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

William Fraser and Margaret MacGregor, and the Jemimaville Lodging-House of their Daughter, Mary Fraser

text by Dr Jim Mackay; photography as annotated


Erected by ISABELLA FRASER. in loving memory of her father WILLIAM FRASER. who died 8th December 1872. aged 64 years. and of his wife, MARGARET McGRIGOR. who died 8th August 1874. aged 55 years. and their daughters, MARGARET. who died 10th December 1863. aged 18 years. CATHERINE. who died 21st February 1874. aged 20 years. Gone but not forgotten.

The family of William Fraser and Isabella MacGregor was always on the move, shifting around the Black Isle time and time again. A rare measure of stability was provided by Mary, one of their many daughters, who established a lodging-house in Jemimaville which survived for a long time. But the movements of the family read more like a Black Isle gazetteer: Whitebog, Ardmeanach, Chapelton, Bog of Shannon, Templand, Udale, Glenurquhart and, of course, Jemimaville.


The headstone

photo by Andrew Dowsett

This used to be the least viewed headstone in Kirkmichael. It stands with its back to the Sutherland enclosure at the north east corner of the kirkyard and I doubt if anyone had looked at it for years. It is, however, a very attractive headstone and the Kirkmichael Trust volunteers now see it regularly as we have put in a sandstone stile at the east end of the kirkyard to provide us with an alternative access, to avoid using the gateway to the modern graveyard. This was a two-phase option, as we initially installed the stile in March 2019, found those of us with shorter legs had difficulty stepping over, and increased its height in November 2019! Anyway, the headstone that was never seen is now one of the most familiar to us. It is a quality stone, but secured at some point by a strange assortment of wires to the metal Sutherland railing, presumably in case it might tumble. The wires had rusted to such an extent that in November 2020 we decided to replace them with braided copper wire.

photo by Davine Sutherland

photo by Davine Sutherland

photo by Davine Sutherland

photo by Davine Sutherland

photo by Davine Sutherland

photo by Andrew Dowsett

The Sutherland of Flowerburn enclosure bears a plaque with the Sutherland wildcat and punning motto “Sans peur” and inscription: “In memory of JAMES SUTHERLAND Flowerburn 28.9.1866 – 24.3.1945 and NORAH K K DAWSON his wife 22.8.1876 – 17.8.1953”. We know that earlier, related, Sutherlands of Udale are buried in Kirkmichael, and I presume that their original lair is within what is now surrounded by the Sutherland of Flowerburn ornamental railing. The reason I raise this is that the railing must have been erected after the Fraser headstone was put in, and I wonder if the supporting wires (both agricultural barbed wire and a braided wire) were added by the installers of the railing worried that they had destabilised the earlier headstone.

photo by Andrew Dowsett

Every date on this headstone is incorrect, and yet does that matter? Isabella, who commissioned it, presumably could neither read nor write (her sisters couldn’t) to check her facts. She would have agreed verbally with the stone carver what should go on it. But it represents to the best of her ability her profound desire to commemorate her parents and her sisters and we should respect that.


The family

And there were plenty of sisters. Her father, a shepherd, had married her mother at Whitebog in the Parish of Cromarty in 1834:

Cromarty Marriage Register
23d. December 1834. William Fraser, Shepherd, and Margaret Macgrigor, both at Whitebog, were married.

Whitebog, made up of several crofts and part of the Cromarty Estate, is still fairly high on the Black Isle ridge as you cross over the top from the north to the south, from Resolis to Rosemarkie. The children, save Alexanderina, are not recorded in any baptism register extant, but were Anne (c1836–1905), Mary (c1838–1920), John (c1840–), Margaret (c1843–1863), Isabella (c1845–), Catharine (c1848–1874), Alexandrina (1856–1910) and – perhaps – Elizabeth (c1858–); poor Elizabeth may have been a later census enumerator’s mistake!

I shall include the birth record of Alexandrina because it is the only one I have and also demonstrates where the family were in 1853!

Parish of Avoch Births
Fraser, Alexandrina born 27 May 1856 at Bogshagnon Parish of Avoch parents William Fraser day-labourer Margaret Fraser ms McGregor informant William Fraser his x mark, father (not present) witness Geo. Williamson Registrar witness.

