The Early Years
Most family history is based on stories passed down from generation to generation. The Shiels Family is no different. The early stories were recorded in the mid 1940’s when Jack Shiels of Cranbrook, Ontario wrote a journal of the family history back to the 1600’s. The original of this journal was given to his cousin, Mr Bill Ford from Detroit, Michigan.
Jack’s version leads us from the early 1600’s with Micheal & Jessie (Scott) Shiels through Dan & Bessie (Brown) Shiels, Thomas Jeff & Jane (Saxton) Shiels to Thomas & Barbara Jean (Cranston) Shiels. This is where our detailed history begins.
Through modern research tools, we have been able to trace a slightly different sequence. We have used Jack’s version where possible and have corrected names and dates to coordinate this with our research.
Micheal & Bessie (Brown) Shiels
History records show that Micheal Shiels was born in Kildaire, Ireland in 1671. Family tradition states that Micheal Shiels went from Kildare, Ireland to Scotland. He came for the harvest and he liked the country, the whiskey and the Scottish Lassies so well that he decided to stay. He came to an area near Biggar, Scotland which would later be known as East Mains. This is the earliest picture we have of East Mains.
Michael’s first job was working for a man named Dan Scott and he received 10 pounds a year. Before the year was up, Micheal had fallen in love with Dan’s niece Bessie Brown and they were married on November 24, 1716. Tradition says there was a big fight and Micheal and Bessie left.
Micheal and Jessie had one son Dan (named after Jessie’s uncle) and seven daughters; Nora (1717), Annie (1718), Sarah (1721), Margaret (1723), Betty (1724) and Susan (1726). Nora was a teacher and a very successful governess. Annie married a farmer named Jim Dunn but they had no children. The remaining girls worked on the farm and never married.
Dan & Jessie (Scott) Shiels
The only son to carry on the family name was Dan. Dan served a seven-year apprenticeship as a stone mason. He was a gay sport until he was thirty and met Jessie Scott. Jessie was a fine woman and a great lover of music. Dan got a good job as Agent for the Duke of Buccleuch with a good salary for the 18th century.
Records show that they were married on Jul 8, 1749 in South Leith, Midlothian, Scotland. Records also show that Jessie was born in 1730. With these records verified, Jessie would have been 19 years old. Family tradition stated that Jessie was older, however if Dan was 30 years old, he would have been born in 1719. Although we do not have a verified birthdate for Dan, 1719 would be reasonable based on the verified birth dates of the other children.
Dan and Jessie had two children, a son, James born in 1750 and a daughter Elizabeth born March 20, 1751. Dan was also a good mechanic and lived to be nearly ninety years old. Jessie died in 1766 when James was only sixteen.
James & Janet (Younger) Shiels
The only son to carry on the family name was James. James married Janet Younger at Peebles on Dec 2, 1768. James and Janet were both born in 1750.
James & Janet had two sons, Robert born Jan 29, 1769 in Skirling and Thomas, born May 12, 1771 in Kilbucho.
Thomas married Jane Saxton, however we have no further details on this branch at this time.
Robert & Annie (Dickson) Shiels
Robert was born Jan 29, 1769 in Skirling. He married Annie Dickson on July 9, 1790 and they raised five children as follows:
- Alison was born June 3, 1791 in Drummelzier, Peebleshire, Scotland. She married Robert Wallace on April 14, 1815 in Peebles. They had 4 children; Isabella (1821); Helen (1823); Elizabeth (1825) and Alison (1832)
- Thomas was born Sept 27, 1795 in Traquair, Peebles, Scotland. He married Barbara Jean Cranston and we will follow this family in detail below.
- Isabella was born May 15, 1798 in Stobo, Peebleshire, Scotland. She married Thomas Goodburn on May 30, 1824 and had one son David.
- Robert was born Sept 28, 1802. No further details are available.
- Helen was born Aug 7, 1804. No further details are available.
- George was born Aug 9, 1810 in Peebles, Scotland. He died Oct 13, 1968. George married Mary Dickson on Oct 28, 1834 in Edinburgh. They had 3 children, David (1832); Elizabeth (1841) and Jane Hunter (1848). David married Mary Purvis in 1873 and the couple emigrated to Queensland, Australia. They raised a large family in Australia and this family will be followed separately.
Thomas & Barbara Jean (Cranston) Shiels
Thomas was born September 27, 1795 in Traquir, Peebles, Scotland. He loved horses and got a job in a stable for the Duke of Buccleuch. He advanced quickly and became head man with good wages. Thomas fell in love with the governess of the Duke’s two little girls, Barbara Jean Cranston, and they were married on April 5, 1817.
Thomas was a very good sport. He liked good company and was a great hand with the fiddle. He was a kind hearted soul and “his own worst enemy”. He went on to become game keeper for the Duke and was an expert with a gun. He was shot by a poacher and was badly wounded, from which he never completely recovered. The youngest child was only three months old when Thomas died and the Duke erected a marble slab at the head of his grave which read “Here lies a Gallant and true Scotsman”.
