Tag Archives | genealogy

Have Your ID Ready

Identity is something we’re quite preoccupied with these days. Identity theft, identity cards and ‘who do you think you are?’. For two of my family, ID cards were a fact of life. They carried them during two separate wars with Germany.

Tom, a policeman, was in a reserved occupation in World War II. A Schedule of Reserved Occupations was drawn up in 1938 and included farmers and railwaymen as well as policemen. These jobs were regarded as vital to the country at home. Nonetheless, Tom went to the recruiting offices of every armed service and tried to enlist. He was turned down – because a stray cricket ball had punctured his eardrum when he was a boy and left him deaf in one ear.

This picture ID card is dated 1940 and was an expanded version of a Police Warrant Card. White dress gloves are tucked into the choker-collared tunic of the day, made from of heavy dark blue serge. His hair is short (the rule of never having hair touching the collar was one he adhered to for the rest of his life) and he looks ridiculously young, although he was 21 when this picture was taken. During the war, he worked for Kirkcaldy Borough Police on the Fife coast. I don’t think they were ever in real danger from invasion or bombing there, but the threat must have seemed real enough at the time.

I found this ID card near the end of my father’s life. He wasn’t a sentimental man, and the fact that he had chosen to keep it all those years must have meant it was precious to him.

The other person in possession of an ID card in my family takes us to my father’s Aunt Annie. The year is 1917 and World War I still has one more bloody year to run. Annie, who was my grandfather’s sister, married a foreigner, a French stonemason named Laurent Storione. So her ID, although also issued by the local constabulary, was quite different in its purpose than my father’s. As the wife of a foreign national in 1917, she was required to carry ID with her at all times. Despite the fact that France was a British ally in the fight against Germany, Laurent would still be viewed as a foreigner and by association, his wife Annie could have been said to pose a risk to national security.

Annie was the third child of thirteen born to Thomas Cowan & Anna Brown. Her father served in Her Majesty’s Army for many years, seeing service in India, South Africa and England. This photograph clearly shows a woman who is not prosperous. Both her dress and hairstyle are more suited to 1900 than 1917 and her best outfit, donned here for the photographer, would have lasted for many years. Her expression is fairly grim and with good reason. At the age of 44, she had borne seven children and raised them with little help from her husband, who often disappeared for months on end, ostensibly on political missions (he was a firebrand Communist well known to the authorities) but there was talk of other women. Annie died only seven years after this picture was taken in 1924. My cousin, her granddaughter, commented that “She died of a broken heart, but she was really just worn out and had taken to Hell’s Wine to help”. There apparently was no money for a burial and she lies at rest with her brother John, my grandfather, and his wife Martha.

Family History

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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

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Betsy

Betsy Somerville was my great-grandmother on my mother’s side. She was one of the first people I was to find in my hunt for family – and one of the few whose story I could share with my mother before she died. I don’t know what Betsy looked like – there are no photos of her. And it’s no good looking at pictures of her children, for they are very dissimilar. And that’s because – there’s no other way of putting this – Betsy was a bit of a sucker for the men.

When Elizabeth Somerville was born in 1852, she was the ninth of eleven children born to John Somerville and Jean Wallace. John’s quite an important figure in my Somerville history, and I’ll be coming back to him later. A number of villages clustered around Lanark then and the family moved back and forth between them. Carstairs, Carluke and Cambusnethan. They were part of a generation caught up in Scotland’s inexorable slide from agriculture to industry. John’s father had worked the land, but by the time John was grown, he was toiling in the coalfields of Lanarkshire as a winding engineman.

In the 1861 census for Cambusnethan, there’s seven of them living in one room. Betsy and her two younger sisters are recorded as scholars. This should have meant that they attended school on a regular basis. However, parents were often wary of officials and would say that their children went to school when in reality they didn’t.

By the 1870s, Betsy had lost four of her brothers and sisters to consumption, a disease which spread like wildfire in the overcrowded conditions. Three more had settled down and married. But Betsy remained single. Then, in 1879, she had a child who was named for his father, James Morris. He’s a mystery to me is James Snr – all I know of him is that although he gave the boy his name, he and Betsy never married.

Now with a baby son to look after, Betsy moved in and kept house for her widowed father in Cambusnethan, her mother having died three years earlier. Nine years passed and in 1888, she was living in what was to be the first of several addresses in Blantyre. Her father was slowly, agonisingly dying. And Betsy was pregnant again. John, her second son (who would be my grandfather) was born on the 18th of August and Betsy’s father died only a month later. I think it’s significant that Betsy didn’t register the birth of the baby until after her father had died.

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My grandfather’s birth certificate was the first document I ever saw. It was at the Public Record Office in Edinburgh in pre-computer days. You had to look up the indices, then place your requests to view (written in pencil – no pens were allowed anywhere in the records office)in a little box. Then you waited. Eventually, a wee man in a warehouseman’s coat would lead you up to the stacks high in the dome of the beautiful Georgian building. Placing the relevant volume on a rickety ledge, he’d find the correct page and stand aside while you copied the record. It was rather thrilling and I rather regret that this hands-on experience has vanished.

