Monday 30 May 2022

Genealogy mistakes to avoid #5 - Not keeping a research log

This is one I think we will all be guilty of. We’re hunting down an ancestor, looking here, there and everywhere. We search newspapers on Findmypast then head to ScotlandsPeople and Ancestry making all sorts of searches; then we have to stop. We’re right in the middle of our research and we have to put the dinner on or go to bed! When we come back to our research we can’t remember what we’ve searched already and end up doing it all again. 

I like to keep a simple research log. It doesn’t have to be complicated. You could write it in a notebook, use a spreadsheet or make a simple Google Doc. An electronic note is useful as you can paste the URLs of entries.

For example, let’s say I am searching the Kirk Session records on ScotlandsPeople. I may come across an entry which could be relevant but I’m not sure. I copy and paste the reference above the entry and put this in a Google Doc, then I copy the URL. The URL is the text in the address bar at the top of the page that will start…. Copy and paste the whole thing, even if it’s really long. I then make a quick note like “could be X, Y or Z person but not sure”. 

I will also record what I have searched and by which terms. For example, if I am searching newspapers on Findmypast I will record who I have searched for and by which spellings. I do this even if the search didn’t result in any interesting finds! I may also make notes of things I should search for next time.

This means if I have to break off halfway through my research I can pick up where I left off next time. 

Thursday 26 May 2022

Genealogy mistakes to avoid #4 - Ignoring the occupation

When trying to match our family up with the records it can be a real challenge when they have common names and lots of cousins in the same parish also have the same names. It can be a real tangle. 

Sometimes we’re so focused on the names we forget about the occupation. Although people did sometimes change their occupation, it’s fairly unlikely that a married man would change occupation from a stone mason to a shoemaker. Both of these occupations would require an apprenticeship. Our ancestors would have served as an apprentice as a teenager and perhaps into their early 20s before they got married. How would a married man with children afford to be able to serve an apprenticeship and switch professions as we can today? 

Of course, some occupations are the same but described differently. A shoemaker in one record may be described as a cordiner in another. A shipwright may also be described as a joiner. Or you may find a grocer being described as a victualler. If you come across an occupation that is uncommon today, check out the Dictionaries of the Scots Language to discover what it was.

Wednesday 25 May 2022

Genealogy mistakes to avoid #3 - Not looking at a map

When we’re hunting for our family they can move from place to place. In fact, agricultural labourers may have moved every 6 months. It may not be too surprising that we find our ancestors have moved but where have they moved to? Does it make sense?

We might try to match up a family from Huntly, Aberdeenshire, Scotland with a family in Campbeltown, Argyll, Scotland. If you are not familiar with Scottish geography this may seem OK, but checking the map will show you the great distances involved and reveal that it would not be an easy journey. Nothing is impossible, but make sure you are connecting the right families. For example, if you have your family in Huntly in 1861 then you think you have them in Campbeltown in 1871 check the 1861 census of Campbeltown. If you find the family there in 1861 it can’t be ‘your’ family.

The opposite is also true. A map could show you that places are very close together. Let’s say you have a family in the 1840 census living in Weem Parish but you find the baptisms in the Parish of Killin. As this is a different parish and seemingly a good distance away, it could seem like the ‘wrong family. Looking at a map showing where the family were living and where the church is would show you that the children were baptised at the closest church even though it was in a different parish. 

For old maps check out the National Library of Scotland. They have a great collection and they are all free to access. 

Tuesday 24 May 2022

Genealogy mistakes to avoid #2 - Not looking at the next page

I was looking at a passenger list the other day. The first time I looked at it I thought I had read all the information. Later I went back to review it and realised there was more information on the next image. The relative in Scotland was listed on the second page! If you can, always look at the page before and the one after to make sure you have come to the end of the record. It’s a good habit to get into.

On ScotlandsPeople you will usually be charged for looking at the next page but if your family is split over two pages in the census you can ask for a refund. If they are at the top or bottom of the page check to see if you have the whole household. For example, is the top person listed as the head of the house? If they are at the foot of the page, are there two small lines indicating the end of the household? If not, the rest of the family may be over the page. 

It’s not just passenger lists and census records this applies to. In some countries birth, marriage and death records may have something written on the back. This is less likely to happen in Scotland; the exception would be that a sibling may be listed on the previous or next page of a parish register (but this would be indexed). 

