One basic rule in genealogical research is that no family is exempt from contradictory and/or confusing genealogical information. The family of the surname Muirhead is certainly no exception to this rule. There exist records of persons by the name of Muirhead who simply do not fit into any known lineages. Since most early lineages were based on family tradition, they might have excluded individuals or whole lines because those individuals or lines did not ‘measure up’ to the values of the family. The so-called ‘black sheep’ of the family were often simply not included in the formal lineages because they were seen as an embarrassment to the family.
In this group would be placed the Muirheads of Windyhills. On 15 October, 1490 a charter was recorded at Edinburgh which transferred lands in the sheriffdom of Roxburgh from Robert Murehed of Le Wyndehillis to his son, George ‘servant’ of the King. Witnesses to this charter included Bishop Robert Murehede of Glasgow and Dean Richard Murehede of Glasgow, Clerk of the Rollo and Register of the Council. A George de Murhede had also been recorded as a witness to another charter four years prior, on 14 February, 1486.
In previous books on the history of the Muirheads, it has been generally assumed that the Muirheads of Windyhills were not directly related to the Muirheads of Lauchope, Bredisholm and so forth. But a situation exists which makes the argument that the two families were not related difficult to accept. From time to time the two families interacted and became linked on public records. Windyhills is a village located in the district of Closeburn in Dumfriesshire (which contains the two county jurisdictions of Galloway and Dumfries). Likewise, Wigtown, shown on early documents as Wigtoun, is a village located in Galloway. Various individuals who are known to have been members of the family of the Muirheads of Lauchope, over the years, purchased and owned lands not only in Lanarkshire, but also in Dumfriesshire. John Muirhead of Lauchope and Bullis is known to have acquired lands throughout Galloway, including lands at Wigtown. On 29 March, 1502 John Murehede of Bulleis received a charter for lands at Wigtoun. For researchers to separate the two regions and the families that resided in those regions simply because the Muirheads who resided in Dumfriesshire do not fit neatly into the traditional lineages is foolish.
There is the additional point that should be taken into consideration, that there is no village named Muirhead in Galloway. The Muirheads of Windyhills, if they had taken their name from a place name in that region, would surely have used the place name of Windyhills rather than Muirhead of Windyhills.
There exists no evidence that anyone from any of the other villages named Muirhead located throughout Scotland took their surname from the place name. In other words, the family of Willielmo de Muirhead, which resided in Lanarkshire, was the only one known to have taken the place name and made it into a surname by the addition of ‘de’. And there is no reason to assume that everyone in every village took the name of the place as their own surname. It generally was only a socially influential, wealthy or politically important family who had to be noted as ‘so-and-so’ of ‘wherever’.
There are a number of individuals who simply do not fit into the traditional lineage of the Muirhead of Lauchope family. Although the name George does not appear in the lineage of the family of the Muirheads of Lauchope until the late 1500s and early 1600s, it does appear earlier in references as witnesses to certain public documents, as noted above. In addition to the two documents mentioned above, a George Murehede served as a witness to a charter dated 14 May, 1491 for Alexander Cunninghame of Polmais, into whose family James Muirhead of Lauchope is known to have married.
The Stephen de Murehede, who served as a witness, along with William de Murehede, to a charter for Gawin de Hamiltoun on 23 August, 1468, is not found on genealogical records of the Willielmo de Muirhead family. In view of the fact that the record for the Muirheads of Lauchope begins with Willielmo, perhaps Stephen was his brother, or an uncle, or cousin.
A canon of Glasgow, Thomas Muyrheid, witnessed a charter for Archbishop Robert Murehede on 20 January, 1507. A Thomas Murehede, rector of Stobo, named as one of the prebendaries and canons of Glasgow, was an executor for a Jonet Murehed. As will be noted in the section on Dominus Andreas de Durisder, or rather, Bishop Andrew Muirhead, it is has been suggested by at least one researcher that he descended from a family other than the Muirheads of Lauchope. No men by the names of Robert or Thomas appear in the late 1400s and early 1500s in the family of Willielmo de Muirhead.
On 08 July, 1520 Sir Robert Murehede, a chaplain at Glasgow, was listed as a witness to a transaction. Alexander Murehede, in 1531, was named Burgess of Kirendbright. John Mureheid was recorded in 1535 as a rector of Steneker. And in 1543 a man by the name of John Mureheid of Culreoch had a charter of land confirmed. In September, 1570/1 a man by the name of Alexander Muirhead younger of Lachop was charged to enter ward within the castle of Blackness within 15 days under pain of 1,000 merks.
In the same way that the statement can be made that there is no way to prove that the various families by the name of Muirhead were related, there is likewise no way to prove that they were not. I would venture to suggest that they were indeed related, that the family might have originated at only one location with the placename of Muirhead, and that the line which came to reside at Windyhills, or elsewhere, might simply have not been regarded as worthy relatives, and therefore excluded from the ‘official’ genealogical records.
An idea that apparently has not been considered by most genealogist researching the Muirhead lineages is that Willielmo de Muirhead might not have been the first individual to be granted the name. Willielmo's father might have been the progenitor, and the various other lines might have descended from that progenitor.
And lastly, it should be noted that there is a line of people who spell their surname as Moorshead, and who trace their lineage back to a family from the region of Cornwall-Devon in the southwest tip of Great Britain. They emphatically deny any connection to the Muirheads of Scotland, but they might very well be descended from the family of David Muirhead of London.