This is the one definite parish of birth for the Fraser children I have. In later census returns, the parishes of birth of the children often conflict, and without baptism records it is hard to be sure which ones are correct. Anyway, to go back in time. We have seen William and Margaret marry in 1838 whilst at Whitebog in the Parish of Cromarty but by 1841 the family had moved the short distance across the road to Ardmeanach and into the parish of Rosemarkie. In reality, then, most of the children I think were born in Rosemarkie. The young “MaGrigor” next door to the family I think will be Margaret’s young sister Mary.

1841 Census Return Parish of Rosemarkie – Ardmeanach
do. Mary MaGrigor 15 Independent N.

do. William Fraser 35 Ag. Lab. N.
Margt. MacGrigor 30 wife N.
Anne Fraser 5 N.
Mary do. 3 y
John do. 6 months y

Now, you would never expect this. Ardmeanach is just outside Resolis and within, as I say, the parish of Rosemarkie. That’s why they appear in the Census return for that parish. But they also appear in Ardmeanach within the parish of Resolis!

I confess I was confused initially, but although the names are slightly different, they do indeed occur in two different parishes – with slightly different ages! If ever you wanted an example as to why you should not rely upon one document this is the one. In the Resolis version Margaret’s parents are next door, along with their son John and daughter Mary. In the Rosemarkie version, only Margaret’s sister Mary is next door.

All the other families at Ardmeanach are in both census returns too, and show a similar variation in how they were recorded. The Ardmeanach story would form a useful exercise for those appraising the accuracy of census returns!

How did this mistake come about? Well, the Resolis enumerator was perhaps confused because Ardmeanach was in this period being incorporated within the Estate of Braelangwell, all otherwise lying within the parish of Resolis. As early as February 1841 Sir Hugh Fraser of Braelangwell had been advertising for tenants on part of Ardmeanach. By 1848 he had secured all of Ardmeanach from the Burgh of Fortrose. So the mistake is understandable. But why it did not come to light is less understandable – you would think one of the families would have complained to the second enumerator that they had already been done!

By 1851, however, Fraser and MacGregor families had moved from Ardmeanach into Resolis proper. The properties within this District of the parish were not identified within the Census Returns, but the families can be placed as many of them were still there in 1861 when locations were named. Thus we can tell that the Fraser and MacGregor families had moved to Chapelton in Resolis, a mile east along from the Balblair to Invergordon ferry. In this and subsequent census returns the parish of birth of inhabitants was given, although sometimes they have to be taken with a pinch of salt. I think most of the following is wrong.

1851 Census Return Parish of Resolis – at, I believe, Chapelton
William Fraser head married 50 agricultural labourer born Invsh Strathglass
Margaret Fraser wife 40 housekeeper born Ross-shire Contin
Ann Fraser daur 15 scholar born parish of Cromarty / Mary Fraser daur 13 scholar born parish of Cromarty / John Fraser son 10 scholar born parish of Cromarty / Margt Fraser daur 8 scholar born parish of Cromarty / Isabella Fraser daur 6 scholar born parish of Cromarty / Catharine Fraser daur 3 born parish of Cromarty

Note that William Fraser is given as born in Strathglass in Inverness-shire; in the only other census return (1871) in which he has been definitely identified, William is given as born in Strathglass in Ross-shire. I think the Inverness-shire Strathglass is more likely, falling in the Parish of Kilmorack. Despite the fact that the children are given as scholars all those who later cropped up in documents signed their name with a cross, so I suspect they spent much of their time helping their parents outside school.

Now, we have seen from Alexandrina’s birth certificate in 1856 that at this time William Fraser was working as a day-labourer and had not even been at home when Alexandrina was born. But by that time, the family had moved from Chapelton in the Parish of Resolis to Bog of Shannon in the Parish of Avoch. They got around. William was away again at the time of the 1861 Census, and I think I see him labouring with his brother John in Kiltarlity at the time, although with a popular name like William Fraser you can never be sure. However, the rest of the family are present in Jemimaville, in a sizeable house. Some years later, several sisters would return to a house in Jemimaville of similar size, and I do wonder if it was the same house, within which they then resided through to the 1920s.

