A hero – or a villain?

When James Young (my 2 x great-grandfather) died in Blairgowrie at the age of 84, on 14 January 1879, local newspapers reported that he was buried 4 days later “with military honours”.  It was said that over 5000 people watched the procession, which consisted of the Firing Party, a band playing the “Dead March”, Freemasons, the coffin (which was covered in the Union Jack), relatives and the general public and volunteers from the local militia.  His obituary described how he had fought at the Battle of Waterloo with the 6th Inniskilling Dragoons, sustaining several injuries including a sabre wound to his shoulder and another on his cheek, a stab with a lance on the left side of his back and had lost the tip of his forefinger to a bullet that had struck the hilt of his sword. 

Surely, an ancestor to be proud of.  Or was he?

James was discharged from the army in 1840 because, according to his discharge papers, he was suffering from chronic rheumatism. What is interesting is that there is a note on his papers that states that they are “willing to believe from evidence produced that he [James] was wounded, though [there is] no record”. Were the wounds quite as serious as the old soldier claimed? We’ll probably never know but….

I had never really done much work on this man as I believed I had all his information from an uncle who had researched him pretty thoroughly many years ago.  But I thought I’d have a look into him anyway.

I started with the birth of his daughter (my great-grandmother) which occurred in the Scottish bonanza year of 1855.  Lots of information never recorded anywhere else, and only in that year of registration.  This told me that father, James, was 60 and a Constable; mother, Helen, was 32 and this was recorded as her 6th child; James and Helen were recorded as having been married in 1843 in Edinburgh and to have 4 boy and 2 girl children living.  But something didn’t quite add up.  I knew from the 1851 census that there was a son, Charles, born in around 1843 but there was nothing anywhere about any others.

Charles’ baptism was recorded in Edinburgh in 1843, when his mother was recorded as Elizabeth Morris, spouse of James, not Helen.  I found no record of a marriage between James and Elizabeth, but I did find a record of her death in 1844.  Despite what the 1855 birth registration said, James and Helen were actually married in Edinburgh in February 1846.  So who and where were these other children?

I had previous uploaded James and his family to an on-line tree.  This web site had shown me lots of “hints” but I had dismissed them as being unlikely.  I now went back for a second, more detailed look at the information being suggested.  There was a marriage in Truro, Cornwall in 1817 between Mary Peake (daughter of David Peake) and James Young who was recorded as a soldier in the 6th Inniskilling Dragoons; there was a son of this couple baptised in 1836 in Norwich where James Young was again described as a soldier in the 6th Inniskilling Dragoons.    Clearly, more research was needed.

Had his (presumably) first wife, Mary, died before James was discharged to Edinburgh in 1840?  I could find no record of it.  What I did find, however, was an entry in the 1861 census of a Mary Young, of the right age, born in Truro, living with her son and his wife in Edinburgh.  Further research found that this Mary died in Edinburgh in 1868; she was recorded as the wife of James Young, Army Pensioner, daughter of David Peake when her death was reported by her son, James.  There is little doubt that this is the same Mary Peake that married James Young, the 6th Inniskilling Dragoons soldier in 1817.  More research located another son and a daughter.

Could there have been two men called James Young in the 6th Inniskilling Dragoons?  Of course, there could.  Or, was James Young, my 2 x great-grandfather, a bigamist?

Modern technology, in the form of a DNA test, helps provide the answer.  My DNA proved a match for someone who was likely to be my 3rd cousin twice removed, who is a direct descendant of one of James Young and Mary Peake’s sons. 

Our nearest common ancestor is James Young, leaving little doubt that this is my 2 x great-grandfather who was therefore probably a bigamist.

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