Tuesday, 21 September 2021

New records added to Scotland's Criminal Database

So far Scotland's Criminal Database on scottishindexes.com has included High Court records, prison records and some Sheriff Court records. We have now added a new category - Crown Counsel Procedure Books. 

Why are Crown Counsel Procedure Books so important? 

All cases reported to the Crown Counsel are recorded in the Crown Counsel Procedure Books. As is the case today, some went on to the High Court, some to the Sheriff Court or another lower court, and some were dropped. This means that the Crown Counsel Procedure Books act as an index to other records.

This new record set effectively indexes Scottish Sheriff Court jury trials for the corresponding years. As time goes on we hope to link up the corresponding records to make the database even better!

As always our indexes are free to search and we give the full reference, enabling you to follow up for free in the National Records of Scotland. Check our coverage pages for the most up-to-date information on what you can search on our website, it will be updated as we add more records.

Tuesday, 25 May 2021

Five Ways to Save ScotlandsPeople Credits

Only ScotlandsPeople gives online access to civil registration, Church of Scotland parish records and Scottish census record images. We all know how important it is to view these original documents to make sure our research is accurate but the costs can soon mount up if we keep viewing the wrong records. Here are five tips to help you pick the right record the first time.

1 - Post-1855 Death Records.

Cross-reference death records using a woman’s maiden surname. In Scotland deaths of married women are indexed under all the names she used during her lifetime (or at least all the names the person registering the death knew about). Let’s say your ancestor was born Janet Porteous and she went on to marry a Thomson. There will be a lot of Janet Thomsons, so use the surname Porteous to narrow down your search. On the search page look out for ‘Other surname’. It doesn’t matter which way round you put the surnames, put Thomson in one and Porteous in the other and it will narrow down your search.

2 - Birth Records from 1855 to 1874

The International Genealogical Index (IGI) includes most Scottish civil registration births from 1855 to 1874. Unlike the index on ScotlandsPeople, the IGI includes the names of both parents. This enables you to narrow down your search then view only the correct entry on ScotlandsPeople. This index is available on Ancestry, Findmypast and FamilySearch. 

3 - Census Records 1841 to 1901

Use an index to the 1841-1901 census you already have access to. FreeCen gives access to a free indexed transcription of many Scottish census records from 1841 to 1901 (it is particularly for the earlier years) and it’s a great way to find the right household. Then you can simply go to ScotlandsPeople to view the original. You may also have access to the 1841-1901 census as part of your Findmypast or Ancestry subscription or you may have free access through your local library. 

4 - 1911 Census

As only ScotlandsPeople gives access to the 1911 census for the whole of Scotland we need to be a bit more savvy. Use the reference to group family members together. Let’s say I am looking for a ‘Scott’ family in the parish of Annan. I will see a lot of entries, for example there are four Agnes Scotts in the parish of Annan in 1911. In the free index on ScotlandsPeople I am also given the reference (‘Ref’), which is key. I can see, for example, that there is an Agnes Scott aged 48 with the reference ‘812/ 5/ 10’ and another Agnes Scott aged 49 with the reference ‘812/ 2/ 10’. Let’s break the reference down, 812 is the parish number for Annan. 812/2 means enumeration book two in the parish of Annan and the 10 at the end is the page number. This means that I know these two Agnes Scotts are not in the same household. Looking through the other ‘Scott’ entries for Annan I see that there are the following entries with the reference: 812/ 2/ 10. I can see James Scott aged 51, Robert Scott aged 20 and George Scott aged 17. Now I have a family group, this should be enough to tell me I have the right family or, in fact, that it’s the wrong family and I don’t need to waste my credits.

5 - Church of Scotland pre-1855 Births and Marriages

Although the images are not available, indexes to the Church of Scotland pre-1855 births and marriages found within the Old Parish Registers (OPRs) are available in various places. As with the 1855 to 1874 civil registration birth records, you can find indexes available on Ancestry, Findmypast and FamilySearch, entitled ‘Scottish Church Records’. Again a feature is that you can search by parents’ names. At first glance this feature is not available on ScotlandsPeople but it actually is! Enter your search criteria and click search in the usual way. When your results appear you will see new search options. You can now add ‘1st Parent Name’ and ‘2nd Parent Name’, this enables you to narrow down your search. I like to search by the surname of the child and the full name of the parents, which shows all children born to that couple. 

