Casting stones

So when they continued asking him, he lifted himself up, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone … — John 8:7. King James 2000 Bible (©2003)

Abbotshall Parish Church, Kirkcaldy. Photo:

I’ve been browsing a Fife Family History Society publication (No. 21); Abbotshall Kirk Session Minutes 1793-1812* looking for anything that might help me find out more about my 3x great grandfather David Forbes.

I know that he was christened in Abbotshall Church on the 4th October 1807, so presumably his family lived in the parish.

The Minutes provide a record of the Kirk Session’s activities. The Session ‘comprised the minister and elders of the parish, and it was concerned with (in addition to the business of the parish) the morals of the parishioners.’ (source: Find my Scottish Ancestors blog

I had no particular reason to believe that David’s parents  – John Forbes and Susan Foulis (or Fowlis, or Fowls) – might have been hauled in front of the Kirk Session, but I have so few sources of potential information about them, it seemed worth trawling through the publication – just in case.

Well I didn’t find my ancestors, and for their sakes I’m glad. The Minutes make for depressing reading. It seems that apart from electing new school-masters, pretty much all the Session did was pass judgement on parishioners’ lives and give them a bollocking for their transgressions. These seem mainly to have involved adultery, bearing illegitimate children and running off to Edinburgh to get married.

Here are a few examples from the record:

31 July 1798, Benjamine Adams, Sailor on HM gunboat Rattle. Irregular marriage to Jean Mitchel. Clandestinely married 26 February 1798 in Edinburgh.

17 October 1805, John Moise, Mason, “(young man)”, child begot. The mother is named as Agnes Balflower.  The notes say “Child begot Feb 1805 – he denied guilt.” On the 4th November 1810, there is another entry for John Moise which says Restoration “Church privileges restored after upwards five years.” Presumably he’d continued to deny paternity.

31 March 1811 and 21 April 1811, John Chalmers and Ann Clark begot a child in adultery. She confessed she had brought forth child at the March session, and then in April she appeared and was rebuked for fornication.

7 June 1812, William Ferguson, Resident of Kilire. Sin of fornication with Ann Brodie. The Minutes say “she appeared – rebuked – to appear again next Sunday.” Interestingly, in November 1807, the same William Ferguson had been elected by the Session as Schoolmaster.

I wasn’t familiar with the terms irregular or clandestine marriages, but found the following at The Gen Guide: 

In Scotland a marriage was considered ‘regular’ after the reading of banns and if the marriage ceremony was conducted by a minister of the established Church of Scotland. The 1834 Marriage (Scotland) Act extended ‘regular’ marriages by permitting dissenting clergy to conduct marriage ceremonies. If these requirements were not adhered to the marriage was deemed ‘clandestine’ and illegal but crucially could be valid in the eyes of the state. Under Scots Law a marriage was considered valid (but not legal) under certain conditions as follows:

§  Both parties declared themselves married in the presence of witnesses.

§  Marriage ceremony followed by sexual intercourse.

§  Simply living together with the status of man and wife – by habit and repute.

According to FamilySearch, at around the time these Minutes were being recorded, the population of Abbotshall was about 2100 (although growing, to over 4000 by 1831). For the 19 year period  covered by the minutes I counted 59 cases of irregular marriage (43 clandestine), 35 cases of fornication and/or adultery and 14 illigitimate children born or baptised in the Parish.

That’s starting to read like a day-time soap, and I can’t help wondering if the Minister and Elders of the Kirk were themselves without sin – or just deft at not being caught.!

My family history hasn’t been enriched by the Abbotshall Kirk Session Minutes; but for you Adams, Bruntons, Fergusons, Galloways, Greigs, Hendersons, Hepburns, Kilgours, Padges – and especially Steedmans – with a Kirkcaldy connection, I’d recommend you take a look.

* Fife Family History Society Publication No. 21. Abbotshall Kirk Session Minutes 1793-1812 indexed by Ewen K Collins and Kirkcaldy Old Church Burials 1855-1972 compiled by Stuart Farrell.

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.

On chasing ghosts

Increasingly in my research, I’m stumbling across ancestors I didn’t know existed – a great uncle born out of wedlock, children who appear on one census only to disappear by the next. In these cases I’ve been looking at records (like the census returns) and found “extra” names. But yesterday something different happened. I went looking for someone purely on the basis that they should exist.

Let me explain. I was tidying up some details relating to my paternal grandfather, David Leslie, who was born in 1899. I knew that his parents had married in 1892, and that my great uncle Rankine was born in 1895. I knew too there had been a daughter, Mary, in 1897.

My grandfather, David Leslie

My grandfather, David Leslie

Me, age 5, with my great uncle Tom Leslie; the coolest, most fun uncle and greatly loved.

I’ve done enough research into my largely working class family to know that during the nineteenth and early twentieth century, where couples had children at all, they tended to start coming very early in the marriage (within weeks in many cases). I also know that mostly my family observed Scottish naming conventions, whereby one’s parents’ names are given to offspring – and done so in a particular order, with the first-born son usually named after the paternal grandfather.

On that basis, it seemed odd to me that my great-grandfather David Leslie and his wife Isabella Gourlay should have been married three years before having a child, and that their apparently first-born son was named Rankine – a Gourlay family name.

One of the first things I realised when I started using Scotland’s People is that the most efficient way to trace ancestors’ siblings is though census records. Unless you know someone’s Christian name, it’s difficult (not to mention expensive) to find birth records based only on a surname and a rough date range, especially as women might easily have been bearing children across a 20 or more year period as some of my ancestors were. I knew from the 1901 and 1911 censuses the names of the Leslie children, so it seemed that if there had been a child (or children) before Rankine, it was likely that they had died. And sadly, that’s the case.

Because I was searching  a very limited time period (1892-1895) and knew that the Leslie’s lived at the same address in Abbotshall in Fife for many years, it was possible – and economically viable – to look for a child who may not even have existed. I was fortunate; I only got five hits, including George Leslie. As George was my Leslie great, great grandfather’s name, I paid my five credits and found that I had the right child.

I’ve worked as a researcher for most of my life and pride myself on professional detachment. Sod that! This is family I’m talking about and researching them is an unbelievably emotional journey. So my excitement at “a find” and my pride in being clever enough to think to go looking were tempered by the certainty that my next search would be for a child’s death certificate. So …

George Leslie 1893-1901

First-born child of David and Isabella, big brother of Rankine, Mary and my granddad David (and who would, if he’d lived, also been brother to Thomas and William). Died 2 February 1901, aged seven, of meningitis.

I’m still processing this. Part of me is trying to be practical and remember that child mortality was higher in those days and that families probably expected to lose a child, but the other part of me is a mother and I think I’ll go and give my son a hug.