Scottish Genealogy

Saturday, 15 December 2012

It's blogging...but not as we know it...

With so much social media to keep up with (as well as having to work for a living!) it does get a bit hectic trying to keep all the various streams updated.

The blog has in recent months become a bit of a casualty of the fact that I have too much to do and only one brain with which to do it all.

As such, this blog will not be updated for the forseeable future, but the 'unusual scots words' posts which seem to have been quite popular will continue in a slightly different format on my facebook page, which will keep getting updated more regularly with snippets about ancestry research and Scottish history.

Thank you to everyone who has sent kind comments and private messages to me about my blog posts - they are all greatly appreciated, and I hope to see you all on my facebook page at :

Best wishes


Monday, 5 November 2012

Robert Burn's Monument: Edinburgh

On a recent 'doors open day' here in Edinburgh (where buildings that the public often never see are opened for viewing, I took the opportunity to visit a wee gem of a structure that I had walked past many times, but never investigated: the monument to Robert Burns at Waterloo Place (just below Calton hill).

It's a beautiful Greek revival style building based on the Choragic Monument of Lysicrates in Athens and designed by Thomas Hamilton - the architect responsible for the (now sadly empty) Royal High School (itself just opposite the monument).

Originally it was built to house a statue of the poet, but the statue has long since departed and can now be found in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery.  Still, the building has a presence of its own and is well worth a look should the opportunity ever arise.

You can read more about the monument at the Edinburgh Museums Website.

Monday, 22 October 2012

Old Scots Words: Ill-willie or ull-wullie

Today's 'I' word has a hyphen (so I suppose I'm cheating a bit!) but I do like it:

ill-willie or ull-wullie

This word can be spelled 'ill-willy' or 'ill-wully' too and can mean bad-tempered or mean.

The Dictionary of the Scots Language (DSL) has a few examples of its use dating mostly from the 1700s onwards:

J Kelly's Complete Collection of Scottish Proverbs (1721) has the following:

An ill willy Cow should have short Horns. 

and a later example from William Shelley's Flowers by the Wayside (1868): 

Let dour ill-willie sit and fret, The while I lilt the ither sang. 

It's another one of these words that is still in use, but not seen (or heard) all that often.  It seems probable that it is derived simply from 'ill-willed' - but I like the sound of 'ull-wullie' better!

Monday, 10 September 2012

Old Scots Words: Hagbut or Hakbuit

I seem to be getting through the alphabet very quickly!  These posts are going to move to a monthly slot now in order to leave some space for some on other topics too.

Today's 'H' word is one that I have come across a fair few times in various documents:

Hagbut or Hakbuit

This word has a huge variety of spellings and I list a few below - these variations can all start with 'Hak' 'Hack' 'Hag' 'Halk' or 'Hawk' (and a few other variations too!):

This is not a specifically 'Scots word' as it is simply a variation of the French haquebute and usually refers to a type of musket which must have been commonly used across many countries.  the Dictionary of the Scots Language (DSL) has a few examples of its use dating mostly from the 1500s and 1600s and we can assume that it's use was mostly concentrated in these centuries.

There are also numerous examples of these weapons being referred to in original documents:

for example, a 1610 letter from James Campbell of Laweris, Ford[-], to the laird of Glenurquhay in the Breadalbane Muniments held by the National Records of Scotland records [NRS ref. GD112/39/21/25] states that the writer had "met Allister McKeindowy who shot a hagbut at them"

and another document from the same collection [NRS ref. GD112/10/1/1] records a tack by the laird of Glenurquhay to Patrick Dow, his son, "of two merkland of Corricharmish with grazing thereof, in Glenloquhay, for one year, he being diligent in keeping forest of Mamlorne, and shall not shoot with gun nor hagbut at deer, roe nor blackcock, neither himself nor those of his company, 19 April 1612".

So this odd looking word does crop up reasonably frequently in a variety of places and is worth remembering - especially when working with records dating from the 16th and 17th centuries - perhaps some of the more 'tumultuous' periods of Scottish and British history. 

