Tuesday 26 February 2013

Another WDYTYA Live Blog Post

I’m now back home recovering after a busy weekend at the ‘Who Do You Think You Are? Live’ (WDYTYA) show which bills itself as “the biggest family history event...in the world!”

This was my second visit and I wrote about my experience as a ‘newbie’ in a post last year.  This year I took my own advice and volunteered on a few different stands in order to get free entry for all three days.  I did an ‘Ask the Expert’ session on Friday, helped out on the APG stand on Saturday afternoon and on the ASGRA stand for a couple of hours on Sunday.

I was a bit nervous about doing a stint in the ‘Ask the Expert’ area (I figure anyone who describes themselves as an “Expert” and then invites questions is asking for trouble!) but this was actually good fun and I would recommend anyone who has been thinking of doing this to give it a try.  It was more like sitting down for a friendly chat than being grilled on  expert knowledge.  Although the areas of expertise I specified in advance were Scotland and palaeography, I got more questions about London research than anything else and they were much more basic than I had anticipated.  I think I was of some help to most people I spoke to, although can’t say I sent any brickwalls tumbling down.

Also learning from my previous experience, I made an effort to attend a few more workshops this year and managed to get to five ticketed ones as well as dropping in on one of the unticketed talks from the The National Archives.  I did intend to go to one of the DNA workshops, but these always seemed to be part-way through whenever I was in that area and I didn’t get a chance.  I browsed most of the stalls and bought a couple of books, but didn’t spend much time looking at the stands of the big commercial vendors.

As with last year, undoubtedly the best part of the WDYTYA experience was the opportunity to meet with other genealogists, many of whom I know through Twitter and some of whom I’d not met in person before.  As WDYTYA is such an international event, these included genealogists from Australia, Belgium, the Netherlands and the USA, as well as all parts of the UK and Ireland.

The ‘I tweet’ badges designed by Else Churchill of the Society of Genealogists were a big help in spotting one another as well as a bit of a conversation starter when browsing the stands.  An original plan for a few friends to meet for lunch on Saturday turned into an official ‘tweet up’ organised by Rosemary Morgan of London Roots Research.  As this picture uploaded to Rosemary’s twitter account shows, it was quite a success:

Because there is so much going on with workshops and many people involved in some way with the various stands it wasn’t possible for everyone to make it (I had to nip off after 15 mins) and plans are already being made for an evening tweet up at next year’s show.

It’s a few years since I first started going to genealogy events and obviously I’ve aged a bit in the intervening years, but one of the things that really struck me this year was the number of young, incredibly enthusiastic family historians I met.  Anyone who thinks genealogy is just a hobby for the retired would certainly get that illusion shattered by a day at WDYTYA!

Whilst I’m still physically exhausted from WDYTYA, I feel invigorated and inspired by all the fantastic people I met: people who research their own families, run businesses, write books, teach, lecture, blog, conduct one-name studies, are involved in family history societies and in quite a few cases still find time to have a “proper” job as well.  I have little doubt that, with so many great young people involved, the future of genealogy is very bright!

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?

Saturday 27 October 2012

Scottish Local History Forum Conference

Yesterday I attended the Scottish Local History Forum Conference at the AK Bell Library in Perth. The theme of the conference was “For Reliefe of the Pure and Impotent”: Welfare in Scotland before the Welfare State and it comprised nine talks on a broad range of topics connected to the poor in Scotland. 

The day began with Robin Urquhart from the National Records of Scotland giving an overview of poor relief in the period 1560-1894. This provided a useful background to the rest of the talks. Next, the Rev. Dr. Johnston McKay discussed Thomas Chalmers’s Glasgow experiment and the differing opinions as to whether or not it was a success. 

Dr. Irene O’Brien “painted the local picture in the west of Scotland” drawing upon the collection of records held at the Mitchell Library in Glasgow. Having heard Dr. O’Brien speak before, some of the material was familiar to me, but the statistics she provided were particularly interesting - for example, that in the 1890s only 20% of those receiving poor relief were living in the poorhouse, the majority receiving outdoor relief. I also hadn’t appreciated the compulsion on single mothers (widows, the deserted and mothers of illegitimate children) to enter the poorhouse, primarily to prevent them having more children! 

Iain Flett from Dundee City Archives described the poorhouses that existed in Dundee from the 1500s to the 1900s. Unfortunately, the fate of most of Dundee’s poor registers reflects that of Edinburgh’s, having been deliberately destroyed because people wanted to look at them, although records do survive for the East Poorhouse. This was followed by Gordon Douglas speaking (and singing!) about the Mars Training Ship. Although I’d heard of the Mars, I was unaware that it took boys from all over Scotland or that around half of them came from Glasgow (especially Catholic boys who were not accepted by many institutions). 

After lunch, Dr. Malcolm Bangor-Jones discussed growing old in 19th century Sutherland, providing an interesting contrast to the earlier talks on the urban poor. He mentioned the role played by landlords and the information to be found in estate records, particularly the Sutherland Papers. Patricia Whatley from the University of Dundee described medical services (or rather the lack of them) in the Highlands 1845-1913, concluding with the Dewar Report and the creation of the Highlands and Islands Medical Service, a forerunner of the NHS. 

