Saturday, 3 December 2011

The British Newspaper Archive: A Great New Genealogy Resource

This week the genealogy world has been all atwitter with news of the official launch of the The British Newspaper Archive.  This is a joint venture between The British Library and brightsolid (the company behind ScotlandsPeople and FindMyPast) to digitise and make available online up to 40 million newspaper pages from the collection of the British Library.
At the time of writing there were over 3.1 million pages on the website but this is added to daily.  These include titles from England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.  Available date ranges vary considerably but there are some titles from the early 1700s and others that go up to the 1940s.  Some of the newspapers have been previously available through the ‘British Newspapers 1600-1900’ database (which is free to access through many libraries in the UK and elsewhere) but others are online for the first time.
An introduction to The British Newspaper Archive from BNArchive containing interviews with Ed King, Head of the British Library's Newspaper Collection, and Chris van der Kuyl, Chief Executive of brightsolid.
The archive is free to search but to view results it is necessary to purchase a subscription.  You can search by keywords or exact phrase and can filter your results by place of publication, publication title, date and article type.  You get quite a lot of information with a free search: title and date of the newspaper, article title & type, page number and a snippet of the text containing your search words (generated through OCR).  Although the OCR is far from perfect, in many cases this gives enough information to determine whether an article to likely to be relevant to your search.
A rather handy feature is that it is possible for users to correct the OCR generated article text, making it easier for others to find the same article.  I’ve added corrections to a few articles I’ve looked at, but it is a bit laborious.  You can also add tags to articles and bookmark them in different folders (for example, you could create separate folders for each branch of your family) and the site keeps a list of viewed articles under ‘My Research’ so you can easily go back and look at something again without using up credits.
I’ve had a lot of fun over the past few days searching for articles mentioning my ancestors and a lot of success.  I’m pretty lucky in that there are two titles covering the area where my Scottish mining ancestors lived and, as they have been digitised in colour (rather than in B&W from microfilm), the OCR is relatively accurate.  I am also lucky (or should that be unlucky?) in that my ancestors seem to have had rather a lot of brushes with the law!
This is a fairly typical example:
The Falkirk Herald and Linlithgow Journal
Wednesday, October 17, 1894.
Page 4, Column 6
BREACHES OF THE PEACE. -Susan Gilmour or Miller, Isabella Wilson or Broadley, Elizabeth Gilmour or Keenan, Agnes Donaldson or Gray, Sarah Miller or Gray, and William Gray, all residing at Southfield, Slamannan, were accused of having created a disturbance there on the 12th inst.  They, with the exception of William Gray, who pleaded not guilty, admitted the charge.  The Fiscal said he was prepared to accept the plea of the man Gray, as the ladies seemed to have been the aggressors in the affair. (Laughter.)
I haven’t yet worked out the relationships between all of these people, although the several shared surnames suggest this may have been a disagreement between extended family.
One of the criticisms I’ve seen of The British Newspaper Archive is the amount of duplication between it and other existing databases.  I’ve actually found this an advantage as the search options are much more user friendly and the fact you get a preview in your search results means it’s easier to spot relevant articles.  I’ve also found that performing identical searches returns more results with The British Newspaper Archive than with British Newspapers 1600-1900, and I’ve found some new information on my Yorkshire ancestors, even though I’ve searched the same newspapers previously.
A bigger problem is that using the download feature results, in my experience, in an illegible image in the majority of cases.  The only way to save a readable image that I’ve found is to go into ‘Full Screen View’, zoom in as much as possible (whilst keeping the entire article on screen) and then use your computer’s ‘print screen’ facility.  You can then crop the resulting image to show just the relevant article.  This works fine with a short article, but not with one in a long column or one that goes over several columns in a large broadsheet.
Another minor irritation is that when viewing an article your search terms aren’t highlighted, as in other newspaper databases.  This means you may have to read through several articles to find the one you want.  A way round this is to open the ‘Show Article Text’ box and then use your browser’s ‘Find’ command to locate your search term.  When you click on a line of text in ‘Article Text’ the same line is highlighted on the image.
A greater criticism relates to the price of subscriptions.  There are three options: a 12 Month Subscription costs £79.95 GBP and is described as Unlimited (but actually restricts you to 1000 pages a month); a 30 Day Package costs £29.95 GBP for 3000 credits; and a 2 Day Package costs £6.95 GBP for 500 credits.  Somewhat confusingly, the amount of credits needed to view one page varies depending on which package you have, the date of the article and whether it’s in colour or B&W.
I’ve taken out a 2 Day Package. So far I’ve found 21 articles relating to my family (a few I looked at weren’t relevant) and I’ve still got over 200 credits left.  I actually think that’s pretty good value when you consider that £6.95 is less than the cost of one BMD certificate and less than the cost of 30 credits on ScotlandsPeople.  In many cases it’s information I couldn’t have easily found elsewhere and although I could have looked at some of the newspapers at the National Library of Scotland, I would have had to visit in person, wait 30 mins for the microfilm to be delivered, scroll through a possibly poor quality microfilm and then pay for every print I wanted (providing, of course, one of the few microfilm printers was available and working).
However, I can’t see many family historians being willing to pay nearly £80 to subscribe to a website that only offers newspapers and the fact that the credit packages only last 2 or 30 days is definitely not ideal.  I’m not sure I will use all my credits in 2 days and it will be annoying to lose them.  As more titles are added in the future I may well find additional articles of interest and could end up having to take out another 2 day package every time I want to view just one article. 
I presumed that the subscription packages were aimed more at the academic researcher than the family historian but from reading others’ blogs and tweets it’s clear that researchers who are heavy users of online newspapers find the limit of 1000 pages a month far too restricted.  For a more detailed review by an academic historian who specialises in newspaper research I recommend the digital victorianist’s Review: The British Newspaper Archive.
I hope you have as much success in locating your ancestors in The British Newspaper Archive as I did.  It’s certainly worth trying out and you never know what you may find....

