1. My great uncle Thomas Gourlay Leslie. My paternal grandfather’s younger brother was a widower without children. He was kind and funny and always willing to create adventures for me. He owned a Messerschmidt “bubble” car and lived near a canal in which we went fishing. Even after we moved to New Zealand, he remained an important part of my life, writing witty, newsy letters which often contained money. They always smelled of his cigarettes, and even now, the whiff of tobacco on paper or clothing reminds me of him. I’d love to be able to invite him to dinner and introduce him to my son who is named after him. I’d hope that he would be proud of the person I’ve become.
2.Susan Forbes, my great great grandmother. I’m named after my grandmother Susan Forbes Nicholson Elder, who was in turn named after her grandmother, Susan Forbes. I’ve managed to learn quite a lot about my 2x great grandmother, and she seems like a strong, hard-working entrepreneurial woman. She bore at least eight children – three of whom died in the first weeks of their lives – and raised her daughter Anne’s illegitimate son. She died in 1912, aged 72, leaving a comprehensive and slightly mysterious Will. I’d love to meet her and find out who the men she named as Trustees of her Will were, and why she appointed them. I’ve long suspected that one of them was the father of her daughter’s child.
3. My great grandmother Catherine Black. I’ve written quite a lot about my formidable great gran and although I have strong memories of her, I would love to have her to dinner and be able to ask her all the questions I have now that I would never have thought of, or been able to ask when I was a child. She was a very resourceful woman, with an incredible sweet tooth so I’d ask her to bring dessert.
4. My great, great grandmother Isabella Simpson Wallace. Born in rural Perthshire in 1866, her father died when she was only six, and she had to move to Dundee with her mother and siblings. Her mother remarried and bore several more children. I don’t know if Isabella had a good relationship with her step-father, but several of her children bear his surname as a middle name, so I like to think so. She married my great, great grandfather Stewart Camerson Cruden in 1886 and seemed to spend the rest of her life on the move. The family had multiple addresses in Fife, and at one stage emigrated to the United States where they lived in New Jersey for about 10 years. Isabella experienced several tragedies, in addition to the death of her father. She seems to have suffered several stillbirths; her youngest daughter died, aged 20, of eclampsia and her younger son, Stewart drowned in the Barents Sea while serving on the Arctic Convoys. From the photos I’ve seen of her, she seems like quite a dour woman (maybe not surprising), but I’d love to meet her. I think as well as being interesting in herself, she could also have answers to lots of questions about that branch of my family.
5. Elizabeth Robertson, a 3x great grandmother. Elizabeth was born in 1798 in Dallas, Morayshire. At the age of 24 she bore a son, out of wedlock to John Leslie. That son, George Leslie, was my 2x great grandfather. I know quite a lot about George’s marriage and later life, but his early life is a mystery. I’ve also been spectacularly unsuccessful at finding John Leslie, and thereby tracing my surname back beyond the early 19th century. But apart from wanting to know about Elizabeth’s relationship with her son and his father, I would also like me meet her. It appears that she never married, lived most of her life in Elgin, and died aged 83 in the Poorhouse.
6. Thomas Boswell Bisset – 3 x great grandfather and man of mystery. Thomas Bisset seems to have been born Thomas Gordon, in Wemyss, Fife in 1831. He was the illegitimate son of Elizabeth Grieve and John Gordon. Like George Leslie, Thomas’s early life is a complete mystery to me. From his marriage to Helen Simpson in 1851, he becomes a little more visible and towards the end of his life the recorded evidence of his existence mounts up. But it is confusing; not least because his birth, marriage and death records all contain different names for his father. And where does Boswell come from? My family seems to have adhered quite strictly to the Scottish naming pattern, and I can’t find a Boswell connection anywhere. Apart from all that, Thomas fathered at least 13 children, and I can’t help thinking of him as a bit of an old goat with a twinkle in his eye – and hopefully a few good stories to tell.
7. Alexander Gerrard; a 4x great grandfather about whom I know little except that he was a handloom weaver from Abbotshall, Fife. I suspect that I may not ever get to know much about this man from official records. Like many of my working class ancestors, he has left little trace in the archival record. It would be fascinating to meet a man who lived his entire life in a small area of Scotland that I know well, though I doubt we’d recognise much of what the other was talking about.
8. Susanna Fowls is a 4x great grandmother, and the first Susanna I’ve found from whom the rest of us are descended. She was born in 1786 in Portmoak, Kinross and in 1806 married John Forbes in Abbotshall. I like the idea of having the Susan’s well-represented at the dinner table, and hopefully she can tell me who she was named after – allowing me to delve further into the eighteenth century.
9. David Skinner Ramsay, a 3x great grandfather who seems to have been one of few ancestors who could be described as having been affluent. He’s described in the 1851 census as a Master Miller. Although he’d been born in Dysart, Fife, the family seemed to live in Abernethy, Perthshire for many years, where the household included a couple of servants. He died in his 50s, in what looks like reduced circumstances. His sons seem to have become coal miners, so I’d like to be able to ask him about the turns his life took.
10. Jane Morrison Cruden. My great grandfather Alexander Cruden had an older sister called Jane (or Jean). She was born in 1887 in Dundee and appears in the 1891 and 1901 census records alongside her parents and siblings. After that she disappears from the Scottish census records. My mum, who was very close to her grandad and his family, had never heard of an older sister. She could tell me a great deal about great grandad’s other siblings, but Jean was a mystery. The only traces I’ve found of Jean Cruden are a record of a marriage to Cecil Leach, in Middlesborough in 1924, and the birth of a daughter – Jean Morrison Leach in Middlesborough in 1926. I’d like to invite Jean to dinner, partly to find out why she left home and apparently didn’t return, and partly because I’m also inviting her sister-in-law and grandmother, and it might be nice to have a family reunion within a family reunion. Or not!
