Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Foundling Children in Glasgow

Researching at the ScotlandsPeople Centre this week I was looking for a baptism in the Old Parish Registers when I came across a list of names under the heading 'Exposed Children Continued'.

By looking at the previous page I discovered that this was actually a list of baptisms of Foundling Children in Glasgow's Town's Hospital.

According to the Old (or First) Statistical Account of Scotland (Account of 1791-99 vol.5 p.520): “The Town's hospital, or Poor's House, was founded in the year 1730. It was intended to maintain and give good education to orphans, or those who were left destitute, to afford an asylum to the old, and to promote the best interests of all, in the cheapest possible manner.”

The list appears to be at the end of one of the baptismal register books for the Parish of Glasgow (OPR 6441/20) and there may well be similar lists in other books of the register.

These baptisms are included in the usual indexes to the OPRs (you can spot them because there are no parents' names) and at least some of them are included in the IGI. However, on the IGI ages have been rounded up or down to the nearest year rather than being given as recorded.

The full list is as follows:

List of Foundling Children, in the Towns Hospital, Baptized by Dr John Lockhart
Messrs Daniel Mackenzie, Preceptor, James Moffat, Chaplain & Francis Ross, Witness

Baptized 13th. Decr. 1805.  -  Age as nearly as could be conjectured at the Baptism
Duncan  -  Mathew Duncan  -  2 years & 3 Months
Stewart   -  James Stewart  -  2 years
Russell   -  John Russell  -  6 Months
Largs  -  Paterson Largs  -  4 Months
Frazer  -  Campbell Rae Frazer  -  3 Months

Baptized 29th. July 1806.
Gardner  -  John Gardner  -  9 years & 3 months
Hay  -  Margaret Hay  -  4 years & 3 months
Lindsay  -  Jean Lindsay  -  2 years & 6 months
Govan  -  James Govan  -  3 years & 3 months
Thomson  -  Richard Thomson  -  2 years & 3 months
Brown  -  Thomas Brown  -  3 years
Falconer  -  Mary Falconer  -  3 years & 9 months
Smith  -  John Smith  -  1 year & 3 months
Miller  -  Elisabeth Miller  -  8 months
Young  -  Alexander Young  -  2 months

Baptized 21st. May 1807.
M'Arthur  -  Mary M'Arthur  -  3 years & 9 months
Graham  -  James Graham  -  6 years & 9 months
Young  -  Agnes Young  -  4 years & 3 months
Cleland  -  Martha Cleland  -  2 years & 3 months
Duncan  -  Mary Duncan  -  3 years & 3 months
Patrick  -  Elisabeth Patrick  -  1 year
Monteath  -  Robert Monteath  -  6 months
Miller  -  Joseph Miller  -  6 months
Cherry  -  Agnes Cherry  -  3 months

Baptized 16th. Septr. 1808.
Paisley  -  William Paisley  -  1 year & 3 months
Martin  -  Elisabeth Martin  -  1 year & 3 months
Gillies  -  Mary Gillies  -  1 year
Fairley  -  Elisabeth Fairley  -  9 months
Paul  -  Charlotte Paul  -  9 months
Symons  -  Jean Symons  -  9 months
Smith  -  Martha Smith  -  8 months
M'Farlan  -  Mary M'Farlan  -  8 months
Wilson  -  Mary Wilson  -  8 months
M'Lachlan  -  James M'Lachlan  -  8 months
M'Grigor  -  Mary M'Grigor  -  8 months
Gordon  -  Stewart Gordon  -  6 months
Robinson  -  Ann Robinson  -  6 months
Miller  -  Agnes Miller  -  5 months
M'Kean  -  Mary M'Kean  -  5 months
Campbell  -  Sarah Campbell  -  3 months
Sinclair  -  George Sinclair  -  3 months
M'Dermid  -  Janet M'Dermid  -  6 months
Dodd  -  William Dodd  -  3 months
Brown  -  Joseph Brown  -  2 months
Ross  -  Sarah Ross  -  2 months
Paterson  -  Jean Paterson  -  1 month
Fergus  -  James Fergus  -  3 years & 3 months
Torrance  -  Maria Torrance  -  10 months

Baptized 18th. May 1813
Ferguson  -  Ann Ferguson  -  3 years & 11 months
Stewart  -  Ann Stewart  -  3 years & 1 month
Ramsey  -  Margaret Ramsy  -  3 years & 1 month
Fotheringham  -  Peter Fotheringham  -  4 years & 3 months
Chisholm  -  James Chisholm  -  4 years & 1 month
M'Lachlan  -  James M'Lachlan  -  3 years & 4 months
Strachan  -  Nancy Strachan  -  3 years & 3 months
Nichol  -  Harriet Nichol  -  1 year & 6 months
{…...}  -  John Buntine  -  1 year & 10 months

Exposed Children Continued
Stewart  -  Helen Stuart  -  1 year & 6 months
Stewart  -  Robert Stewart  -  1 year & 2 months
M'Pherson  -  Isobel M'Pherson  -  1 year & 2 months
Stevenson  -  John Stevenson  -  1 year & 2 months
Campbell  -  Will[ia]m Campbell  -  1 year & 2 months
Berrie  -  John Berrie  -  1 year & 2 months
Stwart  -  George Stuart  -  1 year
Maxwell  -  Jean Maxwell  -  1 year
Newark  -  Jean Newark  -  1 year & 4 months
M'farlan  -  Peter M'farlan  -  1 year & 1 month
Houstoun  -  Cathrine Houstoun  -  1 year & 3 months
Rodger  -  Will[ia]m Rodger  -  5 months
Sym  -  Will[ia]m Sym  -  7 months
Stewart  -  Agnes Stuart  -  3 months
Govan  -  Mary Govan  -  1 year & 9 months
Lumsden  -  Mary Lumsden  -  9 days
Gillespie  -  Janet Gillespie  -  1 year & 6 months

It appears that some records relating to the town's hospital are held by Glasgow City Archives and the University of Glasgow.