Monday, 6 August 2012

Old Scots Words: Glashtroch

Rain! image courtesy of

As there was no word last week (holiday time for me!) then this week we are continuing on to the letter 'G':
Today's word isn't especially old, indeed the Dictionary of the Scots Language (DSL) has just the one occurrence of it listed and this dates from 1825:

'A term expressive of continued rain, and the concomitant dirtiness of the roads'

It comes from the word 'clash' which can be used to mean: 

'any soft or moist substance; anything very wet; a downpour'

looking out of my window as I write this entry, I would certainly say that it is an appropriate word for the Scottish summer this year!

Monday, 23 July 2012

Old Scots Words: Fewfermorer

Today's letter is 'f' and we have a word that is often seen as a designation in older documents:
'Fewfermorer' (or 'Fewfirmorer')

As usual, there are a fair few different ways of spelling this one, it can be 'feu' or 'few' at the beginning and the vowels at the end can be 'o's or 'i's or 'e's but it is usually quite easy to spot it. 

It simply means someone who holds a fewferm.  Which then rather begs the question 'what is a fewferm then?'.  Well, a fewferm is defined by the Dictionary of the Scots Language (DSL) as being:

'The tenure of land or other property in feu.'
'The payment made by the tenant of a feu.' 

so the 'feufirmorer' (however you see it spelled) will be the individual who holds a specific property in feu.

The DSL has examples of this word being used from the early 1400s onwards: indeed the following example from the Newbattle Charters is thought to date from c.1400:

'Landis quhilk he haldis in few ferm of the abbot'

[lands which he holds in feu ferm of the abbot] 

and as late as 1749 the term 'feuferme' is found in the papers of the Earls of Morton (ref. GD150/1720: held at Orkney Archives):

Feuferm charter in favour of Harry Miller, notary in Stromness, of lands of Appihouse and Neitherbiggin and Heyvell in parish of Stennes, 19 Sep 1749

Being in active use for as long as that, you will probably come across this word at some point in your research.

Monday, 16 July 2012

Old Scots Words - Erding or Eirding

Our fifth word, and we move onto 'e' - today we have:

'Erding' (or 'Eirding')

This one looks nothing like its modern English equivalent.  At first glance, I thought it would be 'herding' with the 'h' dropped, but in actual fact the Dictionary of the Scots Language tells me that it actually means 'burial' or 'burying'
You might see it used in a sentence like the following from the Accounts of the Treasurer of Scotland of 1545:

'For erdding of ane pure man that was slane'

[for burial of a poor man that was killed] 

This is another early word, and most examples of its use seem to be from the 1600s and earlier.  It might not come up very often, but it's a good word to look out for - it had me completely confused until I got the dictionary out!

Monday, 9 July 2012

Old Scots Words - Duniwassal

Today's letter is 'd' and we go to a word that has gone from Gaelic across to Scots:

John Graham of Claverhouse, Viscount Dundee'Duniwassal' (or 'Duniwastle')

There are actually a lot of different ways of spelling this one, but it is essentially made up of two Gaelic words 'duine' [man] and 'uasal' [noble] - so it just means a gentleman.  It is often applied to Highlanders, but not always restricted to them.

It might be most familiar to folk of a certain generation (in which I am included) who remember the songs of the Scottish folk group/duo The Corries.  In their rendition of Sir Walter Scott's poem 'Bonnie Dundee' appears the line:

'There are brave duniwassals, three thousand times three, Will cry "Hoy!" for the bonnets o' bonnie Dundee'

The Dictionary of the Scots Language (DSL) quotes the term being used in 1872 by J. G. Michie in his Deeside Tales:

The occupant of the principal house . . . was a duine-wasal, of the name of Cattanach.

But also notes that it can be applied to the lower class of farmers - and that it is often used contemptuously.  So if you see it used, much will depend on the context in which it is being applied.  I think it's a great sounding word though. 

Monday, 2 July 2012

Old Scots Words - Custumar

Today is week three of my list of old Scottish words and so today we are on to the letter 'c':


This one is slightly more familiar to the modern eye than the words from our previous weeks have been.  A 'custumar' is a customs officer, and the word appears very frequently in records from the 1300s onwards.