Copying John Somerville’s birth record, I saw a note scribbled to the side of the record. It said ‘Entry in Register of Corrected Entries’ and I asked my guide what that was. He grinned knowingly, said ‘Aye…come wi’ me’ and led me off to a separate section of the stacks. What I found in that record left me full of admiration for Betsy Somerville.

Not only was she supporting herself by working as a boot merchant on her own account, she had decided to take baby John’s natural father to court to prove paternity. This was an enormous undertaking for a working class woman on her own. The case was heard in the Sherriff Court on the 10th of November and George Dick, a surface worker at the coal pit from Ayrshire, was decreed to be the father. There was no question of money changing hands for the upkeep of the child – George Dick wouldn’t have had any – just a question of honour. And perhaps a healthy dose of rage – had George tried to wash his hands of her and the baby? George doesn’t appear again in this story, but I traced him in a census three years later. He’s married to one Agnes McCallum – they have no children and are living not far away from Betsy and her boys. And that’s the last we hear of George Dick – or is it?

Fast forward to 1890. Betsy’s now 38. And there’s another baby. Another son. She’s officially a ‘laundress’ – in other words, she’s taking in folk’s washing. Back breaking work but she had little alternative as a single mother with young children. And the name of this new son? George.

Let’s look at the evidence. George Dick is married in 1891, but Betsy’s George is born in November of 1890. No father’s name appears on his birth certificate and there’s to be no taking to court of any man this time.

The final twist is that on the night of the 1901 census, she’s living at yet another address and she has a visitor. George Livingstone, a 29 year old (married) painter from Rothesay. Too young for her? Perhaps – after all, she’s 46 in 1901. But let’s remember that when she had her second boy, John, she was 39 but the father was only 24. A penchant for younger men? I’ll never know.

Betsy-1901-census

Most of John Somerville and Jean Wallace’s children were buried with them in a family grave which I’ve visited at Cambusnethan. But Betsy isn’t with them. Her eldest son, James (my great-uncle Jim, who I knew briefly as a little girl) bought a plot for himself and his wife – and there was room for his mother.

I wonder if Betsy kept in touch with her brothers and sisters throughout her life, or whether she was ostracised by the family. If her behaviour was frowned upon, did caring for her ailing father make up for it a bit? Was she then looked on more kindly? I really hope that was the case.

For I’ve a deep fondness for Betsy Somerville, my great-grandmother. She had her weaknesses, plain to see, but by god she paid for them. She never married and her poverty must have been considerable. But she kept her family together somehow until they were men. That took courage and resilience. In some ways, she was a very modern woman.

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Everyone’s Favourite Fish – The Red Herring

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The Red Herring is a common fish scooped up in its thousands in nets of genealogists worldwide. It’s almost as common in the Mare Genealogica as familia fabula (family myth).

Being red, it stands out on a page of closely packed type with the scintillating header of COR-CRO: 15 of 385 pages. Being friendly (and equipped with special fins) it catches your eye, waves at you as you try to place where you know it from…

It has a familiar face, it’s got your grandmother’s nose and it says it was born only 10 miles from the birthplace you have on your record – can it be – yes it must be – it’s that long-lost relative you thought you’d never find. Hallelujah.

But beware – red herrings are the cuckoos of the seas. Hidden behind that cuddly exterior is a whole shoal of bogus relations who will, before you realise what’s happening, devour your entire family tree.

How can you spot one of these interlopers? Here’s an example – if Auntie Mabel’s husband Fred appears to have been born before his youngest child, maybe he’s not the Fred you thought he was, the one so beloved by the family who could pull rabbits out of balloons. Or another: you gleefully follow the red herring’s ancestors back two generations to find you’re descended from an Uzbekhi tribesman and everyone knows that the family has always hailed from Nether Wallop.

Having spotted one, what to do? Gentle genealogist, there’s no easy way to say this. Get rid of it. Fling the baby out with the bathwater. Whisper ‘I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it to end like this’ as you delete it from your files if you must, but it has to go. Think how much tidier your tree will be without Uncle Willie who seemed to have married 37 women in quick succession. Think how you’ll never again have to search the frozen steppes of Russia in vain for Agnes Macklethwaite who married Ernest Jones.

So your tree is a little bare now and only dates back to 1933 – no matter, now it’s echt, it’s real. Your mother doesn’t talk to you any more since you found that she isn’t the long lost daughter of Frank Sinatra – she’ll get over it, tell her you’re doing it My Way. And all those people on rootsweb lists who embraced you as a long-lost 2nd cousin thrice removed and invited you to their ‘cosy home’ deep in the Catskills will soon find someone else to cherish.

And finally, don’t grieve for the Red Herring. He’s guaranteed to be clasped to the bosoms of the next fleet of genealogists to come along with the words “Henry! it’s You!”

Gallimaufry

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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
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