Saturday, 31 October 2009

Dead Woman Walking

This photograph shows my great-great-grandparents Albert Barker and Ellen Culpan with their children Mary Ellen, Louisa and Arnold. At first glance it's a pretty ordinary family portrait. However, there is something a little unusual about it.

It depicts a scene that never actually took place as, according to family story, it was created after Ellen's death. The surviving family posed for the photo and then Ellen was added in. Luckily for me, the story of the photo, and the original portrait of Ellen from which the image was created, were passed down through the family, as otherwise I think it would be quite easy to take it at face value.

There is a definite outline around the girl on the right which continues along her brother's shoulder but it would be easy to mistake this as being the result of movement or a fault in the process. There is a similar fault around the head of the girl on the left and along the top of the image.

Ellen died in 1892, aged 29. Presumably, there was no photograph depicting the whole family together and so it was decided to create one posthumously. I wonder if the portrait of Ellen dates from her engagement or marriage as her left hand, apparently wearing a ring, is quite prominently displayed. Albert and Ellen married in 1882 (see my previous post Marriage With Deceased Wife's Sister) and so Ellen may actually be somewhat younger than this image would first suggest.

I can't help wondering what was going through the minds of the family as they posed for this photo, leaving a gap for where Ellen should be. From the apparent ages of the children I think it must have been taken not long after Ellen's death and so they must still have been feeling her loss very keenly. To modern sensibilities the whole idea of the photo seems rather morbid but perhaps the family found it a comfort.

The image is a useful reminder that just because our ancestors didn't have Photoshop doesn't mean that every picture in the family photo album is necessarily “real”.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Registers of the RC Bishopric of the Forces

I've blogged previously about Scottish Catholic Registers, the first set of which are now available on

Also included in this set of records are registers of the Roman Catholic Bishopric of the Forces. The RC Bishopric of the Forces provides chaplains to the Armed Forces and, according to the website of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, “Differing from any other Diocese, the Bishopric of the Forces is not aligned along geographical boundaries but encompasses anywhere in the world that United Kingdom military personnel are serving or deployed”.

As may be gathered from this description, despite being made available on a Scottish genealogy website, the majority of these records are not related to events that took place in Scotland and in most cases do not concern Scottish individuals.

A list of registers included in the collection can be downloaded as a PDF from However, a word of warning: it appears that ScotlandsPeople is applying the same rules to these registers as to the Statutory Registers – that is images of records will only be made available on the site for baptisms of individuals born over 100 years ago, marriages that took place over 75 years ago and deaths/burials that occurred over 50 years ago. Therefore, many of the registers on this list, which cover the mid to late 20th Century, are not going to be included.

Admittedly this collection is probably going to be of interest to only a fairly small number of family historians but I hope it becomes better known because at the moment I feel it's rather hidden. After all, if your Irish ancestor had their child baptised whilst serving in Aldershot, England in the 1870s or your English ancestor converted to Catholicism whilst stationed in Cairo, Egypt in the 1930s you probably wouldn't think of looking for them on but records of both events would be there!

The RC Bishopric of the Forces Registers were digitised at the National Archives of Scotland along with the Scottish Catholic Registers which is probably why both sets of records have been released on as one collection. However, as indexes to Armed Forces births, marriages and deaths and British Overseas births, marriages and deaths are already available on ScotlandPeople's sister site that would seem to be a more obvious home for them.

If it is not possible to make the RC Bishopric of the Forces Registers available on how about a compromise – making an index to the records available on findmypast with a link to to then view the complete record? This would surely make the collection accessible to many more researchers and benefit both websites.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Who Witnessed a Marriage?

A question I recently read in a family history magazine suggested that the fact that a man was not named as a witness on his daughter’s marriage certificate was evidence that he had died by this date, or possibly that he was unable to attend the wedding due to illness or infirmity. This seems to presuppose that it was common for parents, or at least the father of the bride, to witness a marriage.

Although I have heard this belief expressed before it is not one I necessarily agree with. There are examples in my family tree of parents witnessing the marriage of one of their children, but I believe it was more usual for the witnesses to be contemporaries of the couple, often siblings, but sometimes cousins or close friends.

More specifically, in the 20th century at least, I thought it was usually the Best Man and Chief Bridesmaid who signed the marriage register as witnesses. This belief is confirmed by my paternal grandparents marriage in 1939. The marriage certificate names as witnesses two individuals who I recognise as the groom’s brother and bride’s sister. A detailed report of the wedding in the local newspaper shows that this same brother was best man and the sister the first named of three bridesmaids.

Searching English Parish Registers in particular, I’ve noticed the same names appearing as witnesses time and time again. I suspect that these were individuals connected with the Church and this certainly seems to be the case with two marriages in my family that took place in the Parish of Gorleston, Suffolk.

