The Duncan Family in Hamilton, Wentworth, Ontario
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This page tells the story of the family of Jessie Brown Duncan's father, Robert Wilson Duncan of Glasgow, Lanarkshire, Scotland. The Duncan family were a working class family from Glasgow, Lanarkshire, Scotland, however their earlier ancestors were Ulster-Scots from Northern Ireland, where their ancestry can be traced back to the early-1800s. Prior to that, their earliest origins were likely Lowland Scots, however tracing their earliest origins will require a personal visit to Belfast, and that will have to wait a few years, or DNA research.
Please Note: This page is intended only as a narrative historical overview of this family. There is additional detailed information available for almost ever person presented on this page. To avoid the unnecessary work of double-entering some data, the additional information can be found in the accompanying GEDCOM database. Please make sure you click on the INDEX button at the bottom of the page so you don't miss out on potentially valuable additional information.
The research presented on this page is not mine alone. It contains information submitted by all the Fellow Researchers listed below. I am indebted to them for their generous contributions. This page is intended as a place for researchers to freely and cooperatively share our research with each other. It would be too cumbersome a task to reference each piece of data as to which researcher it has come from. The information shown on this page should be understood as a product of ALL of the Fellow Researchers. I am merely the editor and not the sole author. - Ryk
The surname Duncan is a patronymic surname, which means that it is based on an early ancestor's first name, namely, "Duncan". Just like the surname Angus, for some reason this surname was not rendered as commonly as "Duncanson" or "MacDuncan". Duncan is the Anglicized form of the Gaelic name Donnchadh, (pronounced "down-a-kha") which means "brown warrior", derived from the Gaelic donn meaning "brown" and chadh meaning "warrior". Its Gaelic form is synonymous with Donnachie and all its variant spellings, including as varied as Donahue. Donnchadh was the name of two kings of Scotland; including one who was made famous in Shakespeare's Macbeth.
The "Clan Duncan", or Clan Donnachaidh, claim two traditional ancestries. One tradition claims they descend from the great Clan Donald of the Western Isles, through Donnachadh Reamhar ("Stout Duncan"), son of Angus Mor (MacDonald), Lord of the Isles, the staunch ally of Robert the Bruce, who led the clan in battle at Bannockburn in 1314. A second tradition claims their origins as descending from Duncan, son of Henry, last of the ancient Celtic Earls of Atholl, through whom they are kindred with Clan Robertson, and through whom they jointly descend from Duncan mac Malcolm, King of Scotland, son of King Malcolm III. It is likely that both of these traditions are correct. With patronymic surnames it is likely that there are multiple Duncans from which members of this surname descend, both Highland and Lowland.
The origins of our Duncan family, so far as they are known, are outlined below.
Click here to learn more about surnames.
Glasgow records show that our Duncan ancestors immigrated to Glasgow from Ireland in the mid-19th century, although there is no indication as to where in Ireland. As our Duncan ancestors attended the Secession Presbyterian Church in Glasgow it can be presumed that they did so also in Ireland. This would indicate that they were more likely Ulster-Scots in ethnic origin and not native Irish.
To give a full explanation of the Ulster-Scots here would unduly burden the reader whose primary interest is in the origin of our Duncan family. However a basic (and oversimplified) overview is probably helpful. Readers who want to know more about the Ulster Scots should simply Google "Ulster Scots" and you'll find lots of information.
The Ulster Scots were families who were transported in the 17th and early 18th centuries primarily from Lowland Scotland to several of the counties in the province of Ulster in northeast Ireland -- the area defined today as "Northern Ireland". In many cases these settlers were forcibly resettled from their homelands. Although there were also Highland Scots, English, Welsh and even some European settlers, by far the vast majority were Lowland Scots (some estimates put the total Scots (Highland and Lowland) at over 80% of the settlers). Regardless of ethnic origins, these settlers were all Protestant (either Anglican or Presbyterian) and they were forcibly settled on lands that had been held for centuries by native Irish Roman Catholics. Many of the native Irish were understandably outraged at the loss of their ancestral lands and they rose in arms on several occasions trying to reclaim their lands. Prejudice, treachery, and murder took place on both sides and gave rise to the "Troubles" that have plagued Northern Ireland ever since.
