Wednesday, June 20, 2018

"What's in a name? That which we call a Rose by any other Name would Smell as Sweet."

                When Wrong Names are Recorded!

Image Wikipedia. Licenced under Creative Commons.

Wouldn't life be simple if we could believe everything we read? Unfortunately, when it comes to family history, our ancestors did not always leave a factual paper trail for us to follow. Sometimes, the original records we find for ancestors, (often those who were illiterate and who relied upon clerks or others to record details), contain mistakes. There are a number of reasons why names were and still are, recorded incorrectly. Whatever the case, it was the recent discovery that my own first name was wrongly recorded on my daughter's marriage certificate 18 months ago, which made me think about a particular brick wall I had. 

Family historians follow paper trails of names on birth, marriage and death records and we rely on names to find further generations of forebears. A  mistake on a record can cost a considerable amount of time and misguided research. Such was the case with my Scottish GIBSON ancestors.

Image The Blue Diamond Gallery of Free to Use Images, Creative Commons.

This blog is dedicated to the many McDade/Gibson cousins who have traveled with me on our family history journey. To them, I am disclosing that I have discovered an error on a marriage record which changes the fabric of a line of our Scottish ancestry. In this blog post I aim to set things right.

Elizabeth Gibson (1872-1936) Image in possession of author. Permission required to use.

My great-grandmother, Elizabeth Gibson, was the youngest of four children born to James GIBSON and Mary FEARNS in Renfrewshire and Stirlingshire, Scotland. Elizabeth was born on October 18, 1872 in Denny Stirling [1] where the family had moved to, following the birth of their eldest child Margaret Campbell Gibson in 1866.[2]

One thing my Scottish ancestors did almost religiously, for which I am most grateful, was to give their daughters the surnames of grandmothers for middle names. Since Margaret was the second born daughter,to James and Mary, her middle name of Campbell was a significant clue to the maiden name of a paternal grandmother. Findmypast offers an excellent insight into Scottish naming traditions here.[3]

Image Wikipedia Licenced under Creative Commons.

Elizabeth's mother, Mary Fearns, caused me considerable confusion with her surname being spelled on birth and marriage records as FERNS, FEARNS and FARNES and it took me years to discover that Mary's Fearns' own mother's maiden surname of COUPLES was really CUPPLES. Let me just say that this family required quite some research! I wrote a blog post about how I 'accidentally' solved the puzzle of my COUPLES/CUPPLES ancestors, which you can read here.  

The present blog post, however, is not concerned with incorrect spelling, but rather the confusion caused by finding wrong first or given names on records. When we find the names of parents of a bride and groom on a marriage record, it is a big deal. With these names we have discovered a whole new generation of family. But what happens when a name is not correct? I have two cases of wrong given names on marriage certificates in the same family. One of these puzzles, I was able to resolve quite easily, as outlined below in Case 1. The case of James Gibson, however, has been an ongoing and significant brick wall.

CASE 1 - Parents of Elizabeth Gibson.

My great-grandmother Elizabeth Gibson was married twice. On each marriage document, a different father's given name was recorded. At the time of her first marriage to William Kane on March 17,1891, in St Ignatius Catholic Church in Dalziel, Lanarkshire, Elizabeth's parents' were recorded as John Gibson and Mary Ferns

1891 Marriage Elizabeth Gibson and William Kane [4]

When, as a widow, on January 4 1894, Elizabeth married my great grandfather, John McDade in the Catholic Church, at Maryhill, Lanarkshire, her parents were stated to be James Gibson and Mary Ferns. 

1894 Marriage Elizabeth Gibson and John McDade [5]

I knew that the bride named Elizabeth Gibson, named in both marriages was one and same person, because of her mother's name of Mary Ferns. I knew also that Elizabeth had been married previously, since she was a widow when she married the second time to my ancestor John McDade. From Elizabeth's age on the two records I had a range of years within which to search for her birth. But I did not know if her parents were John and Mary Gibson or James and Mary Gibson.

Fortunately for me, Elizabeth Gibson's birth was easily located, being registered in Denny, Stirlingshire, on October 18, 1872, where I expected it to be. Her parents were named as James Gibson and Mary Farns and their marriage was noted as having taken place in December of 1862 at Polmont, Stirling. [6] 

Scotlands People, 1872 GIBSON, ELIZABETH (Statutory registers Births 476/ 158)

I was able to establish that James Gibson (not John) was the correct name for Elizabeth's father since James was the name given on Elizabeth's birth certificate and the birth records for her siblings, Margaret, Robert and Mary. Mary's mother's surname on each birth record was spelled differently as Ferns, Fairns, Farns and Farnes. Despite the confusing variations of Elizabeth's mother's surname, I knew that her father was definitely named James.

 The next logical step was to find the marriage of Elizabeth's parents, James Gibson and Mary Ferns, expecting that the complication would be the many different spellings of Ferns, Fairns, Farnes and Fairns. With these variations in mind, I searched for a marriage in 1862 between James Gibson and Mary (with no surname) on Scotlands People and found the marriage with Mary registered as Fearns (yet another spelling). From this marriage and the names of their parents, I expected to find another generation of ancestors.

