My Watson family ancestors have had me somewhat perplexed, hence to date I have not written of them before. As a researcher I have witnessed many oddities and irregularities, but I have never had an ancestor rise from the dead before! Could it be that a simple error of name in a register of deaths has been the brick wall for so many years?
Before now the earliest point of absolute certainty with my Watsons is the marriage after banns of a John Watson to Emma Barber on the 8th January 1870 at St Georges, Camden Hill, in London. John, aged 26 is recorded as a groom and living in Dorset Cottage, and gives his father’s name as James, occupation Farmer. Emma, aged 28, of no occupation was living at 7 Stanley Crescent and gave her father’s name as William, a Coachman. They were both a long way from home with Emma having been born in the December quarter of 1841 in the West Riding of Yorkshire, and John in 1844 in Crawfordjohn, Lanarkshire. That Emma is my 2x great grandmother is beyond doubt as all the DNA testers in this line of my family have inherited a generous dollop of Barber blood with several strong matches to descendants of her siblings. The same is not the case with the Watsons, with matches to known descendants of John and Emma being way too small for given their relationships casting doubt over John Watson’s paternity of certainly one of her children, that is until now. A new match has appeared suggesting that John Watson is both my 2x great grandfather and 2x great uncle through a bigamous marriage to Caroline Smith at Cheltenham in 1866. Even though John is a bit of a slippery fish I don’t believe this to be the case, the match of only 8 cMs is just way too small to be any closer than 3rd cousin. If I had not seen the link to Crawfordjohn a tiny place in Lanarkshire, I would probably have written the match off as an error in the tree.
Emma, who suffered a similar rollercoaster of fortunes akin to Thackeray’s Becky Sharpe, was clearly not in a position to be living on her own means at 7 Stanley Crescent. It is possible she followed her brother Oliver to London, where he was studying to become a surgeon at University College and living in lodgings in Camden Town in the 1871 census, or her brother William a Grenadier Guard and a patient in Rochester Row military hospital the same year. Indeed all the Barber children forged careers and marriages that would appear to have been somewhat above the station for offspring of a Coachman! Emma appears to have been the Black Sheep. Following her marriage to John the couple moved to Newcastle and in 1871 can be found at Seaton Burn House, with their first child James born in December 1870. John is now Coachman to Joseph Snowball and although he and Emma have a further seven children, it is the last we see of him. In the 1881 census he has been replaced as the Snowball's coachman by a Thomas Robson and Emma is living with her children in a tenement block in Longbenton, a coachman’s wife and married. Of John there is no sign but he appears to have died in the subsequent inter-census period as by 1891 Emma and her family are living at 22 Gainsborough Grove and she is described as a widow. John’s death has not been found to date as there are simply too many possibilities. Emma is last sighted running letting apartments in Cambridge Avenue on her ‘own account’ in Whitley Bay in 1911. No date or place of death has been found for her either, as it would appear to have taken place outside of Newcastle and district.
John Watson was born on the 24th of July 1844 and baptised at Crawfordjohn to parents James Watson and his wife Janet Martin. This has now been confirmed through DNA matches to descendants of Janet Martin's siblings, and others from Janet's maternal Ewart line. I believe that John Watson husband of Caroline Smith was born in Crawfordjohn in March 1845 to parents John Watson and Jane/Jean Newbigging. The DNA match would indicate that the two Johns may have been related, the question is how.
In 1851 James and Janet are farming 10 acres at Meadowbank, Crawfordjohn. Between 1851 and 1861 they had moved to Castle Eden in Durham. Births of subsequent children proved the mother’s maiden name to be Martin whom James had married in February 1844 when obviously pregnant with John. In 1861, his father James is described as a Countryman and son John a Coachman. James and Janet had moved to Cullercoats by 1871 with the last known address for James being Coxlodge, Gosforth in 1891. In the 1851 Scottish census James aged 29 gives his place of birth as Sanquhar, Dumfriesshire but no corresponding baptism can be found for him there for the corresponding period. However, all the children of a John Watson and Mary Renton of Abington were entered in the Crawfordjohn Parish Register en-masse with dates for births but no date or place of baptism is given.
This particular family of Watsons had interests in various places in both Lanarkshire, Dumfriesshire and Dalry, Kirkcudbright, so it is highly possible that James was born at Thornhill near Sanquhar in November 1821. A fact happily supported by the 1841 census for Crawfordjohn which shows James and his mother Mary as not born in the county.
