Jean Veitch, Mrs Somner (ca 1770-1804)

This blog post is about one direct ancestor, my 5xg-grandmother Jean Veitch.

She was the only known child of her parents, and was named after both of her grandmothers. Her father’s mother, Jane Thomson, Mrs Veitch, was a minister’s daughter from Peebles. Her mother’s mother, Jean Logan, Mrs Henderson, was the daughter of a landowner from near Lauder, whose family traced back directly to the last of the powerful Logan Barons of Restalrig.

I’ve never been able to trace a birth record for Jean, but she was probably born circa 1770. Her parents had married at the Tron parish in Edinburgh in 1768, when her mother was 41, and her father about 34. Her father William was the son of a landowner in Peeblesshire and later Selkirkshire, but as a younger son he took on a trade, and became a watchmaker, establishing himself in Haddington.

Jean would have grown up in Haddington, and shows up in some of the library borrowing registers which I analysed for my PhD. These are the borrowing records of Gray Library, a public library free for all residents of the town to use. In 1785, when Jean was probably aged about 15, her father William started to borrow volumes of Fielding’s Works for Jean. I know this because this library’s rules at this time requested that people borrowing books for others should record the name of the person they were borrowing for, and William did this, writing that he was borrowing for his daughter Jean. Five years later Jean appeared as a borrower on her own behalf, borrowing Cook’s Voyages. Her maternal uncle Logan Henderson also appeared briefly in the Gray Library borrowing registers around the time he married the local minister’s daughter.

Jean married in February 1794, in Canongate parish, Edinburgh. Her husband was Richard Somner, a farmer’s son from rural East Lothian, born in 1767, whose father was also a surgeon and pharmacist in Haddington. After their marriage the couple lived at various farms, such as Townhead in Yester parish, and then Gilchriston in Saltoun parish. Over the next 10 years they had 8 children: Anne, Margaret, Richard, William, Mary, George, Francis and Jean Veitch.

Sadly the last of these births proved fatal for Jean. The family bible which has survived, mainly because it is a fine example of Scottish bookbinding and so was preserved in a private collection which ended up in Westminster Abbey Library, records that the child’s “mother died about an hour after she was born”.

Jean Veitch was buried in Saltoun churchyard, and her husband left to bring up the children on his own. He did remarry, but 16 years later in 1820, after his children had grown up, which is quite unusual for a time when a widowed husband with children would commonly have remarried soon after his wife died. I shouldn’t read too much into it, but I do wonder if he adored his lost wife. When Richard died he was buried by his first wife in Saltoun, and their eldest daughter Anne.

Jean’s name was carried forward in the family, not only through her daughter, but also through many granddaughters and great-granddaughters. I’ve never seen a picture of her, though I have a copy of a painting of her husband, and a copy of a painting and photo of her son Francis, my 4xg-grandfather, and several photos of his sister Jean Veitch Somner, Mrs Maclaren. But I have seen a reference in a will to a likeness of their mother Jean, that was being passed down through the family. I wonder if it still survives somewhere today.

About vivdunstan

Academic historian, genealogist, former computer scientist, and Doctor Who fan.
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