A William Bristow witnessed the marriage of my ancestors there in 1809 and a William H. Bristow witnessed their grandson’s marriage in the same church in 1892. A search of census returns indicates that a William Bristow and William H. Bristow, were father and son who both followed the double occupation of ‘Tailor & Parish Clerk’, the younger man taking over the role of Parish Clerk from the older. Both men appear to be have served the function of Parish Clerk well into old age. William senior is recorded as ‘Church Clerk’ in the 1861 Census, aged 67 and William H. Bristow as ‘Parish Clerk’ in the 1891 Census aged 71. If these ages are correct William senior would only have been about 15 at the time of the 1809 marriage so I wonder if he took over the role from another William Bristow, parish clerk - his father perhaps?

So why would the parish clerk be a witness? Does this imply that there were no relatives or friends present at the wedding? I suspect this may have been the case for the 1892 marriage. The couple in question had apparently been living together for over 10 years and had at least four children. It seems likely that the wedding would be a small, private affair, so as not to draw attention to the fact that they were not already married (as they had claimed in the 1881 and 1891 censuses).

However, I am not convinced that just because no relatives are named as witnesses that this always implies they were not present, and suspect there may have been another reason why parish clerks witnessed so many marriages.

For the marriage of my ancestors in 1809 there are actually four witnesses recorded in the parish register. Two signed their names in full and two signed with an 'X'. Although it is not clear, I wonder if the two who could write their names (one of whom was William Bristow) were not so much witnessing the marriage, as witnessing the X marks of the other two.

To avoid the need for this extra step was there perhaps a preference for witnesses who could sign their names? In which case, does the fact that a parish clerk witnessed a marriage not necessarily indicate that there were no guests at the wedding but rather none who could sign their own names?

If so, this might also explain why in the early 19th century and earlier witnesses often seem to be two men, rather than one man and one woman as was common later.

I would be interested to hear from others as to who witnessed the marriages in your family. Relatives or non-relatives? Parents or siblings? Literate or illiterate?

Saturday, 3 October 2009

A History of Private Life

This week whilst browsing through radio programmes on BBC iPlayer, looking for something to help me get to sleep, I came across a wonderful new series entitled ‘The History of Private Life’.

The series, which is broadcast on BBC Radio 4, consists of thirty 15-minute programmes presented by historian Amanda Vickery and, according to the press release, includes:

‘Men behaving badly, adultery on the sofa, servants running amok, witches, poltergeists, burglars, bashful bachelors, glamorous widows, wedding nights, rows in bed, bedbugs, pots and pans, the imperial bungalow and suburban love – all in their own words.’

As family historians it is perhaps with private life, the domestic, that we are most concerned. We want to know who our ancestors married, how many children they had and where they lived. This series explores how they lived and is based on research in archives across the UK.

Some of the most revealing material comes from private letters and diaries and so naturally is concerned with the middle and upper echelons of society rather than the illiterate masses, but there are also sources used that will be familiar to many genealogists including The Proceedings of the Old Bailey.

I think the strongest programme so far has been the opening episode entitled ‘The Bed’. A particular highlight was an extract from Samuel Pepys’ diary showing that married life has changed little in 350 years:

‘At night to bed, and my wife and I did fall out about the dog’s being put down into the cellar, which I had a mind to have done because of his fouling the house, and I would have my will, and so we went to bed and lay all night in a quarrel.’

The series also includes songs from the 18th and 19th centuries that have never previously been recorded.

The first five episodes are currently available on BBC iPlayer and there is also an omnibus edition and a discussion inspired by the programme. Further information, including details of the research behind the series, is given on the BBC website at

Saturday, 26 September 2009

An Irregular Catholic Marriage

As a continuation of my last post I thought I would include another entry from one of the Catholic Registers.

This entry is recorded in the register for Kirkconnel in the Diocese of Galloway and is interesting not only because of the parties involved but also because it refers to a marriage that had already taken place:

At Gateside 7 Jan[ua]ry 1813

Louis Marie Narcisse Dubois de Gennes, & Catharine Allan of Gateside having, by a written document which is littorally as follows -

(“We, Louis Marie Narcisse Dubois de Gennes, Agent for the Military Stores in the French service, present prisoner of War on parole at Dumfries in Scotland, & Catherine Allan McCartney, daughter of John Allan McCartney Esq[ui]re of Halketleaths, Physician in Liverpool, having, for some time past, been privately married, think it proper to acknowledge our said Marriage before witnesses, in order to render it valid by the law of Scotland: We do therefore hereby in presence of the witnesses subscribing acknowledge that we are Man & Wife, & promise to adhere to each other as such, till death shall part us: in Testimony whereof, we have subscribed this acknowledgment, written by me the said Dubois de Gennes, along with a duplicate thereof, at Dumfries, the eighteenth day of November Eighteen hundred & twelve years, before these Witnesses Pierre de Grege, Knight of the French Empire, officer of Light Artillery, & Jean Pierre Huet, paymaster in the French Service.”

Signed - Dubois de Gennes

Catherine Allan)

Pierre de Grege

J.P. Huet

satisfied me that they were legally married, according to the laws of this Country, in compliance with their earnest request, as they profess the Roman Catholic Religion, I, Thomas Bagnall, Cath[olic] Clergyman at Kirkconnell, did confirm their marriage according to the Rites of the Holy Cath[olic] Church, at Gateside in presence of Mrs Allan, Mrs & John Carmont on the 7th January. 1813

According to the online catalogue of SCAN (the Scottish Archive Network) the McCartney of Halketleaths Papers are held by Dumfries Archive Centre. The following information is recorded on the family:

The McCartney of Halketleaths family (the estate being near Castle Douglas in Buittle parish, Kirkcudbrightshire) can be found first in the 16th century. They remained in possession of the lands until 1833, the last owner apparently being Dr John Allan McCartney, who died in Liverpool on 28 July 1829. He left a widow, Alice Worswick or McCartney, but apparently had no children by her. He had, however, apparently had three daughters by Catherine Beveridge. Dr McCartney also went by the name John Allan or John McCartney Allan. The lands of Halketleaths (and others) were bought in 1833 by William Parke, of Anfield Lodge, Lancashire from Dr McCartney's trustees.

