Saturday, 30 October 2010

Parentage Unknown: The Ultimate Brickwall?

Nearly a year ago, I wrote a post on Foundling Children in Glasgow after coming across some early 19th Century baptisms of foundling children in Glasgow's Town's Hospital. Whilst researching at the ScotlandsPeople Centre this week, I was once again struck by a record of a Glasgow foundling, this time in the Statutory Registers of Births. 

It’s an unusual birth record as it shows not a date and place of birth but rather when and where the baby girl was found. In the column where parents’ names are usually recorded it simply states ‘Parentage unknown’. 

An associated entry in the Register of Corrected Entries (RCE) gives a slightly amended name, apparently following her baptism, and a note in the margin shows that she was later adopted. 

What particularly interested me what that she was not a newborn when found but believed to be over a year old and chances are her birth was registered in the usual way when she was born. 

This means that in just the first few years of her life this baby was probably known by three different names (her original name, the name given to her as a foundling and her later adopted name) and may in effect have three birth records (including her entry in the Adopted Children Register). 

Yet, with nothing to connect her original birth entry to the later records, she is almost certainly impossible to trace. Anyone who comes across the original birth record and wants to find out what happened to her in later life will probably not be able to connect her with the foundling known by a different name. Whilst any descendants, even if aware of the circumstances of her adoption, will have little chance of identifying her birth parents without even a date of birth to go on. 

So this leads me to a question: Is a foundling child the ultimate in genealogical brickwalls? 

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Living the Poor Life in Glasgow

This week my research took me to the fantastic Mitchell Library in Glasgow where I was mainly searching the Poor Law Archives

Whilst browsing through one of the 5000 volumes of Poor Law Records held there I came across a couple of entries that show that not everyone was satisfied with the help they were offered: 

Glasgow City Archives - Reference: D-HEW 10/3/3 

Page 7 
2nd June 1852 Hector Mc Niel aged 66 born in North Knapdale wife Margt Mc Niel aged 49 born in same place. Residing in 79 McAlpine St. - back low door, applies on account of age and says his wife and his oldest son are in ill health he has 2 Children Hector aged 13 and Catherine 10 years come the 15th Instant _ they came to Glasgow 4 weeks ago, and he is now in proces of prefering a complaint against the Inspector of Islay for inadequate relief afforded before he left Islay _ they Resided in the Parish of Kildalton Islay 7 years ending May last - certified by the Revd. James Dewar Minister, Donald McDougal Session Clerk and two Elders of that Parish, he first applied to the Inspector of Kildalton 1 year ago and has had ocasional relief since till octr last when he was enrolled @ 12/ monthly which he has since regularly received. up to 24 Apl last when his pass book shows he received the last 12/_ I gave him an order for 1/6, with which he was dissatisfied and I took it back _ and requested then to come up at 6 o clock to be admitted into the House _ it is now 8 o clock and none of then have yet appeared _ came up today and I gave a line of admission to the new House for self & Family, 4th June 52 

Page 68 
29 June 1852, Catherine Gouchan or Gallacher wid Jackson, aged 29 born in Ireland. Residing in 2 Jafferies Close, top flat, applies for Onely Child Mary aged 2 years May last born in Ireland who she says is in bad health, Her Husband John Jackson an Irishman died in Ireland 2 years ago and she came first from Ireland 1 year ago _ I gave a line for the house for self and Child on 30th June 52. 
Revisited 22 June 1853 at 15 Jafferies Close up 1, she now applies on account of being pregnant with an Illegitimate Child to a James Sullivan an Irishman of whom she pretends she knows nothing she says she remained in the House last year for 6 weeks, but complains that she was made to work hard &c while there which she thinks was very hard _ I requested her to come up again for a line to the Poorhouse at 5 o clock this evening - 29 June 53 

A further entry reveals the fate of Catherine’s daughter, Mary: 

Page 217 
27 Oct, 1852 Mary Jackson aged about 2 years, born in Ireland Residing at 2 Jafferies Close up 2, where she was left by her Mother Catherine Gouchan aged about 30, born near Bangor County Mayo Ireland, she has worked during harvest at drawfitting(?) near Coalbrig _ but returned lately to Glasgow and left the Child on Friday last under pretence of going out to beg _ she had lodged in the house before and applied here before in Augt last, and was admitted into the House _ the women in the house say they do not believe she will come back for her Child as they have heard her say she wished to be quit of her _ House 28 Oct 52 

Dr Irene O’Brien provides a great introduction to these records in a short video available here - one of a series of useful videos on the Family History resources held at the Mitchell Library.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know?

