There was no sign of a husband with her in the 1841 census of Anstruther Wester, where she lived with her two children, and the 1851 census revealed she was a widow. Through the records of the Fife Family History Society I soon found out her husband, John Birrell, had died by drowning in July 1840 - just two years after they were married - the only details being that he was a ship's carpenter, and the locations of the accident ('River Mersay') and his burial ('Stormount').
The only River Mersey I knew was at Liverpool, and the only Stormont I knew was in Belfast - places separated by 140 miles of Irish Sea, but perhaps making sense for a ship en-route from England to Northern Ireland.
Regularly over the next 20 years I would check resources and newspapers to try and uncover any mention of the drowning of John Birrell, with no luck. The closest I came was a boat swamped on the Mersey and in which two of the four mechanics on board were drowned - no names were mentioned, but the date was off of Birrell's recorded death by just two days.
I probably hadn't done a 'Birrell check' for about three years when I decided to try again a couple of days ago, and this time I hit the mark. In that three years, the British Newspaper Archive had added the Shipping & Mercantile Gazette to their library, and in this publication was the following story, syndicated from the Montrose Review:
"MONTROSE - July 24: ... two men belonging to a Montrose vessel, the Mars, Captain Younger, last week met a watery grave. The vessel was then lying at Fleetwood, in Lancashire; and the men, whose names were John Burrell and John Menzies, having gone ashore on Tuesday night, were returning in a small boat, early next morning, when they were drowned. The boat was picked up next day, five miles from the vessel; and the bodies of the unfortunate mariners were also found. Burrell was a native of Anstruther; Menzies, of Montrose, and has left a widow and small family."
The date of death and his place of origin, Anstruther, are correct, though a couple of other details seem odd. Fleetwood is about 30 miles north of the Mersey, so either the place of drowning is not right, or they went for quite a trip. The burial at Stormont makes sense as the next destination of the Mars was Quebec, though the only report I can find so far seems to indicate it sailed from Fleetwood on the 23 July, whereas John's burial is recorded as the 17th. Hopefully, with these new details, I'll be able to get a clearer picture sometime soon.
John was just 22 when he died, but managed to have two children with Peggy (who lived to 79), both of whom would go on to have families of their own. Son Andrew married in 1858 and had two sons, one a school master, the other a soldier and then shale miner, both producing families of their own. The other child, my ggg-grandmother, married in 1859 and had 12 children, a number of them successful in Dundee-based businesses, and most surviving to have families of their own as well.