Tag Archives: Aberdeenshire

Ancestor not a big fan of Bonnie Prince Charlie

I’ve always wondered whether my Scottish ancestors were Jacobites and on the side of Charles Stuart (Bonnie Prince Charlie) during the 1745 uprising. By no means all Scots were. My Strachan ancestors were lowlanders so were unlikely to have supported the Jacobite cause. My Aberdeenshire ancestors, however, lived close to Peterhead, where Charles Stuart’s ship landed in 1745 after sailing from France – but they were also Protestants, and one of the reasons for not supporting the Jacobites was the fear they’d turn Britain into a Roman Catholic country again.

However, many people possibly weren’t too bothered about politics and simply did their best to get on with their day to day life. Ian Macdonald’s lovely book about the Alexanders from Bourtie gives this wonderful insight. In the section about William Alexander, born 1714 and my gggggg grandfather, Ian writes:

‘He (William) gets a mention in a book by Dr William Alexander, which says that in 1745, during the second Jacobite uprising, there was a skirmish called the battle of Inverurie, during which “the tenant of Westerhouses, having in pursuit of his lawful business, got sufficiently near the scene of conflict to hear the balls fired off whizzing past in uncomfortable proximity to him, deemed it wise to make his way across the burgh muir homeward without needless delay”. Otherwise the Kirk Session simply complained about the inconvenience of the unsettled conditions.’

So life went on as best it could for many Scots!

Famous ancestor: William Alexander – radical, newspaper editor and novelist

William Alexander b. 1826

Reading Ian Macdonald’s book about the Alexanders of Bourtie, I was delighted to discover I’m related to William Alexander, born 1826, who became editor or the Aberdeen Free Press, a notable radical campaigner, and the author of Johnny Gibb of Gushetneuk, a novel about rural life written in the Doric dialect of the area and the time. Having done a bit of journalism in my time, and having written some short stories that have been published, and also having always been a bit of a radical, I feel very proud to know William Alexander and I share a genetic legacy.

William Alexander was born as Rescivet, Chapel of Garioch, son of a blacksmith who became a farmer. William went to school at Daviot and was intending to be a farmer, but lost a leg due to an accident. He wrote an essay on farm servants which won an essay writing competition, and as a result became a reporter for the North of Scotland Gazette. A year later he joined the Aberdeen Free Press, becoming sub-editor and then editor. The paper was very popular with farmers and farm servants. His journalist always espoused strong radical views, and he was a major supporter of the rights of tenant farmers. He became an elder of the Free Church, a director of the Royal Infirmary and served as a council member for the Aberdeen Philosophical Society. His novel Johnny Gibb of Gushetneuk was first published as a serial in the Aberdeen Free Press.

He can be tracked in the census. In and 1841 and 1851 he’s a farmer’s son at Chapel of Garioch, working for his father, but by 1861 he is a newspaper reporter living in Charlotte Street, Aberdeen with his sister Helen as his housekeeper. He then married Ann Allan in Aberdeen in 1867, the daughter of a shipmaster, and they lived at 3 Belvidere Street, Aberdeen: if you find the house on Google Maps you can just make out his name on the plaque by the front door of the fairly modest and very typical Aberdeenshire two story granite terraced house. Living with him in 1891 was his wife Ann, a visitor and a female servant. William and Ann did not have children, and William Alexander died in Aberdeen in 1894.

Book on CD: The Alexanders of Bourtie

Ian Macdonald, who is descended from my gggg grandparents Peter Watt and Helen Alexander, has done a superb job of researching the Alexanders from Bourtie in Aberdeenshire. He has published his research as a book on CD, which is available from the Aberdeen & NE Scotland Family History Society. I’m having a great time reading it and learning more my Alexander ancestors. Highly recommended if you have Alexanders from the Bourtie area on your tree as it’s very well researched and packed full of fascinating detail.

My trip to Scotland

Day one took me through Northumberland, with a couple of stops to see Roman sites, and then up into Scotland. On the road heading towards Jedburgh, this is the sight you’re waiting for.

Scotland sign
It’s in a lay-by and viewpoint, so you can park there and admire the undulations of border country.

Then it was off to Jedburgh, where there’s an abbey next to the river.

Jedburgh
In the car park I met Donald, a dale pony cross having a bit of break during a journey in a horsebox.