For more tips on tracing your Scottish ancestors, join us at the Scottish Indexes Conference on Saturday 10 July 2021.

Tuesday, 11 May 2021

Genealogy - Unravelling lies, myths and cover-ups!

People lie. They shouldn’t, but they do. Sometimes people lie inadvertently, perhaps repeating something they have heard.

What about our ancestors? What about the records? Do they lie? If so, how can we discover the truth?

Let’s start with a very standard marriage entry from London:

28 May 1865: in the Parish Church in the Parish of St. Mary Lambeth, Sussex. Henry Carter, son of Thomas Carter, married Margaret Louise Tryon, daughter of George Tryon, deceased, a soldier. The marriage register also tells us that Margaret was a ‘minor’ which means she was under the age of 21 years. 

Tryon isn’t a particularly common surname, but I could find no birth for Margaret in England. At this stage, there are a few possibilities. It could be that the surname has simply been misindexed or she may not have been born in England.

Faced with this problem, I could keep banging my head off the proverbial brickwall or I could simply walk around it. As researchers, we can become fixated on finding every birth, marriage and death entry for every ancestor, spending countless hours looking only to be no further forward. What do I mean by going around the brick wall? Put the search for the birth to one side and look for other records. This can involve tracing a person forward in time or looking for records relating to relatives.

In this case, when we go forward to 1871 we find a clue in the census. Thomas and Margaret were living in Chelsea, England and the record gives Margaret’s birthplace as ‘Scotland’. Here was a possible reason why I could not find a birth register entry. Margaret was a ‘minor’ in 1865 and recorded as 25 in 1871 so we are looking for a birth about 1845/6.

Civil registration did not begin in Scotland until 1855. Before then we rely on church records. Sadly there are many ‘missing’ pre-1855 birth, marriage and death records in Scotland. We can search the Church of Scotland Old Parish Registers on ScotlandsPeople but these are not complete. Some records have been damaged, lost or destroyed. Also, these records do not always include children who were not baptised into the Church of Scotland. As Margaret Tryon has a connection with England the family may not have attended the Church of Scotland. A search was made but no entry was found for Margaret Tryon.

Returning to the census, I was able to find a Margaret Tryon living with her mother, Peachy Tryon, a widow, in the 1851 census of Brighton. This time, however, Margaret’s birthplace is given as Framfield, Sussex, England. Although the age is correct, how do we know for sure that ‘our’ Margaret belongs to this family? It’s all too easy to ignore slight inconsistencies because we want to keep going with our research. I now have a workable theory but I need to be sure.

In the same household there is a son of Peachy Tyron, one Charles E Tryon, aged 14. His birthplace is given as Shepherds Bush. A few quick searches later and I was able to find a marriage between Charles Edward Tryon and Jane Jane Victoria Andrew Cuthbert. The father of Charles Edward Tryon is recorded as George Tryon, a Military Officer. This reassured me that ‘my’ Margaret Ann Tryon was in fact the daughter of the widow Peachy Tryon.

Peachy! That’s not a common name, is it? Fairly quickly, I discovered that Peachy (Peachey) Chambers married George Tryon in Brighton, Sussex, England on 27 April 1842. As Peachy was recorded as a widow in 1851, we believe George died before 1851. Margaret was born around 1845, so presumably George died between 1844/45 and 1851, right? Sadly it’s not that straightforward. 

I discovered that George Tryon Esquire was buried on 1 June 1842. Peachy is named on George’s will, so I know I have the right George. What is going on then? Is Margaret older than we think? Is her father George and how are we going to find out?

It was time for another theory. We have a clue that Margaret Tryon may have been born in Scotland, so let’s follow up on that clue and see where it takes us. It’s also possible that Peachy was not married when Margaret was born. If Peachy had remarried why not name that man as Margaret’s father? 

