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Wednesday, 20 July 2016

An Island Family - the Smiths of Unst, Shetland: Surname Saturday

The island of Unst in Shetland was the home of my cousin's paternal ancestors, and this is his story. It begins in Stuart's own words.
"When I was young,  growing up in Blackpool, Lancashire, I was intrigued as to the origins of my own full name - Stuart John Ingram Smith.   There was no-one to ask.  My  own father was unable to help me and  unfortunately both my grandfather and great grandfather had died in 1923 and 1925,  long before I appeared on the scene.   The only answer given to me was that it was an old family name. 

Eventually I undertook my own research into my paternal line and discovered that the family came from Unst in Shetland, the most northerly island of the British Isles."  
Westing on Unst, Shetland

Research took me back through:
My father - Arthur Ingram Edward Smith (1908-1979)
Grandfather - Edward Ingram Smith (1871-1923)
Great Grandfather - John Ingram Smith (1847-1925)
Great, Great Grandfather - Gilbert Smith (1802-1871)
Great, Great, Great Grandfather - John Smith. (1759- c.1840's)

This first part of the Smith story
focuses on the ancestors born on Unst.

Great, Great, Great Grandfather - John Smith. (1759- c.1840's)
The family  was traced back to  John Smith, who was born c.1759, and died sometime between 1841 and 1851  There were  two William Smiths who could be John’s father  but no records were traced to confirm this.  

John Smith married Barbara Charleson  and they  had a family of five.  The eldest  William lived throughout his life with members of his family - as did his sister Ursula.     Both never married and lived to a great age.  Daughter Jane Elizabeth and son George married a brother and sister Andrew and Catherine Sinclair  - both had large families, with distant descendants still in the Shetlands.  Finally youngest son and great, great grandfather  Gilbert, was born in 1802.  
 Many of John and Barbara's children were born here at  Snarbrough -

Barbara Smith died in 1833 and the 1841 census saw John, aged 82  living at Millagord Uyeasound at the home of his youngest son, Gilbert and family - wife, Catherine, their four children, Gilbert's  unmarried brother and sister, William and Ursula, and three young visitors   - a large household! 

View from the front door of Millagord
No trace of John could be found in 1851 and he is presumed to have died.  In Scotland, unlike in England (1837), it was not compulsory to record births, marriages and deaths until 1855.  A search of the Old Parish Records proved fruitless. 

Great, Great Grandfather - Gilbert Smith (1802- 1871)
Gilbert Smith was born at Snabrough c.1802 and married Catherine Mouat in 1829 at Baliasta, with the ceremony performed  by the Rev James Ingram - the first clue to the Ingram name that featured down the generations in the Smith family. 

The witnesses to the marriage were Gilbert’s two brothers George and William, together with a Lawrence Smith of Ramingoe. Gilbert and Catherine made their home at Gardin (below) and later Millagord Uyeasound (above).

                            Gardin Croft  - the first home of Gilbert and Catherine 

Gilbert and Catherine's first born son John, (named after his grandfather) was born in 1830,  but died at the age of 11.  Between 1834 and  1847, seven  more children were born -  Lawrence Edmonston (christened after the name of the local doctor),  Ursula Isabella, Ellen Barbara, Andrina, Janet, Jane Ingram, and John Ingram. 

In the 1841 census, Gilbert's occupation was given as farmer and ten years later as turner/crofter/agricultural labourer.  But by 1861 he had a change to that of fisherman, when he was   living at Scallawaybooth with his wife Catherine, two children Janet and John Ingram, and sister Ursula. 

But what circumstances occurred thereafter that prompted a major move from such a small rural island community  to Edinburgh?   Was it economic considerations?  For by  the 1871 census, the family was living in the capital  at Jamaica Street - a city centre location. 

The move was not a happy one for the family.    Catherine died there in 1868 aged 63 and a year later eldest son Lawrence died in Edinburgh, aged 37.    As the informant on the death certificates, Gilbert gave his occupation as shoemaker.  In the 1871 census Gilbert was living at 19 Trafalgar Lane, Leith. In November 1881 Gilbert died in Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, buried in  Rosebank Cemetery Edinburgh. The informant  of death was his daughter Janet of Dryden Place, Edinburgh, with Gilbert's occupation this time given as wheelwright.