Monday, 21 September 2009

Scottish Catholic Registers – A Preview

As some of you may know, images from Scottish Catholic Sacramental Registers are due to be added to the ScotlandsPeople website in the near future. These registers, which include births and baptisms, marriages, burials and cemetery registers, confirmations and communion records, are held by the Scottish Catholic Archives and the Glasgow Roman Catholic Archdiocesan Archive. They have been digitised by a team at the National Archives of Scotland (NAS) and indexed in India.

The latest information I have is that births and baptisms are due online at the start of October with marriages, deaths, confirmations and communion records to be added later in the year, although this may change.

NAS has long had copies of the registers from pre-1855 parishes (held in RH21) but these were mostly quite poor quality photocopies and not indexed, so you either had to know fairly precisely what you were looking for or have a lot of patience. The new colour digital images will be a great improvement and the indexing and online availability will make the registers accessible to many more researchers.

There are plans to make the images and index available at the ScotlandsPeople Centre in Edinburgh, however I wonder if, like the OPR burial registers, there will be a delay in this happening due to technical issues.

Researchers in Edinburgh will, however, be able to view the images for free on ‘Virtual Volumes’ at NAS, without the name index but with year linking (that is an index added to the images to indicate where each new year in the register begins).

I’ve been looking at some of these Catholic registers recently. The most valuable for genealogists are probably those containing pre-1855 entries (Statutory Registration began in Scotland in 1855) as they may well be the only surviving record of a particular birth, marriage or death (the earliest register starts in 1703 although many do not begin until the mid-1800s). However, the post-1855 registers are certainly also worth a look even if you already have a copy of the relevant civil record as you may find additional details.

Like other Scottish church registers the amount of detail recorded varies considerably, even within the same register. What struck me particularly though were those entries, particularly marriages, which mentioned a place of origin, something I’ve rarely seen in the OPRs of the Church of Scotland.

This is particularly valuable as many Catholics in Scotland (particularly in the south-west) were of Irish origin and making the link back to a particular place in Ireland can be difficult for researchers, especially as census returns often only record a place of birth as ‘Ireland’.

The following marriage entry comes from the register for Dalbeattie, Diocese of Galloway:

June 25th 1815 at St Peter’s Dalbeattie Arthur Murphy Native of Parish of Minan, County Down, Ireland to Jane Macnight, Native of Parish of Buitle, and both presently residing in said parish. Witnesses Robert and Euphemia Macnight, James Copland & others.

Note: Minan is possibly Meenan, a townland in County Down.

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Duties of a Church Officer

Like my last post, the following entry comes from the minutes of Cambuslang Old Kirk Session (NAS Ref.: CH2/415/7).

It details what was expected of the church officer at Cambuslang in return for his salary of £12 10s a year (about £603 in today’s money according to the currency converter on the TNA website).

Session House, Parish Church

Cambuslang, 1st May 1876.

The clerk laid upon the table a note from Mr George Muir specifying his income as church officer. It was agreed to augment his salary to £12 10/- a year on the following conditions; - that he have the church washed out from time to time, and especially immediately preceding the sacrament; that he sweep out every pew every week, and carefully dust it every Saturday afternoon, minister’s pulpit and precentor’s desk included; that the sheep droppings be removed from the walks every Sabbath morning; that the remains of old coffins be in future kept out of sight; that no ashes or dross be laid down on the northern corner between the vestry and the church; that said corner be levelled down and improved; that brushes and all other articles be removed from the front lobby; that he take the collection to the treasurer every Monday; that he wear a white tie when on duty as becomes his office; and that the church and its surroundings generally be kept tidy and in good order; also, that he undertake the cleaning of the Industrial School, which is to be swept out every school day and dusted the following morning; that the floor be washed every Saturday during school time; and that he kindle the fire during the winter. Salary to date from 15th May next.

The clerk was instructed to provide a brush for the school, and permission was accorded him to get a japanned tin box for the session books and records, two crimson cloths for the collection plates, and printed boards for the special collections.

Sunday, 6 September 2009

From the Kirk Session Minutes

One of my favourite sources for researching Scottish family history are the minutes of the Kirk Sessions of the Church of Scotland. Many deal with discipline of the congregation. Although I do not always find what I am looking for I nearly always find something interesting.

My search this week of the minutes of Cambuslang Old Kirk Session were no exception. Although ‘guilt’, i.e. sex outside of marriage, is a staple of the Kirk Session records I think this is the first time I have come across mention of an abortion.

The original record is held by Glasgow City Archives however a digital copy can be viewed at the National Archives of Scotland under reference CH2/415/7:

Page 240

Session House, Parish Church, Cambuslang, 2nd Dec[embe]r 1878.

