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The Mixed Up Case of the Two James Youngs & Janet Robertsons in Renfrewshire, Scotland

which James Young-01

In May of 2014, I had a happy breakthrough moment when I added another generation to my tree on my Young line in Scotland.  It was a major victory that had just been waiting there for me.  That discovery led to additional discoveries when I found parents for both James Young and Janet Robertson.  In just a few short weeks I had added two full generations and plenty of descendants.  It was exciting!

My excitement quickly came to a halt.

You see, I like to participate in building the Family Tree in  So once I have researched a family well, I go into FamilySearch and try to update, source, add, merge, or whatever is needed, to help that Tree be as correct as possible.

When I went into the tree to add or attach James Young & Janet Robertson’s parents, I was faced with the most convoluted mess I’d come across yet.

This was my James & Janet with some of their children:

Screen Shot 2017-06-15 at 2.18.49 PM

Everything looked pretty good.  Some facts, sources, children, and grandchildren were (and still are) missing, but otherwise, this was all correct.

But then a troubling duplicate reared it’s head when I went looking for James Young and Janet Ferguson, James’ parents.  I found this:

Screen Shot 2017-06-12 at 7.46.36 PMScreen Shot 2017-06-12 at 7.46.02 PM

So what is the trouble exactly?  Oh goodness, where do I begin…

This James Young has the same birth and death dates and places as my James Young.  He also has parents with the same names as my James Young’s parents.  His wife also has the same name as my James Young’s wife.  His first two children listed have the same names, birth dates, and birth places as my James Young’s first two children.

But then.  There are problems.

The marriage date and place are different by two years and 1 parish.  This James Young’s wife Janet Robertson has a different birth date and place, and different parents from my Janet.  And, who are those last two children?  They don’t seem to belong to my James Young and Janet Robertson.

The more I tried to unravel this, the more confusing it was.  I started by looking at the marriage records for both couples.  I wondered if they were a duplicate couple who had banns read in a neighboring parish?  Had the record of the banns been indexed incorrectly?  It’s a pretty big stretch since the entire date is so drastically different, but I wasn’t going to rule it out.  Looking at all of the records – all four – made it quite clear that there were two couples.  One who married in Renfrew, Renfrewshire in 1823 and one who married in High Church, Paisley, Renfrewshire in 1821.

At this point I decided I needed to complete a surname study for both parishes.  For the next three years I slowly went through the microfilm records for these parishes every time I went to BYU to research.  I had a notebook.  Every event for someone with the surname of Young was recorded.  It was slow and tedious.  I didn’t have much time to give to it.  It felt like it would take forever.

But then!  Ohhhh, this is about to get good…

About six weeks ago, I started helping two different people with Scottish research.  I hadn’t been working on my Scottish lines recently.  I knew that the ScotlandsPeople website had been updated.  I’d gotten lots of emails about it.  I just hadn’t tried it out yet.  There were so many complaints about glitches at first, that I thought I would let the dust settle before I used it.  I had other parts of my tree to work on, so it was just fine.

As I helped these two different people discover the joys of Scottish research, it started an itch for me.  I wanted to work on part of my Scottish lines again.

One afternoon, about 4 weeks ago, I was zipping around my house getting stuff done.  I had the strongest impression that I should revisit one of my brick walls – Andrew Brown, my 4th great grandfather.  I dropped everything and gave it a look.  Over the next three days I completely demolished that brick wall and had the best time pushing my tree back several generations.  But that, is a story for another day.

As my Andrew Brown journey was winding down, I thought about my dusty notebook and my Young Surname Study.  It hadn’t gotten any attention for a few months.  ScotlandsPeople is so different now.  I thought I could probably complete the project from home now without having to buy too many records.  So I pulled out my notebook and got to work.

I am sooooo happy to say that on Tuesday, the 13th of June, 2017, I tackled the main goal of my Young Surname Study.  I had enough information to accurately separate the two James Young and Janet Robertsons and their children.  I carefully fixed everyone, sourced them, and made sure they are attached to the correct family members.  That Tuesday was a long and wonderful day.

Without going into too many confusing details, this is what I discovered.

The James Young who was attached to my James Young’s parents is a different man.  He did in fact marry a Janet Robertson in 1821 in High Church, Paisley, Renfrewshire.  But after that, there is no trace of either of them.  No children, no death records, no census.  I don’t know where they went.

The first two children – James Young b. 1824 and Thomas Young b. 1828 were actually the children of my James and Janet and were duplicates.

The daughter, Jean Young, who did not belong to my James Young and Janet Robertson, did not belong to this James Young and Janet Robertson either.  She is the daughter of John Walker Young and Janet Robertson who were married in 1828 in Neilston, Renfrewshire.  Her complete name is actually Jean Anderson Young and this little darlin’ has two birth and baptism records in two different parishes.  Luckily for me, the father’s unusual occupation of (Calico) Printer in Grahamston was listed on both of her records, along with the detail that she was the couple’s 2nd child and 2nd daughter.

