Unearthing History – Our Mining Roots: Part V

This is the fifth post in a series that follow my Thompson ancestors from the lowlands of Scotland to Guthrie County, Iowa.  This post will follow the migration to the United States between 1870 and 1910.  Many of the pictures below were shared by Jane M. – a granddaughter of Martha Thomson Sellers.  Links to earlier posts can be found at the bottom of this page.   

Hamilton, Scotland

Gilbert and Margaret Thomson lived most of their married life in Wishaw, Scotland.  All of their children, with the exception of one, were born in Wishaw.  Shortly after the birth of their youngest child in 1877, the family moved to Hamilton1 where Gilbert and sons worked for the Cadzow Colliery.  Years in the mine had taken their toll on Gilbert’s health. Gilbert died in Hamilton on June 10, 18842 at age 54  – cause of death noted as pleurisy.

Margaret lived at Eddlewood Rows on March 31, 19013 with sons Henry and Arthur.  There was a well-known strike and riot that occurred at Eddlewood Rows in July of 1900.  This is on my list of things to look into!  Margaret continued to live with her youngest sons in Hamilton until her death on August 15, 19084 at age 76.

Thomsons – from Newharthill to Hamilton


Thomsons – 1st Generation in America

Gilbert and Margaret Thomson had at least three children that immigrated to the United States between 1870 and 1910, as well as several grandchildren – and possibly more.  It is very clear that when a family member migrated to the States, they sought out family that was already here.  Immigration of this family is something I would to explore further.  I think we might learn a bit more about this family if we take a good look at who is living in Hamilton (really dig deep into the records), then compare to who is living in the States.  Looking for family, and looking around the family.  Here is what I know at this time:

All Roads Lead to Boone County, Iowa

Martha Thomson Sellers
2nd Child of Gilbert and Margaret Thomson
Arrived 1870

Martha was the first to set sail, arriving in New York on September 9, 18705 with her first-born, Henry, in tow.  Henry’s father, John “Jake” Sellers was already in America.  He had arrived in 1869 with his brother, and was living at Morris Run – a mining community in Tioga County, Pennsylvania.  Martha and Jake were married in Corning, New York the day after her arrival.6  They lived in the states until 1873, then returned to Scotland and lived for several years.

2nd Arrival – 1879

In 1879, the Sellers family returned to America.  Jake and his brother, James, arrived in April.  Martha and sister-in-law, Grace, arrived with their children in August.  Jake and Martha returned to Morris Run, PA where the family continued to grow (they had 12 children total).7  In 1885, they followed Martha’s brother Sandy (more on him below), to Iowa.  The Sellers settled at Incline, a mining village along the Des Moines River in Boone County, Iowa.  Jake worked at the Birmingham & Keating’s coal mine when he was killed by falling rock in 1892.  He was only 45 years old.

Martha raised her boys and lived in the Boone area for the remainder of her life.  Her sons followed in their father’s footsteps and were coal miners.  Martha returned to Scotland to visit family and friends several times throughout her life, and she had many visitors from Scotland.  As we will find out, Martha’s place was the first stop for many Thomsons as they immigrated to America.   Martha passed away January 16, 1928 and is buried with her husband in the Bluff Creek Cemetery in Boone County.

Martha Thomson Sellers & Sons


Alexander “Sandy” Thomson
5th Child of Gilbert and Margaret Thomson
Arrived 1879

According to census records, Sandy arrived in America in 1879 – the same year sister Martha returned to the states.  I haven’t located him on a passenger list yet – so I’m not sure exactly when he arrived, but the year seems likely.  Sandy lived with Martha’s family at Morris Run, PA in 1880, but had moved on to Iowa by 1882.  In that year, he married Betty Stevens in Dallas County8 and within the next couple of years, they moved to the Boone area.  It is likely that they lived at Incline, as it is located in Yell township.  We know Sandy was in Yell township in 1885,9 and his sister Martha moved to Incline the same year.  Sandy and family didn’t stay in Boone long.  They moved back to Dallas County, where Betty’s family farmed.  They lived mostly in the Dallas and Guthrie County areas.  More to come on this family……


