Tag Archives: Aberdeenshire

Book recommendation: Illegitimacy, Sex and Society by Andrew Blaikie

Andrew Blaikie book

This is an academic book based on the author’s PhD thesis, and is also now out of print but I managed to find a secondhand copy. Worth looking for in a library if you have ancestors who were farm servants, ag labs and crofters in Banffshire or Aberdeenshire. The illegitimacy rate in that part of Scotland was much higher than in other parts of Scotland, and this book is an exploration of the reasons why that might have been, based on a very through analysis of parish registers and census data. In 1855 the overall illegitimacy rate for Scotland was 7.8% but in the northeast it was 13.0%. My Fraser family, from Cruden parish, did their best to contribute to that figure, which is why I was drawn to this book.

On 7 April

7 April 1884
John Edward Burton, first cousin three times removed, was born at Stanley, Yorkshire and lived at Alverthorpe. Thanks to digital images of most West Yorkshire CofE baptism, marriage and burial records now being online, as well as the census up until 1911, it’s been relatively easy to track down my Yorkshire born ancestors’s relatives. John worked in a mineral water bottling works and then a brewery before he married in 1912.

7 April 1893
Birth of Mary Ann Eliza Michael at Boddom, Aberdeenshire, daughter of my great great aunt Mary Ann Fraser and David Ewan Michael. Mary Ann’s family lived for a time, when she was a child, at Wickersgill near Shap in Westmoreland, England, where her father David was working as a granite quarry foreman, but by 1911 they were living at Little Tillyland in Cruden parish and Mary Ann was a 17 year old dressmaker. She married Thirlow Hill in 1912, who was also a granite quarrier, and had several children. When she died in 1956 they were living back in Boddam. That her family spent time living near Shap gives me a lovely little coincidence, as I’ve driven through Shap several times on my way to a holiday cottage to stay with friends for a Lake District walking weekend. At the time I didn’t know I had Scottish ancestors who used to live close by.

Book Recommendation: Farm Life in North-East Scotland 1840-1914 by Ian Carter

Farm Life Book

A good book to read if you want to know about the working lives of farm servants, agricultural labourers and crofters, and especially those who lived in Aberdeenshire and neighbouring counties. Takes a sociological stance and is an academic book, but gives a very thorough account of a lost way of life. Very good on the social relationships and “class” structure of farming communities, and the working lives of farm servants. Excellent bibliography for further reading.

On 29 March

29 March 1812
Ann Green was baptised at Worsbrough, Yorkshire, daughter of my ggggg uncle John Green, a bleacher. I’ve not yet found out at what happened to her – the records aren’t exactly abundant for back then.

29 March 1828
Agnes Fraser Morgan was baptised at Longside, Aberdeenshire. She was the daughter of Peter Morgan and Isabel Sangster, her mother being the sister of my gggg grandmother Janet Sansgter. I have a soft spot for Agnes Fraser Morgan as it was coming across her baptism that gave me a clue as to what became of Janet Sangster and allowed me to go back in time by several more generations. Finding the link to someone called Morgan also meant I was able to discover that my great grandfather William Fraser and his second wife Helen Ann Morgan were related. In 1841 Agnes Morgan age 13 is a servant in the household of Revd. John Cummings, an episcopal clergyman, in the parish of Longside. Unfortunately I can’t find anything further for her.

29 March 1919
Catherine Milton Fraser, illegitimate daughter of my half gg aunt Jessie Fraser, married William John Michael who was the son of my gg aunt Mary Ann Fraser. So they were half cousins, and the new mother-in-laws were half sisters. Catherine was a baker’s shop assistant and William a quarry fireman, and they lived in Aberdeen. Sadly, Catherine died in 1927 age 29, from tuberculosis, which was the cause of far too many premature deaths on my family tree.

They were married at the station buffet

There have always been differences in the marriage laws for Scotland and England. One difference was that, in Scotland, it only mattered that you were married by an authorised person, which for most people meant a man of the cloth. It didn’t matter where you got married. Hence the vast majority of Scottish marriages did not take place in the church (kirk), although the banns were read out at services. People in Scotland could therefore get married anywhere providing the minister agreed to attend. Up until around 1900 this usually meant the home of one of the couple’s parents, but from the end of the 19th century all sorts of places were chosen as wedding venues.

I have Scottish ancestors getting married at hotels, the minister’s house (the manse) and various local meeting rooms or community halls. But from 1899 to 1920, three of the children of my gg grandfather Alexander Fraser were married at the Station Buffet, Ellon, Aberdeenshire.

To me, a station buffet means a cafe next to the ticket office and the platforms, so I can’t help imagining a wedding going on while travellers queue for cups of tea and wait outside for their train. I don’t suppose that’s what happened, though. The station at Ellon is no longer there but the Station Hotel remains. Perhaps the Station Buffet was a room at the hotel next to the station.

