My Lesmahagow Origins

(last edits and additions made February, 2016)

        Readers of this page who wish to share information on this family are invited to partipate in a Facebook  group called "Descendants of Thomas Gilkerson/Gilchrist" - it may be a misnomer until we're sure that Thomas Gilkerson and Thomas Gilchrist were actually the same person, and there's no direct proof that he was; but for now, that's what we're calling it.  There are seventeen of us there already.  Email me if you wish to join us.

Those who wish to explore the accuracy of my information, especially in the light of false trees posted on and elsewhere, should visit this page: Bad Genealogy!

More on this topic a few paragraphs later, but a simple truth is that there were an awful lot of Gilchrists in Lesmahagow.  My brother Peter sent me a pdf of three pages of them, from the LDS microfiche records in Salt Lake City, who were born in the middle 1800's; a few of them are written up as Gilkrist.  There may also have been Gilkersons, Gilchristsons, and other variants, on other pages that I haven't viewed.

My earliest recorded genealogy:

      William Gilchrist, my ancestor, was born in 1797. I list William's mother as Margaret Bunton because she was so recorded on his death certificate.  William's father was a custom weaver named Thomas Gilchrist, as he appears on the tombstone that William carved for him.  William became a quarrier, and it was common in those days, I'm told, for families to carve their own stone inscriptions for dead family members. 

This shows the rear and cemetery yard of the church, with the remains of Abbeygreen priory from 1104 A.D. on the lawn. The town's main street isn't visible, but runs across the centre of the photograph, in front of the church.
After a search of several villages, cemeteries and monument inscription books, I finally found what I was looking for, to my great satisfaction, in the cemetery behind the parish church in Lesmahagow.  The family didn't live in Lesmahagow, but walked several miles to church there from Crossford every Sunday. 
Click here to see the Dalserf, Lesmahagow and Lanark churches
Just inside the entrance to the cemetery, there is a once-roofed stone enclosure with monument plaques on the walls. I've learned recently that such small buildings were used as temporary lodging for new applicants to the graveyard; when the ground was frozen in winter and heavy equipment for grave digging did not exist, the coffins would rest in such a building until the spring thaw permitted the digging of a grave.  Just outside that small building, I found the gravestone which you see at the bottom right corner of the arch. The top was missing, and it was covered with scale and lichen.  A verger mows the lawn in this old cemetery, but no-one cares for the stones.  I brushed it with a wire brush, and a half-hour later I discovered the missing top lying nearby.  I placed it on top, and took the photographs that you see below. 
The script that William used for his carving is very curvilinear and gothic, quite a bit more decorative than the block capital lettering used on most of the other stones, and on the reverse (east) side of his. The top is darker because it was still damp from the earth that I pulled it from.

"Erected by 
William Gilchrist
In memory of his
Father Tho. Gilchrist
Who died 19(?) Dec: 1816
Aged 68 years"

"James Gilchrist his
Son who died 22nd January 
1841 aged 5
and James his son who
died 3rd May 1844 aged 11 months
Isabella Sharp his wife 
Died 21st April 1860 Aged 55
Years. William Gilchrist
died 18th October 1866 Aged
69 years"
        I believe I've transcribed it line for line as it was carved, but the top portion is not terribly clear; I'm relying partly on what was recorded in the Scott monumental inscription book, which was collected in the late '60's, I believe.  I read Thomas' date of death as the 19th, but someone who read it off the stone for Robert McLeish's monument book recorded it as the 12th.  Either set of eyes might have fallen prey to sunshine and shadows, or moss and dirt on the stone.  I cleaned the stone carefully first with a wire brush, so I think mine is correct. Several other trees replicate the OneWorldTree fiction that his death was on the 9th of August.  I don't know where anyone got that idea; the month is clearly December, and that is confirmed by the Monument Inscriptions book, a digital copy of which I can forward to anyone who is interested.  Even the Thomas Gilkerson listed in the burial registry - more about him below - died in December. Neither of them died in August - that date is just another example of the stitching-together of fictional details, I guess.

    A local Lesmahagow historian, our cousin James ("Jimmie") Hamilton (who died in early 2004) claimed that "there was only one graveyard which served the whole parish and that was the Abbeygreen burial ground."  He said that "no matter what breakaway congregations they were attached to, they were all buried in it" - although many graves might have remained unmarked. If a family had thriving progeny and a gravestone, one might expect to find that person's burial registered in the cemetery's official registry. They were stalwarts of that church, and Thomas the grandson, the soldier and mason most likely to have taken the lead in the carving of the gravestone of his father William, ran and taught the Sunday School at his church, after his retirement from the army, for a great many years.    

    There was, however, no Thomas Gilchrist in the burial registry for the cemetery.  There was, however, a Thomas Gilkerson, and there is what we might call "a fair chance" that this was the same person.  I say that because Thomas Gilkerson died the same month, although his age is shown as 67 rather than 68 - but there is no Thomas Gilchrist listed in the burial register and no Thomas Gilkerson on any of the cemetery monuments even though he was recorded as being buried there, so it seems plausible that both names refer to the same person.  This "cemetery anomaly" might be best explained by a change in custom in the region as to how the name should be spelled:

    Name spellings were quite fluid in those days, depending on which clerk was recording them: William's name was also recorded as Gilkrest in the 1841 census - this was during a transitional phase from the "Scots" dialect spelling which originated in the early Norse influence to the English form (ie. k to ch) which has been considered more "proper", more "educated" and "upper-crust" in Scotland for the past two hundred years. This may explain why there were so many Gilkersons but no Gilchrists in the region until William's banns of marriage were recorded.  Interestingly, Jimmy Hamilton transcribed interviews of his Lesmahagow neighbours in the dialect he terms "the Doric" right into the late 20th century - oral custom being more tenacious than rules of spelling. (By "Doric" he meant more rustic, more rural - originally a Greek term, the opposite of "Attic", which meant sophisticated and urbane, and of the city folk who lived in Athens.)

    There is further support for this assumption about a name change in the family tree from a descendant of Thomas Gilkerson through his son James Gilkerson to his son John Gilchrist and his son James Gilchrist - the same kind of sudden name shift. In this way the Gilchrist name in that region became altered within the first quarter of the nineteenth century.  The 1783 Parish census shows a list of Gilkersons and no Gilchrists; but the 1821 Lesmahagow census (which was supposed to be destroyed, but a record survived) shows only Gilchrists except for three Gilchristsons, and two Gilchrisons, which could simply be a spelling in transition from Gilkerson - it may have seemed a more precise pronunciation and spelling.  Some writers have called names with "son" at the end "Anglicized", to distinguish them from those with the more Gaelic "Mac" at the front, as in MacGilchrist (yes, there were also some of those, from the west coast).  However, it was also a very Norse construction, sometimes spelled and pronounced "soun", and as a study of the region shows, there was a lot of early Norse influence in placenames, as well as family names.  (There were also Norman, French and Flemish names resulting from various land grants.)

[Important:  If you are a descendant of William Gilchrist and Isabella Sharp (or Sharpe), do not take any of the following paragraph as factual information for your ancestry tree! It is merely here in case it can be linked to some future documentation discovery, and it is probably irrelevant to our tree: 
    There was a James Gilkerson who lived in Auchenbeg from the 1680's to the 1760's.

