick up the incident as drownings were well recorded in this period but without success. But clearly he must have drowned in the nine months before Finlay junior was born on 28 April 1830, so he died in late 1829 or early 1830.

Sheena MacBean and the headstone of her ancestor, Finlay Ross, at Kirkmichael in 2018

The name of Finlay was to run down the generations of all his married children so they clearly wanted to commemorate their drowned father.

While he was alive, Finlay picked up a lot of work from the Kirk Session in Resolis. I wonder if he was particularly religious and hence was first choice when carpentry was needed. These are from the Resolis Kirk Session records:

At the Church of Resolis the 11th day of Jany 1826.
1825 … Sepr 29th By Cash to Findlay Ross 3.6.2

At the Church of Resolis the 5th day of March 1827
An account was presented by Findlay Ross for a coffin made by him for Thomas Cow on the poors Roll & lately deceased which was ordered to be paid by Treasurer.

At Resolis the 4th day of August 1828 years
The Tent for the Congregation without, on Sacramental occasions appointed at a former meeting to be made by Findlay Ross Carpenter at Newmilns was reported to be finished & found sufficient.

At Resolis the 7th day of August 1828 years
Thereafter the Session took into their consideration the Balance of Findlay Ross’ acct for making the Tent. The Collection made at the church doors for that purpose amounted to £3–17. which he received, & for the Balance he agreed to defer the final settlement of his acct untill the next meeting. In the mean time the Treasurer was instructed to pay him Three pounds to acct.

At Resolis the 18th day of August 1828
Thereafter the Balance of Findlay Ross’ account for making the Tent amounting to £1.3. was ordered by the Treasurer to be paid. The whole expenses of the tent for wood ironwork & making amounting to £8. & paid by the parishioners.

Curiously, the entries relating to the tent for outdoor Sacraments were the subject of minute inspection after the departure of Sage and most of his congregation to the new Free Church in 1843. The heritors wanted to discover any discrepancy in the funds and it was unclear if the money for the tent should have come out of the Poor’s fund or by subscription.


The Memorial to Finlay Ross

The headstone commemorating Finlay Ross is an attractive one, a nicely carved curved top and an open flower within the panel at the top. The inscription is quite minimalist for the period, reading simply “F. ROSS”. Since the Trust put in a small path extension it is now much more accessible than it once was.

Kirkmichael volunteers put in the path extension past the pink-spotted Finlay Ross headstone; photo by Jim Mackay

Path complete, and access greatly improved to the memorials round the back of the Kirk, including the Finlay Ross stone; photo by Andrew Dowsett

The obvious query has to be when it was erected. The family were destitute following Finlay’s death and it is unlikely they could have afforded a quality headstone to be erected at this time. And yet if it had been erected later, by the children, you would have expected his wives and perhaps the first Alexander to be mentioned. The inscription is an economical one reflecting the fact that every letter costs more!

Finlay’s son Peter wrote to his brother Finlay from New Orleans on 3 December 1877:

I ask you to send me when you can the date of my Fathers death and of your Birth so that I can enter them in the Family Bible I supose you would have to go to Kirkmichael to see the date on the head stone of the Grave

He repeats his request in a second letter, as Finlay no doubt would be in no hurry to come round to Kirkmichael from Alness just to check a headstone. But surely if Peter had ever seen his father’s headstone he would have remembered how minimalist the inscription was? It would have meant a lot to him. The logical assumption then is that it was erected, presumably by Finlay, after Peter had gone to America, i.e. after 1844. Peter may even have sent some money back towards funding it. A further thought is that Finlay, when he was organising the headstone and the inscription in later years when it could be afforded, himself was unaware of the exact date when his father had died. He, after all, had been born after his father’s death and perhaps all that he knew was that the tragedy had occurred in late 1829 or early 1830.

So the headstone bears no date and I suspect that the family Bibles of his children do not carry the date of the death of Finlay Ross.


Henrietta Cameron after the death of husband Finlay Ross

Clearly Henrietta would have been at her wits’ end when Finlay died. Stepson Peter was old enough now to start working, but somehow Henrietta had to provide for Janet, Alexander, Lily and Finlay. She turned to the Kirk Session for Poor Relief funds.

At Resolis the 7th day of December 1829
The Session resolved further that … in consideration of their poverty & very distressed circumstances at this time, that Findlay Ross should receive 12/, Barbara Thomson an ideot in Springfield 6/- Widow Barnet in Braelangwell 5/ for purchasing wood to repair her house; & Robert Munro’s Wife in Newmilns 6/- as under.

