Who we are, who we were,
and one family's story
This site dedicated in loving memory to
Joseph Ralston Henderson, 1915-2010
Hello, cousin. I'm glad you stopped by. If you are looking for the Robert Henderson and Mary Ralston Henderson lineage,
you can skip down to it directly. If you are
a close cousin looking for the John Gordon
Henderson and Kathryn Holstein Henderson family tree, please
contact me at jhenderson @ icyousee.org.
For links to do your own genealogical research, check below.
Digression before we even start: In my wife's lineage are Roger
Toothaker, an accused witch (and a male at that) who died in prison
during the Salem witch
hysteria, and several Mayflower
passengers. Hey, that's pretty good, but in my own family tree is also
witch and the hero of an old Scots ballad (Can you be
related to a fictional
character?). However, none of those folks were Hendersons. As for my
Henderson ancestors, as proud of them as I am, they were just ordinary
folks, farmers, house carpenters, school teachers, cattle thieves, and
Hello, long lost Henderson cousin. Are we related?
- According to the General
Register Office for Scotland, Henderson was 27th most
common surname in Scotland in 1995.
- According to the 2000 United States census, Henderson was
the 103rd most
common surname in the USA. That's down from 81st most common
surname in 1990.
on "son of Henry" have been found throughout the British Isles and
Europe. Among the variations are d'Enrico, d’Handresson, Heinrich,
Heinrichs, Heinrichsen, Heinrichsohn, Heinrichson, Heinricks, Henders,
Hendricks, Hendrie, Hendron, Hendry, Henriksen, Henrikson, Henrisoun,
Henry, Henryson, Hinrichsen, Jindrich, Kendrick, MacEanruig, MacHendry,
MacHenry, MacKendree, MacKendrick, MacKendry, McHendry, McHenry,
McKendrick, McKendry. More evidence of unrelatedness.
- Over the decades, especially in North America, many of these
variations, as well as names similar in spelling or pronunciation, were
anglicized or modified to Henderson. So just because you are a
Henderson, it doesn't necessarily mean you are a Scot.
- In Scotland, there must have been many unrelated branches
and enclaves of Hendersons from different parts of the
nation that shared a name but not the immediate gene pool.
- Unfortunately, that means that even though you are named
Henderson (or your mother was named Henderson), there is an excellent
chance that we are not related.
- You are at least distantly related to me if you can trace your
family back to Robert Henderson,
born sometime in the mid-1700's in Northern Ireland, married Mary (or
Mary Ann) Ralston, and emigrated from Tyrone County around 1796, and
settled in what is now Indiana County, Pennsylvania.
Related or not, if you are a Henderson living in the North America, we
probably share some things in common.
- There is an excellent chance that you come from Scots living in Northern Ireland. Many more Scottish immigrants departed from Ireland than
emigrated directly from Scotland. Common sense that must have been true
of the colonial Hendersons, as well. The Hendersons who emigrated from
Scotland directly were most concentrated in the Canadian maritimes, and
a few pockets of Virginia and North Carolina.
- If your ancestors were typical Henderson
emigrants they were not
Highlanders. Although Henderson
was a proud Highland name -- except they failed to serve as adequate
bodyguards in Glencoe massacre -- Highlanders did not emigrate to
America in any significant numbers.
- Before they emigrated to Ulster in Northern Ireland, your
Henderson ancestors most likely came from the Scottish Borders.
I can't find any record that there was any significant migration from
other parts of Scotland, except for Fife and possibly the urban centers of Edinburgh and Glasgow.
- If I had to be more specific, I would suggest that if they came
from the Scottish Borders, they likely hailed from Eskdale in Dumfriesshire
On what grounds do I say this?
- The Ulster
Scots (only North Americans seem to call them Scotch-Irish,
or now Scots-Irish
to use the term Senator Jim Webb has popularized) were almost all
Presbyterians who were originally Scottish Lowlanders. After the defeat
of the Irish in 1603, the English took possession of the six northern
counties of Ulster, and James (I or VI, depending on whether you were
English or Scottish) offered land grants to English and Scottish
nobility and gentry in order to colonize the new acquisitions with
loyal subjects. Impoverished Scottish Lowlanders who lived in
sub-marginal land, however, were almost the only people willing to take
advantage of the opportunity. I find no evidence that there was
significant emigration from Scots living in Fife to have emigrated to
Ulster. In addition, it was very rare for any Highlanders to move to
the Ulster Plantation. Historian Horace Edward Henderson goes even
further saying that the residents of the Highlands played no role
in the settlement of the Plantation of Ulster. In the earliest period
of the Ulster Plantation settlement scheme, Highlanders were
specifically excluded by King James VI and I.
Why? A few Highland clans, or at least the MacDonalds of Glencoe
(including their Henderson scions), were Catholic or supportive of the
Catholic claimants to the throne, and not trusted to populate Ireland.
Highlanders migrated far and wide as a result of the Highland
Clearances in the nineteenth century, long after the massive
Scots-Irish migration to America was over. Even then they did not
migrate in great numbers to either the United States or northern
Ireland. When the clearances occurred, most settled in Lowland Scotland
or the colonies (Canada and New Zealand especially, but not the United
States which was no longer a British colony.
- Although the Scots who emigrated to Northern Ireland did
come from many parts of lowland Scotland, including the Fife peninsula
and the cities of Glasgow and Edinburgh, where the Henderson name was
commonly found, the highest percentage came from southwestern Scotland
and Scottish Borders, areas that were poverty-ravaged, beleaguered by
decades of war (between both nations and families), and filled with
Presbyterian radicals. The Covenanters were
found in Perth and Fife, especially some of the ministers, but their
real heartland became the southwestern counties of Scotland.
- There is documented evidence of a large number of Hendersons
living in the Western and Middle Marches at the time of the migration
- A map in George MacDonald Fraser's book The Steel Bonnets
places Hendersons in the border regions of Liddesdale and Eskdale. They
were a minor enough family or riding clan, however, that Hendersons are
not much mentioned or discussed in the text.
N.B.: My father was convinced that our Hendersons
had some connection with the Henderson family connected to Fordell
Castle in Fifeshire. The closest connection I can find between the
Hendersons of Fordell and Liddesdale is a brief and undocumented
statement on a Rampant
page that "the southern Hendersons spread eastwards from Dumfries to
Liddesdale." Although Fordell is not in Dumfries, according to the same
source, William Henrison of Dumfries was driven from his lands in the
fourteenth century, and one descendant, James Henderson, established
himself with a fortified mansion in Fordell in 1511.
