Monthly Archives: February 2013

That distinctive “Fraser look”

Thanks to images for US Passport Applications being online, I was able to see a photo of my 1 cousin 2 removed (my family tree software kindly worked that out). Alexander Michael was born 1891 at Boddom, Aberdeenshire to David Ewan Michael and wife Mary Ann Fraser, so he and my grandfather had the same grandparents. Alexander migrated to Massachussets in 1912 and was naturalised when he enlisted with the US Army during WW1. This meant he needed a passport for a trip to Scotland, with his wife, in 1924, and as a result I can see what he looked like, which is:

Alexander Fraser

The thing that strikes me is how closely he resembles my grandfather. I can also think of a couple of male relatives who have similar features, and I now think of this as the “Fraser look”. Of course, it may have been handed down through the grandmother my grandfather and Alexander shared, rather than their grandfather, so could actually be a “Logan look”. It meant, however, that I could go “yes, this one’s mine” as soon as I saw the photo and before I read the details on the application (which fortunately fitted perfectly).

My grateful thanks go to cameras and to modern day online technology.

Morgan page, the joy of FreeCen and fascinating 1841 demographics

As my step-great-grandmother turned out to be related to my Fraser family from way back, I’ve given the Morgans their own page. I can now say I have 9 great-grandparent lines instead of the usual 8.

There seemed to be a lot of related families living in the Nether Kinmundy area of the parish of Longside in the early 180os, so as the Aberdeenshire 1841 census is on FreeCen, the free to access census transcription site, I went to have a rummage around. FreeCen lets you easily see who the neighbours were, and sure enough, that part of Longside was littered with familiar surnames. There must have been an awful lot of employing distant relatives as farm servants and marrying distant relatives going on!

Kinmundy looks like it was a farming estate in those days – a “farm toun” as they were called in Scotland, which was a sort of hamlet or small village clustered around the “big” farm, often called Mains of —. There was a row of cottages in the 1800s called Long Row, and looking at the residents in 1841 I was struck by how many older women were living there. That included Janet Sangster, who became Janet McWilliam but was called Janet Sangster again when widowed. Did Nether Kinmundy have a particularly benevolent proprietor who ensured the old, retired and widowed were taken care of?

The “big house” at Mains of Nether Kinmundy was occupied by John Hay, farmer, his wife and five children age 10 and under, with 4 female servants including an overseas-born governess. The 1851 census says it was a farm of 160 acres and in 1861 it’s of 200 acres, which is big for that time and place. Also living in Nether Kinmundy were (heads of households only named and with age):
John Sangster 30 wheelwright and his wife
James Watson 28 ag lab, wife and child
Grace Thomson 50, her son a farmer, 3 younger sons, a female servant, a male farm servant and a visitor
Mary Strachan age 75 independent
Ann Morgan 65 independent
James Milne age 25 ag lab, wife and 4 children
Alexander Farquhar 27 ag lab, wife and child
Christian Mackie 50 female ag lab and 2 children
Gilbert Robb 55 ag lab and wife
William Walker 35 ag lab, wife, 2 children and 1 female adult
James Slessor 52 dyker and wife
Janet Ellis 30 ag lab
Mary Taylor 30 ag lab and child
Isabella Davidson 30 independent and 4 children
Janet Sangster 54 ag lab and 2 children (my ancestors)
Jean Leslie 96 independent and 2 children, including son who was a merchant
Isabella Steven 65 independent
James Hutcheon 60 ag lab and wife
Janet Laurence 68 independent, daughter and three grandchildren
William Keith 67 ag lab and wife, daughter and grandchild
George Keith 70 mason, wife and 1 female adult
George Rainnie 45 weaver
Alexander Gillon 30 shoemaker, wife and 5 children
Teresa Strachan 74 independent

That means there were 12 households headed by men and 12 headed by women, with 9 households headed by people of over 60. A very interesting demographic was going on here.

When two lines link

Today I came across a marriage that very nicely rounds out my research into illegitimate William Fraser.

William’s mother, Janet Sangster, married William McWilliam and her illegitimate son seems to have been brought up by her and her husband, along with their own children. William Fraser took on the lease of Mosside Croft, just a few fields away from where his mother lived, and eventually the croft was taken over by his son Alexander and then his grandson William. William the younger married and had children, then tragically his wife died. But, as most men did in that situation, he remarried. His second wife was Helen Ann Morgan, who my mother remembered from her childhood holidays at Mosside Croft.