Thomas and Barbara Jean had a large family. Barbara Jean went on to become a teacher and raised her children on her own after Thomas had died. The Duke of Buccleuch opened a school in the village and hired Barbara Jean to teach the village children. She continued to teach until she was eighty-one years old and was still quite spry. Barbara Jean lived to be ninety-three.
Detailed history begins with Thomas Shiels and Barbara Jean (Cranston) Shiels. They had 5 sons and 2 daughters; Robert, Thomas, John, George, William and daughters Jean (Shiels) Anderson and Barbara Ann (Shiels) Spence.
Robert was born Dec 8, 1817 in Culter, Scotland. He never married and lived most of his life in Scotland. He died in 1893 in Quincy Illinois.
Thomas was born July 12, 1819 in Biggar, Scotland. He married Elizabeth Prentice on April 30, 1840 in Libberton, Scotland. They started a family in Scotland before moving to Illinois, USA. The family later moved to Ontario, Canada where 2 of his brothers were and descendants moved on to North Dakota, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. This family is followed in detail separately.
Jean (Shiels) Anderson (1821-1907)
Jean Shiels was the third child of Thomas and Barbara Jean Shiels. She was born July 23, 1821 at East Mains, Coulter, Lanarkshire, Scotland. She was very good-looking and a very smart girl. She received a minimum education in the school on the Duke of Buccleuch’s estate and at a young age she went to work on a dairy farm owned by the Anderson family. After a few years there, she married James Anderson, the owner’s son.
The young couple stayed on the family farm for several more years, during which time three children were born to them. James was born in 1848, Barbara in 1849 and Ellen (Hellen) in 1852. The young family sailed for Canada in 1854. They stopped for a short time near Whitby and then came west to what is now Dublin, Ontario. In those days, it was called Irish Town. James and Jean ran a boarding house there for three years and a son Thomas was born there in 1855. When land became available, James and Jean attempted to obtain a homestead in Grey Township across the road from Jeans’ brother John but a claim jumper spoiled their plans.
They were successful in obtaining a 200 acre homestead on the 6th concession of Turnberry Township. James and Jean had four more children there. Jean was born in 1857, Jessie on October 22, 1859, Robert in 1860 and Mary in 1867.
Upon the death of James Sr in 1885, the land passed to Jean his widow, and to Jean and John Raky, Mary Anderson, Ellen Richardson (a widow) and an interest to John Shiels (Jane’s brother) and John’s wife Janet. Jean died in May 20, 1907 and is buried in Wingham, Ontario.
The birth records in the area show a son James born March 22, 1824, in Wandell and Lamington, Lanark, Scotland. James died very young in 1827.
John was born July 8, 1826. He emigrated to Ontario, Canada where he married Janet McNair and settled on a farm near Cranbrook. They had a large family with descendants in Ontario and west to British Columbia. This family is followed in detail separately.
George was born October 18, 1828. He also emigrated to Ontario, Canada where he married Susanna Wortley and settled on a farm near Cranbrook. They had a large family with descendants in Ontario and the USA. This family is followed in detail separately.
Barbara Ann (Shiels) Spence (1831-1921):
Barbara Ann Shiels was the youngest daughter of Thomas and Barbara Jean (Cranston) Shiels. She was born March 9, 1831 at East Mains near Biggar, Scotland. She followed in the footsteps of her mother and became a governess in the family of Lord Ballion. Barbara Ann taught the children of Lord Ballion and his sister, Lady Scott for quite a long time before she married Stuart Spence.
Stuart was the secretary for Lord Ballion and Barbara continued to teach until her own son, Thomas Alexander, was born. She was a wonderful teacher and one of her pupils was the secretary of Premier Gladstone and another was a servant in Queen Victoria’s house in Balmoral.
After Thomas Alexander was born, Barbara quit teaching and put all her energy to housekeeping and raising her son. Alex was a good boy and was studying to become a Civil Engineer, however he had an accident shortly after entering college. He never recovered and died soon after the accident.
The death of their only son was very hard to deal with and Stuart took it very badly. He went into a decline and took quite sick and also died. This left Barbara Ann on her own.
Barbara Ann decided to emigrate to Canada and went to keep house for her great-nephew Robert Shiels on his farm near Windhorst, Saskatchewan. Robert was the grandson of Barbara Ann’s youngest brother William. Barbara Ann spent her remaining years with Robert and his family and died at ninety-one years of age.
William James Shiels (1833-1911)
William James was born January 27, 1833. He married Agnes Brown and raised a large family in Scotland. Many of the descendants were in the shoe business. Some of the descendants also immigrated to Canada and the USA. This family is followed in detail separately.