Sunday, 27 November 2011

More Records of the Edinburgh Poor

A few months ago I wrote about the Lists of the Edinburgh Poor held at Edinburgh City Archives, which cover the period 1869-1884.  I’ve recently been researching an individual who was on the Edinburgh poor roll at a later date and once again found that, whilst it is true that the majority of Edinburgh poor relief records have been lost, it is possible to find some information about those in receipt of poor relief.

Edinburgh City Archives is housed within the City Chambers
The records I was examining were the minutes of Edinburgh Parish Council from the late 1800s and early 1900s.  Edinburgh Parish Council existed from 1895-1930 and incorporated the former Edinburgh and St Cuthberts Combination Parochial Boards as well as parts of Liberton, Duddingston and Leith.  Among the Council’s responsibilities were the Craiglockhart and Craigleith Poorhouses as well as other institutions within the Edinburgh area.
Despite having previously been told that the chances of finding any mention of a particular individual within the minutes was pretty slim, I found that they were full of names; and for some periods names are even indexed at the front of each printed volume of minutes.
The information on children, especially those who were boarded out, is particularly detailed as these examples show:
Edinburgh City Archives ref. SL14/1/7 - Edinburgh Parish Council: Minutes of Council and Committees From 17th June 1901 to 21st Oct 1901. Edinburgh: James Turner & Co., 1902.
Pages 92-93
Children’s Committee.
Wednesday, 9th October 1901.
Joan Davidson, Prestonkirk, taken off roll by Grandmother on 3rd September, and working to Mr Smith, Factor, Whittinghame. Wages 8s. a week.

James Weir, Lanark, ran away on 20th August. No trace of him can be got - supposed to be working. Police to be communicated with again, and if no word of the boy within a fortnight, the Clerk to advertise and offer a reward of 20s.

886, 892C 
Edward Byrne, and David Brown, Gladsmuir. The Visiting Committee recommend a Topcoat for each. Grant.

Mary Douglas, 12, with her Sister in London. Doctor reports her a confirmed Epileptic, and should be in an institution. Clerk to enquire and report as to any institution suitable for the treatment of this girl.

William, Henry, Roderick, and Winifred Young, in Craiglockhart Poorhouse with Mother. Deserted by Father. Advertise for Father.

James Sandilands, in Craiglockhart Poorhouse with Mother. Illegitimate. Delay for a month.
Note: The numbers against each child’s name seem to be case numbers, although any records to which these numbers refer do not survive.
In addition to children, the names of ‘lunatics’, paupers suffering from some illness and whose cases were considered by the Medical Committee and those whose place of settlement was debated are frequently mentioned, often with at least some brief details.
Whilst not everyone who received poor relief will be mentioned by name in the minutes of Edinburgh Parish Council, in the absence of other records they are certainly worth a look and may well provide some explanation of how an ancestor fell on hard times.

