Finding another Cavers, this time a young married woman, in the mental health records

About a week ago I blogged – originally on my own genealogy blog, and then reblogged here on the Cavers blog – about my Cavers ancestor who appears in the Scotland-wide records of patients admitted to asylums. In that original blog post I explained more fully about these records, and what they record, and how to access them. Do check out that original blog post for more details of all of this.

Since then Graham and Emma Maxwell have kindly sent me details of another Cavers reference in these records. This concerns Elizabeth Cavers of the Lilliesleaf family, daughter of Charles Cavers and Martha Cathrae. I’ve blogged here about her brother William (see here) and also her father Charles (see here).

She’s recorded in these mental health records as Betsy Cavers or Turner, having married in 1847 weaver Thomas Turner. She was admitted to Newbigging House asylum at Musselburgh in 1858. She was then 34, living at Dunsdalehaugh at Selkirk, with occupation recorded as “Superintending her family”. Her first attack happened when she was 23, but she didn’t receive treatment then. Her latest attack had been going on for one week, and she was observed among other things to be talking incoherently, and under delusions that her house would be taken from her. Her husband also reported that she had threatened to injure the children and others.

At the moment I don’t know how long Betsy was in this asylum for, or what treatment she received while there. I hadn’t previously found any evidence of children for her, and struggled to find her in various census returns. But this record expands the picture. And it’s prompted me to recheck for children. After 1855 there were Thomas (1855) and Margaret (1859) both born at Selkirk. Thomas’s 1855 birth certificate – the first year of civil registration in Scotland, when extra details were recorded – notes that the couple had 4 boys and 1 girl living then. And I’ve now found the family in 1861. They were still at Dunsdalehaugh at Selkirk, and as well as Thomas and Elizabeth were their children John (13), Charles (11), Martha (9), James (8), Thomas (5) and Margaret (1). I’ve traced Betsy’s husband’s death in 1902, and his second marriage in 1865 to Isabella Dickson. And that’s helped me finally locate Betsy’s death: recorded as Elizabeth Turner, wife of Thomas Turner weaver, and daughter of Charles Cavers and Martha Cathrae, both deceased. Sadly she died in the Millholme House asylum at Musselburgh in 1862. She was just 38, described on her death certificate as a pauper lunatic, and died from general paralysis. How sad.

Betsy Cavers or Turner can now be found in Graham and Emma’s online indexes of Scottish mental health records, which will grow over time to cover more and more years, and I expect will throw up more Cavers references for me to follow up and blog about.

A young Cavers family in search of Australian gold

I keep an eye on new datasets added to Ancestry. A recent one covers passenger lists to Victoria, Australia between 1839 and 1923. There aren’t many Cavers references in there, but most concern a single family, emigrating from Roxburghshire in the 1850s.

Robert Cavers was christened at Hobkirk, Roxburghshire in 1827, the eldest son of Adam Cavers and his wife Janet Clark. In 1847 he married Helen Hymers, and the couple appear in the 1851 census Fastcastle in Cavers parish. Robert was working as a labourer, and by this time the couple had two daughters: Margaret, aged 3, and Jessie, aged 1. A third daughter, Helen, would be born soon after.

On 1st July 1853 the family arrived on the ship “Genghis Khan” at Melbourne. I’d known they travelled to Australia, but did not know the exact arrival date before this new database went online. The passenger lists record that Robert was engaged by Mr Campbell at Richmond, now a suburb of Melbourne. This was the time of the Australian gold rush, and the family would soon become involved in this.

Sadly Robert died a year later, as the book Rulewater and its people records: “killed in blasting a rock at the gold-diggings”. His wife was pregnant at the time, and a daughter Robina was born in Australia after Robert’s death, named after her father. But the family did not stay in Australia, and made the long journey back to Scotland. The next census reference to them, in 1861, shows them at Ashtree in Southdean parish, Roxburghshire, staying with Helen’s parents Edward and Margaret Hymers.

The family can be traced forward in time, and has living descendants today.

A third Cavers branch matching in Y-DNA project results

I’ve blogged before about the Cavers Y-DNA project at Family Tree DNA. In November 2013 I blogged about preliminary results, including for two different Cavers branches. Now we have the results for a total of three different Cavers branches, and I can reveal those here.

These results are all from the Y-DNA for male line Cavers descendants. Y-DNA is passed down from father to son, generation after generation. This means that a modern-day male descendant should have inherited the Y-DNA from his distant male line ancestors. And if his family name i.e. surname is passed down from father to son over many generations, with no female illegitimacy links in the chain, this should be a guide to his distant ancestry in that surname line. And that includes Cavers.

