Robert was born in Ireland between 1821 and 1828— he was quite imprecise when giving out his age to record-keepers throughout his life. His parents were Richard Woods and Mary Paterson, of whom we know nothing but their names. We suspect that Robert grew up in Ulster, and strongly suspect County Cavan, but we have no firm evidence of this. He makes his first appearance to us in the Scottish Census of 1851, aged 22. He was living as a lodger in the household of an elderly widow named Agnes Anderson in the Abbey Burgh district of Paisley, and working as a "bleacher" at the nearby Blackland Mill Bleachworks.
See this article on Paisley's official website for more historical information about the bleachworks and the immigrants they attracted.
Paisley had several such "bleachworks", factories that processed textiles. They were a magnet for young immigrants from the Scottish Highlands and from Ireland, which saw a mass exodus of young people in the mid-19th century due to the economic hardships there. Immigrants were flocking to industrial centers in the Scottish Lowlands, England, and North America seeking a better life.
The census was taken on the night of Sunday, March 30, 1851. That night another young immigrant from Ireland was enumerated by the census-takers: Isabella (Bella) Gardner, aged 20, was living in the womens' dormitory at the Blackland Mill Bleachworks, along with many other women and girls, one as young as 9, who hailed (mostly) from Ireland as well as numerous counties in the Scottish Highlands. Bella (along with most of the other women) put her occupation down as "bleacher"; others were "starchers" and cooks.
Bella's parents were Thomas Gardner and Isabella Johnston— about whom we know nothing, although we suspect that they were Ulster Scots like Robert's parents. The name Johnston appears on another branch of this family history, and was a very common name in County Cavan.
We don't know whether Robert and Bella knew each other before coming to Paisley, but they worked together at the bleachworks and they definitely knew each other by the summer of 1851, for they had conceived a child together no later than September. They got married on March 26, 1852, and their first child, William, was born two months later on May 25. The curious thing is that the couple were married in the Church of Scotland, but they had William baptized at St. Mirin's Roman Catholic Church on June 22. None of their other children would have any known interaction with the Catholic Church, and indeed most of their descendants appear to have worshipped in the Free Church of Scotland.
Robert worked for many years at Blackland Mill; he started out as a "bleacher" but around 1854 his specialty changed to "stoker" or "fireman", the man who kept the factory boilers going. Robert and Bella had the following children:
Robert and Bella raised their children at Blackland Mill. Bella died on July 1, 1863, of edema resulting from the hepatitis which she had been suffering with for a few years. She had given birth to her 6th and final daughter, Maggie, just 3 months before she died. She was between 32 and 39 years old, depending on which of her three age statements we believe.
Three years later, on December 14, 1866, Robert (aged 38 now) married the much younger Flora Dow. Flora said she was 27 at the time of her marriage, but we think that a later statement of age (which puts her year of birth at 1849) to be more accurate; thus she could have been as young as 20 years old at the time of her marriage. She was a Mill Worker, possibly one of the "mill girls" working at Blacklands Mill with Robert. Flora was born in Bowmore, Argylshire, and her parents were Peter (or Donald) Dow and Catherine Currie. She was a Gaelic-speaker.
Flora and Robert added at least 8 more children to the family:
A few years after his marriage to Flora, Robert appears to have left his job at Blackland Mills and moved his family to a different part of Paisley. He worked as a night watchman for a while, then got a job as a stoker at a power-loom factory, which he worked at until his death at the age of 54, on December 13, 1880, of Bronchitic Asthma and Dropsy.
Flora continued to raise the children— both hers and Bella's— alone after Robert's death; in the 1881 census we see her presiding over a household of 9 children. Of Bella's children only 18-year-old Ann is left at home; Maggie has vanished and we can find no death or marriage record for her. In addition to the children there is a gaelic-speaking widow from Flora's hometown in Argyllshire staying with them— Mary McFarlane— possibly a relative. There is also a 10-month-old grandson, William McLauchlan, although we haven't yet figured out how he fits into the family tree. It is tempting to link him to the absent Maggie, but that would be speculation.