Monday, 7 November 2011

A Question of Religion

Last week I made a research trip to Paisley Local Studies Library and among the sources I looked at were poor relief records.
Poor relief records are a fantastic resource often revealing not only why our ancestors had to resort to asking for help from the poor law authorities but also providing details of their births and families.

Paisley Museum & Library where the local studies collection is housed
When browsing a volume of poor relief applications I was particularly struck by the answers given in response to the question of ‘Religious Persuasion’.  These represented a wide range of religious denominations including Secessionists, Methodists, Baptists and Relief Church as well as reflecting Paisley’s large Irish population which included both Roman Catholics and Protestants (some described as Church of England or Episcopalian).
It seems to have been relatively common for husbands and wives to belong to different churches and what was perhaps surprising was the irregularity with which many people appear to have attended any church.  The following are a sample of answers found in volume B57/11/1 ‘Paisley Parochial Board: Statements of Cases’ which covers 1839-1842:
Mrs Archibald Gibson, aged 66
West Relief Church formerly, but never attended nor members for 30 years
Mrs Peter Docherty aged 31
Roman Catholic: self a member and husb[an]d is not
Walter Millar, aged 61
formerly in his younger days, he was a member of the Abbey Cl[ose] Independent
Widow William Cumming, 77
Church of Scotland: Once a Communicant but not so for some years
George Stewart, 40
Church of Scotland: but never has Communicated
Hellen Cavannah, 58
has a disposition towards the Roman Catholic faith; not a Member
Widow Thomas Campbell, 56
Protestant: Once attended but not so for many years
Widow Malcolm Turner, 76
neither herself nor husband were members of any church
It is worth noting that in Scotland, often only the fairly well-to-do were actually communicants or full members of a church (as opposed to simply attending) and it is not uncommon to find that a couple married in a particular church and had all their children baptised there without ever appearing on the communion roll.
However, given these answers, locating these people in any church records may well be a challenge and it is quite likely that many of them died prior to the start of statutory registration (1855).
I’ve often had the impression that my Scottish ancestors rarely darkened the door of any religious establishment.  Given this evidence, I may well be right!

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

On the verge of a new life...

I’ve just spent a busy but productive day at the ScotlandsPeople Centre and whilst researching a client’s family from Argyll came across this interesting entry in the Old Parish Register for Kilchrenan and Dalavich: 

OPR 517: Parish of Kilchrenan and Dalavich, Argyll 

Register of Marriages in the United Parishes of Kilchrenan and Dalavich 
June 5 Peter Macffarlane late at Airdchonnal & 
          Elizabeth Campbell at Kames. Were Married this day 
                            at the Manse of Kilchrenan by 
                            Mr William Fraser Min[iste]r 
                            and were furnised [sic] with a certifi-
                            cate of their Marriage & Moral 
                            Character as they with his Father 
                            and family are preparing for Emigrating 
                            to Upper Canada. 

It’s one of those times when the clerk thought to note down at bit more than just the bare facts and it paints an evocative picture of a young couple on the verge of a new life. I think Elizabeth must have been brave to leave her own family behind and head off into the unknown, but perhaps she couldn’t bear the thought of Peter sailing off without her!

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Getting Educated

Genealogy education is a topic that’s been on my mind quite a lot lately. Firstly, I just heard that I’ve successfully completed the Postgraduate Diploma in Genealogical Studies from the University of Strathclyde. Secondly, I’ve recently joined a ProGen Study Group and one of my first assignments was to draw up an education plan for the next few years. And finally, last month I attended an AGRA Associates Day in London where the main theme was Continuing Professional Development. 

I think it’s fair to say that education is a pretty hot topic in the genealogy world right now. I’ve read two articles on the subject in the last few weeks: 'A Qualified Success' by Suzie Grogan in the October 2011 issue of Family Tree Magazine (UK) and 'The Art of Teaching Genealogy' by Lisa A. Alzo in the September 2011 issue of Association of Professional Genealogists Quarterly. Geneabloggers Radio had a 'Back to School Special' devoted to genealogy education in August and Angela McGhie, administrator of the ProGen Study Groups, writes a blog, Adventures in Genealogy Education, devoted to the subject. 