The Mod[erato]r reported that he had privately dealt with Marg[are]t McLachlan, now Mrs John Cunningham, residing at 80 Crownpoint Road, London Road, Glasgow, as to her alleged guilt, and, as to her having given birth to an illegitimate child. He stated that he had elicited from her a confession of her having been guilty about five years ago, which guilt had terminated in an abortion. She expressed her penitence and a desire to be taken under discipline, but by the Kirk Session of Calton where she now resides. Considering the circumstances of the case, this Kirk Session agree to transfer her to said Kirk Session for discipline, and to enable them to proceed therewith at same time to issue an extract of this minute.

Note: I was unable to find any mention of the case among the minutes of Old Calton, Glasgow Kirk Session and was not able to examine those for New Calton, Glasgow.

Sunday, 23 August 2009

A Very Useful Obituary

I was browsing through some family documents on my computer this week when I came across a newspaper clipping and was once again struck by the great amount of information contained in these few paragraphs.

Like most of the newspaper clippings I’ve inherited there is no indication of which paper it came from or the date of publication. However, I suspect it came from the Colne Valley Guardian (a title which went through a number of name changes) and based on other documents I have must have been published on 13th February 1925.

The gentleman concerned, Edmund Wilkinson (1853-1925), was the brother of my great-great-grandfather.



The death occurred on Monday of Mr. Edmund Wilkinson, at the home of his brother, Mr. David Wilkinson, Hill Crest, Scar Lane, Golcar, at the advanced age of 71 years. He had been suffering from a disease of the heart for a considerable period, and for the last three months had been confined to his bed.

Mr. Wilkinson, who was a bachelor, was very well known in the district, having occupied the position of general manager of the Slaithwaite Equitable Industrial Society for 22 years, and previous to that was 20 years manager at the No. 2 Branch, Bolster Moor, Golcar. He retired from the position in July, 1917. In 1919 Mr. Wilkinson was elected to serve on the County Council, and he represented the Golcar district for three years. The previous member was Mr. William Lockwood.

The deceased gentleman was born at Bank Top, Slaithwaite, and for many years lived at Hill Top. Upon retiring he took up residence at Bethel Villa, Clough, Golcar. In politics he was a Liberal, and was a member of the Slaithwaite Liberal Club. Mr. Wilkinson was a regular attender at Sunny Bank Baptist Chapel as long as his health would permit.

By his oft-expressed wish he was cremated at Manchester on Tuesday, and the funeral took place at Pole Moor Baptist Chapel yesterday. The last rites were performed by the Rev. D. W. Young, pastor at Sunny Bank, and a large number of relatives and friends were present.

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Warning: Genealogy may affect your emotional health

This week’s Who Do You Think You Are – the BBC programme in which celebrities trace their family history – was a particularly emotional one. Kim Cattrall set out to discover what had happened to her grandfather who had abandoned his young family some 70 years earlier.

Seeing a celebrity reduced to tears is pretty familiar WDYTYA territory. In fact I’ve long suspected that the amount of emotion to be wrung from a family story is a major factor in deciding which make it to the final series and which are assigned to the cutting room floor.

To the outsider genealogy must seem like a cosy little hobby. The collection of names, dates and dry historic facts may not immediately strike one as something to get the pulse racing and yet the emotional impact of uncovering the past can be very real.

We may not all have a story like Kim’s in our family history but there were certainly elements I could connect to my own family.

I’m someone that believes that you shouldn’t be afraid to ask a question just because you might not like the answer. However, I wonder if before undertaking a journey of ancestral discovery we should all take a moment to consider whether we are prepared not only for what we might find but also for the effect it will have.

So my question this week: Should genealogy carry a health warning?

Saturday, 1 August 2009

Do clans have anything to do with researching Scottish genealogy?

A week ago, along with 47,000 others, I attended The Gathering a two-day ‘celebration of the culture and history of Scotland’ and the signature event of Homecoming Scotland 2009, a year-long government initiative aimed at encouraging those with a passion or connection with Scotland to ‘come home’.

As a tourism initiative and a boost to the local economy it appears to have been a success and I have personal evidence of this, as my Scottish-born Mum (now resident in England) was one of those who made a special trip to Scotland to attend. However, those of us who live in Edinburgh, where it seems whatever your surname or however tenuous your connection to Scotland someone will be happy to flog you ‘your tartan’, may have been left wondering what the point of it all was.

Interestingly, The Gathering website acknowledges ‘the near extinction of clan activity’ in Scotland and describes the event as ‘an opportunity to thank the clan associations and Scottish societies from around the world for their role in keeping these traditions alive’, so I guess it’s fair to say this wasn’t really one designed for the locals!

As a genealogist working in Scotland it’s not surprising that I sometimes get asked ‘Which clan do I belong to?’ or ‘What’s my tartan?’. Unfortunately though, these are questions I struggle to answer. I realise that Scotland’s strong cultural identity is one of the reasons why people are so keen to learn about their Scottish ancestors, but the subject of clans seems to have very little to do with the genealogical research I carry out.

However, in honour of The Gathering I thought it was time I looked a bit more deeply into the issue and so today, armed with seven different books on tracing Scottish ancestry, I have sat down to see what I can discover.

The first thing I notice is a certain similarity. Most of the books seem to have a chapter whose title includes the word clan somewhere near the end of the book, but the relevant section is rather short. Some suggest that a book on genealogy is not the place to discuss clans, others give a brief definition but do not indicate how this relates to tracing one’s ancestry as described in the foregoing chapters. Cameron Taylor, ‘consultant to Scotland’s national AncestralScotland initiative’ and author of Rooted in Scotland refers the researcher to the clan search facilities on the website of the Standing Council of Scottish Chiefs and on (neither of these facilities seemed to be working when I tried today). Alan Stewart in Gathering the Clans (a book with only a brief mention of clans) cites instances of families changing their surname to that of a clan chief whose protection they wanted, whilst Bruce Durie is bold enough to declare that ‘Not every Scotsman has a clan’ as well as giving some reasons why not everyone who had a ‘clan surname’ was related to the clan chief or to each other.

