David Skinner Ramsay (1817-1871)

Having exhausted the current research options for Helen Low, I thought I’d try to learn more about her husband, David Skinner Ramsay.

David was my 3x great grandfather, and also the namesake of my maternal grandfather of whom I have incredibly fond childhood memories.

My maternal grandparents David Skinner Ramsay and Margaret Cruden celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary.

My maternal grandparents David Skinner Ramsay and Margaret Simpson Bisset Cruden celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary. Photo: Ramsay-Leslie family archive.

As with Helen, I’ve begun at the end of David Ramsay’s life – on the basis that the more recent information is, the more comprehensive and often reliable it tends to be.

David Ramsay’s death record tells me:

  • He died on 12 December 1881 at Gallatown, Dysart, aged 54
  • He was married to Helen Low
  • His cause of death was typhoid fever
  • Her death was reported by his daughter Elizabeth Ramsay
  • His parents’ names were James Ramsay, linen weaver, deceased; and Jean Skinner, also deceased

From the census records I found for Helen Low (When things aren’t quite what they seem … the pauper daughter of a colonial administrator?) , I know that David Ramsay was born in Dysart, Fife. On his marriage to Helen in 1836 he was recorded as living in Collessie Parish –also in Fife. The 1841 census recorded his occupation as agricultural labourer, so it is not unreasonable to assume that he left Dysart in search of work.

Collessie is about 15 miles north of Dysart. It is also only a few miles from Kettle – where it seems David’s mother Jean Skinner was born (this will be the subject of a separate post).

By 1841, David Ramsay and Helen Low had three children and were living in Strathmiglo. The transcription of that census puts the address as Pityomie, but looking at the original document and a parochial directory transcribed by the Fife Family History Society,  I’m inclined to think that actual address is Pitgornie or Pitgorno – especially as the parochial directory lists a farmer called James Christie Esq as living at Pittgorno, and an entry in the Farm Horse Tax Rolls for 1797-98 for the Parish of Strathmiglo shows James Christie of Pitgornie paying 6s/9d in tax for three liable horses.

Horse Tax Return, 1797-98, Parish of Strathmiglo. This shows James Christie esq. at Pitgornie. Is this the farm where David Ramsay was living and working in 1841? Source: Scotland's Places.

Horse Tax Return, 1797-98, Parish of Strathmiglo. This shows James Christie esq. at Pitgornie. Is this the farm where David Ramsay was living and working in 1841? Source: Scotland’s Places.

Between 1841 and 1851, it seems that David Ramsey’s fortunes took a major turn for the better.

The 1851 census recorded him as being a Master Miller, living at Fargs Mill, Abernethy, Perth.

Fargs Mill (which has been called Ayton Farm since the late nineteenth century) appears on Ordnance Survey maps from the late eighteenth century. An archaeological survey commissioned in 2011 as a condition of developing the land, says that the mill was one of several on the river Farg, but does not make clear what was being milled – suggesting that there were flour and corn mills on the river, as well as a sawmill.

Map showing Fargs Mill in 1860. Image credit: Derek Hall, Archaeologist, 2011.

Map showing Fargs Mill in 1860. Source: Derek Hall, Archaeologist, 2011.

The census return also shows that David’s move from agricultural labourer to Master Miller brought with in an increase in wealth – the household in 1851 included two servants, one male (who may have worked in the mill) and one female, who may have been a housemaid.

Between the 1841 and 1851 censuses, David and Helen’s family had also grown by two more children – daughter Jean Skinner Ramsay (born 1843) and son William Ramsay (born 1846). Both children are recorded as having been born in Strathmiglo – suggesting that in 1851, David Ramsay had been working at Fargs mill for no more than 3-4 years.

In January 1852, David and Helen had another child – Helen, whose place of birth was recorded as Abernethy. Helen died on 1 May, 1857, aged five. Her cause of death was shown as scarlatina, or Scarlet Fever. The death record shows that David was no longer working as a Miller but as a Corn Merchant, and the family were living in Glenfoot – – a settlement to the east of Fargs Mill, towards Abernethy.

