Finding Great Great Grandmother: Elizabeth Mowat Sutherland


Elizabeth Mowat is my great great grandmother. I didn’t even know her name before I began my genealogy quest. I still don’t know much about her but I now have a photograph, a portrait of her in her “go to church clothes” with the requisite black bonnet.

There were no pictures of her in the box that started my family history search, although there was a family photograph of her husband William, her son Donald, his wife Alice and three of their children, William, Mary and James Dickson. I originally thought Elizabeth was alive at the time, so why on such an occasion was she not with them at the photographers? It later turned out she died in 1883 and not the assumed 1888.

It was through the internet and RootsWeb that I finally saw her face. Robert Harkness, from her daughter-in-law Alice’s line, said his family had lost all their old photos and information in a house fire but his uncle might know some family history. I wrote to his uncle, Bruce Harkness but did not hear anything. Then a couple of months later I received a letter from a George Dickson with photos and stories. He was also a relative of Alice’s and lived in the same apartment building as Bruce, in Belmore, Ontario. Bruce had shared my letter and it was George who responded. In the package was a picture of Elizabeth.

She was born in 1829 in Pulteneytown, Caithness, Scotland. Her parents were James Mowat and Isabelle Houston. It doesn’t appear that she had any siblings or at least any that survived to the 1841 census.

She married William Sutherland a shoemaker and 13 years her senior, May 1845, in Pulteneytown and they set out for Canada soon after. They sailed with two of William’s nephews and their wives so he had some family with him, but Elizabeth left her family and her life, never to see them again. There are Sutherland letters that have survived which reported on all the neighbours and friends so I assume the Mowats also heard about their daughter’s new life and family.

Elizabeth and William had seven children, William, James, Donald, Christina, Isabella, George, and John. They moved from Toronto to West Gwillimbury and finally to their own land in Carrick, Bruce County Ontario. After clearing the land and farming for a number of years they gave up the hard work and moved back to Toronto.

Elizabeth died in 1883 and William died in 1887. My sister Jeannie and I visited Mount Pleasant Cemetery and found their tombstone. The names were readable but not the inscription. As Jeannie went to the car to get some paper to try a rubbing, the sun came out and it’s angle made the inscription jump out,“The dead in Christ shall rise first”.

Notes: Scotland, Select Births and Baptisms, 1564-1950 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2014.Original data: Scotland, Births and Baptisms, 1564-1950. Salt Lake City, Utah: FamilySearch, 2013

Extracts of entries in an Old Parochial Register. Proclamations of Banns and marriages Parish of Wick, County of Caithnes general register Office, New Register House Edinburch on 26 September 2000.

Archives of Ontario; Toronto, Ontario, Canada; Series: MS935; Reel: 36 Source Ontario, Canada, Deaths, 1869-1938, 1943-1944, and Deaths Overseas, 1939-1947 Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2010.Cert.

“The dead in Christ shall rise first.” 1 Thessalonians 4:16

The story of Elizabeth’s daughter Christina can be found at:

4 thoughts on “Finding Great Great Grandmother: Elizabeth Mowat Sutherland”

  1. My grandma name is Elizabeth Mowat Sowles. She gave me a family tree and I am trying to connect the dots. George Mowat 1st is from Scotland and married Eliza Ann Cook and came to the US in 1840. Eliza was married to him in Canada. I have information. I believe we are related.


    1. Hi Jane,
      My Elizabeth Mowat was the daughter of James Mowat and Isabella Houston. She was born in Caithness, Scotland about 1823. So far I have not found any siblings of hers that survived childhood. There were stories that she was a “cousin” of Sir Oliver Mowat, an Ontario Premier, and Lieutenant Governor but although they both had ancestors in Caithness I have not found a connection. Mary


      1. Hi Mary. I have no doubt you are related to me. My gut feelings are always right. My Grandmothers great grandfather was Robert Mowat. Prime Minister of Canada. He left to move to Evart Michigan of all places to move to. A little town where no one lives. George Mowat is in your family tree and if you read about their stories its pretty fascinating. They tend to name their children after everyone in our family tree. Look at the Johns, Janes , Elizabeths, George,James, I truly believe they used the same names to make it easy for us to we are related.


      2. Hi, We might be related as I haven’t done extensive Mowat research. Robert Mowat wasn’t a Canadian Prime Minister. The Canadian politician was Oliver Mowat. He was Premier of Ontario as well as the Lieutenant Governor. He was said to be a cousin to my Elizabeth Mowat but I haven’t found a connection. So I can’t claim a famous ancestor.


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