    I'm told that his son John Gilkerson was born circa 1714, worked as a weaver and married Katharine Millar, daughter of James and Anna Millar - however, I haven't got the registry sources for any of these details at the moment, and I'm suspicious because the names and dates below match the John Gilchristson and Cathrine Millar I mentioned above, and I actually have seen the registry entry for them upon Thomas' birth.  The other details: they were married on November 27th, 1736 at Auchenbeg, in the Parish of Lesmahagow.  They had perhaps as many as seven children, and we know the names of five of them:  Anna (b. 1737), James (b. 1739), John (b. 1742), Thomas (b. 1749) and William (b. 1751).  There may have been a child between Thomas and William, and another after William.  The Thomas from this family would have been age 67 at death, not 68 as the tombstone states, which makes it possible that this is the Thomas Gilkerson in the Lesmahagow Cemetery burial registry; but perhaps our Thomas Gilchrist was really an altogether different individual who simply doesn't appear in surviving parochial records, and wasn't entered into the burial registry for some reason.  The naming patterns are similar in that we do have a James, a John, a Thomas and a William, but we also have a Robert, (and of course a Janet and a Margaret, named after their maternal and paternal grandmothers).  The name "Anna" appears nowhere downstream on our family tree, and William named no daughters Katharine, or Millar.  So this could be our Thomas's father, but it probably isn't...and there's no way to be sure, no way to know one way or the other, at this point.  One is tempted to simply say, "Oh for Pete's sake, they just changed their names a lot depending on who was doing the recording, and there weren't any others at that place and time", but that becomes conjecture, and the other elements don't square up, either.  And in fact, there were a surprising number of Gilchrists, Gilkersons and Gilchristsons with only about a dozen common Christian names, in that and nearby parishes.]

What we do know:

        William became a quarrier (listed as such on the census), which was a skilled trade at the time, and possibly a stone mason during the Industrial Revolution because it paid better than weaving - about twice as much; and also because handloom weaving as a cottage industry was giving way to larger weaving factories in New Lanark, Stonehouse, and other centres.  There was a great amount of building going on in the region. It was very heavy work, naturally, and unfortunately there was also a lot of silicosis, "stone-cutters disease" (a.k.a. "consumption" and "Potter's rot"), and no awareness of the need for protective equipment, none of which had even been designed by then. That might explain why at the age of sixty he was "partially disabled, and suffering from asthma", and was back to weaving stockings for a living.

        William married Isabella Sharp (b. 1804 in Rothesay, Bute; d. 24/4/1860 in Crossford); her father John and mother Janet were a weaver family also.  They were married on December 24th, 1824, but probably didn't recognise the date as Christmas Eve, since Christmas wasn't celebrated in Scotland in those days.
They had nine children, two of whom died in infancy.  The man in uniform in the photo below is William's son, my great-great-grandfather Thomas Gilchrist, b. June 27th, 1830.  Thomas began his working life below the age of 10 as a cotton handloom weaver, but joined the Royal Sappers and Miners in 1851, at age 20, enlisting as a "Mason". He served in the Crimean War and eventually settled on a farm in Nova Scotia in 1872 after his discharge, where he taught masonry and concrete work to his son William, but passed on his weaving skills to at least one grandson, Alec, who left a lovely piece of handloom weaving which is still in our possession as a family heirloom.


     Left to right: Robert (we used to think this was James, but James died at age 5 according to the tombstone), John, Thomas and William - according to my father's notes on the photo. I don't have a photograph which includes their parents or the sisters.  I now believe that this photo was taken of the brothers when they all returned home to bury their father, in 1866. Thomas is wearing his full corporal stripes, which he earned in 1864, as well as his Crimea Medal and Clasp for Sebastopol, and his Turkish Medal.  We have a small diary from Thomas which covers those years.  It is sad that female children were not, one assumes, considered important enough in those days to be included in such a significant photograph on such a momentous would have been "unseemly", perhaps - but I would have loved to see what my female ancestral relatives looked like.

    Thomas' siblings were: Janet (b. 2O/lO/1825 in Dalserf), Margaret (b. 5/2/1828 in Hazlebank), John (b. 7/6/1832 in Auchenheath), William (b. 1836 in Lesmahagow), James (supposedly b. 1838 in Lesmahagow; however, the gravestone says he died age 5 in 1841, so he might have been a twin to William), Isabella (b. 1840 in Lesmahagow), James (b. 1843; lived 11 months), and Robert (b. 1846 in Lesmahagow). There may have been a final child named Marion as well - I remember seeing her listed just over on the next page of the old parish registry in Lesmahagow, but for some reason I don't have any other information about her at the moment.
    [A note regarding the two James': apparently it was quite common in those days to name a new child after a previous one who had died.  This may have had something to do with the fact that children were named in honour of parents and grandparents, so if they died, the honour had to be "re-bestowed", as it were, in the naming of a future child.]

    The eldest daughter Janet married William Fraser, who was the informant listed on William's death record; her younger brother William Gilchrist was recorded living in her house on the 1851 census - he was 16, and perhaps couldn't live with his parents at that age.  Some of Janet's descendants now live in Australia, which I learned when contacted by one of them, Jeanette Byfield.  She also has descendants here in Canada - Sheila Massi and Linda Hunter.  I have a Fraser tree and descendancy chart in my father's binder collection, and a letter and some photos from Jeanette.  Some of that family emigrated to New Zealand, as well.
    Janet is known as Janet Hill Gilchrist by her descendants; Hill was her grandmother Janet Sharp's maiden surname.  It was at this time that middle names were becoming popular in Scotland, but I don't know of middle names for any of her younger siblings.  Her nieces and nephews, particularly Thomas' and Robert's children, seem to have been given middle names, also.  For example, her nephew Robert also got his grandmother's maiden name, Sharp, as a middle name, but his first cousin, my great-grandfather, was William Thomas Gilchrist, so middle names began to follow more relaxed rules in that generation - his middle name was not a grandmother's maiden name, but the Christian name of his father and great-grandfather.

     In August of 2008 I was contacted by a descendant of Janet, Isabel Gilchrist, and exchanged a short series of emails.  She wrote:
     "I was very interested to find information about our great great great grandparents, William Gilchrist and Isabella Sharp, on your webpage.
     "My great great grandmother was Janet Hill Gilchrist, 1825 - 1899; my great grandmother was Janet Fraser, 1854 - 1926; my grandmother was Janet Gilchrist Muir, 1888 - 1969; my father was John William Shaw, 1920 - 1997. I was born Isabel Macpherson Shaw in 1954, named after my maternal grandmother. I married Daniel Gerard Gilchrist 27 years ago, and now have the same married name as our great great great grandmother, Isabel(la) Gilchrist, whose father was also called John!!"
     Although Isabel is Methodist and her father was a Methodist minister in Lanarkshire, her husband Daniel Gerard Gilchrist is Catholic, and therefore represents a more distant bough of our family tree. His father was Thomas Gilchrist, born in Baillieston, his grandfather was John Gilchrist who won a military medal at Ypres, and his great grandparents were Thomas Kilchrest and Jane Cunningham, both Roman Catholics, who married in 1871 in Kilmore parish, County Armagh, Ireland.
     Isabel continued, "After finding your website last night, I stayed up into the early hours of the morning to research this and was able to tell my husband this morning! We knew the names of his great grandparents but not the different spelling of the surname. The Armagh birth and baptism records  have the following 'Gilchrist' spellings: Kilcreest, Chilchrist, Kilchrist, Kilgriest, Cilchrist, Gilcriest and Gilgrist!"  In that regard, here's an interesting link to Irish spelling versions of our surname, at - I can't be sure how long the link will stay active, but I'll keep my fingers crossed.  

