Puzzling over an ancestor’s name

In my Scottish ancestry families tended to name children according to traditional Scottish naming patterns. So first son after father’s father, second after mother’s father, and so on, and a similar pattern for girls. Family surnames were often passed down as middle names. And for large families younger children might be named after even more distant relatives.

I have a puzzling name in my Dodds family tree though. Agnes Gray Dodds (1888-1923) was the youngest of nine children born to Alexander Burnett Dodds and Catherine Irvine in Melrose, Roxburghshire. The older children largely followed traditional naming patterns. But I didn’t know where Agnes’s name came from, particularly that intriguing middle name.

One possibility that I’ve considered is that Catherine Irvine was born illegitimate, and perhaps she was brought up in another household (she was born in 1844, and I can’t find her in the 1851 census at all, trying either her mother or father’s surnames), maybe a Gray one, and her youngest child could have been named after a member of that family. But that was just a theory. Then of course there are the usual fall backs, like naming a child after the minister, or the local doctor.

I’ve just been having a look at the 1891 Melrose census, so near to the time of Agnes’s birth, trying to find any obvious Gray families that might jump out at me – well worth a go! This is through the findmypast website, which I have a subscription for, and allows me to do unlimited searches, so much cheaper overall for this type of search than the pay-per-view ScotlandsPeople.gov.uk.

There are three Agnes Gray listings for Melrose, all in Ladhope parish, so part of modern Galashiels. That’s nowhere near where my Dodds family lived near Melrose Abbey, miles away. So I’m rejecting those as possibilities.

Next tack is to widen the search to all Gray people in Melrose. Ah but there are only 49 of them, so it’s not so bad after all. And a lot are in Ladhope parish (quod sacra) again, so I can ignore those for now. Focusing on the other Melrose ones I’m looking at those of older people. And that’s hitting blanks. Most older Gray people in Melrose seem to be inmates in the Lunatic Asylum at Dingleton.

Next strategy: try all Grey people in Melrose. No good, there’s only one, in Ladhope, so again too far away.

So I’m stumped. It’s possible it was a family name, but I haven’t been able to trace back past Catherine’s mother, in fact I haven’t been able to trace that mother beyond references in Catherine’s marriage and death certificates, and the kirk session summoning her in in 1847 for a telling off. The family certainly named one daughter, May Darling Dodds, after the child’s great-granny. So they could have done it in Agnes’s case too. But for now I’m well and truly stumped, and the origins of this name remain a mystery.

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About vivdunstan

Academic historian, genealogist, former computer scientist, and Doctor Who fan.
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2 Responses to Puzzling over an ancestor’s name

  1. Angus Lowrie says:

    Hi Viv, the name Gray is a mystery. Maybe Ladhope is within pony and trap distance from Melrose? I do remember visiting Aunty May a few times where she lived beside Melrose Abbey. She fed me with potted meat I recall and a pie heated up on top of a paraffin heater as she had no electricity. That was fifty years ago so happy memories.

    • vivdunstan says:

      Yup, Ladhope might have been near enough. Equally so might other places round about, like Earlston and so on. Trouble is it’s hard for me to make a viable link the further away we go from the Dodds home area. I was hoping (in vain!) for something to jump out at me. Glad you have fond memories of Auntie May. I have a photo of what looks like a gathering of Dodds people circa 1905, and Mum pointed out Auntie Jessie and Auntie May in it. They were both quite young. I will be scanning this photo.

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