Flora died on July 26, 1901, in Paisley, of Pleuro-pneumonia. If we believe her son Richard, who signed her death registration, she was 52 years old at the time of her death.
Bella bore Robert 6 children over the course of 9 years, and Flora bore him 8 children in 14 years.
Robert's first son William was born in Paisley on May 25, 1852, and was baptized on June 22 at St. Mirin's Roman Catholic Church (as we noted above it's unclear why; the family had no other known contact with the Catholic Church). He worked as a carter, apparently for his whole life.
On February 27, 1874, aged 22 (he said he was 25, perhaps to appear older than his bride), he married 24-year-old Margaret Hyman in the United Presbyterian Church. Margaret worked as a farm servant; she had been born in the Highlands, on the island of Arran, around 1850. She was a gaelic-speaker. Her parents were John Hyman, a "Foreman Scavenger" (and/or Boatman), and Mary (or Jane) McAllister.
William and Margaret had the following children:
William died on December 13, 1903 of bronchitis at the age of 51. Margaret changed her surname to Hyndman (or perhaps corrected an old mistake). She survived William by almost a decade and died on November 12, 1912 of cardiac failure.
Margaret's death registration contains what we think must be a mistake. Her daughter Janet (whose married surname was now Green) reported that Margaret's age at death was 73, but this would put her year of birth around 1839, and hence she would have been 42 when she had her last child. This seems unlikely for those times, and it contradicts all other statements of age we have for her.
John was born on February 11, 1859, at his parent's home in Blackland Mill, Paisley, the third son of Robert and Bella. Sometime prior to 1877 he moved away from home and settled in Johnstone, 3 miles away, and took up the trade of carter, which he worked at throughout his life. On November 26, 1877, aged 19 (though he said he was 20), he married 19-year-old Elizabeth Kean, a domestic servant, daughter of shoemaker Robert Kean and Elizabeth Cairdie. They were married in the United Presbyterian Church.
See the Kean Family History for Elizabeth's ancestors.
John and Elizabeth's seven children were as follows:
John died on November 14, 1915, aged 57, of cardiac disease. Elizabeth survived him by more than 3 decades, dying on November 14, 1948 (her late husband's birthday), aged 90, of Myocardial Degeneration and Coronary Thrombosis in Paisley.
The 1911 Census, which contains a wealth of information we could not otherwise have known, tells us that she had 14 children over the course of her life, but only 7 survived past childhood.
William was born on August 10, 1881. Later he started working as a carter like his father. He married Maggie Muir Clark on December 30, 1904. Maggie, born about 1878, was the daughter of James Clark and Anne Hedderick (possibly this is incorrect; it is difficult to read the name on Maggie's marriage registration). Maggie was a threadmill worker at the time.
They had one son that we know of, John, born April 12 1908 in Paisley. By this time William was working as a foreman at the threadmill.
We are curious about Maggie's middle name, Muir, because one of William's sisters Helen married a Muir, and also because another of William's sisters named her daughter Margaret Muir. We can only speculate on what the connection was.
Helen, also known as Nellie or Ellen, was born January 17, 1888. She worked in the threadmill as a teenager, and at the time of her marriage she was working as a waitress. On August 28, 1908, aged 21, she married 23-year-old George Muir, who was a carter like her father. They were married in the Primitive Methodist Church.
George was born in Paisley about 1885. His father Robert Muir was born around 1848 in Dunbartonshire. Occupations we have for Robert include night watchman, stoker, and carter. George's mother was Margaret Russell. It appears that George was an only child.
Helen and George had 4 children:
Helen died near Glasgow on October 13, 1943, aged 55, of Faucial Epithelioma. George lived on until the age of 69, dying on June 3, 1954 of Myocardial Degeneration near Glasgow.
Robina was born on June 9, 1890, in Paisley. She married William Elliott on June 1, 1909 in the Scottish Episcopal Church, and they had 9 children. She is the only member of the Woods family we know to have emigrated to North America. She died on April 27, 1963 (almost 73 years old) in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, of stomach cancer and pneumonia.
Robina's story continues under the Elliott Family History .