Robert Ford DeBoo


In 1846, a group of twenty immigrants, all related to Thomas and Jannet (sic) Carswell of Kirkgunzeon Parish, Kirkcudbrightshire, left Scotland for a new life in North America. Most of these folks moved west after arrival at Quebec City; at least one moved south to New York State. My mother, Hazel Helen Carswell (1906-1992), was a life-long resident, and a descendant of the only Carswell family that stayed at Quebec. The family name lives on in the suburb of Ste. Foy as "Avenue Carswell," once the eastern border of the old family farm.

Thomas (ca. 1747-1839) and Jannet (1749-1841) are buried in the cemetery at the Kirkgunzeon Parish Church. They lived, worked and raised nine children at nearby Torkirra Farm. One of the non-immigrating offspring, John (1785-1868), left Torkirra to found "Barrbridge Mills" at Dalbeattie in 1837. Another son, William (1781-1841), continued the farming tradition at Torkirra. Interestingly, William's son John (ca. 1824-1863) was one of the Carswell mariners. He lost his life during a mutiny on the Flowery Land on her passage from London to Singapore. William and John are also buried at Kirkgunzeon.

During the past decade, I have been privileged to find, work and exchange information with other descendants of Thomas and Jannet of Torkirra. We have confirmed the Dalbeattie-Quebec City family connection, for example, and others are filling in blanks about our Kirkgunzeon heritage. Several reports have been written and filed, including at the Mitchell Library, Glasgow, the National Library at Edinburgh, and at the Canadian National Library at Ottawa. These are exciting, productive times for our Carswell research network.

One of our remaining challenges is to find the parents of our Thomas of Torkirra, and to link ourselves with other families, perhaps with those found around the periphery of Glasgow. For example, Black (Surnames of Scotland, 1993) has stated "…a family of Carsewells, who derive their name from Carsewell in the parish of Neilston, are said to have been settled in Renfrewshire for centuries, but they seldom appear in the public record."

A distribution check for "Carswell" in Scotland today (via suggests the name is most common in Lanarkshire, Ayrshire and Renfrewshire.

On a grander scale, we are curious about the origin of the name, purportedly for a person living at or near "a spring or stream where cress grows." Recent studies suggest the name has strength in Devon and in other areas of southern England. How does the name there, with ties to the 13 th C, connect with the name in Scotland? Could this place name develop separately at these distant locations, or could it have different meaning in Scotland? For example, in his "The Parish of Kerrick in the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright, Scotland," Christie (1940) suggests that "Carswell" in the north might stem from the name of the great medieval saint/king "Oswald."

Our Carswell puzzle, while incomplete at this time, does not have too many of the critical big pieces missing. We have made contact with descendants of a Neilston family, and we have made contact with interested individuals in Australia, Britain, Canada, and the United States. We find e-mail communication and Internet resources to be invaluable for locating and fitting new pieces of the puzzle and for working on it together. At this time, and on behalf of our informal "Carswell Puzzle Network," I would like to invite interested readers of this Journal to share information and join us in this exciting work.


Bob DeBoo lives at 805-327 Maitland Street, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada V9A 7G7. He is a member of the Dumfries & Galloway FHS.