As Glenfoot was the family’s address in the 1861 census, I wondered when – and why – they had moved. The reason seems to be financial. On 9 April 1856 David Ramsay applied for a form of bankruptcy called cessio bonorum. I’d never heard of this, but it is a principle of Roman law that was adopted in Scotland:

Cessio bonorum (Latin for a surrender of goods), in Roman law, is a voluntary surrender of goods by a debtor to his creditors. It did not amount to a discharge unless the property ceded was sufficient for the purpose, but it secured the debtor from personal arrest. The creditors sold the goods as partial restoration of their claims. The procedure of Cessio Bonorum avoided infamy, and the debtor, though his after-acquired property might be proceeded against, could not be deprived of the bare necessaries of life. The main features of the Roman law of Cessio Bonorum were adopted in Scots law, and also in the French legal system.

From the Dundee, Perth and Cupar Advertiser, 7 April 1856. Source: British Newspaper Archive.

From the Dundee, Perth and Cupar Advertiser, 7 March 1856. Source: British Newspaper Archive. Image © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

A month later a notice appeared in the Dundee Perth and Cupar Advertiser letting Fargs Mill, cottage and surrounding land. Although the Ramsay family did not own Fargs Mill, they lost their home with David’s bankruptcy.

 

Advertisement from Dundee, Perth and Cupar Advertiser, 11 April 1856. Source: British Newspaper Library.

Advertisement from Dundee, Perth and Cupar Advertiser, 11 April 1856. Source: British Newspaper Archive. Image © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

The 1861 census shows David’s occupation as Grain Agent. The family had grown with the birth of two more children; John (my 2x great grandfather), born in 1854 and Peter, born in 1860. This census return shows no servants living with the family, and also shows that the three oldest sons, James, David and William had left the family home. However, as they would have been aged 24, 22 and 14 respectively, this is not surprising. The family’s two remaining daughters – 20 year old Elizabeth and 17 year old Jean (shown as Jane) were living with their parents and working as agricultural labourers.

The 1871 census shows the Ramsay family had moved back to David’s birthplace – Dysart in Fife. The census return for that year shows the family living at Kirky Road, Dysart; the household consisting of David aged 53 – whose occupation was given as carter; Helen; daughter Elizabeth (30) unmarried and an outdoor worker; son Peter (10) a scholar; and James Ramsay, aged 5, a grandson born in Dysart.

James was the illegitimate son of Elizabeth. He was born on 5 June 1865 in Dysart – which suggests that the family had moved from Glenfoot back to Dysart in the early-mid 1860s.

David Skinner Ramsay died of typhoid fever on 12 December 1871, aged 54. I’ve learned a surprising amount about his life; been able to see photos and maps of places he and his family once lived and seen his name in print – albeit in the somewhat tragic circumstances of his bankruptcy.  As always, records can provide an indication of “what” – but not “how” or “why”. How did David go from farm labourer to Maser Miller? How did he come to be bankrupt? Why did the family move to Dysart? These are things I won’t ever know, so I’m content to have learned as much as I did because even this makes me feel closer to these people whose lives were so different to mine, but whose genes and life circumstances contributed in some way to the person that I am.

 

References

Archaeological report on Fargs Mill

Scotland’s Places, Farm Horse Tax Rolls 1797-98

Fife Family History Society, Parochial Directory Parish of Strathmiglo  (n.d.)

On unknown lives, early deaths and many more unanswered questions

Great, great grandparents in Dysart Cemetery, Fife, Scotland.

Margaret Bisset and Alexander Black, great, great grandparents. Headstone in Dysart Cemetery, Fife, Scotland. The existence of two boys who died in infancy was an extra, and unexpected piece of information. Photo: Leslie family archive.