I’ve often noticed that second wives seem to be linked to the man’s family in some way, and can’t help wondering whether the family looked around for someone suitable to act as housekeeper and, when nature took its course, as wife and mother of more children. So did William and Helen know they were related? For they were – their great-grandmothers were sisters.

William Fraser, great-grandchild of Janet Sangster, married Helen Ann Morgan, great-grandchild of Janet’s sister Isobel Sangster, who had married Peter Morgan.

So it turns out that the step great-grandmother I didn’t think was a blood relation turns out to be a relative after all, albeit distantly.

The Peter Morgan who married Isobel Sangster back in 1815 was, I suspect, the son of George Morgan and Margaret Logan. Janet Sangster’s grandchild Alexander Fraser married Mary Ann Logan. I’ll have to do more research on her and see if she was related to Peter Morgan’s mother!

My Haddow ancestors from Ayrshire

I’ve just added details to the Haddow page, which tells of my Great Grandmother Jeannie Haddow and her parents John Haddow and Amelia Murphy. I was glad to discover Amelia, as this told me why the name Amelia has run in the Strachan family: I had an aunt Amelia, known as Milly, who migrated to Canada. She was my father’s favourite sister and he missed her.

So that’s all the pages for my grandparents and great grandparents lines done now. When I have time I’ll write up what I know about the families that connect to my great great grandparents through marriage, and add more detail about the lives of the ancestors I’ve already put on a page.

Today, however, it is Sunday and it’s lovely and sunny outside, a very welcome change after the snow and rain of last week, so ancestors will have to wait as the garden is in need of some urgent maintenance.

A happy update to the Fraser page

I’ve just been updating my Fraser page, as after further research I’m now sure I’ve pinned down the parents of my ggg grandfather, who was born in 1805.

The Janet Sangster I identified as his mother most certainly was his mother. After researching where she lived after she married, and what become of the children she had with her husband William McWilliam, there are lots of overlap between her, her children and “my” William Fraser. It’s nice to know William grew up in a family household and, after he’d left home, was to remain in close contact with his mother and his half-siblings. It looks as if the McWilliam family lived on a croft at Nether Kinmundy, which although in the parish of Longside is just a few fields away from Mosside, where William Fraser leased the croft that was to be the Fraser family home until the late 1940s.

The moral of the story is that if you have what you think of as a brick wall, keep revisiting it, keep researching, and one day just one little clue might make you think a little bit differently, and down the wall tumbles.

I still need a bit more evidence, though, before I can say for sure that wounded at Waterloo William Fraser was the father.

Was my ancestor wounded at Waterloo?

There is no doubt that a William Fraser from Cruden was wounded at Waterloo. What I can’t prove is that he was my ancestor, although there’s good circumstantial evidence.

I have long suspected that my GGG Grandfather, William Fraser, is the one baptised in Cruden in 1805 – the OPR reads “27 May 1805 John Sangster in Burnthill presented a child to baptism begot in fornication by William Fraser (as the mother Janet Sangster affirms). The child was baptised and named William. Witnesses John Davidson and William Sangster.” William went on to marry in 1828 in the parish of Longside, which borders Cruden to the north-west, and by 1841 was settled at Mosside Croft, close to the parish border between Cruden and Longside, not far from Burnthill (also known as Brunthill). On his death certificate his father is given as William Fraser.

The question has been – who was the William Fraser reputed to be his father? When William born 1805 died in 1877, his son James was the informant for the registration and knew his grandfather was William Fraser but wasn’t able to name his grandmother. So he seems to have known something about the father William but nothing about the mother Janet. This summer I am going up to Aberdeenshire and intend to study the Kirk Session Minutes and Poor Law Records in case they provide any more clues.

However, I have long wondered if the father William was William Frazer baptised 3 January 1778 Cruden, father Donald Frazer. It’s the only one in the OPR that is at all close, though it’s quite possible that the one I’m after isn’t in the OPR. But a William born in Cruden in 1778 puts him in the right age group and the right place.

So yesterday, I revisited this and looked to see whether a William Fraser born in 1778 was still in the area in later years. And he was. He’s in the 1841, 1851 and 1861 census living with relatives at Brick Works, Peterhead. The brickworks were at Invernettie, south of the town of Peterhead and up the main road from Cruden parish. In 1861 William Fraser age 79 is described as a Chelsea Pensioner, which means he was in the army and receiving a pension.

