Sunday, 12 December 2010

Living the Poor Life in Glasgow: Part Two

Back in October I blogged about the Poor Law Archives in Glasgow and the fact that not everyone was happy with the poor relief they were offered, especially if that involved going to the poorhouse. 

In contrast, whilst searching through some online newspaper archives this week I came across a report of a man who, according to the authorities at least, was a little too keen to spend time in the Glasgow poorhouse: 

The Scotsman (Edinburgh, Scotland) 26th March 1902, p.8, col. 7. 

an Irishman, was charged at Glasgow Sheriff Sum- 
mary Court yesterday with contravening the Poor- 
law Acts by becoming chargeable to the parish of 
Glasgow after the city authorities had, at this own 
request, sent him to his parish of settlement in 
Ireland. The evidence showed that accused, who 
was forty-three years of age, had been in the poor- 
house fifteen times. Sheriff Fyfe said that accused 
appeared to be one of those people who came over 
from Ireland and practically lived in the poorhouse. 
That sort of thing would not do; Glasgow was not 
going to keep all the vagrants who cared to come 
into it. Sentence of two month’s imprisonment was

Saturday, 27 November 2010

The Gazettes Online: A resource worth exploring

I’ve just been listening to The National Archives Podcast by Audrey Collins ‘The London Gazette - not just the brave and the bankrupt’

This really struck a chord with me as, after getting more seriously into Genealogy, I read several articles about The London Gazette and its sister publications The Edinburgh and Belfast Gazettes. “Very interesting,” I thought, “must take a closer look, but not the sort of place to find my humble ancestors.” 

Then, late one evening, I put my grandfather’s name into Google on a whim and was surprised to get a hit. I was even more surprised when I realised that I had found him in the London Gazette - twice! So, to underline the message of the podcast, I thought I would share a couple of examples from one branch of my family tree of ordinary individuals found in the London Gazette: 

Page 7828 

Civil Service Commission - November 9, 1927. 

Male Sorting Clerk and Telegraphist, 
Huddersfield, Douglas Sykes Wilkinson. 

(This is my grandfather, Douglas, aged 16, being appointed to his first job.) 

PAGE 7246 


Printed copies of the draft Provisional Order will be deposited at the said offices of the Board of Trade on or before the 21st day of December next, and printed copies of the draft Provisional Order, when deposited, and of the Provisional Order, when made, may be obtained at the offices of the undersigned, and at the office of the Clerk to the Urban District Council of Golcar aforesaid, and at the residence of Simeon Sykes, Surveyor to the Urban District Council of Golcar, in Swallow-street, Golcar, on payment of one shilling for each copy. 

(When it was proposed that electric lighting should come to the Yorkshire village of Golcar, copies of the Provisional Order could be obtained at the home of Douglas’ uncle, Simeon Sykes - actually he lived in Swallow Lane not Swallow Street.) 

PAGE 10136 

His Majesty the KING has been graciously pleased to approve of the award of the Military Medal for bravery in the Field to the under-mentioned. Non-commissioned Officers and Men:- 

68393 Bomdr. S. Sykes, R.G.A. (Hudders-field). 

(Simeon’s brother, Samuel Sykes, received an award for bravery whilst serving in the First World War.) 

Some of the problems associated with the OCR technology which enable the gazettes to be searched (and how to get round this) are discussed in the podcast. Looking at the Gazettes Online website today I was pleased to discover that the original printed indexes to the London Gazette are now available online from the early 19th Century onwards and can be downloaded as PDFs (you need to select a particular year and each year is covered by several volumes of indexes) so that, with a bit of patience, it should now be possible to find ancestors in the Gazettes who have previously proved elusive. So far, there only appear to be indexes to the Edinburgh and Belfast Gazettes for 2002 onwards. 

I’ve recently been doing a little research into one of the ancestors of my partner and, inspired by the podcast, I decided to search for him in the London Gazette to see if I could identify his civil service appointment. No luck so far, but I did find him among the names of Insolvent Debtors, along with a list of seven previous addresses at which he was known. So, not just the brave and the bankrupt, but you may find someone among the bankrupt who you weren’t expecting!

