Monday, 31 March 2014

Illegitimate Ancestor? Try the Sheriff Court!

Thanks to our wonderful volunteer, Margaret Hamilton, we now have an extensive index to ‘paternity’ cases found in the Sheriff Courts of southern Scotland.

What are we indexing

We are indexing cases where the mother of a child took the father to court for aliment, to help her provide for the child. In these cases the child is almost always illegitimate. The mother had to prove who the father was: It’s genealogical gold dust!

See our help pages for more information on how the process worked.


At the moment we have indexed the following courts for the following years:

Dumfries 1830-1914
Duns 1830-1914
Jedburgh 1831-1892
Peebles 1837-1914
Selkirk 1830-1914


Searching our online collections is absolutely free and there is no need to register. If you wish to keep up-to-date you can subscribe to my newsletter.

You can search by any one or a combination of the following search fields:

Mother’s forename
Mother’s surname
Father’s forename
Father’s surname
Year of birth
Year of case


If a child is recorded in the census with a different surname to the mother it is probably the father’s surname, use it to narrow down the search results.

Search Results

Our online index gives comprehensive results:

Pursuer's Name, Occupation and Residence
Defender's Name, Occupation and Residence
Year the Child was born
Year of the Case
Name of Court

Seeing the full record

The index should be enough to identify records relating to your family. You can then order the decree from us for just five pounds. For the research fee of five pounds we transcribe the entry and email that to you along with digital images* of the decree.

It may also be possible to find additional court material, such as witness testimonies. If it is possible in your case we will advise you of this when we send you the transcription of the decree.

*Please note that any images given to you by Maxwell Ancestry of National Records of Scotland documents are provided for your own personal research and may not be published [including online] without the relevant licences/permissions being granted.

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Last Day of Who Do You Think You Are? Live - What Not to Miss

We’ve been having a really great time in London, not only seeing the sights, but also enjoying  Who Do You Think You Are? Live. We’ve met some really interesting people at the event, which is the largest of it’s kind in the UK. It was also announced this week that Who Do You Think You Are? Live will be coming to Glasgow at the end of August, exciting news for those with any interest in Scottish genealogy.

It’s been great to be able to meet people face to face rather than just chat on Twitter! Talking in person helps you to understand what motivates people and what they want to achieve. You also discover the special interests that set them apart from other genealogists.

If you’re planning to attend today (Saturday 22 February 2014) here are a few highlights to make sure you catch:

Stand 320

Family Tree magazine are giving away their March edition at the fair. Watch our short interview with the editor to learn more about them.

Stand 530

My Heritage - A great site to share your family tree as well as grow it. Go to their stand to see how it works.

Stand 424

Borders Journeys  - At this stand you’ll find Ian Walker who can organize a tour of your ancestral homeland. Here's a short introduction to Ian and his business.

Stand 310

Family Tree DNA are offering some great deals and of course expert advice. There are a series of talks running throughout the day. If you're new to DNA genealogy the talk at 10:15 may be the one for you: Which DNA Test is Best for You?

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Get Your Free Index to Quaker Marriages and Births in Scotland 1647-1874

With this months issue of Your Family Tree Magazine (Issue 140) not only will you receive an issue bursting with useful information but you will also receive two free downloads from Maxwell Ancestry!

  • Index to Scottish Quaker Births 1647-1874
  • Index to Scottish Quaker Marriages 1656-1873

Subscribe to Your Family Tree Magazine online today to make sure you will receive your free downloads. This isn’t a one-off either, they give a free download away every month!

About the Indexes

The Indexes to Marriages and births is taken from an alphabetical list of marriages and births recorded in the Digest of Quaker (The Religious Society of Friends) Births, Marriages and Deaths of Scotland, 1647-1874. The Digest can be viewed in the National Records of Scotland (NRS): their reference for this volume is CH10/1/64.

The digest was originally made around 1867 but seems to have been updated until about the mid-1870s. It was created by copying entries from individual meeting registers into one alphabetical volume. The original individual volumes can also be consulted in the NRS.


Our index includes the name of the individual, name of their spouse, the year of marriage, monthly or other meeting record location, and the page number in the Digest.

