Migration and the Borders

In the last few months I’ve received a lot of enquiries from descendants of people who left the Borders and emigrated overseas. They left for their own reasons and frustratingly we don’t always know why that was.

But while the largely forced departure from the Highlands is widely known about and understood as ‘The Clearances’, much less is known about emigration from the South of Scotland which has been going on since about 1600. In the Highlands , we know that many of the landowners (often clan chiefs) chose to evict their tenants so that sheep could make more money for them. In the Borders and Dumfries and Galloway, there were many different reasons for departure and it happened over more than 300 years.

After 1603, the Border crackdown by King James VI & I meant that many former reivers were forced to leave hurriedly for the Ulster plantation to avoid possible execution. Many of their descendants chose to emigrate to the United States or Canada in the 18th century. Military service often gave Borderers a taste of life and opportunities in other parts of the world and I believe this to be fairly significant when viewed over a 250 year window from 1700 through to 1950.

Many whose families had been pretty much static over hundreds of years moved from rural parts into the bustling mill towns like Hawick, Galashiels and Selkirk in the 19th century. Having made that initial move, there was then less reluctance to consider a move further afield, particularly with any downturn in the wool industry over the years. Of course it wasn’t just one way as the later 19th century saw immigration into important woollen centres like Hawick and Galashiels from other mill towns in Scotland like the Hillfoot villages of Clackmannanshire and Stirling and places like Lanark. Quite a number also came north from Cumbria and Yorkshire. Just take a look at the different places of birth of the residents of Hawick in the 1871 or 1881 census and you will see what I mean.

But if you have a story or even a mystery about your own ancestors leaving the Borders then please share it with us by replying to this post.

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Migration and the Borders — 5 Comments

  1. Hello,I have been trying to trace my Johnstons back to Scotland,from Co.Antrim,N.I.My grand father always jokingly said that we we’re run out of Scotland for stealing cattle. That would relate to King James VI &I clearing the borders in mid 1600s. But have not made the connection as yet. Cheers

  2. It wasn’t really a joke ! Lots of Johnston(e)s did flee Dumfriesshire for Ulster because they had done a lot of stealing cattle etc ! But it wasn’t just stealing cattle – sheep and horses too; wounding, maiming, murder and extortion were all reiver activities too. And the Johnstons were renowned for their feuds with the Maxwells

  3. My maternal grandmother (Elizabeth Ann Gibson), maternal great grandfather (James Gibson), maternal great great grandfather (John Gibson), maternal great great grandmother (Elizabeth Gibson), and maternal great great uncle William Gibson) all came from the Lockerbie and Kirkmichael areas of Dumfriesshire. Most of the family are present in the 1891 and 1901 censuses. I have copies of those census reports if they’d be helpful. I have two questions. Are there any living relatives of those folks in the area today, and are those Gibsons (my Gibsons) part of a larger family or even a clan? Perhaps a riding family? My great grandmother and grandmother emigrated to the US for greater economic opportunity after the untimely death of James Gibson, husband and father respectively. The American side of the family has been out of touch with our Scottish kin for more than a generation. I’d like to remedy that if I could.

    • I grew up near Lockerbie – there were certainly a number of Gibson families in the area. I’m sure there will almost certainly still be living relatives in the area today.

      Gibson is a patronymic name i.e. meaning ‘son of Gibb’ of Scottish origin. As such, it’s not particularly associated with just one area although it certainly is common in the Dumfriesshire area. You’ll find that Clan Buchanan claim that Gibson is a sept of their clan but that doesn’t mean that all Gibsons are somehow linked to the Buchanan name.

      If you’re interested in trying to trace living relatives in the area today then contact me via my email address or the contact form on the ‘Contact Us’ tab.

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