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Unlike Helen’s father’s family, her mother’s ancestor’s predominately come from the county North of Wigtownshire, Ayrshire.

Ayrshire is a county on the West Coast of Scotland, on the shores of the Firth of Clyde. It has not been an administrative unit since 1975, when, under regionalisation, it became part of the Region of Strathclyde and was divided into four districts: Cumnock and Doon Valley; Cunninghame; Kilmarnock and Loudoun; and Kyle and Carrick. In 1996, under a further reorganisation of local government in Scotland, Strathclyde region and its Districts were swept away, and Ayrshire was divided into three districts: East Ayrshire, North Ayrshire, and South Ayrshire.

Helen’s mother’s maiden name was Wilson and her great granddad; John Wilson was born in Dundonald on 25th January 1854.

Dundonald Parish lies on the shore, north of Monkton. The village of Dundonald stands three and a-half miles north-east of Troon, one mile and a quarter south of Drybridge Railway Station. A landscape beautiful with cultivated fields and wooded heights, and, together with the ruin of its old Royal Castle, on the top of a little hill adjacent, it presents a fine primeval picture. It has Established and Free Churches, a public school, and a post office. Population (1871), 277.

Dundonald castle

Picture 1871

Dundonald Castle is in the very old Scottish order of architecture, being a square tower of several stories, each storey consisting of only one room, and the walls of a prodigious thickness.

The first and second stories are still standing-the second one being remembered traditionally as the King’s room. Dr. Johnson, on his tour with Boswell, is said to have made the ruin ring with laughter at the idea of a Scottish monarch being contented with such narrow accommodation

Robert II., King of Scotland, First of the Royal House of Stuart, was the only child of Walter Stewart, High Steward of Scotland, by his wife, the Princess Marjory Bruce, daughter of King Robert Bruce, and was born March 2, 1316.

It was he who lived at the Castle of Dundonald. At the age of 23, and while he was yet a subject of the Crown, he married Elizabeth, daughter of Sir Alexander Mure of Rowallan, Kilmarnock.

King Robert, getting old and infirm, retired from public duty, and lived in peaceful seclusion at Dundonald, where he died, April 19th, 1390, in the 75th year of his age and 19th of his reign.

I mentioned earlier Helen’s great grandad John Wilson, we can in fact go back just two more generations with his granddad James Wilson. James was known as Jacob and married Margaret Dunlop 26th October 1827 in Monkton. On the 27th November 1830 they had a child, they may have had others but the only one I know about is Alexander Wilson. This is the Alexander who is referenced on John Wilson's marriage certificate in 1874 as "reputed father".

Searching the 1861 Census I found only one Alexander Wilson in Dundonald and he was shown as a Ploughman, which was also mentioned on the marriage certificate. John, who would have been 7 is not with him on the census. The Janet he is maried to is Janet Breckinridge - they were married 8th June 1860. Details of the 1861 census are below:

Alexander Wilson Head 30 - Ploughman - Craigie- Ayrshire
Janet Wilson Wife 25
James Wilson son 2months

As far as I can tell, he never married John’s mum, who is shown on the aforemnetioned 1874 marriage certificate as Sarah Johnston. I can find no marriage record for a Alexander Wilson to a Sarah Johnston. So I would guess Janet Breckinridge is his first wife and John Wilson was born out of wedlock.

Going back a few years to the birth of John which was in Dundonald on 25th January 1854. This date comes from the Family Bible. It is a year before Birth Registration and searches of the Parish Records do not come back with any entries. However the IGI does have an entry of birth for a John Wilson 1854 in Dundonald, to parents James Wilson and Elizabeth Brown. This was found by Shirley in Canada and gave us a problem with the rest of the data especially what is recorded by John on his later marriage certificates. Why state his parents were Sarah Johnston and Alexander Wilson if they were in fact James Wilson and Elizabeth Brown? Was he adopted?