Every family historian knows that headstones can provide a mine of new information; this one has helped me not only document lives I was aware of, but told of two more I hadn’t even suspected.

Margaret Bisset and Alexander Black were my great great grandparents. I’ve written a little about their origins in the past, but hadn’t documented their family.

Their daughter Catherine was my mother’s maternal grandmother, and a presence in my early life. I’d long known from my mum that my great gran’s mother had died at a young age, but I hadn’t been able to find a record of the death.

This photo, which mum gave me last year, gave me the information I needed to find Margaret Bisset’s death record. Mum was right; Margaret was only 45 when she died on April 2, 1900, leaving a husband,  two adult daughters and three children under 16. The cause of death was uterine hemorrhage and heart failure.

Alexander Black died on February 6th, 1926, having lived long enough to see his daughter Catherine marry and bear four of her five children.

Catherine Black and her husband Alexander Cruden with their two eldest children, Margaret Simpson Bisset Cruden (my grandmother) and Stewart Cruden.

Catherine Black and her husband Alexander Cruden with their two eldest children. My grandmother, Margaret Simpson Bisset Cruden (named after her maternal grandmother) and Stewart Cruden. Photo: Leslie family archive.

What was “extra” on the headstone was information about the existence of two boys — siblings to my great grandmother — who had not survived infancy.

This branch of the family tree should now have two extra twigs. When I went looking for them, I realised I hadn’t really documented this family well at all.

Progress so far

Alexander Black and Margaret Bisset were married on 7 April 1879, in Scoonie, Fife. Alexander’s occupation was listed as Labourer of (something I can’t read); his age 20 and his address Leven (Scoonie is the parish in which Leven is located). Margaret’s occupation was given as Flaxmill worker; her age 22 and address also Leven. I know from their birth records that Margaret was born on 19 April 1856 in Leven, and Alexander on 5 May 1856 in Kinglassie (which would have made him almost 23 — not 20 as on the marriage record).

The 1881 census shows the family the family living at 2 Henderson Street, Leven with a year old daughter Helen.

The 1891 census shows that the Blacks had moved to Dysart — about eight miles down the Fife coast. By then the family had grown to include Caroline, age 8; James, 5; Catherine, 2; and four month old Janet. Alexander’s occupation was given as coal miner.

By the time of the 1901 census, Margaret had died and Alexander was living at 17 East Port, Dysart with his five children. He was still working as a coal miner. The three eldest, Helen, Caroline and James were all working. Helen is listed as a housekeeper (perhaps for the family itself), Caroline a linen weaver and James an apprentice cabinet-maker. Both Catherine and Janet (Jessie) were at school.

The 1911 census shows Alexander, still working down the mines, living alone, but next door to his daughter Catherine and her husband (my great grandparents).

The children

Helen Black was born on 12 June, 1879. Margaret was obviously seven months pregnant when she married, but this seems to have been quite normal for the times. After the 1901 census, Helen was no longer living with her father. I don’t know if she married; a search of the marriage records in Scotland’s People hasn’t revealed any likely matches, but with no real detail beyond her name, this is a dead end for now. I will ask my mother if she knows anything about her great aunt.

Caroline Black was born on 20 May 1882 at South Street, Leven. She married Thomas Duncan, of 21 Rosslyn Street, Gallatown on December 2nd, 1904. He was 21 and worked as an iron turner; she was 23 and a linen weaver. The 1911 census shows the Duncan family living at 12 West Sommerville Street, Burnt Island (about eight miles down the Fife coast). The couple had three daughters; Margaret, 6; Euphemia, 5; and Caroline, 1. That census was the first to record how many children a woman had borne; Caroline Black is recorded has having had six children – so obviously three had died – presumably in the “gap” between Euphemia and Caroline. The census also shows that Caroline’s brother James was living with them at the time. He was single and also working for the railway company as a carpenter.