Alexander Fraser had 15 children, two from his first wife and 13 with his second, so there were lots of weddings in that family and his children married in a variety of places. The eldest were traditional and married at Mosside, the family croft. One married in the church at Old Deer, and three were married in Aberdeenshire but as I’ve not yet looked at their marriage certificates I only know the parish, not the actual location. But a few of the younger children migrated to Canada and were married in Winnipeg.

Going back a generation, to William Fraser’s children, one was married at the Cruden Toll Bar, one at Cruden Parish School, one at the Manse at Ellon, and one splashed out and married at the Waverley Hotel in Aberdeen despite the fact neither he nor his bride lived in Aberdeen.

Over at the other side of Scotland, there were Strachan marriages at the Commercial Inn at Hurlford, Back Road Hall at Dailly and the Co-operative Hall in Cambuslang.

I’m aware that many people think their ancestors would have got married in a church. But if your ancestors were Scottish that would have been highly unlikely.

The value of old maps

The cottage at Mosside croft, home of my Fraser ancestors, was built of stone with a slate roof and is next to a stone walled steading (barn), but as the Frasers lived there from about 1840 I doubt these were the original buildings. Studying old maps has helped me pinpoint when the now derelict croft buildings might have been constructed.

The National Library of Scotland has loads of old maps online, so you can open a digital image and zoom in to the particular place you want to study. The web site can be found at http://maps.nls.uk

The OS 25 inch map surveyed in 1872 shows Mosside as below – Mosside isn’t named but it’s the one at the top of the lane numbered BM 331.2

Mosside 1872 Map 25%22

There seems to be one long building with a much smaller one behind it. Below is what appears on the OS 25 inch map surveyed in 1899, this time numbered BM 331.1. What I know as the cottage is now there, but it wasn’t in 1872.

Mosside 1899 OS Map 25%22

This seems to be convincing evidence that the stone cottage with the slate roof that’s still standing today was built some time between 1872 and 1899. This is interesting, as my gg grandfather Alexander Fraser took over the croft when my ggg grandfather William Fraser died in 1877. Perhaps it was Alexander who rebuilt it.

This leads to the question: what were the Frasers living in before then? There would have been one long low building, as shown on the 1872 map, divided into two – the people lived and slept in one half and the animals had the other half. It would have been built of rough stones, with a roof thatched with turf or heather. The floor was most likely dirt, perhaps incorporating some stone. Originally an open fire would have been in the middle of the floor, with an opening at the centre of the roof for the smoke. Chimneys came late to Scottish crofter’s cottages. All in all, it was primitive and not very comfortable – and no doubt damp, dark and smelly.

This means that in 1861 the old style, possibly one roomed cottage accommodated a household comprising William and his wife Christian, in their 50s, 2 of their adult daughters, their youngest son age 11, 5 grandchildren aged from 16 months to 6 years, and the pauper boarder John Black age 29. Where on earth did they all sleep? How did they feed them all at meal times?

When the new cottage was built, it looks as if the old one was converted into a steading, and the people and the animals finally had their own buildings. But the new cottage only had two rooms downstairs and one attic room upstairs so it wasn’t exactly large. When my mother went there for summer holidays in the 1920s, there would have been 10 people to be accommodated. My suspicion is that young men and boys still slept with the animals, and were bedded down in the steading.

Farm servant life in north-east Aberdeenshire

It’s been a busy week with little time for family history, but I’ve managed to write an article about how farm servants in my ancestors’ neck of the woods (the Buchan region in north-east Aberdeenshire) lived and worked. You can find it by clicking on the articles tab.

I’ve also done a bit more research into the lives of the offspring of William Fraser and his wife Christian Hutcheon. Most have been relatively easy to discover in the records, and so piece a life story together. But oh, Janet aka Jessie Fraser, what a tangled web you wove! I’m now up to five illegitimate children (including a pair of twins) with four fathers, and I suspect there’s one more to go. My favourite has to be this birth entry:

20 June 1872 Jane Fraser illegitimate at Mosside, Cruden, mother Jessie Fraser domestic servant.
Register of Corrected Entries:
With reference to No. 45 in the Register Book of Births for the year 1872 insert the following on the authority of a Certificate in the Form of Schedule (F):- In an action relating to the paternity of a child named …… ……… born June 20th 1872 against William Simpson shoemaker Peterhead, the Sherriff Court of Aberdeen & Kincardine (Peterhead District) on the 17th day of September 1872 found that the said child was the illegitimate child of the said Jessie Fraser and William Simpson. Entry corrected on 7 March 1873 at Cruden.

Janet aka Jessie clearly knew how valuable acknowledgment of paternity was! As this was her fifth illegitimate child, by 1872 she obviously knew the ropes very well. She never did get married but from her census entries she appears to have been well looked after by her children and grandchildren, was running a shop in Peterhead in 1911, and lived till the age of 76, which wasn’t bad going at all for those days.

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!

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.