I can’t resist a puzzle, and when someone posted a question about an Unst ancestor in the Shetland Genealogy Facebook Group, I couldn’t resist taking a closer look. Their 4th Great-Grandparents were John Thomason and Barbara Jane Winwick who I had in the Unst Family Tree already, and they were trying to determine John’s parents. John died on 8 April 1847 which is before 1855 and thus part of the Old Parish Records which means that no parents of the deceased are recorded.
|John Thomason, Watquoy||8 April||10 Apr||at Baliasta|
She had found a John Thomason born to parents Thomas Johnson and Ann Williamson, and wondered whether that John could be the same one.
Thomas Johnson from Unst, and Ann Williamson from Yell (the neighbouring island) were married in Unst on 29 November 1801. From the Old Parish Record of their marriage contract we also know that Thomas was from Clipragrath.
|1801||Contracts of Marriage|
|Nov 29||Thomas Johnson, Clipragarth and Ann Williamson|
Ann Williamson/Johnson can be found in the 1841 and 1851 census returns living with her daughter Mary. She is recorded as a widow in the 1851 census, and was likely a widow in 1841 as well, but that early census does not record such data. To double check this is the same Ann Williamson, I found her daughter Mary’s death record in Unst on 10 July 1877 which shows her parents to be Thomas Johnson and Ann Williamson. So we have the correct person here. Finding all the siblings seemed to be the right thing to follow.
Looking through the Unst Old Parish Baptism Records from 1800 until 1823 (starting just before they were married in case there was a first child out of wedlock) for all children born to a father of Thomas Johnson, yields the following list.
- 1802 Oct 24 Thomas Johnson Cliprogarth a Son John
- 1804 May 2 Thomas Johnson Cliprogarth a daughter Mary (this one is written on the end of the list of 1804, after all the December entries, it could be an infant who died young, or a recording error.)
- 1805 May 10 Thomas Johnson Cliprogarth a daughter Mary
- 1808 July 15 Thomas Johnson Cliprogarth a daughter Jean Barbara
- 1808 July 15 Thomas Johnson Cliprogarth a daughter Elizabeth
- 1814 Feb 17 Thomas Johnson Cliprogarth a daughter Margaret
- 1818 Aug 23 Thomas Johnston Gardie a Son WIlliam born 20 Aug
- 1819 Nov 1 Thomas Johnson Midyell a daughter Ann
- 1820 May 14 Thomas Johnson Haroldswick a Son Thomas born 7 May
- 1822 Sep 1 Thomas Johnston Skaw a Son John born 11 Aug
Clearly these are not all the same father, however, the first five children (with Mary recorded twice) all born to a Thomas Johnson of Cliprogarth look very likely to be siblings.
To double-check sibling-ship, we need to find the death records for those who died after 1855.
- Mary Thomason we found already, died in Unst on 10 July 1877. Her death record confirms both parents.
- Elizabeth Thomason died in Unst on 17 May 1899. Her death record confirms both parents.
- Jean Thomason is living with her twin sister in the 1861 census, and the relationship recorded confirms her as Elizabeth’s sister.
- Margaret Thomson died in Unst on 18 December 1884. Her death record confirms both parents.
Confirmation of the parentage of all the sisters, who died after 1855, and the high likelihood that all the children born to Thomas Johnson of Cliprogarth are siblings, leaves me in no doubt that John Thomason was the son of Thomas Johnson and Ann Williamson as well.
Finally we must ask, could there be any other John Thomason born around the same time who is the man married to Barbara Jane Winwick? All we really know of John is from the 1841 census return where his age (which will have been rounded up) is given as 40.
Looking through the Unst Old Parish Baptism Records from 1795 until 1805 for all children called John, yielded a list of 46 Johns. It is unknown when looking at such entries, what surname the child will use in future records, as patronymic surnames were still very much in use at this time and the OPR entry only records the child’s given name (regardless of how some genealogy websites choose to transcribe it!). Considering both surname forms, we end up with the following list of John’s to follow-up on.
|OPR Baptism Entry||Patronymic Name||Name|
|1798 June 17 George Thomson Gunister, a twin Son John||John Georgeson||John Thomson|
|1798 Sep 9 Thomas Miller, Skreveld, a Son John||John Thomason||John Miller|
|1802 Oct 24 Thomas Johnson Cliprogarth a Son John||John Thomason||John Johnson|
|1804 Mar 10 Laurence Thomson Setter a Son John||John Laurenson||John Thomson|
|1804 July 8 Thomas Harrison & Ursula Williamson a Son John||John Thomason||John Harrison|
|1804 Dec 14 Thomas Anderson Cliff a Son John||John Thomason||John Anderson|
Here’s what we know about the above John’s.
- John Thom[p]son, son of George Thom[p]son, lived and died in Bighton and married Ann Spence Trail. He is not the John we are looking for.
- John Miller, son of Thomas Miller, lived and died in Petister and married Catherine Thomson. He is not the John we are looking for.
- John Thomson, son of Laurence Thomson, married Margaret Mathewson. He is not the John we are looking for.
- John Harrison, son of Thomas Harrison & Ursula Williamson, was a mariner, lived outside of Shetland, and married Margaret and Sarah. He is not the John we are looking for.
- I don’t know anything about John son of Thomas Anderson, but the other children born to Thomas Anderson of Cliff used the surname Anderson, so I don’t believe he is the John we are looking for.
Through a process of elimination, we can therefore confidently say that John Thomason, son of Thomas Johnson of Cliprogarth, is the same man that married Barbara Jane Winwick. There is no other man it could be.