You might see it used to describe an individual who fulfilled this role, as it does in this record from the National Records of Scotland (NRS):

NRS E73/3 'Abstract account of George Archibald, custumar' Nov 1620-Nov 1621

or in this example from the Treasury Accounts from 1491 when it appears as a plural:

'to charge the schireffis, balʒeis and custummaris of Stirlingschyre to the Chekar'

[to charge the sheriffs, bailies and customs officers of Stirlingshire to the Exchequer]

The Dictionary of the Scots Language has examples of its use dating from the 1300s to the 1600s, and if you ever delve into the Exchequer Records at the NRS, then it is a word that you will see a lot of.

Monday, 25 June 2012

Old Scots Words - Bahuif or Bawhufe

Today's 'B' word is a truly strange looking one:

'Bahuif' (or 'Bawhufe')

I had never come across this one before, but found it when looking at a list of the items belonging to James V, King of Scotland (pdf available here).  It refers to a large chest or coffer or trunk and King James had a few of these:
ane greit bawhufe into the palzeon houses and ane bawhufe into the tapestry house and the third into the pantrie hous.

[a great chest in the tent house and a chest into the tapestry house and the third into the pantry house]

The Dictionary of the Scots Language has examples of its use dating mostly from the 1500s and quotes its use in the Treasury Accounts of 1535:

'for keping of the kingis gracis claithis, twa balhoyis'

[for keeping the King's graces clothes, two chests] 

It can appear in more humble settings too - but watch out for bizarre spelling variations - I have seen it as 'balhoy', 'bawhuvis', 'bahouuis', 'behewuis', 'balhuves' - you need your wits about you sometimes to spot this wee word!

Monday, 18 June 2012

Old Scots Words - Afaldly or Afauldly

Today is the first in what will be a (semi) regular look at some of the more unusual words that I have come across in my research.  It makes sense to start with 'A', so today we have:

'Afaldly' (or 'Afauldly')

An odd looking word to modern eyes, but it crops up quite often in some older texts.  It means something along the lines of 'sincerely' or 'honestly' or 'faithfully' and you might find someone swearing 'afaldly' to abide by something.

You might see it used in a sentence like the following from the Aberdeen Burgh Records from 1494:

'the aldirmane, balʒeis…schew that tha wald ayfaldly defende thair landis and heretage'

[the aldermen, bailies, that they would sincerely defend their lands and heritage] 

or in this example from a bond of manrent from the charter chest at Gask: September 5th 1471 (full extract available here):

'sal serf hym afauldy in peise and in vayr for al the tym and spaise befor vrittyn'

[shall serve him faithfully in peace and in war for all the time and space before written]

It might crop up in all sorts of places, especially in earlier documents.  The Dictionary of the Scots Language has examples of its use dating from the 1400s to the 1600s, so it is one to look out for in those early records. 

Monday, 14 May 2012

Mystery Monday - Who's that man?

In one of the bundles of photographs at home we have this one of a young soldier, presumably from the First World War period:

one of the Macdonald boys (WWI)

My grandfather, Malcolm, had four brothers who served in the war, John, Alexander, Duncan, and Peter.  The family sadly lost three of these boys in the war and only Peter and my grandfather (the youngest) survived, along with their sister Mary.

We presume that this is one of the boys, but do not know which one - as far as we can gather the boys served as follows:

  • Peter Cameron Macdonald served as a private in the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, spending the war mostly in the Balkans and France
  • John Macdonald was a corporal in the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders (A company, 2nd battalion) and previously in the 93rd Highlanders.  He died at Arras, 24 April 1917 aged 25
  • Alexander Macdonald was a sergeant in the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders and in the Black Watch (8th battalion) - he died 19 July 1918, aged 23.
  • Duncan MacCrimmon Macdonald was a private in the Highland Light Infantry (1st/5th battalion) and died 24 August 1918, aged 21.
Now, the man in the above photograph seems to have at least one stripe on his arm, which makes me think that it should be John or Alexander as they are the ones who held a rank above private (as far as we know), but we just do not know which of them it could be.

