Todays post is another DNA success story.
William McClellan, my GG Grandfather was a bit of a mystery man. Family Lore had him arrving in New Zealand by way of a Shipwreck- The “Fairy Queen” which came ashore in a large store in Timaru in 1873. He went on to marry Elizabeth Lennie nee Brodie, my GG Grandmother, who had very recently become widowed when her husband John Lennie died, and she was left with a young family to raise. It was thought that William had been living with the family since the shipwreck.
We knew where Wiliam was born and this was a reseachers godsend . The Isle of Whithorn, in southern Scotland is not a large town, however there were a couple of William McClellans or McClellands born around the same time as our William. Frustratingly though, all those could be traced well after the time that our William was married and living in New Zealand.
William had become a member of the Salvation Army during his time in New Zealand and in his attestation he had noted that he had been a “Man-0’-War’s Man” in other words he had been in the Navy.
The first major clue came in a search at the British Archives for William McClellan from the Isle of Whithorn bought up only one result. That was for William McClelland SECOMBE, who was the right age, and had signed on and been posted for a period of 10 years being assigned to the CoastGuard vessel Ajax.
The signature of William Secombe was very similar in style to that of our William McClellan.
While we were researching the origins of our William, in Australia descendants of Alexander Secombe were looking for a missing brother- they had been looking for years for the sons of Thomas Secombe and Isabella McClelland. They had found most of the children :
William McClellan (d) Secombe b. 1833 Isle of Whithorn;
Alexander Secombe no date approx 1835 Wigtown, Wigtownshire;
Mark Secombe b. 1842, Isle of Whithorn;C/G
Elizabeth Hannah b.abt 1844, Portaferry Co.Down. Died 1862 Grey Abbey the same year as her father. Both buried from the Balligan Church.
Andrew b. 1847, Portaferry Portaferry Died 1884 Suffolk C/G
Louisa Straines b. 1849, Taro Portaferry
John b. 1851 Ballywalter;
Louis (Lewis) b. 1852 Ballywalter.
Most of the children had ben traced however the fate of William had been a real mystery to them.
t seemed that we might be on the right track but there was no proof our our theory. The records pertaining to the “Fairy Queen” which might have the crew list had been burned in a fire at Archives in Wellington in the 1950s. There were apparently no outgoing records for the voyage fron Newcastle Australia where it originated. Frustration began to set in. Then out of the blue came another clue . It seemed I was not the first in my family to be tracing the origins of William McClellan. His son, named after him, put an advertisement in the Lloyds London Newspaper’s Missing Persons column. In it he states : From New Zealand- The brothers of WILLIAM McCLELLAN OR McCLELLAND, who left the Isle of Whithorn when very young and was “one of the crew saved from the lifeboat accident when Captain Boyd was drowned in Kingston Harbour” are sought by W. McClellan,
This was the key piece of evidence. Captain Boyd was in fact the Captain of the Ajax. The coastguard vessel that William Secombe had been posted to . Later that month I found in Australian shipping records William Secombe of Whithorn Scotland on a coastal trader out of the Melbourne area in the very early 1870s .
With circumstantial evidence building combined with the great likeness between the photo of Mark Secombe to the single photo we had of who was likely to be his brother William it was frustrating to have no paper evidence, however science was to be the final definitifve proof.
That came with a small DNA match between my mother and the descendant of one Loveday Secombe.
As shown in the chart to the right Loveday Secombe was the Great Great Aunt of William McCelland Secombe, and her descendant who matches my mother is a GGG Grandson of Loveday Secombe. Their common ancestor is John Secombe born abt 1732 in Mawgan in Meneage, Cornwall, England who would be my 6x Great Grandfather making the match my 5th cousin 2x removed.
Though the circumstantial evidence abounded, it is almost a relief to finally have some scientific proof that the research I have done over the years has proven to be true. We are in fact related to the famous singer and comedian Harry Secombe and descend from a family who’s history is entrenched in the history of the Royal Coastguard, and now I have a whole new family history to discover.