The next day I spent in Edinburgh at the records centre, trawling through the Longside kirk session minutes. This took all day, by the end of which my eyes felt as if they were on stalks. But the Longside minutes proved very useful as it was obviously a parish that took chasing up couples who’d “sinned” before marriage very seriously indeed. Made notes of lots of names that might belong on my tree, then struck gold: my gggg grandparents, who married in 1800, were fined 10 shillings each for indulging in pre-marital fornication. More about this is another post.

After Edinburgh it was up into the Cairngorms, through Braemar. Absolutely stunning scenery and the weather was glorious – warm and sunny. It is magnificent up there, though odd to drive past ski lifts when there’s no snow around. Difficult to take photos of distant views as they never come out as it looks in real life. But it is jaw-droppingly beautiful.

Highland view
Typical Highland view

Next day went to Balmoral, which was better than I was expecting. They’ve made it into a very good visitor attraction, and I’m not surprised the Royals love it there.

Balmoral
The castle itself is not huge, for a castle, and the grounds are mainly natural, but with a very interesting kitchen garden.

Queen's kitchen garden
This is the Queen’s veggie plot!

A walk along the River Dee was blissful.

River Dee
Beautiful scenery, lots of bird life and incredibly peaceful.

Then it was a drive towards the coast the next day, stopping to see castles, scenery and visit the Museum of Farming Life at Aden Country Park. There’s an excellent exhibition there, with a very good booklet that I bought telling the story of the transition from the early farmtouns to modern day farming. My ancestors were very much part of this transition so I found it fascinating.

Horseman's cottage
A reconstruction of a farm worker’s living room in the 1930s.

I made friends while there with two very nosy young cattle.
Friendly cattle
There’s also a rebuilt farmer’s cottage on the site, moved stone by stone and decorated as it was in the 1950s.

It was then time to visit ancestral haunts: first on the list was Collieston, where my gg grandfather Alexander Fraser lived and worked at least twice before he took over the family croft.

Collieston
Although not fisherfolk, my Fraser ancestors were familiar with the sea and the little fishing villages dotted along the Aberdeenshire coast.

Next stop was Cruden old Kirk. Last time I was there I took photos of the Fraser gravestone, giving details of my great grandfather, his second wife and two of their children. It was lying on its side then, as it had broken. So huge disappointment this time as it was no longer there – gone due to Health and Safety regulations I expect.

Cruden Old Kirk
There was no-one at the Kirk to ask, but I wonder what happens to stones that are removed for safety reasons.

Off to Mosside Croft next, north-east of Hatton. It was a ruin last time I saw it and it clearly hadn’t been touched since. Sad to think that over 100 years of blood, sweat and toil is now going to waste, but at least it’s still there.

Mosside Croft
I’d love to know when this cottage was built, as it isn’t the one that would have been there in 1841.

A wider view of the croft shows the steadings alongside, where the farm animals lived and machinery was stored. There are two here and the one nearest the cottage is clearly a lot older than the second one.
Mossude and steadings
My mother remembers holidaying here in the 1920s, and the field in front of the cottage was sown to crops, with grazing for the cows behind. My half great grandmother made cheese, they had hens for eggs and meat, and kept a pig for fattening up.

It seems very isolated now, but it wasn’t really: nearby crofts were only a very short walk away and a lot of farming tasks would be co-operative, crofters helping each other with ploughing and harvesting.
Nearby crofts to Mosside
That’s Hardslacks to the right and behind of Mosside croft.

Up towards Peterhead next, as many of my ancestors were quarry workers at Stirlinghill – a quarry that’s still in operation. Next to it is Lendrum Terrace, an address that turns up on the census as my gg aunt Mary Ann Fraser married David Ewan Michael, and they lived at Lendrum Terrace.

Lendrum Terrace and Quarry
In those days the view out to sea, taking in Boddam and Peterhead must have been spectacular. Today it’s somewhat marred by a rather large blot on the landscape.

View from Lendrum Terrace
Yes, it’s a power station!

Power is something Aberdeenshire produces plenty of: there are wind turbines everywhere. I know not everyone is a fan, but personally I think they look much nicer than a power station.

I had thought of perhaps spending a day in Aberdeen in the Local Studies Library but didn’t in the end: the weather was far too good to spend a day inside. So much of the time was spent soaking up the sun and fresh air.