We now have three Cavers lines represented in the results for the Cavers Y-DNA study. And as before I’m going to spell out the ancestral lines represented by each of the volunteers who has been DNA tested.

Volunteer 1 is descended from the mysterious Walter Cavers who was born in Roxburghshire circa 1795, before migrating to Nottingham in England, and having many living descendants.

Volunteer 2 descends from Thomas Cavers (ca1810-1879) who emigrated from Castleton, Roxburghshire to Lanark County, Ontario, Canada. This Cavers family can be traced back one further generation, to John Cavers and Jean Douglas, who married in Hawick in 1789 and lived in Castleton. But beyond that it is a mystery.

The new volunteer 3 descends from John Cavers and Margaret Cleghorn. This John was a son of John Cavers and Elizabeth Hislop who I have blogged in detail about before. Again this is a Roxburghshire family, and traces back to a couple who married in Hawick in 1793.

I am pleased to say that Y-DNA results for all three of these Cavers branches match, suggesting that all three branches have a shared origin further back in time. In other words these lines and their descendants are cousins of each other. There are a few small differences between the DNA results, but not enough to prevent a confident match being made. It is normal for some mutations in DNA to occur over many generations.

In addition in the project we have a couple of non-Cavers descendants (at least as far as we know) who have been Y-DNA tested and seem, intriguingly, to be pretty close matches to the Cavers results. Not sure what is happening there – it’s a mystery! But the more Cavers people we can get tested in future, the clearer the picture could become.

What I would really like to see is for more different Cavers branches to be tested. For example we haven’t yet had anyone volunteer to be tested from the extensive Berwickshire Cavers family, or the Cavers family including Adam Cavers and his many descendants and cousins, including a large number who settled in Ormstown, Quebec, Canada. Nor have I yet been able to identify a male line Y-DNA carrying living descendant of my own Cavers branch.

Basically the more Cavers branches we can get tested, the clearer the picture will become of how they are connected to each other. There will almost certainly be some Cavers Y-DNA results that don’t match others, but that in itself is useful information, and worth knowing.

So if you are a male line Cavers descendant who may carry Cavers Y-DNA, especially for a so far untested branch, I would love to hear from you. Or if you are a female Cavers descendant but have a brother or uncle or cousin who may be able to be Y-DNA tested for your branch then that would be great too. I can’t afford to pay for all tests, but have recommended before that cousins can club together to spread the cost of a DNA test. And DNA tests are now at a lower general cost than they have ever been. For more information on the testing process, see my earlier blog post about the project.

I will continue to report new results as they come in.

Mid 18th century Cavers sasine references from Hawick

Scottish sasine records are records of land transfer and ownership, and are particularly valuable where ancestors owned land, however small. But in many cases, particularly at a local level, they are unindexed, and voluminous to search, so essentially out of reach, unless you can spend a long time in archives in Edinburgh, or pay someone to search the records.

Very kindly Graham Maxwell spotted a couple of Cavers references during other research he was doing in local sasine records for Roxburghshire, and forwarded on images of the relevant documents to me. They concern a father and daughter: John Cavers, merchant in Hawick, and his daughter Isobell.

The first reference dates from 1739, when John Cavers merchant in Hawick seems to have been owed 14 pounds Sterling as an annualrent regarding a tenement of houses within the town of Hawick. Then in 1756 Isobell Cavers spouse to John Currer Skinner in Hawick had sasine of a tenement of houses in Hawick, presumably the same one, which she inherited as daughter of deceased John Cavers merchant there.

There’s no marriage that I could find recorded in the parish registers for Isobell Cavers and John Currer, but they had three children baptised at Hawick: Thomas, in 1742; Mary, in 1743; and Margaret, in 1745. Going back in time I suspect that Isobell may have been the daughter of that name christened at Hawick in 1720, with parents John Cavers and Marion Newbie. Certainly a mother called Marion would fit with Isobell naming her own daughter Mary, a variant of that. The Hawick parish registers in the early 18th century are detailed, including occupations for fathers. At this 1720 baptism the father was noted as John Cavers merchant in Hawick, which definitely fits with the sasine family. On the downside there are other children recorded for John and Marion Cavers, but perhaps they died young.

Hopefully more early Cavers sasine references will come to light, as the records hopefully become easier to access.

