Mothers’ Day is the theme for the #52ancestors challenge this week. As that is a tie-in to the American festival, I’m going to swap and take the British Mothering Sunday as my prompt.

Ann Thomson (1816-1904)

Ann is my x2 great grandmother in my father’s direct line, the wife of Hugh Rosie or Ross (1816-1892). The reason why I am writing about her is that Mothering Sunday was traditionally a day when children, daughters particularly, who had left home to work as domestic servants were given time off to visit their mother and family. (See the BBC website.) Four of Ann’s five daughters were in service in mainland Scotland, so for them there was little chance of going home to Orkney for the day. In an indirect way, she seems an appropriate subject.

Early life

Ann was born on 17 April 1816 in Walls, Orkney, the daughter of Hendry Thomson and his wife Williamina or Minny S(c)later. They probably lived in the Crockness area of North Walls at the time. There is no record of her birth or baptism in the Walls OPRs, which were quite badly kept at this period, but, fortunately, a third cousin has the Ross family Bible. It starts with Ann and her husband Hugh and, as the birthdates of their own children are accurate, I’m inclined to believe that hers too is correct.

Minny, Ann’s mother, is very elusive, appearing only in the baptism records of two other children. Since her surname S(c)later also features large in my maternal line, she’s an intriguing character for me.

Ann married Hugh Ross on 30 December 1841 in Walls. At that time she lived in North Walls, as did Hugh.


Between October 1842 and September 1860 Ann bore eleven children, five sons and six daughters, one stillborn. I have already written about Ann, her ninth child. They were all at home in the 1861 census but after that the scattering began. By 1871 three daughters and two sons had left home and Orkney.

For most of her married life, Ann lived at Upper House (also known as Upper Seatter), North Walls. I had always assumed that Ann never left Orkney. A few years ago a third cousin sent me a copy of a letter which proved that assumption wrong. In it, Hugh Ross, Ann’s husband, writing to a prospective son-in-law, casually mentioned that “my old missus is off in Glasgow”. There was a sad reason for the visit as a 13-month-old grand-daughter Marion died on 21 October 1874. She was the second child of Hugh and Ann’s oldest daughter Janetta and her husband Charles Sinclair who lived in Kinning Park, Glasgow, at the time. Ann had travelled down from Orkney to be with her daughter, a trip involving one or two boats and a train. This is one of the few insights I have to Ann’s character and it is an endearing one.

Aged 58, Ann surely did not deserve the “my old missus”,  affectionate as it might have been.

Later life

In all, three of Ann’s children died before her. In addition to Ann (1878), Walter, the oldest son, was lost at the herring fishing in 1892 and James died in Heidelberg, Victoria, Australia in 1902.

Her later years were spent at Upper Seatter, North Walls, with her youngest daughter Catherine (Mrs James Simpson). Of Ann’s family of ten live children, only Catherine and my great grandfather John still lived in North Walls by the late 1890s. Janetta (Sinclair) and family were in Stromness where they ran a shop while Sam, the second youngest was in Orphir, both Orkney, so not too far away. Walter’s widow and family also settled in Stromness as did her nephew William.

I strongly suspect, but cannot yet prove, that there were grandchildren whom Ann never met. There were certainly children whom she rarely if ever saw after they left home. Mothering Sunday may not have been a big event in her life, no flowers or chocolates, but her thoughts must often have turned to her children with a mix of joy and sadness.

photo of Lily of the valley

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