Falling between Two Censuses

Family relationships are easily identified through the use of the ten-yearly censuses. But there are some cases where a minister is ordained for service abroad and never is present in Scotland as a minister in the census year; or a man has a brief ministry in Scotland, and that ministry falls between two censuses. In that situation, if nothing about the man’s background is known, the situation is difficult, but not always impossible.

James Robertson is a case in point. Ewing only tells us the date and place of his licence and ordination – Dalkeith Presbytery, 1852 and 1855 respectively; his place of ministry – Falmouth, Jamaica; and his early death there. But we can reasonably expect that he would appear in the 1851 census as a divinity student. And, common though his name is, the most likely person in the 1851 census to be him is a James Robertson, born in Crichton, Midlothian, about 1821 and living in Minnigaff, Kirkcudbrightshire, in 1851. He was then a divinity student, acting as a tutor.

He is likely to be our James Robertson because Crichton is in the catchment area of the Dalkeith Presbytery where James Robertson was licensed and ordained. Although there was no Free Church in Crichton, the nearest Free Church was in Pathhead, where the minister was Robert Court and it was he who proposed in Presbytery that James Robertson be taken on trials for licence. It is normal that a man be proposed for licence by his own minister.

The only relevant reference to a James Robertson in the Kirk Session records of Pathhead Free Church is one in which he was received as a member on 2nd February, 1846 – but that may not be this James Robertson.

We can be reasonably certain that James Robertson, the minister, was born in Crichton, Midlothian, about 1821. More we cannot say with any certainty, at the moment.

A similar case is William Chalmers. Ewing does not give us much to go on: short ministries completed between the censuses. But at least he gives a date of birth. Again, we can build on the probability that he was a divinity student at the time of the 1851 census. Again, too there is really only one candidate: a William Chalmers, 27, student in divinity, lodging in Edinburgh, born Aberdeen. If we then look for this man in other censuses, there is again really only one candidate: the son of David Chalmers, Westburn, Aberdeen. And we know who he is – a man from a very prominent church family – see the Chalmers Burns Guthrie Tree.

After his resignation, he appears as a lodger in Glasgow – in 1881 he is a clerk; in 1891 a compiler and writer of books – the sort of occupation you might expect a retired minister to take up.
This seems a fairly certain identification but we may know for sure when I get round to looking at his death certificate.

So falling between two censuses may not be too damaging an experience.

PS In William Chalmers’ death certificate he is said to have been a Free Church minister, retired – a son of David Chalmers, publisher of the Aberdeen Journal. So that confirms the identification which we had tentatively made on other grounds.

You may also like...

2 Responses

  1. Susanne Buchanan says:

    Are there any records of a minister marrying a Margaret Buchanan in the 1840s probably in Edinburgh Scotland. Thank you.

  2. Ecclegen says:

    I have had a look at this matter and I can’t find any minister that meets your specifications. The nearest I found was John Thomson who married Margaret Buchanan in 1834, but not in Edinburgh. She was the sister of Robert Buchanan, another minister. You can find something about these men on this web-site by clicking Ewing’s Annals / List of Ministers.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *