Home » LifeStories » The sad life of Ann Ross (1805-c1856)

The sad life of Ann Ross (1805-c1856)

Ann Ross was Ron and Ian’s Great Great Grandmother on their father’s side. From the records we have, she appears to have lived a sad, impoverished life.

Ann was probably born in 1805, the youngest of 5 children of William Ross and Margaret Sherriff (sometimes spelt Shirres) – “probably” because I can find no record of her birth, just her baptism in that year in Aboyne, a small town on the north bank of the River Dee not far from Ballater where the McNaughton family lived.

She lived in her late teens in “Burn of Bennie” (the modern spelling) on the edge of the town of Banchory Ternan, which lies on the north side of the River Dee, about halfway between Ballater and Aberdeen. Burn of Bennie is identified as a separate location in the census returns, so we know that a very few families lived there. (In 1841, there were the Skinner family (6), the Ross family (7, not including Ann), two elderly ladies listed as paupers – 15 in all.)

The disputed birth of John Skinner

In 1824, when she was 19, Ann gave birth to a son. The church baptismal record names the son as John Skinner, and says she claimed the father was John Skinner, who was part of the Burn of Bennie Skinner family, but had recently moved to Drumoak, further down the river. But, from the wording on the baptismal record, he apparently refused to accept paternity.

John Skinner baptismal documentation. It seems to read: "Ann Ross at Burn of Benny had a son baptised October 3rd and named John - John Skinner in the parish of Drumoak late at Woodend of Leys given up as the father who refused."

John Skinner baptismal documentation. It seems to read: “Ann Ross at Burn of Benny had a son baptised October 3rd and named John – John Skinner in the parish of Drumoak late at Woodend of Leys given up as the father who refused.”

The church was a moral and social authority in those days, and often tried to determine the facts when paternity was disputed, virtually forcing the father to pay some maintenance. It appears in this case that paternity wasn’t settled, but we don’t know for sure, and we don’t know why. We might expect that they would believe the woman, especially as the two families lived so close to each other. But perhaps the Skinner family was more respected or more influential (John Skinner Snr went on to study at Aberdeen University for a year and become a teacher). But whatever happened, Ann never married and was left to bring up John Jnr herself.

Later life

We have to assume that Ann lived with her parents and then her brother George for the rest of her life, and son John lived with her until his teens when it appears he may have moved away to get farm labouring work.

The middle of the 19th century saw food shortages across much of the highlands, and these had some impact on Aberdeenshire as well. Many families were subsistence farmers, and struggled during this period. Unmarried or widowed women were particularly vulnerable. They could register as paupers and obtain some monetary support, but this was barely enough. While investigating this part of the family tree, I came across a number of women at that time and in that vicinity who were listed as paupers.

Ann was listed as a pauper, living with her brother George, in the 1851 census. Her son had long since moved away, and was recently married and a father, so he probably provided little support. It appears that she may have died in the next decade, but I could find no record of this – perhaps as a pauper her death wasn’t registered and she had an unmarked grave.

Her brother George died in 1869, and his wife Ann was listed as a pauper in 1871, and died in 1880. (George and Ann had a daughter they named Ann, so at one time there were 3 people named Ann Ross living in the same house, which was a little confusing for me at first!)

Her son John married Christian Ingram, and their daughter Lizzie was Jock McNaughton’s mother.

Thus it seems she had a somewhat miserable life, and we can feel for the difficulties she faced. Yet if she hadn’t given birth to her son, the rest of the family line would not have happened. Family history is full of little twists and unlikely scenarios like that.

You can see the details of Ann’s life here and see how she fits into the family here.

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