Then it was a long drive back home, and farewell to Scotland – until next time.

Off to Scotland very soon

On Sunday I drive up to Scotland, stopping first at Edinburgh to spend a day at the National Archives looking at Kirk Session Minutes. As Edinburgh is not too long a drive away, and hopefully the weather will be okay, I’m doing the scenic route through Northumberland National Park and then through Border Country.

On Tuesday I’ll be off to Aberdeen, and again I’m taking the scenic route via Braemar and Balmoral. Cross fingers it’s not raining or foggy.

In Aberdeenshire I’ll be visiting ancestral homelands, the local studies centre in Aberdeen, and a few places of interest such as the Farming Museum at Pitmedden. Be interesting to see what’s happened to the Fraser family croft since I last saw it: it was uninhabitable then and no doubt still is.

I am SO looking forward to being up there again!

On 16 May

All sorts today: a crofter/ag lab who lived to 93, a coal miner who married three times plus had an illegitimate child with his cousin, a musical Strachan who was a pipe major on Tyneside, and a salmon fisher Aberdeenshire ancestor.

16 May 1779
Baptism of my gggg grandfather Peter Watt at Bourtie, Aberdeenshire, son of John Watt and Helen Davidson. In 1805 he married Helen Alexander at Bourtie. He seems to have spent his younger years working as a farm servant, as the elder children of Peter and Helen were born in different parishes: Bourtie, Udny, Fintray, Chapel of Garioch and then in Rayne from 1818. He’d probably taken the lease of a small croft in Rayne by 1818, as he lived the rest of his long life there. In 1841 Peter and Helen are living at Meikle Wartle in Rayne and he’s an ag lab; they’re still there and he’s still an ag lab in 1851 at age 72, with a daughter and a grandson with them. In 1861 he’s at the same croft, an 81 year old labourer, with his wife, a daughter, and two children described as nephew and niece but who are his grandchildren. Nor surprisingly he’s a retired ag lab in 1871 as he’s 91 and his wife is 85, and they have a daughter and granddaughter with them. Peter Watt died in 1872 at the age of 93, from senile debility. The farm servant and crofting life seems to have been good for his health.

16 May 1813
Birth of Andrew Strachan at Riccarton, Ayrshire son of my gggg uncle Robert Strachan and Jean Kelly. A coal miner, Andrew married Elizabeth Howat in Kilmarnock in 1834 and the had 7 children. In 1841 the family are at Perceton Row, Dreghorn with plenty of relatives as neighbours. Elizabeth died in around 1845 and I don’t know the cause, but at the time there were epidemics of typhus and cholera. Andrew married Margaret Todd in 1847 and had 2 more children, then Margaret died in about 1850. In 1851 he and his children are at Macreadie’s Land, Dreghorn (the Macreadie family were local land and coal mine owners). With the family is Elizabeth Strachan age 22, general servant: she was the daughter of Andrew’s uncle John Strachan and his second wife Jean Wallace. Elizabeth gave birth to an illegitimate daughter the following year with the father named as Andrew Strachan. I can’t find any records for Elizabeth after the birth of her daughter, but Andrew married Jean Walker in about 1854, though there is no marriage record to be found. In 1861 they are in Riccarton with the younger of Andrew’s children, a child of Jean’s and two of their own, plus domestic servant Christina Braden. They were to have more children before Andrew Strachan died in 1864 at the age of 52 of pulmonary tuberculosis, which he’d had for 2 years.

16 May 1866
Birth of Munro Strachan at Dreghorn, Ayrshire son of John Strachan and Agnes Scott and grandson of my ggg uncle Munro Strachan. He was a coal miner, married Elizabeth Crawford, and had 6 children. They first moved to Lanarkshire and lived in Dalziel, the in 1901 they are Tynemouth, Northumberland, Munro working as coal hewer. In 1911 they are in Wallsend-on-Tyne and Munro is still working in the coal mines, but he clearly had other interests, for in 1914 Munro enlisted. He’d previously been in the Volunteer Scots Rifles and on his army papers it says he was a pipe major. Online is the sheet music to “Jeannie Strachan” composed by Pipe Major Munro Strachan, so he must have been a prominent piper in his day. His wife Elizabeth died in 1923 at Tynemouth, and there is a marriage for Munro Strachan and Annie Chapman in Tynemouth in 1925. Munro Strachan died in 1946 at Fylde, Lancashire, where his daughter Jeanie lived. There is also a marriage of Munro Strachan, furniture salesman, in Fylde in 1942 and a son born to that couple in 1943. If it’s the same Munro, he would have been 75 when he married, 76 when he fathered a son, and died years later. There’s a chance it could have been his son, though, but I haven’t researched it fully yet.

