No imagination

I sometimes moan about the tendency in my family to overuse names. It afflicts both sides of my family. On my father’s side I have a cousin called Robert Kemp, the same as me. His father was christened John Kemp – so was mine; they were half-brothers. My brother was christened John Kemp too.

On my mother’s side, I have two cousins called Helen Richardson. I have two nieces called Anna, and a sister and another niece called Lucy. It can get very confusing.

But using the same names over and over again has a long and distinguished history in the family. As far as
my great great grandfather, Archibald Richardson, was concerned, wives should, if possible, be called Margaret. Daughters should also be called Margaret, although occasionally Mary was acceptable. Sons should always be called Archibald. Grierson was an acceptable surname for both wives and daughters. Prospective wives’ surnames should always end in -son.

I only chanced upon the full extent of this duplication of names recently. I’d known for some time that Archibald had had two wives called Margaret – the first, Margaret Grierson, was supposedly the mother of his daughter Mary. The second, Margaret Robertson, was the mother of another daughter, Margaret, and of Archibald’s son, erm … Archibald.

A few days ago, I was investigating the link between Archibald senior and the Vauxhall distillery in Liverpool. I had found records of an Archibald Richardson who owned the Vauxhall distillery and since my great great grandfather was a distiller I’d assumed, perhaps rashly, that they were one and the same person. However, while trying to verify this, I came across the death notice of a Margaret Richardson, who had been married to a surgeon in the East India Company. His first name was James, but in the source I originally found his surname was illegible. This Margaret Richardson, who had died in Calcutta, was described in the notice – in the Liverpool Mercury – as ‘daughter of Archibald Richardson, Esq., Vauxhall Distillery, in this town’.

My immediate thought was that, despite the coincidence of the names, this must after all be a different Archibald Richardson, who also happened to be a distiller and had a daughter called Margaret. Quite a big set of coincidences, but I found it hard to believe that Archibald had more than one daughter called Margaret. The one I knew about died in 1847, but the Calcutta Margaret died in 1827.

To satisfy myself about the existence of a separate and distinct distiller called Archibald Richardson I looked for births of children in Liverpool at the end of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th, hoping to find a record of the Calcutta Margaret’s birth. I didn’t. But I did find another Archibald: Archibald Robertson Richardson, born in 1827. His father’s name was Archibald, and his mother’s name was Margaret.


Knowing that Archibald (my great great grandfather – are you following this?) had married a woman called Margaret Robertson (after the death of Margaret Grierson in 1823), the birth of this Archibald Robertson Richardson looked highly suggestive to me. It still does. I haven’t found any clear evidence that he was my Archibald’s son, but I think he must have been.

This suggested a couple of things: the Archibald of the Vauxhall Distillery probably was my great great grandfather; and the Calcutta Margaret was my great great grandfather’s daughter. I searched some more sources to see if I could find any more information about her, and I was in luck: her death was reported in another newspaper of the time. No new information about her, but a startling revelation about her husband, James, the surgeon. His surname was Grierson.

Another coincidence? Well, maybe, but probably not. Archibald’s first wife was supposed to have been Margaret Grierson, and presumably she was mother to both Mary and Margaret. But I hadn’t found any trace of a marriage between Archibald and Margaret Grierson before 1792, when Mary was born. I looked back at Mary’s baptism record. It turned out her mother wasn’t named, but one of the witnesses to her baptism was a Thomas Wilson. It further turned out that an Archibald Richardson and a Margaret Wilson, living in Glasgow, had baptized their ‘second daughter’, Margaret, in 1793.

Let’s assume for a moment that this latter Archibald and Margaret were in fact my great great grandfather and his wife. A number of inferences could be drawn:

1. Archibald got Margaret Wilson pregnant in 1791, even though they probably weren’t married. Mary was born in 1792.

2. Archibald and Margaret fled from his native Dumfries to Glasgow to avoid the shame of having a child out of wedlock. There they had a second daughter, Margaret.

3. Margaret Wilson died some time later. Margaret junior (still following me?) grew up and met the handsome surgeon James Grierson. Grierson decided to marry her, and introduced her and her father to his widowed mother or, more likely, his younger sister, Margaret Grierson.

4. Archibald, on hearing that her name was Margaret, purred ‘Helleauow … !’ and seduced Margaret Grierson, later (perhaps) marrying her.

5. Margaret Grierson died, and Archibald, suffering from Margaret-withdrawal symptoms, had to find another one. He located a Margaret Robertson and promptly married her (or not).

6. Margaret Robertson got pregnant. Margaret Grierson died. (Archibald’s daughter, not his wife – she was dead already, remember? Do try to keep up.)

7. Archibald Robertson Richardson was born in Liverpool. He died sometime during the next few years, probably quite soon, possibly as a small baby (there seem to be no more records of him after his birth).

8. Margaret got pregnant again almost straight away. This time she had a baby girl. What to call her though? After much thought they came up with a name … Margaret.

9. About eight years later, Margaret (Robertson) got pregnant again. She had another boy. Guess what they decided to call him. He went on to become my great grandfather.

From all of these inferences, and from the fact that when Archibald (my great grandfather) was born Archibald (my great great grandfather) was about 70 years old, the following further inference can be drawn:

10. Archibald (my great great grandfather) was a despicable old goat, with a fixation on the name Margaret and a serious lack of imagination when it came to choosing names.

I must ask Helen, Helen, the other Robert, Anna, Anna, Lucy and Lucy what they think about all this.

3 thoughts on “No imagination”

  1. Blimey, you weren’t kidding about having a good attention span! I only have a hazy idea about what that was all about. Could you do a family tree? That might make it clearer. Ha ha! What do you think, Lucy?

  2. Read it through again, slower this time. Anyway, the meaning doesn’t really matter. All you need to know is that Archibald Richardson had three wives, all called Margaret, two daughters called Margaret, and two sons, both called Archibald. That makes five Margarets and three Archibalds in the space of two generations of a single unextended family. And he had both a daughter called Margaret Grierson and a wife called Margaret Grierson, both at the same time.

  3. Another one of our many great great grandfathers, Samuel Kemp, was the son of Samuel Kemp, who was the son of Samuel Kemp. That’s as far back as records go, but i’d imagine the chain of Samuel Kemps stretches back to before the dawn of history.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.