We know our John was born in Janaury 1854 from the family bible, so I searched the Scotland on line database for John Wilson birth 1st Jan 1854 to 31st May 1854. Many records came back, as expected none with parents Sarah Johnston and Alexander Wilson but more importantly none with parents James Wilson and Elizabeth Brown. My guess at this stage is that this John Wilson was born in the second half of 1854 and is therefore not our John Wilson. To check this out I need more credits, so next time I get some I will check.

So, at this time, confirmation of his mother and father must be taken from information on his own marriage certificates.

If we go forward again to the 1861 census, as mentioned above he is not shown with the one Alexander Wilson in Dundonald, so I thought I would search for Sarah Johnston to see if John is with her. By this time she has married David Blain. This was also found out by the marriage certificate in 1874 which shows her as Sarah Blain nee Johnston.

In 1861 Sarah is found in Dalrymple with husband David and son David. However there is no sign of the young John Wilson. So where is John? I then tried Sarah's parents, they are shown on her marriage certificate as William Johnston and Mary Bankhead. Searches for William Johnston and Mary Johnston found a few matches but none of the John Wilson aged between 5 and 9 match the census number for any of these.

I think I have now arrived at the answer and although there is nothing conclusive, the evidence is pretty strong. Having not found John Wilson on the 1861 Census, I wondered whether at this point of time he was calling himself Wilson. As it appears he did not really know his father and there is a strong connection with his mother, some of his later children have names connected to his mothers family, I thought maybe he took the name Johnston as a boy and only later on took his fathers surname. So I looked for John Johnston on the 1861 census aged 7. There were a few hits but one stood out more than anything else - Registration District - DUNDONALD.

I looked at this census, and it showed William Johnston head, Wife Angnes Johnston, John Johnston 7 son then some other children. At first I was disappointed as I would have expected it maybe to show Nephew but I carried on and I now needed to find a connection between William and John's mother Sarah.

The first positive was William's birthplace - Tarbolton. This matches Sarah's birthplace. Now I knew Sarah's parents were William Johnston an Mary Bankhead, so another positive is William being named after his father. William is shown as 25 on the census so working this back I searched the births for William around 1836. I found one entry in 1835 and guess who the parents were. Oh yes William Johnston and Mary Bankhead.

There is no other way I think I finding out any more to confirm that this John Johnston is John Wilson, as I mentioned earlier there is nothing conclusive but you must agree the other evidence is pretty strong and I think I will now accept that this is the same person and later on in life he changed to using the Wilson surname.

We will probably never know why young John is not with his mother Sarah on census night in 1861, although it should be noted that her first son with David Blain was born 3 days before the 1861 Census, maybe her brother was just looking after him whilst she settled down with the new baby. We will never know if he returned to stay with her because by the next census 1871 both David and Sarah have passed away.

I also thought about why on the census he might show as Son of William Johnston and not nephew, it could be that he was now being brought up by this family and it was an effort to integrate him with the other children, which would also explain why he was listed with the same surname, or maybe they just did not record the surname or relationship properly.  One thing I think we can say for sure, Alexander Wilson, the reputed father, had little to do with his upbringing.

Anyhow, onto things that we do know for sure. At the age of 19 John Johnston now John Wilson married his first wife, Janet Clark, in Kilwinning, Irvine, Ayrshire.

The wedding day was 6th March 1874, as mentioned earlier the certificate shows that his mother married a Blane, as she is shown now as Sarah Blane nee Johnstone. The only Sarah Johnston who married a Blain was found on the IGI as 15th November 1859 in Coylton. As mentioned above we have now found family on the 1861 Census. The marriage was held in Kilwinning. The parish of Kilwinning is small in area lying in the Cunningham district of North Ayrshire. Kilwinning was known earlier this century (20th) for its engineering works, iron foundry and fire clay works and with an older worsted-spinning industry.

With the advent of the railways, Kilwinning became known as 'The Crossroads of Ayrshire'. Kilwinning town, which lies on the River Garnock a few miles inland from Ardrossan by way of busy Stevenston, is notable as the home of Freemasonry in Scotland. Mother Lodge Kilwinning (No 0) was founded in 1107, at the same time as the Abbey, of which the few remains have been incorporated into the present Parish Church.

