Stretching back into the 18th century – ancestors who would remember Culloden.

Seems I've had family living in Dysart, Scotland since at least the mid 18th century.

Eight generations: seems I’ve had family living in Dysart, Scotland since at least the mid 18th century.

My hunt for Nicholson ancestors has made significant progress since I found Mary Todd, wife of Alexander Nicholson and my 3x great grandmother – in the 1851 census.

Between the 1841 and 1851 censuses Mary gave birth to five more children, including twin girls. who both died in their first three years. She also buried her mother Margaret, in October 1846 and her husband of twenty years, in November 1848. On a happier note, her eldest living daughter, Ann, married Alexander Campbell, a Railway Overseer, in April 1848.

At the 1851 census Mary Todd was living at “Country Road, East Side, Dysart”. Her household included her children Joanna, 18; Jemima, 15; Alexander, 16; William, 14; Andrew, 12; Isabella, 10; Jean, 9; Christian, 6; and Mary’s father James Todd – a retired Carter aged 74 (according to the census).

There was also a lodger called Robert Greig, who went on to marry Jemima Nicholson in July 1854.

The presence of Mary’s father James Todd in her household at that time gave me my first ancestor I could firmly place in the 18th century, and told me that he was born in Dysart. Mary’s birth and death records also tell me her mother’s name was  Margaret Sinclair (death record)/ St. Clair (birth record).

OPR burial: "1846 October 24th Margaret Sinclair spouse to James Todd, Carter in Gallatown was interred in the middle grave of Alex Nicholson's stone."

OPR burial: “1846 October 24th Margaret Sinclair spouse to James Todd, Carter in Gallatown was interred in the middle grave of Alex Nicholson’s stone.”

I also have James Todd’s death record from Scotland’s People. It shows his parents as James Tod and Margaret Stewart. This is a wee bit at odds with the birth record I found (the only James Tod born at around about the right time), which show his parents as James Tod and Helen Stuart. The different spelling of Stuart/Stewart is to be expected, but the first name difference bothers me a bit.

I’m sure the death extract from Scotland’s People is for the correct James Todd – because his occupation and address are consistent with other information I have, and because the informant of the death is given as his grandson Andrew Nicholson (my 2x great grandfather). I’m guessing that Andrew (who was unlikely to have even been born when his grandfather’s parents were alive, may have mistakenly given the wrong name – his grandmother’s rather than his great-grandmother’s?

There is a wee bit of evidence for this hypothesis of a mistake in the reporting. James Todd and Margaret St Clair had three children together – Helen in January 1798, Jean in February 1802 and Mary (my 3x great grandmother) in June 1803.  If James’ mother’s name had been Margaret, I would have expected to find a daughter with that name.

James Tod senior and Helen Stuart were married on 21 November 1767 in Dysart. I don’t yet know how old they were at the time, but assuming they were at least 18, that means they were alive  – albeit children – at the time of the Battle of Culloden. It’s also possible that their parents were born before the Act of Union of 1707 and thus were born citizens of Scotland, not the United Kingdom.

8 thoughts on “Stretching back into the 18th century – ancestors who would remember Culloden.

  1. Hi, Su. I’ve got a Mary Jane Elizabeth Payne who also went by the name Louise – her husband even used Louise as her name on one of their kids’ birth certificate, which threw me for a bit trying to chase a second wife. Very inconsiderate of them to not just stick with their official name! It’s almost like they’re trying to make it hard for us…

    • 🙂 I’m struggling with Bessie/Besty/Elizabeth in a few ancestors — and Helen/Bella/Nellie. It proving particularly challenging with a pair of sisters whose mother was Jane/Jean — or maybe Jessie! All part of the fun.

  2. Hello Su – forgive me commenting on an old post, it was Google that brought me here 🙂 Mary Todd was my 5xg-auntie, and I’ve always been intrigued by her and her husband, Alexander Nicholson, as they lent their names to twins born to my 4x-g-grandparents James Ewing and Margaret Todd. I’m just preparing to write up my Ewing family history in more detail so have been looking again at some of the earlier names in the tree. I recently came across a newspaper mention of Alexander’s death, and I’ve also been trying to crack the origins of Margaret Sinclair – with not much luck yet!

    • Hi. It’s lovely to hear from you. Was your Margaret Todd Mary’s sister? I confess I hit a few brick walls in that line and moved onto another. I really must come back to the Nicholsons. Where did you find the newspaper report of Alexander’s death if you don’t mind me asking. He stuck me as an interesting character who seemed to improve his lot in life quite significantly. I don’t have anything on Margaret Sinclair, but I’ll let you know if and when I do learn more about her. Cheers, Su.

  3. Thanks very much for your reply. Yes, Margaret Todd (abt.1805-1881) was Mary’s sister – she married James Ewing at Dysart in 1824. Alexander Nicholson was a witness at the baptism of their first child and a later son was named after him. I’ve been a subscriber at The British Newspaper archive for a number of years – it’s an invaluable resource for family history (it’s also available through Find My Past, but not as easy to search). The Fife Herald of 23 Nov 1848 reports an outbreak of typhus in the community, which is what Alexander succumbed to. His 27-page Will is also available. I have often wondered about Margaret Sinclair’s marriage to James Todd – the only available record shows a marriage in Leith South, with Margaret the daughter of a David Sinclair of Glendovan – but it seems strange they should both be Leith residents when everything else about them appears to be connected with Dysart. And of course having a relative with the Sinclair/St.Clair surname in Dysart, the home of the Sinclair Earls of Rosslyn, is very intriguing (though almost certainly not as exciting as my imagination wants it to be!).

    • Thanks so much for your message. I have had a BNA subscription in the past, but hadn’t used it to search this line. You have reminded me too that I have Alexander’s Will but haven’t looked at it in years.
      I wondered too about the Todd-Sinclair marriage in Leith. I have one or two other Fife ancestors whose marriages took place in Lothian parishes (where I am certain that I have the right couple) and I have wondered if it was a “thing” — like eloping without having to travel too far. But the others are all statutory records, and the Todd-Sinclair parish record does suggest that they were both of the parish. It would be lovely to find some nobility in my line, but I’m not holding my breath. Apart from the Nicholson and Forbes families (Andrew Nicholson married Susan Forbes — my 2x great grandparents) no-one in my past seems to have had two pennies to rub together– let alone blue blood.

  4. Well, at least – according the Will – Alex Nicholson seems to have been owed 10s by the Earl of Rosslyn 🙂 If you’d like me to send the newspaper article (and any other bits I have), let me know, I’d be more than happy to send them on. Feel free to drop me a line via family{at}garenewing{dot}co{dot}uk.

  5. Thanks for that. You have inspired me to take up research into this line again. I would love to see the article, so I will email you. Many thanks. Su.

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