There is another photograph that may hint at this definitely being one of my grandfather's brothers:

Malcolm Macdonald (c.1920)
In this photo (of my grandfather) there is another photo above the fireplace of a man in uniform with a moustache - this man looks a bit like the one in the photo that I began this blog post with - I have tried to zoom in a bit, but can't really get close enough to tell:

Anyway, the 'working hypothesis' is that it is probably John or Alexander in the 'big picture' and that this might be the same person in the 'little picture' seen at the family home.  If there are any military experts out there who recognise the cap badge, or anything distinctive about the uniform then I would love to hear from you...until then, my photograph remains labelled as simply 'probably one of the Macdonald boys'.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Wedding Wednesday - Malcolm Macdonald and Mary Bell Macdonald

I seem to be concentrating on my mother's side of the family just now (the paternal line is stuck in a rut just now - awaiting adequate time and enthusiasm to start it up again!), so today I have a photo of my mother's parents on their wedding day to post (I use it in the website banner - so it might look familiar!).

Wedding 1934

My grandparents, Malcolm and Mary, are in the centre, and are accompanied by the witnesses to their wedding, John Miller and Rachel Macdonald.  They look so very elegant, I only wish that the wedding dress still remained in the family (although I imagine my grandmother would have been slimmer than me at that age, so I don't think I could have recycled it for my own wedding!)

The couple married on 29th June 1934 at St Cuthbert's Buildings, Corbiehill Road, Davidsons Mains, Edinburgh.  Their marriage certificate gives this as Malcolm's address and Mary lived at the place she worked as a domestic servant, 35 Inverleith Terrace, Edinburgh.  Malcolm was 34 and was a railway clerk, and Mary was 28.

Malcolm's parents were Alexander Macdonald (a retired railway plate layer) and Christina MacCrimmon.  Mary's parents were Donald Macdonald (a Church of Scotland missionary) and Isabella Macdonald.  The two witnesses also recorded their addresses on the marriage certificate: John was at 12 Clarence Street, Edinburgh, and Rachel was at the Southern General hospital, Glasgow (nursing was big in our family).

Conon Bridge picture

I also have this lovely photo of my grandparents on their honeymoon - they didn't go far, only a bit further up north in Scotland, but they did have this super photograph taken of them (with a young female relation of Malcolm's) up near to Conon Bridge (if anyone recognises the house, I would love to know!).

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Those Places Thursday - Peinchorran, Skye

While rooting through some of our own old family albums at the weekend I found a number of great shots of my great-grandparents' house on the Isle of Skye.  They (Donald and Isabella Macdonald) had moved there from the island of Harris just after the end of WW2 and my mother and aunt went often to visit them at their home at Peinchorran.  It was fairly remote and involved quite a journey to get there!  

You can get an idea of the location, spelled 'Piennachorian', on the 1832 map of the island [hint: find the island of Raasay first, then look across from the very bottom of Raasay to the opposite shore on the 'mainland' of Skye]

The picture above shows my mum 'being decorative' while her father Malcolm and uncle Donald look slightly more industrious - this must have been not long after my great-grandparents moved there, probably around 1946 (and yes, both men are smoking while they work!)  It was a fairly typical house of its period with the sloping upstairs ceilings that will be so familiar to any who have stayed in a house of this type.

This is probably one of my favourite old family photographs - it shows the house at Peinchorran and the typical contents of the ground outside it - I think that it's shots like this that can help to give a snapshot of 'real life' and 'real living' - milk pails, garden tools, and I think there's a butter churn in there somewhere too.  The two men coming around the corner are my mother's uncle, Angus Macdonald, and a man named Peter Nicolson - my mother remembers often watching for them coming home: they would return from the salmon fishing over the hill that you can see in the background, and would be watched for so that the family would know when to put the tea (dinner!) on. [if you look closely, the man on the left is carrying a bottle - my mother swears that it would be a bottle of milk that he was bringing home, but I like to think it might have been something a bit more fortifying for the walk home!]

Finding these two photos in a box really brought to life some of my ancestors and the place that they lived...and it also gave me some new questions to ask my mother about her own childhood and her memories of her family.  So, if you have any old photos at home, why not get them out and have a 'chin-wag' with someone who knows some of the people in them: you might get some new ancestor stories that you have never heard before...

