In the summer of 1830, Archibald Catanach left his parents and Scotland behind. 

He was born and baptized in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1807. Twenty-three years later, he traveled 40 miles to Glasgow, likely on foot. There, he boarded the ship Cassandra, bound for New York. 

No shipping records show Archibald ever returning to Scotland. His parents — Adam, a gardener, and Janet (Duncan) Catanach — died in Scotland in the 1850s. In other words, Archibald likely saw his parents for the last time when he left in 1830.

Map of Scotland showing (right: Edinburgh; left: Glasgow).

Archibald and the Cassandra landed in New York on June 1st, 1830. His occupation — joiner — meant that he was a carpenter. 

Archibald Catanach recorded as arriving in New York ports in 1830.

Census records suggest that Archibald settled in Pennsylvania and married Margaret Notman. Margaret was a year younger than Archibald and also from Edinburgh. Did they know each other before coming to the United States? It is possible! 

The Catanachs first settled in Pennsylvania. There, they had their first three children — Mary, Janet, and Adam — during the 1830s and early 1840s. They moved to Kentucky between Adam’s birth in 1836 and Agnes’s in about 1838 and stayed for about a decade. Archibald and his young family were back in Philadelphia by 1850. Archibald and Margaret never left, dying in Philadelphia in the early 1870s.

Archibald (42) & Margaret (40) Catanach’s family in the 1850 census. Note the birth places in the right-most column. 

So, how did the Catanach’s get to New Mexico? 

David Notman Catanach was born in Lexington, Kentucky on November 4th, 1844. David returned to Philadelphia with his family by 1850 and even attended college. In 1870, only 9,400 college degrees were awarded in the United States. David likely received one of them. He went to Crittenden’s Philadelphia Commercial College in 1863! 

The Civil War brought David and the future Catanach family to New Mexico. His obituary said that he served for four years in the Sixth Pennsylvania Cavalry. It also said he “came to Santa Fe after the war as a clerk…” and that he “was a resident of this city [Santa Fe] from 1865 to 1883.” He enlisted in 1861 when he was 16. A military census shows he was a soldier stationed in the Arizona and New Mexico territories in 1864.

He settled in Santa Fe at the end of the Civil War and married Rosario Donovan between 1865 and 1869. Rosario’s father, James, was “a pioneer of New Mexico” in 1845, coming from Missouri. David and Rosario lived in Santa Fe next door to her parents with their first child, John (1), in 1870.

David (25), Rosario (18), and John (1) in the 1870 census living in Santa Fe, NM.

David and Rosario had five children — John, James, Archibald, Margaret, and Francesca — before David left New Mexico in 1885. It remains unspecified why, but he left and went back to Philadelphia. He married a woman 21 years younger, Annie Bevan, in 1886. 

Rosario, 33, lived with her parents and four surviving children in 1885. She listed herself as divorced. Fortunately, Rosario and her four children persevered. She lived for 40 more years and died in 1922. Her four children grew up, married, and started families in New Mexico

James, her second child, married twice. He first married Conrada Sena in 1891, when he was about 20. But by 1900, he was on his own with three young kids. What happened to Conrada? The answer was a bit difficult to find and slightly unusual. There is no record of what happened other than a single sentence in Spanish in a 1901 newspaper. 

Clipping from El Nuevo Mexicano published April 13, 1901.

It translates to: “In the case of James Catanach v. Conrada Catanach, Judge McFie on Thursday granted a divorce giving the husband custody of the minor children.”

So, James A. Catanach raised his three children — all under 10 — by himself. He remarried in 1914 to Eulalia Frescas. Pictures survive of them, presumably from their wedding day! 

James A. Catanach and his second wife, Eulalia Frescas.

James and Eulalia raised seven children of their own until he died in 1931. By then, the Catanachs had certainly carved their name in New Mexico’s history as pioneers of the area. In only a century, the Catanachs went from gardeners in beautiful Edinburgh, Scotland, to pioneers of the Land of Enchantment.


Jack Palmer is a History and Psychology double-major at Duke University. I’ve done genealogy research since I was 10 and love writing about it for family, friends, and anybody else who might enjoy a blast from the past.

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