If you can, look at the next and previous pages to make sure you have the entire record. 

Monday 23 May 2022

Genealogy mistakes to avoid #1 - Don’t assume anything.

Let’s say you find your family in the census, a husband, wife and three children. From 1851 in Scotland you will be told how each person relates to the head of the house; usually the husband. Therefore you will be told that the woman is the wife of the head and the children are his children; that’s right, his children. It would be easy to assume that all the children are biological children of both the husband and the wife but the census will not tell us if that’s the case or not. Of course, they often will be, but keep digging and find documents to support this. 

Of course, in the 1841 census, we are not told any relationships at all so we need to be even more careful. Assumptions though can be made when looking at other records too. When you are researching, ask yourself:

How do I know that?

Have I made an assumption or do I have evidence to support my research?

It’s OK to have a theory but don’t rest until you have the evidence. This is the first in a series of genealogy mistakes to avoid. More will be coming soon!

Have you made any mistakes? If so let me know and we may feature it in our #GenealogyMistakes series to help other researchers avoid the same pitfall. Don’t worry, we won’t name and shame you!

Tuesday 3 May 2022

Did your ancestors work the land?

If your ancestor was a farmer, shepherd or agricultural labourer you may be able to find information in estate records. 

Families who owned large estates would need their own records. These might record who were their employees, or who rented their farms. These records can be useful when you are researching your family history. For example, it’s not unusual for a farm to be rented by generations of the same family. This can be crucial information for periods when there are no census records or there are gaps in church records.

Valuation Roll, Annan, Dumfriesshire, Scotalnd (1896-97)

In general, you are more likely to find records of farmers and shepherds than agricultural labourers. This is because the farmer would often sublet the cottages on a farm to workers, in fact, the cottage would probably come with the job. In this case, your ‘Ag Lab’ may not appear in the estate records. Having said that, records of this nature vary so if you are up against a brick wall it may be worth checking.

Step one is to find out the name of the estate and who owned it. There are a few ways to go about this. One way is to look at the Valuation Rolls, some of which are on ScotlandsPeople. They will tell you who owned a property, who was the tenant and who lived in it. Not all small properties are listed in the early years and they only go back to 1855. Although they were produced yearly, ScotlandsPeople has generally added the volumes ‘between the census years’ like 1855, 1865, 1875 etc. 

Another way to find out is to search the newspapers, this is particularly helpful for farms. If a farm was available for rent it will be listed in the newspaper and tell you which estate it was on. This is also interesting as it will tell you a bit about the land your ancestors farmed. 

Maps from the National Library of Scotland can also be very helpful. Ordnance Survey maps are good but there are also a growing number of estate maps available:

The Register of Sasines records heritable property being transferred.
In some cases, you may need to use property records. As these are not online, I try to use the other means already mentioned, but here is some information about Scottish property records:

Once you know which family owned the farm you can search for their estate records. The National Records of Scotland and National Library of Scotland both have large collections so they can be a good place to begin. 

Archives across Scotland also have their own collections of estate records. Either go to the archive for the area your ancestor lived or search the Scottish Archive Network catalogue:

The National Register of Archives is another good place to look. The National Register of Archives for Scotland (NRAS) was established by the Scottish Record Office (now the National Records of Scotland) in 1946 to compile a record of papers of historical significance in private hands in Scotland. You can search this catalogue here:

One thing to remember is that often these records still belong to the family. Think of your small family archive, perhaps you have photographs of your great-grandparents or letters written to your granny. These are precious and belong to your family. Even if the letter mentions somebody else it’s still your letter and it’s up to you how it is used. It’s the same with estate records, they still belong to the family. Many estates allow access but they are not public records. This means that some may have restrictions on copying and publication. Make sure you find out what these are. 

Wednesday 27 April 2022

Robbie Collins - an Eccentric Vendor

Today we have another story from John B. Drylie’s book, “Worthies of Dumfriesshire”

"Poor Robbie Collins, who was known far and near as a vendor of stationery and smallwares, was buried in Troqueer Churchyard in March 1830. Although he had no secret hoard like Wull Steenie [I will tell you more about Wull in another post], his books and clothes, when turned into money after his death, sufficed to lay his head decently in the grave, even to leave a balance, which was handed to the treasurer of the Kirk session, so that in one respect he was on a par with miser Wull, and though a pauper himself, he left a legacy to the poor.