The town has grown considerably into the suburban sprawl linking Irvine in the south and Stevenston and Ardrossan to the northwest.

Eglinton Castle (the seat of the Earl of Eglinton) is chiefly remembered as the scene of the great tournament in 1839 by which it was hoped to revive certain aspects of ancient chivalry. The old Home Farm has been transformed into the Eglinton Country Park, which is open to visitors.

John and Janet’s first child was born shortly after on 16th April 1874, a son, William Wilson born in Kilwinning. They did not stay in Kilwinning for long, as their next child, a girl, Elizabeth was born in Coylton the following year 1875.

Mary was next to arrive, 3rd September 1877, but she was born back in Kilwinning. Before the next child arrived, Mary had passed away aged only 1 on 13th September 1878. Almost 9 months later, another son was born, John, also in Kilwinning, in July 1879. I obtained John’s certificate,below, and he is the first entry, as at the time I had thought this to be Helen’s great grandfather. I only later found out, when I obtained what I thought was his marriage certificate to Ellen McKinstry in 1915, that the John Wilson was in fact this one’s dad, as he remarried.

Birth Certificate

By 1881 the family are back in Coylton, and shown on the 1881 census living in Coylton Village.


In Ayrshire, the full commercial exploitation of coal began in 1684, when Sir Robert Cunninghame of Auchenharvie started to develop Saltcoats harbour to export coal from his pits at Stevenston to Ireland (which lacked any coal resources). The next century saw growth in other coastal mine-workings and nearby harbours to support the export trade to Ireland. As the industry expanded, there was a growth in small canals and track-ways or railways to permit the easy transport of the fuel from pit to port.

Those first pits worked accessible seams that were often discovered as outcrops in river valleys. Once those surface seams were worked out, deeper mines were sunk using both vertical shafts and angled or drift mines. The conditions underground in Ayrshire's coalmines have never been easy. The seams are broken by many faults and irregular intrusions, which have added to the costs of mining over the years - costs in both human and financial terms. The coal seams were often associated with significant bands of hard clay ideally suited for brick making. So often a colliery had its own brick-works which provided for its own buildings, as well as those for other industries and housing.

The Industrial Revolution in Ayrshire began slowly with the opening of the ironworks at Muirkirk and Glenbuck at the end of the 18th century. The pace accelerated with the ability to use the black-band ironstone in Nielson's hot-blast smelting process. This led to a massive expansion of the iron-smelting industry and its associated consumption of coal. At the same time, the railway development began in Scotland - providing transport for both iron and coal. The mining industry of Ayrshire expanded from the north to the whole centre of the county.

The harbours of Ardrossan, Saltcoats, Irvine, Troon, Girvan and Ayr were all developed for the export of coal, mainly to Ireland. By the 1830s, 50,000 tons were being exported annually through Ayr. A hundred years later, over 3,000,000 tons were being handled by all those Ayrshire ports. Ayr harbour peaked at 1.5 million tons per year in the 1940s. The export figures then began a decline, which was briefly interrupted in the early 1970s, before ceasing altogether.

As coal crossed the Irish Sea, many of the people required to mine coal and ironstone came the other way. Irish emigration into Ayrshire, and into other mining and industrial areas in the west of Scotland was intensified by the famine in Ireland following the potato blight of the 1840s. The migrant workers and their families were crammed into miner's housing purpose-built from stone or brick and sited close to the pits. Living conditions in those early miners' row houses were terrible.

Working conditions in the pits too were dreadful. In his "contract" with the mine owner, the collier took on a serf-like position and was bound to that owner for life with his wife and children acting as unpaid labourers to haul and carry coal to the surface.

In later years, the mine owners attempted to provide better conditions for the miners and their families, but they were still frequently held in thrall to the mining companies through low wages and dependence on company's stores that were conveniently located in the miners rows. The underground employment of women, girls and boys aged under10 was outlawed from 1842.

