Sunday, 24 January 2010

A Case of Bigamy

I've been looking through old newspapers at today and the following story caught my eye. Not only because it involves bigamy (always popular with genealogists) but because of the great amount of detail given about each marriage.

The article comes from the Caledonian Mercury of Monday, October 13, 1851:

ABERDEEN CIRCUIT COURT. - This court was appointed to have been held on Wednesday; but, in consequence of that day being the Aberdeen sacramental fast, it was formally adjourned until Thursday morning, when it was opened by the Lord Justice Clerk. There were only nine cases, six of which were for thefts, one for assault, one for forgery, and one for bigamy. The name of the party accused of bigamy was Robert M'Intosh, miller, Bagrie Mills, Forgue, as respectable-looking young man. On the 23d day of July 1849, he was lawfully married, by the Rev. Robert Houston, Glasgow, to Catherine Anderson, then residing there, yet, notwithstanding his knowing that the said Catherine Anderson was alive, he entered into a matrimonial connection, at the Inn of Cornhill, parish of Ordiquhill, Banff, with Isabella Murdoch, daughter of George Murdoch, mason, parish of Marnoch, having been married to her there, on the 9th day of February 1850, by the Rev. James Grant, minister of Ordiquhill. He pled guilty, and the judge, in sentencing him, remarked that this was a most heinous offence, being always deliberately conceived and committed. That the present was one of the worst he had ever heard of - only eight months elapsing between the marriages. A great number of parties now, in shifting about the country, labouring, seem to think that they should get a new wife at every place they went to; but he (the judge) felt he would not be doing his duty to his country, nor affording due protection to women, if he was to let the prisoner pass with a slight punishment, and he therefore sentenced him to transportation for seven years. In concluding the criminal business the Lord Justice-Clerk congratulated the Sheriffs on the lightness of the calendar.

Saturday, 16 January 2010

1939 National Identity Register

Family historians may know that, following applications under the Freedom of Information Acts, it is now possible to request information from the UK 1939 National Identity Register.

The National Register was taken on 29th September 1939 (shortly after the outbreak of the Second World War) and was used for the issuing of identity cards and rationing books. Information from the register later formed the basis of the National Health Service Central Register. For genealogists, much of the importance of the 1939 National Identity Register lies in the fact that no census was taken in 1941 and so, although not strictly a census, the register serves as a replacement.

As with many records, the process for obtaining information is slightly different in Scotland than it is in England & Wales. Although in all cases it is only possible to request information on deceased persons.

The situation in England & Wales is far from clear, although Guy Etchells has successfully requested information on the deceased residents of an address in Leamington Spa and the results can be seen at

However, a news release from the Scottish Government at clearly sets out how to obtain information from the Scottish register, providing an address to write to and detailing the necessary fee. What isn't clear from the news release is whether it is necessary to know the address where a person was resident in 1939 in order to request their details.

Further information can be found on Chris Paton's blog Scottish Genealogy News and Events. Chris has successfully requested details of two ancestors, in one case without knowing an address, and received a response in just three days – quite impressive!

For me, the ability to request information on an individual without knowing their address greatly increases the usefulness of the 1939 National Identity Register. In effect, you supply a name and date of death and in return are given that person's date of birth, with their occupation, marital status and address on a given date – if only all genealogical research was that simple!

I wonder if the fast turnaround was in part due to the fact that the availability of this information has not been well publicised. In fact, aside from the news release and Chris' blog mentioned above I could find very little online about it.

I was particularly surprised to find no mention of how to request information from the 1939 National Identity Register on the website of the General Register Office for Scotland (although there is a little history given in the section on the NHS Central Register and elsewhere).

However, I was intrigued to find, hidden away on the site, the information that the 1939 National Register has been digitised (apparently in the last few years). It seems likely that the existence of this digitised version of the register is the reason why requesting information from Scotland is apparently so straightforward.

Presumably the digitisation of the register was not done with any intention of making the information public. However, surely a strong argument can be made that the information held in the register is no more personal than that provided in modern records of births, marriages and deaths. Records which, although not available as digital images online, can be viewed in full by anyone who visits the ScotlandsPeople Centre in Edinburgh.

If the Scottish 1939 National Identity Register is already digitised why not make it fully accessible to the public at the ScotlandsPeople Centre?

