How did the MacLeas come to America?


James Brown McLea (Family tree in-Scotland) and his wife Margaret Turner (daughter of Alex and Margaret Turner) left Glasgow, Scotland, where they were both born, in about 1880.

James was born in 1859 and Margaret was born at about the same time (though her birthdate is unknown). We do not currently have a marriage record for the couple, and a thorough search of the Scottish records has failed to yield a birth record for Margaret.

We know that James was a Jeweller who came to America in the timeframe of 1879-1882. There is no record of his/their arrival at any American port.


The first appearance of James and his wife is at the birth of their eldest child, Maggie Brown McLea on 7 Jun 1883 in Chicago, Illinois. James is correctly listed as a jeweller in that record.


By 1884 or 1885, the family has shown up in Paterson, New Jersey, where they lived the next dozen or so years. Their second child, Nettie, was born in Paterson on either 31 Jan 1884 (a little too soon after Maggie's) or 1 Dec 1885, depending on the record. By that time, they are found in the city directories of Paterson.


After Margaret Turner McLea's death on 8 Feb 1897 in Paterson, the family packed up and moved one more time within Paterson, and then moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts. It was to there that James's mother Janet would travel just a few months later on 8 Jun 1897, presumably to help James with his children after his great loss. The family then lived in Cambridge for many years as the children grew and eventually moved out on their own, but often living with family, and spreading across nearby Massachusetts.

So where did the MacLeas enter the United States?

We don't know.

Because their first appearance is in Chicago in 1883 at the birth of their first child, and because no record of arrival at New York or Boston or Baltimore (etc.) can be found, it must be assumed that James and Margaret came via Canada.

Canada at the time had inconsistent records of immigration and shipping, and the overland route through Canada (after taking a ship from Europe) was a very popular entry method. Once in Canada, those bound for the U.S. would often take a boat across the Great Lakes or across the St. Lawrence Seaway and/or make their way by land to an American city. Since the MacLeas show up in Chicago, I might hypothesize that they found their way to one of the major cities in Eastern Canada, and from their made their way across the Lakes to Chicago, and then from there traveled back East to Paterson.

Because formal immigration records of entry from Canada to the U.S. did not begin until later (1895 for the "St. Albans records"), no documentation of their travel probably exists. And if the shipping record across the Atlantic is also lost, we may never know for certain how they came to North America. For all we know, perhaps the couple had decided to elope from Glasgow and head to the New World, perhaps being married by the ship's captain on the voyage (which would also explain the lack of a marriage record in England or Scotland or elsewhere).

James in Paterson

As a side note, the purported reason (according to family lore) that James Brown McLea, jeweller, was in Paterson, N.J., was to work as a jeweller for Tiffany & Co. However, there was no Tiffany associated business in Paterson, which at that time was quite a distance from New York City for anyone to travel. So, this story may be apocryphal.

I did inquire with the Tiffany Archives if it would be possible to confirm/refute the idea that James ever worked for Tiffany. However, the $500 research charge dissuaded me from pursuing that avenue. Perhaps someday we may know the truth of this.

It is also said that James may have injured himself at some point during his employment with Tiffany (perhaps an eye injury?) and was no longer able to work as a jeweller (or at least with the jewels that he was involved with--expensive ones). Indeed, though James is recorded as a jeweller during his time in Paterson, he shows up in Cambridge as a job dyer in 1899 for Robert B. Brown & Co. there. From then on, he never resumes work as a jeweller. So there may be some merit to the story of his having had a career-ending injury.

But, it is also said that James never lost his love of jewelry, or of making it. When visitors would come to his house in Cambridge, it is said that he would sometimes go into the basement of the house, melt down a little gold, and before the guest had left the house they would be presented with a ring or other item that he had made for them.