My Elusive Celtic Ancestors

I had always assumed, given grandparents with the surnames Williams and Phillips, that I had Welsh ancestry. In two years of research, though, I have yet to find an ancestor who was born in or even lived in Wales. I have, however, found a Scot and an Cornishwoman amongst my ancestors, but their backgrounds are proving very difficult to track down.

Before starting my family history research all I knew about my great-grandmother’s family was that she was born Jane Bowhill. Her birth certificate was easy to track down, and showed that her mother was Emily Dear. Emily’s birth certificate showed that she was born in 1848 to David Dear, an engine fitter, and Margaret Perrow. Armed with this information I turned to the 1851 census, but didn’t get any results for a search for Emily Dear with father David. The problem turned out to be that David has been indexed as Edward Dear (admittedly the script is rather faint). He and Margaret were living in Deptford with their three children; he was born in Scotland, and she was born in Falmouth. Finally I had found some Celtic ancestors! As David’s occupation was given as ‘Working Engineer’ I didn’t find it all that surprising that the couple had ended up in Greenwich, where the two younger children (Emily and Helen, aged 3 years and 15 months respectively) were born. But their eldest daughter, Margaret, was aged 7 and was born in Northumberland of all places. It’s not exactly unexpected to find a Scot in Northumberland, but a Cornishwoman?

So I tried to find out more about the couple and started trying to find a marriage certificate and entry/entries in the 1841 census. Several months passed and I had no luck. Then last year a Google search for ‘David Dear Engineer Northumberland’ turned up a discussion from July 2010 on Genes Reunited about the Rowell family which mentioned an 1841 census entry David and Alice Dean, who were, in fact, David Dear and Alice Halliday who married in the September quarter of 1840. I’d seen this entry in FreeBMD when I was searching for a marriage between David and Margaret, but discounted this David Dear since he was marrying someone else. But as ‘Ozbird’ pointed out in the course of the discussion, Alice Dear died in Newcastle in the June quarter of 1845. So once again David had been mis-indexed. I ordered Alice’s death certificate and their marriage certificate (I haven’t put them on my website, though, since I don’t yet have sufficient evidence that it was ‘my’ David Dear) and the marriage certificate said that the groom’s father was David Dear a gamekeeper.

Fishing at the Falls of Rossie

Photo © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

A search of the 1841 Scottish census transcriptions on threw up nine David Dears, none of them a gamekeeper. But in 1851 the oldest of the eleven David Dears in the results was a gamekeeper (transcribed as ‘G Amekeeper’…), and was a servant in the household of one Horatio Ross at Gledfield in Kincardine. According to Ross MacLeod there is a gravestone in Kincardine Cemetery for a David Dear who died at Gledfield in 1855 aged 82 years, having served the family of Horatio Ross ‘upwards 60 years’. And, thrillingly, the Victoria and Albert museum in London has in its collection an item described as ‘Daguerreotype of Horatio and Colin Ross and Old David Dear fishing at the Falls of Rossie, taken in Scotland by Horatio Ross, 1848-1850’ (left).

To try to find out more about this David Dear I turned to the Scotland’s People site, where you can view images of census returns, death certificates and so forth (for a fee). I was excited to find out that from the start of civil registration in 1855 Scottish death certificates included detail on family background, including place of birth and the details of parents, spouse, and children. (There is more information on this on the Scotland’s People website, here.) Unfortunately, old David Dear’s death certificate provides very little information in this regard: the family sections are blank, even though he is listed as a widower in the 1851 census. Perhaps he was widowed so many years before that nobody could remember his family, but in any case this wasn’t very helpful in finding out whether he had a son called David who became an engineer and went to Northumberland. When I visited Who Do You Think You Are Live in February 2011 I asked a representative from the Scottish Archives about how to go about locating any papers from Horatio Ross’s estates, which I hope might contain information on old David Dear’s work for the family (even just a receipt for the gravestone), but she was unable to find anything in the on-line catalogue. At the nearby Science Museum stand I discovered that they have an archive which may be a source of information for David junior’s work as an engineer, but I’ve yet to follow up that line of enquiry.

So much for David, but what about Margaret senior? If Alice Halliday’s husband was ‘my’ David Dear then Margaret would presumably have made her way up to Northumberland of her own accord rather than as David’s wife. So I wondered if there was a mining connection – perhaps Margaret’s family had been involved in mining in Cornwall, and had moved to Northumberland to work in the mining industry there. That might even explain how Margaret met an engineer (in another branch of my family tree the daughter of a plasterer married the son of a gypsum miner). But I couldn’t find any Perrows in the Newcastle area in the 1841 census. I ordered the CD of Falmouth baptisms from Parish Chest and between 1776 and 1837 it has records for only six baptisms of children with the surname Perrow, all of them the children of John and Margaret. One of them, baptised 1 Jan 1818, was indeed named Margaret.* But John Perrow was a mariner, so bang went my theory about the mining connection, and the other children stayed in Falmouth. Why would Margaret have gone to Newcastle?