In Scotland, mothers of illegitimate children could take the father to the Sheriff Court and force him to pay maintenance or aliment to help care for the child. On www.scottishindexes.com you can search the ‘Scottish Paternity Index’ which includes records from the Sheriff Courts as well as some from Kirk Session records.

It’s really easy (and free) to search and very quickly I found a case relating to Peachy Tryon, Mrs. Mann's Lodgings, 87 Princes Street, Edinburgh. Peachy was the pursuer and the defender was Edward Crawcour Esquire, London (formerly at 1 Wellington Place, Leith). Already from the index we learn a lot. It looks like Peachy was claiming that Edward Crawcour Esquire is Margaret’s father.

There are two sets of records being indexed by Scottish Indexes, these are the registers of Extracted Decrees and the Sheriff Court Process. Once the case reached ‘decree’ (the court had made a decision) there was an option for the decree to be ‘extracted’. After 1830 when a case was ‘extracted’ a copy would also be written in the register of Extracted Decrees. 

The extracted decree tells “The Sheriff Decerned and ordained and hereby Decerns and ordains the said Edward Crawcour as father of a female child of which the pursuer was delivered upon the first day of February Eighteen hundred and forty five to make payment to the said Mrs Peac[h]y Tryon pursuer the sum of Five Guneas in the name of Inlying expences &c Item the sum of twelve pounds St[erlin]g p[e]r annum of yearly Aliment for the said child”.

This is interesting. We now know that the court’s decision was that Edward was Margaret’s father. You may be asking though, why was Peachy in Edinburgh? How did she meet Edward? What’s the story? Can we find out more?

The good news is that before 1860 most Sheriff Court processes survive. Although many have been destroyed between 1860 and 1900 more survive in the period after 1900. Processes are the papers created by the court and can be very extensive. Held by the National Records of Scotland, these are generally only catalogued by court and year. Until Scottish Indexes came along it was very difficult to search these records.

Peachy Tryon v Edward Crawcour can be found in box SC39/17/933. What will we find then in this case? Folded up and preserved in the archive we find an absolute treasure!! We’ll look closely today at the ‘Petition For Mrs Tryon V Edward Crawcour Esq 4 April 1845’ and ‘Answers For Edward Crawcour To Petition Mrs Peachy Tryon 16th April 1845’. I have transcribed a lengthy section of this case. This will hopefully give you an insight into the format these cases took. Also despite the formal legal language it is a gripping story. Perhaps only DNA could reveal who was telling the truth.

‘Answers For Mrs Tryon V Edward Crawcour Esq 4 April 1845’

This begins with the standard legal form for these documents. We are told that the ‘Petitioner’ (Mrs Peachy Tryon) ‘has frequently desired and required the said Edward Crawcour to aliment and support said child, yet he refuses so to do’. 

Next, we find the ‘Petitioners Statement of Facts’ - this is where things start to get interesting.

“1. The Petitioner is the Widow of George Tryon Esquire Major in Her Majesty's 44th Regiment of Foot. He resided with his family at Brighton for some time prior to his death, which took place there on the 27 day of May 1842. He left the Petitioner with a family consisting of three young children.

2  The house possessed by the Major, and which the Petitioner and her family continued to occupy after his death, was large and handsomely furnished; and with the view of enabling the Petitioner to educate her children according to their prospects and rank in life, the Petitioner at the suggestion of her friends resorted to let part of her house as furnished Lodgings.

3. In the Autumn of 1842 application was made to the Petitioner by the Respondent, Mr Edward Crawcour of Edinburgh, for a set of her apartments for the season. He was accompanied by two children, and a female Servant, and represented himself as a widower, and having just arrived at Brighton, where he intended to pass the season for the benefit of his health. The Petitioner being satisfied with his statements, and believing him to be respectable, agreed to give him furnished apartments in her house during his stay at Brighton. 

4  The Respondent and his family accordingly entered to possession of the Lodgings about [blank] and remained therein till December following.

