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Helen was born in 1829, the daughter of shepherd James Wood and Jessie Munro of Evanton, Ross-shire.
In 1864, at Snizort on the island of Skye, she married schoolmaster Donald John MacLean of 5 Gearraidh Dubh. Together they were to have seven children, making their home at the schoolhouse at Rubha Mor on Berneray. Helen was the island’s post-mistress.