Help from the blogging whanau takes me a step further back (which in genealogy is a good thing)

James Low was a wright, or joiner. photo credit: Alan Cleaver via photopin cc

James Low was a wright, or joiner. photo credit: Alan Cleaver via photopin cc

In response to a recent post about Helen Low, Olwen, of Tall Tales and True suggested to me that the address shown on Helen Low’s birth record may have been Welltree, as in …

James Low wright in Welltree

Olwen said:

“Welltree … is marked on old maps but on Google Maps seems to be just a junction where the A914 meets Freuchie Mill Road. There are some references to Welltree by Freuchie/Fruchie in old directories.”

I had been feeling that I’d hit a dead end with Helen Low, but Olwen’s comments inspired me to try again – and as it turns out – may have given me THE crucial bit of information I needed.

Building the case

I had found an OR (Old Parish Register) marriage record for James Low and Elspet Robertson, from 1811 in the parish of Kettle. The Fife Family History Society has online a parochial directory for Kettle (1861) which contains information about the various settlements and villages within the parish. Welltree isn’t mentioned in the text, but within the directory itself, one of the first entries is for a blacksmith named William Birrell — in ‘Welltree, by Freuchie’.

I also looked for Joiners and Wrights (James Low’s stated occupations on Helen’s birth and death records). At the time of the directory, there was a Joiner/Wright in Welltree. Not James Low (he would have been at least 70 by then), but with Welltree seeming the most likely address on Helen’s birth record, this was another little piece of information against which to cross-check records.

Knowing that James Low and Elspet Robertson married in 1811 meant that I could start to put some parameters on their likely ages and birthdates.

Assuming they were at least 16 when they got married (over 20 actually seems to be much more common for the time), I could put their births at before 1795. I also knew that Elspet Robertson bore a child in 1825, and although I’ve found quite a few records of births to women in their 40s amongst my ancestors, I decided that it was unlikely she was born before 1780. James, of course, may have been much older – that was an unknown.

Having some parameters, I decided to look for James and Elspet in the 1841 census. There are two James Low’s – but neither seemed a likely match for my ancestor. Both seemed too young, were heads of households that didn’t contain any names I recognised as family members, and indeed one “Low” was probably a misspelling of “Law.”

Old Parish Records – deaths in Kettle

I then searched death records for James. I began with the OPR records from 1824 (prior to the birth of their last known child, but after conception would have taken place) to 1854 – when statutory records began. I decided to try deaths in Kettle Parish first and got two matches, one in 1833 and one in 1840. Neither showed the age of the deceased so I decided to try both records.

The first was for:

Feb 22 1833 Low James in Well-Tree, age 54

Death record for James Low, Welltree. Source: Scotland's People.

Death record for James Low, Welltree. Source: Scotland’s People.

The other record, in 1840, showed the deceased’s age as 17 years, so it seemed most likely that if either of the records was for “my” James Low – it would be the first.

Of course, I can’t guarantee that “my” James Low died in 1833 (he may have moved from Kettle Parish and died somewhere else), but based on the age and location, I decided to see if I could find anything else that might support or refute the hypothesis that this was a record for the correct person.

Circumstantial evidence — Scottish naming pattern

I’ve talked quite a lot in the past about the Scottish naming pattern – whereby children were named after family members according to quite clear “rules.” Eldest sons were named after their father’s father; eldest daughters after their mother’s mother; second sons after the mother’s father, etc. Third children were often given their parent’s name and middle names were given if children were named after someone with a different surname.

This was of course just a pattern and naturally not everyone adhered to it. But most branches of my family seem to have done so, and it’s been a really useful tool for hypothesizing grandparents’ names based on knowledge of what the grandchildren are called.

In the case of James Low and Elspeth Robertson, I had records of seven children born to them: Michael, Helen, Alexander, Rachel, Elizabeth, James and William.

If the Scottish naming pattern had been adhered to, James Low’s father should have been called Michael and his mother Rachel. Similarly, Elspet’s parents would have been called Helen and Alexander.

The only James Low I could find born in Scotland between 1760-1795 with parents called Michael and Rachel was born in Kettle, on 19 July 1779 – which would have made him 54 in 1833 (the ages shown on the death record I found above).

Taking away the parents’ names filter – I found records for 14 children called James Low born in Fife between 1760-1795 and around 30 born in the neighbouring county of Perthshire. None of those other James Lows had parents called Michael or Rachel.

Uncommon names

Normally I take the naming pattern with a grain of salt, but Michael and Rachel were unusual names in 18th and 19th century Scotland.

For example, in FamilySearch, children born with the first name Michael between 1760 and 1850 returned 2579 hits, compared with 257,973 Williams, 292,902 James’s and 155,268 Alexanders.

Similarly there were 6544 Rachels in the time period compared with 216,306 Elizabeths, 423,262 Janes, and 130,318 Isabellas.

For that reason I’m inclined to believe that the birth record I found is that of my James Low.

The birth record says

19 July 1779 Low was born James son to Mihil (Michael) in Orkie Cotton and Rachel Stones his wife and was baptised 25th of same and witnessed the congregation.

A Fife Family History Society publication listing village and hamlet names in 1838 records both an Orkie (in Freuchie) and an Orkimill (in Kettle).

An acceptable conclusion?

If I were a lawyer building (or trying to refute) a case, I would have to say that most of my evidence is circumstantial. But, frankly, that’s probably the best I’m going to get, so for the time being I am working on the hypothesis that my 4x great grandfather, James Low was born to Michael Low and Rachel Stones on July 19, 1779, became a Wright/Joiner in Weltree, married Elspet Robertson in 1811, fathered (at least) seven children – including my 3x great grandmother Helen Low, and died in Weltree in 1833. If that is the case, he probably lived his entire live within an area of around 2 sq miles. Sitting here, half a world away from the place of my birth, and of James’s, I find myself wondering about the nature of place and identity. But that’s for another day.



Wordless Wednesday: the end of the road, for now

OPR birth record of George Leslie. My paternal great great grandfather and the earliest verified Leslie ancestor. Record from Scotland's People.

OPR birth record of George Leslie. My paternal great great grandfather and the earliest verified Leslie ancestor I can find. Searching for Elizabeth Robertson and John Leslie has proved fruitless. Record from Scotland’s People.

George natural son to Elizabeth Roberston and John  Leslie was born 3rd and bapt. 31st Augsut 1822. Witnesses George Stewart and Alan Stewart.

Wordless Wednesday is a blogging prompt from Geneabloggers.


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.