5  During his residence in the Petitioners house, the Respondent became very intimate with her, and ultimately made proposals of marriage to her. He represented himself as possessed of house property in Edinburgh of great value, and to be a person of large means. From what the Petitioner saw, she had no reason to doubt the truth of his statements, or that his intentions were other than honorable; and believing that such a connection as he desired would be of advantage both to herself and children, she consented to his proposal, but it was agreed for various family and prudential reasons that the marriage should not take place till after the Respondents return to Edinburgh when the Petitioner and her family should join him.

6 The Respondent and his family left Brighton for Edinburgh about the end of December, being accompanied by the Petitioners elders daughter, who it was arranged should reside with the Respondent until the Petitioner should complete the necessary arrangements, and join them in Edinburgh. From various causes, the Petitioner could not leave Brighton for several months, but during the whole of this period the correspondence between her and the Respondent was kept up;- she receiving numerous letters from him containing expression of the utmost regard and affection, and urging her to complete her arrangements at Brighton and come to Edinburgh. In particular, he urged her to dispose of part of her furniture, and to send the rest, being the more valuable, to him at Edinburgh which she, replying upon his promises ultimately did. 

7  In the month of June 1843 the Petitioner arrived in Edinburgh. She was received by the Respondent with the utmost kindness and affection, and taken to his house which was then in Wellington Place, Leith Links. The Petitioner obtained the sole management and direction of his house, and was treated in all respects as mistress. Her children at the Defenders request were brought to his house in December following. She expected him immediately to fulfil the promise of marriage, under which she had left Brighton, and come to Edinburgh; and in this expectation she was induced to deliver to the Respondent many articles of Plate and Jewellery amounting in value to several hundred pounds, all of which he has disposed of. She was also induced, under the said promise, to yield to his embraces, the consequences of which was that the Petitioner became pregnant by the Respondent. 

8  The Petitioner continue to reside in the Respondents house in the daily expectation of his fulfilling his numerous promises of marriage; but to her astonishment he intimated to her that he married another female, whom he brought to his house as his wife on or about the [blank] day of [blank]. The Petitioner and her family were then requested to leave the house which they were constrained to do.

9  After leaving the Respondents house, the Petitioner removed with her children to Lodgings, and was delivered of a female child in the house of Mrs Mann, No. 87 Princes Street, Edinburgh, upon the first day of February 1845. Of this child the Respondent is the father”.

Next we see ‘Pleas in Law’, but the story continues in the ‘Answers For Edward Crawcour To Petition Mrs Peachy Tryon 16th April 1845’. This is what we may think of as a ‘rebuttal’ to Peachy; it’s Edward’s side of the story. 

“1 - The Respondent has heard, and has no reason to disbelieve, that the ceremony of the marriage was celebrated between the late Major Tryon and the Petitioner towards the end of the month of April 1842. The Major was then suffering under his last illness, and died within a few weeks thereafter. He has been formerly married, and his wife predeceased him by only a few years. His connection however with the Petitioner commenced many years before his first wife’s death. The Respondent is not acquainted with the previous history of the Petitioner, but some eighteen or nineteen years ago or thereby, she was a servant in the Family of a relation or intimate friend of the late Mrs. Tryon, and there picked up an acquaintance, which soon resulted in a criminal intercourse with the Major. The consequence was her becoming pregnant and being delivered of a daughter, the eldest of the three children here referred to, a young woman now somewhere about seventeen or eighteen years of age. Shortly after the birth of this child, the Petitioner having learned that Major Tryon had gone to Paris followed him there, and remaining with him for a short time in Paris returned with him to England, while Mrs Tryon was confined to her bedroom, and unable herself to make enquiries after her, she, (the Petitioner) with assistance of Major Tryon, continued to get herself introduced into the family as waiting maid upon Mrs. Tryon. The criminal intercourse between Major Tryon and the Petitioner continued to be carried on there, and being detected by Mrs. Tryon, the Petitioner was as a matter of course, turned out of the house. Major Tryon then took lodgings for the Petitioner at a place called Shepherds Bush near London, & afterwards at Brighton. At both places the Petitioner was, wherever the Major was out of the way, visited by other men; but having during that time, borne other two children (boys) she continued to get the Major to acknowledge the paternity of them. After Mrs Tryon’s death, the Major took the Petitioner and her children to his own house at Brighton, and the Petitioner there openly lived with him as his known mistress, till, as already stated, she, within a few weeks of his death, prevailed on him to submit to the ceremony of marriage celebrated between them.