I don’t understand why the initial description says “Findlay Ross” rather than “the family of Findlay Ross” (could he have been merely incapacitated by near-drowning and died later?) and it leaves it open as to whether or not Finlay Ross died in late 1829 or early 1830.

The family moved, presumably to a humbler dwelling, at Burnside, half a mile from Gordon’s Mills, and the following year the Kirk Session records state:

At Resolis the 13th day of Decr 1830
They further resolved in consideration of their indigent circumstances that the Sums as above Stated be given to the persons therein also mentioned viz Findlay Ross’ Widow residing at Burnside

In December 1831 a sum was also paid over, but curiously the family still was not added to the Poor’s Roll. All the support was made by special dispensation, and I cannot understand why this should be. Only in December 1832 was it agreed for “Widow Findlay Ross in Burnside” “to be put upon the third class”. “Widow Findlay Ross Burnside” continued to receive support from the Poor’s Fund and is mentioned in the annual accounts each year thereafter, including in December 1841.

In 1841, of course, the first detailed census of the UK was taken. It involved for no good reason rounding of the ages of adults, but nevertheless gives an accurate picture of the population for the first time, including the household at Burnside:

1841 Census Return Parish of Resolis, Burnside
Lilly Munro 70 FS
Henny Cameron 40
Lilly Ross 14
Finlay Ross 12
Peter Ross 20 Wright
Katharine Ross 20

I presume Janet (Jessie) was off at service by now, and Alexander was away as an agricultural labourer, but all the other children are present and correct. The 20 year old Katharine Ross is probably a relative, and the “Lilly Munro” is Henrietta‘s mother, Lilias Cameron ms Munro, to whom I shall return.

In the next few years Peter, a wright or carpenter, and Janet emigrated to the United States. Janet (Jessie) in her letter to sister Lily in September 1866 says (my emboldenment):

you ma[y] say my letters are few and far betwen next May it will be twenty three years since I left home altho I did not write I often thought you all and home after I lift Glasgow I got so much out of the way of writing that I Could not write my husband often told me that I ought to be ashamed of myself and so I am but better late than never

It is not quite clear, but I think Jessie means that she left home i.e. Scotland in May 1844, via the point of emigration, Glasgow, but she may well have been at service in Glasgow anyway. Peter in one of his letters home, written 25 December 1876, says (my emboldenment):

I will be glad to hear from you soon and give us all the news you know, of Cromarty Resolus & Alness as we shall remember places and people altho over 32 years has passed since I left Scotland places & people are still fresh in my mind I did hope some years ago to be rich enough to make one trip to see you all, but I fear it will not be realized

Again this points to 1844 being the year of their emigration. I assume they went together on their great adventure. In another letter, Peter refers to the time he had been resident in New Orleans, and from a rough calculation there seems to have been about a four year period between his leaving Scotland and settling in New Orleans.

We have seen how Henrietta Cameron, the Widow of Finlay Ross, had been entered on the Poor’s Roll. On 21 December 1841, we see that things had got much worse suddenly: “… to the first Class and that Widow Ross Burnside should be added to the same class on account of her present indigent and distressed circumstances from the third”. Leap-frogging classes in the Poor’s Roll occurred relatively infrequently so there must have been a sudden change of circumstances. Perhaps daughter Lily, a dress-maker, was too ill to work and contribute to the household economy. Henrietta was still on the First Class, i.e. the most indigent, in December 1842.

The following year the Disruption occurred and there was disruption too to the normal distribution of poor’s funds. In May 1844, i.e. mid-way through the year, there was a makeshift committee formed from the remnants of the Established Church to distribute funds to the poor. The Ross family is not mentioned on this list.

You can avoid this paragraph if the detail of parochial relief is not for you. There were fundamental questions about how parochial relief should be administered following the Disruption. Parochial Boards were set up in each parish under the Poor Law Amendment (Scotland) Act of 1845. They instead of the church administered funds for the poor. The last church distribution in Resolis was in December 1844. Again, Widow Ross Burnside is not mentioned. You might be tempted to assume that the omission of Widow Ross (i.e. Henrietta Cameron), was simply because she had died. In fact, I think the new Session Clerk had simply amalgamated her with her mother, Lilias Cameron ms Munro. Since her admission in 1826, “Widow Cameron Burnside’ had appeared each year on the Poor’s Roll. But that entry in December 1844 becomes “Widow Cameron & Daughter, Burnside -.5.-”. That entry re-appears in September 1845, when the new Parochial Board was established. “Widow Cameron & Daughter, Burnside” feature again in December 1845 on the new Parochial Board Poor’s Roll. Henrietta makes a re-appearance on 6 February 1846 when “Widow Ross, Burnside, is admitted to the Temporary Roll with an allowance of one shilling per Week.” However, she then disappears from the Roll altogether, and when the 1851 Census appears it can be seen that sadly the Ross household contains both her mother and her daughter but poor Henrietta was no longer present.

