Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Did people travel much 200 years ago?

Well perhaps surprisingly the answer is yes! I know this is a shock to many people but the travel factor may also be the answer to your missing ancestors.

There were various motivations for people to travel in years gone by, just as there are today. Stop and think for a moment, do you just move house because you can? Is it simply because you can hire a lorry to move your belongings that makes you move? Of course not. Yes, modern transportation makes moving easier to a degree however the motivation is to be closer to family, to find employment, to live in a nicer house or area and things like these.

Why was it any different in years gone by? It wasn’t really, the motivations were much the same as they are today. There certainly was an issue with transport though and of course transport costs, but here are a few reasons and means of people getting from A to B.

How could they afford to emigrate to America? Could they really save for the passage?

Recently I was researching in a Register of the Poor persons admitted on the roll of the Parish of Castleton 1846-56 (NAS reference number HR/75/11/2) and came across an interesting entry for Bella Kyle. Bella had been in receipt of poor relief from September 1847 (she was a window) then in May 1852 she received money from the poor board to travel to America with her children. It states she has family willing to “keep the children”. I’m sure Bella’s descendants are now numerous in America and some may wonder how this poor widow was able to travel such a distance to be with family but the Register of the Poor answers that question for us.

My ancestors seem to move house all the time, why is this?

Obviously there could be various reasons but one was the way hiring for labourers was conducted. Many homes came with the work on the land as part of the wages. It was traditional (and still occurs in Scotland) that hiring took place on May 25th (Whitsunday) and November 11th (Martinmas). A lease would run from one date to the other, obviously some would be renewed each time but it was not unusual for families to move home and employment every 6 months. This is quite common right through until the twentieth century. A relatives identity card from the second world war shows the address change several times through the period and always in May and November. Due to the need to find the best work possible families may move quite considerable distances although it would be perhaps more common for people to stay within the county.

Why did my ancestors travel so far to have a child baptized?

One reason it can be difficult to find a baptism record is that during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries various churches broke away from the Church of Scotland, and then these denominations again spit and combined in vaious ways. Religious issues mattered greatly to many ordinary people at the time, and they felt very strongly about which church they belonged to. If you lived in a rural area though it may be the closest “Free Church”, for example, was some distance away but those who felt strongly would travel to the nearest location to have their child baptized by the minister of the church of their choice. The Church of Scotland remained as having the responsibility of recording all marriages and births in the parish. However, as we have noted in earlier posts to this blog, not all clerks did this properly, and this one important reason why many baptisms do not appear in the Church of Scotland’s records or OPR’s as we call most of these records prior to 1855.

So if your family was a member of the Free Church, the Relief Church, Reformed Presbyterian Church, United Presbyterian Church, Burger Old light, Burger New Light, Anti-Burger New Light or even the Anti-Burger Old Light denominations you may find your relatives travelled further than you may expect. And that’s just some of the Presbyterian denominations, we haven’t even started on Episcopalians, Congregationalists, Quakers, Roman Catholics, or others!

If you can’t find a church record check the National Archives of Scotland for the area and see what other churches existed.

We’ll track down all those relatives eventually.

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