Thursday, February 12, 2015

Isobel Burness: "Of The Same Stock As Burns The Poet" (52 Ancestors #6)

It all started with the death of my father and the discovery of a hand drawn Family Tree from 1880 that my mom found stuck behind the furnace. It was labeled IRONS FAMILY TREE in my dad's handwriting. It was rolled up in a mailing tube, cracked and brittle. I was afraid to unroll it.

Backtrack a few years. My dad was doing some research on his mother's side of the family, the Irons family, and had inherited a few bits of information from his uncle, who spent his retirement doing genealogy. We knew of the family cemetery plot in Graceland Cemetery in Chicago, and one Saturday we all drove into the city to visit. I  immediately experienced a hushed sense of awe at the number of family members resting there. And an urgent need to discover who they were when they were alive.

Life got in the way and my desire waned. I put it aside to pursue other things.

Then my dad died. He was buried in the family plot in Graceland Cemetery surrounded by his ancestors. It was, still is, sobering. People, my people, who walked the streets of Chicago over 150 years ago. Who lived through the Great Fire. Who immigrated to America for a better life. Who were among the early pioneers of a tiny little frontier town called Chicago.

Out came the box filled with research he had been conducting (that I was not aware of) the letters from his uncle, stacks of old, old family photos. the Family Tree. My dad was an only child and a pack rat, so lucky for me he had everything his mother had saved from her family.

My curiosity was ignited anew.

Isobel Burness,who 
"Tradition said was of the same stock as that of Burns the Poet"
One afternoon, when curiosity got the best of me, I cautiously unrolled the Family Tree. It was not the Irons Family Tree at all - it was the Fraser Family tree dated 1880. The earliest entries were for Duncan Fraser and Isobel Burness, who "Tradition said was of the same stock as that of Burns the Poet". What? Who were these people? I needed to find out!

I dug in to try to discover who Isobel was. I started a public tree on Ancestry to do some fishing. I added her to WikiTree. I searched and searched to the best of my online ability. A trip to Scotland was not in my realm of possibility any time soon.

From the Family Tree I learned only a few key bits of information. Isobel Burness or Burns might have been born about 21 June 1748. She married Duncan Fraser in 1763 (was she really only 15?) and she died 15 Jan 1806 at Leslie, Scotland. She would have been 57 years old. The ONLY record I have been able to discover for myself is the baptism record noted on the Family Tree. It is still unclear 135 years later whether this is, in fact the correct Isobel.

So the mystery continues. Who was Isobel Burness or Burns? Was she "of the same stock" as the poet? Who were her parents? Did I and the author of this Tree find the correct baptism record? Did she really get married at 15? How did the Tree author conclude when Isobel died? And where? Where is her grave?

All my answers lie so far away. In both chronological time and physical distance. I hope to someday have more answers to this mysterious matriarch of my Fraser family branch.

And one more thing .... how did this mysterious Family Tree, authored in Scotland in 1880 by John Fraser, make it's way to America and wind up behind the furnace at my father's house?

I love a good mystery, don't you?

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