Time to get out of my chair

Seeing how rigidly my ancestors seemed to have adhered to a quite formalised pattern of naming their children – outlined very well by Judy Strachan at Judy’s Family Tree – I decided to see how far back I can trace my own name.

William, Susan and Elizabeth Elder. Photo taken in Kirkcaldy, Fife, probably around 1914-15

William, Susan and Elizabeth Elder. Photo taken in Kirkcaldy, Fife, probably around 1914-15

So far I’ve managed to track back through my paternal grandmother Susan Elder, to her maternal grandmother, Susan Forbes and on to her paternal grandmother Susan Foulis.

My great grandmother, Annie

My great grandmother, Annie Nicholson. Her mother was Susan Forbes, her daughter, Susan Elder.

But now I’m stuck.

I know from the death certificate of my my 3x great grandfather David Forbes, that his parents were John Forbes and Susan Fowlis.

From Scotland’s People, I have a copy of OPR entry for the marriage of John Forbes and Susan Foulis (it’s handwritten, so I’m taking the spelling here from the Scotland’s People and Family Search transcriptions).

From that, I know they married on the 13 November 1806, in Abbotshall, Fife, and that David was born a year later on November 1, 1807.

It appears from Family Search that John and Susan had at least four other children, Arthur, Elizabeth, Thomas and William. There are actually two entries for an Arthur –one in 1811 in Kinross, where Susan’s last name is shown as Fowlis; and the other in Abbotshall in 1816, where her surname is given as Foulis.

In my mind, two children called Arthur means either the first died, and the second inherited the name – or that there were two John Forbes/Susan Foulis (Fowlis) marriages at around the same time.

I’ve searched Scotland’s People for another marriage between a John Forbes and someone called Susan between 1790 – 1816 (figuring that’s a reasonable time frame if they were still having kids in 1816), but my ancestors are the only likely one, so I’m going to assume that they had two sons called Arthur. Kinross is only about 15 miles from Abbotshall, so it’s possible that for some reason John and Susan moved there for a short time, before moving back to Abbotshall.

My hypothesis is supported by a burial record for “John Forbes son” in Abbotshall in June 1816 – just a month before the second Arthur was born.

"John Forbes son in the first grave south of Roderick McKinsie's property also Thomas Forbes wife his grandmother"

“John Forbes son in the first grave south of Roderick McKinsie’s property also Thomas Forbes wife his grandmother”

The interesting thing about this extract from the Abbotshall Parish Register is the bit about Thomas Forbes wife. Whose grandmother? John, or his son?

The reason of course for all the digging into my ggg grandfather’s siblings is to try and figure out (based on that Scottish naming pattern) what John and Susan’s parents might have been called – vital since I’m having trouble finding their births. If the naming pattern holds, then John’s father should be a David (but was he a Thomas?); Susan’s an Arthur, and Susan’s mother an Elizabeth. As it seems John and Susan only had one daughter, I can’t really figure out what John’s mother’s name might have been.

At FamilySearch, I looked for a John Forbes born between 1760-1790 in Fife. Lots of hits but so little detail that it wasn’t helpful.

For Susan, I found a Susanna Fowls christened 20 June 1786 in Portmoak, Kinrosshire – father Arthur Fowls and mother Betty (Elizabeth?) Grieg. Portmoak is on the Fife side of Kinross – on the Leslie road in fact.

But now I’m into the realms of pure speculation, and lacking the resources to change that without going to the library (free use of Ancestry and FindMyPast) and the Family History Centre. So I guess I’ll have to squeeze one or both of those into the next week since I’m determined to compile a list of places (including churchyards) I should visit when I’m back in Scotland in September.

13 thoughts on “Time to get out of my chair

    • It does. I’m hoping that I can get a bit more from census records, and then see where I go. Susan / Susanna is a name that belongs to particular time periods and so I’m really interested in its genesis.

      • I have lots of Susannahs and Susans on my Ayrshire Strachan tree going back to the 1700s. It seems to have been mainly written as Susannah earlier on, then became Susan from the mid 1800s. Hardly any on my Aberdeenshire line, though.

        Susan must have become fashionable in the 1950s and 60s. I know lots of people named Susan or Sue, including my cousin/best friend, and went to school with plenty of Sues.

    • Yes it does. I’m also intrigued by the burial register entry that talks about “the wife of Thomas Forbes his grandmother.” A few clues to follow up!

      Your comment about names reminded me that I’d seen an anlaysis of the popularity of various names through history. Susanna is very much a 17th/18th century name, and not particularly common in the big scheme of things. The transition to Susan is – as you say – a 19th century thing, but it really “exploded” around the 1950’s apparently. I went through primary school with three other Susans, worked in a small office with two others and once went on an Arvon writing course to Heptonstall where – out of 16 participants – four of us were called Sue!!!!
      I think if it’s a name that’s in the family – particularly Scottish families – it probably seems more common than it is because it gets re-used through the generations.

  1. My tree doesn’t go back very far, but I know what you mean with the names. The same one used re-used constantly, makes it difficult to keep track.

    • Thanks. One of the things I’m most enjoying about blogging my family history search, is finding a wonderful community of other people doing the same thing, and experiencing the same elations and frustrations. Good luck with your search.

  2. Great post–I can sympathize and identify. I’m working on a slice of my family history with the assistance of an autobiography written by my great, great uncle. He immigrated to US in 1849 and his story is packed. These pieces of our DNA fascinate and drive us to keep at it, which I hope that you will do.

  3. Thanks. I don’t have any letters or papers belonging to ancestors – so I really pleased for you (and slightly envious) that you have an autobiography. Good luck with your search and story-telling.

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