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Tombstone Tuesday - Soldiers tending WWI graves

The National Library of Scotland has, as well as world class library and archival collections, a great photostream on flickr - I frequently get side-tracked on there when looking for something else entirely.

Their collection includes this striking images of soldiers tending the graves of fallen comrades, the original photograph reads: 

'OFFICIAL PHOTOGRAPH TAKEN ON THE BRITISH WESTERN FRONT. Soldiers during their spare time collect plants and flowers to decorate the graves of our heroes.'

So this one image is really representative of the many, many other tombstones and the unmarked resting places of the brave souls who fell in the war, and also a memorial to their comrades - who cared enough to labour at their graves.

You can see this image and other fantastic historical images on the National Library of Scotland's flickr photostream or at their own digital archive of WWI images.

Saturday, 31 March 2012

Surname Saturday - My MacCrimmon Ancestors

I do not get a lot of time to spend on my own family history these days (it's like the old saying 'the cobbler's children go unshod' - well, my own ancestors too often remain unfound as I am so busy looking for other people's!)

But one of the lines of my family that does go back a way is that leading back to Iain Dubh MacCrimmon.  He is my great-great-great-grandfather and lived from c.1730 to 1822: not a bad lifespan really - I'll be quite happy if I make it that far!

He was twice married (some say 3 times, but I have not found much supporting evidence myself for this yet) and had a huge number of children - there must be an enormous number of descendants out there who are related to him.  

some of these children are said to be:

with his first wife 
(whose forename I cannot seem to track down, but she was a MacAskill):


with his wife, Ann Campbell, who he is said to have married in 1790 
(she is said to be of the line of the Campbells of Barbreck):

PETER MACCRIMMON (my ancestor)

(apologies to any that I have missed!  There is detailed information about these and other MacCrimmon lines at which is a site that is really worth visiting).  

"Mac Cruimin". A plate illustrated by R. R. McIan, from James Logan's The Clans of the Scottish Highlands.
There are great legends about the history of these MacCrimmons, which I must admit I love, but which are not exactly easily verifiable!  One of the most famous legends is that the family originated in what is now Italy and that the founder of the family was from Cremona.  His name was supposedly Guiseppe Bruno.  His son Petrus Bruno was supposedly born at Cremona in the late 1400s and came to Ulster.  He took the name Cremon (after the place that he came from) and on his marriage in Ireland to a daughter of the famous piping family of MacKinnon he further altered his surname to MacCrimmon to bring it nearer to that of his wife.  This is great stuff, but not that easy to verify - so I'll probably not be booking a research trip to Italy any time soon! 

It seems at least possible that the name might also come from an attempt to render an old Norse name (possibly Hroðmundr) into Gaelic by adding the 'Mac' (son of) prefix to a variation of the Norse name, but I still love the Italian story...

My ancestor, Iain Dubh was a talented piper and a staunchly religious man.  Shortly before his death he wrote a pamphlet on 'The Failure of Christianity' which was said to have greatly annoyed the local clergy - the pamphlet is said to be buried with him.  I like having an outspoken ancestor - whether I agree with his principles or not!

Iain Dubh is sometimes said to be the very last of the hereditary MacCrimmon pipers.  The MacCrimmons had filled this roll to the MacLeods of Dunvegan, Skye, since at least the time of my 5x great-grandfather Patrick Og MacCrimmon (and possibly earlier).  Much of the information on the early lines of the family was published as A History of the Clan Mac Crimmon by GCB Poulter in 1938 and many of the early 'origin myths' of the family are found in this work (now available online at the MacCrimmon Family Registry).

There are tantalising references to MacCrimmons in earlier records: a 'Patrik Mcquhirryman, piper', mentioned in the Register of the Privy Council, vol.5 (1592–99) may be another ancestor (although he appears in Perthshire, the piping connection still seems promising).  There is also a bond of manrent dating from November 29, 1574 between Colin Campbell of Glenorchy and 'John Tailzoure Makchrwmen in the Kirktoun of Balquhidder and Malccolme pyper Mackchrwmen in Craigroy' - another piper: it was the 'family trade'...

Iain Dubh would have taught at the once famous Borreraig Piping College, of which nothing now remains, but a memorial cairn stands at Borreraig - it was built in 1933 after donations being gathered from around the world - a fitting tribute to a fine family.