But was Margaret senior ever in Northumberland at all? At present the only information I have that links her with the area is the census record indicating that Margaret junior was born there. But was she really? In fact, other census records give conflicting evidence for Margaret junior’s birth place:
1851: Northumberland
1861: [No census record found]
1871: Newcastle on Tyne Northumberland
1881: Middlesex London
1891: Westmorland Kendal (actually, “)
I haven’t found any birth or baptism records for a Margaret Dear or Perrow in the Newcastle area in the relevant ten-year window – in fact, I haven’t found any anywhere. And I still haven’t found any marriage record for David and Margaret

So there are far too many ‘ifs’ in this line of my research for me to put the information I have so far on my main site. Any information would be gratefully received!

  • Where did David junior and Margaret senior meet?
  • Where was Margaret junior born/baptised?
  • Did Margaret senior ever spend time in Newcastle?
  • Did David and Margaret actually marry?
  • Was David the same man as the husband of Alice Halliday?
  • If so, how did the son of a gamekeeper become an engineer?

* Update 29th September 2019: my descent from the Falmouth Margaret has been confirmed by a DNA match to a descendant of her maternal aunt Joan Dunston.

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3 Responses to My Elusive Celtic Ancestors

  1. Hi, Jenny, you have the correct David Dear. He was born bet. 1810-1811 & chr 07 Feb. 1811 in Craig Parish, Co. Angus, Scotland. He died 08 March 1865 in Greenwich. He was the son of David Dere (chr. 08 Feb. 1778 Maryton by Montrose/d. 02 May 1855 at Gledfield, Kincardinshire and Agnes (Ann) Mitchell chr 18 April 1776 Maryton by Montrose/d. 02 July 1843 Scotland. David Dere & Agnes (Ann) had 4 other children besides David (b. 1811).. Susan chr 16 Jan 1807 (my husband’s gggrandmother), Wm. Dear b. 18 Jan 1815, Ross Dear b. 27 May 1817 and James Dear b. 29 Jan 1819. All children were born at Rossie Castle, Montrose Basin were their father David Dere was gamekeeper. He worked for Horatio Ross and his wife, Henriette McCrae and later Horatio’s son, Hercules Ross. David worked for successive Ross descendants for over 60 yrs. I have heard of Margaret Perrow and she is mentioned in my Dear file as a possible second wife (maybe they were not even married. I don’t have any info regarding her other what I read on your site but I have lots of questions. Please contact me.

  2. Hi Again…A couple of pieces of information I neglected to include: David Dear (b. bet. 1810-1811) did indeed marry Alice Halliday in June 1840 (according to the BMD). They had 2 daughters, both named Agnes. Agnes #1 was b. 1842/d. 1842 – reg’d Newcastle upon Tyne (Ancestry ref. Jan/Feb/Mar qtr Vol 25, Page 357, Line 36). Agnes #2 was b. 1843 Newcastle upon Tyne/ 08 Sept. 1843/buried 18 Sept. 1843 St. John’s Cemetery, Newcastle. Death ref. – Ancestry Jul/Aug/Sept qtr Vol 25, Page 204, Line 4. Alice Halliday Dear died in 1845 – Ancestry ref. Vol 25 Page, 244. I have the 1841 census for David Dear and Alice Halliday (Ovingham, Newcastle). I have never experienced any problems with the 3rd generation Dear name. Prior to that, yes as with David Dere (b.1778) and his father before him, William Dere. By the way I would love to get my hands on that picture of David Dear and Horatio Ross fishing! I can’t remember whether it was Horatio or Hercules Ross who was a famous photographer.

    • Hello Dorothy

      How nice to hear from you again! And a strange coincidence that you should get in touch when I was about to update my site with documents relating to the Scottish and Northumbrian Dears. I don’t think there’s anything there on the Scottish Dears other than the records which you drew my attention to back in 2014, but you might find the transcriptions of the records relating to the Northumbrian Dears interesting. In particular, David and Alice had a third daughter, Jemima, who was in the Newcastle workhouse in 1851. (Unfortunately I haven’t able to find any more information about her other than her birth certificate and 1851 census entry – she seems to have vanished into thin air!)

      Please do email me – – if you have any other questions. (I’m particularly interested that you give Ann/Agnes Mitchell’s christening date as 1776 – has more evidence come to light since we were in touch before?)

      And I have good news for you – I believe you can download a copy of the fishing picture from the V&A website. According to that page, the picture was taken by Horatio, and Wikipedia says that ‘His work is now much sought after’.

      Best wishes


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