Whilst this has pretty much confirmed what I already knew it hasn’t really given me an answer to the tricky clan question. It seems no one feels they can quite ignore the subject of clans but, in a book on tracing Scottish ancestors at least, they don’t have much to say about it.

So do clans have anything to do with researching Scottish genealogy? Not really but maybe, maybe? At least with the setting up of I now have somewhere to refer those who ask about finding their tartan!

Saturday, 18 July 2009

Sex and the Scottish Ancestor

When I first began researching my Scottish ancestors and discovered that my great-grandfather, Hector McNeil (1886-1954), was born just one month after his parents married I was a bit surprised. Surely a hint of scandal here? Something that got the neighbours gossiping? I mean that just wasn’t the done thing back then, was it?

Further research revealed that not only did Hector follow this particular family tradition, his first child being born six months after he married, but that both Hector’s father and grandfather lived with and had children by women to whom they were not married.

Expanding my research to other family lines I discovered similar stories: a couple who married five months after the birth of their first child; a woman who had two children, probably by the same man, but never married.

Were my ancestors turning out to be the most immoral in Scotland or was there something else going on here? Was it just that my preconceptions were wrong?

As a teenager, I think I had the vague idea that pre-marital sex was ‘invented’ in the 1960s. Even then, as my mum was keen to point out, the ‘sexual revolution’ didn’t affect everyone, with many people continuing to live with their parents until they married and ‘baby’ arriving a respectable one year after the wedding.

Of course as a keen viewer of costume dramas I did know about illegitimacy. Some innocent young girl taken advantage of, usually by an employer, is thrown out and disowned by her family when her pregnancy is discovered. She usually comes to a sticky end and should the child survive the ‘shame’ of illegitimacy follows him or her throughout life.

No doubt such situations did happen, but in my family the majority of illegitimate children appear to have been born to parents in long-term relationships.

As I’ve researched more and more families I’ve discovered that mine are hardly unique. There do appear to have been some regional differences though and, as these particular ancestors of mine were all involved in coalmining, I suspected that sex before (or outside) marriage was particularly common in Scotland’s mining communities.

However, this week I’ve been researching two families from the north of Scotland, one from a fishing community, the other from an area that was largely agricultural, and I’ve been finding much the same thing.

This has got me thinking about the issue again. Firstly, was the apparently high rate of pre-marital sex in Scotland (or ante-nuptial fornication as it is often described in Kirk Session records) related to the law that legitimised children upon the subsequent marriage of their parents? (This applied only when both parents were free to marry, i.e. not married to someone else, at the time of the child’s birth.)

It is difficult to know how aware people were of this law but it may explain why some parents were content to wait until after the arrival of their child to get married, rather than rush to tie the knot before the birth. Legitimacy was generally only important with regards to inheritance and as most working-class Scots had little to pass on to their children the legal situation was perhaps of less importance than the attitudes of their neighbours.

The law doesn’t always seem to have been universally applied either, as I found recently. I came across a child who was born to parents who married a few days later but waited until after their marriage before registering the birth. The registrar, however, considered the birth to be illegitimate (the word is included on the birth record) although the date and place of the parents’ marriage was recorded, as is usual on Scottish birth certificates.

It has been suggested that pre-marital pregnancy was seen as an insurance against infertility, particularly in agricultural communities where a farm worker was expected to provide family labour. Personally though, I think the most convincing argument is simply that in some communities sex was an accepted part of the courtship process, just as it is for many people today.

But what I’ve really been thinking about is why all this pre-marital sex should come as such a surprise to me. Why did I think that the youth of great-granny’s day were so very different from my own generation? Was there a particular time when what was once common behaviour began to be seen as something to be ashamed of and to be hidden from later generations? Has there be a deliberate attempt to rewrite history?

If so, I’m sure our ancestors weren’t expecting all us genealogists to come snooping around uncovering their secrets!

Sunday, 12 July 2009

Marriage With Deceased Wife's Sister

In England & Wales a widowed man was prohibited from marrying the sister of his deceased wife until 1907. It’s a subject that gets mentioned in the columns of family history magazines from time to time and, despite the law, there’s plenty of evidence that such marriages did happen. There usually seems to have been some secrecy involved, the couple married where they were not known, and it was not difficult to escape detection.

I’ve an example of a man who married two sisters in my own family tree. However in this case there seems to have been little effort made to disguise the fact and I’ve often wondered how the couple got away with such blatant law breaking.

In 1882 my great-great-grandfather Albert Barker married Ellen Culpan. Ellen died in 1892, leaving Albert with three young children to bring up alone, and in 1894 he married her older sister, Jane Culpan.

I have copies of both marriage certificates and they are remarkably similar documents, right down to the fact that both brides gave the same address. Both weddings took place at King Cross Wesleyan Chapel in the District of Halifax, Yorkshire. The marriages were not performed by the same minister but both certificates include the name of Walter Common, Registrar.

At this date when a marriage took place in a nonconformist place of worship, a civil Marriage Registrar had to be present when the couple exchanged their vows. My interpretation would be that Walter Common not only registered both marriages but also actually attended them.