The Digest contains the following headings:

Book, Page, Names of Parties, When and where Married, Residence and Description, Parents’ Names, Residence and Description, Monthly or other Meeting Record.

Before the digest of marriages starts properly there are two pages of marriages which “have been either considered irregular or to have been but imperfectly recorded”. These pages been included in this index; an example of this type of record is given below.

Book: 17
Page: 3
Names: Ormston Jane, Waldie John
Date of Minute: 1749, Novr. 26
Description: [Jane Ormston] daur of Charles (merchant) of Kelso: Fewar and Commissary Clerk
Information given: At Kelso Monthly Meeting a letter was read from Jane Ormston acknowledging her having married contrary to the Rules of the Society. {The first child of this Marriage is recorded in the Parish Register as born 5th September 1750.}
Monthly Meeting or other records: Kelso Mo Mg


The Digest contains 1134 births and has the following headings:

Book, Page, Name [of child], Date and Place of Birth, Parents’ Names, Residence and Description, Monthly or other Meeting Record.

Saturday, 8 February 2014

Scottish Towers and Castles

We have been adding towers to our flickr photo archive recently and plan to continue to do so as we tour these ancient ruins.

Before I proceed though I feel I have to dispel a few myths.

  1. Just because a tower was built by a person with your surname does not mean your ancestors, or in fact anybody related to you, ever lived in it. If you're planning a trip to Scotland visit the towers and castles, because they are magnificent, but do a little extra research and find out where your family actually lived. It may be less glamorous, but it's your real history!
  2. Not all the towers were inhabited. Do a little research to find out the history of particular towers. The Historic Scotland website and the Royal Commission the the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS) website will help you to find the real history.
  3. You don’t always need to pay to visit a tower. It’s true to say that charges are made for many, but not all and it doesn't necessarily follow that it’s the good ones you have to pay for. Some really magnificent towers are free to explore. This is particularly good if you are visiting Scotland with your family. Here’s some free tower houses to visit:

You can search the Historic Scotland website by region, cost and opening. Some of the sites are only open during the summer months.

There are of course many more Castles or Towers you do have to pay to enter. The entry fee helps to preserve and restore these ancient sites. You can ‘join’ Historic Scotland and then receive free entry to their castles (including Edinburgh and Stirling Castle) as well as receiving a magazine and half price entry to 500 heritage attractions in England!

If you’re reading this thinking you would rather have somebody plan your trip for you so all you have to do is arrive and join in the fun, visit Borders Journeys and Ian Walker will help you plan your trip!

A Visit to the Carlisle Archive Centre

When researching it’s always vital to look at original records if you can. This principle was proved true yesterday when we made a trip to carry out some research at the Carlisle Archive Centre to help a client overcome a brick wall.

Using online resources, such as the IGI, we had found marriage entries. As this time we were researching in England, so we knew we were unlikely to find parents’ names on a pre-1837 marriage entry in the parish registers. Why look at the original then? If you live a distance from an archive with the records you need it may be a corner you decide to cut.

In England the registers of births and marriages before civil registration began in 1837 are very good, especially when seen in comparison to many Scottish Old Parish Records. One reason we say they are ‘good’ is that they are relatively complete. Also there are “Bishop’s Transcripts”, which were copies of the parish registers sent to the Bishop annually. This means even if the original has been lost, in many cases a copy remains. Of course unlike Scotland you rarely get mothers’ maiden names appearing on baptism entries, but we can’t have everything can we!

Things to remember:

  • Whilst a contemporary source the Bishop’s Transcripts are a copy of the original register.
  • An original post-1754 parish marriage entry will have the signatures (or marks, if they could not write) of the couple, and in the case of signatures these can be used as comparisons with other documents.
  • There are at least two witnesses to a marriage. Sometimes, although by no means always, it is a family member, which can give a vital clue to overcome a brick wall.
  • The original parish register entry may mention a farm name, or a small village within the parish. All these added details help to narrow down your search.
  • Errors are made in indexing, even the best indexing projects will contain mistakes. Look at the original if you can.

Carlisle Archive Centre

It’s great now that more and more parish register material is becoming available online. Sites like and have opened up genealogy to people across the world and often give access to images of original documents. They are not the only good websites though, there are many smaller sites operated by local people across England helping you to dig into your past.

