Sorting out all the Thomson’s in Erin Township by utilizing naming patterns

What do you get when a Thomson marries a Thomson, and their son Thomson marries a Mary McTavish and then a Mary Thomson? Confusion! It has been difficult trying to find my McTavish ancestors who emigrated from Scotland to Canada in the 1800’s. You would think that with a surname that isn’t that common, I might be able to trace them with a little more ease. But there is a shocking number of Duncan McTavish’s all born within a 10 year period, sometimes in the same townships and often in neighbouring areas. With the Anglicization of the name of McTavish to Thomson in a few cases, my research possibilities have expanded exponentially.

When the Scottish traditions of the Highlands became outlawed by the English government, many McTavishes changed their name to Thomson. I have found that this practice became more prevalent, the farther South the families lived in Argyll. Some families used both inter-changeably with McTavish being used on a baptism for one child and Thomson on another. Some changed their name when they went into the cities for work, some changed it when the emigrated to Canada, some changed it back. I have had to be very careful in trying to track each family to keep them separate as it is so easy to get them mixed up.

As I was tracing my direct McTavish ancestors, I came across a marriage for a Mary McTavish to Archibald Thomson in 1868. Mary was the daughter of Dugald McTavish and Catherine Buchanan – she would be my first cousin, 4 times removed. According to the marriage record, Archibald was born in Argyll, Scotland to parents Edward and Elizabeth Thomson around 1823, and was a current resident in Erin. At the time of my research, I hadn’t clued into the whole Thomson connection so I didn’t dig any deeper on Archibald. Unfortunately, after having only one child, Mary died in February of 1870. She is buried in the Acton Pioneer Cemetery.

MCT - Mary w:o Arch Thompson

Acton Pioneer Cemetery, Acton, Ontario – photo courtesy of author

Ten years later, Archibald Thomson would marry a second time on February 11, 1880 in Erin Township. This time, he married Mary Thomson. Mary was twenty-one years junior to Archibald, having been born in 1845 in Erin, to parents Dugald and Margaret Thomson. One of the witnesses to the marriage was Donald McTavish of Nassagaweya.

Marriage Arch Thomson to Mary Thomson

Ontario Marriages – Erin Township, Wellington County

Now my interest was peaked and my knowledge of the McTavish-Thomson connection was known.

I had already sorted out the family of Mary McTavish and deduced that the witness to Archibald’s second marriage was in fact, Mary’s brother. There were no other Donald McTavish’s in Nassagaweya at that time. I penciled a chart together of the Thomson’s in Erin.

We have Archibald (b. 1823 in Argyll), son of Edward and Elizabeth Thomson of Erin. And, we have Mary Thomson (b. 1845 in Erin), daughter of Dugald and Margaret Thomson of Erin.

As mentioned, Archibald and Mary McTavish had a son Edward in 1870, before she died. The use of the name Edward for a first born son, when Archibald’s father was named Edward, suggested right away that they may have been following the naming pattern customs of Scotland. Knowing this, would prove helpful in separating the Thomson families.

I found Archibald and son Edward in the 1871 census for Erin Township. He is recorded as being 42y of age, born in Scotland, a Baptist, widower and a shoemaker. Below him, Elizabeth is listed, aged 70y, born in Scotland and a widower. Then Eliza, aged 20y, born in Ontario and finally Edward age one, born in Ontario. My hypothesis is that the elder Elizabeth is his mother – she having been born in Scotland about 1800.

1871 census Arch

1871 Census of Canada – Erin Township, Wellington County, Ontario

Looking back to 1861, I found Archibald again in Erin age 34y, born in Scotland, a farmer. Also in the household are Elizabeth, age 60y, born in Scotland, a widow and Betsy, aged 28y, born in Scotland. The family follows directly after another family of Thomson’s – that of Archibald and Mary Thomson.

1861 census Erin

1861 Census of Canada West – Erin Township, Wellington County, Ontario

Jumping forward to the 1881 and 1891 census’, I can find Archibald with his wife Mary and their growing family. Daughter Elizabeth was born in 1881 (died 1884), daughter Margaret Flora in 1884, son Archibald Spurgeon in 1885 and daughter Mary Ann in 1887. His first daughter was named after his mother, his second daughter after her mother, his second son after himself and his third daughter after her mother. The naming pattern was partially followed but with no son named Dugald, it seems off a bit.

Archibald died in 1897, at the age of 73 years, in the Village of Erin. Unfortunately, his parents names are not included on the registration so we don’t know his mother’s maiden name.

Arch death 1897

Ontario Deaths – Village of Erin, ErinTownship, Wellington County, Ontario 

Find a Grave indicates that he is buried in the Coningsby Cemetery, just outside of the Village of Erin in Erin Township. A trip up to the cemetery led me to his gravestone which indicates that upon his death on August 1st, 1897 he was 73 years, 9 months and 24 days old. This calculates to a birth day of October 7th, 1823. The information contained on the headstone for his wife Mary, says that she died in June of 1929, in her 86th year.