The last son listed, Robert Young, was not the child of my James and Janet or of this James and Janet either.  He was the son of a James Young and Janet Robertson who married in Paisley, High Church, Renfrewshire in 1831, four years before his birth in the exact same parish and ten years after the marriage of the couple he was attached to.

In the end, this meant that the convoluted James and Janet were left with no birth and death dates and places for James, no children, no parents for James, and still attached to the parents for Janet.  Parents that I did not research, so I can’t say for certain they are in fact her parents.

My James and Janet are now attached properly to their children and parents.  Well, aside from the few children I haven’t fully researched and added yet.

My surname study is not complete.  There are still plenty of family members I need to finish researching.  But these are my big takeaways from my progress so far:

First – Don’t be afraid of a mess in FamilySearch.  You can solve it!  Even if it takes three years.  No one messed with the mess because I left a very detailed note on both James Youngs explaining my research project.  If you want to work effectively in FamilySearch – communicate!  Leave notes, sources, and good explanations when you make changes or additions.

Second – A surname study is an AWESOME way to really get to know a parish and a family or set of families.  You get a good sense of how many people live there and how they are connected to each other.  It took my best guesses, and some surprise people and facts,  and turned them into concrete conclusions.

Third – There are A LOT of James Youngs in the county of Renfrew in Scotland.  ðŸ˜‰


Have you ever completed a surname study?  Would a surname study help your research?


20 thoughts on “The Mixed Up Case of the Two James Youngs & Janet Robertsons in Renfrewshire, Scotland”

    1. Thank you Amy! It was genealogy happy dance time for sure. In fact, when I realized that I had enough data to untangle FamilySearch I was a bit stunned for a minute. Haha.

      1. Good luck with FamilySearch—I always am wary of these collaborative trees where people can make changes without consulting. I just hope someone doesn’t undo your corrections!

        1. Well, the good news is that you can put people on your “watch list” and get an email when any changes are made. Additionally, I have found that if you source someone in there and write any type of notes or explanations, generally, your work is left alone. Hopefully that will hold true this time too. 🙂

          1. When I first read this, I interpreted the “watch list” to be for individuals making the changes and not the people on the tree. A sort of list for genealogy terrorists.

  1. Your tenacity never ceases to impress me. I’m not surprised though that you had such a muddle with Scottish ancestors. My own experience is that families stuck to the same few names and passed them on according to quite rigid rules, so it’s easy to find multiple people (often cousins) with exactly the same name. And then they go and marry someone who also has a really common name within their own family (and the village ….).

    1. Yes! The Scottish naming pattern is a blessing and a curse for sure. I do love that so often they named a child the whole name of the person they were named for. It really helps straighten things out when they did that. And, thank you. I do like a hard mental challenge. 😉

  2. Most people work on a family tree part-time and work ata job ull-time do not have the focus to sustain such a search. I’m sure you’ll get many thank you notes from people in this category. You mention having to go through microfilm. Would you be able to create a sort of database of your results and upload to a server? That would be a lasting contribution for other researchers who aren’t able to visit Brigham Young University and do the research you did.

    1. That is a great idea EmilyAnn. I’m not finished yet, I just accomplished that main goal of the study, but there is plenty more to do. The items that are complete have been added or updated in Family Tree on FamilySearch with the sources and notes. I’ve also been creating a private tree on Ancestry with every person in my study which I will make public once it’s complete. (I know most of them are related somehow and want to keep it private until all of the relationships have been proven and linked properly.) Eventually I would like to write a report of some sort that includes all of the data. I’m just not sure where the best place to put it is… There are just so many places online. Any suggestions?

  3. Hi there. I posted my first reply from my Android but it looks like it didn’t get through. I will make this one shorter. First I am very excited for your future with this project. I am reminded of Anthony Vermandois who focused on the families of the tiny village my ancestors came from. He set up his own website and it grew and grew. It focused on the specific region.

    I think you may benefit from that approach. Focus on those sites for Scottish Ancestors. You can also make the study available at other sites for the U.K. since it is always possible that the distant branch families of the Young and Robertson lines moved away from Scotland. You could create an excerpt of the report for circulation at those sites as a kind of preview of what the bigger report is like. It could be distributed in a kind of announcement.

    Since you have attended many workshops and meetings related to genealogy each year, add that to a mini-bio. After three years I think you’ve earned the title of “Robertson and Brown Family Specialist”. There are possibilities to share research techniques, too.

    I see many good things and many possibilities. To see what would work best I recommend talking to at least 3 pros for what is the best path to take so this can move forward.

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