Local Archives too can help by mailing you copies of the original parish registers. The local family history society can not only offer expertise but may also have copies of the registers on microfilm.

So don’t settle for a transcription, especially if you have a brick wall in your tree: always look at the original if you can!

As I said we went to the Carlisle Archive Centre yesterday. It’s a relatively new building, although it’s joined to an older building.

Carlisle Archive Centre

As you can see from my photos the archive itself is bright and airy, very comfortable for research. There are plenty of microfilm readers and a good number of machines to make copies from. Copies from microfilm are fifty pence each and you pay at the desk when you are finished.

The archive has two sections: the first room is for looking at books, microfilm etc., and the second is for looking at original records. Both have large tables so you can lay your notepad and laptop out without bothering other users!

They have plenty of lockers in the reception and you can use your County Archive Research Network reader’s ticket that you may have from another county archive.

They allow digital photography which is excellent, although they do make a charge:

1 Day licence: £8
1 Week licence: £20
1 Month licence: £45
1 year licence:  £90
1 year licence (corporate users): £140

They say it’s to “... help generate the income we need to protect front line services.”

I noticed a number of help sheets around the room and everything was very neatly labeled so if you’re new to genealogy there will be plenty of information to help you. The staff too were very friendly, explaining how the archive works succinctly!

All in all, five stars for Carlisle Archive!

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Visit Scotland and take a walk in your ancestors' footsteps

To most people tracing their family history means more than just finding out dates and names and putting them on a chart. It means understanding your ancestors’ lives, having the ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ experience.

Jedburgh Castle Jail
2014 is a great year to visit Scotland and discover the place ancestors called home. You may find that the area they lived is not what you had in mind. When you think of Scotland do you think of clans and tartan? Well there is much more to Scotland than that. In fact if your ancestors were from the south of Scotland they probably never wore a kilt in their life! That doesn’t mean however that the south has any less of a rich heritage, rather your history is just different.

So what was life really like, how can you find out?

A good place to start is finding out where they actually lived. Can you pinpoint the house? Agricultural labourers moved around a lot, so you may not be able to find every house. Of course, some may no longer be standing. By using the National Library of Scotland’s excellent collection of online maps, though, you can often find the house they lived in. We have linked a lot of the census entries we have transcribed to maps, so use our census collection to help you. If you can’t work it out e-mail us and we can help.

What else?

You may be able to find their final resting place. The Borders Family History Society has an online Gravestone index (surnames only) from which you can purchase a book with more information. These help you find the grave so that you can visit it when you come over.

Local museums

There are lots of small local museums, often run by volunteers who can tell you the ‘true’ history of the place. Most towns have their own museum, run by the local council and admission is free. Here are some excellent ones we have visited:

Jedburgh Castle Jail

Walk through the old cells
If you have found your ancestor in our prison database you may be able to visit the jail they were locked up in! Jedburgh Castle Jail gives you a real taste of life behind bars. You can even walk round and round the exercise yard!

Historical customs - Loupin' Stanes

Named the Loupin' Stanes because of the somewhat dangerous custom of young men leaping from one to another to prove their love to their girl and gain her hand in marriage! A custom long since stopped as too many legs were broken! This site is on the Eskdale Prehistoric Trail.

Old Towers

Today people visit Scotland for its peace and tranquility, but it was not always thus! Peppered across the south of Scotland are the remains of towers, places where you could run to for protection.

Perhaps you ancestor was out ploughing their land, their family inside a wee thatched house, long since gone. Over the hill in the distance they see the glint of sun reflecting against armour. There is no way they could be safe in their home, they would run to a tower for protection.

You can still visit these today, sit at the window and imagine how it would have felt to be cooped up with animals, open drains, no running water and the rain driving against the wall!

Some of these are preserved now by Historic Scotland, others are on private land. Most landowners, though, are more than happy to give access, ask somebody who lives nearby and they can often point you to who owns the land so that you can arrange to get a key (if necessary) or show you around.

These are just some of the lesser known sites I know of, every local area has their own hidden treasures. Come home in 2014, get off the tourist route and visit the land of your ancestors.