    The following fascinating record, supplied by my Scottish friend from the Archive Office in Glasgow, suggests that William and Isabella weren't that well off in their golden years, although you'd expect they may have had some unofficial support from various of the children whether at home or away:

Lanarkshire Poor Law Records - Year 1856 - CO1/47/32 - Entry No. 9
In August, 1856 William Gilchrist aged 60 of Crossford applied for Assistance from the Parish Council. The inspector classified him as being Partially Disabled and suffering from Asthma. He noted that William was Weaving Stockings. Other residents in the house were his wife Isabella [50] and son Robert [11].
The inspector then requested details of other members of the family.
Janet, Married, Wm. Frazer [5 of a family]
Margaret, Widow and Pauper
Thomas, Single, Soldier
John, Md, Van Driver
William, Md, Miner
Isabella, Single, At Service

Assistance was granted to cover the rent of the home and provision for the child Robert. In 1859 provision for Robert was stopped because he was then 13 years old which was the accepted age for employment. William continued to receive assistance to pay his rent until his death in 1866.

Comments from my friend, slightly paraphrased:  As Old William worked for so many years as a Quarrier, it is probable that his exposure to so much dust led to his Asthmatic condition. The rest of the family were already away from home, as can be seen from the list. Isabella was working At Service, most likely living in with the family she was working for. It is a surprise to see that Margaret is listed as widow and pauper already, at such a young age.

The Australian Branch:

    Robert moved to Renfrew, near Glasgow.  I'm guessing that he'd somehow parlayed the weaving background of the family (through my Dad, I've inherited a piece of weaving from my great-uncle Alex that he made in convalescence after his WWI head injury) into a tailoring apprenticeship, eventually owning his own business.  He married an Irish lass named Lettia, aka Laticia (sometimes Letitia) Drennan:

    YEAR 1873  MARRIAGE CERTIFICATE Reg.No.566 Entry No.1  Inchinnan
After banns according to the Forms of the Free Church of Scotland on the 13th June, 1873 at Craigend, Inchinnan. ROBERT GILCHRIST (27), Tailor, (Bachelor), of Broomlands, Inchinnan and LATICIA DRENNAN (27) Dress-maker (Spinster) of Craigend, Inchinnan. Parents William Gilchrist, Quarrier
(dec.) and Isabella Gilchrist (Ms. Sharp) (dec.) James Drennan (Agricultural Labourer) (dec.) and Letitia Drennan (Ms. Carson).
Signed Andrew MacTurk, Minister.  Witnesses John Renfrew and Jane Drennan.
Registered on 16th June, 1873 at Inchinnan. Signed John C. Crawford, Registrar. 

     They had a clothier business on 102 High Street, (at Craigsend, Inchinnan, I believe, basically a suburb of Renfrew) employing "3 Men, 3 Boys and 4 Girls", according to the 1881 census.  The census puts him at age 35, and as having come from Lesmahagow, Lanark. His Australian descendant Jenny Page wrote about as many as nine (now ten, actually) children whom they named "Jane Drennan b 5 June 1874, Isabella Sharp b 20th August, 1875, William Carson b abt 1877 - d 6 Feb 1917, Robert Sharp b 1879 d 1880, Annie Morrison b & d 1880, James Drennan b abt 1878 & John Drennan Carson b Jan 1884 - my great grandfather. Annie Morison, was born in Emu Flat on 27 Sept 1887, near Clare in South Australia but died a month later and Letitia died a month after that."  Later she added, "There were also two other daughters that I discovered after my first posting - Jessie b, abt 1883 and Maggie b. abt 1886." Maggie would seem to have been born on the ship, during passage to Australia.
     It had become customary to give your children middle names around that time, and surnames of past in-laws were considered appropriate, which helps even further with tracing lineage. Jenny Page says elsewhere that Annie Morrison died in 1881; however, she also writes (see below) that the Annie born in 1887 was Annie Drennan, who was born and died in infancy in 1887 at Emu Flats, near Clare, Australia, shortly after the family arrived there.  Now, Jenny also says in another posting that Letitia herself died within a month of her arrival in Australia, so perhaps mother and daughter both perished in or as a result of complications at childbirth, or within a month of each other; however, the name inconsistencies in Jenny's accounts, including a tree she has posted on RootsWeb with incorrect names (and repeated by various cousins, it would seem), leave me wondering how much of her tree is based on shifting oral accounts from various sources, how much from inaccuracies already published in a badly flawed tree on RootsWeb in 2005, and how much from speculation, rather than census data or other documentary sources. Mind you, she might also have made a few simple errors and not spotted them in her own proofing until much later, if at all - I've certainly come across similar errors of my own, over the years.  Later I learned of yet another daughter, Janet Fraser Gilchrist, this time documented elsewhere, who was born in 1892 - see below.

    Anyway, sometime around 1887, it seems, Robert moved his family to sunny Australia, arriving in Victoria on the Loch Sloy, in Sept 1887, "port B".  His son William Carson Gilchrist enlisted in the Australian Army at the age of "39 2/12ths" on June 13th, 1916, and his entry into Australia was recorded as being at age 10.  He had been a "tailor's traveller" by occupation, a salesman for the family business, Clare Clothiers - Clare being a small town in South Australia, not far from AdelaideHe was a small man, 5' 2 1/4", 150 lbs; he was sent to cold, damp England for training in October, but that must have been his undoing, because he died of bronchitis the following year, after surviving only one winter.  He left everything in his will to his younger brother James Drennan Gilchrist of "Clare Clothier", who was the executor of his will, and his youngest brother John.  His sister Isabella Sharp Gilchrist was recorded on his enlistment form as living in Napier, a town in New Zealand.  I got the following leads and links for this information from his great-great-granddaughter Leanne Tysoe, who lives in Perth, Australia - William married Lucy Carter, Leanne's great-grandmother.  and

    Jenny Page, née Gilchrist, wrote a connecting bit of info on Rootsweb in 2007:
Hi! My name is Jenny Page. My grandfather was John Drennan Carson Gilchrist. He emigrated to Australia from Renfrew, Scotland with his father, Robert Gilchrist (clothier & tailor), his mother Leticia (formerly Drennan) and brothers William Carson and James. They moved some time after John's birth in Renfrew in Jan 1884 and the birth (& death) of Annie Drennan Gilchrist in Sept 1887 at Emu Flat (near Clare) South Australia. I know that John's sister Annie Morrisom Gilchrist died in 1881 but do not know the fate of his other sister, Isabella Sharp (b. 1875) and there is no sign of her in Australia. ALL of the Gilchrist trees I have found have left my grandfather out. I'm just letting the Gilchrist community know that this family branch continues."

    Jenny Page lived in Adelaide in 2007; I wish I’d remembered and tried to find her when I was there in March of 2011.  She referred at one point to her great-grandfather as Robert Sharp Gilchrist, but this the first time I’d seen any notion of Robert using his mother’s maiden name as his middle name; according to the records I have, Robert and Letitia named their son, b. 1879, Robert Sharp Gilchrist, which makes a lot more sense in terms of Scottish naming patterns and the dates at which middle names began to be used by our ancestors.  Robert Sharp Gilchrist died at the age of 17 months, however, in 1880.  I've tried to contact Jenny by email, without success; I wish I could, because now I have answers for her questions about Isabella, and news of a younger sister of her grandfather that she may never have known about. 