It’s clear that there’s a great demand for education from genealogists, whether tracing their own families, researching professionally or aspiring to become professional. Not surprising perhaps as genealogists are typically people with a thirst for knowledge and, I suspect, generally optimists who believe that the answer to finding that elusive ancestor is out there somewhere, if only they knew where to look. 

Last year when I completed the Postgraduate Certificate in Genealogical Studies I wrote a post about my experience of the course. You can read that post here and much of what I said also holds true for the Diploma course. This year, whilst considering ideas for my continuing education, I thought I’d write a brief summary of available genealogy education options from a UK perspective. 

Long-term Courses 
For those seeking an in-depth programme of study lasting several years there are three main options in the UK. The University of Strathclyde Genealogical Studies Programme, The Institute of Heraldic and Genealogical Studies (IHGS) Correspondence Course in Genealogy and the University of Dundee Courses for Family and Local History (leading to a Postgraduate Certificate or Masters Degree). 

All of these courses are available online for distance learning. I don’t have personal experience of them all, but one of the main differences seem to be that the Strathclyde course involves intense study with assignments submitted to meet regular deadlines, whilst the IHGS course can be completed at the student’s own pace and the Dundee course is modular with students having some choice over what modules to complete and how many modules to undertake at a particular time. 

Short-term Online Courses 
For those looking for a shorter course, Dundee University also runs two online distance learning courses entitled Beyond the Internet and modules from it’s main genealogy course can be taken individually (although a £95 registration fee applies). 

The main provider of short-term online courses in the UK is Pharos Tutors who are currently offering about 40 individual courses on a variety of genealogical topics. The National Institute for Genealogical Studies is based in Toronto, Canada but offers courses on English, Irish and Scottish research from basic to advanced levels. Some courses are non-credit but others are credited and can be used to gain a Certificate in English, Irish or Scottish Records. Celia Heritage of Heritage Family History has created a 4-module e-Course which can be purchased and downloaded from her website

Short-term Local Courses 
There are many genealogy courses available throughout the UK which can be attended in person. These are typically provided by university lifelong learning departments, adult education programmes, family history societies, libraries & record offices and private individuals and range from beginner’s workshops to advanced courses on particular record types. 

Free & Low-cost Options 
The above courses, especially the long-term ones, involve a serious investment of time and money, which not everyone is in a position to make. However, one of the things which was stressed in both my ProGen reading and at the AGRA Associates Day was that genealogy education doesn’t have to involve an organised programme of study. I hadn’t previously viewed many of my activities related to genealogy as educational or fully appreciated how much I was learning all the time. Below are are few of the other ways us genealogists can educate ourselves. If you’re the type of person who regularly reads genealogy blogs then chances are you already participate in quite a few of them. 

Webinars are a topic I’ve heard a lot about lately, although they’ve yet to make much of an appearance in the UK. The Society of Genealogists held a webinar on Using Legacy Software a few months ago and hopefully there will be more to come. In the meantime, there are plenty of webinars available from the US which are relevant to genealogists worldwide. Legacy Family Tree is a major provider of webinars and if you are not able to attend live then many recorded ones are available from their website (in some cases they are available free for a limited time and can be purchased after that). GeneaWebinars provides details of upcoming genealogy webinars and a calendar to keep track of them all. 

FamilySearch Learning Center offers a growing collection of videos and recorded lectures, described as free courses. There are currently 66 in the UK category (some of which are actually lectures from The National Archives available elsewhere) and others, for example in Instructions and Methodology, which are not location specific. These range from the ‘5 Minute Genealogy’ series for beginners, to advanced topics lasting about an hour. A recent addition is Scotland’s Old Parish Registers: How to Access, Use and Interpret. Nick Barratt, editor of Your Family History magazine, has an online video series on YouTube called The Family History Show. So far there have only been a few pilot episodes but hopefully more will follow. 

Podcasts are a good way to keep up with the latest news in the genealogy world and to increase your knowledge. The Genealogy Guys Podcast and Genealogy Gems Podcast are both US-based but frequently cover UK news and sources. The BBC radio programmes Tracing Your Roots and Digging Up Your Roots can both be downloaded as podcasts (but only for a short time after they are broadcast) and Geneabloggers Radio can be listened to live online or downloaded as a podcast. The National Archives (UK) Podcasts are recordings of lectures held at TNA and cover family, military and social history. There are currently over 70 lectures in the family history section covering topics from 'Sources for Anglican Clergymen' to 'The Pub and the People'. 