James Black was born on 26 July 1885 at South Street, Leven. He married Margaret Heigh Wilson, on 20 December 1912, in Burnt Island. His occupation is shown as journeyman joiner. I have only found a birth record for one child so far; Alison Lawson Wilson Black, born in 1915.

Catherine Simpson Bisset Black was born on 5 May 1889 at South Street, Leven. She married Alexander Cruden of 17 Lockhead Crescent, Coaltown of Wemyss on 27 March 1908. He was 17 and a coal miner; she was 18 and a housekeeper. I’ve written about Catherine and Alexander — my great grandparents — elsewhere.

Janet Bisset Black was born on 3 December 1890 at 75 High Street, Dysart. So far I haven’t been able to trace her in the 1911 census or find a marriage record.

So where do Thomas and Alexander fit in?

Given that both names are quite common, I started at FamilySearch rather than spending Scotland’s People credits trying to identify the “right” Thomas and Alexander. On the off-chance that either boy had been born before the couple married, I set the date range between 1876-1900 and the location as Fife. This search produced no children at all for Margaret and Alexander Black.

I then searched Scotland’s People and to narrow down the results looked for births registered in Scoonie parish between 1879-1890; and in Dysart between 1890-1900.

Thomas Bisset Black was born on 22 October 1887 at 23 South Street, Leven and died on February 25th 1888, aged four months. The death record says “probable cause of death enteritis with perforation.” This is an inflamation of the small intestine and is usually accompanied by diarrhea, dehydration and fever.

Alexander Black has proved more difficult to locate. There were nineteen children of that name born in Fife between 1888-1900. While only one was in Scoonie, and one in Dysart, neither of these turned out to be “my” Alexander.  Given that I know from birth and census records where the Black family was living during Margaret and Alexander’s marriage, it seems unlikely that they would have had a child born outside of either Scoonie or Dysart. Seven children (aged 0-6) called Alexander Black died in Fife between 1888-1901, but again, none of these is the right child. I’ve tried spelling variations on both names, but with no success. I did wonder – given his mother’s cause of death – if Margaret had perhaps died giving birth to this child, so I extended the date range to 1901 (on the basis that he doesn’t appear in the 1901 census), but this has proved fruitless too.

I’m left wondering if Alexander was a stillbirth? These were not recorded until 1939 so I’m not going to be able to know for sure.

Going back to the headstone which sparked this search, it says “died in infancy” of both boys.  While it is nice to be able to document lives, the fact that these children existed and were honoured and remembered by their siblings who erected the headstone – that is enough.

My great gran, Catherine Black and her sister Caroline. Photo taken at my great grandparents Golden Wedding anniversary. Also in the shot my great grandad, Alexander Cruden and (far left) his brother in law, James Fowler. Photo: Leslie family archive.

My great gran, Catherine Black and her sister Caroline. Photo taken at my great grandparents Golden Wedding anniversary. Also in the shot my great grandad, Alexander Cruden and (far left) his brother in law, James Fowler. Photo: Leslie family archive.

 

 

The Elder family: a new clue

The latest edition of the Fife Family History Society Journal arrived, and with it a chance to find out more about my Elder ancestors – a branch of the family I had – co-incidentally – been focusing on lately.

A snippet in the journal indicated the existence of an article from 1864 about my 4x great grandparents Thomas Elder and Agnes Thomson.

Thanks to the efficient and helpful Librarian at Kirkcaldy Galleries, I now have a copy of this article.

Fifeshire Advertiser, 3 September 1864. An article about my ancestors Thomas Elder and Agnes Thomson. Reproduced courtesy of Kirkcaldy Galleries.

Fifeshire Advertiser, 3 September 1864. An article about my ancestors Thomas Elder and Agnes Thomson. Reproduced courtesy of Kirkcaldy Galleries.

And it’s fascinating. Apart from revealing quite a lot about 19th century journalistic style (at least in local newspapers) —  “On Sunday last this worthy couple had in their humble domicile …” — it confirms a few things I already knew about these ancestors and gives me a new line of research to follow up.