In the 19th century with the rise of industrial employment during the Industrial Revolution, the city of Glasgow in Scotland became a leading centre for industrial growth and employment. People from all over flocked to Glasgow for the prospect of a decent paying job in one of the many factories. The smoke from the coal fires of factories and homes coated the whole city in soot. The cities of Manchester and Lancaster in England saw similar waves of immigration. Many of the Ulster-Scots from Northern Ireland found that they were simply not prospering in Ireland and took the opportunity to return to their country of origin, and specifically to Glasgow, in search of employment. Native Irish Catholics immigrated too. As did many displaced Highlanders who fell victim to the Highland Clearances. The historic cultural clashes between former Irish Catholic and Ulster-Scots Protestants, as well as between Gaelic-speaking Highlanders and Scots-speaking Lowlanders were lived out in the crucible of Glasgow . Industry and culture clashes: these two factors combined to give Glasgow the reputation of being a tough and dirty city; a reputation that stayed with Glasgow until the late 20th century.
Our Duncan ancestors appear to be among the many Ulster-Scots who came from Northern Ireland to Glasgow in search of a better life. Many found the dirt and violence of the city to be disillusioning and many did not remain in Glasgow for long, but immigrated to the "New World" of the United States, Canada, and Australia. This too seems to be the case for our Duncans as they were only in Glasgow for two generations before immigrating to Canada.
"The commercial and manufacturing capital of Scotland, and, in point of wealth, population, and importance, the second city of the British islands, is situated for the most part in the lower ward of Lanarkshire, but a small part of it is in the county of Renfrewshire. The city is in general remarkably well built. The building materials is a fine light coloured sandstone, the masonry substantial, and the frontages in most parts lofty and good, though there is often a tendency towards too profuse ornamentation and to a rather factory-like arrangement of windows. The older districts are mostly squalid, and have little or none of the picturesqueness of the older Scotch architecture which gives such a characteristic and quaint aspect to the older portions of others of the old towns of Scotland." (Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland 1883)
William DUNCAN was born ABT 1800 in Ireland, possibly in County Antrim, in or near Belfast. Little is known of him except that he worked as a loom weaver. He married to Elizabeth QUEEN who was b: 1804 in Ireland as the daughter of William Queen and Mary Jane Kennedy. William and Elizabeth had one known son, however given their late age at the time of Abraham's birth it is presumed they probably had other children.
Abraham DUNCAN was b: 1839 in Ireland, possibly in County Antrim, in or near Belfast. It is not known when Abraham immigrated from Ireland to Scotland, nor if he came alone or with any family members. He was in Glasgow by the time of his wedding in 1861 and was already employed as a labourer in a colliery (coal mine), so it is likely that he'd been in Glasgow for a few years.
Abraham married at age 21 on 18 JAN 1861 in Rutherglen (Glasgow), Lanark, Scotland to Elizabeth WILSON, she was the 19 year old daughter of Robert Wilson and Margaret Dickson/Dixon. She too was from Ireland. (See below for information on the Wilson family). Abraham and Elizabeth were married at 86 Main Street in Rutherglen in the Wilson's home by the Free Kirk minister. It seems that Elizabeth was unable to read or write as she signed her marriage register with an "x". The newlyweds were still residing with the Wilsons in April 1861 at the time of the census. The Duncans and the Wilsons belonged to the Free Kirk. Abraham worked as a general labourer in the coal mines of Rutherglen and Elizabeth worked as a "loom mover" in a textile mill. The coal mines of the early 19th century were dirty and dangerous and those dangers may have been the cause of Abraham's premature death, as he did not live to see his 34th birthday.
Abraham and Elizabeth had nine children in the twelve years they were married -- all single births, no twins. Abraham Duncan was only 33 when he died.
Abraham Duncan and Elizabeth Wilson had the following children:
Duncan was followed in 1910 by his nephew John Duncan and his cousin (on the Wilson side), James Orr, and later in 1912 or 13 by his niece and nephew, Maggie Hunter Duncan and Samuel Wilson Duncan (children of Robert Wilson Duncan, see below) who came to Canada to "see if they would like it", and then finally in 1914 by Abraham's brother Robert Wilson Duncan and most of the rest of his family. Abraham married on 31 DEC 1906 in Bellville, West Hastings, Ontario, Canada to Clarissa Benedict DOUGHAN b: 9 DEC 1866 in Toronto, York, Ontario as the daughter of Samuel Doughan and Clarissa Winans.
Abraham (who went by "Abram") arrived on the ship, Prussian, at Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada from Glasgow, Scotland on 30 Apr 1883. He was travelling without family, but with a company of about 50 boys ranging in age from 5-18. They are all recorded as "colonists".