The lineage of one Indiana County family of Hendersons has been
traced back to Fordell in Fife. This is not a case of Scottish nobility
coming to Pennsylvania, however. Three Scottish brothers who were at
least five generations removed from the Henderson barons of Fordell,
came first to Virginia from Fordell. One brother, Alexander stayed in
Virginia many years before settling in Kentucky; another, William,
moved around a bit before settling in North Carolina; and a third,
John, moved to Pennsylvania. His son, John Washington Henderson, became
a preacher, one of the first Presbyterian ministers in Westmoreland
County (part of which eventually bcame Indiana County). A great nephew
of his, also John Washington Henderson, born in Mahoning township in
northern Indiana County, later became sheriff of Jefferson County. I
have found no record that this family was in any way connected to my
family. Since our Henderson ancestors emigrated from Tyrone in northern
Ireland, it is not likely that they would have been related to these
descendents of the castle-dwellers. However, no roots have been traced
from the northern Ireland Hendersons back to Scotland.
Please don't be disappointed, but, if
you were descended from Scottish Border Hendersons or lowlander
Hendersons dwelling in Glasgow, Edinboro, Perth, or even Fife, alas,
- did not wear
- did not play the highland bagpipes.
- spoke Scots English, not Scots Gaelic.
- were quite an ethnic mix
of Danish, Saxon, Angle, Norman, Flemish, and, of course, a little
Celtic (unlike the Highlanders who ethnically were quite akin to the
- not only weren't related to the unfortunate handful of Hendersons
who were slaughtered with the MacDonalds in Glencoe,
but would have despised them (since those Glencoe Hendersons were
Catholic or Catholic-leaning Jacobites).
- They were probably poor,
whether they were urban or rural dwellers.
- They were most likely hard-working tenant farmers or peasants --
without even a classy name like crofter, since
the term crofter was a euphemism for a peasant of the
highlands and islands.
- They might, instead, have been semi-lawless cattle thieves --
more poetically called reivers.
outlawry is somewhat in question, however, since they kept their name
off a 1587 Scottish Parliamentary list of border families and clans
condemned for lawlessness. One explanation is that they were honorable,
clean living citizens. The other is that, although they were thieves,
they were simply too minor and obscure to have gained the government's
- They were filled with poetry and music, as the Border
ballads, many of which were collected by Francis Child more than a
century ago, indicate.
- In the 16th century and earlier, they might have been illiterate.
- They feuded. The Hatfields and McCoys didn't start the tradition
in Kentucky. They were just doing what many other Border Scots and Border English families
had been doing for centuries before them.
- They were dour.
Even centuries ago, Border Scots had a reputation for being silently
ill-humored and gloomy.
- Lawless as their reputation had been, once they got religion,
they became stern, forbidding Presbyterians.
These are 70 notable Hendersons that, as far as I can figure, I am not related to (I won't make assumptions about
Explorers and frontier pioneers:
Henderson, judge, financier of Daniel Boone, and Transylvanian, was
one of the greatest land speculators in history
- Captain James Henderson, of the East India Company ship Hercules,
who in 1819 discovered (at least for the British) Henderson
an uninhabited Pitcairn Island. Who knows when the first Polynesian had
discovered it, but it had been previously discovered by a European in
1606 when Portuguese navigator Pedro Fernandez de Quiros claimed it for
- William Henderson, landowner and pioneer, after whom Henderson Bay, Henderson Harbor, and Henderson, NY, are named.
- Robert Douglas Henderson, the discoverer of gold in the Klondike.
Henderson, the Scottish Presbyterian preacher most responsible for
the keeping the Church of Scotland Presbyterian (by preparing the
National Covenant of 1638 and serving as Moderator of the Glasgow
Assembly at a key time during the early 17th Century)
- Bobby Henderson, founder in 2005 of the Flying Spaghetti Monster religion.
Although some call Pastafarianism a parody developed to protest the
decision by the Kansas State Board of Education to require the teaching
of intelligent design in the public schools, this church has become
"the most logical and fastest growing religion on the planet."
- Katharine Rhodes Henderson, president of Auburn Theological Seminary
Henderson, globetrotting photojournalist and inclusionist theologian.
Doctors, scientists, and scholars:
- Donald Henderson, the doctor who headed the team that eradicated smallpox.
Henderson, Scottish astronomer, who was the first person to measure
the distance of a star (Alpha
Centauri in 1832/33). A lunar
crater is named after him [Not to be confused Odessa
Meteor Crater, discovered by Julius Henderson]
- Lawrence Joseph Henderson, a leading biochemist of the early 20th
century, most famous for establishing Harvard's Fatigue
Lab and for writing what later became known as the Henderson-Hasselbalch
- Virginia Avenel
Henderson, called the "first lady of nursing"
- Metta Lou Henderson, honored pharmacist and author
Henderson, mathematician and colleague of Einstein
S. Henderson, Mayan scholar and co-discoverer of the "Cradle of
Politicians, organizers, and diplomats (some quite noted
for their lack of success):
- Neville Henderson, the British
ambassador to Germany, who advocated the policy of appeasement
towards Nazi Germany.
a United States Senator who authored the Thirteenth Amendment
abolishing slavery in the United States and courageously defied the
Republican Party leadership in 1868 by voting to acquit President
Andrew Johnson at his impeachment trial. Neither act was popular in his
home state of Missouri, and he subsequently lost his bid for
re-election and dropped out of politics.
was once known as the "most powerful man in the country" after FDR appointed him chief of the Office of Price
Administration, making him responsible for civilian rationing
during World War II.
- Nobel Peace Prize winning Arthur
Henderson, a British diplomat who fought valiantly, if
unsuccessfully, for disarmament prior to World War II.
the first governor of the State of Texas, who served most of his first
and only term commanding a division of Texas Rangers in the Mexican
War. He was only a few months into his career in the US Senate when he
- The Honorable Thelton
a federal judge in the Northern District of California, was the
first African-American lawyer in the Justice Department's Civil Rights
Division and has been a key civil rights jurist.
the first woman in Canada to earn a PhD, and early advocate of the
Bahai faith in that country, but better known as a feminist, Socialist,
peace advocate, and labour organizer,
Bremner Henderson, Scottish-born, was Speaker of the US House of
Representatives from 1899 to 1903. If he did anything remarkable during
those years, however, I haven't discovered them.
Henderson, a US Senator from Nevada, who seems most noted for a
failed assassination attempt against him and having a desert city
named after him
Our musical Hendersons:
Henderson, the twentieth century musical legend, poet, folksong
collector, and composer of what many called the unofficial Scottish
Henderson, whose real name was Raymond Brost, was the tin-pan-alley
tunesmith responsible or co-responsible for such favorites as "That Old
Gang of Mine," "The Best Things in Life Are Free," "Five Foot Two, Eyes
of Blue," "You're The Cream in My Coffee," "Button Up Your Overcoat,"
and "Bye, Bye Blackbird."
Henderson, the real father of Big Band Music and the musician who
broke an important color barrier when he joined the Benny Goodman Band,
becoming the first black musician to appear on stage with a "white"
- Fletcher's brother Horace
was a pretty good musician and arranger, too.
nee Deschamps, was a vaudeville blues singer and the first female
vocalist to record with a big band.