Isabella “Belle” Thomson McDonald (b. 1879)
Daughter of John Thomson (1st Child of Gilbert and Margaret Thomson)
Arrived 1903

Belle and her husband, Alexander, arrived in America in 190310.  Alexander arrived in New York on the SS Ethiopia November 3, 1903.  I am not able to find a record for Belle – if she didn’t arrive with her husband, she arrived shortly after.  I believe Belle and Alexander first went to Boone, where Aunt Martha was living, and then soon after moved to Albia, Iowa.  They eventually moved to Detroit, Michigan

Gilbert Sellers, Gilbert Thomson, John Thomson & Son, Arthur Thomson, unknown couple, Belle and Alexander McDonald


Gilbert Thomson (b. 1873)
Son of John Thomson (1st Child of Gilbert and Margaret Thomson)
Bother to Isabella McDonald (above)
1st Arrived – 1904

Gilbert wasn’t too far behind his sister, Belle.  He arrived in New York on November 1, 1904.11  He headed to Boone, Iowa to see his sister and husband, as well as Aunt Martha.  He was in the states 18 months during this first trip.

The Thomsons of Detroit
Gilbert Thomson & Family


2nd Arrival – October 5, 1909
New York

Gilbert Thomson arrived again, but this time with his wife, Flora, and their children.  They were headed to Albia, Monroe County, IA – again to see Gilbert’s sister and husband, Belle and Alexander McDonald.12  Gilbert and sister, Belle, are close and they move around together.  Gilbert and his brother-in-law, Alexander, are mining in Albia, Iowa in 1910.  By 1917, both families had moved to Detroit and Gilbert and Alexander worked at the Ford Motor Company.


Robert G. Thomson and Margaret Thomson
Children of Gilbert Thomson (b. 1862 – 8th Child of Gilbert and Margaret Thomson)
Arrived October 5, 1909

Also arriving with their cousin Gilbert (above) are Robert G. and Margaret Thomson.13  According to the ship records, they were going to Des Moines.  They actually ended up in Monroe County, Iowa with cousins Gilbert and Belle (above).  Margaret married Walter Cullen* in Monroe County on October 27, 1911.14  Robert married Jeanie Benson in Monroe County on May 31, 1915.15  Both families moved to Boone.

*Note to self:  This marriage was witnessed by Walter Young.  When Alexander McDonald arrived in 1903, he was headed to Walter Young in Pennsylvania.  This marriage is also witnessed by Barbara Thompson – who may or may not be related.  Also, Walter Cullen was from Scotland – and one of Martha Sellers’ sons married a Cullen.  Friends and family – sticking together.


Arthur Thomson
15th Child of Gilbert and Margaret Thomson
Arrived 1910

Arthur, born in 1877, was the youngest child born to Margaret and Gilbert Thomson.  He was married to Jeane Kerr in Hamilton, Scotland in 1903.  Arthur, Jeane and their three young children arrived in Quebec on September 10, 1910.16  They crossed from Canada into Vermont, and made their way to Boone, Iowa where sister Martha was living.  Arthur lived and worked in the coal mines in both Boone and Dallas Counties.

The family moved to Des Moines in 1914.  Family was always close by – in 1920 he lived next to his nephew, Gilbert Sellers (Martha’s son).17  Both men were miners at the time. Arthur eventually took on work as a building custodian.  He passed away on February 28, 1956 at the age of 78.  He and wife Jeane are buried in Glendale Cemetery in Des Moines.

Arthur Thomson & Family


Gilbert Thomson (b. 1862)
8th Child of Gilbert and Margaret Thomson
Arrived 1910

Gilbert arrived with his daughter, Janet, in Quebec on September 10, 1910.18  He was traveling with his brother, Arthur, and family (above) as they were heading to Boone.

I am not able to find any information that suggests Gilbert remained in America.  He was probably just here to visit family, including his children, Robert G. and Margaret, who arrived the year before in 1909.  There is a record of “Gilbert Thompson” returning to Scotland March 17, 191219 and this could be Gilbert returning to Scotland after a stay in the US.  I am not able to locate him on the 1911 Scotland Census at this  – that might explain why. Not sure what happened to his daughter Janet.  More mysteries to solve!


