Hay from Tarves, Aberdeenshire

Helen Hay 1863 – 1903

Helen Hay was my great grandmother, and she had too short a life. She was born in 1863 at Auchedley, near Tarves in Aberdeenshire, the illegitimate daughter of Helen Watt, a domestic servant, and George Hay, a farmer’s son. This sounds like a classic story of the employer’s son got the servant pregnant, and indeed Helen may have been a servant for the Hays at the time, although she might also have been living with her parents, who lived close to where the Hay family had their farm in the parish of Tarves. George may not have married Helen Watt, but he gave their daughter his name and was a witness to the registration of her birth.

However, Helen Hay was brought up by her grandparents, not her mother, and I’m left wondering whether she ever saw much of her mother. In the 1871 census, she’s with her grandfather James Watt age 50, a crofter of 6 acres at Mill of Schivas, near Tarves, and her grandmother Margaret. She’s listed as their neice but she wasn’t. James and Margaret Watt also had a daughter living with them, and the 6 year old relation of near neighbours called Alexander Smith.

Ten years later, in the 1881 census, Helen Hay age 18 is still with her grandparents at Mill of Schivas but this time is listed correctly as their granddaughter. But she must have left there at some point to work as a domestic servant, as in 1889 she was living in at Barron’s Hotel, at Auchnegatt in the parish of Savoch when she married William Fraser. He was a farm servant at Mains of Elrick, just a couple of fields away. Was Helen serving behind the bar and William a regular?

Helen Hay and William Fraser were married on 29 November 1889 at Mosside, William’s father’s croft over near Hatton, a walkable distance, especially in those days. The following September their first child, Margaret, was born at Mains of Elrick, so William must have been given the use of a cottage on the farm. They’re there in early 1891 when the census was taken.

By 1893 they had moved to Aitkenshill, a farm in the parish of Foveran which not only still exists but still has an old cottage next to the cow sheds, which is where a married farm servant would have lived. It’s where their two children were born: Richard in 1893 (who eventually emigrated to New Zealand) and my grandfather James in 1895 (who eventually lived in Leeds, Yorkshire).

The next move was to Waterton farm in the parish of Ellon. Such regular moves by farm servants was quite common: they could move every year or even every six months, depending on whether they could get a better offer at the feeing market. At Waterton, daughter Barbara was born in 1899. By the 1891 census they’d moved again, a bit further up the coast, to Milton of Brogan in the parish of Slains where William was head cattleman. A daughter Helen (who also eventually emigrated to New Zealand) was born there.

Tragedy struck in 1903, with the death of Helen Hay at only 40 years. According to her death certificate she’d had chronic enteritis for 6 months. She left William a widower with five children and he must have decided to move back home, or at least close to it, as in 1905 he can be found in the Valuation Roll as a tenant of a house in Hatton paying £5 10s a year rent. In 1907 he married his Helen Ann Morgan and my grandfather acquired his stepmother.

Helen’s mother Helen Watt 1843 – 1929

When her illegitimate daughter Helen was born, Helen Watt was living with her parents at their croft in the parish of Tarves, where she’d lived until her early teens when she went off to be a domestic servant. But in 1862 she must have been been either with her parents or close by, as George Hay lived not far from the Watts. She had her daughter Helen at her parent’s cottage. Five years later she married John Smith who belonged to a neighbouring family and was a farm servant. Their daughter Barbara was born in 1868 at Tarves.

By 1871, however, John and Helen Smith and their daughter Barbara had moved to Edinburgh and were living in Newington, where John was a carter and was to become a railway guard, and they had taken in two lodgers. Helen’s daughter Helen Hay, by then age 8, had been left behind in Tarves and it’s impossible to know why they didn’t take her with them. By 1881 John Smith had died, and Helen and her daughter Barbara were living on their own in Edinburgh, and Helen Hay was still living with her grandparents. Helen Smith and her daughter Barbara stayed in Edinburgh, moving at least every ten years, and Helen earned a living taking in lodgers. One of her lodgers in 1891 was William Thomson, an assistant librarian, and he and Barbara Smith married in 1898. In 1901 they are living in the same street as Helen Smith, who has medical students as lodgers., but by 1911 she’s given that up and is living with her daughter Barbara and son-in-law, who didn’t have any children.