1851 Census Return Parish of Resolis
Finlay Ross head unmarried 20 ag lab born Resolis
Lilias Ross sister unmarried 22 dressmaker born Resolis
Lilias Cameron grandmother widow 80 pauper born Resolis
Isabella Cameron visitor married 56 ag lab’s wife born Resolis

Peter and Janet were now in America and Alexander was away in Aberdeenshire.


Henrietta Cameron’s mother Lilias Cameron ms Munro (c1771–1857)

You will note that grandmother Lilias Cameron ms Munro, present in the Ross household in the 1851 Census, was at this time a pauper, and we know that she does indeed appear as Widow Cameron Burnside in the parochial relief records of the period. She survived through to civil registration, and there is always a selfish reason for celebrating that success, as usually then the deceased’s parents are identified!

I have a jaundiced view of her grand-daughter, the good Lily, because of her incompetence when reporting her granny’s death at the registrar’s. This is the record in the register:

Resolis Deaths 1857
Liley Cameron pauper (formerly wife of a farm servant) (widow) 13 Jul 1857 Woodside 86 years parents unknown buried Churchyard of Cullicudden as certified by William Holm sexton informant Liley Ross her x mark Grand-daughter present James Barnett Registrar witness.

To be fair, Lily was probably not at all well at the time. It is interesting that she signed with a cross when the evidence is (at least when she was well) that she could write. Her sister Janet (Jessie) says in her letter to Lily in 1866:

I was very sorry to hear of you being so very ill in helth when you wrote your Brother

Of course, she may have had someone else write that letter for her, but we know all her siblings could write. Anyway, to tell the registrar simply that she did not know her granny’s parents is very poor. Barnett should have told her to go away and find out. And Barnett himself could probably have filled in the name of the husband. Instead, we have to rely on deduction.

So, who were the parents of Henrietta Ross ms Cameron? Her mother in the 1841 Census return is given as “Lilly Munro 70 FS” and in the 1851 Census as “Lilias Cameron grandmother widow 80 pauper born Resolis”. Henrietta herself is given in the 1841 Census as “Henny Cameron 40”. We are therefore looking for a couple named [blank] Cameron and Lilias Munro who had a Henrietta around about (allowing for rounding in 1841 Census ages) 1800.

There are a couple of assumptions in there, but I think wholly reasonable ones. And, lo and behold, a couple in that period meet those stiff criteria (and note that in this area, the surnames Cameron and Mackeddie were interchangeable:

21 June 1796 Adam Cameron servt. at Newhall & Lilias Munro – Henrietta
6 August 1794Adam Mackeddie servant at Newhall & Lilias Munro – Isobel
16 April 1791Adam Mackeddy servant in Newhall & Lilias Munro – Janet

In turn, given the age of Lilias Cameron ms Munro as given in 1841, 1851 and 1857 and the fact that she was born in the parish of Resolis, it is very likely that these are her parents (there were no other children called Lilias Munro born in the Parish of Resolis for at least 10 years on either side of this):

5 October 1770 Alexr. Munro tennant in Drimdyre & Janet Munro – Lillias

However, all this is simply reasonable conjecture and further information would be needed to prove these connections. If the good Lily had done her homework before visiting the registrar’s then such efforts would be unnecessary!

There is no stone marking Lilias Cameron’s grave in Cullicudden, but the assumption would be that it would be close to or within, the lair of her grand-daughter Lily buried there nine years later.

Lily Ross’s memorial is the small, curved headstone in the centre. It is likely that other relatives such as her grandmother Lilias Cameron are also buried here. The two headstones on the left are Cameron headstones; photo by Jim Mackay


The Children go their different ways


Peter Ross (30 Nov 1817–1901)

Peter seems to have been the most upbeat, most positive of the siblings, always interested in people, always looking on the bright side of life, despite suffering tremendous losses.

As we have seen, Peter was born in Inverness and became a wright or carpenter. I note he was a friend of the famous architect Andrew Maitland (1802–1894). In his letters from New Orleans he asks of his brother Finlay, now living in Alness, how his old friend Mr Maitland is doing:

(6 January 1882): “Is Mr Maitland still alive, I sent him a paper when I sent you the last one.”
(24 December 1883) “& let me know if Mr Maitland is still alive I have not heard of him since I heard from yourself”.