Witnesses to the first marriage were John Barker (most likely Albert’s older brother) and Jane Culpan (who would become Albert’s second wife). John Barker was also a witness at the second wedding but obviously Jane could not be a witness at her own marriage and so another sister, Hannah Culpan, performed the role.

Nearly twelve years had elapsed between the two marriages during which time Walter Common must have attended hundreds of weddings so we can perhaps understand why he was apparently unaware that the law was being flouted in front of his very eyes. I can’t help wondering though if he didn’t experience a certain feeling of déjà vu, seeing so many of the same people assembled at the same place. I have identified Walter, recorded as a Building Society Secretary & Registrar of Marriages, in both the 1881 and 1891 Censuses and so I am sure it was the same person. In 1891 he was aged 73 so well into his 70s by the time of the second marriage.

The second marriage appears to have taken place with the support of both the Barker and Culpan families. Although I do not know that Albert Barker regularly attended the King Cross Wesleyan Chapel, the fact that both marriages took place there suggests a fairly long association and makes me wonder if fellow members of the congregation, even maybe the minister himself, knew Albert’s wives were sisters. Did everyone simply turn a blind eye?

There was certainly support for the idea of allowing widowers to marry their deceased wives’ sisters. In fact the issue was raised so often in parliament that in the Gilbert and Sullivan opera Iolanthe the Queen of the Fairies sings, “He shall prick that annual blister, Marriage with deceased wife’s sister”. The 1907 Marriage Act removed wife’s sister from the list of prohibited marriages but, confusingly, it was not until 1921 that a man could marry his deceased brother’s widow.

The fact that Ellen and Jane were sisters was passed down through the family but it was fascinating to see the marriage certificates and to discover more of the details. I would be interested to hear from anyone who has a similar story in their own family and to learn of the circumstances surrounding the marriages.

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Who's that Girl?

When my maternal grandmother’s house was cleared after she died this photograph was found among her papers. There are no names, date or other details recorded on it, not even the name of the photographer. My mum could not remember having seen the photo before but thought that the baby bore some resemblance to my aunt at a similar age and was probably my grandmother.

Due to family circumstances my grandmother, ‘Nannie’ to me and my sister, had few possessions dating from her childhood or even from the early years of her own children, but somehow this photograph had survived the ups and downs of her eighty-two years.

When I began researching her family, building on records collected by my mum some years earlier, one of the tasks I set myself was to identify the people in this photo and the approximate date it was taken.

Having traced records of my great-grandparents and their family I now believe this photograph was taken before Nannie was born and is of her parents Hector McNeil (1886-1954) and Agnes Gray McNeil née Frickleton (1892-1923) with their three oldest surviving children: Andrew Frickleton McNeil born 1911, James ‘Jimmy’ McNeil born 1913 and Agnes Gray Frickleton McNeil born 1915.

I suspect the photograph may date from the family’s move from the mining village of Standburn near Falkirk in Stirlingshire, where these children were born, to the City of Glasgow where their next child, Hector, was born in 1917, and so was probably taken about 1916.

What I don’t know is the identity of the girl standing at the back of the photo. She was obviously considered important enough to be included in a family portrait but somehow she seems a little apart from the rest of the group, not quite one of the family. Although the photo is a little unclear it appears that Hector has his arm slightly in front of her, rather than around her protectively as with his son.

It’s rather difficult to judge how old she might be, but certainly quite a few years older than the other children and, I think, probably too old to be Agnes’ daughter.

Agnes was the eldest of ten children, eight of whom were girls, and so my guess is that this girl is one of Agnes’ little sisters. Agnes might have been glad to have an extra pair of hands to help take care of her growing family and the girls’ parents might well have been grateful to have one less mouth to feed.

I’ve been lucky enough to find out quite a lot about the Frickleton sisters. Firstly through the detailed information on various Freckleton/Frackleton/Frickleton families at that alerted me to the fact that Agnes was the only one of the sisters to remain in Scotland, the rest (and one brother) all emigrated. Then through records of their emigration and later lives available online at and And finally through the great kindness of a former client who asked ‘if there’s ever anything I can look up for you in Canada’ (probably not imagining that there was!) and found me several newspaper notices and an extract from a book relating to the two sisters who emigrated to Canada and their families.

I realise I will probably never know for certain who the girl in this photograph is, and, that as far as researching my family history goes, this isn’t one of the greatest unanswered questions. But for some reason I’d really like to put a name to this face, so if anyone out there thinks she looks familiar I would love to hear from you!

Saturday, 20 June 2009

Marital Disharmony in 18th Century Scotland

Whilst researching at the National Archives of Scotland (NAS) this week I came across the following record which shows the problems one man experienced with his wife and how the difficulties this caused between him and the church continued into his subsequent marriage.

The spelling is rather more phonetic than is usual for this date but is hopefully intelligible. In some places the letter 'w' is used instead of 'u'.

This extract is taken from the Minutes of Duns Relief Church, Berwickshire - NAS Ref. CH3/1146/7.