I suppose the lesson here is, if something is available online, is free and is searchable by name, then it’s worth searching for the names of your ancestors, even if you think the chances of finding them are pretty slim.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

19th Century 'Kirkings'

These days in the UK, Sunday is often a day spent at the pub, a chance to meet up with friends and relax at the end of the working week. A far cry from the early 19th Century when Sunday was spent going to church, you might think? Or perhaps not, if this outburst from the Kirk Session of Kilcalmonell and Kilberry, Argyll is to be believed: 

Kilcalmonell and Kilberry Kirk Session: Minutes 1821-33
NAS Ref. CH2/1423/1 - Pages 33-35 

At Kilcalmonell the 17th of April 1825 years The Kirk Session of Kilcalmonell met. Present the Moderator and Elders.

Among other matters the consideration of a practice too common in Country Parishes and in this also, of people meeting together after Divine Service in a public house profaning the Lord’s day by drinking and engaging in carnal conversations especially when collected together under the vulgar name of Kirking Came before the session when after a full discussion of the same the Members agreed in the following as their judgment in this Matter. 

That profanation of the Lord’s day is a sin of vast criminality to many awful prohibitions of the word of God condemned by several Acts of Parliament and acts of Assembly; and quite inconsistent with the profession of Christianity. And it appeared to the Session to be established beyond a doubt, that those meetings on the sabbath called Kirkings, are [a] most gross and heathenish violation of the sanctity of the Sabbath, by the indulgence which is given to the flesh in drinking and speaking; they unanimously resolved and do now resolve, by the blessing of God, to apply the discipline of the Church to the suppression of such unholy meetings. 

And give this public intima[tion] of their determination to deal with those who assemble in Kirkings on Sabbath day as with other transgressors of the law of God. And moreover that those keeping houses should take care not incur the penalty of the Civil Law annexed to keeping their houses open During Divine Service or disorderly during the rest of the Sabbath. And finally that the parties which occasion the Kirking shall be held as the leaders in the sin.

The Kirk may not have been able to prevent these 'Kirkings' but they did succeed in getting some of the individuals who participated brought before the Session and there are descriptions of two such events on pages 60-68 of the minutes.  At one of these 13 or 14 bottles of whisky were drunk by a group consisting of between 20 and 25 people - naturally, recollections were a little vague!

I looked at a few Scottish dictionaries and did a quick internet search but was unable to find any further reference to this particular type of Kirking so it is hard to know how widespread the practice was.  Although there does seem to be some similarity with the 'Kirking Feasts' which sometimes accompanied ceremonial attendances at church.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Remembrance Day: The Diary of a WW1 Nurse

As this week it was Remembrance Day, commemorating the official end of the First World War, I thought I would share a short extract from the diary of Lily Harris, sister of my great-grandmother Emily Harris. 

Lily was a trained nurse who in 1915 joined the Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service Reserve (Q.A.I.M.N.S.R.) and spent much of the war serving in Egypt. 

Lily does not seem to have always had time to keep her diary regularly but this extract, dated 25th November 1918, describes how the news of the end of the war was celebrated where she was: 

Nov 25th 

This has been a very exciting day, hear definitely we are to take no more convoys & evacuate on alternate days, all cleared out by the 3rd of December. My ward has been emptied. Hand over equipment tomorrow. 

Several sisters go to Jerusalem tomorrow, 2 days leave, so now we are all wondering where will be our next stop & how soon we shall be home. 

On the 11th Germany signed the Armistice. We had a few little parties, two social evenings & a whist drive here in the mess & one evening “At Home” at the Club, they were all very enjoyable. 

Last Sunday we “The Nursing Staff” thought we must make our patients realise the war was ended, so gave them a supper, “Fresh Mutton & Vegetables”. They did enjoy it. 

Unfortunately, it was many months before Lily got to go home again. Her service record (held at The National Archives, Kew - Reference: WO399/3582) includes a letter she wrote from Suez in June 1919 requesting that she might be released from her contract and allowed to return to the United Kingdom as she had been serving abroad since May 1915. Although not absolutely clear, it appears she did not return to the UK until September or October 1919, after a medical board judged her to be suffering from Anaemia. 

