5. William Keir (b. 1709) & Mary Clerk

Welcome to the 5th Blog entry in this current series of articles looking at the Keir family from Aberdalgie (and Kirkliston). Following on from the previous blogs we are attempting to trace the children of Rodger Keir and Isabel Armour, but now for the first time we break with ‘birth order’ by skipping to William their 4th son and 5th child. (We will return to son George Keir & daughter Margaret Keir, a little later).

William Keir was born on the 19th of December, 1709 at Kirkliston in West Lothian and baptized 6 days later on Christmas day. Presumably his early childhood (and education) was in and about Kirkliston (at least until 1716). We know however that at least William and his parents had moved back to the birthplace of Isobel – Aberdalgie in Perthshire – by 1734 at the latest. It was here and then (in the space of a few months at the end of 1734 and start of 1735) that Rodger and Isobel passed away (see Blog #2). While Isobel was sole executrix for Rodger’s will, William fulfilled that (executors) role when Isobel died.William Keir signature 1735                                                Source: January 1735 testament dative of Isobel Armour, Scotland’s People.

From that document we discover that William (like his father before him) was a gardiner [sic] at Aberdalgie. Given that the Earl of Kinnoull’s Dupplin Castle was the major house and largest estate in that region, it is easy to assume that it was here that Rodger and William worked (but without confirmatory documentation we cannot be sure.) Again we must recall that the role of Gardener in Scotland at that time was closer to ‘factor’ (an estate manager) than it is to our modern day understanding. Both Rodger and William would have been well thought of in their small community.

Aside: Perhaps the above is not true? Samuel A.Lewis in his A Topographical Dictionary of Scotland [1846], states that by the early-1840’s (a century later) there were five more substantial farmsteads (besides Dupplin castle) in the parish (of Aberdalgie & Dupplin) and three further lesser estates. There then is the intriguing possibility raised by the following record that William may have worked as a gardiner-factor at an estate other than Dupplin Castle.

Title Date
CS175 Court of Session: Carmichael & Elliot processes, James Wright, extractor 1720-1751
Country code GB
Repository code 234
Repository National Records of Scotland
Reference CS175/367
Title William Keir, factor on estate of P. Clark vs Creditors of P. Clark : Act and Factory on P. Clark’s estate
Dates 24 February 1736

The National Records of Scotland

Given William Keir’s occupation as Gardener could this factor be him? The date (1736) is about right and it is interesting to postulate that P. Clark might just be the father (or a close relative) of William’s wife (see below). Unfortunately, we cannot at present find out where in Scotland P. Clark’s estate was or who he may have been. (The name William Keir and the occupation of Gardener were both common at this time.)

Recent evidence just uncovered – a possible baptism for Mary Clark for the 14th of January 1711 at Aberdalgie – suggests however that Mary’s parents were a John Clark or Clerk and an Agnes (Agnis) Coupar. This leaves it up to speculation whether or not this is the case and if P. Clark and John Clark were related in any way.

William Keir: single, parentless and presumably the male head of the household (we have and will see that William’s other brothers had all ‘left home’ by this time), it didn’t take long before William married – to a Mary Clerk or Clark – in the local Aberdalgie, Parish church. This occurred about 1735 or 1736 – we are yet to find the actual date (and are unlikely to do so – see note on marriage records at the end of this article), but from their children’s births this would appear to be the case.

The known (and suspected) children of William Keir and Mary Clerk are recorded in the following table (and the partial family tree diagram succeeding this):

The Children of William Keir and Mary Clerk – Table compiled from Family Search [FS] Data:

Name Born Baptized Died Notes
Agnes 1736 1 Feb 1736 unk father William Keir, mother not given; 

m. Daniel Scott, 30 Nov 1765  

Alison 1737 10 Jul 1737 unk m. John Cunningham, 19 Mar 1763
Laurence 1738 24 Dec 1738 1815 m. Marrion Paterson, 7 Mar 1767
Mary 1743 8 Mar 1743 unk
Janet 1745 20 Mar 1745 unk
William 1747 27 Aug 1747 unk
Jean 1750 15 May 1750 1810 (m. William Templeton, 1772, Lanarkshire?)
Isoble 1752 16 Jun 1752 unk m. William Dron (Sr.), abt 1770

All children born to William Keir and Mary Clerk or Clark; All locations Aberdalgie, Perthshire unless otherwise noted.

Descendant Chart for William Keir & Mary Clerk.jpgDescendant’s chart for the children of William Keir and Mary Clerk

Aside: The death of William Keir, Gardener in Perth, 1753.

WK 1753.jpgWills (Testament & Dative) Index: Scotland’s People website.

At first sight this testament and dative record would surely be referring to ‘our’ William Keir, but this just proves that every document must be looked into more closely for confirmatory evidence. The actual testament & dative shows that this gardener William Keir was married to a Margaret Millar and further research quickly establishes that he was from the “Balhousie Keir Family” and not the Aberdalgie one (although these two family lines may once have been joined).