Archibald and mary Thomson copy

Coningsby Cemetery, Erin Township, Wellington County – Photo courtesy of author

Walking through the cemetery, I found many Thomson’s buried there. There is a headstone for Elizabeth Thomson born in 1798, who died June 13th, 1878. This is likely the Elizabeth Thomson who was listed with Archibald in both the 1861 and 1871 census’. And the headstone also indicates that she was the wife of Edward Thomson who died in Scotland in 1849. It also notes their children Dugald, Mary and Elizabeth and that they were all natives of Argyleshire, Scotland.

Elizabeth Thomson d 1878 copyConingsby Cemetery, Erin Township, Wellington County – Photo courtesy of author

Edward and Elizabeth ThomsonConingsby Cemetery, Erin Township, Wellington County – Photo courtesy of author

Armed with the information gleaned from the census’ and cemetery, I turned to Scotland’s People to see if I could find out more. I found his baptism dated October 7th, 1823 to parents Iver Thomson and Betsy Thomson in the village of South Colfin in the parish of Saddell and Skipness. I know both Iver and Betsy to be nicknames for Edward and Elizabeth and the date is correct. Elizabeth’s maiden name appears to be Thomson.

Arch baptism 7 Oct 1823

Old Parish Register – Baptisms – Parish of Saddell and Skipness, Argyll, Scotland

A search for a marriage yields one for 1818 in Achmenach, Skipness for Iver Thomson and Elespie Thomson. And baptisms for their children in order: Mary 1819, Iver 1821, Iver 1822, Archibald 1823, Dugald 1825, Flora 1828, Betsy 1831, Ann 1834 and Iver 1836. If the naming patterns were followed, his parents (first son, second daughter) would be Iver (Edward) and Flora. Her parents would be (first daughter and second son) Archibald and Mary. Iver is obviously a very important name for this couple as they named three sons with it. The two younger sons must have died.

Iver and Elespie marriage 1818Old Parish Register – Marriages – Parish of Saddell and Skipness, Argyll, Scotland

A search for a female Thomson born between 1795 and 1800 in Saddell and Skipness, gives me two options for Elizabeth/Besty/Elespie. The first is in Feb 1796 when William Thomson and Mary Taylor baptized daughter Elespie. The second is a baptism on March 9th, 1798 for Elspey to parents Archibald Thomson and Mary Taylor. Ding ding ding!

A similar search for a male Thomson born in that same parish between 1785 and 1800 (not sure of his birth year) showed me two possibles for Iver: one to Donald and Mary Thomson in 1788 and one to Dugald Thomson and Catherine Campbell in 1796. Neither of these struck a cord and so I looked though my records from when I travelled to Scotland in both 2013 and 2018. I visited the Kilbrannon graveyard at Skipness and found tombstones not only for Archibald Thomson and Mary Taylor but also one for Edward McTavish and his wife Flora Currie. Based on naming patterns, this couple makes sense and if true, that makes him the brother of Dugald Thomson who was married to Catherine Campbell. Interesting to note that the headstones use the name McTavish and not Thomson.

Dugald Thomson and Catherine Campbell

Photo taken in 2018 by the author at Kilbrannon Cemetery in Skipness, Argyll, Scotland

Flora Currie tribute to Edward MctavishPhoto taken in 2018 by the author at Kilbrannon Cemetery in Skipness, Argyll, Scotland  Transcription reads:  1801 – Erected by Flory Currie in memory of her dutiful husband Edward McTavish, Smith at Skipness who died August 1801 aged 75 years

Now, turning to the other half of the original couple, Archibald Thomson’s second wife, Mary Thomson. The marriage record says that she was born about 1845 in Erin and that her parents were Dugald and Margaret Thomson. I first search for a death record to see if it would identify her mother’s maiden name. Although I found a record, it is only the index and the actual record seems to be missing. So no luck there. Since she was buried in Coningsby, I looked through my pictures and found a headstone for a Dugald Thomson and wife Margaret McLellan.

Dugald Thomson and Margaret Mclellan

Digging back into the census’, we find Mary living with her parents Dugald and Margaret in the 1861 and 1871 census, prior to her marriage. She is the eldest of what looks like twelve children borne to the couple in Erin. Throughout the census’ in Erin, there are many families with the surname McLellan as well as those named Thomson (among others!). In 1861, Dugald and his family are listed beside Peter Thomson aged 70, Mary his wife aged 68 and Angus aged 33. In 1871, the family is beside Angus Thomson and his wife.

1861 census Dugald

1861 Census of Canada West – Erin Township, Wellington County, Ontario

1871 census Dugald

1871 Census of Canada – Erin Township, Wellington County, Ontario

I can find no marriage for Dugald and Margaret and neither of their death records states their parents. Dugald’s death registration does include details of his land (lot 23 in the 5th concession) but it looks like he purchased this land rather than having it passed down to him or through his wife somehow.