Henderson, yet another gifted jazz arranger, who worked with
artists as diverse as Duke Ellington and the Canadian Brass.
Henderson, the late goateed Tonight Show bandleader, symphony
conductor, and composer.
Henderson, legendary and Grammy Award winning tenor saxophonist.
- Chick Henderson,
born Henderson Rowntree, was a wildly popular English singer from the
Big Band era. Largely forgotten now, he was the first British soloist
to sell a million records.
Henderson is a luthier and a master of the steel-string guitar who
with a National Heritage Award. He's been host of a music festival in
Galax, Virginia, since 1995. The guitar he made for Eric Clapton has
been called the perfect
- Marge Henderson Buell, the creator of Little Lulu, a comic
strip from an earlier era.
- Sam Henderson,
from the SpongeBob
SquarePants show, is a cartoonist of another era.
Henderson was a portrait painter, muralist, and book illustrator
(especially notable for his woodcuts) for works by E. R. Eddison,
W. H. Hudson, Shakespeare,
and Chaucer. He was also an official artist of the RAF during
M. Henderson, dinosaur animator
- Zenna Henderson, the creator of the haunting series of sf
stories, collectively called "The People."
Born a Chlarson, she married into our family.
Henderson, leading author in the niche of inspirational romantic
- Harold G. Henderson, the translator most responsible for
to the English-speaking world.
Henderson, "wild" and audacious chef, cookbook compiler, and cult
- Eleanor Henderson,
who just happens to a writing professor where I'm a librarian, had her
debut novel Ten Thousand Saints receive much critical acclaim
and hit several best seller lists.
Soldiers, both heroic and infamous:
Henderson, the fifth and longest serving Commandant of the Marine
Corps, after whom the first USS
Henderson, a navy transport, was named.
- Major Lofton R. Henderson, a Marine Squadron Commander, who was
killed at Midways and posthumously awarded the Navy Cross. His heroism
was also rewarded by the naming in his honor of Henderson Field
in Guadalcanal and the WWII destroyer USS
- Colonel Oran
K. Henderson, the colonel of the 11th Battalion, who was found not
guilty in a court martial related to the My Lai massacre.
Famous for film, televsion, theatre, and not wearing (many)
- Shirley Henderson,
who may be most famous for portraying Moaning Myrtle, the annoying ghostly character in the
Harry Potter films.
- The Brady Bunch's mom (no,
Florence didn't change her last name from Heisenberger or Hinderblatt).
- Martin Henderson, a New Zealand actor and heart throb (think teens and Demi Moore)
- Laura Henderson, British society lady and theatre
impresario personified by Judy Dench in "Mrs. Henderson Presents."
- Julie Henderson is the first Henderson super-model. She has
become a regular for the Sports
Illustrated swimsuit issue. Her grandfather was much more narrowly
famous after he discovered a new strain of rudy
Our athletic kinfolk:
(baseball) -- the nearly unanimous Hall of Fame pick his first year of
- Dave (baseball)
-- great player, but only made it to one All-Star Game
- Thomas [Hollywood]
(football) -- more famous for what he did off the field
Rose (rodeo star) -- pioneering champion bronc rider at the turn of
the twentieth century
(hockey) -- Canadians revere him for "The Goal
of the Century"
- Krazy George -- professional cheerleader who was the inventor of "The Wave"
- Mitch, Princeton's head basketball coach
- Cam, a pioneering college basketball coach, inventor of the fast break and modern zone defense
Entreprenuers, capitalists, and agricultural innovators:
former GM president and CEO who took the auto company to bankruptcy and
- Peter Henderson, pioneer seed
A prolific horticultural writer and innovator, he founded a garden
supply business, helped invent the seed catalog, and helped turn New
Jersey into the Garden State.
- Alexander Henderson,
a Scot who immigrated to Virginia and in the eighteenth century became
the "father of the chain store" when he opened stores in Dumfries,
Alexandria, Colchester, and Occoquan, Va.
[with his brothers George, Thomas, and Robert] founded a steamship
company in Glasgow in 1834 that spawned several related firms and
enterprises and lasted in some form of the Henderson name until 1970.
The Supreme Court case, Henderson
v. Mayor of City of New York (1876), established immigration under control of federal law, superseding any state or local
Henderson, Peacework Organic Farm, expert on sustainability and community supported agriculture
- Hazel Henderson, the noted authority on equitable ecologically
sustainable human development and socially responsible business and
- Seth Aaron Henderson, fashion designer and a Project Runway all-star.
- Colonial timber mill operator Thomas
Henderson, after whom the Aukland suburb of Henderson and the Henderson Valley
(one of the most prolific winemaking areas in New Zealand) are named
- Charles Christopher Henderson, Arkadelphia financier, after whom
a state university in Arkansas is
- (and 70.) William
G. and Tom W. Henderson, pioneer motorcycle designers and
Henderson LewellingI don't know if Henderson Lewelling was
named for a relative or not, so he may have no Henderson blood in him
at all. Henderson does sound like an unusual first name if there isn't
a family connection, but his father was named Meshack, and his uncles
Shadrach, and Abednego. Lewelling was one remarkable individual, so I
hope there is a legitimate connection. Born in 1810 (probably) in North
his Quaker family opposed slavery and either found life in North
uncomfortable or they were pulled by the desire to move West for other
reasons. In 1825, his family was one of several Quaker families to
start a slow progression westward, first to Indiana and then about ten
years later to Iowa, where they helped establish a new Quaker-filled
community of Salem. Lewelling, with other members of his family, became
establishing a merchandise store, orchard, and nursery. He was
also prominent, in the secretive way he needed to be, in the Underground Railroad.
The Friends of Salem disagreed over the issue of abolition (or at least
how active to be in fighting for abolition), and the Lewellings were
among 50 members to be disfellowshiped. In 1847, Lewelling, probably
for religious and commercial reasons as well as wanderlust, headed off
with his family by covered wagon along the Oregon Trail. Three wagons
held the family of ten (Henderson, his wife Elizabeth, five daughters,
and three sons) and all their earthly possessions, and one wagon held
what would become the parent stock of most of the orchards in the
Pacific Northwest. Lewelling designed and had specially built the wagon
with two long, narrow boxes filled twelve inches deep with charcoal,
composted manure, and soil. The boxes were filled with more than 700
young fruit and nut trees --
apples, pears, peaches, cherries, quince, walnut, and hickory -- as
well as grape vines and currant and gooseberry bushes. The family
started as part of a wagon train of more than 100 wagons, but the
cumbersome, heavy-loaded nursery wagon pulled by three yoke of oxen was
slow, and the plants required daily attention, so the wagon train left
them behind. They joined other wagon trains along the way, but usually
only for a few days. They had started with two other families in a
caravan of seven wagons, but when one of the men from another wagon
died, the Lewellings ended up traveling on their own. The trip west
took seven months, and only on the best days did the wagons travel as
many as fifteen miles. One story has been told that a miracle saved the
lives of the Lewelling party. There was a war going on in the Oregon
Territory between the United States and the Cayuse, or Liksiyu, people.
