Monthly Archives: January 2013

Genealogy: Essential Research Methods by Helen Osborn

My copy of this new book arrived today, so ahead of me is, I hope, an enjoyable and informative read. In the preface, the author says the book aims to help family historians “now in need of extra techniques and inspiration in order to help them get over a problem, or to understand how to move on to the next stage in their research”. Having obtained all the easier to get hold of information on my ancestors, plus work my way through some conundrums that proved a challenge, plus come up against the inevitable brick walls, I hope this book will give me some good ideas. It’s about how to use and understand what you find out and not just about where to find data, which makes a change from the usual run of the mill books about genealogy.

It’s so easy to make mistakes, especially when using online sources. There are quite a few trees on Ancestry that link into mine, but I have yet to see one which doesn’t have at least one mistake. Which isn’t to say my own tree is perfect, as I’m sure there’s a mistake there somewhere which I haven’t discovered yet. However, to build an accurate tree you have to go back to original sources, and understand how to read and interpret them, and not rely on other people’s research. The advice “don’t believe everything you find on the internet” is as true for genealogy as it is for everything else.

New research data on ScotlandsPeople

Just got an email from ScotlandsPeople, the pay to view site giving access to digitised original records for Scotland, to say that the 1905 Valuation Roll has just gone live. I’ve already used the 1915 Valuation Roll and found several of my ancestors, so I can now see exactly where they were in 1905. This is very useful, as combined with the census it means you can find out where your ancestors were living every five years – very valuable when you have ancestors prone to moving frequently.

Benslie or Bensley miner’s row, near Kilwinning

Picture found on the internet and I’m not sure when it was taken, but Benslie Square (sometimes Bensley Square on the census) were purpose built miner’s cottages that were demolished in the 1930s. I suspect the picture was taken not that long before then. They were situated off the B785 east of Kilwinnning, next to Benslie Wood, where there is now a small cul de sac called Benslie Row, and were owned by the coalmaster company Archilbald Finnie and Son. They were built in the early 1840s.

An article written by Chris Hawksworth for Ayrshire Notes volume 41 says about Archilbald Finnie, born 1783 at Kilmarnock, “He had taken over the tack for the Fergushill pits near Kilwinning by 1836, and by 1841 he had started building miners rows at Bensley to accommodate his workers at the expanding Fergushill pits, which were a quarter mile from the rows” and that “The Bensley miners’ rows were expanded in 1857 as Archibald’s mining interests in the Fergushill area flourished. In 1854, he also arranged with the owners of the adjacent Doura mine to work the particular coal seams he had started mining at Auchenwinsey into the Doura estate property”. He encouraged good upkeep of his rows by awarding prizes to the families who had the best-kept cottages, but in 1861 dismissed and evicted those miners who went on strike and made other coal masters agree not to house them. But he also built the Fergushill Church, a school and the Sprinside Institute, and started a savings bank for miners.

A report into miner’s rows produced in 1913 says this about Bensley or Benslie Row: “(Owned by) Messrs. A. Finnie & Son. Benslie is a village about 400 yards further up the main road, belonging to the same colliery company as Fergushill. There are 57 houses in all, stone built, with an earth-closet for every four houses. There are neither washing-houses nor coalhouses. There are two double apartment houses at 1s 6d a week rent; the other double houses are 1s  3d per week. There are 14 single apartment houses at 1s a week rent. All have a small garden in front, but few cultivate them. There is but one pump of spring water, which is said to be good. The paths are unpaved, with the consequent muddy fronts.The village is about 67 years old.”

In the 1861 census my great-grandfather Joseph Strachan was the tenant at 34 Bensley Square. He was a coal miner age 28 with his wife Jean and children Amelia age 6 and Robert age 1. There had been a daughter Margaret Haggerty Strachan born in 1857 but she had died at less than one month old. They hadn’t been there long as son Robert was born at Kenneth’s Row, Kilwinning and they wouldn’t stay there long as their next child, Flora, was born at Lamont’s Row, Kilwinning.

Bensley miners' row, Kilwinning

Perceton Row, Dreghorn – old coal miners’ cottages

Pictures are proving popular, so I’ll add what I can.

This one is of Perceton Row, near Dreghorn in Ayrshire. These cottages are fairly unique in that they were built as a miners’ row and have survived: nearly all other ones are long since demolished. I have lots of Strachan ancestors living here at the time of the 1841 census.

My GGGG Uncle Robert Strachan, his wife, a granddaughter, a domestic servant and a lodger were in one of them. In another cottage was Robert’s son Andrew with his wife and four young children, and in another was Robert’s son John with his wife and two young children. Samuel Strachan, son of my GGGG Grandfather John Strachan was in yet another of the cottages with his wife and their first child.

The men were most probably working at Perceton Colliery. The row was likely to have been built by the mine owner for the colliery’s workers. I suspect Perceton Row would have been quite new in 1841, which may be one reason why so many Strachans moved in order to work at Perceton Colliery.

Perceton Miners' Row

James Fraser and Clara Green wedding day

This is a photo of my grandparents, Clara Green of Kirkstall, Leeds and James Fraser of Mosside croft, Hatton, Aberdeenshire. It was taken to mark their marriage in 1919 in Kirkstall, and Clara is making sure her wedding ring is on display.

It was obviously taken at a photographer’s studio, and I expect my grandfather’s hat and stick were the photographer’s props.

James Fraser and Clara Green marriage

Mosside Croft at Hatton, Cruden Bay

This is a photo, that I took in 2000, of Mosside croft, near Hatton in Cruden parish, Aberdeenshire. It was the home of my Fraser ancestors from some time before 1841 until after the second world war. My mother spent some of her summer holidays there when she was young.The land extended to about 3 acres. The cottage had two rooms plus an attic, and there used to be a small dairy attached to it where my mother remembers her (step)grandmother making butter and cheese. The roofless building to the right of the cottage is the old steading, where the cows lived and vegetables and equipment were stored. At the back of the cottage was a pig sty.

The lane on the left leads to the peat moss, where people from the surrounding area would come to dig their peats. The lane leads down to Hatton, which is a couple of miles or so south.

A shame about the tyres! I don’t know who owns it now, but as it can be seen on Street View on Google Maps I do know it’s still derelict and the land is being used for storage.


A day at home to do research

Outside there’s thick snow on the ground, which has given me a good excuse to stay in all day and sort out my family history research files. There is so much to transfer onto here I don’t know where to start. The weather has also made me very, very grateful that I no longer have to go to work.

And I’ve had my first comment, from someone connected to my Aberdeenshire lines, so thank you Glen. Such success so early will hopefully spur me on.