Free Church Cavers baptisms at Hawick from the 1840s and 1850

Many genealogists are familiar with the pre-1855 parish registers available at ScotlandsPeople.gov.uk. But, generally, these only include Church of Scotland parish registers. There were an awful lot of other churches in Scotland in the past. Some were of quite different kinds of Christianity, such as Episcopalianism (Church of England) or Catholicism. There were also some other religious or otherwise registers, such as Quakers and Jews. But probably the largest bulk of so-called non-conformist church records are those of breakaway sects of the Presbyterian faith, that splintered out of the Church of Scotland. Not all have surviving parish registers for everywhere they were active, but where they do they are often either in local archives around Scotland, or in the National Records of Scotland in Edinburgh. Generally they are not included in the parish register indexes at ScotlandsPeople.

I’ve just received three transcripts of Cavers baptisms from Hawick Free Church. The Free Church was one of the most significant Presbyterian splits in Scottish religious history in the past, taking a huge number of people with it. And the Free Church was active in Cavers home territory in the Scottish Borders. Graham and Emma Maxwell are transcribing and indexing these non-conformist registers, and through the latest additions to their website indexes I was able to trace these new Cavers references, and buy copies of the transcripts from the couple.

The three new baptisms are all for children of Robert Cavers and Elizabeth McPherson. This was part of the extensive family of descendants of John Cavers and Elizabeth Hislop that I’ve blogged about here before. This line has living descendants. Here are the baptisms:

John, Son of Robert Cavers, Grocer, and Elizabeth McFerson his Wife, was born on the fourteenth day of August one thousand eight hundred and forty-six years, and baptised, in presence of the Congregation, on the thirteenth day of September, aforesaid year, by the Revd. J. A. Wallace, Minister of the Free Church Hawick.

Agnes Wilson, Daughter of Robert Cavers, Grocer, and Elizabeth McFerson his Wife, was born on the twenty-first day of January one thousand eight hundred and forty-nine years, and baptised, in presence of the Congregation, on the eleventh day of March, aforesaid year, by the Revd. J. A. Wallace, Minister of the Free Church Hawick.

James, Son of Robert Cavers, Grocer, and Elizabeth McFerson his Wife, was born on the twenty- third day of September one thousand eight hundred and fifty years, and baptised, in presence of the Congregation, on the twenty-seventh day of October, aforesaid year, by the Revd. J. A. Wallace, Minister of the Free Church Hawick.

EDIT: And here’s one more baptism, the last of this family, just forwarded on to me by Graham Maxwell. Again from the Hawick Free Church baptism registers.

Elizabeth Hislop, Daughter of Robert Cavers, Grocer, and Elizabeth McFerson his Wife, was born on the twelfth day of March one thousand eight hundred and fifty-three years, and baptised, in presence of the Congregation, on the twenty-fourth day of April, aforesaid year, by the Revd. J. A. Wallace, Minister of the Free Church Hawick.

More on the Murray versus Cavers illegitimacy case

Recently I blogged about finding a previously unknown illegitimate Cavers birth. I’ve since received copies of the full case papers, which shed more light on the case.

The case was brought at Jedburgh Sheriff Court in 1832 by Elizabeth Murray against Thomas Cavers for support of the female child she apparently had with him. The papers record she was a residenter in Newcastleton, and she signed her name as Elisa Murray. Thomas was recorded as son of John Cavers, Joiner in Newcastleton, which identifies him as the son of John Cavers and Jane Douglas.

The language used in the case papers can be quite entertaining to a modern reader, but must have represented a very shocking family event. The decreet records that Thomas “prevailed upon the Pursuer [Eliza] to yield to his embraces and to admit him to a carnal connexion with her”, leading to the birth of the female illegitimate child on the 9th May 1831. Then though “the Pursuer has often desired and required the said Thomas Cavers Defender to filiate and provide for the said Child yet he refuses at least delays to do so”. She sought £1 Sterling for various expenses, and £1 10 shillings per quarter for the first 9 months from the birth for nursing fee, and £1 per quarter afterwards for aliment until the child reached the age of 10.

The next bit of the case papers includes Thomas’s responses to the charges. He declared that he was “not much acquainted with the Pursuer That she has resided for some years past with her Mother in the village of NewCastleton”. Then he says that he was in company with her on the night of Langholm Fair, in the house of Robert Elliot, but not alone with her. Various other apparently innocent meetings are admitted to, including another in the last summer or autumn when “he went into the Pursuers house along with the said Walter Oliver and there were in the house the Pursuer, her Mother and Walter Nichol Carter That this was after dark – That the Pursuer and Declarant left the rest and went round to the back of the house into a shade – That he cannot say while he was standing in the shade whether he had his arm around her Neck or Waist That he lay down in the shade with the Pursuer, but he had no carnal connection with her” And he further goes on to declare that he never had carnal connection with her, and is not the father of her child.