Reliefe Records of the Session in Dunse 1800

Augest 17th About the speace of Sevin years ago There arose a Diference Betwx George Bone and his Wife Jean Jafrie then Liven at Polwart wood Heads being Galows of her Husband George Bone She having been maried a number of years to him and had a famlie of Children to him outerly refused him of his Privelidge as a husband in Brech of her Marige Bond Likewise Provicken him to go to sike another Wife Declireng that hi should have no more fredom with her as a husband ought to have with his wife this Contwning for a Long time Alexander Bell farmer at Crunklie being Elder of that South qarter of the Reliefe Congregation Reperisented it to the Session

The Revd Mr Thomas Thomson being then Minester in Dunse it was a veray Longe Tidwes Trayel George Bone being Brought before the Session Declered that Ther was a Great dispace Betwx his wife and him and Likewise she had seet the whole famlie aginst him and she had Disired him often to go to seke a nother wife and ould some times Give him Bread and Cheis to put in his Pocket to go to sike another wife which she acknolidge to be trwe her self in the Session when she was Brought to the Session Likewise she Disired him to make a new Bond of Sepration Betwx him and her which They Did

Some time afore or after George Bone Gave a Bond to a nother woman that had been his Servant which Bond his wife Jean Jafrie found in George Bones Saboths Cloas and brought it to the Revd Mr Thomas Thomson but her Husband misin the Bond Demanded her to Preduce that Bond or Eles hi ould Burn her in a fire to Death the Session Could not Determinet maters betwx them ther being so maney Difrent Grivences from both Parties the Sesson Consiston then of teen Elders thought Proper to Leay them both aside from Church Prividelidges which they Did and George Bone was publickly lead aside from the Pulpet by the Revd Mr Thomson Minester then George Bone Stil adhering to the mitten keeping his seat paying his Seat rent aplaying now and then for to git Church Privelidges but Still Refused of them

At Lenth throw process of time the woman that hi had or was to give the Bond to to take her for his wife maried a nother man at the same time Jean Jafrie his Lafwl wife Lived a veray agreable Life with her husband George Bone which hi Declared to Robert Gray Elder which Contwance was for a year before her Death but all the time of her Life she had no Church Prividlegs at Lenth Jean Jafrie Deid and George Bone was maried to a nother Woman George Bone still aplayen for Church Prividledges but was still refwsed of them

On the year 1799 the Revd Mr John Wattson being Minester in Dunse Reliefe Congregation George Bone still aplaying for Church Prividleges a Bar Being in Georges way Concerning some monie that was taken out of a Chist in Georges howse which hi impetecd his son with which was a Law Procces his son being Clerad George still aplayen for Church Privilidges at Lenth the Revd Mr John Wattson Leaving Dunse not being ther Minester any Longer who was Placed on Tusday 21th of Augest 1798 and was Lowsed by the Edinbrough Presberty on May 6th 1800 to go to Glasgow we not having a Minester the Congregation agrieing to have the Saccrament Dispenced among them wrot to the Revd Mr Andrew Thomson Minester at Berwick which Came to Dispence that Ordnance with others wpon the fourth Day of July 1800

The Session being Constuit by Prayer the Revd Mr Andrew Thomson Being Morator George Bone being Presant in the Session ther was a Contest in the Session about George Bone some was for absolven him Publickly The Majority Caried to admonise him in the Session as ther was no Book of Records which Tistefied agenst him only some Scrols of Paper which was Lost hi being admonised by the Revd Mr Andrew Thomson Morator Receved a token from his Elder John Sklinskel in Polwart becaws hi attested Georges Carator for some years bygon

Georges Wife having a Child to him Disiring the Session to favour him to have his Child Baptised on Tusday first after the Saccrament which requist they Granted accordingly The Revd Mr John Pitkern Minester at Kelso upon the Monday intmited that ther was a Child to be Baptised on Tusday the Day folowing when that Day Came hi refusied to Baptise the Child becawse George had not been absolvied Publickly althow George had Jonied upon this occision the Elders being Put to a nonplush not having a Minester at that time agreed to refier it till some Statited Minister Should Come and have a nother Session

Accordingly the Revd Mr Ried Came a Session Being Constuit by Prayer the Revd Mr Reid being Told what had been don with George Bone hi being Presant advised George to apier Publicty in the Mitten house on the Saboth after being the 24th of Augest 1800 which hi willingry agreed to and Likwise on that Day was admonished Publickly By Mr Reid and on The afternoon the Revd Mr Reid intemited from the Pulpit that ther was to be a baptesim at Polwart Woodhead on wedensday first which hi accordingly Did and Baptised two Children To George Bone at that Time for his Wife was Deliverd of a nother Child befor George was Clerad

Robert Gray Session Clerk

Note: Galows = Jealous - here probably meaning mistrustful, or resentful of a suspected or known infidelity

Saturday, 13 June 2009

Professional What?

Firstly, I’d like to thank Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, authors of ‘Good Omens’, for the title of this blog. Anathema Device, the Professional Descendant of the novel, is not a genealogist but it seems like a good job description for someone who has based a career on who their ancestors were. Anathema is a descendant of the witch Agnes Nutter and appears to have inherited some of her ancestor’s talents. Having long suspected there were some Nutters in my own family tree I feel a certain kinship with her!

These days I spend most of my time researching other people’s ancestors and I felt it was time my lot started earning their keep. This blog will be a place to tell some of their stories, to celebrate them and to air some of the family’s dirty laundry. I also intend to include some extracts from the records I come across whilst carrying out research and to discuss some of the broader questions raised by the study of family history.

My own ancestors are a mix of English, Scottish and Irish. A fairly ordinary bunch but at times quite a challenge to trace. What fascinates me about family history is not only the process of research, piecing together small scraps of information to reconstruct a person’s life, but also what it can reveal about social history and human behaviour, the insight it gives into a world that can seem very different from our own but populated by individuals with our strengths and our weaknesses, our virtues and our failings.