CASE 2 - Parents of James Gibson.

On the marriage record of James Gibson and Mary Fearns, the groom's parents were noted as George GIBSON and Margaret CAMPBELL. The bride's parents were George Fearns and Mary Ann Couples.

Searching for a marriage between George Gibson and Margaret Campbell, using a very wide search parameter, I found one only marriage on ScotlandsPeople, between a couple with these names. 

George Gibson and Margaret Campbell nee BULLOCK, widow, married at St Cuthbert's, Midlothian on October 13, 1828. When searching for a birth for a Margaret Bullock, I found one in 1781, to John Bullock and Helen Hill of Perth. I eliminated this Margaret since she would have been too old. The only other was a baptism of a Margaret Bullock, which took place on March 13 1812 in Renfrewshire. This Margaret was the daughter of Sergeant Edward Bullock of the 70th Regiment and Mary McFarlane. 

On the marriage record of Margaret Bullock/Campbell to George Gibson it states that Margaret's first husband had been an Army Captain named Colin Campbell. He had died and they had no issue. Following her marriage to George Gibson, Margaret gave birth to a son named George - in fact the birth took place only two days after their wedding. This was definitely a shotgun wedding and just in time! 

St Cuthberts, Eddinburgh, Image Wikimedia under Creative Commons.


This marriage appeared to be the correct one, in the absence of any other marriage between two people of these names. It was and still is the only marriage I can find of a George Gibson to a Margaret Campbell (albeit married name Campbell, maiden name Bullock). There was no other George and Margaret Gibson who could possibly be my three times great-grandparents. 

No matter how much something appears to match given criteria, you need to look beyond the obvious to find evidence to support you finding. Looking like it is correct, is not the same as being correct. Although George Gibson and Margaret Campbell were the ONLY couple who had married in Scotland with these names, as my research progressed, I discovered things that made me suspect this couple were not my third great grandparents. 


1. I could find no birth registered for my two times great-grandfather James Gibson, nor births for any other children born to George Gibson and Margaret Campbell. The only birth registered to this couple was George born two days after the marriage in 1828 in Midlothian. 
2. With two grandparents named George - George Gibson and George Fearns-  it seemed unusual to me that George was not a name passed on in this family.
3. In accordance with traditional Scottish naming patterns, the second born daughter of James Gibson and Mary Fearns was given the first name of her paternal grandmother - Margaret but the second name of Campbell not Bullock. This struck me as somewhat odd, since Campbell was the surname of the paternal grandmother's first husband Colin Campbell. Still - stranger things have happened in my family history!

[The firstborn child of my two times great grandparents, James Gibson and Mary Fearns had been traditionally named Mary, after her maternal grandmother Mary Fearns  (name on this birth recorded as Farnes). 

4. Significantly, I started having unexplained Campbell DNA matches pop up. If Margaret was a Bullock by birth then where were my Campbell DNA matches coming from? This suggested to me that James mother was a Campbell as was suggested on his marriage certificate, and that Margaret Campbell/Bullock was not my three times great-grandmother. 
5. If 'my' Margaret Bullock was born in 1812, a marriage in 1828 placed her age at barely 16 years and already a widow. This raised serious doubts in my mind that I had the correct person.

Since there was no other marriage I could find between a George Gibson and a Margaret Campbell, I began to suspect that, similarly to my own daughter's marriage certificate, there had been an error when recording the names of the parents on the marriage record of James Gibson and Mary Fearns.


At the time of his marriage to Mary Fearns, James Gibson's age was given as 21 and Mary was 18 years old. This placed James' birth at circa 1841 and Mary's at around 1844. In the 1871 census James and Mary can be found living in Kirkslap Road, Denny, Stirling. James was an ironstone miner aged 29 years (suggesting a birth year of 1842) and with him was his 30 year old wife Mary. Mary, who was two years younger than James when they married was now a year older. Nothing about researching this family has been simple! 

Their children were Margaret 4, Robert 2 and Mary 9 months. I knew this to be the correct family since the names, birthplaces and ages of the children matched my Gibson family perfectly. 

1871 Census, James Gibson [7]

Since I had established that there was no birth of a James registered to a George Gibson and Mary Campbell, I searched for his birth using his mother's name only. I also widened the search to the years between 1830 and 1845 - in case James' age had been incorrectly documented on records. I used only the surnames of Gibson and Campbell in my search.


Births registered of James Gibson 1830 -1845 [8]

I found two births of a James Gibson to a mother with the surname Campbell. Both had fathers named James Gibson. The first birth was registered on December 27, 1830, to James Gibson and Margaret Campbell in Abbey, Renfrewshire. The other was in 1844 to James Gibson and Elizabeth Campbell in Govan. 

The birth of son James to James Gibson and Elizabeth Campbell, turned out to be an incorrect transcription. This child was named Robert, not James. That left one birth within the years 1830 and 1845, of a child named James Gibson, born  to a father named James Gibson and a mother named Margaret Campbell. The birth was registered in Abbey, Renfrewshire and the father was a spirit dealer. 