Thomas’s evidence is contradicted by Elspeth Elliot daughter of Robert Elliot in Newcastleton. She remembers the night of the Langholm Fair, and specifically that “the Defender came forwards and spoke to the Pursuer, after which he pushed her into the house, that after they were into the house the Defender took hold of the Pursuer and threw her into the bed, and went in beside her”.

Based on all this and other evidence the court’s judgement went in Eliza’s favour. But the case papers reveal that she believed Thomas was considering fleeing from Scotland to America “in order to defraud the Petitioner”. Thomas appeared before the court again, but denied that he had any intention of going to America “or else where out of Scotland” But the court didn’t believe him, and ordered the officers “to apprehend the said Thomas Cavers and Commit him Prisoner to the Castle of Jedburgh there to remain until he find sufficient Caution … that he shall present himself at the Sheriff Clerks Office in Jedburgh upon the fifteenth day of May next at Twelve oClock midday in order that he may be then and there accessible to the Diligence of the Petitioner against him for payment of the sums due to her as contained in the Decreet mentioned in the Petition”.

Thomas may not have settled in America, but he went to Canada, where he married and had many children. Meanwhile searching the 1841 Scottish census finds at Newcastleton 10-year old Janet Cavers living with 33-year-old Eliza Murray, 38-year-old George Murray (mealdealer), and 65-year-old widowed Janet Murray. Further research identifies these as Janet Cavers’ mother, uncle and grandmother.

Janet Cavers married at Newcastleton on 10th February 1855 to James Scott, a 28-year-old labourer. Because it was an 1855 marriage, in the first year of civil registration in Scotland, when all certificates recorded extra detail, the marriage certificate includes Janet’s birth details: she was apparently born 23rd July 1831 at Newcastleton. Her parents are named on the marriage certificate as Thomas Cavers, Labourer, and Elizabeth Cavers maiden name Murray. Obviously her parents never married, and the birth date differs slightly from the court case version, but the details otherwise fit.

James Scott and Janet Cavers had 5 children, all born at Castleton parish, probably Newcastleton:

  • Eliza, born 2 Dec 1855
  • William, b. 10 Mar 1858
  • Agnes, b. 8 Jun 1860
  • George, b. 25 Jul 1862
  • James, b. 23 Jan 1867

Janet Cavers died at Newcastleton on 25th September 1867, aged 35, cause of death typhoid fever. Again her parents are recorded on the certificate, and match the court case: father Thomas Cavers, farm servant, and mother Eliza Murray, domestic servant.

Her mother Elizabeth Murray outlived her, dying on 12th November 1894 at Newcastleton aged 84 years. Her death certificate records her occupation as domestic servant, and her parents David Murray, shepherd, and Janet Murray maiden name Murray. The informant was her son-in-law James Scott, who was present at the death. Eliza was living with her daughter and son-in-law in 1861, and the census records her birthplace as Canonbie in Dumfriesshire.

James Scott died on 16th April 1909 at Newcastleton, aged 82 years. The informant at his death was his son William. Two years later the 1911 census for 40 North Hermitage Street, where the family lived for a long time, records two of his children still living in the house: Agnes, a retired domestic servant, aged 50; and her brother George, “Farm Labourer (Cattle man)”, aged 48. Also living there then was Agnes’s daughter Nancy Scott aged 17 (Agnes was recorded as unmarried) and her granddaughter Nellie Scott aged 5. It’s quite possible that there are living descendants today of this family.

And just to add a little extra colour to the story, here are the signatures of the two parties at dispute before Jedburgh Sheriff Court, as recorded in the original case papers.

Signature of Thomas Cavers Signature of Eliza Murray

Preliminary Cavers Y-DNA project results

Some months ago I started a Cavers Y-DNA project at Family Tree DNA. This is very much a long term thing, as I blogged at the time. The aim is to compare direct male line Cavers DNA, passed down from father to son, to see if different Cavers lines are related, and how closely.

So far one male line Cavers descendant has signed up for a brand new Family Tree DNA test. He descends from a branch of Cavers that is believed to originate in Roxburghshire, Scotland, with Walter Cavers born in Scotland circa 1795, but who then moved to Nottingham, England, and established a large family with many descendants. Walter’s origins are something of a mystery. There is no obviously clear baptism to tie up to him, without some problems and question marks. And many Cavers births are missing from the parish registers anyway. His could be one of those. So let’s call for the purposes of this blog post this DNA line that’s been tested Volunteer 1, a direct male line descendant of the mysterious Walter.

