Ferguson Family

Background & Chart

Fergusons of Bovevagh

In the 17th century substantial numbers of Scottish families settled in the northern part of Ireland during the so-called Plantation of Ulster. Many Scottish families entered Ireland through the port of Derry and settled in the Foyle Valley which includes much of the fertile lands of Counties Derry, Donegal and Tyrone.

The Fergusons were in all likelihood amongst them. They may very well have originated in The Glenshee Valley in Perthshire (Perthshire had the highest density of Fergusons of all the Scottish counties). Al Frowiss, who also descends from the Fergusons of Bovevagh, refers to four brothers of the Ferguson family coming to Bovevagh from the Glenshee Valley, who inscribed their names on the foundation of the home with the date 1604. They were devout Presbyterians of the Scottish ilk who considered musical instruments to be the work of the devil. He continues, the 1766 religious census and a flax growers list includes Bovevagh Fergusons. They were all identified as from the townland of Killibrought (in the Bovevagh parish). Fergusons of Londonderry documents numerous Fergusons living in and around Bovevagh from the 19th century onwards.

Descendants of Robert Ferguson

Bovevagh Presbyterian ChurchBovevagh Presbyterian Church
Records of the early Fergusons date back to the early 19th century with the marriage of Robert Ferguson to Jane Bryson both of Tergdan, at Bovevagh Presbyterian Church on 29th September, 1825. Tergdan perhaps refers to the townland of Tirgoland in Dungiven parish. The 1831 Census shows an owner/occupier Robert Ferguson of Tirgolands living together with 3 other male and 2 female family members plus 1 female servant. All were Presbyterians. Robert and Jane ultimately had six children Mary, Samuel, Jane Anne, James, John and Malisha most of whom were baptised in the same Bovevagh church.

Nothing more is known of this family except for Samuel who in 1860 married Rebecca Jane Thompson, both of Dernaflaw also in Bovevagh Presbyterian Church. The marriage certificate describes Samuel, together with his father Robert and father-in-law James Thompson as farmers. The townland of Dernaflaw (spelt today as Derrynaflaw) adjoins that of Ovil but it is located in the civil parish of Bovevagh. Samuel and Rebecca had five children, John, Hannah, Jane, Robert and William Thompson, all born apparently in Ovil (there is a suggestion that they had 3 further children that didn’t survive).

John, described as a farmer, remained single, living at home, and being the firstborn male probably inherited any property or tenancy. Robert, described variously as an agricultural labourer or blacksmith married to Martha Reilly and by 1900 was living in Toneduff in Cumber Lower. He was most likely illiterate, signing his name with a cross. In later life, a relative remembers that it was Martha who attended to any necessary paperwork. By1908, Robert and Martha had six children John, Martha, James, Robert, Mary (called Minnie) and William and by 1919 they had moved to 31 Belle View Avenue, Londonderry and had aspirations to emigrate to Canada. Both John & James were working as grocer's assistants. With an eye to their pending trip James had a passport issued on 1st December 1919 and endorsed on 3rd December 1919 for travel to Canada. On 22nd January 1920, James married Elizabeth Williamson at St Augustine's Church, Londonderry. Elizabeth was 6 months pregnant.

A new life in North America

Emigration to North America had a well established history in Ireland most particularly through the potato famine of the mid 19th century. It is highly likely that Robert had family members, possibly cousins who had emigrated to North America, and it is known that Martha, his wife, had family already living in Toronto, Canada. John and James, the two eldest brothers formed an advanced party. On-board ship Passenger Declarations, dated 13th February, 1920, show that they planned to settle working in the building trade. Each carried £50 and their passage had been paid for by their uncle (most likely Robert’s older brother John). They were going to their relative, James Reilly of 80 Grant Street, Toronto. Was this Martha’s brother James or possibly cousin by the same name? Certainly it is known that many Martha's extended family emigrated to Toronto.

Ferguson Family in Toronto Ferguson Family in Toronto
Once established in Toronto, John and James sent for the remainder of the family and Passenger’s Declarations for Robert and Martha Ferguson show that they travelled out in July 1920 together with their children, Martha, Robert, Minnie and William. It is interesting to note that Robert’s declaration shows his nearest relative in Ireland to be his brother John Ferguson of Ovil, Dungiven (probably that same person that paid for John and James’ voyage). With all the family settled in Toronto, three of the brothers travelled on to California where James and Robert remained. However, William returned to Toronto after a few years.

The Fergusons quickly put down roots in Toronto. Work was easy to find, there was an established Irish community which welcomed new Irish immigrants. Of the four children who remained in Toronto:-

  • John Ferguson, the oldest, had a steady job at the city sewage plant. Married to Vera Telford, they had 9 children. Dorothy (who died after birth), Gladys, David (had 14 children!), Billy, Eileen, Viola, Bobby, Bernice and Bruce.
  • Martha Ferguson married David Reilly (she changed from Martha Ferguson to Martha Reilly whereas her mother had changed from Martha Reilly to Martha Ferguson!). David was a friend of Martha's brothers. He was also somehow related to his wife's mother (also a Reilly). David worked as a policeman for the city of Toronto for approximately 35 years. He was never out of work during the depression, so helped out many of his in-laws. He never drove a car, but rode a police motorcycle with a sidecar having attended the Royal Constabulary in Dublin before coming to Canada. Martha and David had two children, David and Dorothy. In later life Martha senior went to live with Martha and David. All three were members of the Gospel Hall Church. They didn’t believe in going to movies, women cutting their hair and many other things.
  • Mary (known as Minnie) Ferguson married William Carson. William was born to a well-to-do family in Dublin before moving to Toronto. William and Mary had just one child John. Unfortunately Mary had poor health and died at approximately 54 years old. William returned to Dublin where he remarried.
  • William Ferguson, after returning from his sortie in California, married Bernice Wickett. It is thought that Bernice was from Ontario. William delivered bread for Brown Bread in a horse and buggy and worked his way up to management.

Meanwhile James and Robert Ferguson also thrived in California:-

  • James Ferguson got work delivering milk and by 1932, was living in Pasadena. He had risen to management in the Golden State milk company and was courting Edna Holmes of Colorado. They married the following year and four years later Edna gave birth to their son David. After a further four years James, divorced from Edna, married Ena Hamilton in Yuma, Arizona. Ena also worked for the Golden State Company. They left California for Ferndale, Washington where they raised Guernsey cattle, later moving to Mount Vernon, Washington.
  • Robert Ferguson, like his brother James worked for a dairy company delivering milk. Robert married Janet (known as Netty) in California. He too lived in Pasadena but later settled in Merced, California. They had three children Ina, Lucille and Robert.

Left behind in Londonderry

After James’ departure Elizabeth Ferguson (nee Williamson) remained with her parents and siblings in Horrace St., Londonderry to bring up their son, Reginald James Ferguson who was born on 22nd April, 1920. It is unknown whether she had, at anytime, intended to join James, perhaps she thought she would go when her son was older, but either way she remained in Londonderry till her death on Reginald’s 20th birthday. Her death certificate states her husband to be James Ferguson, occupation creamery manager, suggesting that she knew of James’ progression to manager in the Golden State Company. Reginald, however grew up knowing little or nothing about his father. He knew simply that he had gone to Los Angeles together with his parents and siblings and he had a small somewhat torn picture of him.

Family Tree Chart

The family tree can be viewed as a pdf document. Provided you have Adobe Acrobat reader you may view the chart by clicking here.