The Chelsea Pensioner records are online, and I found: “92nd Regiment of Highlands: William Fraser Private Soldier in Capn. Angus Fraser’s company, born in the Parish of Cruden, was enlisted at the age of 24 and has served in said regiment for 10 years … in consequence of gun shot wound received in the left hip joint, right thigh and left arm, while in action with the enemy at Waterloo on the 16th & 18th June 1815 is rendered unfit for further service, and is hereby discharged … said William Fraser is about 33 years of age, 5ft 8ins, fair hair, grey eyes and fresh complexion, and by trade is a labourer. Statement of service: 92nd Foot 25 July 1806 to 24 July 1816 and served at Waterloo 2 years.”

His age is a bit out, which wasn’t uncommon for someone who couldn’t read and didn’t have written evidence of birth. He was baptised in 1778, so if he joined up in 1806 he was actually 28 and not 24.That he joined up just a year after the birth of illegitimate William Fraser means he could well have been doing his labouring – as an agricultural labourer most likely – in the Cruden area at the time of William’s conception.

I then downloaded Chelsea Pensioner William’s 1864 death certificate and discovered his parents were Donald Fraser soldier and Margaret Sharp. So he is the William I’ve had my eye on from the OPR baptisms.

Donald Fraser was also in the 92nd Regiment and received a pension. His record reads “Donald Fraser age 51, labourer, born in Scotland, served with 92 Regiment as Sgt., was discharged 1795 after 24 years with ??th Foot and 2 years with 92nd. Discharged due to being old and long in the service, and the regiment being ordered to be reduced, and having been before a pensioner.”

Although Donald was in the army for 25 years up to 1795, it wasn’t continuous service as he’d previously received a pension. It looks as if he was in the army, then settled in Cruden where he married and had children, then enlisted again in the early 1790s when the 92nd Regiment (which became the Gordon Highlanders) was raised due to the war with France.

So although not proven, there’s a possibility that my Fraser ancestors were Gordon Highlanders at the time of the Napoleonic Wars. There’s a nice link to later time, as my grandfather James Fraser fought with the Gordon Highlanders in WW1 and was discharged wounded after being shot at the Battle of the Somme.

When the illegitimate William Fraser born 1805 died in 1877, his son knew who his father was. Was there still a connection? Did army pensioner William Fraser know about his illegitimate son William? Did the family tell the story of his army exploits and wounding at Waterloo? These are unanswerable questions but it makes for a great story!

An awful lot of bastards

I doubt if there’s anyone who can claim to have a family tree without any illegitimate births on it, but it’s clear that my north-east Aberdeenshire lot had the production of bastards down to a fine art. Having researched this to see if there’s an explanation for what was going on, I realise it was pretty normal for their place, time and occupation.

A lot of postings I’ve seen on family history forums assume their ancestors would have been ashamed and guilty of an illegitimate birth, and that it would have been deviant and abnormal behaviour. But often this may not have been the case. In particular, the illegitimacy rate was so high among the farming communities of north-east Aberdeenshire that it must have been seen as normal. And from what I’ve been able to extrapolate from baptism, birth and census data, there was no attempt to hide the fact of illegitimacy.

In nearly all cases, the young woman had been working and living on a farm as a resident servant, and not living with her parents. So had the father. Perhaps there was no opportunity to marry and set up home together or perhaps there hadn’t been any intention to marry. But the resulting child would most often live with its maternal grandparents, on the family croft, while the unmarried mother continued working as a farm servant. Such children can be spotted in the census described as grandchildren, usually carrying their father’s surname even though their parents weren’t married and their father probably wasn’t around. The vast majority of the unmarried mothers subsequently married, but not to the father of their illegitimate offspring. Their child or children from previous liaisons would then have a stepfather, in many cases ultimately taking his name, although sometimes the child stayed with its grandparents.

There’s a very good chapter by historian Andrew Blaikie in the book A History of Everyday Life in Scotland 1800 – 1900 that puts this phenomena into perspective. He also wrote the academic book Illegitimacy, Sex and Society: Northeast Scotland 1750 – 1900 which I’m currently re-reading to get a better understanding of what was going on. It’s not a light read but it’s very good.

One thing I’ve learned, through all this ancestor research, is that you have to resist making judgements about your ancestors based on your own, contemporary viewpoint. Ancestors were constructs of their own time, place and society, so trying to understand them means you need to develop an understanding of the political, economic and social history of their times.

Three ancestors on one OPR page

I decided it was time to spend some money downloading the actual OPR pages from ScotlandsPeople for some of my early Fraser ancestors rather than going just from FamilySearch entries. And I hit lucky with my very first download.

