The Cavers Family from Lilliesleaf

in Roxburghshire, Scotland

Cavers One-Name Study

If you follow the link above, you will find a very good summary concerning the wider profile of the Cavers family in the Borders Country. This page covers the story of just one branch of that family, in a little more detail.

The family of Thomas Cavers and Janet Scott

My story begins with Thomas Cavers, who was born c.1760. He married Janet Scott c.1780. I could find no record of either Thomas’ birth or marriage in Scotland’s Old Parish Records, but there can be very little doubt that this Cavers family originated in the Scottish Borders, in Roxburghshire. Thomas’ wife Janet was born in Hawick in 1759. Because parish records of this period are not always complete by any means, all I can say next is that this couple had at least three children, James (1782), Charles (1784)  and Jane (1788). The two boys were born in Wilton, and Jane was born in Hawick. These are the three we know about - there may well have been other children born to Thomas and Janet, whose births were not registered.

James, the first son, was a private in the Dumfriesshire Militia. From the age of eighteen he served a total of nearly six years, the last year and a half in the 3rd Foot Guards. You might well wonder why a Roxburgh man should enlist in the Dumfriesshire Militia, but in its early years the Regiment raised men from the neighbouring counties of Selkirkshire and Roxburghshire too. After his years as a soldier, albeit a foot soldier, perhaps James found it hard to settle down. On discharge his trade is simply listed as labourer, so his only expectation of life back home in Wilton would probably have been as a poorly paid agricultural labourer. No wonder then, that having married and started a family, he eventually emigrated to Canada in the 1830s or 1840s in the hope of a better life. (1851 Canadian Census). In that Census he is described as a farmer and a pensioner - which at that time usually indicated a former soldier.

The second son, Charles Cavers, was also a private in the Dumfriesshire Militia  at the time of his first marriage, to Helen Turnbull, in March 1805. The marriage took place in Wilton, Helen’s birthplace, and there is a record of Thomas, who was born to them in 1807. Thomas’ parents were ‘on the move’ at this period of their lives, and the baby seems to have been born in Edinburgh, and christened six weeks later back in Wilton, Roxburghshire. The baby’s uncle James was a witness at the christening. Thomas never married. He had a long life - he died in 1882 aged 75 - and a number of occupations, including that of cotton hand-loom weaver, as his father did at one time. I was able to trace Thomas in four censuses, 1841, 1851, 1861 and 1881.

The family of Charles Cavers and Martha Cathrae

About ten years after his first marriage, Charles Cavers was married to Martha Cathrae.  I have found no record of this second marriage, or of the death of Helen Turnbull. There were at least two children of this second union, William b.1818 and Elizabeth b.1823.  Apart from the 1841 Census, when Elizabeth can be found, aged 15, living with her parents in Lilliesleaf, there appears to be no record of her birth, subsequent marriage or death.

William is a different matter. His birth, in Wilton, Roxburghshire, also appears to be unrecorded, but after that it is possible to trace him, and his growing family, through five censuses from 1841-1881. He seems to have had two main occupations - the first - Master Shoemaker (1851 Census) and the second - woollen factory worker (1881 census). You may wonder whether, in old age, and perhaps with failing sight, he was no longer able to work as a shoemaker, and had to take a more menial job in a factory, just to make ends meet. This was still a long time before the idea of workers’ pensions was mooted. William died in 1886 aged 68. That means he would have spent, at a guess, almost forty years of his life living and working in Lilliesleaf as a shoemaker.

The reason for the move to Scott’s Place, Selkirk, in later life (1881 Census) is unknown: maybe this was to be closer to other family relatives after the death of his wife - but I have yet to discover a better reason.

The family of William Cavers and Margaret Grieve

William married Margaret Grieve in Lilliesleaf on October 30 1841. The parents of both William and Margaret lived in the village too. The groom was 22,  and the bride 19.  They went on to have nine children, most of whom seem to have survived to reach their majority, but not all of them, by any means, lived to old age. William found himself a widower (and never re-married) in 1868, when Margaret died aged 46. I doubt that they were ever prosperous, but probably worked hard all their lives to support their growing family.

The biggest contrast between the lives of William and Margaret, and those of their children, is reflected in the fact that the older generation hardly moved from the village and environs of their birth (and that of their parents before them). Their children on the other hand made their adult lives in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Stirling, and even London. Five girls and four boys were born to them.

Margaret, the eldest daughter (1842-1880) married George Wood (link) and lived out her married life in a tenement in Edinburgh. She died, aged only 38, worn out one suspects, with child-bearing (eight children in eighteen years).

Martha (1844-1866) found work in Glasgow as a domestic servant, and died there, aged 22. She was unmarried.

Jane (1846-1879) went to live in Edinburgh with her eldest sister Margaret and George Wood, presumably to give a helping hand with their young family. She died there, aged 32. She was unmarried.

Janet (1849-1873) went to live in Stirling, and married a soldier there. She too died young, aged 24. Her husband, James Paterson, belonged to the 79th Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders, and was stationed in Stirling Castle at the time of his marriage. He must have resigned from the army quite soon after that, because in the 1871 Census, his wife Janet is working as a live-in domestic  in a house in Glasgow, and James can be found in lodgings not far away, working as a draper’s shopman. This seems rather sad to me, for the young couple to be separated by economic necessity - and once Janet’s dashing young man in a fine uniform had become a humdrum shop worker - maybe things didn’t feel quite so romantic.

Charles (1852-1895) is there in the 1861 Census aged 9; then I have no more information, until he appears in the 1891 Census for England. By then, he was married with two children, and working as a marine engineer in the Merchant Navy out of Birkenhead, Cheshire. He died of cancer, aged 43, leaving a widow and three young children. His sister Lizzie (Elizabeth) came down from Scotland to nurse him in this last illness, and was present when he died.

William (1855-1904) came to London sometime in the 1870s, found work as a seaman, married and settled in St George in the East. He had one son, William John b.1881. William and his wife died in the same year, 1904, aged respectively 49 and 48. I am sorry to say that William’s death was a particularly sad one.

George (1858-1877) died from respiratory disease (a very common cause of death amongst workers in the woollen industry) aged only 18. He was unmarried and still living at home in Selkirk.

Elizabeth, the youngest daughter, lived longest (1862-1942). After the untimely death of her mother, when she was only six years old, Lizzie was sent to Edinburgh for a while, to be raised by her eldest sister, Margaret. When the Wood family migrated south to London (sometime in the 1880s) Lizzie moved back to Selkirk and kept house for her father (1881 Census). In later years she was fondly known as “Aunt Lizzie”.

For a while, after the death of their father in 1886, the two youngest siblings, Elizabeth and Robert, shared a house. (1891 Census). Eventually Elizabeth  married James Scott Orr, and they lived in Selkirk all their married lives.

Robert (1864-1899) having started a career in the law, then ventured to London in the 1890s to find work, like his elder brother William. He also died young, aged only 34, in the Brook Street Workhouse Infirmary in Lambeth.

So - there you are - the adventures of four generations of one branch of the Cavers family from Roxburghshire;  most of this information was gleaned from the collections of records that are available to us today on the Internet (although I began my research in the days before this was so). They are - the Old Parish Records for Scotland; the Scottish Statutory Registers from 1855 onwards; the Scottish Censuses for 1841 through 1901; the Censuses for England for the same period; the English Indexes for Births, Marriages and Deaths.

Looking for more details? Try the Family Groups page, where you will find Census references, birth, marriage and death records.