  © Copyright Richard Dorrell and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

My own work on the MacCrimmon family is far from over - it is a project to which I return at regular intervals and I am always happy to find new family members or discover new facts about any descendants.  I suppose that a lot of people have a 'favourite line' in their ancestry...and these MacCrimmons might just be mine...

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Old Scots Words: Abilʒement / Abulʒement and the 'yogh' letter

When looking at some older Scottish documents there are words that keep popping up from time to time which look completely unfamiliar to the modern eye.  Some even contain letters that have long since vanished from our own alphabets.  One of these that anyone who spends much time working with older Scots wills and testaments will probably notice is the word Abilʒement or Abulʒement.

This strange looking word has a variety of spellings according to the Dictionary of the Scots Language [DSL], including: 

abilʒea-, abilyheament, abilliament, abillement; abulʒie-, abwlʒe(abolʒe-), abullʒement (abulʒemont), abulʒea-, abulʒia-, abuliament, abuliment; abuilʒe-, abuilʒie-, abuilʒea-, abuilʒiament.  

The strange looking letter 'ʒ' is what is called a yogh and is often represented as a z or a y when transcribed, but the sound was originally closer to a gutteral 'yh' or 'gh' sound - this letter is the reason that the name 'Menzies' is pronounced 'Ming-us' rather than 'Men-zees' by Scots - the 'z' in the name is actually an old yogh letter which changes the way that the word is pronounced.  You can find out lots of information about this little letter at the Scottish Handwriting website.

Image: Grant Cochrane /
So the strange word Abilʒement would have been pronounced as 'ab-ul-ghi-ment' (or something close to that!) and it is actually a rendering of 'Habiliment' or 'clothing/apparel/equipment'.  So when you see this word (often in a list of someone's goods or belongings in a will) then it is often referring to the personal apparel of someone - it's an odd looking word, but a good one to know about..

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Tombstone Tuesday - Alexander Cowie at Fordyce

Today's grave is situated in the beautiful grounds of the old churchyard at Fordyce, Banffshire.  Fordyce village is a lovely place to visit and the remains of the kirk are certainly worth looking in at if you are ever in the area.  There is some great information on the history of the Kirk and the village at the Fordyce Community website.

The gravestone was erected by James Cowie, weaver, for his father Alexander Cowie who died 27th June 1779 aged 64 years.  It is a beautifully simple headstone and really caught my eye.

Alexander's residence is given as 'Murerock' which must be 'Muirake' in the south of Fordyce parish - there is a site record about the house there on the RCAHMS website.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Happy Birthday to: Princess Louise, Duchess of Argyll

Princess Louise, 1851
Born today in 1848 was Louise Caroline Alberta, the sixth child (and often said to be the most attractive daughter) of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.  Louise was a sculptor and artist as well as being interested in a number of 'causes' - among them the rights of women.

Although she was linked with a variety of regal suitors from across the world, it was to a member of the Scottish nobility that she was eventually married in 1871: John Campbell, the Marquis of Lorne (later 9th duke of Argyll).  This was a remarkable match as it was said to be a love match and it was the first time since the 1500s that a daughter of the Royal family had married a British subject.

Princess Louise, c.1900

Despite promising beginnings, the marriage was not a happy one, but it endured despite the pair remaining childless and spending much time apart.  John and Louise reconciled before his death in 1914 and indeed Louise nursed him in his final years and reportedly missed him dreadfully after his death.

I came upon Louise's story through my own studies of her father in law, the 8th Duke of Argyll.  She is a fascinating individual and her marriage to a member of the Scottish nobility brings her (just!) within the remit of this blog.  I really just wanted to give a mention to this most unconventional of Royals - who shunned publicity, supported feminist causes, and courted scandal with her behaviour: her artistic endeavours included works using a nude female model.  I like these unconventional characters - and would like to wish Louise many happy returns on what would have been her 164th birthday! 