    According to Jenny, her great aunts would have been ages 13 and 12 when the rest of the family arrived in Victoria, Australia.  They may have been dropped off in N Z when the rest of the family continued to South Australia, or they may have been sent back there. They were both still single in 1907 when they (with a Rev. R. M. Fraser) visited their family in South Australia. Isabella's address when her brother went to war in 1916 was c/o Mr J B Fielder, Milton Road, N Z.  I also suspect from something else I've read, but can't remember where or how this fit together, that the family stopped in New Zealand, but perhaps the two oldest girls were sent back to New Zealand almost right away, when their mother died.  I was a little surprised that at least one of them wouldn't have been kept on hand to care for their younger siblings, but Jenny says elsewhere that "record of any of the girls, Jane, Isabella, Jessie and Maggie, stops. I believe they went to New Zealand."  One might speculate, in joining up the dots, including the fact that Robert's oldest sister Janet married William Fraser and that some of her children ended up in Australia, that the four girls might all have been sent to live with older cousins, and at least two of them actually returned with a cousin to visit their father and brothers in 1907.  My esteemed Scottish friend reports to me that "Isabella Sharp Gilchrist appears in the Napier census and voters rolls for the years 1911, 1914, 1919, 1928, 1935, and 1938", and also that she "Found an NZ site which has death index online.  Working forward from 1938 I found her in 1945.  It is possible to order the certificate if wished. 
DEATH  1945/23079   Isabella Sharp Gilchrist  69YRS".

    At one point Jenny thought Isabella’s married name might have been Napier, but that’s probably a confusion explained by a fellow genealogy correspondent who stated,

“New Zealand Wises Post Office Directory 1915 lists:
FIELDER, Jno Beckett, Secretary, Hawkes Bay Building Society, 26 Milton Road, Napier.
I would think that Isabella was using this address as a 'mail drop' - if she was a member of the Building Society this was a common thing to do at that time particularly if she was in rented accommodation, it was a more secure delivery point for her mail."

Electoral Roll for Napier in both 1914 and 1919 lists: "GILCHRIST Isabella, spinster, living in Milton Rd, Napier.” 
So, unmarried, at least to the age of 44.

    We also know that Jenny's grandfather John Drennan Carson, Isabella's brother, was in New Zealand for a few years because his eldest two children Doreen and Keith, Jenny's aunt and uncle, were born there: "NZ  BIRTH  1904/3341   Doreen     Parents John Drennan Carson Gilchrist & Florence Ada", but he and Florence moved back to South Australia for the birth of their subsequent children.
  Jenny was searching in 2007 for the birth dates of her "Aunt Doreen Gilchrist & Uncle Keith Gilchrist who were born in N Z some time between 1904 & 1916. Their parents were John Drennan Carson Gilchrist & Florence Ada Gilchrist, née Symons."  Jenny says that "John D. C. (also a tailor) went to N. Z. after his marriage to Florence in 1903. Their first two children, Doreen & Bert were born there. (I do not know their birth dates but there was about a 10 year gap before the first of the other children was born back in South Australia in 1916)."  Also, "John Winston, Neil (my father) & William Brian were born in Balaklava, South Aust. where I was born", and Jenny notes that her father Neil was also a tailor.  Neil and William Brian are listed as buried in the Balaklava cemetery.

The following digitized text is on Trove from The Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1931 - 1954) Monday 22 April 1946, page 10, Family Notices:

GILCHRIST. —On April 20 (suddenly),
John Drennan Carson, beloved husband of
Florence Ada Gilchrist, of Balaklava, and
loving father of Doreen (Mrs. B. H. Phil
lips), Keith, Winston, Neil and Brian.
Aged 63 years.

     So, that places John D. C. Gilchrist's birth at the year 1883, two years after the 1881 census in Renfrew.  Doreen, Keith, Winston, Neil and Brian, would have been about the age of my grandfather William Sidney Gilchrist, and b
y all possibilities, there are still more living descendants of Robert's line in Australia, of roughly my age and younger, who are the grandchildren of these cousins.  Since Isabella remained a spinster in New Zealand until past child-bearing age, she would not have had descendants.  At this point a new sibling appears: there is a Janet Fraser Gilchrist born in 1892, a dressmaker (an obvious trade for the daughter of a tailor) who married in New Zealand in 1910.  In Isabella Sharp Gilchrist's death notice of July 23rd 1945 in Napier, in the Daily Telegraph, she is noted as the "beloved sister" of this Janet Fraser Gilchrist, below, who married Hugh Duncan Stevenson.  Isabella's name, age and other details are a perfect match, yet this is the first appearance of yet a fourth sister, this time a full seventeen years younger. 

Paul Turner of Adelaide contacted me in April of 2015 to say, "... my cousins on one side of the family are Gilchrists.  They are children of Neil Gilchrist who seems from my reading of your research is a son of John DC and Florence A Gilchrist.

"Co-incidentally my wife and I were in Balaklava for the first time in many years on Saturday (25/4) and I dug back into my childhood memories to try to identify the Gilchrist shop and house in the town. I did find Neil's name on the WWII honour board. I was just doing a bit of digging today and came up with some references to Neil - see the War Memorial mention. He fought in WWII and was in the siege of Tobruk which was a famous part of Australian military history.

[ed. The web page is here.]


Service Numbers: SX7266
Enlisted: 29 June 1940, Wayville, SA
Last Rank: Lieutenant
Born: Balaklava, 27 August 1918
Home Town: Balaklava, Wakefield, South Australia

World War 2 Service

29 Jun 1940: Lieutenant

"I think Neil died in the mid 1950s - at a very young age. In those days children did not get told much about death so I did not go to his funeral (I think I was about 7- 8 yearsold) 

"He married my father's sister, Joan Turner, in 1943 and their children were Judy, Margie, David and Jenny."


I was hoping to find living Stevensons in Napier while there in February of 2012, to see if they have held onto any history of their great-aunts; but I had no contact with any of them at the time.  I do now.  A study of online records found the following extra details about Hugh Duncan Stevenson, provided to me by my Scottish researcher friend:


2.  There is only one child noted being born in NZ, Hugh Kenneth Stevenson, in 1895 (17448). His mother was Ada, and she was 25.
3.  Ada Cecilia Stevenson, née Townsend, died aged 38 in 1909 (8758)
4.  His marriage to Janet Fraser Gilchrist wasn't until 14.11.10  She was 33 and he was 39.  She was his second wife.
5.  There is no record of any children being born to her.
6.   His son Hugh Kenneth died in 1918 (24512), unmarried and leaving no children - the following record says 1917, however:

            Auckland War Memorial  WW1 1914-18   
            Sergeant Hugh Kenneth Stevenson
            Wellington Infantry Regiment,  Serial No.10/998,
            Embarked 16th October, 1914 Wellington.    
            Killed in action on the Messines Campaign 7th June, 1917 Belgium.    Unmarried.   Enlistment address:  Nelson Crescent, Napier, New Zealand   
            Next of kin:  Hugh Duncan Stevenson

7.   Hugh Sr's second wife Janet Fraser Stevenson, née Gilchrist died in 1943 (28324), aged 61 (actually two years prior to her sister Isabella, then - that detail wasn't conveyed by the earlier mentioned Daily Telegraph obituary for Isabella)                                  
8.   Hugh Duncan Stevenson died in 1961 (27770), aged 90 yrs.
"Presumably, they are all buried in the same graveyard.  This is all rather disappointing with regards to finding a living descendant.  Were there any kids born elsewhere?  If so, then they should be mentioned in the Census.  Since the gentleman lived to such a good age, I am sure there must be some people in the Church or perhaps a Tailor's Association who could give you some information."