This week I’ve been doing some research for a client in the records known as the ‘General Register of Lunatics in Asylum’. These are not records I consult often and I suspect this is because they are not particularly well known. It’s a shame because they are an excellent source for individuals who may appear in relatively few other records and may be especially useful where records of a particular hospital or asylum are deficient. 

It’s probably worth beginning by commenting that these records include individuals suffering from a wide range of mental illnesses which resulted in them being committed to an asylum. In some cases their conditions were probably not well understood at the time and might be interpreted very differently today. 

The General Register of Lunatics in Asylum is held at the National Archives of Scotland (in series MC7) and covers all ‘lunatics’ in Scottish asylums from 1858-1978, although access to records from the last 100 years is restricted. The register includes patients who were already in asylums when the register began and who were actually admitted prior to 1858. In fact (according to Tracing Your Scottish Ancestors: The Official Guide) the very first patient listed, Jean Morris, was admitted in 1805, although curiously this volume is not included in the NAS online catalogue

The register includes: admission number, name of patient, whether a private or pauper patient, sex, date of admission, name of asylum, date of discharge or death, whether recovered or relieved etc., and a column for observations or comments. A particularly useful feature is that each patient kept their original admission number, making it possible to trace multiple admissions to one or more asylums, and that later admissions are frequently noted on the same page. 

There are two partial name indexes held in MC7/33 although access to these is also restricted so in practice it is only possible to view the index to surnames beginning O-Z. 

The fact that an ancestor spent time in an asylum may be discovered from a census return, death record or perhaps a poor relief register. If you know the date of admission then you can identify the relevant volume from the NAS catalogue. Failing that, my method is to start from the date you know the individual was in an asylum (such as the date of the census) and work backwards until you find the admission. At worst you may have three or four fairly hefty volumes to search through which can take a couple of hours. 

Once you have found the individual in the General Register of Lunatics and discovered the date of admission you can then find their ‘Notice of Admission’ in series MC2 (a separate volume for each month, arranged in order of admission number). 

These Notices give personal details of each patient including name, sex, marital status, occupation, religion, place of abode, where examined, length of time insane, whether first attack, age at first attack, when and where previously examined and treated, duration of attack, supposed cause, whether the patient was subject to epilepsy, suicidal or dangerous to others, parish to which chargeable, name and abode of nearest relative, whether a member of the family was known to be insane and any special circumstances. Also included is a petition to the sheriff, two medical certificates by two separate doctors giving brief medical details and a copy of the order to be granted by the sheriff. 

Based perhaps more on gothic literature than historical fact, my vision of C19th lunatic asylums was that of grim, forbidding institutions, where individuals were locked up (often without good reason) never to see the outside world again. So what really struck me browsing through the General Register of Lunatics was how little time most individuals spent in a particular institution and how many were released having apparently recovered. 

Taking at random the five individuals who were admitted to various Scottish asylums on 5th July 1876 gives an example of this: 

John F was a private patient admitted to Aberdeen Asylum on 5th July 1876 and who left on 10th October the same year. His condition apparently deteriorated though as he was readmitted just a week later, this time as a pauper, and in January 1878 was removed to the poorhouse. The supposed cause of his illness was “grief from death of his wife and a highly nervous constitution”. 

Ann McK, a domestic servant, was admitted to Inverness Asylum on 5th July where she remained for nearly two years until 21st April 1878. She re-entered the asylum in June 1885. 

