Tag Archives: Old Parish Register

Update to Hutcheon page

I’ve just added a scan of the OPR baptism of Agnes Bruce to the Hutcheon page. She was illegitimate and it looks as of her father, Andrew Bruce, came from Cruden. There are a few words that are difficult to decipher so I’m including the scan here. Anyone want to figure out what it says? I think it’s:

” October 1st Bruce Andrew Bruce in the Cruden ???? ??????? had a child born of Isbel Keith in this parish begotten in fornication and baptised Agnes John Farquhar in little Milbo(?) being sponsor Witnesses the said John Farquahar and Alexander Milne Kirk Officer

1781 Baptism Agnes Bruce

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New: article about Scottish Parish Registers

I’ve added an article about Scottish Old Parish Registers (OPRs). It’s really helpful to fully understand the documents you use for research, and from reading genealogy forums I’m awqre that OPRs cause most of the frustrations. Our brickwalls most often happen because we just can’t find the baptism or marriage we need in the surviving OPRs, or we find an entry we think might be right but there just isn’t enough evidence to be certain.

In the article I’ve discussed the problems encountered by lack of detail in OPR entries, lack of an entry in the OPR even though a baptism or marriage probably did take place, lack of a baptism or marriage having happened in the first place, and difficulties reading and transcribing OPRs.

Hope you find it interesting and useful.

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!

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.