St Paul's Presbyterian Church Marriage Register
Bk12 reg.215     14th November, 1910   
Janet Fraser Gilchrist, Dressmaker, 
Hugh Duncan Stevenson, Tailor (Widower)

Marriage  1910/6347
Janet Fraser Gilchrist and Hugh Duncan Stevenson

Death   1943/28324
Janet Fraser Stevenson   61 yrs

Death 1961/27770
Hugh Duncan Stevenson  90 yrs

Death  1968/45521  
Janet Fraser    76 yrs (I'm not sure who this one is, since Merryn says she has the 1965 death certificate of Janet Gilchrist Fraser who lived on Levin Farm after the Napier earthquake)

     No word on the other three girls, Jane, Jessie and Maggie yet, however.

In April of 2015 I got an email from Ebany "Ebbs" Stevenson, who informed me:

"I am the great great great granddaughter of Hugh Duncan Stevenson who had lived in Napier, New Zealand. I had been looking for information about my great great great uncle Hugh Kenneth Stevenson and came across your web page Lesmahagow Origins.
"I have very little information about my Stevenson family but what I do know is that Hugh Duncan and Ada Townsend also had my great great grandfather Alan McIvor Stevenson, he too fought in ww1 and survived you can find him on the online cenotaph-Auckland war memorial.
"Alan married an Ida Graham from Whanganui and had two boys Donald Graham Stevenson, NZ6301 RNZN, And my Great Grandfather Ian McIvor Stevenson ( born in 1920). Ian  married my great grandmother Gwyneth nee Carroll and had three boys. David john, Graham, and my grandfather Alec McIvor Stevenson in Wellington.
"Alec married my grandmother Virginia Palmer and had three children Alec Jnr, My mother Wendy and my Aunt Debbie. They all have had 2 children each my brother and I are the oldest out of the cousins and between us cousins Hugh Duncan Stevenson has 12 g g g g grandchildren. Alec and Virginias marriage  was not a good one and my mum and her siblings were isolated from the extended family, we would see my great Grandfather Ian and Nana Gwen occasionally. And I email my great uncle David who is a professor in America sporadically.
"I have never met my Grandfather Alec or any other family members on my Stevenson side (apart from my great Uncle David and Graham).
 "I had not known that Hugh remarried after Ada, I am most interested to know if they did indeed have any children after my gg grandfather.
 "I hope I have made some sense, that may help you. We Stevensons are still here and will be for many generations."

The Frasers

     Janet Hill Gilchrist Fraser had as many as ten children with William Fraser, including a son Richard Fraser who also went to Australia. Richard had a sister Janet Watson Fraser, according to Linda Hunter; descendant and tree-builder Steven Fraser thought she could have been named Janet Gilchrist Fraser, but Watson makes more sense if that was William's mother's maiden name (i.e. Janet's maternal grandmother).  She would have been 35 and apparently unmarried at the time, and Richard would have been 25.  He married Mary McIntyre MacArthur, and they had seven children, including a daughter who was definitely named Janet Gilchrist Fraser, and is also recorded by one list of online Frasers as having died, unmarried, in Napier, N. Z. possibly in the "1927 earthquake" in Napier - which actually happened in 1931, however.  She also writes (sic), "Another bit of family lore that I recall, however, there were aunts who went to New Zealand and were lost in the earthquake.  We know now that only Janet went to N.Z. but perhaps she went with Gilchrist cousins and the Gilchrist family in Australia as well as the Fraser family, still in Scotland, lost touch with these young women."  This might explain the lost contact with some or all of the three girls I've mentioned in the previous paragraphs.  We do know what happened to Janet Gilchrist Fraser, however, as you'll see just a few more paragraphs on.
    Linda Hunter tells us that "Janet Watson Fraser married twice, her last husband being a Muir and they had a daughter Janet." 
This would seem to connect with Isabel Gilchrist's lineage, further up this page - she explains that she is the daughter of "Janet Gilchrist Muir", b. 1888.      
    "Janet Watson Fraser's first child appears to have been born out of wedlock - he was named William Fraser and was raised in the home of William and Janet Fraser" (i.e. his grandparents). 
    "Richard's daughter was Janet Gilchrist Fraser and it was this person who went to New Zealand.  We don't know what year she went to New Zealand but as my grandmother" (Sarah) "- the eldest child of Richard and Mary - arrived in Canada in 1910, it is conceivable that her sister Janet, who was closest in age, also left home at the same time - only to go to New Zealand.  In my family line of Frasers, emigration to Australia began in 1921 with Kate, followed in 1925 with Maggie and a year later William (father of Jeanette Byfield who, by the way, passed away a few years ago).  In 1928 Richard and Mary joined their children in Australia." 

Linda continues: "Richard Fraser and his wife Mary McIntyre McArthur emigrated to Australia in 1928. Mary died shortly thereafter and Richard passed away in 1934.   Prior to going to Australia, they came to Canada to visit daughter Sarah (my grandmother) and family. He was a coalminer.  Richard remained in Scotland except for a period spent in India.  He was a tailor and taught at the School for the deaf and dumb in Glasgow."  This couple may also have visited my g-g-grandfather Thomas in Nova Scotia; my great-aunt Burnice told me before she died that there was someone, she thought a brother of Thomas, but certainly a relative, who visited them in Pictou before continuing on their way to New Zealand.

Merryn Cadle clarifies: ""Richard Fraser (Snr) came to Australia and died 1934 in Neerim, Vic, Australia. Father of my grandmother Maggie. Richard (Jnr), brother of Maggie died in Scotland in 1963." He was Richard the son, the tailor who taught in Glasgow.

Merryn adds: "It was part of the deal when my Grandmother Maggie (their daughter) married John McPhail that her parents could come to Australia and live with her. (Richard and Mary are buried in Neerim Cemetery in Gippsland, Vic)". 

         Linda Hunter got new information from Merryn Cadle, that Janet Gilchrist Fraser resurfaced after the earthquake: New Zealand Electoral Roles - Otaki General Role, Wellington - Levin Farm, Kimberly Rd.  (Levin Farm was a Mental Deficiency Colony and renamed as Kimberly Centre open from 1945 - 2005).  She was listed as a spinster.

1946 - Role # 3856
1949 - Role # 4994
1954 - Role # 4763

1963 District of Porirua, Region of Wellington, Porirua Hospital (Mental Hospital) - Cook - Role #42

In going through the Electoral rolls, Linda states, as indicated above: "The earliest I've come across Janet Fraser that could be our Janet is 1938, a spinster, living at 10 Man St. (Main?) Palmerston North. From 1946 she is shown living at Levin Farm (a mental institution) until 1957 when she is living at 8 Roberts Rd., Wairarapa, Cook; then in 1963, at Porirus Hospital as a Cook."

Merryn Cadle confirms: "Janet Gilchrist Fraser died 27.12.1965 in NZ, daughter of Richard Snr (I have the death certificate) Buried Old Levin Cemetery, Levin (bottom of North Island) General Row 24 Plot 55. Her sister, my grandmother, assumed she died in the 1931 Napier earthquake or the following tsunami - however she worked for decades as a cook in the 1930s to 60s in lunatic asylums/homes. Ex inmate??? No one knows." 

