Tuesday 8 June 2021

Was it Mill, Mills or Milne?

 One of my wife’s great-grandfathers was named William Milne. At least many documents show he was. But as I traced this line back, I found that the names Mill and Mills were used frequently on BMD records. That mix of surnames contributed to difficulties in finding the ancestry of this line.

William was born in Inverness, Scotland, on 21 September 1843 and baptized on 6 October 1843, as William Hugh Mills. This record, as well as the entry of his death in 1928, though, are the only documents on which his full name appears.

William’s father was also named William and he was a skinner. As the word suggests, the occupation of William Senior (as he will be referred to here) involved stripping the hide from animals to be used for tanning into leather, dealing in skins, fur and hides, or both. That job description was important in allowing me to trace the family. William Senior’s wife was Elizabeth Ross. Knowing her name also helped in demonstrating relationships as Scottish birth, marriage and death records after 1855 usually show both parents’ names.

The death record is curious as the surname of William Junior (as he will be referred to as from here on) and his parents is recorded as Mills but the informant, who was his son, is shown as Milne. His mother’s maiden name is wrong on the death record, but we may attribute that to the informant not knowing the correct information. The birth of that son was actually recorded as Fergus Mills but he later changed his name to Duncan Fergus Milne which is shown on his death record. The reason for the change is unknown but added to the complexity of surnames for this family.

William Junior could not read or write. On every document to which he applied his name, he signed with an ‘X’. That might help to explain the different surnames that were used although I have difficulty in understanding how someone recording information would not hear the difference in how he pronounced his name.

William Junior was married twice. His first was to Mary Ann Anderson, the ceremony performed in Forres, County of Elgin, on 4 September 1868. On that marriage document his name is written as Milne. The names of his parents and his father’s occupation confirm this is the person born with the name of Mills.

Mary Ann died on 19 October 1882. With young children still at home, William probably found it difficult to manage things without a partner. On 4 July 1884 he married Isabella Munro, this time in Ardclach parish, County of Nairn, the area where Isabella resided. On this record, though, his name is shown as Mill, as is that of his parents.

With Mary Ann, William Junior had five children. They were born in several different places as William moved around for work and their births were registered with a variety of names. With Isabella, two more children were born.

Children of William (Junior) Mills or Milne

Child’s Name

Birth Date


Year of Marriage

Mother: Mary Ann Anderson

Isabella Milne

10 November 1869

Forres, Elgin

4 September 1868

Mary Ann Milne

31 March 1872

St. Andrew, Edinburgh

4 October 1868

Elizabeth Mills

26 August 1874

Newington, Edinburgh

26 December 1872

William Mills

14 January 1877

Duffus, Elgin

26 December 1872

Thomas Robert Milne

8 July 1880

St. Nicholas, Aberdeen

26 December 1872

Mother: Isabella Munro

Margaret Ann Mill

22 August 1886

Forres, Elgin

4 July 1884

Fergus Mills

19 April 1893

Forres, Elgin

4 July 1884

The marriage date of parents is usually also recorded on birth entries in Scotland. In the case of the children of William and Mary Ann, different dates were used. The October 1868 date was the correct one. While we are confident these individuals are all from the same family, as the mother’s name does not change. The different marriage information, though, added confusion to the problem with the different surnames recorded.

The census records show the family surname as Mills in 1871 and Milne in 1881 through 1911, again inconsistent with birth, marriage and death records.

The records for William Senior were more consistent in surnames used. The surname on his birth and first marriage records were shown as Mill. His second marriage and the records of the births of his children were Mills. His death record says Milne with the informant being his brother John Milne.

It is hard to see any trend in the use of surnames. It does appear that more recent generations preferred Milne to Mill or Mills, though.


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