The hostilities broke out because of tensions brought on by arrival of
thousands of new settlers whom the Cayuse thought were desecrating the
land. A family of missionaries living near The Dalles was massacred, in
revenge for the doctor spreading a measles epidemic among the Cayuse,
so it was believed. The Dalles is a section of the Columbia River
bordered by steep cliffs where the Oregon Trail came to an end, and the
massacre had occured only a very short time before the Lewelling family
was approaching that part of the country. However, when a Cayuse war
party started to make an attack on the Lewelling wagon train, they
suddenly turned peaceful. Henderson's daughter Eliza, many years later,
supplied an explanation. The Cayuse believed that the Great Spirit
lived in trees and when they saw the wagon full of trees, they thought
that this group of settlers should not be harmed. The Indians even
helped these settlers complete their journey safely.
The transfer of all those trees across the Columbia River was no easy
task, but Lewelling and family and trees eventually arrived in yet
another community Lewelling helped
establish, Milwaukie. Llewelling, with a partner William Meek,
established the first
commercial orchard in the Pacific Northwest, and the grafted trees they
sold helped establish all the early orchards in Oregon and Washington.
To get an idea of his success, within a few years, the partnership had
sold more than 100,000 trees at the price of $1.00 to $1.50. The
Rush lured Lewelling from Oregon, but he was clever enough to see
northern California as an emerging market for fruit. He sold his
enterprise and holdings in Oregon to his partner and moved south to
Alameda County. There he established one more community -- Fruitvale --
and made another
fortune. Lewelling's story doesn't end there, however. While they were
living in Oregon, his first wife died in childbirth. It would have been
their eleventh child. It is speculated that something then changed in
Henderson Lewelling. He not only moved to California, but he rapidly
took on a series of new wives. It is not clear how the marriages ended.
He was on his fourth wife, when Lewelling came up with a new idea. He
decided to establish a utopian community based on a combination of
Quaker principles, spiritualism, and free love. In 1859, he sailed with
about 30 eager colonists, including some family members, but minus his
wife, to Hondurus. The timing of the departure may have been influenced
by his wife trying to have the courts declare Lewelling a lunatic. The
society of Free Lovers, known as the Harmonial Brotherhood, failed at
their enterprise, with many of the community dying of disease. After
less than two years, Lewelling returned to California in poverty. He
lived another 18 years, apparently in obscurity, far removed from the
fruit and orchard business, possibly estranged from family, and perhaps
crazy. He died of a heart attack while clearing brush. His gravestone
spelled his name Luelling, although during his life before the free
love expedition in documents his name was spelled Lewelling. It might
be attributed to a gravestone engraver's mistake, except his first
wife, buried in Oregon, had Luelling on her gravestone, as well. Thus a
sad end to a remarkable man who deserves a place among the Hendersons.
There seems to be suprisingly few fictional Hendersons, but they
include this dozen:
- Eugene Henderson, a late middle aged Connecticut millionaire with
a wanderlust for Africa, in Saul Bellow's Henderson
the Rain King.
- Shepherd Henderson, in Bell, Book and Candle,
portrayed by Jimmy Stewart in the movie and Rex Harrison on Broadway.
- Ralph Henderson, the mystery solver in The Notting Hill
Mystery, the world's first detective novel, written in 1862-63.
- Iris Henderson, the pretty young tourist in Alfred Hitchcock's The Lady Vanishes,
and, I'm pretty sure, also the main protagonist in Ethel Lina White's The
Wheel Spins, the novel on which it was based.
- Ted & Alice Henderson, played by Eliott Gould and Dyan Cannon
in Bob & Carol
& Ted & Alice
Henderson, of the Superman fame.
- Tiffany Henderson, the Austin-dwelling sweetheart of one of the raunchy
college boys from Ithaca, in Road Trip.
Henderson, in Seven Days in May
(book and movie), is a duped colonel who followed orders without asking
questions, but, as I recall, eventually becomes one of the good guys.
in Battlestar Galactica. If it weren't for the credits you
might not know Henderson was her last name.
- A whole family of Hendersons in an Oscar-winning film about a
family that encounters Big Foot, Harry and the Hendersons
[OK, this forgettable film's only Oscar nomination was for Best Make-Up, but
it did win].
- Dr. Paul Henderson, as a scientist in a very cheap, very bad,
1968 horror film shot on location in the Phillipines, Brides of Blood.
- A whole bunch of soap opera characters and one fictional town (in Search for Tomorrow) were named Henderson
To check on your own ancesters, you can try
these genealogical links:
- Roots-Web and its WorldConnect Project
are free components of Ancestry.com. Through them you can look up
family trees generated by other genealogsts (often with conflicting
information), information about specific surnames, as well as advice on
obtaining vital records or how to start doing genealogical research on
- US GenWeb, Canada GenWeb Project
and World GenWeb
are all connected projects run through volunteer efforts to provide
help and information for genealogical research. The sites are
geographically oriented more than family tree oriented. For example, US
GenWeb is divided up to included every state and county. Once you down
to the right level, you can then find church records, census records,
military records, book transcripts, and family items. The completeness
of the records is dependent on the individual volunteers.
- If you interested in discussing your ancestors with others or
making enquiries about them, you can try GenForum Surname
Message Boards from Genealogy.com. Some tools from Genealogy.com are free, others
are free only if you register, and some require a subscription.
- The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is one of the
world's largest resource centers for genealogical research. Family Search includes a search
engine to track down ancestors online. Enter an ancestor's name to
match one of the multiple millions that are in its international files.
If you are successful, you can then trace the family trees and
pedigrees. The database also searches genealogical Web sites beyond
those the Church maintains and provides many guides, links, and
- If you need any more, try the Internet Public Library's Genealogy Pathfinder
wirh a basic guide and a list of Internet genealogy resources. There
are plenty of other genealogical research guides, but they all seem to
lead back to the same resources.
A Family of Hendersons Come
The Story of Robert Henderson and Mary Ralston Henderson and a few of
Note: Many of the family details and
stories have been preserved
thanks to efforts of many individuals, especially Big Aunt Helen and
Little Aunt Helen and Aunt Mitch (Helen Streams and Helen McFarland and
Martha Allison), my father Joseph Ralston Henderson, and his cousin Bob
Duncan. Thanks to Faye Tyson for sharing the scanned images used.
First Generation: Robert Henderson and Mary Ralston
Robert and Mary (Mary Ann Ralston) Henderson were Ulster Scots who
were born sometime in the mid-1700's, in Northern Ireland, probably
A family history at least indicates that Tyrone County
was their home before emigrating to the United States. Almost nothing
about their life in Ireland is known. They raised a family of six
boys and three girls. Probably all of them were born in Ireland.
