Thursday, 19 February 2015

Scottish Mining Accident, Shotts, Lanarkshire

Paternity or aliment cases are only one type of case which were heard by the Scottish Sheriff Courts. As in the present day, there are many reasons why our ancestors may have used the Sheriff Court. These records can help us uncover our family history and add some interesting details about their lives.

While indexing paternity cases in Airdrie Sheriff court our volunteer, Margaret, came across this interesting and heart-wrenching story. While reading the following you may find it helpful to know that a fathom is equal to 6 feet or 1.83 metres.

What follows is a transcription of the entry found on pages 431-433 of the Airdrie Sheriff Court Register of Extracted Decrees (National Records of Scotland reference SC35/7/3).

“At Airdrie the second & Thirteenth day of December eighteen hundred and fifty nine years Sitting in judgment William Logie Esquire Substitute of Sir Archibald Alison Baronet Advocate Sheriff of the County of Lanark, in an action before the Sheriff-Court of the said County, at the instance of (Poor) Oliver Braiden a Miner residing at number Thirty five Bell Street Airdrie Pursuer against Thomas Russell Coalmaster at Greenhill in the parish of Shotts and County of Lanark Defender; The summons in which action concludes for the sum of Two hundred pounds Sterling being for damages sustained by the Pursuer as solatium in consequence of the Pursuer having on or about the Thirty first day of December 1858 years whilst in the employment of the Defender at number two pit Greenhill fallen down the shaft of said pit, - the same having no covering of any description whilst the Pursuer was engaged in oiling a hutch at the pit-head to take wood from the pithead to below ground, the occurrence having taken place betwixt the hours of three and four o'Clock of the morning of that day, whereby the Pursuer was precipitated down the said shaft and sustained severe personal injury, having fallen Twenty seven fathoms or thereby and has his right arm broken in two places his right shoulder dislocated, his left leg much bruised and his whole body so much injured that he was confined to bed under medical treatment for upwards of three months, and will never be able to work being disabled for life and in particular he has lost the use of this right arm and right hand entirely all in and through the culpable negligence and omission of the Defender or of those for whom he is legally responsible in having no covering on the mouth of said pit nor protection of any kind for the safety of the men and to prevent accident with Interest & expenses. The said Sheriff Substitute on the first date hereof after sundry steps of procedure and in respect the Pursuer had failed to lead evidence in the support of his averments in the libel Sustained & hereby Sustains the defences stated for the Defender & Dismissed and hereby Dismisses the action and Found and hereby Finds the Defender entitled to expenses, And on the second date hereof the said Sheriff Substitute Decerned & Ordained and hereby Decerns and Ordains the said (Poor) Oliver Braiden Pursuer to make payment to the said Thomas Russell Defender of the sum of Five pounds nineteen shillings and one penny Sterling of Expenses of Process Attour the sum of eight shillings Sterling as the expense of extracting this Decree & of recording the same (signed) John Laing Sh[erif]f Cl[er]k Dep[ute] Signed 2 March 1860
Written by Alex[ander] Forbes
Collated by John Laing [Sheriff Clerk] Dep[ute]

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Wednesday, 28 January 2015

The Scottish Naming Pattern

Have you ever wondered why so many people in your family tree have the same name? Is there a John in every generation and is searching the census really confusing because all the cousins of your family also have the same name? There is a simple explanation for this. It’s not that the parents were unimaginative when it came to choosing names but rather that they followed a ‘naming pattern’. The Scottish naming pattern is as follows: 1st son named after father's father 2nd son named after mother's father 3rd son named after father 1st daughter named after mother's mother 2nd daughter named after father's mother 3rd daughter named after mother Now the while the pattern can continue after the fourth son or daughter, it is our experience that few families consistently went that far. After six children there would almost always begin to be some duplication in names.

What does this mean?

If you have a couple called John and Elizabeth who name their eldest son William and their second daughter Janet you could hypothesise that John’s parents were called William and Janet. Why do I say ‘hypothesise’? The naming pattern should not be used as evidence but rather as a guide. If the surname is very common, or at least very common in the area, you could use the pattern to predict what the parents may be called. Once you find parents with those forenames you will still need to prove your theory using other sources.