UPDATE: 14 September 2011

I've recently become aware that people searching online for information on the 1939 National Identity Register may be coming across this, now outdated, post. For the avoidance of confusion, the access details and costs are currently as follows:
England & Wales - £42 per request
Application details at

Scotland - £13 per request
Application details at

Northern Ireland - via FOI request
General details at
For details of a success request see Chris Paton's post:

Saturday, 9 January 2010

By Any Other Name?

This week I worked on an heir tracing case concerning a man who was known by two different surnames – neither of which, it turned out, was exactly what was recorded on his birth certificate.

I've also had a few enquiries lately about people who changed their surnames and that has got me thinking about some of the reasons why a person might change their name, or be known by a variety of different names.

One of the most common reasons was probably illegitimacy. In Scotland in particular, illegitimate children usually took their father's surname. However, on statutory birth records the name of the father of an illegitimate child is normally only recorded if he was present at the time the birth was registered (alternatively if the mother brought an action of paternity against the father his name might be given in an R.C.E.). Therefore the surname on the birth certificate may be one the child never used. Some individuals born to unmarried parents seem to alternate between two surnames, sometimes being recorded with their father's name, sometimes with their mother's.

Also quite common (in my family at least) were women who took the surname of a man they lived with, but were not actually married to. I discovered quite recently that one of my relatives who did this actually changed their name by deed poll.

Then there were children who were adopted and subsequently took the surname of their new family. Adoption only became legally recognised in England & Wales in 1927 and in Scotland in 1930. However many informal adoptions took place before these dates. I came across an example of this recently by accident. When researching a family of Scottish origin I was surprised to come across the death, aged 7 months, of a boy who had apparently emigrated to New Zealand twelve years later. My first thought was that a younger child had been given the same name but I could find no evidence of this in birth records. It turned out that following the death of their child the couple 'adopted' a baby born to an unmarried mother and gave him the name of their dead son. As this was prior to adoption being legally recognised there is no official record of this. Luckily, the information had been passed down through the family or this might have remained a mystery.

Similarly, children of a widow might acquire the surname of their mother's husband should she marry again. Even if this did not happen step-children may be recorded in census returns under the surname of the head of household regardless of whether they actually used the name.

Other reasons for a change of surname might include to benefit from an inheritance, an immigrant changing their name to one found in their adopted country and, of course, someone who deliberately wished to conceal their identity.

In fact, for our ancestors, a change of name seems to have been incredibly easy and, in most cases, left little documentary evidence. This presents rather a challenge to the family historian, who often has little more than a name to go on when searching for their forebears.

I wonder how often a change of name could be the reason for a research brickwall. Then again, there are some ancestors who by any other name would still present a challenge!

Sunday, 3 January 2010

Happy New Year and Thanks for the Awards!

I'd like to start this post by wishing everyone a very happy new year.

I don't really make new year resolutions (too easy to break) but, as it's been nearly two months since my last post, I certainly intend to make this year one in which I will blog a little more often!

I'd also like to thank the fellow bloggers who have nominated me for the Kreativ Blogger Award, that is: Earline Hines Bradt of Ancestral Notes, Professor Dru of Find Your Folks, Mary B. of AncestorTracking and M of Roots Digging.  I really appreciate all the kind words and it's great to know someone is actually reading what I write.  Thanks for the encouragement!

I understand that the recipient of a Kreativ Blogger Award has to write seven things about themselves and then nominate seven other bloggers for the award, so here goes:

About Me:

1. Despite being primarily a researcher of Scottish genealogy I'm actually English born and bred (but with plenty of Scottish ancestors).

2. One of my favourite names on my family tree is Patience Porritt.

3. Since taking up genealogy professionally I barely have time to trace my own ancestors any more (and I feel like I've barely scratched the surface of what there is to find on them!)

4. I would like to learn Latin properly (if I can ever find the time).

5. When I was a child my ambition was to be a writer.

6. I'm a vegetarian and so was one of my great-great-grandfathers.

7. I'm a fan of Real Ale (mine's a Deuchars if anyone's asking :p).

My nominations for the Kreativ Blogger Award (in no particular order):

3. Your Ancestors Free.Com -

4. Carole's Canvas -

5. Blog of a Genealogist in Training -

6. Folk are the Thing -

7. History Repeating -