Tuesday, 29 January 2013

The Scottish Registers of Sasines

It’s true to say that prior to the 20th century few people in Scotland owned their own home.  For this reason, most modern guides to Scottish family history devote little space to property records.  This has perhaps led to the belief that, unless your ancestors were among the aristocracy, property records are not worth searching, but this is really not the case.

In Scotland, the main series of property records are the Registers of Sasines which exist for the whole of Scotland from 1617 (an incomplete Secretary’s Register exists for 1599-1609) and are held by the National Records of Scotland.  From 1781 there are printed abridgements which provide a summary of sasines recorded in the General and Particular (county) registers.  The extracts below, taken from the first volume of Sasine Abridgements for the County of Edinburgh (Midlothian) give an idea of the type of information you may find:

(8) Jan. 9. 1781.
ANN BLACKBURN, relict of Edward Keay, Sailor, Leith, for behoof of Cornelius Keay, his son, and Jean Keay, sister of said Edward Keay, Seised, for their respective interests, Nov. 30. 1780, - in a Tenement in LEITH; - in security of £40; -on Bond by Margaret Ainslie, relict of David Dryburgh, Shipmaster, Leith, Nov. 30. 1780. P. R. 255. 130.

(28) Feb. 13. 1781.
MARGARET FINNIE, relict of James Gilbert, Brewer, North Back of Canongate, and Grizel Gilbert, spouse of George Rae, Fish-hookmaker, Leith Wynd, Seised, in liferent and fee respectively, Dec. 20. 1781, -in part of a Tenement inBELL’S WYND, Edinburgh; - on Post Nup. Mar. Con. between James McGlashan, Chairmaster, Edinburgh, & Elizabeth Watt, his spouse, to said Elizabeth Watt, in liferent, and William McGlashan, their son, in fee, Dec. 27. 1769; & Disp. & Assig. by said William McGlashan, Oct. 16. 1780. P. R. 255. 268.

(64) Apr. 3. 1781.
BARBARA BEGG, daughter of William Begg, Tailor, Newbigging, as heir to Martin Begg, Cloathier there, her grandfather, Seised, Mar. 26. 1781, - in a Tenement in NEWBIGGING, Musselburgh; - on Cognition by the Magistrates of Musselburgh, Mar. 26. 1781. P. R. 256. 181.

(101) May 15. 1781.
WILLIAM BARCLAY, Baker, London, as heir to William Barclay, Tailor, Canongate, his father, Seised, Apr. 7. 1781, in half of a Tenement in PLEASANCE, & piece of Ground adjoining; - on a Ch. Conf. & Pr. Cl. Con. by the Commissioner of William Wardrop, Merchant, Virginia, Nov. 7. 1780. P. R. 257. 126.

(135) Jun. 13. 1781.
JOHN HILL, Porter, Edinburgh, and Rachell Waugh, his spouse, Seised, Jun. 13. 1781, - in part of a Tenement in LAURISTON STREET, near Edinburgh; - on Disp. by Alexander Dempster, Wright, Orchyeardfield, near Edinburgh, Nov. 6. 1780. P. R. 258. 77.

(164) Jul. 13. 1781.
THOMAS LAWSON, Servant to William Noble in Boreland, Seised, Jun. 30. 1781, -in Tenements in PORTSBURGH; - in security of £90; - on Bond by James Somervell, Mason, Whitefield, May 30. 1781. P. R. 259. 40.

I picked out these entries because of the variety of occupations recorded: sailor, brewer, fish-hookmaker, tailor, baker, porter, servant etc.  Whilst they may not be exactly typical (in Edinburgh in this period the most common occupation given is merchant), it did not take much browsing through the volume of abridgements to find them.

These entries also demonstrate the valuable genealogical details that may be found in sasines (often linking two or more generations) and how frequently women are named.

It’s worth pointing out that whilst a broad range of people may be found in sasines for Scottish towns and cities, the situation is rather different in rural areas where the vast amount of heritable property was owned by a small number of large landowners.  However, if you’ve never explored the Registers of Sasines they are well worth a look - you never know what you may find.