Marchmont Home 1922 - Canadian Government Motion Picture Bureau, Library and Archives Canada C-034837. Public Domain.
Miss Bilborough of the Marchmont Home Immigration Society, Belleville, sent 25 adult males, 3 adult females and 74 children on the SS Prussian on 28 APR 1883. Miss Ellen Agnes Bilbrough, b 1841 in Leeds, England, wife of Rev. Robert Wallace of Croyden, England, Superintendant of the institution Marchmont House, 193 West Moira Street. Boys were indentured as farm labourers for a five year term. The children were probably sent from the William Quarrier Home in Glasgow.
Robert Wilson Duncan was born on 10 JUL 1864 in Rutherglen, a suburb of Glasgow, to Abraham Duncan and Elizabeth Wilson. This was an industrial working class family. Robert worked in the steel industry and the 1881 census shows the other family members, including women, involved in a wide variety of industrial labour jobs.
Robert Wilson Duncan married firstly on 16 JUL 1886 in Rutherglen, Glasgow, Lanark, Scotland to Jane "Jeanie" GILMOUR. She was b: 1866 in Glasgow, Lanark, Scotland as the daughter of Thomas Gilmour and Jeanie Gorman. (Janet Duncan's notes incorrectly recall Jeanie's name as "Tilda" - confusing her with Abraham's wife, below.) Robert and Jeanie had one child, then just over a year later, Jeanie died. Their son was:
Robert Wilson Duncan married secondly on 31 DEC 1890 in Calton, Glasgow, Scotland to Margaret Harton HUNTER whose family were of Ulster-Scots origins and came from a very impoverished background. Her grandfather died in a poorhouse near Glasgow. Her family story can be found on the Hunter Family Page.
Robert Wilson Duncan and Margaret Hunter had eight children (shown below). Sometime around 1912-14 their son William (Bill) contracted polio. At this time the Sick Children's Hospital in Toronto, Ontario, Canada had already developed a world-class reputation and the family came to Toronto in 1914 in hopes of treatment for Bill. (Since Bill lived until 1970 it is assumed they were successful.) They originally settled with Robert's brother Abraham in Belleville in eastern Ontario, but in 1919 the family moved to Hamilton, Wentworth, Ontario probably for better employment prospects. Robert Duncan and Margaret Hunter had the following children:
The children of Robert Duncan and Margaret Hunter were very close. The children of the first generation of immigrants made great efforts to keep in touch. Huge family reunions were common. The immigrants even remained in contact with their cousins in Glasgow down to the second generation. As the second generation of descendants began to have children these ever-growing family reunions continued until they became just too ridiculously large to be practical. Many of the second generation of cousins continue to make the effort to remain in contact with each other to this day.
Abraham Duncan (shown above) married Elizabeth Wilson -- also of Ulster-Scots origins. What is known of her family of origin is presented here.
Robert WILSON was born in 1809 in Ireland. He married on an unknown date, presumably in Belfast, Antrim, Ireland to Margaret DICKSON, although no record of their marriage has been found so far. She was b: 1812 in Ireland. Little is known of this family except that they had the following children shown living with them in 1861. It seems likely that Robert and Margaret probably had more children prior to those shown here who were established in their own homes in 1861. It is not known when this family moved from Ireland, but by 1861 they were living in Glasgow. Their known children include:
Two assumptions are currently being actively researched:
The fact that both of these assumptions produce an overlapping set of data makes it all the more intriguing.
Abraham Duncan (Jr) is found in the 1901 Canadian census residing in Thurlow, East Hastings, Ontario (just east of the town of Belleville) working as a domestic servant for the family of George Phelps. There is one and only one other family of the surname Duncan residing in Hastings County and they also happen to be in Thurlow. However, it has now been determined that they were from Aberdeen.
Also on the same ship was Robert Duncan, age 25 (b abt 1858), a mechanic from Scotland. Found in 1891 residing in Thurlow, East Hastings, Ontario:
Robert Duncan, head, 33, b 1858 in Scotland, parents
both born Scotland, Free Church, farmer
Elisabeth Duncan, wife, 27, b 1864 in Ontario, parents both born Ireland
Isabell Duncan, mother, 69, b 1822 in Scotland
Annie Coates, 9, b 1882 in Ireland, domestic
People researching this family include the following. If you wish your name added to the fellow researchers' list, please contact me.
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This page was last updated on July 10, 2010