Tracking Alexander Pennant

While the period from 1851 onwards makes life easier for the Scottish family historian, trying to figure out how people fit together going further back than that is much harder.

  • Census: In 1851, census returns include the relationship between the different people recorded in a house, in 1841 you just get the names.
  • Birth Records: From 1855 the Statutory Birth records contain the names of both parents and their marriage date, whereas before that Old Parish Records only gave the father’s name.
  • Marriage Records: From 1855 the Statutory Marriage records contain the names of both parents of each party marrying, as well as their residence and occupation, whereas before that Old Parish Records only give the names and residence of the marrying couple.
  • Death Records: From 1855 the Statutory Death records include the age, residence, occupation, and parents names of the deceased, as well as sometimes another relative as the informant, whereas before that the few Old Parish Records that exist only give the name, age and residence.

Working on my complete Unst Family Tree there are of course many times when I come across people of the same name and a similar age. When these people are living in the era before 1851 more care is needed.

Today I’m tracking Alexander Pennant and his family. I find him in the 1841 census as follows (remember there are no relationships recorded:-

PLACE NAME and SURNAME, SEX and AGE,
of each Person who Abode in each House
on the Night of 6th June.
OCCUPATION
Here insert
Name of Village,
Street, Square, Close
Court, &c.
NAME and SURNAME AGE Of what Profession,
Trade, Employment, or
whether of
independent means.
Male Female
Littlegarth Alexander Penant 76 Fisherman
William do 66 do
Christian do 35
Anderina do 30
Ursla do 22
Catherine do 21
Map of Littlegarth, Unst

Map showing Littlegarth, Unst
Click on the map to go to the zoom-able version on the NLS website

It seems likely from this that the four women are sisters and either Alexander or William are their father, and perhaps their mother has died. Following the four women through later census returns and eventually finding their death records, I find they are all children of Alexander Penant and Janet Sinclair. Knowing the name of his wife, I can now find that they were married on 25th January 1800 with Alexander from Littlegarth, and Janet from Uya.

Littlegarth

Littlegarth with the Blue Banks of Fetlar behind

Now that I know the four women were daughters of Alexander, I can see from the 1851 census return that William is the brother of Alexander, as the four women are still living in Littlegarth with him and are listed as his nieces.

Name of Street, Place, or
Road, and Name or
No. of House
Name and Surname of each Person
who abode in the house
on the Night of 30th March, 1851.
Relation
to
Head of Family
Age of Rank, Profession,
or
Occupation
Males Females
Littlegarth William Penant Head 77 Fisherman; Crofter
Christian do Niece 46 Spinner; Knitter
Anderina do Niece 41
Ursula do Niece 35 Spinner; Knitter
Catherine do Niece 31 Spinner; Knitter

Alexander is not living with them, and a little searching turns up his death in the Old Parish Records Obituary for 1849, recording that he died in Littlegarth.

There’s another Alexander Penant also living in Unst at Savedale in the 1841 census. He lives there with a woman of the same age called Barbara.

PLACE NAME and SURNAME, SEX and AGE,
of each Person who Abode in each House
on the Night of 6th June.
OCCUPATION
Here insert
Name of Village,
Street, Square, Close
Court, &c.
NAME and SURNAME AGE Of what Profession,
Trade, Employment, or
whether of
independent means.
Male Female
Savedale Alexander Penant 60
Barbara do 60

Likelihood is that this is his wife, and sure enough there is an Alexander Penant marrying a Barbara Christie on 29th May 1827 recording them both from Snabrough (nearby to Savedale where they lived after marrying).

Map of Snabrough

Map showing Snabrough and Savedale on Unst
Click on the map to go to the zoom-able version on the NLS website

Alexander Penant's Children

Alexander Penant’s Children

Clearly these two Alexander’s are not the same person, so we must take care not to confuse them. They are different ages too, Janet’s husband was born around 1765, whereas Barbara’s husband was born around 1780.

Searching for all the children born in Unst to father Alexander Penant, we end up with a list of 12 children (click on the diagram to see the list of children in FamilySearch.org). Their birth dates ranging from 1802 (just after Alexander married Janet) to 1819 (still before Alexander and Barbara were married). Their birth dates combined with the higher likelihood that children were born in wedlock, suggest that these are all the children of Alexander and Janet. Those that I have found death records for I have been able to verify both parents names.

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