Tuesday, 16 September 2014

A visit to the Stewartry Museum in Kirkcudbright

The Stewartry Museum in Kirkcudbright is perhaps one of my favourite museums. It is a quirky place that can really help you understand the history of the area and the lives of everyday people.

On our most recent visit I was drawn to a number of items in the cabinets. The first was the ‘knapping stone’. This particular stone was found in a garden in Bourtree Park, Kirkcudbright in the 1960s.


Other local items include the hat worn by the Provost of Kirkcudbright from the 19th century to 1934, a policeman’s lamp and a night watchman's rattle.


Together with each item is a brief description of  who donated the artefact. This could be especially interesting if your family is from the area. Could you find the wooden butter pats your great-grandmother used?


As well as their regular displays they have exhibitions that change. At the moment there is an excellent display of Jessie M. King items.

From the 22nd of November 2014 to 31 January 2015 there will be an exhibition intriguingly entitled ‘Unusual, Eccentric and Wacky Everyday Inventions, Contraptions and Thingamajigs’: I wouldn’t miss it for the world!!

Monday, 8 September 2014

Using www.scottishindexes.com to the full

As well as searching www.scottishindexes.com by name you can also search by keyword alone. This means it’s good for one place studies, but also for searching for different types of people. Let’s take an example: bondagers and hinds.

There was a practice amongst agricultural communities, mainly in the south-east of Scotland and north east of England where a man employed on a farm as hind would supply a young woman to work on the fields; she was known as a bondager.

When a man was newly married, his wife might work as a bondager. Once they had children and the married woman could no longer work in the fields, another relative, perhaps her sister would fulfil this role, until eventually a daughter was old enough to provide the labour. If there was no female relative to take the job, it was common for a woman from outside the family to become the bondager.

The hind would generally be a ploughman, having the important responsibility of looking after the horses, an integral part of any farm. The bondager would work in the fields, particularly during the harvest season.


The hind would often be ‘paid in kind’, often grain and a little land to cultivate. Any surplus could be sold at the market. The bondager could be paid in cash, or her wages might be the house in which they would all live.

You  can see an example of this situation in our 1841 census record.

As the 19th century progressed, the custom gradually began to die out. If we follow the same family we saw in the 1841 census to 1851 we see John now described as an ‘Ag. Lab’. Another young woman is with the family, this time being described as a Farm Servant.

Exactly what arrangement was made is difficult to know, it could be a that Margaret was a bondager but not recorded that way in the census. We know however that the practice was dying out so perhaps the arrangements had changed.

To learn more about hinds and bondagers I would recommend www.hebondagers.com and www.foodheritage-berwick.org.uk.

Thursday, 4 September 2014

50 Years of the Forth Road Bridge


Today marks 50 years since the Queen opened the Forth Road Bridge. I’m pleased to say that I’m far too young to remember that day. What I do remember, though, is being taken over the bridge as as a young child, not because we needed to get to the other side but just as a fun thing to do! We drove over and then headed back into Edinburgh again. Of course there was a toll to pay in those days too. Don’t tell anybody this, but as a child I thought it was called the ‘fourth’ road bridge!

© Copyright Anthony Foster

© Copyright Andrew Smith 
In practical terms though it was, and still is, a major advantage. The journey from South Queensferry to North Queensferry now takes just a few minutes. Before the bridge was built you would need to take a ferry or face a time-consuming drive to cross farther up the estuary at the Kincardine Bridge.

The Scottish Screen Archive has some fascinating films featuring the Forth Road Bridge. Here is a film showing cars queuing for the ferry not long after the bridge was opened (you can see the new bridge in the background).

The bridge was built high above the Firth to allow great industrial ships to pass underneath. The bridge is 2,512 metres in length, around 1.5 miles. At the time it was built it had the longest span for a suspension bridge outside the USA; it is easy to understand why it was such an attraction!

This film from 1968 looks at the ‘development of sources of power, the industries, and new towns along the borders of the River Forth’.

Monday, 1 September 2014

New Resource for the Family Historian

As you may have noticed, we love photos! We’re proud of our 1,399 mainly historical photos that we have put on flickr. I’m pleased to say though, that the Internet Archive has put 619,833 photos on flickr and they all appear to be copyright free!

Each photo is well referenced, giving the title of the book, year of publication, authors, subjects and publisher. You can click through to their website to read the entire book. There is also some text from the book on each flickr, helping you understand the context the image was used in.

If you are a professional or an amateur family historian this will be a great resource for illustrating reports and websites to help tell your family story.

Included are photos of places and people (including Scotland) but also machinery from around the world, maps, graphs and much, much more.

The Internet Archive on flickr

Thursday, 28 August 2014

A lament for the letter

When you go will you send back a letter from America?’

Thus begins ‘Letter From America’, a classic song from Scottish pop duo The Proclaimers. It reflects a long history of Scottish people emigrating to seek better lives overseas, many leaving behind family members on their native shores. Back then, letters from America or Canada would take weeks or months to arrive back home – if they arrived at all. We can scarcely conceive of how precious such an epistle would be to those who received it.

