The Grieve Family from the Scottish Borders

The origin of the name Grieve in Scotland and Northern England was ‘governor of a province’, but over time this came to mean ‘overseer, manager, farm bailiff’. Oxford Dictionary of English Surnames.

The family of James Grieve and Elizabeth Jackson

My story begins with James Grieve, who was born about 1690, and who married Elizabeth (Betty) Jackson in about 1712. Three children were born to them (that we know of) - Jean b.1714, Thomas b.1719 and William b.1722 - all in the parish of Ashkirk, Selkirkshire; over the Roxburghshire border maybe, but only five miles north of Hawick, on the road that leads to Selkirk and Galashiels. Because of the paucity of records for this period, and also because I suspect that these people were of humble origin, like most of my ancestors, I can tell you nothing else about them.  The one exception is that William, the youngest of the three children, married Mary Elliott in Hawick in 1751.

The family of William Grieve and Mary Elliott

William and Mary (b.1728) raised at least ten children, five boys and five girls. Their first born did not appear until 1757, six years after they were married: that, or earlier births were not recorded in the parish registers. I shall not enumerate all these children just for the sake of doing so. These are lives that were lived two hundred and fifty years ago, and with so little detail available, there is not much I can say to make them real for us today. William b.1772 was the last child of this family, and the one from whom my family has descended.  

The family of William Grieve and Jean Manual

William Grieve was born in Hawick, and for all his adult life was a farmer in the village of Lilliesleaf (4 miles E of Ashkirk, 5 miles N of Hawick). He married Jean Manual (b.1771) in about 1798 (marriage not recorded) and at least four children were born to them: William b.1799, George b.1801, Margaret b.1803 and Jean b.1805.

All I can tell you about the life of the first son William, is what I could find in the 1851 Census, where he would appear to be living in a rather dysfunctional household (to use a very modern term). William, then aged 52, and still in Lilliesleaf, appears to have a wife (or partner) Helen Grieve, aged 23, and a baby daughter Rachel, five months old. He was possibly married before, because there is another young woman, Janet Crawford, aged 19, in the household, who is also entered as his daughter. In addition we find Isabella Stewart, a pauper and formerly a vagrant, aged 96, from Dunkeld in Perth, Scottish Highlands (this is definitely not your standard Scottish household ).

William’s younger brother George made a more regular marriage to Margaret Lambert in 1828, and they had four children. In the 1841 Census, George and his family are living in Hawick, and George has employment as a tollkeeper.

I could not find anything out about the youngest child, Jean. The life of her sister Margaret, however, may give us all plenty of food for thought.

In her ‘teens Margaret ‘got into trouble’ - and not just the once either. Margaret grew up with at least the two brothers and one sister mentioned above. She would have been eighteen in 1821, and just nineteen when her first illegitimate baby was born in 1822. It is quite likely that she would have left home by then, and perhaps gone into service as a maid-servant in a big house.

It would seem that her daughter Margaret Cavers, ne้ Grieve, was never able to escape the stigma of illegitimacy - for there the words stand on her death certificate, for all to read -  ‘Illegitimate. Married to William Cavers, Shoemaker.’ Margaret died on August 29, 1868; she was born in Lilliesleaf, Roxburgh, forty-six years earlier, to Margaret Grieve. And what of her father? All that could be recollected for the registrar to put on that death certificate was ‘---Robertson, Surgeon (deceased)’.

Eventually, when time permitted, I decided to take up that challenge, and go in search of the Surgeon, Robertson. I carefully assembled all the evidence I could for a small number of possible ‘Robertson’ candidates in Roxburghshire, and at last I think I have found my man.

Robert Robertson of Ednam House in Kelso was a widower, and he had not yet remarried at the time of Margaret Grieve’s birth.  He was practising medicine in Kelso, having not long retired from active service as a surgeon in the Royal Navy. In addition he had a small daughter, aged 4 in 1822, to take care of.  If Margaret Grieve was in his employ as a house-servant, then as master of that house, Robert Robertson would have had both opportunity and motive, perhaps, to make her pregnant.  And so I conclude that Robert Robertson, Surgeon RN retired,  is the most likely candidate to be father of Margaret Grieve, b.1822.  Margaret’s birth does not appear to have been registered in Lilliesleaf Parish Register, but when it becomes possible for me to consult the Kirk Sessions papers for the Parish, (which will necessitate a return visit to the Scottish National Archives in Edinburgh) I may well find the confirmation I need to substantiate my story. (In 2013 I had the opportunity to search the Kirk Sessions minutes  for the period 1820-1830, parishes of Lilliesleaf and Kelso, re the birth of Margaret Grieve b1822; and all to no avail.)

Margaret’s life continued somewhat troubled. In the 1841 Census she is still living at home with her parents, William and Jean, and the household includes her illegitimate daughter Margaret, and a son Robert Grieve, b.1829. Robert’s reputed father was Robert Scott. There is also a suggestion - on Robert’s death certificate of 1866 - that she had a third partner, whose surname was Rankin. But if she was still living with her parents, I think one can make the assumption that they stood by her, whatever her faults or difficulties.

Whatever Margaret’s misfortunes, the fact still remains that she gave birth to a daughter, who eventually married William Cavers. (Link) 

This little essay has covered a period of roughly one hundred and fifty years, detailing as much as could be discovered of the vital events of the members of one family bearing the name Grieve. Their lives seem to have revolved around a triangle of countryside in the Scottish Borders, formed by Ashkirk, Lilliesleaf and Hawick. They worked the land - and few of them travelled far beyond the immediate district. The last-mentioned, Margaret, went further than most of them perhaps, when she journeyed to Kelso twenty miles away, in search of employment.

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