1861 Census Return Parish of Resolis – JamimaVille Private House, house with four rooms with one window or more
Margaret Fraser wife married 48 born Contin
Isabella Fraser daur 14 born Resolis / Catherine Fraser daur 12 born Resolis / Alexina Fraser daur 4 born Resolis

The family suffered in 1863 the loss of one of their daughters, who had been in service at nearby Udale, and whose death is recorded, albeit rather inaccurately, on the family headstone in Kirkmichael:

Cromarty Deaths
Margaret Fraser domestic servant (single) died 6 December 1863 at Udale Cromarty age 20 parents William Fraser labourer Margaret Fraser ms McGregor informant William his x mark Fraser father present William Taylor Registrar Witness

Another daughter, Ann, married Kenneth Grigor, one of the Templand Grigors. A branch of these Grigors came in after this time to Resolis, to the farm just above Cullicudden Burial Ground. They were Resolis residents for a long time, and only a wee while ago moved to Redfield Farm across at Tore. I was on the same class in Dingwall Academy as the late Kenny John Grigor. Ann Fraser was in service in Udale (where her sister Margaret had also been in service before she died) when she married an earlier Kenneth Grigor.

Parish of Avoch Marriages
1866 On the Twenty-eighth day of December at Avoch Church After Banns according to the Forms of the Church of Scotland
Kenneth Grigor farmer (bachelor) age 51 usual residence Templand, Parish of Avoch parents William Grigor farmer Margaret Grigor ms Junor
Ann Fraser her x mark Charles Ferguson witness Alexr. Chisholm witness (spinster) age 28 usual residence Udale, Parish of Cromarty parents William Fraser labourer Margaret Fraser ms Grigor
(signed) J. Gibson Minister of Avoch (signed) Charles Ferguson witness Alexr Chisholm witness

I note that the first witness was my great-grandfather Charles Ferguson of Ardoch, who was clearly a friend of the family. I imagine he would have known the Grigors in Templand as well. And note that Ann’s mother is given as “Grigor” rather than “MacGregor”, not for the first time (see the 1841 Resolis Census return).

This is not the story to follow Ann and Kenneth, but suffice to say that they are commemorated on a sizeable red granite headstone pillar in Avoch Burial Ground. A yew threatens to demolish the memorial, and I often wonder why people plant yews within lairs in kirkyards and leave them to grown into giant trees that cause serious problems for the future. They are beautiful and appropriate kirkyard trees, but not right beside gravestones! Kenneth and Ann’s headstone is one of a considerable group of Grigor memorials in Avoch.

By 1871, the parents with another of their daughters had moved back up the hill, this time to Whitebog, that part of the Cromarty Estate on which they had been living when they married away back in 1838.

1871 Census Return Parish of Cromarty – Whitebog, house with two rooms with one window or more
William Fraser head married 65 labourer born Ross-shire Strathglass
Margaret do. wife married 56 born Ross-shire Contin
Elizabeth do. daur 13 scholar born Ross-shire Avoch

Although the name “Elizabeth” is written clearly in the Census Return, I wonder if the enumerator was working off rough notes and mis-read a scribbled “Alexandrina” – I appreciate that it seems unlikely, but no Elizabeth Fraser was born in the Parish of Avoch in this period, but we know Alexandrina was. There is no other record of an Elizabeth Fraser associated with this family and Alexandrina is mysteriously absent from the family in this census and would be more-or-less matching ages with this “Elizabeth”. This seems like yet another mistake associated with the written record of this family, culminating, of course, in the headstone at Kirkmichael without a single date being correct on it. Sister Mary does not appear in this Census Return at Whitebog as at this time she was living with her married sister Ann, now Ann Grigor.

This was the last Census Return in which the parents would feature as sadly they would both soon die, William later that year, and Margaret a couple of years later. All their travels came to an end. But they had made one final move, a couple of miles from Whitebog to Glenurquhart, as evidenced by their death certificates.

