2a. The Parents of Rodger Keir

Hot of the Presses – breaking NEWS; the parents of Rodger Keir found!

You may recall that in blog #2 we stated that Rodger Keir and Isobel Armour (of Aberdalgie) were our oldest documented relatives. This status is about to change.

We were delighted to recently hear (through this blog) from Howard Geddes an author* and amateur genealogist who is interested in the Gilchrist family from Mid & East Lothian. He had the suggestion that perhaps the 17th century Poll Tax for Kirkliston (in the Libberton parish domain) might contain further information about the Keir family from that area. With this ‘lead’ in mind, we immediately started to search through the digitized pages of the 1694 Kirkliston Poll Tax (to be found generously free on the ScotlandsPeople website). There were only 20 pages to view – neat readable entries, with copious notes. Working (arbitrarily) backwards from the last, we were kept engaged by a few references to the Keir family, until on page 7 we hit ‘pay dirt’. The entry is worth transcribing in full:

John Keir father cotter (tenant)  Isobell Rumage his wife – Rodger (Keir) and Mary Keir ye children – 1 pound 7 shillings

Margaret Rumage his servant – 6 shillings

Margaret Keir his daughter – 6 shillings

Before we decipher this entry, it is pertinent that we side track into a brief discussion of the purpose behind the Poll Tax.

Aside: According to ScotlandsPeople: “Poll taxes were imposed in 1694, 1695 and twice in 1698 to pay off the debts and arrears of the army and navy. Payment was graduated at the rate of 6 shillings and upwards according to rank and means; only the poor and children under 16 were exempt. Kirkliston is in the West Lothian records; 1694-6 – Document Index E70/13/6.”

Returning to the Poll Tax entry (E70/13/6/pg7) we note that John Keir, a tenant cotter (essentially a farmer who rented a piece of land from the local laird – in this case the Earl of Hopetoun) and his wife, Isobell Rumage lived with their two children Rodger & Mary and paid 1£7s total, in tax.This is equivalent to the minimum rate, indicating that John & Isobell were by no means wealthy (but not classified as being ‘poor’). We can also add that Rodger and Mary were both 16 and over, else they would not have been included in the poll. It isn’t clear whether the two Margarets were living under the same roof (they both paid 6s tax), but they do form a single entry grouping with John. Margaret Rumage is listed as ‘his (John’s) servant’ and is most likely the sister of Isobell, or at least a close relative. Their daughter, Margaret Keir, boasts her own line, from which we might presume that she is either living apart and/or an adult (21 or greater) in her own right.

Can we be sure that this is ‘our’ Rodger Keir (and his parents)? The pedantic answer is no. Lacking any sign of a birth record we cannot be sure, but all the ‘evidence’ points towards this conclusion. This is the earliest documented evidence for the existence of a “Rodger Keir” – a name which in itself is uncommon. Recall that on the 24 May 1695, a Rodger Keir married an Agnes Gilchrist in Kirkliston and then on the 2 Jun 1698 we have Rodger and Isobel Armour marrying also in Kirkliston. We know from these entries that Rodger was from the parish of Kirkliston (as was Agnes Gilchrist) but that Isobel (Armour) hailed from Aberdalgie parish.  We can immediately see that the age and location for “Rodger Keir” are in alignment, giving us around an 80% confidence assessment that this is the ‘right’ man.

Based on the assumption that John Keir and Isobell Rumage are the parents of ‘our’ Rodger Keir (and therefore our new eldest documented relatives) we can go a little further. The Ancestry.com (and the FamilySearch website both) record the birth of an Adam Keire at Haddington, East Lothian on the 24th of April, 1661 to parents John Keire and Isabell Ramnage. [Ramnage is probably a mistranscription of the well known Border Rammage family name, of which Rumage and Rummage are common variants.] (There are no other recorded births for this couple, which given our lack of success for Rodger, it is not surprising.)

Aside: Haddington is a Royal Burgh and the primary cultural, administrative and geographical centre for East Lothian. It lies today, as it did 400 years ago, 20 miles due East of Edinburgh (with Kirkliston a further 10 miles away to the West of Edinburgh).

The name Adam Keir then raises the distinct possibility that John Keir is perhaps related to the ‘famous’ Haddingtonshire ‘Baxter’ Keir branch which it is said to have originated with Adam Keir of Huxton or Hugtoun. This Adam Keir was born about 1600 and married Alison Warrender on the 23th of April, 1632 in Haddington. Adam died on the 15th of February 1654/55 in Huxton, Coldingham, Berwickshire but his offspring were noted baxters (bakers), Guildsmen and Burgess in Edinburgh. (The noted 18th century chemist, inventor and member of the Lunar society, James Keir, F.R.S. was of this branch – but that is another story entirely).

* Howard Geddes is the author of a number of specialized books including Blair Atholl’s Railway, available online.



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