Andrew Maitland lived for a time at Braelangwell in Resolis, marrying Henrietta Andrews there on 28 July 1841, and in 1843/1844 designing and inspecting the new Free Church at Jemimaville. Maitland started his career through employment as an inspector of works, and, with Peter being a carpenter, the two would have met professionally and clearly became friends.

Peter must have learned how to design buildings himself. When lamenting the downturn in fortunes following the war in the States, he was to say (3 December 1877) “I used to keep a regular Book-keeper and Draughtsman in my office but now I have to attend to office work myself as well as attend to what work is to do”.

He emigrated about 1844, and after a few years settled in New Orleans, Louisiana. He established what must have been a thriving carpentry business and he himself did well in the climate, although he lost his first two wives and child to it. He mentioned to his brother Finlay (3 December 1877):

I am now 29 years in this City never one night out of it in all that time, and my health as good as if I were in the mountins of Scotland and now for an old man this Climat is far better as we have nearly perpetuall spring and summer here some times a little frost…

As I say, it had not been so kind to his family. His daughter Katie, when writing from New Orleans to Finlay in Alness (11 November 1887) mentions:

father lost his first wife in 1853 with yellow fever the Second also with yellow fever in 1858 also his little baby 6 months

I don’t know the name of the first wife, but the ruined family memorial in Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 bears a panel at its base which mentions his second wife:

ANNIE ROSS / Née McConnell / Died. Oct. 12. 1858. aged 25 years

There is just enough of another panel remaining to read most of the name of Henrietta, the daughter of Peter Ross and Annie McConnell who had died still a baby. The New Orleans death register informs us that “Henriette Ross” was born “15 Sep 1857” and died “10 Mar 1858 (aged 5 months)” and is buried in “Lafayette Cemetery Number 1, New Orleans”. The New Orleans birth register complements this by saying that Henriette Ross was born “15 Sep 1857” with parents Peter Ross and Annie McConnell. This is certainly the daughter to whom Katie was referring.

The Family Tomb of Peter Ross in Lafayette Cemetery No. 1, New Orleans; original photography by Mike & Bushy Hartman, courtesy of

The remaining inscriptions mentioning, Peter, second wife Annie McConnell and their child Henrietta; original photography by Mike & Bushy Hartman, courtesy of

His third wife, Catherine Dallas, survived to bear a sizeable family and surprisingly proves to be the daughter of the millers at Poyntzfield in Resolis in the 1840s and 1850s, John and Catherine Dallas. How did this come about? The Dallas mother and father retired to Inverness (although their son Richard went on to become the miller at Newmills and owned a house in Jemimaville). How on earth could their daughter Catherine end up in New Orleans marrying Peter Ross?

The family Dallas comes up often in Peter’s letters, and the name also crops up in the names of the children of Peter and Catherine: Finlay Dallas Ross, Katie Dallas Ross and John Dallas Ross.

John was born much later than the other children, and his appearance was a surprise to everybody. But nevertheless he seems to have been much loved by parents and siblings. Peter said proudly (6 January 1882):

he is a strong healthy Boy as much so as if he was raised at the foot of Ben Wyvass

The memorial bearing the panel with the inscription for Finlay Dallas Ross, son of Peter Ross and Catherine Dallas, in Lafayette Cemetery No. 1, New Orleans; original photography by Mike & Bushy Hartman, courtesy of

The panel carrying the inscription for the family of Finlay Dallas Ross, son of Peter Ross and Catherine Dallas, in Lafayette Cemetery No. 1, New Orleans; original photography by Mike & Bushy Hartman, courtesy of

The panel carrying the inscription for the family of J. Florian Ross, the son of Finlay Dallas Ross, curiously is mounted on his grandparents’ memorial; original photography by Mike & Bushy Hartman, courtesy of

I think his frequent allusions to the scenes of his childhood indicate that underneath it all he was deeply homesick. Peter’s later letters contain much religious exhortation in them, especially when the health of his younger half-brother Finlay was failing. I don’t know how Finlay took to these earnest ministrations!

There are no more letters in the series after Finlay’s death in 1889, of course, and Peter himself we know died as recently as 1901. The climate of New Orleans had indeed agreed with him.


Janet or Jessie Ross (20 June 1820–1 January 1890)

Jessie was born at Newmills, Resolis, but early left the family home to make a living. She settled in New Orleans like her brother Peter, and in fact Peter in one of his letters says that she and her husband were just three minutes’ walk from his house.