This photograph dates from Lily’s time in Egypt and shows a group of QAIMNS nurses in their distinct uniforms. One of them may be Lily herself. 

There is a modern colour photograph of one of the capes worn by a QAIMNSR nurse on the Auckland Museum website.

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Parentage Unknown: The Ultimate Brickwall?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Living the Poor Life in Glasgow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Gone to America

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

Letter From America, The Proclaimers 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Postgraduate Certificate in Genealogical Studies - A Personal View

Earlier this year this blog got rather neglected; likewise my partner, friends and family. However there was a good reason and, hopefully, it’s all been worthwhile as today I received confirmation that I have passed the Postgraduate Certificate in Genealogical Studies!

The course is part of the Genealogical Studies Postgraduate Programme provided by the University of Strathclyde which offers one of only a few qualifications in genealogy currently available in the UK. The course is delivered online (although with some opportunities to meet tutors and fellow students in person) and attracts students worldwide, although with the majority in the UK and from Scotland in particular. The Postgraduate Certificate is provided by the University’s Centre for Lifelong Learning and, despite the title, an undergraduate degree is not a requirement, although there is a formal application procedure.

My motivation to undertake the course was threefold: firstly, to increase my knowledge and improve my genealogical skills; secondly, in order to get a qualification relevant to my profession (something which I think is going to become increasingly important for professional genealogists); and finally, for personal enjoyment and satisfaction.

I’m not quite sure I knew what I was letting myself in for though, as I apparently overlooked the part of the course brochure which mentioned a requirement of 20 hours a week and it was something of a shock to hear this when attending a introductory meeting! However I kidded myself that, as I would know most of it already, I could easily get away with committing less time.

This turned out not to be the case as even simply reading the handouts and completing assignments took about 20 hours a week. As my weekdays and evenings are already filled, this pretty much meant spending every Saturday and Sunday from the time I got up until midnight on coursework, and this was without doing any additional reading (which I would have liked to have been able to do). Hence the neglect of everyone and everything else!

Nevertheless, I don’t regret my decision to do the course and would certainly recommend it to others. It definitely isn’t a course for beginners, or even for those who’ve exhausted the basic genealogical sources and want to learn a little more in order to better trace their own ancestors, but rather for those who’ve been bitten by the genealogy bug in a big way and want to undertake a serious academic study of the subject, whether with a view to turning professional or not.

I do think it’s a worthwhile course for those who already consider themselves to be quite advanced in genealogy as there is so much information given in the handouts that cannot easily be found elsewhere. I found that having some knowledge of the majority of record types discussed was an advantage as it made the background information (much of which was new to me) more relevant and easier to understand.

Any complaints I have about the course are more in the nature of small niggles: some handouts did not appear to have been spellchecked or proofread, occasionally some information was out-of-date (mainly on non-Scottish sources) and I think there was general confusion caused by a lack of clear guidelines on referencing. However, this is partly balanced out by the fact that tutors do appear to take complaints seriously and that the course is frequently adjusted in response to student feedback.

My only further comment is that it may not be clear from the course brochure how strongly Scottish-based the course is. Whilst the idea that skills learnt from researching genealogy in one country can be transferred to another country is a sound one; I would have liked to have seen greater inclusion of English and Irish records as the coverage of these at times seemed perfunctory. However, I do realise that it is not possible to include everything (certainly not in the already packed eight months during which the course runs) and that non-Scottish sources are covered in greater depth later.

Perhaps the best recommendation for the course is that following completion of the Postgraduate Certificate a large number of students, myself included, have chosen to advance to the Postgraduate Diploma. So if this blog goes a bit quiet again in a few months you’ll know why!

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Assurance On Life Of A Child

One of the few original documents I have from my mother’s family is a life insurance policy taken out on my grandmother at an early age and described as ‘Assurance on Life of a Child’. It’s a rather curious survival because (as it seems likely the weekly premium of one penny ceased to be paid long before she died) it apparently has no value, but presumably was kept in the belief that it might do so. 

To us, the idea of insuring a child’s life is an unpleasant one, but to our ancestors it may have been a practical and sensible option. Despite fears in the 19th and early 20th centuries that insuring the life of a child was connected to infanticide (the TNA produced a good podcast on this and the related subject of Burial clubs), it seems to have been commonplace in working-class families. 