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).
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.
Having come to a dead end in my attempt to trace the Susans in my family back beyond Susanna Fowls ( I’ve written about that search here), I decided to try and sort out the collateral information I’d gathered on the way.
Much of this relates to the Nicholson family, into which Susan Forbes married in 1860.
Susan’s husband was Andrew Nicholson – the seventh of thirteen children born to Alexander Nicholson and Mary Todd (my 3 x great grandparents).
I’ve been really fortunate with the amount of information I’ve found about Alexander and Mary. This is, I think, largely because they seemed to have lived their entire lives in Dysart Parish, and because Alexander’s occupation – land surveyor – was sufficiently well-paid that he was entitled to vote (like his future son-in-law David Forbes). He is listed in the 1835 Register of Voters as “Land Surveyor, Proprietor houses in Gallatown.”
The family also had a burial plot in the Dysart Barony Cemetary – with a headstone – so I’ve been able to get quite a lot of information from the headstone inscription.
Of the couple’s 13 children; I know that at least four died in childhood.
Their firstborn, Mary (b. 1827) died in 1835 and is buried in the family plot. Both the OPR record for her death and the headstone inscription confirm this. The headstone inscription also refers to a son who died in 1840 aged 10 months, and two more daughters, Margaret (died 1847 aged one) and another Mary, who died in 1850 aged 3 years, 8 months. Margaret and the second Mary were twins.
The headstone inscription also refers to an Aunt, Ann Nicholson, who died in 1845 and is buried with the family. As I haven’t yet managed to find out who Alexander’s parents were, this could prove to be a useful clue.
Alexander died in 1848 – aged 44. His widow Mary, survived for another 35 years, and seems to have spending her last few years in the household of her son Andrew and his wife Susan Forbes (my 2x great grandparents).
The census records for Mary (particularly those for 1851 and 1861) have proved to be quite useful in terms of leading me in new research directions, but I think I’ll save those stories for another day.
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). Continue reading
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.
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.
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.
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.
Ok, so the second mystery. It’s not as juicy as the significance of the mysterious John Boyd – but I’m curious all the same.
Susan’s three Trustees were John Boyd, William Nicholson (her youngest child – and given that he was born 23 years after her first child, probably something of an after-thought), and David Forbes Nicholson, Susan and Andrew’s eldest surviving son.
What I’ve learned about David so far is that he was their third or fourth child, and the first to survive more than a few weeks. He was born in 1865 while the family was living in Glasgow. The 1881 census shows 16 year old David as an apprentice bank clerk. He then disappears from the Scottish records until the 1901 census. There is neither a mention of him in the 1891 census, nor a marriage record, although I know he did marry. I suspect he was living in England for at least part of the period (why? I’ll tell you in a minute).
By the 1901 census David has reappeared and is living at Rosslyn Villa, Windmill Road, Kirkcaldy with his wife, Minnie and a servant named Elizabeth Penman (who I’m sure is related to David’s brother-in-law and my great grandfather, Thomas Elder). Minnie’s place of birth in the census is given as Guernsey, Channel Islands. That makes her the first member of my ancestral family that I’ve found who was born outside of Scotland . David’s occupation is given as Inspector of Poor, Collector of Rates and Clerk to the School Board – probably not the most popular man in Kirkcaldy!
In the 1911 census, he and Minnie are still living at Rosslyn Villa, but now have a servant called Helen Marshall. Minnie’s sister Louisa Warry is also living at the address. David’s occupation is now given as Inspector of Poor, Parish Council.
The reasons I suspect that for at least some of the years between the 1881 census and the 1901 census, David Nicholson lived in England are first of all that Minnie is English. According to Susan’s Will, Minnie is actually called Mary Ann Clementine Warry. In those days I don’t imagine single women had the same freedom to travel, so I’m guessing they met closer to Minnie’s home than David’s. Also, a search of the English census records for 1891 in FindMyPast gave me an entry for a David Nicholson, aged 26 (tick), working as a bank clerk (tick) and living as a lodger at 42 Rectory Road, Hackney. The problem is that his place of birth is listed as Kirkcaldy, Scotland and I know that while the family is from Kirkcaldy, David was born in Glasgow. However, the other person listed as living at the same address is also a bank clerk from Kirkcaldy, so it is possible that there was a mix-up in either listing or transcribing the birthplace. I did this search in a rush at the library, so will have to go back and investigate further.
Anyway, I’m curious about David and Minnie. I don’t know when or where they were married, and whether they had any children. There are no children living with them in either the 1901 or 1911 census, but it’s possible they did have one or more kids who did not survive.
One of the reasons I’m interested is that in Susan’s Will she left three portraits in oils to David. These were of Susan Forbes, Andrew Nicholson and Andrew’s father Alexander Nicholson. Since I have no photos of any of these people, I’m utterly fascinated by the idea that there were portraits in existence. Since it seems that neither David or William had surviving children, I wonder what happened to the paintings. My guess is that they’ve been destroyed, and this makes me incredibly sad.
David Nicholson died on 16 January 1946, at a nursing home in Burntisland, Fife. he suffered a cerebral hemorrhage and cardiac failure. His brother William is given as the informant of his death, and his usual address was given as Ladysmith Cottage, Windmill Road. This was the house his mother retired to and the house that William lived in, and inherited from Susan. Minnie had died in 1934, and it seems the two – apparently childless – brothers shared their mother’s house after that time.
William died in 1964, at the age of 81. When I mentioned to my dad that I’d been looking into this part of the family (his maternal grandmother’s line), he remembered both his great uncles Bill and David. He’s never mentioned the two great aunts, Elizabeth and Mary – so I guess I’ll have to check them out next.