I don’t know what to make of Jessie. Her niece Katie Dallas Ross disliked her intensely, considering her selfish and uncaring, but of course we have only Katie’s side of the story, expressed in a letter to her uncle in Alness. We have only one letter from Jessie herself, and it does rather tend to confirm Katie’s view. Jessie was writing on the occasion of her sister Lily becoming ill. Jessie’s husband, Thomas Finn, was sending some money from New Orleans to help Lily through the winter, and Jessie wrote to Lily to tell her it was coming. It reveals that extraordinarily she had not written her sister previously.

Lily in fact died before the money could be used for her support (she was a pauper relying on parochial relief at the time), and her brother Finlay in Alness used the money to give Lily a decent burial. He wrote a response to Jessie that was very direct (7 December 1866). It starts:

My Dear and long forgoten Sister

Well, that opener tells a story in itself. However, it mellows:

I take the pleasure of writing you these few lines in order to let you know that We are in good health at present also hopeing this will find you all enjoying the same Blessing
Dear Sister I am very sory to tell you of Lilley’s death She Died on the 15th. of November She suffered very much before she died,

And then, a masterpiece of pragmatism:

Dear Sister, I have great reason to thank you kindly for the money you Sent her it put her under the ground very respectable

The letter contains much interesting information and then concludes with another slightly chiding remark:

Dear Sister if you will come to this part of the country in the Spring with Peters wife I would like very much to see you – now I expect you will rite soon and not be so forgetful as you have ben so I must conclud – my wife and I joins with Kind love to you and your husband not forgeting Peter and his wife and famely

Jessie’s husband was from Woolwich, London, according to his memorial panel in Lafayette Cemetery No. 1, New Orleans. I do not know when he emigrated. Jessie’s brother Peter was one of the two guarantors of the New Orleans marriage licence, dated 20 November 1849. I see no mention of children to the couple in any of the correspondence or memorials.

Her husband suffered what must have been a severe stroke in 1874, which left him paralysed down one side and poor Jessie had to look after all his wants and needs for the remainder of his life. This must have been very hard on her. He died in 1885, aged 76.

Despite the fact that she was a poor correspondent, Jessie does show in that one letter to her sister Lily back in 1866 a very human interest in people back home:

when you write you will Give me all the information you can about Sandy and Finlay and let me know who Finlay has got married to let me know if you hear from your aunt and uncle at Kinkardin I wrote once to Nancy Ferguson at Cromety but I never got aney answer let me know if you see her at aney time and if you do give her my kind love Remember me to Betty Ferguson and James and all the rest of the famley let me know if Christina is married let me know if Mr. Sage the Minister is still alive

Perhaps if Lily had lived and the two had struck up a correspondence then some of the family tensions might have eased.

Jessie herself lived on until the first day of the year, 1890, and she and her husband are buried in Lafayette No. 1 Cemetery, New Orleans.

The Finn Panel in this community memorial is at the far bottom right; original photography by Mike & Bushy Hartman, courtesy of

The broken Finn panel with inscription to Thomas Finn and Jessie Ross (Janet Finn) – I’ve adjusted lighting on some sections to make it more readable; original photography by Mike & Bushy Hartman, courtesy of

In memory of / THOMAS FINN / A native of Woolwich, England / Died Dec. 1. 1885, aged 76 years. / Also his Wife / JANET FINN, / A native of Ross-shire, Scotland. / Died Jan. 1. 1890 aged 69 years


Alexander or Sandy Ross (1 January 1827–)

Alexander was born at Newmills of Finlay Ross and his second wife, Henrietta Cameron.

Clearly with the family impoverished there would be pressure on Alexander to find a living as soon as he could. He is therefore away by the time of the 1841 Census, and there is no way an Alexander Ross is going to be tracked easily in the 1841 minimalist Census returns! In the 1851 Census returns, however, the parish of birth was included in the information, and hence Alexander can be found in the parish of Turriff, already married:

1851 Census Return, Turriff, Aberdeenshire
Alexander Ross Head 24 Ag Lab born Resolis, Ross & Cromarty
Isabella Ross Wife 29 born Alness, Ross & Cromarty

At this time the modern method of polishing granite was invented, and the granite industry really took off. Granite had been quarried from Aberdeenshire for hundreds of years, but it was when its durability was combined with smooth facing that its popularity soared. There were numerous quarries around Aberdeen, but it was the colossal Rubislaw Quarry, at one time reputed the deepest hole in Europe, that provided polished granite for buildings (and gravestones) in a massive expansion of the quarrying industry. I do not know if it was at Rubislaw Quarry that Alexander came to work, but by 1861, Alexander was now a “Granite Quarrier” born in “Ressolis” at Old Machar. By now he had a daughter Lilias and son Finlay. His brother Finlay was actually labouring in Aberdeen in 1861 as well, so the two brothers you would think would have seen a lot of each other.