Parish of Cromarty Deaths
William Fraser labourer married to Margaret McGregor died 5 December 1871 at Glenurquhart Parish of Cromarty age 68 parents John Fraser shepherd (d) Ann Fraser ms [blank] (d) informant Mary McGregor her x mark sister in law Jamima Village Parish of Resolis Dond. Ross Registrar witness
Margaret Fraser widow of William Fraser shepherd died 18 August 1873 at Glenurquhart Cromarty age 60 parents Alexander McGrigor flesher (d) Mary McGrigor ms Matheson (d) informant Mary Fraser daughter present

It was good of Mary McGregor to act as informant of William’s demise, no doubt to reduce the stress on her aunt and cousin in Glenurquhart, but I do wish she had asked before setting out what the full names of William’s parents were.

When it came to Margaret’s death, it was daughter Mary who acted as informant, so she must have returned from her married sister Ann’s home to the family home. As an informant, Mary was better informed and Margaret’s parents are confirmed as Alexander MacGregor and Mary Matheson, although in fact we had this information already from their continued associated with the Fraser family.


After their parents

It was a difficult time for the family in Glenurquhart, for there was to be yet another early death, by that scourge of the time, tuberculosis or phthisis. Sister Mary again acted as informant.

Parish of Cromarty Deaths
Catharine Fraser general servant (domestic) (single) died 12 February 1874 at Glen-Urquhart Cromarty age 25 parents William Fraser shepherd (d) Margaret Fraser ms McGregor (d) informant Mary Fraser her x mark sister present

Catharine’s name was the last to be added to the family headstone in the Kirkmichael. I think the entire inscription would have been carved at the one time. Curiously, it is only sister Isabella who seems to have been responsible for its erection, despite the fact that sisters Mary, Alexandrina and Ann (now married to Kenneth Grigor) were all still alive. I shall not follow the destinies of all four remaining sisters in detail. However, let’s look at the later story of Mary.


The enterprising Mary and her Lodging-House in Jemimaville

Following the deaths of her parents and sister Catharine in Glenurquhart, Mary Fraser returned to Jemimaville, where she was joined by Alexandrina who had been away in service. Surprisingly, by 1876 Mary became the proprietor of a house in Jemimaville. How could she afford it? I presume it was the one in which she was living in the 1881 Census.

1881 Census Return Parish of Resolis – Jemimaville, house with two rooms with one or more windows
Mary Fraser head unmarried 37 domestic servt. general born Resolis speaks G
Alexandrina Fraser sister unmarried 20 do. sister born Avoch speaks G

By 1891, it appears that the enterprising Mary was now running her house in Jemimaville as a lodging-house, with two tradesmen in residence at the time of the Census. Good for her. In the middle of Jemimaville stood “The Poyntzfield Arms” which accommodated the passing trade, but in a busy village like Jemimaville there would always be scope for a lodging-house or two.

1891 Census Return Parish of Resolis – Jemimaville, 30 High St., house with three rooms with one or more windows
Mary Fraser head single 40 lodging housekeeper born Resolis speaks GE
Murdoch Munro boarder single 18 tailor born Resolis
Duncan McRae boarder single 17 draper born Knockbain

For those who doubt that Jemimaville was ever anything other than a quiet little village, here is an excerpt from a journey through this part of the parish which may be eye-opening. This is from the Invergordon Times of 10 August 1884, and I cannot resist leaving in the snippet describing Kirkmichael as well.

By 1901 sister Alexandrina had returned to join her sister, perhaps to help her with the business.

1901 Census Return Parish of Resolis – Jemimaville, house with three rooms with one or more windows
Mary Fraser head single 55 lodging housekeeper born Resolis speaks G&E
Alexina Fraser sister single 38 born Avoch speaks G&E
[in a separate building comprising one room with one or more windows]
Annie McFarlane lodger single 34 dressmaker born Inverness

This was the final Census Return in which Alexandrina appeared, for she was to die just before the next Census. It is revealed by her death certificate that she had been a dressmaker, and I note her father is given as a shepherd, although in fact in his later days he seems to have been a general labourer.

