Fearless Females – Names and Naming Patterns

With thanks to Lisa Alzo, author of The Accidental Genealogist blog for her wonderful idea to “celebrate and honor ‘fearless females’ in our family trees”. This post is inspired by her ‘Names and Naming Patterns’ suggestion.

As a very small child I used to get confused by my family. Both my granddads were called David, I had three uncles called David, a couple of Uncle Sandy’s and more than a few Uncles Bill. I also had an Aunt Sandra, a cousin Sandra, two cousins called Robert and two called Elaine.

Partly these came about through marriage, but mainly it’s because my family seemed to adhere to a very Scottish pattern of naming children. I won’t try to explain it here since Judy Strachan at Judy’s Family History has done such a good job of it already. In fact, it’s since I read Judy’s post on the subject that I’ve been able to add a few more people to my tree. These have tended to be children who were born and died between censuses. I’ve found them because I knew they probably “had to” exist – based on the names I had for family members who did appear in the records.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I’m named after my paternal grandmother, Susan Elder. What I only discovered recently (see above) was that she was named after her (maternal) grandmother, Susan Forbes. Actually, in writing this, I realise that my parents weren’t really adhering to the pattern, or I would have been called have been Margaret; and that would have made three – no four living related Margaret’s for me to be confused about.

I’ve already posted about my grandmother Susan, so here’s what I know about my earlier namesake.

Susan Forbes was born in 1839 in Gallatown, Fife. This is now part of Kirkcaldy, but in those days it was a separate village. She was (I think) the second daughter of David Forbes and Ann Kinnell. I’m basing this on an indication (still to be verified) that David’s parents seem to be John Forbes and Susan Foulis – another namesake I will have to try and research.

In 1860, Susan married Andrew Nicholson, in Dysart, and a year later, the 1861 census shows that they were living in Glasgow, at 12/71 Oswald Street. Andrew’s occupation was given as an Engine Smith; there’s no occupation shown for Susan. There were no children listed, and since most of my ancestors were working class and the women worked outside the home until they had children (and often afterwards too) I figured that Susan was probably pregnant at the time of the census. Sure enough she gave birth to their first child – a son called Alexander – in June 1861. Alexander died on 7 August, aged six weeks. The cause of death looks like gastro-enteritis and exhaustion, though I had trouble with the handwriting on the certificate.

So far, I’ve found seven more children. These are David (1865), Andrew (1867), Mary (1869), Anne (1870), Elizabeth (1872), Susan (1873) and William (1883). There are quite big gaps between some of the earlier children, so it’s possible she could have had more pregnancies which ended in miscarriage or stillbirth. In fact FamilySearch has a record for an unnamed male child of Andrew and Susan, born 21 April, 1863 and baptised on 3 May, 1863, but so far I haven’t found anything on Scotland’s People – so another mystery to work on.

Andrew Nicholson died on 27 August 1867. The death certificate says that the cause of death was unknown. He was 12 days old. Another child – Susan – who would have been my great grand aunt, was born on 23 August 1873. She died on 10 September 1873 – aged only 15 days. I can’t quite make out the cause of death shown on the certificate, so will have to investigate this too.

baby susan nicholson death cert

Death certificate, Susan Nicholson. Died 1873, aged 15 days. My great, grand-aunt.

I know from the baby Andrew’s death certificate that by 1867, the family had returned to Dysart. The 1871 census shows Andrew senior was working as an engine fitter, while Susan is listed as a shop keeper (grocer and spirit merchant). Slater’s Royal National Commerical Directory of Scotland for 1878 and 1886 list Andrew Nicholson as a grocer at 145 Rosslyn Street, while the 1881 census also shows the family living at 145-147 Rosslyn Street, Gallatown (part of Kirkcaldy).

They were still at this address in 1891, when only the three youngest children – Ann (my great grandmother), Elizabeth and William were living at home. Ann was a school teacher, and William was at school, but there’s no occupation given for Elizabeth – who was 19 at the time.

Susan’s husband Andrew died in February 1894 of cardiac disease. His death certificate shows his address as Windmill Road, Gallatown, and his occupation as retired grocer and engineer.

The 1901 census shows Susan living at Ladysmith Cottage, Windmill Road, Gallatown. By this stage all of her children have left home except the youngest, William – who was 18 and an apprentice mechanical engineer. Also living with Susan is her grandson, Andrew Scott Nicholson. Andrew was the illegitimate son of my great grandmother, Ann Kinnell Nicholson. I’ve written about discovering Andrew, and what I know about his life in “On finding missing uncles and caring about their lives”.

I’ve often wondered why Andrew lived with his grandmother instead of being – even informally – adopted into his mother’s family. I recently found the 1905 Valuation Roll on Scotland’s people, and it seems that Susan Forbes owned a house, with garden, at 288 Rosslyn Street which she did not occupy, but instead allowed my great grandmother and her husband to live there. This was the house my grandmother was born in. It would seem that there was no ill will between Susan and her daughter and son in law, so I do struggle a bit to understand why the young Andrew did not live with his mother and half-siblings.

val roll thomas elder mod

Valuation Roll, 1905: showing my great grandfather, Thomas Elder as a tenant of his mother-in-law, Susan Forbes.

By 1911, Andrew has ceased to live with his grandmother – and I haven’t been able to find out what happened to him. Susan Forbes still has her youngest son, William living with her. The census also shows that there is a daughter at the address whose first name is not shown on the census return, but whose last name seems to be Bruce. She is a bit of an enigma. Her age on the census is shown as 46, which would have put her date of birth at around 1865. This is when Susan’s son David was born and there’s no evidence (census records) that he was a twin, so I’m wondering if Mrs Bruce was Mary Todd Nicholson. Another mystery to work on!

Susan Forbes died of cerebral thrombosis on 19 April 1912, at Ladysmith Cottage, Windmill Road, Gallatown. She was 72 years old.

I have just found her will through Scotland’s People and am so excited by the possibility that it will solve some mysteries that I’m going to stop writing now.

3 thoughts on “Fearless Females – Names and Naming Patterns

  1. Hello Su
    Not sure if you have been on the Aberdeen and North East Scotland facebook page today but they are asking people to write down which country they live in and what family they are researching. It has really taken off and my friend has already found today someone who is from her family. There are lots of people researching Forbes and I did see a Cruden in there too. Might be worth a look.

  2. Pingback: Help from the blogging whanau takes me a step further back (which in genealogy is a good thing) | Shaking the tree

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