Genealogy books and magazines are another good low-cost education option and you don’t necessarily have to buy them. A simple keyword search for ‘genealogy’ on my local library catalogue returns over 900 titles and whilst some of these are transcriptions and indexes (as well as duplicates) this still provides plenty of educational reading. Membership of most genealogy societies includes a subscription to the society’s journal and allows you to attend talks given by the society. Talks, lectures and workshops are also hosted by local history societies, libraries, archives and educational organisations and whilst these may not always be specific to genealogy they can help to broaden our genealogy education. 

At present, ProGen is the focus for my genealogy studies but my wider education plan involves most of these free and low-cost options. What about you? What other forms of genealogy education do you participate in?

Monday, 29 August 2011

The Scottish Genealogy Society's Black Book

Although I'm a member of the Scottish Genealogy Society, I don't often look at their website.  Today was one of the rare occasions when I did and I discovered a resource there of which I was previously unaware and which I thought was worth sharing.

One of the great resources of the Scottish Genealogy Society's library is the society's collection of monumental inscriptions.  This is claimed to be the largest collection in Scotland and includes many unpublished transcripts as well as publications produced by family history societies all over Scotland.

The Society has now made details of all their holdings relating to Scottish deaths and burials available online through The Black Book.  These are a series of pdf documents which can be viewed online or downloaded to your computer and which show what burial, death and monumental records and indexes are held at the library for each parish in Scotland.

A Monument to the Miller family in Canongate Kirkyard, Edinburgh.

Even if you are not able to visit the Society's library in person to view the records and indexes, this acts as a very handy list of the majority of surviving records of Scottish deaths and burials prior to 1855.

Although not so comprehensive, it's also worth looking at the National Library of Scotland's Index of Published Monumental Inscriptions.  This includes details of some nineteenth-century publications containing monumental inscriptions as well as inscriptions published in journals such as Scottish Notes and Queries.  This index is only updated occasionally, however, so it is also recommended that you search the main library catalogue as well.

Whilst on The Scottish Genealogy Society's website don't forget that you can also download an index to The Scottish Genealogist journal covering 1953-2005 which includes plenty of articles on monumental inscriptions.

Happy searching!

© All images and text copyright Kirsty F. Wilkinson

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Using LibraryThing for Genealogy

I have a confession. I buy books and never read them. I just can’t resist a second-hand bargain of some obscure history title that I may never see again or a new genealogy reference book that promises to help me break through that impenetrable brickwall. 

I have the best of intentions, but too often I just read the introduction, flick through a couple of chapters, then stick the book on my groaning bookshelves for "when I have more time". I’ve now reached the point where not only do I need a new bookcase, but I’ve also several times found myself in a bookshop looking at some inviting title and wondering if I already have it. 

Currently awaiting shelving.

I’ve recently seen a few of my Facebook friends discussing using LibraryThing as a way of cataloguing and sorting their book collection and decided to give it a try. I spent a few happy hours earlier this week going through my bookshelves and putting the majority of my history and genealogy titles online. 

According to Wikipedia, LibraryThing is a social cataloguing web application for storing and sharing book catalogues and various types of book metadata. For me, it’s a way of figuring out what books I actually have and, hopefully, the first step in becoming more organised and doing a bit more reading. 

LibraryThing is free to join, although if you want to enter more than 200 books you will need to upgrade your membership. A lifetime membership starts at as little as $19.00, depending upon your generosity. So far I’m at 193 books so may well be upgrading soon. 

You can choose to make your account completely private and only need to enter personal details if you wish. There’s a short introductory guide on the website but I pretty much just leapt straight in and got started entering books and found it very intuitive. 

I entered most of my books by ISBN number and then selected the matching edition from Amazon or one of the many available library catalogues, which include the National Library of Scotland. 

It turns out I have more books than I realised, including a few I don’t remember buying (‘The Scottish hosiery and knitwear industry, 1680-1980’???).  Despite it being rather an unexplored interest of mine, I apparently have 23 books on the history of the family (as opposed to family history), including four with sex in the title - well what Scottish genealogist could resist a book called ‘Scottish church attitudes to sex, marriage and the family, 1850-1914’! 