2. It is admitted that the Petitioner and her family continued to possess the house in which Major Tryon resided at the time of his death. It was but a modestly sized house, the rent of which did not exceed £27 or £28 a year at most, and was respectably, tho’ not handsomely, furnished. Major Tryon had, from his necessities, been obliged to sell out his Commission, and the price of it was more than exhausted by the time of his death. His relations were comparatively wealthy, and could, without its being at all felt by them, as, but in reprobation of the Petitioners conduct and character, they would have made a proper allowance for the maintenance and education of his family. All that was done on their part, was to make an allowance of £30 a year as for behoof of the children, and that was all, on which the Pet[itione]r had to depend for the support of herself and her children. She tried to eke out this allowance by letting Lodgings, but the notoriety of her previous conduct and connexion with Major Tryon, added to her having become addicted to drinking, and very deaf, prevented her from succeeding in that way.

3. Admitted that the Resp[on]d[en]t who was then a stranger in Brighton, and ignorant of the Petitoners previous history and character, did, towards the end of October 1842 bargain with the Petitioner for lodgings for himself, his two children (about 7 & 8 years of age) and a servant, at the rate of one guinea per week.

4  Admitted that the Resp[on]d[en]t and his family accordingly entered to possession of the lodgings, and continued therein for six weeks or thereby.

5. The Resp[on]d[en]t had no sooner entered upon the lodgings than the Petitioner did every thing a woman could to expose herself, and to draw the Resp[on]d[en]t into an improper intimacy and connexion with her. She constantly continued needless messages to him, and frequently came into his bedroom while she was herself partly undressed, and there insisted on drawing the Resp[on]d[en]t into very needless conversation with her. It is admitted that they soon became very intimate and familiar, but it is positively denied that he ever made proposals of marriage to her. It is also denied that he represented himself as possessed of House property in Edinburgh of great value and as a person of large means. The Respond[en]ts only available income consists of a life interest in the money which belonged to his late wife. It will not much, if anything, exceed £200 a year, and of that, £100 a year has been assigned to pay off his debts. 

6  Admitted that on Resp[on]d[en]t and his family leaving Brighton, they were accompanied by the Petitioners eldest daughter. The Petitioner, who by that time had got involved in debts to a considerable amount, having represented to the Resp[on]d[en]t her inability longer to keep all the three children at home, prevailed on him to take her daughter with him as servant or attendant upon his two children. But it is denied that any proposals or arrangements were then made as to the Petitioner herself afterwards joining the Resp[on]d[en]t in Scotland, or that any such correspondence, as is here stated, passed between the parties. The articles of furniture (which were few in number) which were sent by the Petitioner to the Resp[on]d[en]t were purchased, and paid for by him from her, and the reason of the Resp[on]d[en]t, who was then in course of furnishing his house here, for making the purchase was to prevent the furniture being as the Petitioner said it otherwise would be completely thrown away inder execution for Rent, and other debt due by her. 