In September 2014 Merryn and her husband Mark provided a lovely blue marker for Janet Gilchrist Fraser, and described their research and a strip of photos of their trip to her gravesite in Levin, where Janet worked as a Scottish spinster lady in the Kimberley Centre canteen as a cook, rather than Merryn's initial speculation that she might have been an ex-inmate, although who knows under what conditions she arrived there in the first place.  This discussion and the photos can all be enjoyed on our Facebook group, mentioned at the head of this page.  There's quite a bit of useful material accumulating there - no point duplicating it all on this page.

I'd be very curious to know why Robert's daughters and Richard Fraser's daughter were both drawn to Napier, Hawkes Bay, New Zealand.  Who did they know there?  Did Richard Fraser actually end up there himself?  Who was the "Rev. R. M. Fraser" who accompanied Robert's daughters back to visit their father and brothers in Clare, near Adelaide?  I hope other descendants of Robert or of his sister Janet Hill Gilchrist Fraser might someday read this and provide further insight.

The remaining Glasgow Branch:

    John married Margaret Watson (pp. 30-31 of the Lanark SRI) from Lanark. William Gilchrist and Isabella Sharp are listed as his parents on the marriage entry, so we can be sure of this:

1856 MARRIAGE CERTIFICATE Reg.648/1 Entry No.60 Lanark
On the 27th November, 1856 at 47 High Street, Lanark, after banns, was
solemnized between us according to the forms of the Established Church.
Signed JOHN GILCHRIST (23) Bachelor, Warehouseman, 32 Blackfriars Street,
Signed MARGARET WATSON (26) Spinster, Mansfield Place, Barony Parish,
Glasgow. Parents: William Gilchrist, Quarrier, Isabella Gilchrist (Ms Sharp)
John Watson, Wright, Agnes Watson (Ms Currie) Signed Alexander McGlashu,
Minister of Parish of Lanark. Witnesses: William Gilchrist, Thomas Glaister
Registered at Lanark on 29th November, 1856 Signed John Gray Registrar

  They moved to the east end of Glasgow, to Barony, according to the 1881 British Census. He lived at 74 Barrowfield Street (which is now torn down) and worked as a "Vanman", transporting goods by horse and cart in the days before motorized trucks were invented.  His children were named William (a manufacturer's clerk), John (a joiner), Robert (a dyer's clerk), James (a "scholar" still at age 13) and Margaret, who was 11 years old in 1881.  Click here for a page of records that give more information about John's and Robert's families.

    When I was in Glasgow I saw a huge wrought iron gateway with the name "The Barras" close by Barrowfield.  Later I learned that it was - and still is, to an extent - "our version of the Paris flea market, a rich tapestry of Glasgow life which rose from the poverty of the slums which once surrounded it" (ref).  The site was acquired and developed for vending by Maggie McIver in the 1920's, but it has its roots in the Victorian era when goods were sold from barrows there.  John would have delivered goods for the barrow vendors with his horsedrawn van, in a very vibrant, colourful place to live and work.
    (An interesting bit of local colour: "part of the site had been the estate of the late Marion Gilchrist, about whom litigation had been fomenting for over 20 years", making it difficult to procur the site. "Miss Gilchrist is a part of Glasgow's history too, as the woman for whose murder Oscar Slater, wrongly and disgracefully, was to serve 18 years in prison."  This was an incredibly famous case that reverberates in Scotland to this day, and led to the formation of the Scottish Court of Appeal.  Just do a search on Marion and Oscar and see what comes up.  She was no relation to us, however.)

    In the 1891 census, John was recorded as living at 78 Barrowfield in "Camlachie" instead of Barony, but it is the same place.  Camlachie is the name for the parliamentary district, while Barony is the "civil parish". John is aged 58 on this census.  His wife is no longer listed, nor his son John.  Margaret was noted as deceased on her son John's marriage certificate of 1889 to Elizabeth Kinnaird, and presumably they'd moved out to a house of their own by 1891.  John senior's employment is now "warehouseman".  He has three unmarried sons still living in the same house: William, a "ShopKeeper(Spirits)", aged 34, Robert, aged 26 and James, aged 24.  Both the younger men are listed as "Clerk". 
James got married in 1893 to Margaret Douglas Buchanan, and according to my Scottish source, they moved to Girvan, Ayrshire, where they ran James Gilchrist's Wine and Spirits Shop on Dalrymple Street.  A few years later they moved 25 miles north to the town of Ayr where they opened the same business. James died about 1929 and his wife continued to run the business until her death in 1935. Their son James then took over the business and was noted in the records as being a Publican. The business seems to have passed out of the family by late 50's or early 60's.  The pub still stands, but by the turn of this century the its name had been changed to 'Wee Windaes', which refers to the bulls eye window glass.
    James and Margaret had a son John Buchanan Gilchrist who married Francis Vickers Thomson in 1923; they in turn, I believe, had a son James and a daughter Agnes S. - a note in square brackets after her name says "[Mrs G. Shepherd, Preston, England]" - not sure that that means, but I assume it is her husband's name.  James and Margaret also had a daughter, Margaret Buchanan Gilchrist, who married Andrew Farquhar, and they had a son, Douglas Andrew Farquhar.  His family live in Tasmania, and I corresponded with Kate Farquhar in March of 2011 while I was in Australia, but didn't make it over to Tasmania to meet her - I'm hoping to make another trip and meet a number of Gilchrist descendants, perhaps in 2013.
    My source mentioned a second daughter, Joan Watson Gilchrist; only described as "deceased", however.
    John's daughter Margaret, listed as aged 22 on the 1881 census, must have been a housekeeper for the four men; no other occupation is listed.  In 1895 she married John McDermont, a "provision merchant", who was 28 year old.  They are the only remaining family so far found in the 1891 census six years later; John is a "shopkeeper, grocer" then, and an "employer", and he and Margaret have a son named John who is 4 years old.  Her father and brothers don't seem to appear in the 1901 census, but no doubt they and their children still lived and worked in Glasgow, and their descendants should be traceable with enough time and diligence.

    We do have a Death Certificate for John senior:

DEATH CERTIFICATE  Reg.644-3  Entry No.1526
JOHN GILCHRIST [61] Warehouse Packer, Widower of Margaret Watson died August ninth, 1895 at 5h 20m AM at the Royal Infirmary, glasgow. Usual residence 79 Barrowfield Street. Parents William Gilchrist,Quarryman (deceased) Isabella Gilchrist(Ms.Sharp) (deceased)  Cause of death Acute Nephritis 2 months as certified by John Hunter, LRCPS. Informant James Gilchrist, son, 259 Main Street,  Bridgeton, present. Registered on 9th August, 1895 at Glasgow
J. Ferguson, Assistant Registrar.

The family had apparently moved by the 1901 census, I don't know where; but no doubt the children still lived and worked in Glasgow, and their descendants should be traceable with enough time and diligence. This is an entry for his son John at an address which is just around the corner from Barrowfield Street:

1901 GLASGOW CENSUS  Reg. No. 644/2 Enum. Dist. 50 Page 15
26 Fielden Street
JOHN GILCHRIST  [38]  JOINER, Employer b.Glasgow
Elizabeth, Wife [39]  b.Coatbridge
John, son       [11]  Scholar
Elizabeth, dau. [ 7]  Scholar
William, son    [ 3]
Living in a two roomed house with one or more windows.