The Great Thomson to Thompson Switch-a-Roo

When people immigrated, sometimes their last names changed during the move.  Any clerk they met up with during the process could have written the name down incorrectly (writing it down as they heard it).  The person immigrating might have intentionally changed their name to sound more “American” or “English”.  New country – new identity.

I’m speculating, but I think the name change was intentional for the family who took on the “Thompson” surname:

When Martha arrived in New York, she is identified as “Martha Thompson” on both the passenger record and her marriage certificate.

After Alexander arrives, his last name is usually recorded as Thompson (the only exception I find is the 1880 Federal census – it is recorded as “Thomsan”).

Gilbert (b. 1862) has two children that marry in Monroe County – a son and a daughter.  Their names are recorded as Thompson.  His son, Robert Thompson, continues to use Thompson name, as well as Robert’s children.

Gilbert (b. 1873) also goes by “Thompson” while living in the states.

Arthur did not change his name – he may be the only one who didn’t.  He and his children continued to go by “Thomson” after arriving.


Up Next……………………

We will follow Sandy Thomson from Pennsylvania to Iowa, get to know his family.


Links to Previous Posts

Unearthing History – Part I
Unearthing History – Part II
Unearthing History – Part III
Unearthing History- Part IV

  1. 1881 Scotland Census, Census, Reference No. 643689, Page 23, Repository: scotlandspeople.gov.uk
  2.  Statutory Registers – Deaths, 647/00 0312, Repository: scotlandspeople.gov.uk
  3. 1901 Scotland Census, Census, 647/00 029/00 058, Page 63, Repository: scotlandspeople.gov.uk
  4.  Statutory Registers – Deaths,647/00 0553, Repository: scotlandspeople.gov.uk
  5. New York Passenger Lists, 1820-1957,Microfilm serial: M237; Microfilm roll: M237_334, Repository: ancestry.com
  6. Copy of marriage certificate provided by Jane M.
  7. 1880 US Federal Census, Roll: 1198; Family History Film: 1255198; Page: 232B; Enumeration District: 155; Image: 0197, Repository: ancestry.com
  8. Certified copy of marriage record, Repository: Dallas County, Iowa Courthouse
  9.  Iowa State Census Collection1836-1925, Repository, ancestry.com, accessed 04/01/2017
  10. New York Passenger Lists, 1820-1957, Year: 1903; Arrival: New York, New York; Microfilm Serial: T715, 1897-1957; Microfilm Roll: Roll 0410; Line: 21; Page Number: 110, Repository: ancestry.com
  11. Passenger List; Ship Astoria; Passenger ID 102584080774; Frame 639; Line 21; Repository – The Statue of Liberty – Ellis Island Foundation, Inc.
  12. Passenger List; Ship – Furnessia; Passenger ID 101693020041; Frame 95; Line 1-5; Repository – Ellis Island Foundation, Inc.
  13. Passenger List; Ship – Furnessia; Passenger ID 101693020041; Frame 95; Line 1-5; Repository – Ellis Island Foundation, Inc.
  14. Iowa, Marriage Records, 1880-1937, Repository: ancestry.com, accessed 04/03/2017
  15. Iowa, Marriage Records, 1880-1937, Repository: ancestry.com, accessed 04/03/2017
  16. Border Crossings: From Canada to U.S., 1895-1956, Repository: ancestry.com, accessed04/01/2017
  17. 1920 US Federal Census, Census Place: Des Moines Ward 6, Polk, Iowa; Roll: T625_509; Page: 13A; Enumeration District: 153; Image: 476, Repository: ancestry.com
  18. Border Crossings: From Canada to U.S., 1895-1956, Repository: ancestry.com, accessed04/01/2017
  19. UK, Incoming Passenger Lists, 1878-1960, National Archives of the UK; Kew, Surrey, England; Board of Trade: Commercial and Statistical Department and successors: Inwards Passenger Lists.; Class: BT26; Piece: 512; Item: 88, Repository: ancestry.com


  1. Excellent ….. I will need to stop and “visit” in Boone one of these days soon.

    • It’s very cool how the Boone and Aunt Martha were the hub for family activity. Jane had those pictures and some of the people were identified, but I didn’t really know how they were related. I’m glad she had the pics – or I would have missed those people entirely.

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