7. Admitted that the Petitioner came to Edinburgh in the month of June 1843, but it is denied that she did so on the invitation of the Resp[on]d[en]t, or that she was received by him in the manner here stated. On the contrary, it was with difficulty that the Resp[on]d[en]t, who by that time had come to know something of her character, was, by a party to whom they were both known, prevailed upon to receive her into his house : But having once got admission into the house, she soon made herself quite at home, making herself however at sometime useful to the Resp[on]d[en]t by taking upon herself the duties of Housekeeper and the charge of his children. The Petitioner also about December 1843 brought her two younger children to the Resp[on]d[en]ts house : It was not at the Resp[on]d[en]ts request, or his suggestion that these children were brought there. On the contrary it was done by the Petitioner under the pretext of their being immediately boarded somewhere else, and of the Resp[on]d[en]t being immediately remunerated for their maintenance in the meantime. It is denied that the Petitioner was induced to deliver to the Resp[on]d[en]t the plate and jewellery, as here stated, or that she ever did so. The Resp[on]d[en]t was informed by the Petitioner that Major Tryon and she had, at different times, been obliged to pledge various articles of plate and jewellery, upon which there was a sum, with interest, of £93 odds then due. She farther stated that the articles were worth and would, if properly disposed of being a much larger sum, and prevailed upon the Petitioner to redeem them with the view to their being sold in Edinburgh. The sum which they did bring, on being brought to sale, fell considerably short of what the Resp[on]d[en]t had advanced for the redeeming of them. It is also denied that the Petitioner was, as here stated, under promise of marriage, induced to yield to the Resp[on]d[en]ts embraces, and it is specially denied that any connexion took place between the parties within a period of eleven months of the date of the birth of the child in question; And averred that at and about the time on conception of the child in question, she had sexual intercourse with a young man of the name of William Browning who towards the end of April last year (1844) was brought to the Resp[on]d[en]ts house, and continued there till about the middle of June, as Tutor to the Resp[on]d[en]ts children. The Petitioner at once formed an intimacy and familiarity with that person, and was frequently seen in his bed room, and in the mornings, articles belonging to, and which could only be taken by her to his bedroom were also found there. On these things coming to the knowledge of the Resp[on]d[en]t, he taxed that person with them, who then, in presence of the Petitioner and her daughter, admitted having had connection with the Petitioner, and was in consequence at once turned out of the Resp[on]d[en]ts house.

8. Admitted that the Petitioner continued to reside win the  Resp[on]d[en]ts house till the beginning of the month of July last (1844), when sensible if having in various ways given the  Resp[on]d[en]t just cause of dislike and offence against her (all friendly intercourse between them having in consequence ceased for several months before) she left the house of her own accord, taking with her various articles of property belonging to the Resp[on]d[en]t. Her younger children had been some time previously sent away, but the daughter continued in her service in the Resp[on]d[en]ts family for some months thereafter. 

9  Admitted that the Petitioner was delivered of a female child as here stated, but denied that the Resp[on]d[en]t is the Father of the child.”

What do you think? Who is Margaret Tryon’s biological father? Perhaps DNA could answer this question but one thing we do know is that it’s not Major Tryon. As a conclusion to the case, aliment was initially set at £20 per year but this was appealed by Edward and dropped to £12. 

Did Margaret know all this? When she gave her father’s name as George Tryon, was she covering up her illegitimacy or is that what she believed? We can’t know but what we do see is that information in the records can be misleading. We need to keep our options open and keep searching. 

Although the COVID pandemic has slowed the indexing of Sheriff Court processes scottishindexes.com hope to be back at it soon, unfolding long-forgotten court records to find these hidden gems. 

Thursday, 29 April 2021

Indexing Wigtownshire Poor Relief Records - Giving women their full name

The fundamental purpose of our indexes is to help people to find individuals in historical records more easily. When we began indexing the Wigtownshire Poor Relief records we were presented with a problem. 

For example, here we have ‘Widow Agnew’. Unfortunately, we are not given her forename. For anyone searching these records, a forename would be useful. We’re genealogists, though, so we simply did some research. 

The record tells us that the pauper is the widow of Alexander Agnew, we are also given an age and the names of her children. As this record is dated 1882 we have a lot of resources at our fingertips to work out exactly who Widow Agnew was. 

We discovered that ‘Widow Agnew’ was actually Ann Agnew and her maiden surname was Brown. The index entry on our website records now shows this information, making her easier to find. As always, our indexes are free to search and we provide the full reference for the original record at the National Records of Scotland. In this case, the reference is CO4/45/11 page 413 - Stranraer Parochial Board General Register of the Poor. If you are able to visit the National Records of Scotland you can look at these records in person or you can use our research service to find out more. You can find Ann and many others in our index: https://www.scottishindexes.com/poorsearch.aspx

Friday, 2 April 2021

Scottish Marriage by Declaration - Irregular Marriage - Sheriff Court Records

While you are researching your Scottish family history you will come across different wordings in the civil marriage registers (marriage certificates) that begin in 1855. These are the ‘Statutory Registers’ which you can search on ScotlandsPeople.

