Not really my family: Brownlees

This month I am writing about a branch of my husband’s tree.

I don’t actually know that much about the Brownlee family, but ended up finding a picture on Ancestry, and it inspired me to do a bit more research on this family and solved a mini mystery.

I think the first generation to come to Canada was  James Brownlee and his wife, Margaret Davidson. I think they immigrated when they were around 60, in 1824, along with many or all of their children. They had something like 11 children, and a bunch of them came to Canada.  I think the Brownlees were from Cavan, Ireland. They were presbyterians, and likely plantation (Ulster) Scots living in Ireland for generations. I also think there was a military connection, and perhaps some of James and Margaret’s sons were in the military, which is why they all ended up immigrating. I really haven’t researched these generations much yet myself.


One of their sons, John, along with his wife Catherine Rainey (both born in Ireland) were my husband’s great X3 grandparents. They had at least 6 children, including William. William was born in 1841. In 1851 they were living in a shanty, despite 27 years in the area. By 1861 they had moved up in life and were living in a log house. John died the next year. His wife lived till 1893, with William in the luxury of a log house. William married Mary Ann Hill in 1869, and they had probably 7 children. They were presbyterians at the beginning of their marriage, but converted to Methodism some time between the 1871 and 1881 census. There were a lot of Methodist conversions and baptisms around this time in the area, although I haven’t lucked out and found their Methodist baptism records. Apparently they were Hornerites, a relatively local and especially evangelical and animated offshoot of Methodism.


Mary Ann died in 1888, possibly in childbirth. My husband’s great grandmother Margaret was just 2 when her mother died. Her father remarried Susan Edwards in 1891. She was a spinster who found herself the step-mother of 7 children (OMG). The older children did go out to work or stay with other families, though. William died in 1898, and his cause of death is below: Who else thinks that it says “Disease of the Loins”? (his obit says rheumatism, but really, who would claim a fatal STI in print?). His wife died a year later of a stroke.


Margaret married Reginald Simpson (cough, her cousin, cough) in 1911, and had their only son in 1911 (below). Reginald went to WW1 around that time. He died in 1937, and Margaret joined her sister in Winnipeg, which is where the family stayed until the last few years. Margaret lived until 1877. The picture below is of her, her husband, his rifle, and their son.


And now for the mystery solved: a few years ago my sister in law found old family photos while going through my parents’ in law belongings after their deaths. We found the picture below with pictures of Margaret Brownlee. Of course it was unlabeled. I guessed it might be her parents, but had no proof. Then, recently, someone posted a picture of the family, with people identified. I contacted the owner and she assured me that hers was labeled and belonged to her mother in law, another of William’s descendants. This was certainly the same man, only older and with a different wife. I feel relieved to positively ID an unlabelled picture! I also really like the new picture, with the stern bible-holding father and the dark Victorian clothes. I wish I had such old pictures in my family – the oldest I’ve got are from the 1920s, while this one is from around 1895, and the older in the 1880s… They are both below:






2 thoughts on “Not really my family: Brownlees

  1. Rick jackson says:

    I just wanted to thank you for posting enjoyed reading it and awesome photos I also descend from the brownlee’s my great grandmother on my dad’s father’s side was Margaret brownlee she was the daughter of Alex Ross Brownlee who was the grandson of James Brownlee and Margaret Davidson.

    Liked by 1 person

    • katierocketlauncher says:

      I’m glad you enjoyed the post and pictures. The Brownlees all seemed to have huge families! I wasn’t able to find Alex Ross Brownlee in my own tree, but I have a lot to add, but I’m overwhelmed with the big families. Either way, I guess you and my husband are 5th cousins…


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