Parish of Resolis Deaths
Alexanderina Fraser dressmaker (single) 29 Nov 1910 East End Jemimaville 45 parents William Fraser shepherd (d) Margaret Fraser ms McGregor (d) informant Mary Fraser her x mark sister (present)

Mary clearly kept on with her lodging-house business, for in the 1911 Census Return she has a lodger from the south. But who should also be present, after a long absence from this story, but sister Isabella, she who commissioned the headstone in Kirkmichael.

1911 Census Return Parish of Resolis – Jemimaville, house six rooms with one or more windows
Mary Fraser head single 72 domestic servant born Resolis speaks ge
Bella Fraser sister single 58 domestic housekeeper born Resolis speaks ge
George Graham lodger single 4 wire fencer born Lanark Shotts

But just note how big the house the sisters are living in now. Six rooms with one or more windows! It is perfectly palatial compared to what the family were used to. And we can now identify precisely where that house was. Over the period 1910 to 1915 the Inland Revenue (Scotland) carried out a survey of property across Scotland and Resolis was surveyed in the early 19teens. In the extract below, Property 200 is occupied by “Miss Fraser”. Coincidentally, the house immediately to the right, the first house in Jemimaville or “Burnside” is occupied by the Trust’s Secretary. I have re-coloured Udale Burn a nice bright blue to show clearly where the burn and the boundary of Resolis lie.

The complementary report on the property states:

Internal Revenue (Scotland) Survey
Property: Jemimaville. / house and garden Owner: Munro, GMG, Lt Col (late), trustees for creditors
Leaseholder: Fraser, Mary     Tenant/occupier: Fraser, Mary
House materials: stone Roof material: thatch House description: House condition: good Other buildings: wooden shed at back

The IR(S) were incorrect in one respect. Many valuation rolls (e.g. 1876, 1895, 1920) confirm that “Mary Fraser, spinster” had actually become the “Proprietrix” as well as tenant and occupier of the property, which was rated at £2 (valuation roll for 1876), £4 (1895) and £5 (1920).

It is a curious family. One sister could afford a good quality headstone for the family. Another was the purchaser of property. You would think they would have been as poor as mice. There are clearly aspects to the story that have not yet become clear to me.

We are fortunate to have an image of the house from a rainy 29th June 1910, when Cullicudden photographer Donald Fraser took the wedding photograph of James Forbes and Margaret Paterson, outside in the east end of Jemimaville. The group are assembled in front of the ivy-clad corner of the bride’s father’s house; the next house is now known as The Old Hall, the thatched house is now Syradale but was at the time Miss Mary Fraser’s lodging-house, and the most distant one is Burnside

photo by Donald Fraser, Cullicudden, courtesy of Mrs Sheila Macdonald, Avoch

Mary may even be somewhere in that photograph. Mary died ten years later whilst still in residence in her Jemimaville home.

Parish of Resolis Deaths
Mary Fraser housekeeper (single) died 13 December 1920 at Jemimaville age 82 parents William Fraser shepherd (d) Margaret Fraser ms Macgregor (d) informant Kenneth Grigor nephew Easter Templand Avoch

You will note that it was sister Ann’s husband Kenneth Grigor who was the informant at Mary’s death. And it was he who became the proprietor of the property in Jemimaville, valued at £8 in 1925. I have not followed the ownership thereafter, but I note from photography of 1939 that it had deteriorated in condition.

Jemimaville from the South East in 1939; and I confess I do not know the origins of this photograph; please inform me if you are aware as I would like to credit the photographer and hopefully get a more detailed image!

Nowadays the property has been thoroughly modernised and is known as “Syradale”.

the modernised lodging-house of Mary Fraser is in the middle of this image; photo by Jim Mackay


Isabella Fraser

The family headstone was erected by Isabella, or Bella, who is a shadowy figure in the family. It is not a simple, cheap headstone. All we know is that in 1911, when she was residing with her sister in the big house in Jemimaville, she was a “58”-year old “domestic housekeeper” who could speak both Gaelic and English.

To summarise the children. The one son, John, we know nothing about, being last seen as a ten-year old in the 1851 Census at Chapelton. Sisters Margaret and Catherine had died way back in 1863 and 1874 respectively. Sister Ann across in Avoch, Kenneth Grigor’s wife, had died in 1905 and is buried in Avoch Burial Ground. With Alexandrina dying in 1910 and Mary in 1920 that just leaves Isabella, last seen in household with Mary in Jemimaville in 1911.