James Gibson, Birth 27 December 1830, Renfrewshire.[9]


This birth in 1830, placed my James' age at 31 at the time of his marriage when his marriage certificate in 1862 stated he was 21 years. It would be an easy mistake to write 21 instead of 31, however this would not explain the ten year age discrepancy in his age again in the 1871 census, when James  claimed to be 29 years old. If James was born in 1830, he should have been 40 or 41 in 1871. One might expect it to be could be a stretch to claim to be 29 years old if you were 40. Putting aside the issues with age differences, I searched for a death for James, now convinced that his father may have been named James and not George, and found it.

James Gibson died in Denny, Stirling, where I knew the couple lived at the time of his death. James, an ironstone miner, died on April 23, 1876 of heart disease, from which it was claimed he had suffered for two years. The record states he was married to Mary Farnes and the witness to his death was the widow herself. James' age at the time of his death was given as 35 years (indicating again, a birth year of 1841). Had he been born in 1830, he would have been 46 years old. 

James Gibson, Death 1876 [10]


Looking for James Gibson's birth raised as many questions as it has answers for me. What I have determined, is that George Gibson and Margaret Bullock/Campbell are not my three times great grandparents. I believe that James' mother was a Campbell by birth. I have DNA matches to prove this. As yet I cannot find enough evidence to prove beyond doubt, that the 1830 birth is that of my ancestor. If my James Gibson was born in 1830, then for some reason he lowered his age by ten years, consistently from the time of his marriage. There are any number of reasons why ancestors did this - eligibility for employment being the most common. Perhaps if his bride was only 18 years old, James feared that Mary's mother (who was alive when they married), would disapprove of the union? 

I have not ruled out this birth, and at this stage it seems the most likely one for my two times great-grandfather. The birth in Renfrewshire matches the birthplace given for him in the 1871 census and it is the only birth of a James Gibson to a mother named Margaret Campbell. I have not yet found enough evidence though, to claim James Gibson and Margaret Campbell from Renfrew, as my three times great-grandparents. 

There are compelling reasons to think they are my ancestors. Margaret's father was Robert Campbell. This would finally explain why the name Robert has been passed on in this family right up to recent times. But wishing something to be true, does not make it so and I am hoping that my Campbell DNA matches will pave the way to knocking down this brick wall.

NOTE: I am rather excited to discover that I have a Campbell bloodline. When my second child was born, I was thinking of naming it if a boy, Campbell (the first child already having a Scottish name). My father in law, (whose mother was a MacDonald from the Isle of Skye) was horrifed. "Never can there be a Campbell and a MacDonald under the same roof", he declared. 

Glencoe, Edwardian painting of the site of the infamous 1692 massacre of the MacDonald clan in Glen Coe, Argyll. This picture is the copyright of the Lordprice Collection and is reproduced on Wikipedia with their permission.

The Campbell/MacDonald rivalry dates back to the massacre of Glencoe in 1692 and it seems that memories of the betrayal have not dimmed with time. I now find it ironic that I am descended from Campbells and my husband from MacDonalds of Clanranald. I guess we have proved that a Campbell and a MacDonald can live under the same roof after all... and hopefully I will have an update soon as to who my three times Scottish great-grandparents really are.

Image Wikipedia Creative Commons Licence


1. Birth of Elizabeth Gibson, ScotlandsPeople, 1872 GIBSON, ELIZABETH (Statutory Registers Births 476/ 158), Crown Copyright, National Records of Scotland.

2. Birth Record Margaret Campbell Gibson, ScotlandsPeople, 1866 GIBSON, MARGARET CAMPBE (Statutory registers Births 562/ 231) Crown Copyright, National Records of Scotland.

4. Marriage Elizabeth Gibson to William Kane, ScotlandsPeople, 1891 Kane, William )Statutory Registers Marriages 639/ 49) Crown Copyright National Records Scotland. 

5. Marriage Elizabeth Gibson and John McDade, ScotlandsPeople, 1894 McDade, John (Statutory Register Marriages 622/1 25) Crown Copyright National Records Scotland. 

6. Marriage James Gibson and Mary Fearns, ScotlandsPeople,1862 GIBSON, JAMES (Statutory registers Marriages 487/ 32), Copyright National Records Scotland. 

7. 1871 Census, James Gibson, ScotlandsPeople, 1871 GIBSON, JAMES (Census 476/ 1/ 18) Page 18 of 27, Copyright National Records Scotland. 

8. Birth, James Gibson, ScotlandsPeople, Church Registers - Old Parish Registers Births and Baptisms, ScotlandsPeople,

9. Birth, James Gibson, ScotlandsPeople, 27/12/1830 GIBSON, JAMES (Old Parish Registers Births 559/ 60 326 Abbey) Page 326 of 351, Copyright National Records Scotland. 

10. Death, James Gibson, 1876, ScotlandsPeople, 1876 GIBSON, JAMES (Statutory registers Deaths 476/1 45)

Tuesday, June 5, 2018


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