You may have seen, “After Publication according to the Forms of the Church of Scotland/Free Church/United Presbyterian Church of Scotland/Roman Catholic Church”. 

You may also see, ‘By Declaration in the presence of [names of witnesses].” In these cases, you will also see, “Warrant of the Sheriff Substitute of the [name of Sheriff Court]”.

I am including an image from ScotlandsPeople, which shows both of these types of entry on the same page. What’s the difference? Why is there a difference? Will the Sheriff Court records tell me more?

Until the mid-twentieth century, you could marry in Scotland by declaration. What does this mean? Basically, you said in front of witnesses that you were married and that was it; you were married. This was also known as an ‘irregular marriage’ (sometimes also referred to as a clandestine marriage) as opposed to a ‘regular marriage’ when a minister (or clergyman) performed the service.

An irregular marriage was quicker to arrange as the banns were not read. Although used by people throughout Scotland, it was perhaps the convenience of the marriage, along with the lower age requirement for marrying in Scotland without parental consent, that made places like Gretna Green on the border with England so popular for ‘runaway weddings’.

Both of these types of marriage were legal. The Church did not approve of irregular marriages and for that reason these frequently appear in Kirk Session records, but that’s a subject for another day.

Before 1855, when civil registration began, couples could declare in front of witnesses that they were married and that was that. 

After 1855, this type of marriage by declaration continued, but how was it to be recorded? To have the marriage registered the couple went to the Sheriff Court to receive a warrant. That warrant authorised the registration of the marriage.

Looking back at the marriage register is helpful here. We often make a dash for the names and dates but always take time to look at the headings. In the case of an irregular marriage, we see under the heading ‘When, Where and How Married’, the words ‘By Declaration in the presence of [names of witnesses].’

Another column heading is ‘If a regular Marriage, Signature of officiating Minister and Witnesses. If irregular, Date of Conviction, Decree of Declarator, or Sheriff’s Warrant.” Again in the case of irregular marriage, we usually see it completed, ‘Warrant of the Sheriff Substitute of the [name of Sheriff Court]’.

Are there corresponding records kept by the Sheriff Court?

Yes. These can be helpful, but not usually. Surviving records are generally found in the ‘Diet Books’ or ‘Minute Books’ of the sheriff court and are usually quite brief. In the example shown here, we see that the only extra information we are given is a bit more detail about the witnesses. I would never say not to follow the paper trail, just don’t get your hopes up.

Of course, there are often surviving church marriage registers post-1855 too which are occasionally useful. In general though, the information in the marriage register you can easily access on ScotlandsPeople will tell you just as much, if not more, than the corresponding church records. If you are up against a brick wall and can visit the National Records of Scotland, look at everything you possibly can.

Were all irregular marriages after 1855 registered?

There is evidence that they were not. I would like to do further study into this but occurrences in the Kirk Session minutes of the parish of Canonbie have been noted where a couple were reproved by the Kirk for being irregularly married and no corresponding record can be found in the marriage registers on ScotlandsPeople. 

Keep learning about Scottish genealogy by attending our free Scottish Indexes Conferences. The next is scheduled for 23 October 2021.

Monday, 8 March 2021

A glimpse of what's lost and hope for what can be found!

Sadly before 1855 there are 'missing' birth, marriage and death records. One reason for this is that not all of our ancestors attended the Church of Scotland. This may have been because they were not very religious or it could have been that they attended a church of another faith. If that’s the case we are less likely to find their life events in the Church of Scotland records on ScotlandsPeople. Sometimes a very diligent parish clerk ensured all births were registered regardless of the parents’ religious persuasion, but sadly this is not common.

There are, of course, records of other churches. Some of these have been digitised and made available online. Even when records are online they are not 100 % complete. The ravages of time, water, dust and on occasion mice have taken their toll on these records. 

