My bonnie lies over the ocean

Many of us Raitts and those related to the family are well-known in our own fields and areas of expertise, but we are probably not quite as well known as singer Bonnie Raitt, her Broadway actor father John Raitt, blues instrumentalist brother David Raitt, and singer/sound engineer brother Stephen Raitt. The question is often asked whether our Raitts are related to their Raitts.  John Raitt was obviously interested in his family history and did, quite a few years ago, write to my Uncle Alec in Glasgow trying to establish if there was any relationship given the name – but, disappointingly, my uncle apparently did not reply or take it further.

So on a whim I have just undertaken a little research to see whether there was any connections down the line. Of course, the details are probably available on some sites such as RootsWeb (indeed that site does have some entries on John Raitt that go back a couple of generations to George Raitt) – but my quick searches took only a few minutes and cost nothing. Gleaned from his various biographies online, John Emmett Raitt was born in Santa Ana, Orange County, California in 1917 (he died in 2005 in Pacific Palisades, California). His parents were Archie John Raitt and Stella Eulalie Walton.

According to details on FindaGrave and also RootsWeb, Archie was born in 1892 in Santa Ana and died in 1962 in Orange County. His father was James T. Raitt, born 1868 in Pennsylvania and died in 1938, Orange County  and his mother was Eva B. Brockett from Illinois (FindaGrave also gives details of spouses and children, as well as photos of the gravestones).

Although FindaGrave gave the parents of James T. Raitt’s wife, it didn’t give his parents (though the RootsWeb entry did - at least for his father and his mother’s given name). However, a quick search on the FamilySearch site has James T., aged 12, in the 1880 census for Patterson, Madison County, Iowa. (The T. I subsequently found stands for Thomas). His parents were George Raitt, aged 49, minister, born New York and Jennette, aged 39, also born New York. Apart from James, their other three children were born in Iowa. Also in the household is George’s sister, Mary Raitt, aged 53, also born New York. Now, significantly the birthplace of both the mother and father of George and Mary, as well as Jennette is given as Scotland.

A check on IGI reveals that George Patterson Raitt, born 1831, New York married Jennette McFadden in 1866 in the USA – possibly either New York or perhaps Pennsylvania where James Thomas was born. George’s parents were Thomas Raitt and Janet Thorburn who were married in Bovina, Delaware County, New York in 1824. Thomas was born in 1796 in Dykehead, Angus, Scotland and they had several children including George and Mary – all born New York. Janet Thorburn seems to have been born in 1804 in Scotland, but it is not immediately clear where.

The 1860 census for Bovina, Delware Co., New York has Thomas Raitt, aged 63, born Scotland living with several children, including Mary, though not George. Wife Janet had died in 1848. There is a George Raitt, aged 25, in the 1860 census for Meredith, Delaware Co., New York living in the household of George Raitt, aged 69, born Scotland. Given the age, the older George looks as though he may well be the older brother of Thomas – thus George the younger could either be his son or his nephew. Brother John (of Thomas and George) seems to be in Delaware County too.

Delving further, Dykehead does not appear as a town in the IGI Batch Numbers for Angus, however it seems to fall under the district of Glen Isla, Angus where Thomas Raite is listed as being christened in 1796. His parents are given as Thomas Raite and Elizabeth Thoms who married in December 1787 in Glen Isla. Besides Thomas they also had seven other children (some with surname Rait) all christened in Glen Isla – they are the only Raites (Raitts) listed in that place. None of them appear in the 1841 census for Angus and given that Thomas Jnr married in New York in 1824, then it is possible that the whole family (i.e. including parents and siblings) emigrated to the United States before that date (certainly three of the boys did). It seems clear that they were not native to Glen Isla – maybe Thomas Snr was an agricultural labourer and therefore itinerant.  There are a couple of possibilities for the birth of Thomas Rait and Elizabeth Thoms in Scotland, but not really in places generally associated with other members of our Raitt family.

So, on the face of things, my branch of the Raitt family and that of my cousins in America, can lay no claim to being related to Bonnie Raitt – at least in any recent context. An interesting aside is that the name seems to have acquired a double t in America. Another interesting aside is that since there are few, if any, Thomas Raitts in our side of the family then, given the usual carrying down of the name, it perhaps seems unlikely that we are in fact descended from Thomas Raitt and Helen Hunter – but maybe with all the Thomas’s in Bonnie Raitt’s side of the family, then maybe she is!

Postscript: Following this blog entry one of my new American cousins wrote to me regarding the possible genetic connection to Bonnie and John Raitt, the entertainers. She said “My father, who was more or less the same age as John Raitt, once met him after a performance in Omaha (Nebraska) perhaps some 70 years ago.  They compared notes and relationships and came to the conclusion that we were indeed not from the same line.  Still there was just enough common ground for them to agree that they probably shared a common ancestor.  One of the commonalities was having red hair and being tall as well as being "musical".  My father seemed to think his progenitors came from the Aberdeen area.”

Since writing this entry I have done further research and this family will be found on the Bovina Raitts page.

Sunday, 7 February 2010