According to tradition handed down through the generations, Robert took
part in the Irish
rebellions before coming to America. If true, Robert Henderson was
possibly a member of the Society of United Irishmen, a organization
that united Presbyterian dissenters in Ulster with Catholics from the
south in a struggle for an independent Ireland. Inspired by the
revolutionary and republican principles of the American and French
Revolutions, the group was founded by Wolfe Tone in 1791. There was
plenty of political ferment while the Hendersons were still in Ireland,
but it was only after the Henderson family had come to America, that
the Irish Rebellion of 1798 broke out. In one of the most violent and
bloody wars in Irish history, as many as 30,000 men, women, and
children may have been killed in the course of about three months.
Rebels who were caught but not executed were deported to Australia, but
there is no indication that the Hendersons left involuntarily because
of Robert Henderson's involvment in rebellious activities. In a quirk
of history, members of a later generation of Hendersons lived in the
Vinegar Hill section of Indiana, Pa., and that hill may have been named
after the site of one of the last battles of the Rebellion of 1798.
The Hendersons were probably members of the Seceders (Associate
Presbyterian Church). This speculation is made based on the fact that
the next generation of Henderson did not attend the Covenanter
Church which was the closest Presbyterian church to them, but
helped found the West Union church, which was affiliated with the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church
(which in 1782 was formed to combine the Seceders and Covenanters).
The History of Indiana County, PA, 1745-1880, published
by J. A. Caldwell, Newark, OH, 1880, lists the names of their nine
children. Unfortunately, it provides no dates and lists first the boys
and then the girls, so even their birth order is uncertain.
No written documentation has been found to indicate from where or
when the Henderson family left Ireland or whether or not they all came
at the same time. Family tradition, however, tells that the family left
together from Londonderry,
spent sixteen weeks crossing the Atlantic, and landed in Philadelphia
probably in 1796 or 1797. Since we know that Robert and his son
Alexander were naturalized as citizens, the family could not have
arrived before March 4, 1789, the date that the United States
Constitution took effect. Information provided in Caldwell's History of
Indiana County (1880) is inexact: "Alexander Henderson was a son of
Robert and Mary, nee Ralston, natives of Ireland, who settled about
1796 on what is now the Frank Cribbs farm, Young Township." Records
provided by Harry Danner Henderson of Potosi, WI (original source
unknown) indicate that two of Robert and Mary's sons, John and Robert,
Jr., sailed to America on March 26, 1797, the day after John married
Letitia Fullerton, and settled in Conemaugh Township (Saltsburg area of
Indiana County). A confused record in The
History of Marion County Ohio (1883), indicates that David
Henderson, [oldest son of Robert and Mary Ann], and his wife, Elizabeth
(Orr) Henderson, "natives of County Tyrone, Ireland, ... emigrated to
America in 1791, settling at Shippensburg, Penn., early pioneers.
Later, they came to Clarksburg, Ind[iana County, Penn.], remaining a
number years, thence came to Marion County, but he died in Delaware,
Ohio, in 1834, aged eighty-seven years." Researchers Scott
& Kathryn Ives point out that David's dates are probably wrong,
since if the Marian History is accurate, he would be a quarter of a
century older than the next of his siblings. If the birth date is
wrong, the emigration date must also be held in question. However, if
either of these two latter accounts is accurate, members of the
Henderson family might have traveled across the Atlantic separately
over the course of a decade.
The Hendersons were not Indian-fighting frontier settlers. They came
toward the end of the wave of the great Scotch Irish migration to
America, and they were part of the migration to Western Pennsylvania
that occurred after the end of Indian/settler hostilities. Mad Anthony
Wayne's troops decisive victory against the Iroquois at the Battle of Fallen
Timbers (August 1794) led to the signing of the Treaty of
Canandaigua and the Treaty of Greenville (both 1795). These treaties
opened up a region which included all of western Pennsylvania to
settlement without the threat of Indian resistance.
We have almost no information about the Henderson family's journey
to America and what it did before it settled in what is now Indiana County. If the
Hendersons followed the usual pattern of settlers at that time, they
would have made the move for western Pennsylvania very shortly after
the family arrived in the country. The family would have traveled along
the public roads, using a wagon. The route they likely would have
followed was not far removed from the Pennsylvania Turnpike today. The
road went from Philadelphia to Lancaster, through Gettysburg, down into
Maryland, and back into Pittsburgh. The Hendersons, without much doubt,
would have bought their land from a land company. Land speculators had
long before purchased rights to the lands that had been provided to
soldiers after the Revolutionary War in lieu of other payment. Now that
the land was free of Indian claims and hostilities, the land market
became very profitable. Most likely, the Hendersons would have dealt
with a land merchant and outfitter in Pittsburgh to acquire the deed
and goods to settle it.
The next date in the life of Robert Henderson that is recorded is
September, 1809, when he was naturalized as a citizen. Robert died in
either 1813 or 1814. The date of Mary Ralston Henderson's death is
not recorded. For many years the location of the actual gravesites
of Robert and Mary Henderson were unknown. Information provided by
Harry Danner Henderson, which at this writing has not been verified,
indicates that Robert and Mary were buried in the graveyard of Old
Congruity Church, about twelve miles from Saltsburg, across the river
in what is now Westmoreland County. Evidence supporting this idea is
that the Old Congruity Church was founded as an Associate Reformed
Presbyterian Church, and there was no other Associate Reformed Church
in the area until the West Union Associate Reform Church was founded
(in part by members of the Henderson family).
Second Generation: Alexander and Hanna Thorne Henderson
First here is summary information about all the children of Robert
and Mary Ann Ralston Henderson, derived mostly from as compiled by Scott
and Kathryn Ives, one of whom traces family back to oldest son,
David (17??-1834) -- not likely born in 1747 as
one historical record indicates, possibly 1776 or 1782, as other
Born in County Tyrone, Ireland; died in Delaware County, Ohio.
Married Elizabeth (or Elisabeth) Orr
Known Children: Robert
Born in County Tyrone; died in Pennsylvania.
Married Letitia Fullerton (1777-1858), who was also born in Ireland.
Family lore holds that John and Letitia were married immediately before
they left Ireland for Pennsylvania.
Children: Samuel, Mary, Jane, Lucy, Robert, James, Joseph, Letitia,
David, William, Andrew, Alexander, Elizabeth
James (dates unknown)
Born in County Tyrone
Married Jane Andrews
Born in County Tyrone; died on 26 August 1844 in Elder's Ridge, Pa.
Married Mary (Polly) McComb (1794-1871), daughter of James McComb
(1758-1814) & Nancy Agnes Jack (1764-1833).