Robbie was a native of Ayrshire, and at one time in his varied and chequered career he taught a small school in some Highland island. He was short of stature, lame of a leg, blind of an eye, and decrepit in mind as well as in body, and it was said that he had a "spice of the knave in him as well as the fool." He migrated to Dumfries about the year 1813, at which time he was possessed of only a few shillings. Gradually acquiring credit, however, with booksellers and other tradespeople, he traded his way so successfully that he at last grew rich, at least comparatively for a man of his grade, and he was able to deposit in the parish bank a sum little short of £70. His "round" was travelled very cheaply. Although most extensive, he visited many thousands of people in the east as well as the south of Scotland, and there were few who grudged him a bed or a meal; indeed there were many who patronised Robbie when they could have purchased more cheaply elsewhere. Robbie had a fawning, winning manner, and as a "character" he was favoured by the rich as well as by the poor.

As times prospered the box slung behind his back was exchanged for a pair of panniers, which, when filled with smallware, were mounted on a donkey's back, and Robbie, who had limped many a weary mile, thenceforward made his rounds more at his ease, and indeed quite like "the gentleman." By some means or other he fastened a printed label in verse on the donkey's forehead, which served for a sign wherever he went, by intimating the owner's name and occupation, and enumerating the various articles he had for sale.

Robbie had many a sore contest with his cuddy, which he designated as "a dour, thrawn, contrary beast," and though he frequently tried to reason with it in set speeches by the wayside, his eloquence was entirely thrown away. Nothing, however, could disabuse Robbie's mind of the notion that the ass understood every word he said. and as he was an enemy to every form of corporal punishment, he endeavoured by gentle and lenient means to train it in the way that cuddies should go. But, like many other reformers, even of the present day, his plans were too Utopian, and in the end he procured a cudgel, and discovered that this argument was the only sort of logic fitted to make an impression on the long-eared tribe.

Robbie's success in some measure "turned his head." Tired of wandering, nothing would serve him but a little shop, and ultimately he secured one in Church Place, Dumfries. This he furnished with all sorts of small gear under the sun, and, as he had the capital to begin with, he obtained plenty of credit. His arrangements being completed, he sent for the cuddy, got it hoisted up the stair of the shop, and then desired the wondering beast to look round on all the grandeur and tell him "what it thought of Collins now?" The speculation, unfortunately, failed, and, but for the kindness of a benevolent gentleman who allowed him a pension of six shillings per week for many years, he would have been reduced to the greatest penury and distress. Thus secured, however, he made long sweeps east and north, and was as well known in Edinburgh as he was in Dumfries. At one time he contemplated visiting France, and talked of drawing his pension on the other side of the Channel, and spending his days tranquilly in some sequestered corner of the finer climates of the south, and where, as he said, provisions were cheap, and the taxes a trifle.

On another occasion he conceived the idea of making his fortune by marriage. He had set his fancy on two fair dames whose merits were on a par, and between whom he was as much divided as his cuddy would have been between two bundles of hay. To both of these ladies he wrote letters filled with all sorts of honeyed words, and determined to be the bearer of his own dispatches, and, as the ladies lived in the country (in the parish of Irongray to be exact), he commenced his wooing as the crow flies - that is, he called at the nearest house first, and delivered his epistle in due form. At first the family took the matter seriously, but speedily relaxing, they merely laughed at Robbie, and instructed the servants to regale him in the kitchen. Collins "took the bite and the bat with it,” and then wended his way a mile or so further. As luck would have it, it so happened that the lady Collins first addressed was invited to tea at his second house of call, and as she travelled faster than her suitor, she got there before him. Of this the "braw wooer" knew nothing, and great was the merriment when the young ladies compared notes (for the first letter had been carried to the home of Robbie's last hope as a curiosity), and found that the second letter was a facsimile of the first. The "Laird o' Cockpen" had only one string to his bow, but Robbie had two, and yet he was unsuccessful. Another meal was all the poor man got for his pains, and he departed as much crestfallen as his great prototype, and perhaps he said or sung, as he walked or rode through the glen, "they were daft tae refuse Robbie Collins.""