There are a number of pitfalls. Firstly, do you have a list of all the children? If an older child died in infancy this could distort the pattern of names you have. When this happens you will often find a younger child is given the same forename. When you look at the list of children you have, is there a gap in the ages? Is one 10 in the census but the next child is aged 5? This can indicate that a child has died so look at the OPRs and gravestones. If one of the parents was illegitimate this can also change the naming pattern. In the case of a son, sometimes a family will use the name of the stepfather, other times the eldest child is named after its father of the mother’s father. A common issue is that both fathers have the same name (let's say John). As they would be very unlikely to name two children John (unless one had died) this can again add to the confusion. Another reason the naming pattern would change is when a new minister came to the parish. It was a common practice to name the first child baptised by a new minister after him. So if the name doesn’t seem to ‘fit’ in your family at all, find out the name of the minister.

Summing up

The Scottish naming pattern can be a very useful tool. Some families used it right through to the mid-20th century. Use it with caution though, it’s not evidence in itself but it may help point you in the right direction.

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Annandale Distillery

Researching The Water of Life!

We have assisted in researching the history of countless families over the years, but one research project that sticks in my mind is the Annandale Distillery. Back in 2006 we were asked to research the history of the distillery, which had closed around 90 years earlier.

When we conducted our research the buildings stood empty, lonely, cold and damp, a million miles away from the warmth of a Scottish distillery.

The Reawakening!
We were told however that the distillery would be reawakened. Many years of hard work culminated in the reopening last month, and what an awakening it has been!

The cold whitewashed buildings have been brought back to life and the first batch of spirits have now been casked. It will be three years before it can properly be called whisky, meaning the water of life, as it has to mature first. I’m sure it will be well worth the wait!

The Excisemen
Whisky distilling has had a long and colourful history. With few painkillers as we know them today whisky was a medicine of choice for Scots for centuries. It was used for many ailments and was often prescribed by doctors. It is no wonder then, that whisky means ‘the water of life’. Perhaps inevitably this high usage brought it to the attention of successive governments who imposed high taxes. During the 18th and early 19th century whisky distilling was almost entirely an illegal occupation!
Most Scottish distilleries have stories of how their whisky was smuggled across the hills, out of sight of the excise men! Annan is no different, there are accounts of smugglers from the Annan area being caught trying to take whisky across the border to England.

A change came in 1823 when the Excise Act was passed, and once again whisky distilling was brought out into the open. It was shortly after the passing of the Excise Act that we see the first references to the Annandale Distillery, which was operational from around 1830 until just after the First World War, a period of about 90 years.

From Exciseman to Distiller
George Donald, an excise officer, was posted to Annan in 1830. His mother, who was still living in Aberdeen, apparently thought George was being sent to the end of the world! George Donald rented the Warmanbie Home Farm from the
Mackenzie family, and soon after established the Annandale Distillery Company.

To learn more about this wonderful distillery and its history, read the ‘Reconstruction Diary’ or book a tour; you’ll not be disappointed!

Annandale Distillery in the 19th Century

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Body Snatching in Kirkintilloch

With the launch of our new website,, in August we have been starting to index records outside our home area in the Scottish Borders and Dumfries & Galloway. One of these records we indexed recently was Dumbarton Prison Register, 1828 to 1840. An interesting crime that we spotted along the way was ‘Raising and Carrying of the Body of a Woman from the old Burying Ground Kirkintilloch’ and ‘Violating Graves’! Both of these crimes were committed by one Peter Gardner.

Auld Aisle Graveyard Gateway and Watchhouse
© Copyright Martyn Gorman
This seems like a pretty gruesome crime that Peter committed so you may wonder why someone would do this. Until the passing of the Anatomy Act in 1832 it was very difficult for anatomists, surgeons or medical students in the UK to obtain bodies to dissect, which was a vital part of their education. One major reason the public objected to the use of bodies in this way, and therefore a reason for the creation of laws preventing the use of bodies by the medical profession, was that there was a belief that if your body was not buried whole you could not be resurrected on judgement day. This belief was so strong that it was viewed that allowing a body to be dissected was an extra punishment that could be handed out after death. For this reason it was only the corpses of convicted murderers that were given to the medical profession for dissection.

