Progress … but not quite what I was looking for

After a day spent in the public library trying to trace my namesakes back beyond my 2 x great grandmother Susan Forbes, I can report only mixed success.

The only Scottish records available through Ancestry and FindMyPast (both of which are available free at the library) are transcripts of census and voter records which are only really useful for the period 1841 – 1901. I had hoped to find Susan Forbes’ grandparents – John Forbes and Susan Foulis, at least in the 1841 census as I figured they would probably  have been in their 50’s or 60’s and might still have been alive. But no luck!

Some of the census records include individuals’ ages – which, although the accuracy is debatable, at least provide some parameters for further searching . Voter registration records also include the person’s qualification to vote, which, between the first Reform Act of 1832, and the second in 1867, was “men who occupied property with an annual value of £10.”

Both census and voter lists did prove to be useful in learning more about John and Susan’s son David Forbes (my 3 x great grandfather).  He had been “missing in action” for both the 1941 and 1861 censuses – and I found out why. In the 1841 census the surname is shown as Forbres, and in 1861, it has become Forber.

By finding those records, I’ve been able to confirm David’s occupations, find a few siblings of Susan’s and discover some connections between Susan’s husband’s family (the Nicholsons) and the Forbes.

I’m now reasonably clear that David Forbes was born in 1807 in Abbotshall – now part of Kirkcaldy in Fife. He married Ann Kinnell in December 1825. Ann was born in 1806 in Dysart, Fife (a neighbouring parish). From another family tree on Ancestry, I learned that Ann’s father was Robert Kinnell (born in Fife, May 1773) and her mother was Jean Williamson. I’ve since confirmed that with the register extract of Ann’s death in 1858.

david forbes 1841 censusDavid and Ann had seven children between 1829 and 1850; John (1829), Jean (1831), Susan (1839), Ann (1841), David (1843), Robert (1845) and Elizabeth (1850). These are the names that appear on census records and in FamilySearch, but I doubt that they were the couple’s only children. David and Ann married in 1826, but John wasn’t born until 1929. There is an eight year gap between Jean and Susan, and – harking back to the Scottish naming pattern – the names are a bit out of order.

In other bits of my family tree I’ve discovered two children in a family christened with the same name. In these cases, the elder child has died, and the younger has been given their name. I suspect that may have happened here. I think – given the large gaps between off-spring – that Ann and David buried several of their children while they were quite young.

Of course, there are other possible explanations. Ann may have been quite adept at birth control, or David may have been absent from home for periods of time (in the army perhaps), but the latter at least seems unlikely as I have found no evidence of any military service. Nor do any  records I’ve found suggest he was a migrant labourer.  Instead, he seems to have been employed in somewhat petty bourgeois occupations – largely involving alcohol!

In the 1841 census, David’s occupation is given as publican; by 1850 he is listed on the Register of Voters as “a manufacturer, and proprietor of  dwelling house of two storeys at the top of Oswald Road.” The 1851 census has him (somewhat cryptically) as a “Sack Manufacturer”. An Except from the 1861 Parochial Directory for Dysart Burgh lists David Forbes as a Grocer and Spirit Merchant, Gallatown, while the 1861 the census shows his occupation as a retired manufacturer. On his death certificate – issued later in 1861, he is described as a “Spirit Dealer.”

david forbes will page 1

David Forbes died of “liver disease and dropsy” (oedema) at the age of 54.

His Will is interesting; running to seven pages – most of which detail his estate. This included cash, household items, bank deposits, insurance policies, stock from his business – and several properties. The value of the estate  – not including the properties – was £533, 3 shillings and fourpence. In modern money this is around £326,000 (based on average earnings). Not bad, considering there were several pieces of real estate to be disposed of on top of that. The properties seem to have consisted of his home, plus another piece of land which contained a brewery and several houses. What struck me reading the pages of his Will relating to the real estate, is how detailed they were – outlining boundary locations, neighbouring ownerships and position relative to various public roads. I guess in those days there was no central property registry that assigned unique identifiers to land. By comparison, the legal description of my property consists of a Lot Number and DP (Deposited Plan) reference.

David Forbes’ estate was left equally to his children. There are no specific bequests – unlike his daughter Susan’s Will – which I’ve written about before.

In the records I have found  there are whispers of other tales to be told; the identity of David Forbes’ Trustees and a debt from a Union Lodge raise questions, and trying to unravel the exact location of the properties could take me a while.

So, as always, I’m glad to know more about my ancestors, but find that each time I’m left with more questions than answers.

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8 thoughts on “Progress … but not quite what I was looking for

    • Thanks. It’s because I’m incurably nosey – and I trained as an archivist, so I know the kinds of information that “should” be available. I just never seem to find much trace of my own ancestors in the records. I feel sometimes that I ‘m descended from ghosts.

  1. Frustrating but fascinating.You’re lucky your ancestor left a will – they give brilliant detail. Sadly, none of mine had enough to leave to bother with a will. But David’s occupation and death at 54 of liver disease do sound as though they could be linked!

    I agree with you about there probably being more children, especially between Jean and Susan, although sometimes gaps from the usual one every two or so years can be due to miscarriage.

  2. Thanks. I have been lucky with this particular – entrepreneurial – branch of the family. They’re the only ones who seemed to have anything to leave. And of course, because they owned property, the men also appear on the Register of Voters.

    I think you’re right about miscarriages; David’s daughter Susan buried three babies in the 1860s, but there are birth records for them, even though they all died in the first few weeks.

    • Thank you. I tend to be a “glass half empty” person, so forget what has been achieved. But I was talking to my mum last night; telling her about various finds, and she said the same as you. So I’m going to try and remember to celebrate the successes more. 🙂

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