Tag Archives: Marriage

Conversations with the past

In the car earlier this evening, with the radio on, I listened to an interview with Mary Beard, the classicist academic. She talked of how studying history ought to be about having conversations with the past, rather than standing back from it in awe, and I was struck with how apt that phrase is when applied to family history. For that’s what we do, isn’t it? Our ancestors may no longer be around to actually talk to, but by discovering who they were, how they lived, and what was going on in their world they come alive to us and become so much more than a name and a few dates.

But we do need to understand their time and society as it can be dangerous to think our culture and attitudes applies to them. On an online forum this week, someone posted a message expressing surprise that a Scottish ancestor got married, in the 1860s, at a farm and not in church. He couldn’t understand why they’d chosen not to get married in the church. What he was assuming was that a church ceremony was the norm and his ancestor was therefore deviant. But in Scotland in the 1860s hardly anyone got married in church. The home of the bride or groom was the most usual location, but the ceremony could be conducted by a minister at any location. It would actually have been deviant to get married in church.

Once we start developing that kind of knowledge, we can have a proper conversation with the past – questioning, interrogating, thinking about what ifs, and using the facts we manage to find out like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, imaging what the missing pieces could have shown. We’ll never know what we imagine is right, of course, but the point isn’t about coming to final conclusions – it’s about the conversation.

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.