In today’s example we have something very interesting. John Flynn, as some of you may remember from an earlier post was a ‘vagabond’. John married Ann Colquhoun on 5 April 1845 but by 1859 the marriage had broken down and there was quite an extensive court case.

This extract was provided as part of the court case. The marriage register was obviously still around in 1859 and I wanted to find the original entry. A search in the Church of Scotland Old Parish Registers (or OPRs) on ScotlandsPeople showed no results. What I found curious is that there are records for the parish of Urr for this period so I kept digging. I should mention at this point, the town of Dalbeattie was in the parish of Urr, which is in the county of Kirkcudbrightshire, Scotland

I looked at the register to see if there were any gaps. I did this by searching for marriages in the year 1845 for the parish of Urr. I left the name blank. I could see that page 211 had marriages from March 1845 and page 212 had marriages from April 1845 (you can see this for free). I then clicked in to see the register and it looks very complete, with no blank sections where a clerk intended to come back and fill something in. There are entries for 15 March 1845 and 18 April 1845, but nothing for the 5th of April 1845 and nothing for John and Ann.

Looking again at the extract we found in the court case I see that John and Ann were married by John Strain. Who was John Strain, which denomination did he belong to? A quick search on Google brought up the Catholic Encyclopedia and this confirmed what I was beginning to suspect, that he was a Catholic priest. That would explain why the marriage is not in the Church of Scotland records!

Both Findmypast and ScotlandsPeople have Catholic registers so I made a search in these but nothing has been found. What I have found on Findmypast using their ‘Browse’ feature is that although there are many records for Dalbeattie, including for much earlier periods than 1845, there are not very many for the period when John Strain was a priest there. 

On this occasion, we know the record was created and was still in existence in 1859 but it seems that the original is lost. 

What can we learn through this little meander in the records? Look carefully at the record, find out who created it and why. Learn more about the creator of the record and the records they created. This will help you understand what you are looking at and help you piece together your family story.

We also learn that all is not lost when we can’t find a record of a birth, marriage or death before 1855. Clues survive in all sorts of places and we’re working hard to help get more of these court records added to scottishindexes.com so you can find these treasures. There is hope for what is lost.

Tuesday, 23 February 2021

Smart Searching on ScotlandsPeople

We have all been in that situation, made a 1911 census search on ScotlandsPeople only to have five or more options that could all be our ancestor!

You can save those precious credits by making some smart searches.

Although you can add a ‘Forename of other person on that census page’, which can be helpful, this is not so helpful if you are searching for Johns, Marys and Williams as the chances are those names are on quite a lot of Scottish census pages!

When you get your list of results you are given Surname, Forename, Year, Gender, Age, Ref, RD Name and County/City.

The first five columns are self-explanatory, but what about ‘Ref’ and ‘RD Name’, what do these mean?

‘Ref’ is reference, this is displayed as a number, e.g. ‘569/ 1/ 7’. The first number which in this case is 569 represents the Registration District (RD) which is in this case Kilmacolm.

Over time some places grew rapidly and the registration districts were divided, when this happened we may see a district number like 572/2 which is Barrhead and Levern.

Returning to our original example of ‘Ref’ 569/ 1/ 7, the 1 represents the enumeration book and the 7 represents the page. 

Why is this useful? All members of a standard household will be either on the same page or on the page before or following. 

How can this help? Let’s say you find a John Smith in Kilmacolm, he’s the right age but you are not sure it’s quite right. Refine your search, take out the forename and age but look for all ‘Smiths’ in the district of Kilmacolm. 

Once you get the search results up look to see who has the reference ‘569/ 1/ 7’. Also, watch out for ‘569/ 1/ 6’ and ‘569/ 1/ 8’ in case the family splits over two pages!

You have now effectively recreated the family group and you can easily work out if this is ‘your’ John Smith before you spend those credits. 

This is going to be particularly helpful for the 1911 census as it is not available on other websites. If you are struggling to find people in earlier census years use websites like Freecen and ScottishIndexes to make free searches, or if you have a Findmypast or Ancestry subscription use their search to identify the family then go to ScotlandsPeople to see the original image.