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.  😉


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



Ancestor Story – Andrew Brown – 52 Ancestors

Thankerton, photo by Frieda Oxenham, used with permission.  Originally posted here.

Thankerton, photo by Frieda Oxenham, used with permission. Originally posted on her blog, see link below.

After my exciting breakthrough Sunday evening I thought I would revisit some of my old brick walls.  I pulled up my tree and went right to my fourth great grandfather Andrew Brown.  The last time I worked on him was many years ago.  I had to pull out a paper file as I haven’t digitized the records I have for him.  His file is pretty slim.  Here’s what I know.

Andrew Brown


Andrew married Mary Robertson in 1849 in Wiston and Roberton, Lanark, Scotland.  Their marriage record reads:

Brown – Andrew Brown in the parish of Wiston and Roberton and Mary Robertson in the parish of Sanquhar after proclamation of bans were married June * 1849.

Andrew and Mary had a son, William Brown, in about 1850.  Record not yet searched for.

Andrew and Mary’s second son, Alexander Robertson Brown – my 3rd great grandfather, was born in 1851 in Pettinain, Lanark, Scotland.  His birth record reads:

Brown – Alexander, son of Andrew Brown and Mary Robertson, was born 27 September and baptized 2 November 1851.

A third and final son, Andrew Brown, was born to this union in 1853 in Covington and Thankerton, Lanark, Scotland.  The record reads:

Brown & Gilchrist – Andrew Brown, son of Andrew Brown & Mary Robertson, Mainz, was born 27th Octr 1853, & baptized 6th Novr 1853.

Further research on Mary and the children reveals that Mary went on to have one illegitimate daughter in 1857  before marrying again in 1859.  She had three children with her second husband.  Mary’s death record reveals that she is the widow of 1 – Andrew Brown, Ploughman and 2 – Edward Wallace, Game Keeper.  Using the information gleaned from Mary’s life I was able to narrow down a possible window for Andrew’s death date.  Searching for Andrew Brown is similar to searching for James Young – lots of results.  But in Andrew’s case I have the added difficulty that he died before Civil Registration began in Scotland so the record would be found in the OPR – Old Parish Registers.  These records are far less detailed.  I did find one record in Covington and Thankerton I thought might be a possibility.  It reads:

1854;  Octr 26 – Andrew Brown, Mains – aged 25

That is frustratingly all it says.  Based on my previous research, it seems Mains or Mainz is a road or place – possibly a farm – within Covington and Thankerton in the county of Lanark in Scotland.  Because Andrew’s youngest child was born in the same place one year previously I felt this was a potential match.

So what do I do with this limited amount of information?  Well, here is my plan:

  • Because Andrew and Mary were from two different parishes I believe there will be a marriage record or proclamation record in her parish as well.  I need to find that record.
  • I need William’s birth record.
  • I need to learn more about Covington and Thankerton, the history, study the maps, figure out what ‘Mains/Mainz’ means and so on.
  • I plan to revisit the results list for possible death records for Andrew to see if the record I believe is his death record is the only possibility.  If not, I need to study the others and determine which record is a match.
  • Once I decide on a death record, I can use the age to approximate a birth year and then search the Wiston and Roberton OPR for Andrew’s birth record.  This step is likely the only hope of finding his parent’s names.  I am fairly certain his father was named William Brown as Andrew and Mary appear to have followed the Scottish naming pattern.  I hope to find Andrew’s birth record and see if I am correct.
  • And lastly, I need to find Andrew in the 1841 and 1851 Scottish Census.

While I don’t know much about Andrew, I do know that he lived part of his life in a beautiful place.  I know he was a Ploughman so he spent most of his time outside where he could enjoy the beauty of Covington and Thankerton.  His life may have been short, but he has a large posterity.  William had 11 children that I know of.  Alexander had 8 children.  Andrew had 5 children.  I haven’t completed descendancy research on William and Andrew.  Alexander has 153 descendants that I know of but my descendancy research is far from complete.  That means Andrew has at least 169 descendants.  For a man who likely died in his twenties with only 3 children, I think that is quite a lot!


Thankerton photo originally posted here.