Tag Archives: social history

Online sources if you have Scottish ancestors

Thought I’d mention a few web sites I’ve found excellent for padding out the detail of my Scottish ancestors’ lives.

National Library of Scotland’s digital gallery – access point to historical maps of Scotland, Post Office directories, gazetteers of towns and parishes, plus lots of other fascinating stuff.

Statistical Accounts of Scotland – a very good read to get a feel for where your Scottish ancestors lived. The Old Statistical Reports were published in 1791-1799 and the New Statistical Reports in 1834-1845.

Brilliant site if you have Scottish coal mining ancestors. Lists of mines, copies of housing and other reports, and an index of coal mining deaths and accidents

Access to Scottish historical tax rolls from 1645 to 1831.

Ancestors migrating yet again

Gosh, my ancestors get everywhere – or at least the Scottish ones do. I’m now used to losing track of someone in the census in Scotland, only for them to turn up in Canada, USA, New Zealand or Australia.

In the mid to late 1800s Ayrshire coal miners were clearly being lured to work in newly opening USA mines, and many on my family tree were happy to answer the call. Some came back to Scotland, so it can’t always have been what they’d hoped for, but most stayed so I must have heaps of long lost cousins scattered all over the United States.

Today I’ve been padding out what I know about my Haggarty or Haggerty ancestors. My great great grandmother was Margaret Haggarty, who died at the age of 38 from what was probably typhoid. Not getting far with her parents, Joseph Haggerty and Jean Orr, I started researching her siblings. She had a brother Hugh who married Janet Muir and lived in Dundonald and then Kilwinning, but who died in about 1848. He’s in the 1841 census but only his widow and children are in the 1851 census and again in 1861. Then Ancestry gave a suggestion for his widow in the 1880 USA census so I had a look – and there she was, with two of her sons, in California.

They were living in Judsonville, Contra Costa County. According to Wikipedia, Judsonville is now a ghost town but used to be a town serving nearby coal mines. There’s information about it on the web, as it’s now become a coal mining preserve – http://www.ebparks.org/parks/black_diamond

According to the web site, “From the 1860s through the turn of the last century, five coal mining towns thrived in the Black Diamond area: Nortonville, Somersville, Stewartville, West Hartley and Judsonville. As the location of California’s largest coal mining operation, nearly four million tons of coal (“black diamonds”) were removed from the earth. The residents of the mining towns were from all over the world, and their life was characterized by hard work and long hours. Occasional celebrations and a variety of organizations and social activities served to alleviate the drudgery of daily existence. The coal mines had a significant impact on California’s economy. By the time operations ceased due to rising production costs and the exploitation of new energy sources, much of California’s economy had been transformed from a rural to an industrial base.”

So far I’ve no idea when they migrated or where they were after the 1880 census but I’m about to try and find out. It’s amazing where family history takes you, and what it teaches you about the world and its history.

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.

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.

The Scottish naming pattern

Mention of the Scottish naming pattern in a reply to a comment made me think it would be a good blog post. So here it is.

In Scotland, it was traditional to name children after particular relatives, in a set pattern:
First son named for father’s father
First daughter named for mother’s mother
Second son named for mother’s father
Second daughter named for father’s mother
Third son named for father
Third daughter named for mother

Thereafter, children were named after aunts, uncles and other assorted relatives. Sometimes they’d be named for someone who wasn’t a relative but was important to the family, such as an employer, a doctor, the minister of the kirk, etc.

If the person you were named after had the same surname as you, you didn’t get a middle name. If they had a different surname, you got their surname as your middle name.

This can be helpful in working out where a family belongs on the tree, but it wasn’t slavishly followed by everyone. It started going out of fashion towards the end of the 19th century, and if my family tree is anything to go by was well and truly out of fashion after WW1.

There are always anomalies, though. Now and again my Fraser ancestors named girls after male relatives, hence Williamina and Alexandrina. Sometimes they completely bucked the pattern and gave their children an unexpected name: I’ve yet to discover why Henrietta Susan Hutchison born in 1868, daughter of an Aberdeenshire crofter and tailor, was given a name that was so unusual for the time and place. And the two Sangster sisters who married and had children in the early 1800s must have been fans of their local doctor – hence Nathaniel Laurence Morgan and Nathaniel McWilliam being born within five years of each other.

You can have fun with this working out what you could have been called, or could have called your own children. I would have been Clara Green Strachan, so I’m not too unhappy my parents didn’t bother with it.

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.

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.

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.