The article suggests that Thomas Elder – who was born in Buckhaven, Fife on 22 November 1783 – served in the Napoleonic Wars. This is the first time I’ve had an indication of an ancestor involved in that very distant conflict, so it’s a whole new avenue of research for me.

Thomas Elder’s birth record is one of the earliest I have. It shows him to be the “lawful son” of another Thomas Elder (this story has squillions of them – elder Elders, and younger Elders and … well, you’ll see) and Isobel Dryburgh.

I know nothing about Thomas’s early life or military service, but I do know that he married Agnes Thomson, originally from Cults (also in Fife), 17 December 1805, in Buckhaven. Agnes seems have been the child of Thomas and Agnes Thomson, although I don’t have enough information yet to verify that.

I know very little about my great x 4 grandparents, except that they had at least eight children. The first record of their lives is the 1841 census. It shows them living in Gallatown, Dysart, Fife with their three youngest children; Isabella, 15, John, 14 and Orr, 12. Thomas’s occupation was given as agricultural labourer. Gallatown is about six miles from Buckhaven, and in 1841 a large proportion of the population worked as handloom weavers. Also living in Gallatown at the same time were two of Thomas and Agnes’s sons – David and James, both with wives and young children.

The 1851 census shows that Thomas’s household had shrunk to himself and his wife and his occupation had changed to carter. His older sons still lived nearby with their growing families. By the 1861 census, 78 year old Thomas was still working as a carter.

The 1864 article shown above finishes with the following lines:

At present this aged couple are in wonderful health considering their years, and may yet see another generation.

Sadly, that wasn’t to be.

Agnes Thomson died on 22 October 1870. She was 85 years old and a resident of the Markinch Poorhouse (Dysart Combination Poorhouse). The Poorhouse Governor, who was the informant of the death, described her as “wife of Thomas Elder, worker, latterly pauper.”

It is clear that after Agnes’s death, Thomas left the Poorhouse; the 1871 census shows him living with his son (also Thomas) – and his son’s family – back in Dysart.

But his respite was short-lived. Eighty eight year old Thomas Elder died on 17 February 1972, once again an inmate of the Poorhouse. Again, the informant on the death record was the  Governor, who described Thomas on the register as “labourer, latterly pauper.”

I don’t yet know whether admission records for the Markinch Poorhouse have survived and whether they might tell me how this elderly couple – who seemed to have such a large family living close by – ended up dying in a Victorian institution that was designed to provide relief from destitution without ever letting those who needed it forget the prevailing ideology that it was all their own fault.

It may be that the answer was simply widespread poverty. The younger Thomas, in whose home the elder was living in 1871, was himself 61 at the time of the census. He worked as a linen weaver, while his two adult daughters who also lived there, were described as factory workers. Not an affluent family, and one that could perhaps have been tipped into destitution of its own by sickness, loss of work or some other – perhaps minor – misfortune.

So often in my search for understanding of my family I find events that make me incredibly sad. The death of small children is one such tragedy – residence in the Poorhouse is another.It seems that Thomas Elder fought for Britain over a 12 year period in his youth, raised a large family and continued to be a productve, working man until his old age. His death, and that of Agnes, makes me feel very sad.

Random moment of delight: on the joy of small serendipities

From the "Shorts" column of the latest Fife Family History Society Journal.

From the “Shorts” column of the latest Fife Family History Society Journal.

The focus of my searching lately has been on the Elder branch of my family; my paternal grandmother’s line. It began with the realisation that my great grandfather, Thomas Elder shared a birthday with one of my brothers, and morphed into a bit of musing about how long my ancestors had lived in Dysart, Fife.

Last weekend I traced the Elder line back to the end of the 18th century – and the family of Isobel Dryburgh, my 5x great grandmother who married one of many Thomas Elders – back to the beginning of that century.