Returning to Aberdalgie and the children of William Keir & Mary Clerk; Of their 7 or 8 children we can find some evidence for 5 of them being married, but we will look at the marriage of Alison Keir to John Cunningham and that of Isobel Keir to William Dron here.

Alison Keir & John Cunningham

Alison Keir was the 1st or 2nd daughter of William Keir & Mary Clerk, who was baptized on the 10th of July, 1737 at the Presbyterian Church of Scotland parish church in Aberdalgie. Alison married John Cunningham in the same church some 26 years later on the 19th of March 1763. We perhaps will never know what happened to this couple between 1763 and 1775, but their first surviving son, John Cunningham (Jr.) was born on the 20 or 25 of March, 1775 and baptized  in the “Associate Congregation”, Perth on the 28th of that month. From this we can assume that Alison and John had earlier parted with the established Church of Scotland and joined the group collectively known as the Associate Synod – they were Seceders. Their second child (2nd son) Thomas was born in Perth on the twelveth of September, 1778 and baptized the next day. We know of no more children nor what became of Alison, John (Sr.) or Thomas.

John Cunningham Jr. (1775-1843) & Marjory Ritchie (1803-1859): Notes

Marjory Ritchie was born of the 30th of January, 1803 (baptized 8 Feb 1803; Tibbermore Church, Perthshire) to parents, George Ritchie and Euphane Dick.

Parish registers have the obligatory two entries for the marriage of John & Marjory: on the 6th of December, 1823; Little Dunkeld, Perthshire (FHL Film #1040123) and three days later on the 9th of December, 1823; Tibbermore, Perthshire (FHL Film #1040141)

John Cunningham junior, had a long and successful career with the Honorable East Indies Company Service (H.E.I.C.S) rising to the impressive rank of Major-General in their forces. John was involved as partner in a number of companies including: The Central Bank of Scotland and The Country and City of Perth Insurance Company. He was made one of the Lords of Session in January 1837.

Marjory Ritchie did not die 9th of May, 1756 in Rome as some people have claimed, but (presumably at Newton House, Tibbermore,) on the 8th of March, 1859, and was buried the same day at Tibbermore churchyard as Marjory Cunningham. Newton House is described in the Ordnance Survey Name Books for Perthshire (1859-1862)  as being a plain mansion situated east of “Huntingtower Cottage”, consisting of three storeys in height, slated and in good repair. By 1864 Newton House (and much of Tibbermore) is listed as being the property of Major Mercer of Tullibelton House-by-Bankfoot.

John & Marjory had 6 children: Euphemia Dick Cunningham (1824–1890), Alison Keir Cunningham (1826–1862), John Cunningham (1827–1857), George Miller Cunningham Esq. of Newton (1829–1897), Ann Cunningham (1831–1874) and Marjory Cunningham (1840–).

* We will continue this conversation by the use of additional comments attached to this post.

Isobel (Isoble) Keir & William Dron

Isoble Keir was the 7th and final daughter of William Keir & Mary Clerk, who was baptized on the 16th of June, 1752 at the Presbyterian Church of Scotland parish church in Aberdalgie. Isobel married William Dron presumably in the same church in about 1770, going from the birth date of their first child,  William Dron (Jr.) in 1772. Unfortunately this William, as so many children did in those days, died in infancy as the parish register records that the couple also named their 2nd son, William. This later William Dron (Jr.) was born in 1776 – as the Parish records for Aberdalgie attest.

Name: William Dron
Gender: Male
Baptism Date: 21 Jan 1776
Baptism Place: Aberdalgie, Perthshire, Scotland
Father: William Dron
Mother: Isoble Keir
FHL Film Number: 0993510, 0102679

  Scotland, Births and Baptisms, 1564-1950. Salt Lake City, Utah: FamilySearch, 2013.

The same source provides the names of two more children for William & Isobel: Daughter, Ann, baptized 9 Mar 1778 and son, George, baptized in Aberdalgie on the 8th of October, 1780. While we know nothing more of Isoble & Anne, later evidence highly suggests that none of William Dron and Isobel Keir’s children married or had issue and that this line of inheritance ‘dies out’.

William Dron (Sr.) himself died on the 19th of May, 1811. Two months earlier he had written a deed of settlement stating that his two sons (William & George) were to be executors-nominate (to all properties and monies other than Blackruthven) and “conveyed, mortis causa, the lands of Blackruthven to his oldest son, William Dron, Junior, under burden of the payment of ₤8000, into the granter’s executry, as the value of the estate conveyed”. That is, William Dron (Jr.) had already come into possession of his father’s Tibbermore parish estate by the time of William Dron Senior’s death. William (Jr.) and George filed a Testament dative and Inventory in the Dunkeld Commissary Court on the 5th of May, 1813 (and William alone an additional inventory in St. Andrews Commissary Court on the 25 August, 1815 – which included monies received from his father’s crops throughout 1811). Amongst William Dron senior’s accounts was a roup-roll itemizing monies gained from a public auction of his Aberdalgie possessions.