For more about Louise, see  

Elizabeth Longford, Darling Loosy: Letters to Princess Louise 1856 to 1939. (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1991)

Mark Stocker, ‘Louise, Princess, duchess of Argyll (1848–1939)’, first published 2004; online edn, Jan 2008

Jehanne Wake, Princess Louise: Queen Victoria's unconventional daughter. (London: Collins, 1988)

Friday, 16 March 2012

The dangers of a Dumfriesshire ploughing match...

Whilst browsing through the Glasgow Herald from 200 years ago today, I saw the following story which illustrates the potential dangers of attending a ploughing competition.

They have never seemed like the most potentially blood-thirsty of occasions to me, but obviously things were slightly different in 1812...

The Glasgow Herald - Mar 16, 1812, p.3

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Kirk Session Records: more than just illegitimate children...

If you have ever heard of the Scottish Kirk Session records, then you may have first been drawn to them due to their research potential for finding out about the fathers of illegitimate babies born in the 19th century or earlier.  However, there is much more to the Kirk Session records than this...

First, however, a little bit of background about what they are and where they can be found.  Kirk Session minutes (recordings of the proceedings of the Session) can be found for a large number of parishes across Scotland for both the established Church of Scotland as well as dissenting Presbyterian churches (there are also records of other non-Presbyterian churches, but these really deserve a whole blog post of their own).

The Kirk Session comprised the minister and elders of the parish, and it was concerned with (in addition to the business of the parish) the morals of the parishioners.  This is the reason that Kirk Session records are so useful for finding out more about the parentage of illegitimate children - the Session would often interrogate any unwed mothers and put strong pressure on them to name the father of their baby.  Sometimes the couple would have to do penance for their sin of 'fornication' and other times you will find the whole circumstances of the case detailed over a number of pages of the Kirk Session records.

So how would you find out more about an illegitimate child?  Firstly, you need to know the relevant parish in which to look - often this is the parish where the mother usually resided, although you may find that the case moves to another parish once proceedings have started: if the session found that another parish was really responsible for the case, then the proceedings would sometimes move to that parish.  But, what you want to do is find out where the baby may have been born and/or where the mother usually lived.  

Next you need to locate the relevant parish records.  Although many Kirk Session records are held locally, there are digital images of the majority of the pre-1901 minutes at the National Records of Scotland (formerly National Archives of Scotland) in Edinburgh.  This means that you can view most of the early records for the established churches (and some of the dissenting churches) in Edinburgh for no charge (all you need is a reader's ticket - check the NRS website for details).  

As yet (March 2012) there is no widely available remote access to these, although some local archives also have access to digital images of these records (check with your local archive for details).  Once you have physically located the relevant minutes for the parish in question, then it is simply a case of identifying the correct volume which covers the dates in question and then searching through that volume for 'your' entry.  Not all illegitimate children appear in these records, but they are worth consulting if you have had no luck elsewhere.

The Kirk Session Minutes have much more to offer than simply telling you 'who's the daddy'!

In just a few examples, I can give a brief idea of the wealth of historical information that can be found in the Kirk Session records.  Most parishes have Minute Books where many discipline cases were recorded - this is not just illegitimacy cases, but drunkeness, breaching the sabbath, disputes between neighbours, even accusations of witchcraft!  If your ancestors lived in any parish for a length of time it is almost always worth browsing the minutes to see if your ancestors appear.

But, the specific example of the catalogue entries for the Kirk Session of Forgue [NRS ref. CH2/459] gives a flavour of the other types of information that you might find in the Kirk Session records:

Forgue Kirk Session records have Minutes dating from the 1630s, but they also contain:
Poor Fund Records from the 1700s and 1800s;
List of communicants from the 1830s and 1840s;
A census of the lands in the parish from the 1830s.

There are also many items of interest in many other collections of Kirk Session records.  The records of Glencorse Kirk Session [NRS ref. CH2/181] include:
Mortcloth records (relating to burials) from the early 1700s;
Testimonials or 'testificats'(a type of 'character reference' given when a person moved parish) dating from the late 1600s;
Communion rolls from the 1830s.

All of these may be of immense interest to those with family from these parishes - as any genealogist will know, information from the period before the mid-19th century is always to be treasured!

So, if you have a day to spare and are looking to expand your knowledge of your ancestors, then you could do far worse than to spend some time looking into the Kirk Session records of the parishes in which they lived.  