The National Records of Scotland (formerly the National Archives of Scotland) has a guide to the Registers of Sasines at www.nas.gov.uk/guides/sasines.asp

Monday, 21 January 2013

Finding Method in the Madness

Over the past 19 months I’ve been participating in a ProGen Study Group, based around the book Professional Genealogy: A Manual for Researchers, Writers, Editors, Lecturers and Librarians edited by Elizabeth Shown Mills (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 2001). The programme consists of reading chapters of the book, completing monthly assignments and participating in group discussions.  Additional reading is encouraged, particularly from Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace (2nd Edition) by Elizabeth Shown Mills (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 2012) and The BCG Genealogical Standards Manual (Washington: Board of Certification for Genealogists, 2000).

One of the main reasons this programme (whose participants are drawn primarily, although not exclusively, from the USA) appealed to me was because there generally seems to be little discussion of methodology in genealogical research in the UK; whether in books, magazines or as part of family history courses.

However, lately things do seem to be changing.  I’ve noticed a few references to the Genealogical Proof Standard cropping up in UK genealogy circles in recent months and last year saw the publication of Genealogy: Essential Research Methods by Helen Osborn (London: Robert Hale, 2012).

Osborn’s book draws upon the American genealogical manuals mentioned above, amongst others, and is written in an accessible, readable style.  It covers a broad range of topics including effective searching, analysing and working with documents, planning and problem-solving, and recording information and citing sources; and highlights the fact that many so-called ‘brick walls’ are of our own making.

I did find the organisation of the subject matter a little confusing, particularly in the earlier chapters.  For example, a description of administrative systems in England & Wales is contained in the same chapter as a discussion of primary and secondary evidence.  Although this brief section does introduce the concepts of original v. derivative sources and primary v. secondary information, it doesn’t include one of the fundamental ways in which the use of sources differs between historians and genealogists: namely, that a single genealogical source will frequently contain both primary and secondary information.

Genealogy: Essential Research Methods draws largely on English sources but, as stated inside the cover, much is relevant to research in other countries and I’m sure it will become a staple on the reading lists of genealogy courses. The reviews on www.amazon.co.uk are very positive.

Based on a recommendation in Genealogy: Essential Research Methods, which was echoed by several friends, I’ve recently read Nuts and Bolts: Family History Problem Solving through Family Reconstitution Techniques (2nd Edition) by Andrew Todd (Bury: Allen & Todd, 2003).  This is a highly-readable little booklet and after sitting down to read a chapter or two over coffee, I found myself finishing it in an afternoon.  Todd argues convincingly that family reconstruction (aka tracing collateral lines or kinship networks) can not only solve research problems but also recreates the reality of our ancestors’ lives.  I found the idea that increased mobility, especially in the 19th century, strengthened rather than weakened kinship networks to be particularly interesting. Again, examples are taken primarily from English research, but many of the techniques can be applied elsewhere.  The book covers some of the points that were raised in the interesting discussion that developed in the comments of my recent post, 'Who belongs on the Family Tree?'. 

Also due to recommendations, I’m currently reading Pitfalls and Possibilities in Family History Research by Pauline M. Litton, MBE (Harrogate: Swansong, 2010).  Based on a series of articles that appeared in Family Tree magazine (UK), this is more a discussion of (primarily English) records than of genealogical methodology, but does include some advice on search techniques etc.

With so many books being published on a variety of family history topics these days, it can be difficult to keep up with what’s out there.  I’d be interested to hear of any other recommendations of books that deal with methodology in genealogy research and that may help to foster a sense of order as we pursue our “favourite insanity”.

Monday, 14 January 2013

A Sailor's request to the Kirk Session

As readers of this blog may have guessed, the Kirk Session records of the Church of Scotland (and other Scottish churches) are one of my favourite genealogical sources.