His little son William's birth is noted also:

YEAR 1897 BIRTH CERTIFICATE Reg.No.644/2 Entry No.926
WILLIAM GILCHRIST was born at 5h 30m AM on 27th May,1889 at 26 Fielden Street, Glasgow. Parents John Gilchrist, Joiner (Master), and Elizabeth Gilchrist (Ms. Kinnaird) Married 12th April, 1889
Camlachie. Registered 15th June, 1889 at Glasgow. Signed W. Sinclair Registrar.

    John's younger brother William was a miner in 1856, and joined the Lesmahagow 37th Lanarkshire Rifle Volunteer Company towards the end of 1859, when the country was threatened with invasion from France; as did James Gilchrist of nearby Kirkmuirhill, ancestor of J. (John) Brian Gilchrist, currently one of Canada's foremost professional genealogists.  Nor do I know what became of Margaret and Marion, although Isabella was listed as "housekeeper", age 21, taking care of her 63 year old father in 1861, after her mother died.  Marion would only have been 12 by then, so if she was left off the census, it is possible that she had died.  William's son William was living at home again then also, at age 26, and so was a granddaughter named Isabella, aged one year. Here are the younger Isabella's birth certificate details:

BIRTH CERTIFICATE Reg.649 Entry No.108 Lesmahagow
ISABELLA GILCHRIST was born on 21st March, 1860 at 1h PM at Crossford, Lesmahagow.           Ilegitmate. Mother Isabella Gilchrist, Domestic Servant
Informant Grandfather William Gilchrist & Occupier.
Registered 2nd April, 1860 at Bankhouse, Lesmahagow. Signed Duncan Campbell, Registrar.

Dec 12th 2015: I'll have to get around to tightening up this collection of details at some point - since this page has been constructed over many years, I can't always remember where one detail can be found to which I want to connect a further detail.  A detail that is in my mind at the moment is that my "cousin" in Scotland mentioned at some point in the past the destruction of some family records by a couple of maiden aunts (I can't identify who they might have been at this point) upon the birth of the younger Isabella above on account of the "shame" that her illegitimate birth brought on the family name.  Not an atypical Scottish reaction; I experienced something similar and very personally more than a century later.  However, census data and birth and death registry continued in the parish, and my friend Pam has today provided some fresh entries to continue that branch of the tree:

1871 Census  Lesmahagow Reg. No.649  District 1  Page 19
Crossford Village
John Sharp   Head  (76)  unmarried   Cotton Weaver  b.Buteshire,Rothesay
Isabella Gilchrist  niece (31)  unmarried Agricultural Labourer  b.Lesma.
Isabella Robertson  grand niece  (11)  Scholar   b.Lesma.
Living in a one roomed house.

There's a discrepancy in John Sharp's age  on the census versus his death certificate which follows, but that sort of estimation of ages was not completely out of character by census clerks in those days.  Likewise, Isabella junior appears to be two years younger than is recorded in her marriage certificate to William Corn.  Maybe vanity played a role...

1876    Death Certificate     Lesmahagow Reg,649    Entry 146 
John Sharp (85) Cotton Weaver,  Single, died on 20th October, 1876 at 7.45 a.m. at Crossford, Lesmahagow.
Parents  John Sharp,  Cotton Weaver, deceased and Janet Sharp (Ms Hill) deceased.  Cause of death:  Old Age.
Informant: William Fraser, Nephew-in-law.  Registered 20th October, 1876 at Lesmahagow.  Registrar Duncan Campbell.

1879  Marriage Certificate  Lesmahagow   Reg.649  Entry 47
After banns according to the forms of the United Presbyterian Church.  William Corn (37) Bachelor, Pitheadman, and Isabella Gilchrist (39) Spinster, Outside Worker, were married at Crossford, Lesmahagow on the 17th October, 1879.  Signed William Corn X his mark  Signed Isabella Gilchrist.  Parents: William Corn (Labourer) deceased and Agnes Barr (Ms Smith);  William Gilchrist (Freestone Quarrier) deceased and Isabella Gilchrist (Ms Sharp) deceased.  Signed John Pringle Minister.  Witnesses Janet Fraser and William Brown.  Registered 17.10.1879 at Lesmahagow  Registrar  Duncan Campbell.

    I can't find the younger William living in Lesmahagow in 1881,1891 or 1901, so he must have moved on by then, perhaps to Glasgow, or to a military career building on his experience with the Lanarkshire Volunteer Rifle Company. Great-aunt Burnice told me that one of my great-grandfather William's uncles ended up in Boston, and worked as a merchant, with a Jewish partner.  All I have been able to uncover from this lead is that there was a very famous Gilchrist's Department Store in Boston, founded by a Robert Gilchrist (there are several internet references to it),  but I believe that it was founded in 1824, which is about fifty years too early to have been our Robert; and we know that our Robert went to Australia. She also told me that one brother - perhaps the same one - visited Thomas in Poplar Hill after he settled there in 1872, but she didn't know where he went on to from there. This is still apocryphal information, sadly; we have no old letters or records to verify it.  Burnice also told me that this brother or another one had ended up in Australia. It is true that William (born Lesmahagow 1887, died Australia 1945; grandson of Janet Hill Gilchrist Fraser) and his wife Jean nee Gibson and 9 children  emigrated to Australia in 1926, and now I know that his uncle Robert Gilchrist preceded them, arriving in Australia in 1887, the year William was born.  William's grandmother Janet Hill Gilchrist Fraser died in Lesmahagow in 1899.   My Scottish friend pointed out that the uncle Burnice referred could as easily have had the surname Sharp, rather than Gilchrist.  Another tenuous connection we might expand on later is John Sharp's "grand niece" whose name is listed on the 1871 census of his household as Isabella Robertson, but she was only 11 years old then so she probably had a married surname that I don't know.  A future project for me is to build a large mobile hanging from the ceiling, on which I can connect each individual in this tree listed on luggage tags, so that I can "see the big picture", as it were, a little better.  The main branches remain clear in my mind, but some of the spreading branches are difficult to recall and I'm always afraid that I'll hear from someone that I ought to connect to my tree but won't remember where or to whom.
    This is what is known so far of my family which lived in Scotland in the 19th century. With a little more digging, we'll discover more - including more living descendants of Robert, and some of John, I'm quite sure.  Wouldn't it be great if someone in those family lines had saved some photos and records?

(Click here if you wish to skip directly to the next page, about Thomas)

History of Lesmahagow, Lanark County, district of Strathclyde

In 2001 I discovered that someone- the website didn't indicate who - had begun to put a book online that I had held in my hands and used in the course of my research, the The Annals of Lesmahagow, by J. B. Greenshields, published in 1864.  There's a second source for it now, with  It bears re-reading, especially in the light of the likelihood that we used to call ourselves "Gilkerson" in the 18th century, and may have lived in Lesmahagow parish for centuries before that.  Names changed and evolved; the earliest mentioned Gilcriste Kidd in that region, for example, might have been our ancestor: he had lands along the river Nethan, which flows into the Clyde, circa 1180-1230, and Martha Gilkerson was working on the Craignethan castle estate in 1695; William's family lived where the Nethan joined the Clyde river, in a town appropriately called Crossford - but possibly named for a cross that stood there to mark the bounds of the abbey lands, rather than a place to cross the river - and now apparently called Nethanfoot.  The family walked for ninety minutes along the picturesque Nethan river valley to church every Sunday in the mid-1800's.