For whatever reason, a lot of the Cruden OPR looks like a copy, as it’s all in the same hand writing and is not in date order. The order of the baptisms listed on the one page I downloaded are 1828, 1854, 1849, 1852, 1845, 1853 and 1830. My suspicion is that when official registration began in 1855, someone decided to produce a copy of the Cruden OPR that wasn’t in chronological order. I’d love to know why, but I have to be grateful it was done as the result is that just one page contains three baptisms that are of my ancestors – so I got three for the price of one.

Isabella Fraser 1828

This is the baptism of my GG Aunt Isabella Fraser in 1828, which gives a good deal of detail for an OPR. But on the same page I found two more relevant baptisms.

William Fraser 1830

This is the baptism for my GG Uncle William Fraser in 1830, again with some very useful detail.

Mary Ann Matthew 1854

And finally, this is the baptism for the illegitimate daughter of my GG Aunt Janet Fraser with Thomas Matthew. This one has left me intrigued to know who the witness Robert Fraser was, as so far there is no Robert Fraser on my family tree so I don’t know how he was connected. A good clue to follow up, though.

Buried in a woollen shroud

I came across this burial record when looking through the OPR for Royston, north of Barnsley. I am very grateful that Royston has been included within the West Yorkshire OPRs that have been digitised and made available on Ancestry, as it’s where my Senior or Senyer ancestors lived.

Burial Thomas Senyer
I think it says:

1680 “Thomas Senyer of Notton was buried January the 19th George Senyer of Notton aforesaid did make an oath the 26th day of January before Jasper Blytheman Esquire that he was buried only in woollen, —– Harison and Joseph Norton did set their hands and seals to the said affidavit as witnesses”

(Has anyone any ideas what Mr. Harison’s first name might be?)

The reason for making such a formal oath was the Burial in Woollen Act of 1678 which made it the law for everyone, except those who died of the plague, to be buried in a shroud made only from English woollen cloth. The law required an affadavit to be sworn in front of a JP. Anyone not complying was fined £5, which was a lot of money in those days. The act was brought in to give the English wool trade a boost, and to prevent the use of imported cloth.

The woollen fabric most often used would a kind of flannel, in white or as near to white as they could get. It was most often like a long shirt which wrapped over the feet. The body might then be put into a wooden coffin, but some people, particularly the not so well off, were simply buried in the shroud. Some churches had a communal coffin that could be used to transport the corpse, but it wouldn’t be buried with the corpse.

Some OPRs just have A of Aff next to the burial entry to indicate the affadavit had been made, but whoever kept the Royston Parish Register obviously wanted to make absolutely certain nobody had to pay the £5. Exemption was allowed for the very poor, and their burial entries can sometimes say “naked”, meaning the body hadn’t been wrapped in a shroud.

The law wasn’t repealed until 1814, but by the early 1700s it was mostly being ignored. However, woollen coffins are today making a comeback on environmental grounds – there’s a company here in Leeds making them.

Working as an ag lab until at least age 81

I’ve recently been doing online research into a line that links into my Fraser line by marriage. What a joy it was to come across a marriage of two people who were both baptised in the same parish some years earlier, went on to have all their children baptised in the same parish, and lived long enough to be in the 1841, 1851, 1861 and 1871 census, always at the same address.

It makes me wonder what their life together was like. Peter Watt was born in Bourtie, Aberdeenshire in 1779 and his future wife Helen Alexander in the same parish in 1785. They married in Bourtie in 1805, and over the next 17 years had at least 8 children. They made their first appearance in the census in 1841 at age 60 and 55, at a place with the wonderful name of Meikle Wartle. Peter Watt was a good old ag lab and was still an ag lab at 72 in 1851 and at 81 in 1861. By 1891, at 93 years old, he’d finally progressed to being a retired ag lab.

Most conveniently for their future family historians, they both waited until after the 1871 census to say goodbye to life. Helen went first on 1 January 1872 at 86 and Peter soon followed her in May 1872 at 93. On both death certificates the cause of death is given as simply senile debility. Clearly working as an ag ab for 70 years didn’t do Peter any harm, and puts grumbling about raising the pension age to 66 into perspective!

If all my ancestors had lead lives like theirs I’d have a lot more names on my tree than I do (and I have an awful lot). But on the other hand, I enjoy tussling with a problem. As nice as it was to race backwards so quickly, I suspect my research would start to feel a little dull if it was that easy with all of my ancestors.