Towards the end of the 19th century, the North Ayrshire mines were becoming exhausted and the industry went into decline. This was partly slowed by the opening of a new pit at Kelk Place, Kilmarnock in 1908 and by the increased demands of the First World War. The northern mines continued to close during the 1920s. The closure of the northern ironworks in the same decade meant that North Ayrshire ceased to be a mining area. Work continued in the further development of pits in the east of the county.

Anyhow back to the 1880s and the Wilson family. The next son born to John and Janet was James, born just after the census on 1st September 1881. Their sixth child, Janet is born on 10th June 1883, again in Coylton.

Keeping up the now seemingly traditional birth every two years, Annie is born next, on 17th January 1885, followed by David, on 4th march 1887, both in Coylton.

The last child to be born to the couple was Elizabeth on 10th November 1888, but I think that mother Janet may have died during child birth or shortly after delivery, as she is shown to have passed away on the same day. In fact Elizabeth survived for just under a year, as she passed away on 1st September 1889.

John, remarried the following year. His new bride was Annie Hamilton and they married in Skeldon on 19th September 1889. No children were to come of this marriage, which unfortunately did not last very long, only five years in fact before Annie passed away on 2nd Dec 1894.

The couple are found on the 1891 Census living at 2 New Park. John is 37, working as a coal miner, Annie is 46 and shown to be from Dalrymple. Living with them are John's children, William 16 - Coal Miner, John 11, James 9, Janet 7, Annie 6, and David 4. William and John are shown as born in Kilwinning, all the other children are shown born in Coylton.

Sometime after this he married his 3rd wife, Elizabeth Budy. The couple can be found on the 1901 Census living in Coylton, at a place called New Park. John is shown as aged 47, still working as a coal miner, Elizabeth is 38, born in Ayr, and with them is John's son David, aged 14 and working as a coal worker.

Next door to them in a place called Sandhill Cottage is John's second son John and his wife Mary. John is 21 and his wife 23. John is shown as born in Kilwinning and Mary is from Ochiltree. They have one child, Elizabeth, born in Coylton but I cannot work out the age. They had another son which I know of in 1902, another John.

 Anyhow back to John Wilson, 1854. H last wife would be Ellen McKinstry, who he married at the age of 60 on 31st December 1914 in Ochiltree. Ellen was born in Ireland, around 1877, but I do not know where yet. The marriage certificate has been obtained. It was only on receipt of this that I realised that Helen’s great grandfather was John Wilson born 1854 and not his son born in 1879.

This is the marriage we are interested in because it is from these two that Helen is descended.

The couple had one child prior to their wedding, Helen McKinstry, born in Ochiltree on 26th February 1914.

A further two children were born, Mary Blane in Ochiltree on 25th January 1915, and finally Helen’s grandfather Joseph McKinstry Wilson, born 14th September 1916, in Drongan, where the Wilson were to remain, and are still there now.

So let us now follow Joseph McKinstry. Just before his wedding on the 11th December 1936 to Jessie McCamon, daughter of John McCamon and Isabelle Ross Stevenson, Joseph’s father passed away. He was 88 years old and his death certificate is shown below, first entry.

Joseph McKinstry Death Certificate

Joseph worked, as most men from the area did, as a miner. Joseph and Jessie lived in Drongan. In those days a very small village, it is situated on the western edge of Ayrshire, some 6 miles from Ayr and 10 miles from Cumnock. The village was expanded greatly in 1946 to house mining families.

It consists of houses built after World War II, and incorporated people from the mining villages of Taiglum, Trabboch and Drumsmudden, small miner’s rows which had grown up round the pit heads and which by the 1930's were in a very dilapidated condition.

Like many other villages in this part of East Ayrshire, Drongan saw prosperity when the Killoch and Barony pit mines were operational.

Joseph Wilson

Joseph McKinstry Wilson

The couple was to have nine children over the next 14 years;

James Wilson Descendants Chart   James Wilson Family Tree 5 Generations