Quarrymen being lowered into the depths of Rubislaw Quarry; photo courtesy of the Doric Columns website

Quarrymen at work in Rubislaw Quarry; photo courtesy of the Doric Columns website

Alexander’s son Finlay was born in the year 1855, and it is always worth looking at a certificate from that year. This is because Scotland, when introducing civil registration in 1855, set out so many information requirements on its certificates that there was an outcry. They were therefore replaced with simpler forms a year later. For one year, therefore, you get far more information than at any time thereafter.

Register of Births, Parish of Newhills, Aberdeenshire
Finlay Ross born 5 June 1855 at Stoneywood in Newhills parents Alexander Ross day labourer age 28 birthplace Resolis, Ross-shire married 1847 Parish of Alness 2 boys living 1 girl living 1 girl deceased Isabella Ross ms Fraser her 4th child age 30 birthplace Parish of Alness Ross-shire informant Alexander Ross father

Although Finlay’s birth certificate say his parents married in Alness, in fact you will find them in the Resolis Marriage Register:

12 December 1847 Alexander Ross farmservant Burnside of Newhall in this parish. & Isabella Fraser residing in the same place banns published 28 Nov, 5, 12 Dec 1847

By 1871, though, Sandy had become temporarily a stoker at a paper mill in Aberdeen, the pay perhaps being more attractive. Paper making was another trade that was really taking off in Aberdeen, and the mills that were growing up along the Don were to continue for another century. His son Finlay was working in a paper mill as well, although his daughter “Liley” had become a weaver of Woollen Cloth. They had a new child, too, daughter Isabella.

Alexander was in correspondence with brother Peter in New Orleans and hence we learn news in a rather roundabout fashion (3 December 1877):

I had a letter from Brother Alexr he is well he met an accident by which he had a rib or so broke but he is well his son is in Glasgow and his Eldest daughter is married in Glasgow he is in the same place so you better write him as you may Each be waiting for the other

However, by 1881, Peter had returned to being a quarry labourer in Aberdeen, and his two eldest had, as Peter had reported, flown the coop. Only his youngest child, unemployed mill worker Isabella, was still at home. And then, in 1891, curiously, we find Alexander an “Annuitant” (receiving a pension) in North Leith, at Edinburgh. Only he and his wife were present, and I don’t understand this move at all. However, he was back in Aberdeen again in 1901, aged 74 but described as a granite quarry cutter once more. His daughter Isabella is back in the household, still single, and a powerloom weaver at a woolmill, so I suspect she perhaps had never left Aberdeen while her parents were in Leith.

I note, by the way, that Alexander and Isabella are given as speaking both Gaelic and English, and I wonder if they attended the very popular Gaelic sermons delivered in Aberdeen.

And I’m afraid there I lose Alexander!


Lilias, Lily or Liley Ross (23 July 1828–15 November 1866)

Lily is recorded as a needlewoman or dressmaker but suffered from ill health and became a pauper. She is just a child of 14 in the family household in 1841 at Burnside, but is recorded as a dressmaker in 1851, still at home.

By 1861, Lily had moved temporarily from Burnside half a mile or so to Woodside (unless the enumerator was a little flexible about the locations around Newhall). She was the sole occupant of a wee house with only two rooms with one or more windows. She is described as a pauper (dressmaker) – which signals that we should look to the parochial records. In fact, we can see reference to poor Lily Ross for the first time back on 23 April 1847: “Temporary Relief to Widow Ross’s daughter at Burnside…” (the wording suggesting her mother was still alive). However, at the meeting of 20 February 1849 we see admitted to the roll “Lillias Ross Jamima Ville” so she had definitely moved house by this time.

In 1865, a new register was compiled, with existing paupers transferred to it and a compendium of information built up within it. This information included their age at the time they were entered on the new register, attempts to recover money for their support from relatives, and changes to their circumstances. For some families, this new format provides a tremendous source of information as it is clear to whom all the odd snippets that used to be scattered in the documentation apply. It is a bit limited for Lily Ross (and expressed most unsympathetically):

Ross Lillias
Residence Burnside / age on entry on new roll 36 / minute of first admittance to roll 20 Feb 1849 / born Resolis / single / 1866 December – This Pauper removed by Death

As we have seen, her brother-in-law Thomas Finn in New Orleans sent £4 in 1866 to help her through the winter but she died before she could make use of the money. Brother Finlay thanked his sister Janet (Jessie), the wife of Thomas Finn, for the money and informed her of the sad news that Lily had died, and then added “Dear Sister, I have great reason to thank you kindly for the money you Sent her it put her under the ground very respectable”.