[A family story digression: James McComb came to America from Ireland
when he was about 18 years old. Soon after moving into the wilds of
Pennsylvania, he was captured by Indians. He was able to escape by
stealing a canoe and almost immediately enlisted as a private in
Captain Thomas Askey's Company (1st; Fannett Township) of the 1st
Pennsylvania Militia Battalion (Cumberland County) and rose to the rank
of Colonel. After the war, McComb moved further west in Pennsylvania
and became one of the first settlers of Blacklick Township, which is
now in Indiana County, and one of the first Elders of Bethel
Presbyterian Church (near Jacksonville, Pa.). He was elected to the
state Legislature and served for 13 years. During the War of 1812, he
served as Brigidier General of the Second Brigade of the Fifteenth
Division of the Pennsylvania Militia. The division served for three
months near Erie and Buffalo, but it is not at all clear that it saw
Children: Robert Ralston (b. 1819), Jane McKnight (1821-1895), Joseph
(b. 1823), James McComb (1824-1868), John Fullerton (1826-1911), David
Laird M. (b. 1829), Mary Ann (1832-1906), Lucinda Smith (b. 1834),
Nancy Jack McComb (b. 1837)
Born in County Tyrone; died in 1871 in Saltsburgh, Pa.
Married Francis [or Margaret] Graham (1789?-1864)
Children: Mary Ann (married Robert McMeans); Eliza (married James
Carothers); Jane (married D. K. Daugherty); Isabelle; Joseph
A. (married Julia A. Wilson); Margaret G. (married Rev. Andrew Getty);
Lucinda F.; and Sarah R. (married John Longwill).
Reported to have fought in the War of 1812.
Born in County Tyrone; died in Clarksburg, Pa. (buried in West Union
Married Hannah Thorne on 2 February 1809. Hannah was born about 1780
and died in Clarksburg in August 1844. Her father was probably Josesph
Thorne, who was living in Derry Township, Westmoreland County, in 1790.
She is also buried in the West Union Cemetery.
Children: Mary (1809-1883), Robert (1811-1852), Matilda (1813-1855),
Jane (dates unknown)
Born in County Tyrone; died after 1850 but before 1860, based on Census
Married Thomas Hood (b. 1783 in Ireland, d. before 1860)
Children: James, Robert, Mary, Veniza, Thomas C., Jane
Note: The Hood farm neighbored the Henderson farm in Young Township and
is now owned by a Henderson cousin of mine.
Isabella (dates unknown)
Born in County Tyrone.
Married Edward McKelvey
Known children: Mary (b. 1796), married Alexander Nesbit (b. 1799)
Lucy (dates unknown)
Born in County Tyrone.
Married James Smith.
Note: It is believed that a son of the Smiths gave land to his cousin
Robert Henderson in exchange for his building them a house.
More about Alexander:
Alexander took over the family farm (the same farm later sold to
Frank Cribbs as mentioned in Caldwell's History). Alexander was born in
1784; since the dates of birth of most of his other of his siblings are
unknown to us, we don't know for sure where in the family order he
comes. It is likely that he came over from Ireland to the United States
with the rest of his family in 1796 or 1797. Tradition tells us that he
had a reputation for being a hard-working and successful farmer. He was
married to Hanna Thorne on February 2, 1809, by the Rev. Joseph
Henderson [a relation?]. Hanna was 29 years old (five years older than
Alexander) at the time of their marriage. Alexander became a
naturalized citizen in December 1811, two years after his father.
Robert, Alexander's father, lived with his son on the old farm until
his death, according to John G. Henderson, Sr., great grandson of
Alexander. Alexander and Hanna had three daughters and one son, Robert.
Originally members of the Reformed Presbyterian (Coventer) Church in
the village of Clarksburg, both husband and wife were among the
founders of the West Union Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church.
Alexander and Hanna died within one week of each other in August, 1844.
He was 60; she was 65. Both are buried in the West Union cemetery.
Alexander and Hanna had three daughters and one son. Mary
(1809-1883) married John Robertson. Robert (1811-1852) married Martha
Henry, Matilda (1813-1855) married Samuel McLaughlin, Margaret
(1816-1893) married John Rosborough.
Third Generation: Robert Henderson and Martha Henry
Alexander and Hanna's son Robert was born on October 2, 1811, on
the Clarksburg farm. When he was twenty, he married Martha Henry.
Martha's parents were Robert Henry and Martha McKesson Henry. Although
Martha had no formal education, she was self-educated and became known
as the "scholar of
the family." Originally both Robert and Martha were members of the
Covenanter Church in Clarksburg, which her father had been instrumental
in founding as one of its first elders, when Clarksburg was still
called Blacklegs. When her husband Robert started attending the newly
formed Associate Reformed
Presbyterian in West Union that his family had helped found, Martha
continued to attend
the Covenanter Church in Clarksburg. Only several years later, after
the Covenanter Church in Clarksburg
dissolved, did Martha start attending the West Union Church.
A history of the Covenanter
Church in Clarksburg lists several members of the Henry and
Henderson family in its original 1831 roll: Robert Henry, Moses
Thompson, David Henderson, Robert Henderson, Alexander Henderson, John
Coleman, Robert Coleman, William Coleman, James Gray, Thomas Gailey,
James Gailey, Miss Ann Gailey, John Henry, Mrs. Margaret Henry, Andrew
McCreery, Samuel McCreery, Miss Jane McCreery, Daniel Euwer, Samuel
Gilmore, Nancy White, John McCurdy, John Morrison, Thomas Gemmil, Miss
Jane McKelvey, Mrs. Martha Smith, Nathan Douthett, Samuel Barr, Mrs.
Francis Barr, John Kirkpatrick, Mrs. Kirkpartick and Mrs. Kimbal.
did some farming, but his principle occupation was building houses. He
specialized in brick houses and made his own bricks. He may have
learned his trade from his father,
but this is not known for sure. After he had made several brick
houses in the area, he made an agreement with the Smiths (a cousin who
was the son of his aunt Lucy) to build a brick house for them in
100 acres (which was half of their property) in Young Township near
Elder's Ridge. The Smiths had been living in a
log house which was on the half of their property that was deeded to
Robert Henderson, so
when the Smiths moved out of the log house, Robert and Martha sold
old homestead to the Cribbs, and moved in the old Smith place. The new
living quarters were supposed to be temporary, until
Robert could build a brick house for his family. Before he could work
on his own house, he was hired to build a brick house for the Hood
family on a neighboring farm. About this time, however, Robert became
sick with what was called galloping consumption, probably
tuberculosis or some kind of pneumonia. After making the bricks, he
became too sick to build the house. The Hoods had to hire another
builder, who constructed a frame house for them. Robert's ill health
became chronic, but after his health improved somewhat, he was able
to use the bricks originally made for the Hood house to construct his
own house. The house was built on higher ground, where it was though
to be healthier, even though the log house was in a "favorable"
location near a spring. There are stories of the log house having
"running water" -- probably a springhouse trough that ran through the
basement of house. The brick house was
completed in 1850. Two years later, Robert died. The Henderson, Smith,
and Hood houses can all be seen on a plat map of Young Township,
Indiana County, Pennsylvania, dated 1870. The houses are near the
western border with
Armstrong County just north of the boundary line between the Watson and
Elders Ridge districts.