Today my copy of the Fife Family History Journal arrived and, flicking through it I found the text above. It confirms a lot of what I’ve discovered about the Elders, but also gives me some new information. First of all, it seems that the Thomas Elder who was my 4x great grandfather served in the Fife Militia during the Napoleonic Wars, and secondly it the article states that he was married in Edinburgh – despite both he and his wife being resdents of Wemyss Parish, and their marriage appearing in that OPR. Finally, I know that the Fifeshire Advertiser carried a story about the couple in September 1864.

So now I have some new avenues for my research; but it’s late, so maybe tomorrow. In the meantime I’ll just enjoy this random moment of delight.

Random moments of delight is a blogging challenge hosted by Meghan at Firebonnet. You can find out more here.

Six word Saturday: eight generations of family in Dysart

This week I've managed to trace on branch of the family tree back ten generations. At least eight of them have a connection with Dysart, Fife.

This week I’ve managed to trace one branch of my family tree back ten generations. At least eight of them have a connection with Dysart, in Fife. I now have named ancestors alive when Scotland was still an independent country.

Think I’ve answered last week’s question!

Random Moment of Delight: an unexpected snippet of information about a shadowy great grandfather

A notice from The Edinburgh Gazette, January 25, 1910 relating to my great grandfather, Thomas Elder. Source Edinburgh Gazette archives.

A notice from The Edinburgh Gazette, January 25, 1910 relating to my great grandfather, Thomas Elder. Source Edinburgh Gazette.

I guess it’s the nature of family history that it’s much easier to find out about some ancestors than others. It’s not only that before statutory records, all information is a bit patchy, but that some people lived and died leaving little or no trace in the documentary record. The converse of course, is that when we do find some record of an ancestor’s life,  it affirms their existence and makes them that little bit more real.

My great grandfather, Thomas Elder has always seemed one of those will o’ the wisp ancestors about whom I knew little and wondered much.

The bones of his life are laid out in the BDM and census records. He was born on 23 February 1874 – exactly ninety years before my brother’s birth. He was the fifth of eleven children born to William Elder and Elizabeth Penman. The family lived in Dysart, Fife and somehow managed to avoid having any member of the family working in the mines. By the age of 17 Thomas was employed as an Ironmonger’s Assistant. At the age of 24 he married Annie Nicholson, four years his senior and already the mother of a three year old, illegitimate son who lived with his grandmother but was – certainly in later years – part of his half-siblings’ lives and not hidden away.

Thomas and Annie had three children together, my grandmother Susan, great aunt Elizabeth (Bessie) and great uncle William.

The 1905 valuation roll shows the family living in a house owned by Annie’s mother.

By the 1901 census Thomas has become an ironmonger and the manager of the business. In the 1911 census he is described as a “traveller, hardware”, and when his daughter – my grandmother – marries in 1923, his occupation is given as “storekeeper.”

Thomas Elder died on 12 February 1929, aged only 54, of colon cancer.

A cousin of my father’s – Aunt Bessie’s daughter – says she heard that “Papa” Elder was gassed in WWI and his health suffered greatly afterwards. I have tried to find his service records, but without success. I have little to go on; Thomas Elder is not an uncommon name and I have no idea which regiment he may have served in. Not only that, but his records may not have survived the Blitz (during which over 50% of WWI service records were destroyed).

So to my random moment of delight: earlier today, on a whim, I typed “Thomas Elder Ironmonger Kirkcaldy” into Google and found the newspaper clipping above. I now know that sometime after 1901, when Thomas was an employee (albeit a manager) and 1910, my great grandfather was for a few years a partner in the firm of A. Beveridge, Son & Company. Now I can search the company name and and the other partners.

The question is of course, why did Thomas ‘retire’ from the business at the age of only 36?

Random Moments of Delight is a blogging prompt from my friend Meghan at Firebonnet. You can find out more about it here.