As you may be able to imagine there were simply not enough murderers for the medical profession! The need for corpses was so great that there was a very lucrative trade in dead bodies and in some instances this led to murder!

This is why Peter Gardner was willing to risk imprisonment for his lucrative backstreet profession. The Anatomy Act of 1832 changed everything. It gave legal access, by holders of a licence, to obtain unclaimed corpses. These corpses were often from prisons and workhouses, to be used by medical professionals. It also made provision for a person to donate the corpse of their next of kin to s school of anatomy.

Peter’s occupation, at least the illegal side of it, was now redundant and most of those buried in graves across Scotland would remain there.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Conservation at the National Library of Scotland

When we reach for a book our primary thoughts are likely on the contents. Whether we're reading for pleasure or study, it's probably the title of a book that made us pick it up.

There are groups of people, though, who pick up books with a different perspective. One such group can be found on the fourth floor of the National Library of Scotland (NLS). The conservation department have a mission to preserve and protect the holdings of the NLS and they do so with great diligence.

Their aim is to ensure that items are able to be viewed by the public, and in some cases digitised so that we can all view them online. This brings in a great variety of skills, and their remit is wider than we may at first imagine.

The conservation team are not only responsible for fixing damaged items (and preventing damage) but also caring for items when vital maintenance is taking place on the buildings in which they are stored. We all enjoy the NLS exhibitions, but have you ever considered how long it takes to prepare the items? The items need to be able to be viewed in a display case, but without careful preparation, such a display could cause damage.

Talking to the team yesterday, they told me that one item could take a day to prepare. They may need to wash the paper, conserve damaged areas then design a method of keeping the item stable while on display. It could be a matter of attaching a piece of paper to a board, or designing a made to measure book stand so you can read it easily in a display.

The team are constantly working to improve conservation methods too. For example, a recent project to preserve a vellum book gave the conservation team the opportunity to develop a new method of flattening pages. The traditional method wouldn't work due to the severity of the damage to the book. In the end, they used a wet solution then laid the book on a suction table, gradually increasing the suction to flatten the pages, how ingenious!

This visit will certainly make me think differently the next time I see a library or museum display. I suppose though the question for us is, what can we do to help them, and help preserve books and documents that we consult while tracing our family tree?

There are obvious things, handle with care. Use a cushion or other support for books and don’t open them too far. If you open a book and hear the spine crack that’s the glue and thread ripping apart and YOU are shorting the life of the book.

 © Copyright Kim Traynor
I asked, if there is one thing to remember, what would it be? The answer, use clean hands. How simple, we can all do that, can’t we? When a celebrity goes to an archive on a TV programme they are invariably given white cotton gloves. In reality however we don’t often wear them. While they may stop oils from our skin transferring to the books, they actually increase the possibility of tearing the book or documents, especially if the paper is fragile. If we wash our hands, though, this will also limit the transfer if oils from our hands to the documents.

My tour was part of the conservation workshop. Keep an eye on the National Library of Scotland’s website for future tours: they are free but do need to be booked in advance. If you are part of a group that would like a tour, contact the NLS and they would be happy to arrange one for groups of up to 15 people.

Monday, 13 October 2014

A Hawick Man's Brush with History

Winnie and Bob at home in Hawick
All of our ancestors played a part in history. No matter what they did, where they lived or who else remembers them we want to find out more about them, and the mark they made on their community or the wider world. Sometimes, though, there are certain discoveries that make you stop dead in your tracks.

This happened to me a few days ago. I was researching the Grieve family of Branxholm Braes, near Hawick. If you follow us on Flickr or Facebook you will have seen a lot of photos, postcards and even letters which belonged to this family. I have been going through the family archive and in the process I have come across three identical postcards (see front below) sent by Robert Grieve to his young wife Winnie in 1908. We’ll have to presume that the hotel only had one postcard on offer, either that or our Bob wasn’t very imaginative!

These precious postcards are dated January and February 1908 and posted from Celerina (Schlarigna) in Switzerland. Bob writes about curling matches in which he had taken part. On a postcard dated 15 February 1908, he writes ‘We have had a great victory to-day’. This made me curious, what competition was going on?

I headed to the British Newspaper Archive to search their large collection of newspapers. It didn’t take long to locate a reference to the championship. I found in an article in the Dundee Courier of 6 February 1908 (page 3) that our very own R. Grieve was playing in the International Bonspiel. 