16 May 1867
Birth of Alexander Morrison at Cruden, illegitimate son of my ggg aunt Isabella Fraser and James Morrison of Hatton: his baptism is in the Cruden OPR and the father is named. The following year his mother married George Wallace of South Hay Farm, Cruden, and in 1861 Alexander is living with his mother and stepfather. In 1871 he’s a farm servant to George Sangster at Midtown Farm, Cruden, and in 1880 he married Agnes Gall at Peterhead. By 1891 he’s had a change of career and is salmon fisher living at Boddom with his wife, stepson and 4 month old son. In 1891 he’s still a salmon fisher but has moved to Gamrie, Banffshire and had 3 more children, but he was back in Boddom by 1894 as he was informant for the death of his mother. Then by 1901 they family have moved to Rosehearty, and had another 2 children. I’ve not researched him beyond 1901.

16 May 1908
Birth of Mary Porter Strachan at Crookedholm, Ayrshire daughter of my great uncle Colin Haddow Strachan and Agnes Porter. Poor little Mary died in March 1909 at less than one year old.

On 9 May

Today: my grandfather’s birthday, and a Strachan ancestor who disappeared from the records for 35 years.

9 May 1807
Birth of Thomas Strachan at Riccarton, Ayrshire, son of my gggg uncle Robert Strachan and Jean Kelly. Nothing else can be found for him so the assumption is Thomas died when young.

9 May 1895
Happy birthday Grandad! My grandfather James (Jim) Fraser – who I knew well and remember with great fondness – was born at Aikenshill farm, parish of Foveran, Aberdeenshire, son of William Fraser and Helen Hay. His father William, from Cruden, was working there as a farm servant. In 1901 Jim was with his father, mother and 3 siblings at Mill of Brogan, parish of Slains, where his father was the head cattleman. Very sadly, his mother Helen died in 1903 when Jim was 8 years old, and shortly afterwards the family moved to Hatton village. Jim acquired a stepmother, Helen Ann Morgan, in 1907. I’m not sure what he did before the war – he mentioned caddying at Cruden Bay golf course – but in 1911 he’s not with his family but there is a James Fraser age 15 born Foveran at Turner Hall Farm, Ellon working as a farm servant horseman. His days as a farm servant were limited, though, as in September 1914 he joined the Gordon Highlanders and went to Bedford for training. His battalion landed at Boulogne in May 1915, and in 1916 they were on the frontline at the Battle of the Somme. Jim was shot in the left wrist in November 1916 at Beaumont Hamel and repatriated to an army hospital in Leeds, at Beckett’s Park next to Kirkstall. On his discharge in 1917 he stayed in Leeds and went on a training course, becoming a painter and decorator. He took lodgings in Kirkstall, round the corner from where Clara Green was living with her parents and siblings. Jim and Clara married in 1919, lived in Kirkstall and had 2 daughters, the youngest being my mother Dorothy. Jim never went back to Aberdeenshire to live but took his family for holidays on the Fraser croft while his father was alive, and relatives often came to stay in Leeds. Before his retirement Jim worked for Samuel Smith’s brewery, decorating pubs. He died in 1971 in Leeds.

9 May 1896
My ggg aunt Jean Strachan, widow of Hugh Jamieson, died at Irvine Poorhouse. She was the daughter of John Strachan and Agnes Neilson, born in Riccarton, and married muslin weaver Hugh Jamieson in Kilmarnock in 1837. They don’t appear to have had children, and Hugh Jamieson died in 1861. Jean then disappears as despite a thorough search I can’t find her in any further census. But she died in 1896: her death certificate has her as the widow of Hugh Jamison and daughter of John and Agnes Strachan. She died at Cunningham Combination Poorhouse at Irvine of cardiac disease. I wish I knew where she went to after her husband died.