Martha was left with four boys to raise (one child had died in
infancy) and a farm to run. As her granddaughter Ethel indicated, she
must have been a strong woman. Unusual for a woman at the time, she
the fields herself. Perhaps less unusual she smoked a pipe. She was
also known for being strict,
domineering, and hard to get along with. Her church going independence
was one indication. Her relationships with her sons was another. Family
lore says her eldest son moved away to
Kansas as soon as he was old enough to do so. After the Civil War, her
sons John and James almost immediately left home and moved out to what
now College Springs, Iowa, in the southwestern part of the state. The
two brothers were part of a large group who followed a preacher from
either the Olivet or the West Union Church (or perhaps both). Family
tradition says that it was a group of sixteen young men. My grandfather
used to recite their names. Many of them may have been comrades in
Company D of the 62d
Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry. Another source indicates that
40 people in all, including single young men and some families, were
part of the migration.
The children (all sons) of Robert and Martha:
- Robert Alexander Henderson b: 1838; d: 15 May 1862; as a member of the 1st Regiment
Missouri cavalry, he was killed at Battle
of the Little Blue Creek on 11 November 1861.
John Henderson b: 26 November 1840; d: 13 April 1917; served with 62d
Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry
and was wounded at Gaines Mills, Gettysburg, and Spottsylvania Court
House; moved to College Springs, Iowa, after the war; was a store
owner, carpenter, blacksmith, and undertaker. He and his wife had one
James Wilson Henderson, b: ? [died in infancy]
James Ralston Henderson b: 1845. He
used the name Ralston. He was lame, so he did not join the army during
the Civil War. He moved to College Springs, Iowa, after the war with
his brother and ran a store and became postmaster.
Joseph Henry Henderson b: 27 February 1847; d: 11 November 1913; Too young to serve in the Civil War. Because his
brothers had moved west, he took over the family farm.
Portraits of three brothers:
Fourth Generation: Joseph Henry Henderson and Jenny Telford
Martha's youngest son was Joseph Henry. He was fourteen years old
when the civil war began. He stayed at home through the war years and
beyond, working the farm. Although the youngest, since all his
brothers moved west or died in the war, Joseph took over the farm. He
married Jennie (Prudence Jane) Telford two days before Christmas in
1874. He was 27; she was 23.
After the marriage of her son, when Jennie moved into the brick
house, Martha moved out into the old log house. There she shared the
quarters with a woman, Liza Bean (Been, according to the 1860 Census).
Liza was known as quite a character, an old maid, but she was hard
working and also known for being "a good person to have around." Martha
lived another 19 years, continuing to help with the farm work until the
end. She died at aged 86 in 1893 and was buried in the West Union
Cemetery. Liza Bean stayed on the farm after Martha's death and later
took care of Jennie when she took ill.
Because his wife was the daughter of a preacher and sister to a
preacher and a lawyer, Joseph Henry Henderson seemed to have felt the
need to prove that farming was a profession equal to the others. He
advocated scientific farming, built the first silo in Indiana County,
and acquired a herd of registered Guernsey cows -- the westernmost
herd in North America at the time. They had eleven children, and all
who survived childhood not only received a high school education at
Elders Ridge Academy, but went on to some higher education.
The children of Joseph and Jenny:
- [Martha] Mabel Henderson Hopkins Rogers b: September 22, 1875; d:
21 April 1965. A
nurse, she moved out west then back to Indiana, Pa. She married twice,
but both times her husbands died within a year and a half. She married
William Hopkins in 1928 and Johnson Rogers in 1950. Mabel died on 21
Mary Hadessa (Dessie) Henderson Duncan b: July 1877; d: 4 September
school teacher before she married Archie Wallace Duncan, a farmer.
Wallace and Dessie's children included James Telford, John Mathews,
Joseph Henderson, Robert Cree, Mary E., Jane Elizabeth, and Mabel
Emily. Robert Cree Duncan died in June 2009, aged 97. Wallace prided
himself by his progressive approach to farming, building a large silo,
purchasing new machinery and modern appliances, and maintaining
innovative practices and sanitary conditions on his farm of 160 acres.
His wife's death and the depression both hit him hard. He died in on 22
Cree Telford Henderson b: 25 July 1879; d: 25 February 1944. He
was studying to be a school teacher at Valparaiso College in the state
of Indiana, when a summer job in the Pacific Northwest turned into a
career as a railroad engineer for the Northern Pacific Railroad. He
lived in Spokane. Cree was killed in a train accident near Colfax,
Washington. He married Vera Eliza Nesbitt, and they had daughter Cora
and ason Stephen.
Eva Belle Henderson Miller b: September 1881; d: 15 October 1970. She
moved to Idaho. Her husband was Curtis J. Miller, and they had two
daughters, Ruth and Maxine. Eva's name was pronounced with a short E,
like the ev in "seven", not the ev in "evil".
Robert Alexander Henderson b: November 1883; d: 17 February 1965. He
became a banker and industrialist in Meadville, Pa. He was a graduate
of Westminster College and received a graduate degree from the
University of Pennsylvania. His wife's name was Jean, and they had two
daughters, Dorothy and Betty. Among Robert's occupations were cashier
at the Marion Center Bank, trust officer of the Savings and Trust Bank
of Indiana, Pa., and Pennsylvania State Bank Examiner during the
governorship of Robert Fisher, and Chairman of the Board of the
Meadville Malleable Iron Company.
James Stewart Henderson b. 20 March 1885; d: 31 December 1890. Died of diphtheria.
John Gordon Henderson b: 13 September 1887; d. 28 November 1978. He
survived the diphtheria that killed his brother. After taking the short
program at Penn State, took over the family farm. See below.
Harry Oram Henderson b: 5 November 1889; d: 11 December 1961. He
earned ungraduate and master's degrees from Penn State, and became a
county agent. Moved to West Virginia as an extention dairy agent and
helped organize the Dairy Department at West Virginia University which
he headed for 30 years. Earned his doctorate in dairy science at the
University of Minnesota. His textbook, Dairy Cattle Feeding and
Management went through four editions, and he authored or coauthored
over 100 research bulletins and scientific papers. Harry married Marian
Saltsman and they had one son, Robert Eugene. Robert was stationed in
Alaska during World War II. He returned to Alaska after the war to
teach and farm and has lived their for six decades. He and his wife
Wilma had five children.
Ethel Kathryn Henderson Ross b: 31 July 1892; d: 24 May 1984. Ethel
taught school and raised a family; she and her husband James A. Ross
lived in many places including New Castle, Pa., Dryden, NY. Among other
occupations, he was a store owner and restaurant owner. Ethel died
while living with her daughter Alice Marie Ross Guye in St. Louis, Mo.