The headstone in Cullicudden that the Finns had helped pay for is now so lichenous that it is difficult to pick out the letters except under raking light. Fortunately, I recorded the text many years ago when possibly air pollution was keeping the lichens more subdued! It reads:

Cullicudden graveyard
Erected / by FINLAY ROSS to the / memory of his beloved / sister LILIAS ROSS who / died Nov. 15th 1866 / aged 38 years

Given that the funeral funds largely came from the Finns, perhaps it should more diplomatically have mentioned the family generally rather than just Finlay.

The lichenous headstone of Lily Ross in Cullicudden graveyard, with Ben Wyvis (Peter Ross’s “Ben Wyvass”) behind; photo by Jim Mackay

From that letter from Finlay to Janet (Jessie) Finn, by the way (7 December 1866) I note that Lily, despite being a pauper, was well-respected and there was a very good turn-out at Cullicudden:

there were a great number at the funeral for She was very much respected by all the people about

The death certificate was much more prosaic:

Resolis Register of Deaths
Lilias Ross pauper (formerly a needle woman) (single) died 15 November 1866 at Burnside age 38 parents Finlay Ross house carpenter (d) Henrietta Ross m.s. Cameron (d) informant Finlay Ross brother (present)


Finlay Ross (28 April 1830–23 February 1889)

I see an entertaining story regarding Finlay as a lad, but one which might have had very serious consequences. The records of the Cromarty Sheriff Court hold the following case:

Cromarty Sheriff Court proceedings 1845
Theft: Procurator Fiscal: Michael Martin, 13, living with Catherine MacDermid, Gordonsmill and Finlay Ross, herd at Gordonsmill, aged 15: Declarations– entering through window, house of Robert Grigor, Esq. of Gordonsmill and took portion of honey.

Now, it might have seemed a bit of a lark to the two lads to pinch a portion of honey. However, it could have ended quite differently had the Court been as draconian as some. I must find more details of this case. His youthful partner in crime, Michael Martin, was a foundling left at the door of a church elder and the Kirk Session had put him under the charge of Catherine MacDermid. He was given the names of the two ancient churches in the area, Kirkmichael and St Martins, and hence is the only person we know to have been named after Kirkmichael! He was later to become a groom at Poyntzfield House so it would appear that the incident did not have long-term consequences.

It can be seen then, that Finlay as a fifteen-year old was a herd at Gordonsmill. By 1851, he is recorded as an agricultural labourer, the head of the small household at Burnside consisting of himself, sister Lily, grandmother Lilias Cameron ms Munro and visitor Isabella Cameron.

By 1861, though, Finlay is in Aberdeen, where his older half-brother Alexander was already working as a quarryman. Finlay is to be found working as a day labourer and living in the household of a shoemaker called Gollan, from Urray in the Black Isle originally, so perhaps a relative. However, Finlay was shortly to head north again and in August 1862, at Invergordon, married Elizabeth or Betsy Stewart. Perhaps it was this change of circumstance that persuaded him to give up agricultural labouring and instead take up his future permanent occupation of quarryman at the Alness Quarry.

He is already established at the Quarry in 1866, as when he writes to his sister Janet (Jessie) in New Orleans he proudly gives his address as: “Finlay Ross Quarrier Alness Ross-shire Scotland” and gives much interesting detail of what was proceeding in the quarry business. Curiously, this section of his letter starts by his mentioning he had not had contact from Alexander for nearly five years (i.e. when they were both in Aberdeen), so I wonder if they had fallen out. Peter in a later letter worried that Alexander may have fallen out with him too, so perhaps Alexander was somewhat sensitive. Families!

I have also to let you know that I have no track of Sandy I did not get any word from him nearly five years – I myself am working in the Quarry here at Alness we are quarrying for Mr. Alexander Matheson M.P. a large house that he is Building at Lochalsh and all the Stones is going from this Quarry they are shiped at Belleport and going by the cannal the first contract for this Building was £7000 and there was a fourth more aded to it about too mounths ago so this work will continue for some years but the wages is very lo 2s/9d Per day – and proveson is dear oat meal Per bol £1/4 and potatoes Per bol £1/1 beff Per lb 8d butter Per lb 1s/4d and every other thing according to that.

Brother Peter was very interested in Finlay’s quarrying trade, and asked for details about it in one letter dated 13 March 1884:

Is Building going to be brisk with you this season; what large jobs are you getting out stones for, is your Quarry a good one, Can you get very large blocks, do you get below the level of the Sea, is the rock better as you go down, &c.