For me, the most useful feature is ‘collections’ which allows you to put each book you enter into one of the predefined categories or any other you choose to make up (I’ve yet to discover if there is a limit to the number of collections you can create or the number of collection you can place a particular book into). This means you can arrange your titles in a way that’s meaningful to you. 

For example, I’ve created an ‘Old Documents’ collection which includes my books on old handwriting, Latin and Scots dictionaries, glossaries of words useful for family and local historians, reference books such as ‘Dates and calendars for the genealogist’ and more general guides to particular records such as ‘Wills and Probate Records’. This means that when reading or transcribing an old document I now have a quick way of checking what books I have that may be of use. You could perhaps create a collection of books dealing with a particular country or region, or an area of research in which you specialise. 

I’m not sure how involved I’ll get with the social aspects of LibraryThing, but for now have made my account public and joined the Genealogy@LT group (yes, of course there’s a genealogy group!). I also signed in with my Twitter account which meant I could immediately see some familiar faces who were already using LibraryThing, although I’m not sure how to find that information again. I have come across some people whose names I recognise from other social media sites through having books in common. 

As all the books I’ve entered are genealogy or history related, the recommendations LibraryThing makes are fairly useful, although all the ones I’ve added to my ‘wishlist’ are books I’ve previously heard of but not got around to buying yet. 

If you are interested, you can find my book list at 

I’m currently looking at developing an educational plan (a ProGen assignment). It turns out that to improve my genealogical knowledge and skills I probably need look no further than my own bookshelf!

© All images and text copyright Kirsty F. Wilkinson

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Wordless Wednesday - Happy Centenary Grandad

I have just been reminded by my Dad that today is 100 years since the birth of my paternal grandfather, Douglas Sykes Wilkinson (1911-1985).

Happy Centenary Grandad!

Grandad & Me

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Lists of the Edinburgh Poor

I spent this afternoon at the Edinburgh City Archives which is hidden away in the City Chambers, three floors below the level of the Royal Mile.

The main reason for my visit was to examine some records I had identified through the SCAN catalogue, Edinburgh Parochial Board: Lists of Poor 1840-1884. 

This record consists of two volumes and I looked at the second of these which covers 1869-1884 (SL8/7/2). This is a printed volume entitled ‘List of Poor in Receipt of Relief from the City Parish of Edinburgh’ and for each year the names of those receiving poor relief are divided up into the the following sections: 

Out-Door Poor 
Inmates in Poorhouse 
Inmates in Lunatic Wards 
Inmates in Morningside Asylum 
Lunatics Boarded with Relatives 
Lunatics Boarded Out 
Paupers Boarded in Institutions 
Invalids Boarded Out 
Children Boarded Out 
Edinburgh Poor in Country Parishes 
Country Parish Poor in Edinburgh Parish 
Children Receiving Education 

In the cases of children boarded out and apprentices only a name and identifying number are listed, but in most other cases an address or name of institution is also given. 

However, by far the most detailed section is for the out-door poor where the following information is provided: 

Roll Number 
Weekly Allowance 
Number of dependants (Male and Female) 
Religious Denomination 
Whether Member or Adherent 
Any Assistance provided by the Church 
Remarks (generally how long each person has been a member of their church but also details of any illness or disability) 

The vast majority of those who received outdoor poor relief were women. For example, in 1882 Alice C. Peacock was receiving 4s 0d a week. She was aged 31, living at 7 Stanley Place, and had one male and two female dependants. She was recorded as a member of St Mary’s Episcopal Church, which she had attended for 1 year nine months, but received no assistance from them. 

The men who received outdoor relief were mostly elderly although there are a few exceptions. In 1882 Archibald Sandilands, who lived at 3 Greenside Row, top flat right, was in receipt of 6s 0d a week. He was aged 39 and had three male and two female dependants. He was a member of the Greenside Established Church which he had attended for 8 years but again received no assistance from them. 

Archibald, his wife Elizabeth, and their six children were recorded living at 3 Greenside Row in the 1881 Census (RD:685/2 ED:3 Page:11). His older children may well have been considered old enough to work and therefore not dependants. 

Unfortunately, I didn’t find the person I was looking for today, but these lists are well worth a look if you think your Edinburgh ancestors may have received poor relief. 