[Sarah] Helen Henderson Streams b: 3 August 1896; d: 26 March 1978. Helen
married Arthur Streams and moved to Brownsville, Pa. Returned to
Indiana, Pa., and was a schoolteacher for most of her life. She had one
adopted son, Jimmy.
Portraits of nine siblings:
Fifth Generation: John Gordon Henderson and
Kathryn Holstein Henderson
Two of Joseph and Jenny's sons, Harry Oram and John Gordon were
close in age. They traded turns going to the agricultural college at
Penn State. After each had received two years of schooling, the
brothers decided that Harry was better fitted to continue at Penn
State and John was better fitted to take over the family farm. Harry
O. Henderson, went on to earn a doctorate in dairy science, wrote a
standard textbook in the field, and was head of the dairy program at
West Virginia State University.
John Gordon Henderson was born in 1886. He married Sara (I have
also seen it spelled Sarah) Kathryn Holstein. Kathryn, better known as
Kate, was a loving women, but one of her daughters informed me that
unlike her husband who teased and joked a lot, Kathryn did not exhibit
a broad sense of humor. It was probably not amusing to her if someone
pointed out that a Guernsey farmer married a Holstein. As a student at
Penn State, just before he got married, John had a role in the
evolution of ice cream.
Children of John Gordon and Kathyrn Holstein Henderson and beyond .
The youngest members of the descendents of Robert and Mary Ann
Ralston Henderson are members of the ninth generation, and among them
are four who are the seventh generation of Hendersons to live at
Richland, the Henderson family farm. The old farm house in the picture
above has been torn down, but other buildings in that farm portrait are
still standing. The Henderson clan in its recent generations has
extanded from coast to coast and even as far away as India.
For privacy concerns of living persons, the family tree
ends here. If you are a family member interested in details of John
Gordon Henderson and Kathryn Holstein Henderson's family tree, please contact me for
Other related family tree and genealogical Web sites
Fleming TribalPages [by invitation only]
Robert & Martha Myrtilla Coulter Holstein, we share many of the
same relatives with the Craigs, and many Hendersons will be found
within Bob Craig's Web site.
Craig & Fleming Genealogy Home Page
- Another effort by Bob Craig, with pictures of many of our
relatives or near relations.
of Southwest Michigan
- Compiled by Scott and Kathryn Ives. Scott is a descendant of
Robert and Mary Ann Ralston Henderson, through their son, David.
Map of Indiana County, Pennsylvania
- Using maps taken from the 1871 Beers Atlas, you can explore
the whole county or a village or township. The Hendersons will be found
on the Young Township map.
- Indiana County
- from RootsWeb, including its own resources and links other
online resources such as maps, cemetery records, church and military
records, and surname lists.
Dust: The Early Mining Industry of Indiana County
- Stories of Iselin, Whiskey Run, and some other places you might
have heard the old timers talk about.
Can you be related to a fictional
The great great grandmother of John G. Henderson was Martha Tilford,
who was accused
of being a witch in Salem, New York. She and her husband, George
Telford were born in Liddesdale, which is a particularly stark, bleak
part of the westernmost Scottish Middle Marches. The area was famed as
the home of the worst of the Border reivers. George MacDonald Fraser,
in his book The Steel Bonnets, called Liddesdale the "cockpit of the
the Border and home of its most predatory clans." Liddesdale was the
locale of an old ballad, "Jamie Telfer in the Fair Dodhead," Child
190.* Was Jamie Telfer the ancestor of Martha Tilford, George Telford,
or both? The Oxford Dictionary of Surnames indicates that Telfer has
many variant spellings including Telford, Tilford, Telfair, Tolver,
Tailleferre, and Tulliver.
There is no evidence outside the ballad of an historical Jamie
Telfer, but ballad singer and scholar Andrew
Calhoun is certain there was an historical Jamie Telfer. Landmarks
of Liddesdale are featured prominently in the
ballad, and other individuals mentioned in the ballad are historical
the time of the 1580s, including the Captain of Bewcastle; Martin
Elliot; "Auld Buccleugh" of Branxholme Hall, whose real name was Walter
Scott, an ancestor of the poet and novelist); and a
Martin's Gibb (Martin's Hab in the ballad). If Jamie Telfer had his
cattle stolen in 1580, that's about the right amount
of time for George Telford to be Jamie Telfer's great grandson. So my
great grandmother's great grandfather's great grandfather could be the
hero of the ballad, fictionalized, if not fictional.
The ballad extends through 41 verses (more or less depending on the
version), but in a nutshell, it tells the tale of poor Jamie whose ten
cattle are stolen by the wicked English Captain of Bewcastle. Jamie
threatens to take revenge against the Captain of Bewcastle. The captain
laughs at him, since Jamie's only weapon is an "auld sword without a
scabbard that scarcely now would fell a mouse." Jamie then runs on foot
[barefoot in one version] through the snow to seek the aid of the local
powerful protector. When the first protector rejects him because Jamie
hasn't been paying him blackmail, Jamie then go to a rival protector as
well as his brother-in-law and some other neighbors. The band of Scots
eventually battle the English enemy, killing fifteen of English
soldiers and injuring the Captain in a place in his anatomy that had he
lived a hundred years he would never be loved by woman again [one
version has him shot through the head, but continues to speak in the
very next verse]. The bottomline was that in exchange for the ten
cattle Jamie had stolen, the Scots took back for him thirty and three.
Sir Walter Scott has been accused of altering the ballad from the
original to make his family appear to be the heroes. In another version
of the ballad, the head of the Scot family refuses Jamie for his
failure to pay blackmail, and it is the Elliots who come to his aid. In
Scott's version, it was the Eliots who refused Jamie, and the Scots who
rode with him against the English. Andrew Lang, in 1910, concluded that
which version of the story was in the original remains unknown, but
that "absolute proof that Scott did, or did not, pervert the ballad,
and turn a false Elliot into a false Scott version, cannot be obtained
unless new documents bearing on the matter are discovered." Andrew
Calhoun, who cites Scott's other known other perversions of ballads
altered for his own purposes, is certain Scott's version is not the
In case you wish to visit the home of a fictional
or actual relative, there is also some question about what and where
was. Scott places the Dodhead at a "near Singlee, in Ettrick," but
Andrew Lang, in his notes of the ballad, says Scott is wrong and places
the Dodhead "near Skelfhill, on the southern side of Teviot, within
three miles of Stobs." In both cases the Dodhead would have been well
Andrew Lang's commentary on the ballad can be found in chapter 5 of Sir
Walter Scott and the Border Minstrelsy, now available online
*Child 190 is shorthand for the 190th ballad listed in Francis
James Child's collection of English and Scottish popular traditional
ballads. "Jamie Telfer of the Fair Dodhead" is also found in Sir
Walter Scott's Minstrelsy of the Scottish Borders .
This page created and maintained by: John R. Henderson (email@example.com).
Last modified on Valentines Day, 2014