The family still have in their possession two black edged invitations to Gilbert and Catherine's funerals written by youngest and only surviving  son John Ingram Smith. 

Great Grandfather John Ingram Smith (1847-1925) 
The youngest child of Gilbert and Catherine was John Ingram Smith who was born 22nd January 1847 at Millagord and was baptised at Gardie Uyeasound by Rev John Ingram.   In 1861 he was aged 14, living with his parents, sister Janet and aunt Ursula,

John Ingram Smith left Unst with his family and worked for several years in service as a butler at various large houses in the Aberdeen area. The reference letters he obtained from his employers are still held by the family. He was for a time the landlord of the ‘Crown and Anchor’ in Aberdeen and the ‘Gordon Arms’ in Inveruie. He moved on to Fife but  in 1883 he left Scotland to become became a hotel manager in Leeds, Yorkshire before at last settling in Blackpool,  Lancashire in about 1895.  He  became the Catering Manager of the Winter Gardens, part of the Blackpool Tower Company. 

John  married Isobel (Ella) Edward from Strachan, Banchory and they had a family of eight, three of whom were christened with the middle name of Ingram. 

John Ingram Smith  was the last of the immediate Smith family to be born on the island of Unst, but the connection lived on through his middle name Ingram passed down to his son, grandson and great grandson.

But that is another story - to be continued!  

Background Information
  • The island of Unst at 12 miles by 5 miles  is the most northerly point of the British Isles. It  lies 45 miles by ferry from Lerwick, capital of the Shetland Isles,  which are situated 120 miles north of the mainland of Scotland. To the north of Unst is Muckle Flugga Lighthouse, built in the 1850's.

     In 1851 the population of Unst was 2977;  it rose slightly by 1861 to 3060, but dropped to 2780 by 1871- a fall of 9%Between 1861 and 1881. over 8000 residents  are said to have emigrated from the Shetland Isles to make a new life overseas.  Shetland,  like other parts of Scotland,  experienced the Clearances, where landlords, their eye on maximizing their wealth, greatly reduced the number of small, uneconomic crofts, banishing tenants in favour of large scale sheep farming.    In the last 2011 cesnus, the population of Unst was  632.  
  • Rev. James Ingram (1779-1879)  who performed the marriage ceremony for Gilbert Smith and Catherine Mout in 1829   had a long life, living to the great  age of 103.
  • The Reverend Dr Ingram, of Unst, Shetland Isles, aged One Hundred Years. Illustration for The Illustrated London News, 29 April 1876.
    Rev. James Ingram
The Ingram Family
  • James' son,  Rev. John Smith (1808-1892) baptised John  Ingram Smith in 1847.
The two ministers  must have  had a lasting influence on the Smith family with the Ingram name becoming the middle name of so many of the family down the generations.


Surname Saturday is one of many daily prompts by Geneabloggers to encourage bloggers to record aspects of their family history.


  1. Hello, I found your blog via Google.
    I was wondering if you know if your SMiths of Baltasound included a William who was born probably in 1967 and spent 2 years studying at Napier college in Edinburgh 1985-86. I shared accommodation with William (We called him Hagar, a popular newspaper cartoon of the times!) Would love to catch up again with him. My name is Bill Nicol.

  2. Thank you for reading my blog. I am afraid I cannot help,with your enquiry. My Smith connections left Unst between 1861 and 1871. I am unaware of any descendants from members of the family who went to Edinburgh then. Good luck with your search!

  3. Very interesting to read your page. I am a descendant of Rev James Ingram of Unst (and also very interested in family history). I feel honoured that the Ingrams were held in such high esteem by your family and that the name was used for several generations. Alice.

    1. I am also a descendant of Rev James Ingram

  4. Hi there, I am a descendant of the Rev. James Ingram. Like you I am also very interested in finding out more about the family. More importantly,finding out what happened through the war as I cannot seem to find anything. My grandfather was James Ingram yellowlees


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