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My Linlithgow Burgesses

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In 1840, two unlikely branches of my family met. The Bensons from Midlothian were powdermakers, miners and labourers. This group of families lived for many years in and around Glencorse. The local cemetery is stuffed with their remains, if you’ll pardon the expression.

It’s easy to go sideways in the family (Robert, whose brother was Francis and who had young Francis and so on and so on) but not as simple to go backwards. The earliest person I have is the wife, Isabella, of a Benson who would have been born around 1770.

But it’s the very first Robert Benson who married a Spence. Or to be accurate, a Thom. And Margaret, the bride, was from a long line of burgesses in the Royal Burgh of Linlithgow.

When I began researching this family line, I discovered that I wasn’t alone – contacts flooded in with stacks of information. Sadly, a lot of it turned out to be contradictory – and who to believe and why? Overwhelmed by the task, I set ‘the Linlithgow lot’ aside for a good while and only returned to it fairly recently. This time, I’ve done the research myself using (hopefully) ironclad sources.

The first surprise was one that’s all too common. This girl had the surname Thom but there was no marriage. I thought of a commonlaw marriage but the truth was that an already married man – Mr Thom, the exciseman – fathered two children on Helen Stanners. That wife and six children I’d been following? Somebody else’s.

Having overcome that hurdle, I began to find the families of Stanners and Spence. And they’re infinitely more interesting than an unfaithful exciseman.

Linlithgow is a town full of history. Mary of Guise, wife of James V of Scotland, was delivered of a daughter here in 1542, who was to become the ill-fated Mary, Queen of Scots. Linlithgow Palace, which royal princes altered and improved through the years, was considered an architectural gem of the Renaissance. Prince Charles Edward Stewart (Bonnie Prince Charlie) stayed there in 1745, but after fires started by the Duke of Cumberland in 1746, the palace burned to the ground. The ruins of it have lain unroofed and uninhabited since then.

The River Avon flowed through the town and was vital to the success of the leather industry which sprang up in the 1600s and continued for two centuries. My ancestors tanned the leather and made shoes from it for export. This brought them some reward, and there are several generations of both Stanners and Spences who were made burgesses of the town.

I’m still deep in the labrynth that is Scots history, but so far I’ve discovered that to be a burgess could mean several things. It could simply be a man who owned some land (and that could be a very small amount of land, say enough to build a house on). Or it could mean a man who was a member of a prestigious crafts guild, and there were certainly Guilds of Tanners and Cordiners. I think that at least some of my people will appear on Burgess Rolls, although the privilege of being a Burgess was also granted to those outside the burgh. A case of profiting by who you know.

It was a thing to be proud of, being a burgess, and this is illustrated by a rather grand tombstone in the kirkyard which was erected by one William Law in honour of his grandparents, George Stanners and Margaret Spence. William was himself a ‘feur of Glasgow & burgess here’.

I’m beginning to look at extracts from the commisary courts whose records are kept in the National Archives of Scotland and I found Charles Inglis vs George Stanners in January of 1769. The commisary courts were often concerned with moral matters as well as matters of money, and I will have to look at the full record to find out why Mr Inglis and Mr Stanners were facing each other in court. I’m also going to look into the system of apprenticeships – there were two George Stanners, father and son – could George Jnr have been apprenticed to his father?

These families probably owned little pockets of land on Linlithgow’s High Street and there is a record of a William Law in his shoe shop in the 1820s. I think it’s a fair bet that he was a descendant of the man who erected a monument to his grandparents.

Finally, looking into these families has also been an exploration into random spelling. Elizabeth Dow, whose father was James Dove. And Christian Cochran who was variously Christian or Christean and Cochran or Chochren or even Chochran. The Georges get off lightly, only once being spelled, rather Germanically, Georg.

Photo of Linlithgow by Daniel Morrison

Family History

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Family History

I have a passion for researching my family history, so this section of the site is devoted to my ancestors and their families. Although it makes sense to follow only direct ancestors, that’s not my approach. So out of nearly 1600 individuals, only some of those will spin directly back into history. The rest will be those little branches that are so tantalising simply because they are often just out of reach.

The search so far has wound back to the 1660s and the newest member of the family was born in 2010. Some are harder to track down than the Golden Fleece while others turn out to be related to everyone you could imagine.

We’re a family of common names (the genealogist’s nightmare) and common occupations. There’s nobody grand among us. We were farmers, tanners, cordiners, burgesses of the town and, overwhelmingly, coal miners. Some of our branches are from across the Irish Sea. Some went to Canada when that country was young. And two soldiers, a coalminer and his shoemaker father-in-law, took the Queen’s Shilling for service in India, where they became enmeshed with an Anglo-Indian dynasty.

Our surnames (so far) are:

Adamson Alexander Allibone Anderson Armstrong Baillie Balance Barclay Barnes Barnett Barry Bartley Baxter Bayne Bell Bennie Benson Bilton Binnie Bishop Black Blake Box Braidwood Bray Breen Breslin Brimton Brook Brookes Brown Brownlie Brunton Bryden Burby Burd De Butts Calder Caldwell Cameron Campbell Carlier Carrie Carter Cather Chaplin Charlton Clark Clarke Clephane Cochran Cook Copland Corr Cotter Courtney Cowan Craib Craig Craigen Crichton Crooks Cunningham Curran Currie Cuthbertson Dargie Davis D’Cruz Dewar Dick Dickinson Dickson Divine Docherty Donnelland Dontree Douglas Dove Dow Dowie Doyle D’Rozario Drummond Dundass Dunlop Dunn Easton Edgar Elder Elliott Evans
Farbrother Ferguson Ferrier Fisher Fleming Fletcher Foley Forrest Frame Francis Fraser Frazer Freer Fulton Gardiner Gardner Geddes Gibb Gibson Gill Gold Goldbury Good Gordon Gorman Graham Greenaway Hall Halliburn Hamilton Hardie Hastie Hay Henderson Hicken Higgins Hill Hodgeskies Holod Hunt Hunter Hutchinson Hyslop Ignatius Ingram Irwin Jackson Jacobs Jamieson Japp Johnston Johnstone Jones Joy Judge Keer Kelly Kennedy Kerr Kidd Killalee Kirkland Lane Law Lawson Lee Lewars Lin Lindsay Lithgow Lundy
MacDonald MacEwan Maclaren Maclean MacMillan Madill Magnay Mangen Marlain Marshell Martin Matheson McArthur McAughey McAulay McCallum McCandless McClelland McCord McCulloch McDougall McGhee McGregor McIlwraith McInnes McKenzie McLachlan McLean McLellan McListon McNair McQuiston McTaggart McVicar Mellis Michie Middleton Miller Mitchell Monaghan Moncur Morgan Morris Morrison Mowatt Muir Muirhead Munro Munt Murray Nathaniel Neil Nelson Newlands Nisbet Noir O’Brien O’Donnell Ola Old Owens Paczsusky Pairman Parrott Paterson Paton Patrick Patterson Peat Pedio Peters Pollack Potts Preston Pritchard Radford Raggett Ralston Redway Reed Reid Robario Robb Roberts Robertson Robinson Rodger Rodney Rodrigues Rogers Ross Russell
Salmon Sandilands Scott Selfridge Shaw Simmons Slater Smillie Smith Somerville Spence Squire Stanners Steel Stevenson Stewart Storione Tait Taylor Tennant Thom Thomson Tudhope Turnbull Wallace Ward Wason Watson Watt Waugh Weaver Weir Wells Whitelaw Whiteway Whyt Williams Williamson Wilson Wood Wormleighton Young
Family History

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