This family is easily identifiable due to twin daughters Elizabeth and Lillias. However, there is no John, the potential father in law of Caroline Smith! By 1851 John and Mary had moved to Millmark Farm near Kirkcudbright. Living next door are John and Jean Watson with a John junior born Crawfordjohn in 1845 and siblings Robert and Mary. This is the family to which I believe my DNA match’s ancestors descend. The various family entries for John and Mary dominate over a page, but their son James is not present. Well he wouldn’t be if he was at Meadowbank in Crawfordjohn, right? Here comes a double ended spanner:
On the 24th of February 1852 James Watson son of John Watson farmer of Millmark died!
The family grave in Wandell and Lamington although the name is no longer legible gives his age as 26. There is something all wrong about this record as the potential birth year of 1825/26 is five years out. James, son of John and Mary was born in 1821, yet no other James or John Watson can be found at Millmark in the 1851 census. Furthermore, the stones which all lie together in Wandell and Lamington Kirk Yard, indicating it is one family, are obviously badly weathered making many of the details unreadable or incorrect.
1852 was a bad year for the Watsons in addition to the possible record for James above, John and Mary’s son Thomas died too and was interred at Lamington just 5 days later . Should the Dalry register have read Thomas and not James? Given his birth date of 10 March 1825, Thomas would have been aged 26 at the time of his death, which would agree with the age given on the headstone.
John and Mary’s brother in law James and nephew William were also interred together at Lamington in June of the same year:
Consumption (Tuberculosis) was sadly rife in this family! It took Welshy a daughter of James Watson and his wife Welsh (also nee Watson) in 1858 and their remaining sons John and James in 1862 and 1868 respectively.
At the other end of the spanner, James, son of John Watson and Mary Renton of Milbank seems to have made a remarkable recovery from his fatal infliction as he appears as clear as day in his father’s will which was written in 1864!
As the will also has a codicil added slightly later if some oversight had occurred it would have been rectified there, but it does not. As it happens it was Alexander Carmichael Watson who predeceased his father by only a few weeks. Alexander’s wife Priscilla Bell was a native of Brancepeth in County Durham some 14 miles from Castle Eden, home to John Watson and Janet Martin in 1861. Alexander and Priscilla had married at Durham in 1862. Is it possible that they met through his brother James or married sister Lillias who by 1861 was living in Tow Law? It certainly seems a plausible explanation. Mary Renton died at Walworth Terrace, Glasgow in 1872. From the valuation rolls it appears the farm was vacated by 1875 in accordance with John’s last wishes and Priscilla and her boys had returned to her family home in Brancepeth by 1881. Hoping that David Watson who graduated from Glasgow University as a surgeon in 1863 would hold some further clues, I was frustrated to find he had emigrated to New Zealand in 1870 and his trail has gone cold for now.
In John Watson’s death record of 1871 his parents are named as James Watson and Elizabeth Barclay, which ties in with the family graves in Wandell and Lamington, the earliest of which belongs to William Watson (1717-1790) and Lillias Simpson (1721 - 1795). Elizabeth Barclay died in 1835 and husband James Watson in 1843 - he too left a detailed will. At the time of his death he was residing at Southwood, a farm also associated with William Watson above. In it he refers to houses and yards in Linton, Peeblesshire (possessed by son John), a house in Thornhill, Dumfriesshire, (possessed by his daughter Alison McCaig) and names his other children as Welshie Watson wife of James Watson of Abington, Lillias Watson wife of Louden Cranstoun in Abington and his youngest son James with whom he is joint tenant of the farms of Castlemain of Crawford and Southwood. Finally, James makes a bequest of £200 to a grandson James Hunter, the son of his deceased daughter Elizabeth.
So, 1600 words on and the mystery of the connection between the two John Watsons that sparked this blog has still not been determined. He cannot be descended from James of Castlemain and Southwood as he died unmarried in 1847. The most likely candidate is John Watson b. 1759 son of William Watson and Lillias Simpson whose name does not appear on the family headstones at Lamington, but as this line has not yet been traced it is still speculative. Of course it could be that the small amount of DNA shared with my new match may be in another line altogether and the Watson connection is nothing more than a coincidence and a total red herring. I sense not but you never know …
(As a footnote to the above, subsequent research has proved the families buried together at Lamington are indeed connected. Working on the theory that the Christian name Welsh or Welshie when given to a Watson was likely to be connected with the family above has also born fruit. It first appeared against a burial in the family plot of a Welsh Wilson Watson d.1785 the son of William Watson and Lillias Simpson. To date this theory has proved correct, with all lines leading back to this very couple. It last appeared in a 1924 marriage of a Welsh Watson to a daughter of Janet Watson Dallas nee Newbigging! This line still needs to be resolved, but may yet prove to be the 'missing link' to the DNA match. It is also interesting to note potential Watson links to the family of Lamington members.ozemail.com.au/~msafier/watson/watson_lamington.html but this too will have to wait until another day!)