Unfortunately we can see only the questions, not Finlay’s answers! While sand and gravel quarries have been common in the Alness area, I confess I do not know the history of this sandstone block quarry. Any information and any pictures gratefully received!

Whilst Finlay could be very blunt in his approach, he was obliging in nature. I note from his letter to Janet (Jessie) in 1866, and from Peter’s responses to him over the years, that he would go to great effort to meet their requests.

Over the years, many children arrived and the home at Alness must have been a real squeeze. I see from the Census returns that they had Harriet (the alternative to Henrietta), Finlay, Lilias, Donald, Elizabeth, Peter, Alexander and Isabella. You can see the same family names coming up in these Ross families time and again, whether they be located in Alness, Aberdeen or New Orleans!

But all was not well with Finlay. Peter had noticed a worrying drop in correspondence, and then it emerged that Finlay was ill and not making a recovery. It was Finlay’s daughter who had written on her father’s behalf and Peter responds sympathetically.

New Orleans Oct 14th 1884
Dear Brother
I received your letter written by your Daughter we all feel very sorry to hear of your illness, hoping that you are Improving, we know well the lingering of the Trouble which affects you; our Daughter Kate over a year ago came near her end, we did have no hope of her recovery, but thank God she is again restored to perfect health we also hope you may yet enjoy the greatest blessing which is the best Gift of our heavenly father to his Children; Good health, Trust in God our Saviour…

Subsequent letters become increasingly religious exhortations and I know not if this was appreciated by Finlay himself. I have to say that the correspondence in this period is very sad. Peter’s 21- year-old daughter Henrietta unexpectedly dies which of course is a major blow to the family. It is Peter’s daughter Katie D. who usually writes on behalf of her father, whilst Finlay’s daughter Bella usually writes on behalf of her father.

Finlay Ross of Alness (1830–1889); photo courtesy of Sheena MacBean

Isabella, Finlay’s daughter who wrote on Finlay’s behalf on occasion; photo courtesy of Sheena MacBean

The final letter that has been retained is from Katie D. to her uncle and it seems that Finlay had been able to write the previous letter himself. Katie’s letter is brimming with family information.

New Orleans Feb 24 / 88
My Dear Uncle
I was very happy to receive your welcome letter some time ago and was glad to hear from you but we are very sorry to hear you are keeping so poorly in health.
Grandma Dallas died Oct 10th 1886, at Inverness. Uncle Richard never writes us. I got a letter from my Aunt Mary’s daughter Helen she is in Edinburgh at the Deaf and Dumb School learning lip-reading and she has succeeded very well she is deaf some years ago she had scarlet fever and it left her deaf she told me that she missed her mother and Grandma very much her mother died 3 yrs ago this February she likes Edinburgh a great deal better than Inverness. We heard that Uncle James Dallas left New York for a short visit to Scotland he sailed in January. Brother Finlay is a great big boy and working he was 20 yrs old January 19th. John D. is a good boy but still goes to school he is only 10 yrs old we all wish he was grown so he could be working too. Father has done nothing for the last 2 months times are very dull in New Orleans. … Your afft. Niece
Katie D. Ross

One year later and poor Finlay passed away.

Register of Deaths, Parish of Alness
Finlay Ross stone-quarrier married to Betsy Stewart died 23 February 1889 at Alness age 54 parents Finlay Ross house-carpenter (journeyman) (d) Harriet Ross ms Cameron (d) informant Isabella Ross daughter present

In Alness graveyard stands the family memorial, with a remarkable recurrence of Finlays:

Alness graveyard
In loving memory of / FINLAY ROSS / who died at Alness / 23rd Feb. 1889, aged 54 years/and his wife / ELIZABETH STEWART / who died 29th July 1916 / aged 76 years / Also his son/FINLAY ROSS / who died at Foulis Smithy / 28th Sept 1951 / aged 84 years / Also his son / FINLAY ROSS / died 27 Sept. 1970, aged 63 years / also her father / DONALD STEWART / who died 20th April 1903 / aged 84 years / and of JANE FRASER / beloved wife of FINLAY ROSS / died at Foulis Smithy 15th May 1947 / in her 69th year.

Quite a difference to the headstone of his father in Kirkmichael graveyard with its simple F. ROSS!

Memorial to the family of Finlay Ross in Alness churchyard; photo courtesy of Ross & Cromarty Roots

The simple headstone to Finlay Ross in Kirkmichael; photo by Davine Sutherland


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