But in case you thought that Kirk Session minutes are only of use for locating details of illegitimate births and 'ante-nuptial' fornication, I thought I would share this interesting extract from the Kirk Session minutes for North Berwick, East Lothian that I came across recently:

North Berwick Kirk Session: Minutes 1814-1816
National Records of Scotland ref. CH2/285/7
Page 54

                  North Berwick 6th Nov[embe]r 1815
The Session being met & constitute Took under consider-
ation the case of Henry Jackson, who having deserted from
on board one of the Kings Ships, & entered on board of
another under the name of Henry King requested the
Moderator & two members of the Session to subscribe
a Certificate to him for prize money.  The Session
having deliberated refused to grant such Certificate
under the name of King without also mentioning his
real name_

I think it's fair to say that this entry raises more questions than it answers! However it could be very useful for anyone trying to track down a Henry Jackson who mysteriously disappears from the records in the 1810s or a Henry King who seems to have sprung from nowhere.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Who belongs on the Family Tree?

Over the last few years I’ve been making an effort to sort out my genealogy files, make sure every statement has a proper source citation and to fill in the gaps in my family tree. As with much in my life, this is a project characterised by lengthy periods of inactivity, punctuated by the occasional bout of intense industry. At times the sheer size of the task can seem overwhelming and, needless to say, it’s nowhere near completion. 

The recent Christmas break has given me the opportunity to do a little more work on my family research and I’ve been concentrating on the ancestors of my paternal grandfather. 

One result of taking (or at least trying to take) a logical, methodical approach to researching and documenting your family history is that it raises questions you may not consider when skipping merrily from branch to branch as the fancy takes you. For me, one of these questions is, “Just who should I be researching?” Or, to put it another way, “Who belongs on the family tree?” 

A gathering of the Sykes family. Only two people in this photograph are actually my ancestors. Do I need to research the rest?
This might seem a simple enough question, but one thing I’ve realised from chatting with other genealogists is that our concept of family can differ greatly. Perhaps because I began my research with very little information and having had few family stories passed down to me, my definition of who belongs on my family tree has generally been quite narrow: direct ancestors and their children only. Until I’ve tied down the people I’m actually descended from (some of whom are pretty elusive), I don’t feel I should be spending time on tracing aunties, uncles, cousins, second-cousins, step-children etc. etc. 

Conversely, some family historians seem to have a much broader view of what constitutes ‘their family’. Perhaps having grown up surrounded by a big family or hearing stories about many of their relatives, they are keen to trace the lives of great-aunts and -uncles, cousins and even more distant relations. 

Of course, I realise that it may be helpful to research collateral lines in order to identify your ancestors and to trace earlier generations. I have a few ‘problem’ ancestors for whom tracing the births, marriages and deaths of all children has been the only way to figure out who they were. This approach can even be extended to researching your ancestors “FANs” - that is, their Friends, Associates and Neighbours (e.g. identifying the witnesses to your ancestors’ marriage, who may turn out to be relatives). 

But problem ancestors aside, where do you draw the line? The abundance of information, especially digitised records, now available online makes this an increasingly pressing question. Once upon a time, finding a marriage record for my English ancestors meant visiting a large reference library and searching through the GRO fiche quarter by quarter, comparing volume and page numbers, then sending off for the certificate and hoping I’d identified the right one. It wouldn’t have occurred to me to do the same thing for each of their brothers and sisters. 

Recently, thanks largely to the fact that both the Church of England parish registers and baptist chapel registers for where my ancestors lived are now available on www.ancestry.co.uk, I was able to locate marriage and death information for all seven children born to one of my ancestral couples in a few hours spent at my computer. 

If time and money were no object, I think most family history enthusiasts would want to trace not only their own ancestors but also the wider families of which they were a part. However, few of us have that luxury and, with limited resources, there is the argument that the more people you have in your genealogy files, the less time you have to research each one, so that your family history risks becoming little more than a collection of names and dates. 

With the start of another year, many genealogy bloggers have been posting their genealogy goals for 2013. Organising the information already collected and focussing efforts on a particular family line or problem are common aims. 

Deciding who to research is the first step in any genealogy plan, so I’m interested to hear from other researchers, how do you decide who belongs on your family tree?