Her daughter Helen Hay died in 1903. Helen Hay’s death certificate, for which her husband William Fraser was the informant, has her mother as Helen Watt domestic servant with no mention of the name Smith. Were the mother and daughter Helen’s in touch? Did Helen Smith nee Watt know Helen Fraser nee Hay had died? Studying your family history gives you a whole host of unanswerable questions. Helen Smith died in 1929 at Longmore Hospital, Edinbugh, of cancer at the age of 85.

Helen’s father George Hay 1843 – 1890

George was the eldest son of a farmer and was born in 1843 at Tarves. His father, also George Hay, had the tenancy of East Shethin farm of 65 acres near the village of Tarves. In the 1861 census George is the ploughman on his father’s farm, and was still there in 1871, seven years after the birth of his daughter Helen. He married in 1876, by which time he was aged 33, so he clearly hadn’t been in rush to wed. He and his wife, Sarah Ogg, went on to have ten children. Ironically, Sarah Ogg had an illegitimate daughter before she met and married George.

George Hay senior died in 1879, and so George junior took over the farm. In the 1881 census he is the farmer at East Shethin with his wife, two children, his stepdaughter, a relative of his wife’s, a female general servant and a male farm servant. George Hay then died in 1890 at the age of 47, and afterwards his wife kept the farm as she’s there with her children in 1891 and 1901.

George Hay senior was born in 1793 at Tarves and married Mary Taylor at Old Deer in 1833. He was the son of Alexander Hay.

5 responses to “Hay

  1. Greetings! A new friend from a genealogy site mentioned your blog. My Grandmother last lived in Partick, and I see several sir names mentioned in your blog that are related to us. My Grandmother’s maiden name is Logan, and my Great Grandmother was a Richmond, and married a McPherson. Also related… Morrison, Hay (my Great Grandfather’s first name), Christie, and Wilson.

    • Hi Becky – welcome to the blog, and lovely to get a mention on someone else’s blog!

      My “west of Scotland” Logan ancestors start out in Kilmarnock as far back as I have so far got with them, by spread out. I have some in Neilston, Renfrewshire which isn’t far from Partick. My ggg grandmother married Robert Marshall in 1792, and I haven’t researched all of her siblings forwards in time so there may be more who moved around.

      The Richmond connection comes from Ann Orr Richmond born about 1837 in Kilwinning – I think she was the daughter of John Richmond and Margaret Easton. Ann married Colin Haddow in 1858, and in the 1901 census she’s a widow living at Kilmaurs with a Hay family. One of her daughter was named Ann Hay Haddow so there’s definitely a Hay connection somewhere.

      (I have “east of Scotland” Logan and Hay ancestors in Aberdeenshire, but there’s no connection to the “west of Scotland” lot that I know of!)

      McPherson was the surname of my father’s first wife and my sister’s mother. Jeanie McPherson was born in Cambuslang in 1918.

      So lots of surnames linking!


  2. Hi Judy,
    I guess we are somehow related. Your George Hay(1843-1890) who was your relative’s father, who eventually married Sarah Ogg was my great grandfather Alexander’s older brother. His father was my great, great grandfather. The son and brother, Alexander, moved to Toronto, Ontario, Canada and all of his 7 children were born there. He had a dry goods store on Queen Street and did quite well. ….. And here I am Sharon Bedard in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada. ( next to Toronto)
    Here’s to George and Alexander the two brothers to whom we are related and fro making us exist!
    Sharon Bedard

  3. Barbara Douglas

    Dear Judy, I read your interesting story of servant life in Aberdeenshire. My husband’s family lived in Huntly, Drumblade , Culsamond, Kennethmont, Tarves, Inverurie and a few other places before moving to Aberdeen. My uncle was the son of James Morgan, a policeman, and Elizabeth Hay who lived in New Pitsligo and Belhelvie so the Hay and Morgan names caught my eye. Always looking for possible connections!

  4. David A Russell

    George Hay born in 1793, my 3rd g/grandfather. The Hays ere they related to Shethin farm with the shorthorn cattle, also do you know anything about a fire in the farm house the wife stayed in half the house as she wasn’t able to rebuild it. I was on a road trip about 15 years ago and stop at a house belong to the Hays in the late 1880 and the present owners mentioned about the fire. Unfortunately I cant find the notes on that trip. Great blog its helping me close a few names

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