There were several other results so I continued my search. Again an article in the Dundee Courier caught my eye, this time it was dated 4 February 1908 (page 6). Entitled ‘Scottish Curlers in Switzerland, Bonspiel at Celerina, Opening Day’s Play’, it begins:

“The great International bonspiel commenced this morning at ten o’clock. His Imperial Highness the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir-apparent to the Austrian throne, threw the first stone amidst the enthusiastic cheering of the curlers. The ice was in excellent condition.”

Another search revealed an article from the Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer dated 4 February 1908 (page 8):

“The fourth annual international curling bonspiel commenced on the Cresta rink here to-day. Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austrian throne, who is staying the the same hotel with the curlers, consented to throw the first stone, which he did with great accuracy and speed amid cheers from Scotchmen and Engandiners (sic).”

Today of course we are all too familiar with who the Archduke Franz Ferdinand was and the influence his death would have on the world.  Did ‘our’ Bob see him, did he meet him? We may never know, but this simple research shows that by reading family letters and postcards carefully and comparing these to other sources, such as the newspaper, you can build up a far more exciting picture of your family tree. 

He didn’t win by the way!

Friday, 10 October 2014

Researching Historic Mental Health Records in Scotland

Elmhill House, Royal Cornhill Hospital Aberdeen
Our health is perhaps one of the most precious things we have. Sadly, there are still too many people who suffer without treatment, without understanding and without hope. How did our ancestors, and their families, cope with life-changing health problems?

If an ancestor had a farming accident, for example, you may find a newspaper report. In such cases you may very quickly be able to gain some understanding of what the individual and their loved ones may have experienced.

Mental health, though, is very different. Sometimes, all we know comes from that final column in the census: ‘Lunatic’! Alternatively, we may have searched the census for a missing family member, only for them to turn up in a ‘Lunatic Asylum’. It can be a shocking discovery, and cause us to ask many questions.

This doesn’t have to be the end of the story, though, as you can find out a lot more about mental health problems and their treatment in the past. Some of the stories you may have heard may even be myths. Researching the original records may actually give you answers, and therefore peace.

For example, I had always had the idea that in the Victorian era thousands of people were locked up, and then they threw away the key! From our research here in Scotland we have found this was not always the case. Yes, there were some long term patients, but there also seems to have been many thousands who were in an institution for a short time only, and do not seem to have been re-admitted.

How can you dig deeper? One place to start is at the National Records of Scotland (NRS). There is a particularly useful set of records held there concerning those admitted to mental health institutions throughout Scotland from 1858 onwards.

The first of these is a national register detailing the patient’s name, the institution they were committed to, the date of their admission and the date of their release or transfer. This register even records those already in institutions in Scotland on 1 January 1858. The NRS references this register as MC7. They have kindly granted permission for me to share some example images with you taken from the ‘National Register’: click on the image to enlarge it and you should be able to read the entries on the page clearly. This page is taken from the volume MC7/1.

Secondly, there are individual patient admission forms, giving much more detail on the individual patient and their situation. In almost all cases you should be able to find a patient admission form corresponding to each entry in the ‘National Register’ just described. These admission forms are bound into volumes, one volume for each month from January 1858 onwards. The NRS references this series of volumes as MC2. The best way to understand these records is probably to read an example case for yourself, again click on the image to see a larger version. This example case is taken from volume MC2/47.

This set of records is excellent because it should contain everyone in a mental health institution in Scotland from 1858 onwards. It is possible, though, to dig even deeper and look at locally held records. Highland Archives in Inverness, for example, hold records relating to their area and you can consult these in their search room. Once you know which institution your ancestor was sent to, and the date of admission (information which is always given in the national record sets I referred to above), then you can start with the local archive and ask if they have the records of that particular institution, or know where they are held.

The Scottish Archive Network catalogue can also be used to search a number of archives throughout Scotland. Unfortunately, though, not all archives yet have a comprehensive catalogue available online, and in many cases there is no substitute for contacting the archivist directly.

I would urge you not to hide your ancestor’s mental health issues, as some families may have done in times past. Dig deeper into the records and you can come to a deeper understanding of your family’s history.

Search our existing Scottish records for free at