Shortly after that another Cavers descendant agreed to transfer their Y-DNA test results from Ancestry to Family Tree DNA. This can be done for a small fee, and is possible because of an agreement between the lab that Ancestry use and the Family Tree DNA system. This person descends from Thomas Cavers (ca1810-1879) who emigrated from Castleton, Roxburghshire to Lanark County, Ontario, Canada. He had many descendants, and a number of siblings who emigrated around the same time. This family line can be traced back to Thomas’s father John Cavers, who married in Hawick in 1798, and had a large family in Castleton parish. But John’s origins are also something of a mystery. Again there is no obvious baptism for him. Nor do the names of his children offer significant clues. Let’s call the DNA testee in this line Volunteer 2, again a direct male line Cavers descendant, this time of Thomas and John.

Some of the DNA results for Volunteer 1 came through quickly, for 12 markers of Y-DNA, and showed a perfect match with Volunteer 2’s Y-DNA. For such an unusual surname this suggests strongly that they have a shared male ancestry, although because Volunteer 2’s DNA was transferred over from Ancestry it’s not possible in Family Tree DNA to run a further report estimating how close the connection is. Then tonight the fuller results for Volunteer 1 have come through, sooner than expected, accurate to 37 markers, which can be compared with the 27 markers available from Volunteer 2’s transfer from Ancestry. And again they match very very closely. There is one genetic difference, but that may be due to a mutation in a later generation. Again though the indication is shared ancestry.

But to complicate things further a third test kit then matched the Y-DNA of volunteers 1 and 2, and this person isn’t even a known Cavers descendant! They are a Cowings, descended from Cowings or Cowan ancestors traced back to Gateshead, County Durham, and 1720. On 12 markers this person, let’s call them Volunteer 3, for they have now joined the Cavers Y-DNA project, match the DNA results for Volunteer 1 and Volunteer 2 perfectly. Extending things to 25 markers Volunteer 3 has a close match to Volunteer 1, with just 2 genetic differences i.e. a genetic distance of 2, and an even closer match to Volunteer 2 (at least those 23 markers available after transfer for Volunteer 2), with 1 genetic distance. At 37 markers Volunteer 1 again matches Volunteer 3 closely, with a genetic distance (differences in marker numbers) of just 2 – very strongly indicative of shared ancestry. Volunteer 2’s available 27 markers match Volunteer 3’s, but with a genetic distance of 3 this time. A further 3 genetic markers (outside the core 37) available for Volunteer 2 also match Volunteer 3’s results.

So what does this mean?! Well I think the 12 marker results indicate shared male line ancestry in all cases, but the higher genetic distance when more markers are compared suggest it is somewhat distant. Genetic distance grows as mutations in the DNA occur, and these mutations happen more frequently over a long time, and many generations. Volunteer 1’s line seems to tie up more closely with Volunteer 3’s line than Volunteer 2’s does. But I am confident that they ultimately have the same ancestry. With the Y-DNA results from Volunteer 1 and Volunteer 3 it’s possible to run a report at Family Tree DNA which estimates how closely the lines are related. This suggests that the chances of Volunteer 1 and Volunteer 3 sharing a common ancestor in 6 generations is almost 54%, in 8 generations 71%, and in 10 generations 83%. In genealogical terms this is relatively close, and quite exciting.

As for the Cowings/Cowan thing, I can’t give a simple answer at the moment. One possible explanation is that a distant Cowings or Cowan ancestor dallied with a Cavers, to put it nicely! Or that there is an illegitimacy link there somewhere, and a Miss Cowan had an illegitimate child, father someone Cavers, and the child took on the Cowan surname. There was a cluster of Cavers people in the Durham area from at least the 18th century onwards, and possibly earlier. Though they probably had Roxburghshire origins ultimately.

Alternatively it’s possible these Cavers lines link up to a Cowan in their ancestry somewhere. That is equally possible, and DNA can’t give a simple answer to this, especially because anything like this probably happened an extremely long time ago, before the good written records we genealogists rely on for piecing together family trees using documentation.

But it is all very exciting. To have two separate Cavers lines link up through the DNA when there was no evidence before of a connection is superb. We can now reasonably say that the Nottingham descendants and the Canadian descendants of John Cavers in Castleton are distant cousins of each other. And the Cowan matching side of things is interesting for raising more questions than answers. All information is good information.

Ultimately though we need more volunteers to sign up to have their DNA tested, from different Cavers branches. The more lines we can get tested, the bigger the picture the DNA can build of if and how the various lines are connected. And perhaps we might in some cases be able to back this up by tracing links in the documentary records, spurred on by the findings from the DNA tests. That would be nice. For more information about what is involved in testing, including the costs of the test kits, please see my original blog post about the project.