Judging from the table below this policy, dated 1922, would have provided little more than the cost of a modest funeral, and in the case of a child dying shortly after birth, probably not even that. 

What surprised me about the document was that it dated not from the time of my grandmother’s birth, but from several years later. However on reflection, the timing may have been significant. 1922 was the year in which her family suffered the death of a child (the second to die in infancy) and also the year in which a new baby was born. 

It seems possible that having already lost children at an early age, the family decided to insure the life of the new baby, and at the same time also took out policies on the older children. 

Happily no further children died young in the family, but the document remains a sad reminder of a time when, despite a fall in infant mortality rates, the death of a child remained a very real possibility for many families.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

A Glimpse into English History via FamilySearch Indexing

I'm a volunteer indexer with FamilySearch indexing but haven’t been able to do much lately, partly due to computer problems. However, having just bought myself a brand new MacBook I was pleased to discover that their java-based indexing software works on a Mac without any difficulties. 

One of the things I like about FamilySearch indexing is the wide range of projects to choose from. So that you can either work on a project relevant to your area of interest, or alternatively you can choose a type a record you wouldn’t normally encounter during your own research, in order to extend your genealogical knowledge and experience. 

Having had a bit of a break I decided to plump for some relatively familiar English parish registers and this week have been indexing some batches from the UK, Warwickshire - Parish Registers 1538-1900 project. 

I was fascinated, after downloading a batch, to find myself looking at a nearly blank page headed by the following: 

These are to Certifie those th[a]t may make sirch for names Christeninges 
Weddinges or Burialles, in Sheldon Register Book in the yeares of o[u]r 
Lord God 1651 & 1652 th[a]t you find here omitted (for the major parte) 
by reason of the late consumeing inward warres here in England whome 
God deliver us from the like for ever Amen. for this reason I omitt 
the residue of this page. Thomas Dunton junior de Sheldon 

This appears to come from the Parish Register for Sheldon, an ancient parish that has now been absorbed by the City of Birmingham. 

I’ve read about the gaps in parish registers during the period known as the English Civil War and the Commonwealth (1642-1660) but have not come across such a clear reference to it before, or one apparently for the benefit of future genealogists! 

In England in 1653, responsibility for registering births, marriages and deaths was taken away from the church and given to an elected official known as a ‘Parish Register’. However, this was sometimes the former parish clerk who simply carried on making entries in the parish register as previously. This may be the case here, although as I could only see one double-page of the register I am not certain. 

The register does contain entries from 1653 and this was presumably when Thomas Dunton junior of Sheldon became ‘Parish Register’ and wrote the above explanation for the missing years. In fact, despite the warning, this register (with only two years missing) is probably one of the more complete registers for this period. 

I would encourage anyone who’s thought about becoming an indexer with FamilySearch to give it a try. The software is easy to use and you don’t have to commit a lot of time. Just about all genealogists have used the IGI at some point and this is a great way to give something back for all the free information. Not to mention, you never know what genealogical gems you may stumble across!

Saturday, 4 September 2010

Married in Haste?

Researchers who have traced their Scottish ancestors back to the pre-1855 Old Parish Registers will know that many so-called ‘marriage registers’ are in fact records of the proclamation of banns and do not necessarily include the date the marriage took place (or indeed if the couple ever actually got married).

You may find, however, that the register includes details of the fee paid for proclamation or records the numbers of days on which banns were proclaimed (sometimes abbreviated to ‘3 Sab’ for three Sabbaths, for example).

In theory, banns of marriage should have been proclaimed on three successive Sundays, but it is clear that this did not always happen. So I was interested to come across this explanation in the Kirk Session Minutes for the Parish of Ceres in Fife of exactly how a couple could have their banns proclaimed more quickly (providing they were prepared to pay the additional fees of course!).