Wordless Wednesday: remembering the miners

Frances Colliery Memorial, Dysart Scotland.
Dedicated to the Men and Women Who Wrocht at Frances Colliery from 1873.
This photograph is from the Scottish Mining Website [http://www.scottishmining.co.uk/495.html]

On my mother’s side of the family, there is a long roll-call of miners. Many of them worked at the Frances Colliery – known as “the Dubbie” – in Dysart. I’m fortunate that none of my many mining ancestors seemed to have died “on the job”, but looking at the various death certificates, I’m in no doubt their years down the pit took a toll.

Tombstone Tuesday: another family in Dysart Cemetery

Great, great grandparents in Dysart Cemetery, Fife, Scotland.

Great, great grandparents in Dysart Cemetery, Fife, Scotland.

My mum gave me this photo recently. Margaret Bisset and Alexander Black were her great grandparents – and the parents of my formidable great gran. I feel very fortunate to have the photo, with its clear and informative inscription and handy map reference at the bottom.

Catherine Black and her husband Alexander Cruden with their two eldest children, Margaret Simpson Bisset Cruden (my grandmother) and Stewart Cruden.

Catherine Black and her husband Alexander Cruden with their two eldest children, Margaret Simpson Bisset Cruden (my grandmother) and Stewart Cruden.

Every leaf on the family tree is precious, but I definitely feel a stronger connection to some more than others. In the case of the Black family it is because Catherine Black – this couple’s third daughter – was a very real presence in my early life. I’ve written about my great gran before (On Growing Old Together) as a woman that I admire tremendously. But while I feel I know quite a lot about her husband’s family (the Crudens), my knowledge of the Black and Bisset families is very sparse. I know that the Alexander Black originally came from Kinglassie, and I was fortunate enough to find his parent’s headstone in the Kinglassie Cemetery (Tombstone Tuesday: the Black Family in Kinglassie).

Since being given the photo, I’ve done a bit more research into this family.

Alexander and Margaret were married on 12 April 1879 in Scoonie, Fife – which is about 15 miles east of Kinglassie. He was a labourer, she a flax mill worker. Both gave their address as Leven (which has kind of absorbed Scoonie).

Margaret’s birth record shows that she was born on 19 April 1856 at High Street, Leven. Her father was Thomas Boswell Bisset, a carter and her mother Helen Laing Simpson. Margaret seems to have been the second of 13 children (including two sets of twins). In fact, Helen Simpson may have borne even more children or at least had more pregnancies, as there are gaps of several years between a few of the children.

Helen Simpson and Thomas Bisset married in 1851 in Dysart. She was originally from Auchtermuchty – where a branch of my dad’s family (the Traill’s) also lived. I haven’t yet been able to find a record of Thomas’s birth – despite having his parents’ names from his death certificate and a place of birth from a census record. It is possible that one or more of these is incorrect, or that there’s been an error in transcription and I’ll need to try a wider and more imaginative search.

Sometime after their marriage, Helen and Thomas moved to Scoonie, where they remained until their deaths. It’s interesting to me that of all the towns and villages in Fife, the same few seem to pop up in so many different branches of my tree.

Margaret and Alexander began married life in Scoonie, but had moved to Dysart by the 1891 census where Alexander was working as a coal miner. He continued to live in Dysart after Margaret’s death, appearing in both the 1901 and 1911 censuses. By the latter census, he was living next door to his married daughter Catherine and her family (my great grandparents), and still working as a miner.

Margaret Bisset bore at least seven children; Helen, Caroline, James, Catherine and Janet – who all lived to adulthood, and the babies Thomas and Alexander whose passing is noted on the headstone.

Margaret Bisset died in 1900 aged only 45, of some sort of hemorrhage (I can’t read the writing on the death extract) and heart failure. Her father Thomas died the following year, while her mother lived until 1914, and Alexander Black died in 1926.

As always, when I find out a little about a branch of my family I want to know more. It seems that scratching the surface is also creating an itch that begs to be scratched some more.

I think it’s going to be a long night.