Entry for Tibbermore Parish, Perthshire: “The barony of Huntingtower was broken down into a number of small properties, and sold by the late Duke of Athole [John Murray, 4th Duke of Atholl KT, PC, FRS (30 Jun 1755 – 29 Sep 1830)], upwards of thirty years ago [~1815]. These properties were chiefly purchased by men who made their own fortunes, and were founders of their own families. Those heritors who possess land in the parish of a yearly value of L.50 and upwards, besides the Earl of Kinnoull are General Cunningham of Newton and Huntingtower; the Glover Incorporation, proprietors of Tullilum; Thomas Ritchie, Esq. of the Hill of Ruthven and South Black Ruthven; William Dron Esq of North Black Ruthven …”  -Rev. Weir Tullock, Feb, 1843 for the The New Statistical Account of Scotland: Perth, Vol. X, page 1031, published by William Blackwood & sons, Edinburgh, Scotland, MDCCCXLV [1845].

As we can see from this entry, William Dron (Jr.) inherited the Blackruthven property bought (before 1809) by his father, William Dron (Sr.). [Note that major-general John Cunningham (Jr.) of Newton & Huntingtower, William’s 1st cousin, (mentioned earlier in this post) is also listed as a ‘heritor’ in the Tibbermore parish.] It would seem that William Dron (Sr.) was a “self-made” man of means.

Brothers William and George lived together from 1811 until George was declared insane in 1829 and admitted to James Murray’s (Royal) Asylum for Lunatics. The Scottish census confirms that George Dron was still a “patient farmer” in that institution, in 1841.

William Dron (Jr.) died, unmarried, on the 13th of October, 1844 leaving a judiciary nightmare. His will stated that he granted all of his considerable wealth – some half a million pounds (₤500,000) in today’s terms – to his brother George, under the proviso that he returned fully to sanity,  otherwise his cash and the Blackruthven property would vested in one William Peddie Esq. and his heirs. Peddie at that time being the Chairman of Murray’s Lunatic Asylum. The Scottish Jurist magazine reports a court of sessions case (set down for the 9th of March, 1848) between the trustees of William Dron (Jr.) and James Condie, Curator Bonis for George Dron and William Peddie (Claimants).

In Scots and Roman-Dutch laws, a curator bonis is a legal representative appointed by a court to manage the finances, property, or estate of another person unable to do so because of mental or physical incapacity. The corresponding office in common law is that of conservator or guardian of the property. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Curator_bonis

The court found that George Dron was still of unsound mind and that William Peddie should gain the Blackruthven properties as per William Dron’s will.

We have no evidence that William Dron (Jr.) (1776-1844) – also known as William Dron of Blackruthven – ever married, but he did hold important offices in Perthshire during his lifetime. Extant records (ie: Morison’s Perth & Perthshire register) show that both he and his father were Commissioners of supply in 1809 and in 1836 William Dron (Jr.) of Blackruthven & Colonel John Cunningham of Newton were Land Tax Commissioners in Perthshire.

As we will see in later posts, William Dron (Jr.) is also an important link between Keir family members of different sub-branches, acting as an executor and trustee on a number of occasions.

* We will add any ‘breaking news’ via additional comments attached to this post.

“Mysteries” to be solved:

The following is an incomplete list of what we do not know about William Keir, Mary Clerk and their family. We would be extremely grateful to anyone who might be able to assist with any of the Genealogical Barriers which we pose below – please contact us (via the contact link shown) or by leaving a comment to this post.

  • When (& where) William Keir died and who he worked for?
  • When (& where) he and Mary Clerk or Clark were married?
  • When (& where) Mary Clerk was born (and who were her parents) & died?
  • Any further information about their children?


  • According to the Key to the Parochial Registers of Scotland, by V. Ben Bloxham, pub. 1970. (British Book 941 K23b), [as reported in the FamilySearch Wiki page for Aberdalgie] the (pre-1855) Established Church at Aberdalgie was Church of Scotland (Presbyterian) in denomination. The Old Parochial Registers have been transcribed (see Scotland’s People website for a pay-for-view lookup), but contain certain omissions:

Births: Births are intermixed with marriages and other matters up to 1655. There are no entries for August 1655–1691 or March 1717–June 1719. Mothers’ names are not recorded until June 1719.
Marriages: Marriages are intermixed with births and other matters up to 1655. There are no entries for July 1716–October 1736, from which date until 1780 the marriages for each year follow the births for the same year.
Deaths: Mortcloth Dues – there are no entries for January 1727–July 1803.  [FS]

  • Confirmation of of the Keir-Cunningham marriage comes in the form of this FamilySearch entry for Alison Keir Cunningham, daughter of (Major-General) John Cunningham and Marjory Ritchie.

“Scotland Births and Baptisms, 1564-1950,” database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:VQWH-QXL : 2 January 2015), entry for Alison Keir Cunningham, 17 Mar 1826; citing , reference ; FHL microfilm 1,040,141.


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