You never know what you might find...

Monday, 27 February 2012

Mappy Monday - Maps that I love...

I love using maps in my research, and although the National Library of Scotland is usually my first port of call for most Scottish maps, there are also some fantastic finds from other archives.

One of my favourite sets of maps is the 1769 estate plans of the Breadalbane estate on Loch Tay side.  These are superbly detailed and have useful accompanying information in the form of a survey book published by the Scottish History Society ["Survey of Lochtayside 1769" (Scottish History Society, 3rd series, vol. 27)].

Even if your ancestors did not hail from this area, the maps are lovely things to look at in and of themselves, and they are freely available to view online.  Click the links to view images of The North Side of the loch and The South Side of the loch at the Scotland's Places website.


Saturday, 18 February 2012

Sympathy Saturday - Victims of the Scottish snow

As anyone who checks in on my blog now and then will know, I am a big fan of using newspapers for genealogy research.  Although it is more often the more well-to-do individuals who would place notices in the newspapers commemorating their life events, the early newspapers can be a real treasure trove of information about individuals from every walk of life.

This week's extracts come from two Scottish newspapers and have a sad seasonal theme - both detail the tragic cases of individuals caught outside in extreme weather in the Scottish winter.  Their stories are so sad, especially perhaps this extract telling the fate of Mr John Piggy and his son:

Caledonian Mercury, Thursday, January 16, 1800

From further north, we also have the sad case of William Mason from Glenbervie:

The Aberdeen Journal, Monday, January 13, 1800

As well as these named individuals, these extracts refer to a number of unknown souls whose lives were lost to the extreme weather.  We may never know who these people were, but in the era before statutory registration of deaths, the newspapers can sometimes give us a vital clue as to what happened to some of our ancestors.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Births, Marriages and Deaths - Today in the Glasgow Herald of 1851

Today's blog post is simply a list of the births, marriages and deaths recorded in the online archive of the Glasgow Herald newspaper, this day in 1851.

It is worth remembering that newspapers are a valuable source for genealogy and many are now available online - either freely over the internet (like this edition of the Herald) or via some subscription services (some local libraries and historical societies may subscribe - so do check before you take out a subscription yourself).

Glasgow Herald, 7 Feb 1851, pg.5
A daughter to Mrs Robert Robin
A son to the wife of C T Dunlop, esq.
A son to Mrs William R Findlay
A daughter to Mrs R Drummond
A son to Mrs James Hood
A daughter to Mrs George F Coulson
A daughter to Mrs William Wright
A son to Mrs R Forsyth
A daughter to Mrs James Allan

Mr A Forrester, merchant, Leith, to Mary Paton, daughter of John Paton esq., of Kilncraigs
Mr William Henry Alexander, Glasgow, to Jane Bryce, daughter of John Bryce esq., portioner, Calton
Alan Ker, esq., Greenock, to Julia Emily Easton, daughter of John Easton esq., MD, of Courance Hill, Dumfriesshire

Mr William Nicolson
Alexa McCallum
Catherine Loutet or Maclean
Elizabeth Howie
Jane Auchterlonie
George Gordon Semple, esq.
Mr James McGhie, sen.
Mr John Barrie
Captain Robert Kerr

Saturday, 28 January 2012

The George Washington Wilson and Co. Photographic Collection

While browsing for photographs of Scottish cities in days gone by, I came upon the George Washington Wilson and co. photographic collection which the University of Aberdeen have made available online.

This remarkable collection showcases the work of Wilson and his company.  The photographs include images of places across Scotland and the UK as well as from Australia, Africa, and European countries.  Wilson was named photographer royal  in 1860 and had an immensely successful career.

The fruits of his work as shared on this website are a great resource for anyone interested in family or local history as they give us glimpses of life in a variety of locations at various points in the 19th century.  Of particular note are the stunning images of Fingal's Cave and the beautiful images captured in Africa.

Image: m_bartosch /
You can visit the website and search the images by place or keyword.  There are also a number of images that are yet to be identified, and if anyone recognises them, then I am sure that the archives staff at the University of Aberdeen would love to know.

Enjoy this great collection.