National Archives of Scotland Reference: CH2/65/5 Pages 186-187:

Ceres 6th Octr 1794

The Session taking into consideration
that there has crept into this parish several irregularitys
with Respect to the proclamation of Bands_
The Session unanimously agreed and resolved for the
future, That each couple of folks that is to be pro=
claimed three different Sabbaths in the ordinary
way shall pay the Ordinary to the poor which is
Fourteen pence Stirling and if they choose to be
proclaimed three times in two Sabbaths, they shall
pay Two Shillings and sixpence Stirling to the poor
and if they choose to be proclaimed three times in
one Sabbath they shall pay six shillings Stir:
to the poor_ and if they are
proclaimed three times in two different Sabbaths
they shall be proclaimed in the morning of the
first Sabbath, and on the Second Sabbath in the
morning befor divine worship and at noon that
day before divine service, for the last time_
And if they are to be proclaimed three times in
one day they shall be proclaimed at the ringing
of the second Bell by the Precenter befor two or
more witnesiss; and for the second time at the convun=
ing of the forenoons service, and for the third and
last time at the convuning of the Congregation
in the
afternoon_ The Session further ordains
that when partys are to be proclaimed three times
in one day they shall pay to the Precenter one shilling
Stirling for his additional trouble_

Presumably, similar arrangements were in place in other parishes, so by noting the fees your ancestors paid for their proclamation you may be able to determine how much of a hurry they were in to get married!

Sunday, 21 February 2010

A Pair of Speedie Baptisms

Whilst researching in the Scottish Old Parish Registers (OPRs) recently I came across an interesting pair of baptisms and couldn't resist following them up.

The baptisms were recorded consecutively in the OPR for Beath in Fife as follows:

OPR 410 - Beath, Fife - Register of Births and Baptisms 1835

                         David Speedie had a
Child born to him of           Henderson
in fornication in the parish of Inverkeith
-ing on the 15th August, baptized and
named                                 William

              David Speedie had a Child
born to him of his wife in Oakfield on
the 12th Novr 1835, baptized and
named                                Helen

Were both these children fathered by the same man?

I was surprised to find no mention of David Speedie in the Kirk Session Minutes for the Parish of Beath for 1835.  However, his fruitfulness did not go completely unnoticed.

In the Kirk Session Minutes for the Parish of Inverkeithing, Fife (viewable on Virtual Volumes at the National Archives of Scotland) I found two references to him:

CH2/195/3 - Inverkeithing St Peter's, Kirk Session Minutes - Page 552

Inverkeithing 29 November 1835
The which day the Session being met and constituted Sederunt the
Moderator with Messrs Bell, Cousins, Robertson, Bell & Brown
Elders  Compeared David Speedie, Farm Servant and declared
that he was guilty of Fornication with Elizabeth Henderson Seceder
who had brought forth a child to him.  He also acknowledged that
he was guilty of Antenuptial Fornication with Margaret Walls
he was suitably rebuked for his repeated transgressions and
exhorted to repent and Amend his life.  The Session considering
this aggravated Case require him to produce a Certificate from the
Kirk Session where he now resides how he has behaved since he left
this Parish at Whitsunday last.             Concluded with prayer

Inverkeithing 7 February 1836
The which day the Session being met and constituted Sederunt The
Moderator with Messrs Bell, Cousins, Christie, Bell and Brown Elders
Compeared David Speedie mentioned in a former Minute and having
professed deep repentance for his sins he was again rebuked and
exhorted and absolved from the scandal.

The birth of a child to Elisabeth Henderson on 15th August 1835 is also recorded in a list kept by a midwife of children born in Inverkeithing which now forms part of Inverkeithing Kirk Session Records (Reference: CH2/195/70).  This does not name the father.

The mention in the minutes of 'Antenuptial Fornication' refers to the fact that David Speedie and his wife were married in Glasgow (OPR 644/01) on 7th July 1835, only four months before the birth of their child.  Obviously, someone could do the maths!

Sunday, 24 January 2010

A Case of Bigamy

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

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

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

Saturday, 16 January 2010

1939 National Identity Register

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UPDATE: 14 September 2011

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

Scotland - £13 per request
Application details at

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

Saturday, 9 January 2010

By Any Other Name?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 3 January 2010

Happy New Year and Thanks for the Awards!

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

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

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

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

About Me:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Your Ancestors Free.Com -

4. Carole's Canvas -

5. Blog of a Genealogist in Training -

6. Folk are the Thing -

7. History Repeating -