Lesmahagow is a town southeast of Glasgow, Scotland in the County of Lanark. The prefix "Les" may be a derivative of Ecclesias, or "church"; "mahagow" is a corruption of St. Machutes, a disciple and companion of the legendary St. Brendan who made an adventurous voyage to the Orkney islands in the mid-6th century. The town is in the district of Strathclyde, the "valley of the Clyde" river (or, the "warm valley").  In pre-parochial days, it was a magnificent agricultural area of oaks and orchards said to have been planted by monks from the Abbey of Kelso who were sent to establish a monastery and abbey in Lesmahagow.  The area retains a great deal of that beauty today, although sheep and cattle farms have taken hold as well.  The earliest history is to be found in the Book of Kelso, and the 1864 historical account is fascinating to read. 

There is evidence that a Culdean (early Celtic) monastery existed at Lesmahagow since the days of St. Machutes back in the 6th century. Monks appear to have fanned outward from the Solway, and monasteries and abbeys arose at Sweetheart Abbey and New Abbey near Dumphries, farther north in Melrose, and many other locations, including the largest and most famous, the Abbey at Kelso. It is likely that my ancestors were employed by these abbeys, which were tremendously wealthy and supported huge local economies; we have a name that might have signified membership in a particular chapter of an order, similar to Gilpatrick, Gillespie, Gilmagu, and so on.  The monks lived in relative comfort and security, and the Prior lived like a prince, probably in a fine home located at a place still named Priorhill.  At Kelso, at one time, the monks "owned 6600 sheep, besides large herds of cows and swine, oxen for their numerous plows, a stud of brood mares, mills to which their vassals were "thirled", brewing houses, mansions in burghs, and fishing".  The Lord Abbot "had a retinue of servants; and kept horses, hawks, and hounds, and had pleasure boats, gardens, lawns and orchards.  His attire on ceremonial occasions was gorgeous".  Not quite what we mean today when we refer to "the monastic life"...and it all ultimately led to the Reformation, of course. 

In earlier days, the Britons defended Strathclyde against the more northern Picts, the "Irish Scots" of Dalriada (modern Kintyre), the Saxons of Northumberland, and the Cruithne of Ulster. The Saxons formed a union with the Picts at the end of the 8th century, and in the middle of the 9th, Kenneth mac Alpine united the Picts and Scots. The Britons were gradually overwhelmed, and the Kingdom of Strathclyde broke up by the end of the century; many of the petty chiefs apparently emigrated with their tribes to Wales, to a kindred race of people with a similar language. If there were any Giolla Chriosts in this movement of people, their descendants may eventually have returned as the Gilchrist Bretnach (= "Briton-man", or Welshman) mentioned on an earlier page of my website, on the History of the Name. A man of this name witnessed a land charter in Carric in 1200 A.D., according to the abbey register of Melrose. (Perhaps he was a hold-over, a Briton who stayed behind when the others were pushed out; but it seems unlikely that his neighbors would continue to recognise his racial identity three centuries after the disappearance of his people, so I suspect he was a returnee connected with the maintenance of the abbey.)

The lowlands were re-populated with "divers tribes of divers nations from divers parts": Anglo-Saxons, Picts, "Scoto-Irish", and a great wave of "gall-gaidhil" from Galloway. In the 12th century, land grants were awarded to Flemish noble families, which resulted in the people of Lesmahagow being governed by the Hamiltons.

In 1144 A.D. King David I granted the church, in the central village of Abbeygreen, and all the lands of Lesmahagu to the Abbey of Kelso, and a monastery of Tyronensian monks (from the Diocese of Chartres in France) was established - one of six in Scotland - under the approval of the Bishop of Glasgow. They had already built the church, within the first two decades of the century, so the grant was rather a formality. A lot of local men gave away large chunks of their lands to this monastery in return for "fraternity" and a sort of afterlife insurance.

We know that there was a Gilchrist family named after a landform, Gilkerscleugh (= "Gilchrist's cleugh"), who intermarried with the Hamilton family when they arrived. We also know that Gilchrist Kidd (also spelled Gilcriste Kide in another source) had lands along the Nethan river, c. 1180 A.D. and for some time after, according to the Register of Kelso.

No other Gilchrists appear for a period of years, however, in this immediate neighborhood. In the parish register of 1624, and the poll tax register of 1695, there are many Gilkersons, Gilkesons and Gilkerstons - sometimes within the same family - but no Gilchrists, per se. And in fact, very few other "Gil" names, which had once been so common in this region. Interestingly enough, there was a Gilmagu who owned land near Gilchrist Kidd; his name evolved from Gille Mahagu, or "servant of St. Machute", the patron saint of the church of Lesmahagow.

In the 1695 poll tax record we meet:

The poll tax was very unpopular, and the 1695 poll was abandoned before it was complete. The entire Blackwood district was omitted from the record, which is unfortunate, because it was owned by another branch of the Weirs, and more Gilkersons lived there. Perhaps a Gilchrist ancestor with our spelling would have appeared in that list.

In 1755, there were only 2996 people (532 families) in the entire parish (the population of a large high school today!), 62 of whom were weavers and 40 of whom were masons. In 1801 there were 3070 inhabitants according to Government census, 2019 of whom were employed in agriculture.

Quite suddenly, the modern spelling of Gilchrist appears in the parish, in the form of a proclamation of the Banns of marriage of my great-great-great-grandparents William Gilchrist from Threepwood and Isabella Sharp (sometimes spelled Sharpe) in 1824. Were their families there all along, or had they come from somewhere else? On the 1841 census, they spelled William's name as Gilkrest (the only time it was misspelled). The only Sharpe on the 1695 tax register was James Sharpe of Lawwards (?). Isabella was from the parish of Dalserf, and was actually born way up in Rothesay on the Isle of Bute. Her parents and brothers lived in Hazlebank, but she settled in Crossford village with William. William was a quarrier, but Isabella's family were cotton handloom weavers, and her sons were apparently trained in that craft when they came along.

Not much later, Rev. J. Gilchrist appears as a candidate for the ministry of the church in Lesmahagow. He applied twice (both times unsuccessfully - he was on a list of eleven candidates) in 1838 and again in 1842.

The population of the parish doubled in the first 40 years of the century, which must have put a terrible strain on the resources and the employment of the region. There were great gas coal fields, and I suppose that it must have seemed to be an area of considerable industrial growth and opportunity to migrate to from the west coast. In the "Annals of the Parish of Lesmahagow", J. B. Greenshields writes,

                "During the last three years" (c. 1850's) 

        "an exceptional state of matters has existed, three 

        voluntary assessments having been raised to assist 

        the handloom weavers thrown out of employment by the 

        civil war in America. A large proportion of the amount 

        of these assessments was expended on the parish roads."
                "The improvement on the Larnark road at Hillsgill 

        was begun by the unemployed weavers, but the greater portion 

        of the cutting and embanking was finished through the agency 

        of a contractor, who did not employ them."
This increase of population, coupled with the rather sudden appearance of the modern form of our surname, leads to another slim possibility that Thomas Gilchrist the senior (and the other Gilchrists; odds are they came as a family) moved to the parish from elsewhere - perhaps Ayr and/or Kilmarnock to the west, or Dumphries to the south - in the late 18th century. There were genuine "Gilchrists" of that spelling living in both areas as much as a century earlier. A third possible origin would be Rothesay on the Isle of Bute, since that is certainly where William's wife Isabel came from, and where Ronald Gilchrist moved to Islay from at about the same time.

 forward to: Thomas the military migrant

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