The final talks were by Dr. Eric Graham on The Incorporation of the Masters and Assistants of Trinity House and their role in caring for the seafaring community, and Elizabeth Henderson on Friendly Societies in West Lothian. Both talks highlighted that relief of the poor was not only the concern of the church or the parochial boards, and that self-help through membership of a trade incorporation or friendly society was also important. 

I definitely learnt a lot and had a great day. My main criticism would be that as each speaker only had a 25-30 minute slot they had to gallop through their material at quite a pace, which in every case could easily have filled a hour or more. However, this did mean that a broad range of topics were covered, if not in depth, and this really emphasized the wide variety of records available for studying the Scottish poor. Although there were plenty of genealogists in the audience, I didn’t get the impression that most of the speakers had ‘dumbed-down’ for a family/local history audience, which made a pleasant change. 

Some of the main points I took away from the day were: that the change from the Old Poor Law to the New Poor Law was more a change in administration than a fundamental change in policy; that despite the threat of the poorhouse being used as a test of destitution, the most common experience of the poor in Scotland was one of outdoor relief; and that poor relief was not intended to be a sole means of support but rather topped up the help received from other sources. 

I was very interested to see several examples of printed poor rolls, similar to those I previously blogged about here that exist for Edinburgh. Apparently these were produced so that ratepayers could see who was getting their money and raise objections if they didn’t consider the recipients to be deserving! I would be interested to know how many of these printed lists of names survive for other areas of Scotland, as presumably producing them was a fairly common practice. 

Patricia Whatley kindly mentioned my Records of the Scottish Poor list during her talk, and as a result of attending the conference I’ve added a few more details. 

The next conference from the Scottish Local History Forum will be the Spring Conference and Local History Mini Fair to take place in Kinghorn, Fife on 26 April 2013. The theme is ‘Salt, Sun & Shivering: Scots at the Seaside 1750-2000’. Although this may not be of quite as much interest to genealogists, I’m sure it will be another enjoyable day. 

I’ve previously been disappointed that there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of conferences for genealogists in the UK, beyond the very basic talks given at most family history fairs. Although the SLHF Conference was not aimed specifically at genealogists (or perhaps because of that), it provided a great deal of information about an important genealogical source. 

With the Previously... Scotland’s History Festival in Edinburgh next month, the Scottish Association of Family History Societies conference to be held in Galashiels in May 2013, planned celebrations for the 60th anniversary of the Scottish Genealogy Society and the Halsted Trust Conference ‘Exodus: Movement of the People’ in September 2013, I look forward to attending a lot more conferences in the near future!

Friday 3 August 2012

The Scottish Genealogy Network

There are many great things about being a professional genealogist: getting to do something you love every day, helping to solve family mysteries and to give others a greater understanding of their history, constantly learning new things and gaining a better understanding of your country’s past, to name but a few.
However, most of us work alone, rarely meet our clients and spend rather more time amongst the dead than the living.  Friends and family may not necessarily share our passion or appreciate hearing about the really fascinating record we found from 1792.  Genealogy can, therefore, be a rather lonely occupation.
For me, social networking has been a great help in overcoming this feeling of isolation and, through Twitter in particular, I have connected to a great bunch of professionals in the UK and worldwide who are always read to give support and advice and share in an exciting genealogical discovery.
But there’s only so much you can say in 140 characters and nothing beats sitting down face-to-face for a good old chinwag.  As I wrote earlier this year, for me, the best part of attending ‘Who Do You Think You Are Live’ in London was the opportunity to meet with other professional genealogists, many of whom I’d never met in person before.
In fact, a few of us professionals based in Scotland found meeting up together at WDYTYALive to be so useful (and such good fun!) that we decided to try and make it a regular thing, and so the idea for the Scottish Genealogy Network was born.
The basic idea of the Scottish Genealogy Network is that it should be an informal and inclusive group and meet regularly.  As such, it does not replicate nor conflict with any other professional genealogical organisation, of which several attendees (myself included) are members.
Anyone who is involved in genealogy in some way professionally - for example, as a researcher, archivist, librarian, tutor, lecturer, writer, vendor etc. - is very welcome to attend.  Meetings will take place on the last Saturday of each month at a different venue throughout Scotland.
The main meetings take place in a pub (ideally one with interesting historical connections!) giving those who attend a chance to have a few pints, get to know each other a little better, swap the latest news and gossip from the world of genealogy and perhaps even make some useful business contacts.
As getting to some meetings may involve a fair amount of travelling, it was felt to make the most of the different venues we should include something a little educational.  Therefore, where possible, there will also be a short visit to a library, archive, museum etc.  This will be a chance to familiarise ourselves with record repositories that may be new to us.
The next meeting will be held in Perth on Saturday, August 25th 2012.  An archivist at Perth and Kinross Archives had kindly agreed to show the group around the archive (which is normally not open on Saturdays).  We will meet at the main entrance to the A.K. Bell Library, Perth just before 1pm for a tour of the archive, followed by a quick look around the local studies section of the library.  Around 1.45-2pm the group will move on to The Salutation Hotel for a drink and a chat.
Anyone is very welcome to come along to either or both parts of the day.  If you would like to be included on an email mailing list for future events, please email me at enquiries@myainfolk.com or Chris Paton at christopherpaton @ tiscali.co.uk  You can also read a little more about the Scottish Genealogy Network on Chris’s blog.

I look forward to meeting some of you at future events!

Kirsty F. Wilkinson
My Ain Folk