Robert Ross, Troon and St Mark’s, Glasgow

We have already noted the difficulties of identifying a minister’s background and family if the term of his ministry falls completely between two of the decennial censuses – see Falling between Two censuses. Another case in point is that of Robert Ross, minister of Troon, Ayrshire, from 1843 till 1846; and of St Mark’s, Glasgow, from 1846 to 1847.

Ewing’s information on him is sparse. There is a birth year, but no birthplace; an awareness that he was married twice but only the name of the second wife is known. We can probably add some flesh to these bones but some of these conclusions are tentative, so instead of making bold statements about this man or his family, we wish to lay out the evidence here and researchers can judge for themselves what conclusions should be arrived at.

Can Robert Reid be identified in the 1841 census? The census was taken on 6th June, 1841. A source that I can neither verify nor can I find it again, stated that they married in Govan on 28th June that year. Tentatively, therefore, we can look for him as a single man. The most likely candidate is that he was the Robert Ross who was living in Strathbungo Village, Govan, Lanarkshire; a teacher aged 34. With him is Isabella Ross, aged 20. Both of them were born outside the census county. If he were married later in that month, it is hardly likely that Isabella was his first wife. Perhaps she was his sister. This does not help us much.

But if we look for Catherine Dawson, we find that there is a Catherine Dawson who is 30, a teacher, living at 143 George Street, Glasgow, with Janet Dawson, also a teacher, 30, and Elisabeth Woodhead, 70, Independent. All were born in Lanarkshire. And with them is a Janet Ross, aged 5, also born Lanarkshire.

Looking at the 1851 census for Catherine Dawson, now Ross, and a widow, we find that there is a Catherine Ross, who is the head of the home, a widow, aged 48, a Boarding House Keeper, born in Glasgow. She is living at 306 ½ St Vincent Street, Glasgow. Moreover, the Post Office Directory for that year year gives Mrs Robert Ross, living at that address. Everything suggests that she is the widow of Robert Ross the minister. Moreover, with her is her daughter, Janet Ross, 15, a scholar, born in Lanarkshire.

A possible scenario is that Robert Ross had a child, Janet, by his first marriage; she was staying with Catherine Dawson, perhaps in anticipation of the fact that she was shortly to become Janet’s step-mother. When Robert Ross died Janet Ross naturally stayed on with Robert’s widow, Catherine, and was effectively her “daughter” rather than here “step-daughter”.

This may not tell us much about Robert Ross, but it does give us two lines of enquiry: does this help us to identify Catherine Dawson more clearly? And can we find out more about Janet Ross?

In regard to Catherine Dawson, a Cathrine Dawson appears in the OPR, dated 29th January, 1802, she is the daughter of William Dawson and Elisabeth Woodhead. Janet McGilchrist Dawson was born to this couple in 1804. This means that the Elisabeth Woodhead staying with the family in 1841 was actually Catherine and Janet’s mother. The only difficulty is that of ages: the ages of Janet and Catherine in 1841 do not correspond closely with these birth dates – but that is of no great importance: the 1841 did not claim to give ages exactly and it is obvious that there were wide discrepancies between ages in general in the 1841 and the ages of individuals.

This identification can be confirmed (or otherwise) by looking at the death record of the Catherine Dawson or Ross who died in Rhu, Dunbartonshire, in 1890. We’ll do that some day. (We have now done that and the above is confirmed.)

What then of Janet Ross? A Janet Ross was registered in Glasgow on 17th August, 1835, the daughter of Robert Ross and Margaret Steel. They had another daughter, Helen, registered there on 16th July, 1837. A Robert Ross and Margaret Steel’s marriage was recorded on 5th and 6th July, 1834, in Ayrshire, in Loudoun and Galston, respectively.

This leads to a tentative conclusion that Robert Ross’ first wife was Margaret Steel, by whom he had two daughters: Janet and Helen.

Much more remains to be done on. For example, what happened to Janet and Helen? Well, the most probable identification of Helen is that in 1841 she was 4 years of age and of independent means, living with a family of Rosses in Villafield Place, St Mungo, Glasgow. The family consisted of Thomas 15, James 15, Jenet 15, Peater 13, Margaret 7 and Helan 5, all born Glasgow. We need to explore who these are. And much more besides – but that’s just part of the difficulties in exploring the families of men whose ministry fell between two censuses.