Further details of the holdings of Edinburgh City Archives and a list of those who claimed poor relief from St Cuthbert’s Parochial Board in the period 1850-1852 can be downloaded from 

Note: Edinburgh City Archives will be temporarily closed from 28 July until October 2011.

Saturday, 2 July 2011

‘Be the rebellis of this Kingdome killed & slaine’: A Glasgow Apprentice’s Testament

I’m currently doing some research into the Incorporation of Cordiners in Glasgow (a trade incorporation of leather workers) and spent yesterday looking at records of various Glasgow cordiners and their families, including a lot of testaments (the Scottish version of probate records). 

One record that I found particularly intriguing was the testament dative and inventory of John Bryssone (Bryson), son of the deceased Patrike Bryssone, cordiner, Burgess of Glasgow, which was confirmed at Glasgow Commissary Court on 8th July 1647. 

John had died in August 1645 and his sister, Margaret, was appointed as his executrix. However, the really interesting information about him comes under the heading of ‘Inventare’: 

Glasgow Commissary Court: Register of Testaments 1646-1650 
NAS ref. CC9/7/30, Page 124 
Item the defunct being the tyme foirs[ai]d bund prenteis to W[illia]m Glen elder baxter burges of glasgow taine furt[h] as ane co[m]mone souldier being of the age of twe[n]tie yeiris or th[e]rby And be the rebellis of this Kingdome killed & slaine at the battell of kyllsyt[h]... 
The Battle of Kilsyth took place on 15th August 1645 and was a conflict between Scottish Royalists, under James Graham, 1st Marquess of Montrose, and the Covenanters, under William Baillie. Information on the battle can be found on the UK Battlefields Resource Centre

When I initially read the testament I presumed that the ‘rebellis’ were the Covenanters and that John Bryssone had fought on the side of the Royalists. However, a little reading indicates that Glasgow generally supported the Covenanting movement and that by 1647, when the testament was confirmed, it was Montrose and his army who were viewed as the rebels (according to the Records of the Parliaments of Scotland). 

Photograph by Chris Wimbush
Source: Wikipedia

John Bryssone (or Bryssoun) was probably the son of Patrick Bryssone and Isobel Glen baptised in Glasgow in 1619. From the OPRs it appears that Margaret was his only sibling. 

William Glen, elder, baxter, Burgess of Glasgow, to whom John was apprenticed, acted as cautioner for Margaret when the testament was confirmed, and may have been a relative of their mother, Isobel Glen. 

I was not able to locate a record of John’s apprenticeship, although The Records of the Trades House of Glasgow A.D. 1605-1678 does record at least two other boys being apprenticed to William Glen, elder, baxter (in 1631 and 1649) both as “seivin yeirs prenteis and twa yeirs for meit and fie”.

According to a report in the Cumbernauld News, historians believe that many of those killed in the battle were buried nearby.  Much of the battlefield is now under Banton Loch, although a memorial cairn (shown above) was erected in 2003.

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Preserving Personal Papers: A Cautionary Tale (and a confession)

I had a great time at the SAFHS conference yesterday and attended some interesting lectures. These included a talk by Richard Hunter of Edinburgh City Archives on “Edinburgh its Archives and Inhabitants” in which he emphasised that many records of the city’s schools and other organisations have been lost - in most cases simply thrown away. 

Today, I’ve been clearing out some boxes in a cupboard and have discovered that some of my own papers have been lost and damaged - in this case due to poor storage. 

I’m a bit of a hoarder and wasn’t too worried when it was discovered that one of the boxes was somewhat damp as I thought it just contained some old papers from uni that I would most likely throw away if I ever got around to sorting them out. 

I was, however, more than a little upset to discover at the bottom of an increasingly wet box a cardboard folder containing a set of certificates and other papers that I’ve been collecting together since childhood so wet and covered with mould that it some cases half of each document has been eaten away and no longer exists. 

These papers include my GCSE certificates, a series of dance and music examinations going back to the 80s (some with handwritten reports by the examiners) and a group photo of my school year as well as less official ‘certificates’ such as one confirming that I took a trip in a hot air balloon in 1991. Not the most important documents in the world perhaps (it could have been a lot worse) but I know I’d be pretty excited to discover something similar concerning an ancestor. 

Of course as a genealogist I know that not only should these have been more carefully stored (I honestly believed that this folder was kept in another cupboard!) but also that I should have scanned them and kept multiple backed-up copies. As a human being, I hadn’t got around to it yet. 