And I cannot locate Isabella following that 1811 Census Return. She did not die in Resolis, and it would be challenging to trace outside Resolis an Isabella Fraser of rather variable age. There were many Isabella Frasers! In the Census returns where I have definitely identified her she was given as 6 in 1851 (so birth year c1845), 14 in 1861 (birth year c1847) and 58 in 1911 (birth year c1853). Those Census Returns give her parish of birth as Cromarty, Resolis and Resolis respectively. The 1851 return would be the most likely to be correct, but who knows how she was recorded in later years.

I would like to know more about Isabella, given she was responsible for the attractive headstone at Kirkmichael. If anyone can assist, please let me know!


And finally, the parents of Margaret Fraser ms MacGregor

Although Margaret Fraser ms MacGregor was born in Contin, I see her parents and siblings moved to the Black Isle and were never very far from Margaret herself. We know who they were, of course, from her death certificate: Alexander McGrigor flesher and Mary McGrigor ms Matheson. Alexander and Maragaret and their children were residing next door to Margaret and her family at Ardmeanach in 1841, and Alexander must have died between 1841 and the next census in 1851 when her mother is recorded as a widow.

1851 Census Return Parish of Resolis – Chapelton area
Mary Matheson head widow 68 pauper frmly farmer’s wife born Contin
Peter McGregor son unmarried 28 flesher born Contin
Mary McGregor daur unmarried 24 dress maker born Contin
Farquhar McGregor son unmarried 22 flesher born Contin
Ann McGregor niece 6 scholar born parish of Cromarty

The family was thus living very close to Margaret and family in both 1841 and 1851. Now, Alexander MacGregor is variously recorded as a shepherd or a flesher. Two of his sons were fleshers as well. They both died at a relatively young age in Jemimaville:

Parish of Resolis Deaths
Farquhar McGregor flesher (single) died 14 January 1856 at Jemimaville age 25 parents Alexr. McGregor flesher (deceased) Mary McGregor m.s. Matheson buried in Kirkmichael Churchyard Resolis As certified by William Holm Sexton informant Mary McGregor her x mark sister (present)
Donald McGregor flesher (widower) died 27 October 1858 at Jamimaville age 40 parents Alexander McGregor flesher (deceased) Mary McGregor m.s. Matheson buried in Gaelic Churchyard of Cromarty As certified by Alex. Cunningham Sexton informant Mary McGregor her x mark mother (present)

The household in Jemimaville was therefore greatly diminished by the time of the next Census.

1861 Census Return Parish of Resolis – JamimaVille Private House, two rooms with one or more windows
Mary McGrigor head widow 74 born Ross shire Strathconnon
Mary McGrigor daur unmarried 28 dressmaker born Ross shire Strathconnon

It must have been very hard on the mother to lose husband and two adult sons. Mary had sought parochial relief and had been entered on the Poors Roll in 1856.

Parish of Resolis Parochial Relief Records
Widow Mary MacGregor, Jamima Ville
Resides Jamima Ville 86 resides with a daughter. [Minute of meeting at which entered on roll] Minute 16 February 1866. Born Comrie Contin parish. Widow. Hushand had been a Sheepherd. Children. Wholly Disabled. Age & Infirmities. 1866 Aug 1 Removed by Death.

As usual, the Parochial Relief Records contain sound information, as the civil records demonstrate:

Parish of Resolis Deaths
Mary McGregor (widow of Alexander McGregor flesher) died 1 August 1866 at Jamimaville age 87 parents Duncan Matheson farmer (d) Ann Matheson m.s. Morison (d) informant Ann Fraser her x mark grand-child (not present)

There are no gravestones commemorating any of the MacGregor family in Kirkmichael, other than Margaret MacGregor, she who married William Fraser. We know there are a good number of the members of the MacGregors and Frasers buried there but without any memorial. This always underlines the importance of, in reality, the small number of family stones which have been erected in Kirkmichael compared to the number of people buried there. And in this case we have Isabella Fraser to thank for having provided a quality stone to commemorate her parents and sisters.

photo by Andrew Dowsett


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