Dugald Death 1903

Ontario Deaths – Erin Township, Wellington County, Ontario

Based on the census information Dugald and Margaret’s children were in order: Mary, Donald, Peter, Neil, Margaret, Julia Ann, Catherine, Elizabeth, Archibald, Sarah Bell, Dugald and John. If we used the naming patterns, it would suggest that Dugald parents were Donald and Margaret Thomson while hers would be Peter and Mary (McLellan)?

Dugald’s birth occurred about 1819 in Argyleshire, Scotland according to the records. There were four Dugald Thomson’s born in Argyll between 1815 and 1820. One to Archibald Thomson and Mary Livingstone baptized on November 23rd, 1817 in Saddell and Skipness. One to Peter Thomson and Catherine McKinven on May 18th, 1819 in Saddell and Skipness. One to Peter and Mary Thomson on September 9th, 1818 in Saddell and Skipness. And lastly, one to John Thomson and Christian Johnson on February 2, 1820 in Kilcalmonell. Given the proximity of Dugald and his family to Peter and Mary Thomson in the 1861 census, I pursued this couple as possible parents.

Baptism of Dugald to peter and mary

Old Parish Register – Baptisms – Parish of Saddell and Skipness, Argyll, Scotland

Peter Thomson married Mary Thomson on January 19th, 1816 in Saddell and Skipness, they were both from that parish. Children born to them in Scotland were Archibald (1816), Dugald (1818), John (1820), Catherine (1822), Peter (1824), Mary (1826), and Donald (1829). The family appears to have emigrated to Erin Township in about the year 1830, Peter purchasing lot 21 on the 5th concession in 1839. Peter and Mary are found in the 1861 census and then they died in 1864 and 1865 respectively, according to their headstones in the Coningsby Cemetery.

Peter and Mary Thomson marriage

Old Parish Register – Marriages – Parish of Saddell and Skipness, Argyll, Scotland

Another Thomson marrying a Thomson! Using the naming patterns again to try and determine each of their parents. His would be Archibald and Mary while hers would be Dugald and Catherine. Do these names sound familiar? Archibald Thomson and Mary Taylor and Dugald Thomson and Catherine Campbell…anything is possible. But, no baptismal records were found for either, that made any kind of sense.

Turning back to Mary’s mother Margaret, potentially McLellan. I looked through the records for each of her children to see if any of their marriages or deaths, gave her maiden name. Sure enough, son John’s death in 1924 states her name as Margaret Mclellan. Daughter Catherine’s death in 1929, says her mother’s name is Margaret Mclellan. Son Peter’s death in 1909 also states his mother’s name is Margaret McClelland. So, this seems confirmed.

John thomson death 1924

Michigan Deaths – John Thompson, 1924

But who were her parents? Since the naming patterns were opposite for her husband – I started looking for parents named Donald and Margaret McLellan. In the 1861 census I did find a Donald McLellan that is in the right age range – he is listed as 73y, born in Scotland and a widow. There is a headstone at Coningsby for a Donald McLellan who died in 1868, his wife Ann is also buried there. Looking back at a tax assessment for 1834 in Erin Township, Donald McLellan is listed on lot 20 in the 4th concession, right above Peter Thomson who is listed on lot 21 in the 5th concession. Land records indicate that there is a will for Donald McLellan from 1868 and that there were sales of his property to Peter Thomson, Archibald Thomson and Hector McLellan.

Erin township census 1824 and beyond copy

Assessment for the Township of Erin, Wellington County, 1834

I did notice on the 1861 census that there appears to be a Charles McLellan and his wife Julia living with Donald McLellan. Charles is 50 years old and was born in Scotland. Charles and Julia have a son named Donald. I did a search for a baptism for Charles in Scotland, with father Donald and there was only one – baptized by parents Donald McLellan and Peggy Watson in Killean on October 19th, 1813. Peggy is a nickname for Margaret so I searched to see if they had baptized any other children. Their children were Charles (1813), Isabella (1815), Jean (1818), Mary (1821) and Peggy (1823). It is possible that the younger Peggy is actually the Margaret that we are looking for, but this is very circumstantial. Once the archives are open again, I will look at the wills to see if they can shed more light on this.

Peggy Mclellan baptism

Old Parish Records – Baptisms – Parish of Kilcalmonell and Kilberry, Argyll, Scotland

The McLellan’s are a tough bunch to try and sort through and they seem to be intertwined with the Thomsons, McMillans and McKinnons. It becomes extra difficult to un-tangle the various lines when they inter-marry. I have found that using the naming patterns as a reference, I can often find clues to help me un-tangle the thicket. I wish our ancestors knew the future challenges and had followed the patterns more consistently, it would make ancestry a little easier for us modern genealogists!



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