Helen McG was admitted to Murthly Asylum on 5th July 1876 and left on 17th August 1876 - described as a ‘permanent escape’. Her notice of admission shows her previous place of abode to have been the County Prison in Perth and few personal details seem to have been known about her. She was apparently “wild and excited, threatening violence to all around her without provocation”. 

Margaret H or J was admitted to Stirling Asylum on 5th July and left recovered just a few weeks later on 29th July 1876. The register does not show any later re-admissions. Margaret had apparently attempted to drown herself on several occasions, which her husband had struggled to prevent. The supposed cause of her illness was “death of children”. 

Dennis B was first admitted to Glasgow Asylum then transferred a day later to Woodilee Asylum. He also left a few weeks later, on 26th July 1876, apparently recovered, although he had been described by one of his doctors as “confused and sees and hears imaginary forms and voices”. 

The fact that time spent in an asylum was often brief (although re-admittance at a later date was not uncommon) means that, unless this happened to coincide with a census, we are probably unaware of just how many of our ancestors were admitted to such an institution. 

In fact, whilst doing this research I serendipitously came across an individual who bears one of the more unusual names on my family tree and, as his family came from the same part of Ireland as my own ancestors, who may well have been a distant relative. 

His case is rather a sad one. He was just 16 when admitted to the asylum and described as “a feeble minded lad - exhibiting weakness of mind in his manner and talk”. He was apparently considered a danger to others, although the evidence presented here suggests that he was more likely a danger to himself. He died in the asylum four months after being admitted and his death record gives his cause of death as “Tumour of the Brain producing Epilepsy”.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Gone to America

"Well broke off from my work the other day
Spent the evening thinking about all the blood that flowed away
Across the ocean to the second chance
I wonder how it got on when it reached the promised land"

Letter From America, The Proclaimers 

I recently received two records of my great-great-grandmother, who emigrated to the USA in 1929, from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Genealogy Section. I already had copies of the passenger list of the ship on which she sailed and her U.S. Naturalization Record Index card downloaded from Ancestry, so wasn’t sure how much new information these records would give, but decided to go ahead and order copies of all records held on her. 

I certainly wasn’t disappointed as these records provide new information, details of several other relatives, give answers to some questions I had and, perhaps best of all, include two photographs. 

The first record is her Visa File. This includes her Immigration Visa from the American Consular Service in Glasgow, Scotland with photograph, physical description, brief details of her minor children, the name and address of a married sister (her nearest relative in Scotland) and the fact that her ticket was paid for by her ‘intended husband’. Also included is a copy of her birth certificate and the details of when and where she arrived in the USA. 

I knew that she had married not long after arriving in America but not for certain that she had gone with the intention of marrying and so this helped to explain her decision to emigrate. Her intended husband was the widower of her elder sister. A fellow Scot, he first went to America in the 1870s and had become a naturalized American Citizen but had returned to Scotland on several occasions, most recently in 1927. 

The second record is her ‘C-File’ which includes her Petition for Citizenship and Certificate of Citizenship, granted in 1931. These provide another physical description and photograph, the date of her American marriage and the affidavits of two witnesses. One of the witnesses was a brother who (previously unknown to me) had emigrated to the USA in 1905. I’ve since been able to find a number of records of him online including his gravestone at Find A Grave

The process for obtaining these records involves two steps - firstly an Index Search Request to find out if any records are held on a specific individual, and secondly a Record Copy Request (once you have the relevant file numbers).   Details are given in a leaflet here.

It’s not a quick service (it took about 8 months from first submitting my index search request to receiving copies of the records) but in my case was well worth the wait. I’ve had difficulties in ordering records from America in the past (Which town clerk do I write to? How can I send payment in US Dollars? etc.) but in this case, as the request can be made online using a credit card, it is easy to access the service from outside the US. For me, the total cost was $75 US (about £48 GBP), although this will vary depending on the type and number of records held. 

I would encourage other UK-based researchers with ancestors or collateral lines who went to America to give the service a try as these records can reveal details not only of a particular individual, but also of their extended family on both sides of the Atlantic.