Scottish Genealogy

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.