I confess that I don’t really have a proper system when in comes to storing genealogical documents. I’ve always figured that all the important stuff is still with my mum and dad and that most of the records I have are modern copies of documents held in public archives that would be relatively straightforward (if costly) to replace. 

Yes, I’ve heard of Scanfest (apparently there’s one happening today!) but somehow I just never thought it was relevant to me and, probably like many genealogists, I’ve never given much thought to documenting my own life. 

Thanks to some advice from Facebook friends I’ve now put what survives of my documents in the freezer. I am hoping this will dry them out sufficiently to be able to separate the pages so that I can then scan and/or photograph what remains in order to salvage some of the information, if not the documents themselves. 

In the meantime I’m giving some serious thought to making sure I have scans of all my other personal and family papers and to (finally) implementing a proper system for backing up my data - honest!

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Genealogy versus Family History

I’ve recently been watching episodes of the second US series of ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ (WDYTYA) and following reactions to it through Twitter and on GeneaBloggers Radio. I was particularly struck by the response to the episode featuring Kim Cattrall which seemed to be (from some quarters at least) that, although very interesting, it didn’t include much genealogy and that therefore WDYTYA was not the best place to feature such a story. 

The episode, in which Kim discovered what happened to her maternal grandfather after he left his wife and young family, was originally shown as part of Series 6 of the UK WDYTYA and this perhaps explains why it sits a little uncomfortably with the rest of the US series. In the UK, WDYTYA has gradually evolved from the early series, which did tend to be a straightforward tracing of family lines generation by generation, to the most recent ones which often follow a more biographical format, featuring perhaps just one or two ancestors of the featured celebrity. 

Although I’m not without criticism of these episodes (which often seem to be chosen because of their ability to wring the maximum amount of emotion out of the participant), I do think that this shows one of the strengths of the programme, namely in demonstrating how wide-ranging the study of family history can be. WDYTYA shows that family history can be about recent generations, what your grandfather did in the war or why no one ever talked about great uncle so-and-so, as much as about tracing your surname as far back as possible or collecting as many names and dates as you can. 

In my professional research I’m often fascinated by the range of what clients want to find out about their ancestors and, conversely, what they are not interested in. For example, one former client was very keen to trace all the brothers and sisters of their grandparents, including property records, wills, newspaper reports and passenger lists. However, when I suggested it would be possible to trace the family another generation or two back they were not interested. For them, tracing their family history meant discovering more about the people they had grown up hearing stories about; beyond this they felt the connection was too distant to be worth pursuing. 

Then there are those clients for whom the goal is to trace the family line as far back as possible and when a record suggests a possible avenue for research (e.g. a census return may indicate an ancestor spent time in an institution for which records survive) they are not interested in pursuing it, but are instead content with locating births, marriages and deaths. In this case, the attitude seems to be that once you go back a few generations you have so many ancestors that you can’t possibly find out everything about them all and that therefore it is best to stick to the basics. 

Of course there are plenty of people whose interests fall somewhere between these two, and in the case of paid research (or indeed any research) the cost involved is a factor in determining how much research can be done into any one individual. However, these varying attitudes can perhaps be summed us as the difference between genealogy and family history. 

The terms genealogy and family history are often used interchangeably (a genealogy society and a family history society are pretty much the same thing, for example) but can also mean slightly different things. A family tree chart showing the names of all your ancestors going back four generations with their respective dates of birth and death records your genealogy, but tells you little about your family history. 

Where did your ancestors live? What jobs did they do? Were they wealthy or in receipt of poor relief? What were their lives like? These are all questions the family historian seeks to answer. Whereas genealogy can sometimes seem a narrow field of study (only being interested in someone if you are descended from them), by contrast the family historian seeks to understand the past through the lives of their ancestors and so the range of what constitutes ‘family history’ is almost endless. 

These days the trend seems to be increasingly towards family history and away from simple genealogy. Perhaps because, as more records become indexed and available online, finding births, marriage and deaths has become a lot easier than previously, meaning researchers have the luxury of concentrating on everything that went on in between. 

So, was Kim Cattrall’s search for her grandfather a suitable subject for WDYTYA? Well I suppose that depends on whether you view WDYTYA as a programme about genealogy or one about family history. But, as a family historian, I would definitely say yes!