Today, the letter has been largely rendered obsolete, replaced in written form by email, texts, Facebook messages, tweets, WhatsApps or the multitude of alternative telephone or online messaging systems. We can communicate instantaneously – speak across continents, hear the voices and even see the faces of our loved ones. Technology is astounding, and what would have been thought of decades ago as unthinkable, centuries ago as magical, has fast become the norm. As with progress in most areas, we gain much, and forget what we are leaving behind.

Genealogists do not forget the letter. How could we? Letters are our pathways to pasts unknown to us, our windows into the lives our ancestors lived. From the mundane to the dramatic, the terse to the loquacious, letters possess a peculiar charm to the descendants left behind. We peer intently at the rushed lines of a holiday postcard, struggle to decipher the scrawls of a soldier’s letter home. It’s a fascinating way to get to know your forebears – through their own words. The words were not intended for you – not the friendly enquiries towards a new mother, nor the sympathetic tones for the bereaved. Time passes, and what was a moment full of raw joy or staggering sorrow becomes removed from us. Yet we remember it. These letters open up to us a different world.

We’ve been looking recently at the court records and supporting documents of paternity cases. The love letters we read have a painful edge in retrospect – the promises of eternal adoration belied by the sombre purpose the letters are used for: evidence that the wayward father was once in an intimate relationship with the unmarried mother, now seeking financial support. They are fascinating as evidence and as a glimpse into a society both similar and different to our own. Today, text messages and screenshots might be used to prove past affection in court – but love letters cached in shoeboxes are few and far between. The great-grandchildren of my generation will have no photo albums or physical letters to hold in their hands, but may trawl what remains of us in cyberspace – a modern legacy.

Genealogists will remember the letter. 

Monday, 25 August 2014

Who Do You Think You Are? Live (this weekend!)

We’re looking forward to Who Do You Think You Are? Live in Glasgow this weekend, where we’ll be enjoying the displays, the talks and the hubbub of excitement when a group of genealogists get together. (How’s the research going? – It’s all relative).

For those not familiar with the television show, Who Do You Think You Are? researches the lineage of celebrities and documents their journey as they uncover secrets and truths about their ancestors. WDYTYA is enormously popular around the world, and the spectacle and scale of the live event is breath-taking. Hundreds of genealogy experts and thousands of enthusiasts gather together to learn from one another, discover some more about the past and to take in the buzz. We’ll be joining them, wearing our Scottish Genealogy Network badges with pride (stop us if you see us, we’d love to answer your questions).

Badges © Scottish Genealogy Network 

On Saturday morning, Graham will be giving a (free!) talk about tracing illegitimate ancestors. While such individuals can provide fascinating and sometimes touching stories, they are also notorious roadblocks in progressing your family tree. In the 1850s, around 9% of births in Scotland were illegitimate, so a number of genealogists will probably have discovered illegitimacy in their family line. Fortunately for posterity, mothers often took the fathers of illegitimate children to court to prove their identities and seek financial support. We still have records of these cases, providing details and facts which are absent from other records. Graham’s talk will explain how both amateur and professional genealogists can use these records to discover paternal lines and progress family trees.

We’re gearing up for the weekend – hopefully see you there! 

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

#DGHour hints and tips for Ancestral Tourism in Dumfries and Galloway

According to Tourism Intelligence, ‘10 million people with Scottish roots are interested in finding out more about their ancestry. It is estimated that 4.3 million people could be encouraged to visit.’

This blog post has been specifically created following the #DGHour we had on Twitter in August 2014 and is designed to help those in the tourism industry help people trace their family tree. I hope however that it will also help individuals tracing their Scottish family tree.

Caerlaverock Castle

Heritage Tourism or Ancestral Tourism

One thing to mention at the outset is that there is a difference between what we might call ‘heritage tourism’’ and ‘ancestral tourism’’. As an example, some people with the Maxwell surname may choose to visit Caerlaverock Castle, because (I quote from the Historic Scotland website) ‘around 1220, Alexander II of Scotland, needing trusted men to secure the Scottish West March, granted the estate to his chamberlain, Sir John de Maccuswell (Maxwell). Sir John built the ‘old’ castle. Within 50 years, his nephew, Sir Herbert, had moved to a new castle just 200m away to the north. There the Maxwell lords remained for the next 400 years.’ The reality is however, that many people with the Maxwell surname are not directly descended from these Maxwells.

One dictionary definition of genealogy is ‘A line of descent traced continuously from an ancestor’.

Your first mission, therefore, is to find out what type of experience your visitors want. Do they want to visit a castle once owned by someone of the same surname, or do they want to trace their own direct ancestors one by one as far back as they can?

If they want to trace their own genealogy, here are some resources and tips so that you can be better placed to help them:

Accommodation - What to offer the Ancestral Tourist

A good internet connection - A lot of family history research is done online these days. Many people will have their family tree online on websites like ancestry.com. This means a good internet connection is essential to family history research. If you can offer this as part as your accommodation package the ancestral tourist will likely find your accommodation a more appealing choice.

Reference books - For south west Scotland, I would recommend the guide produced by the Dumfries and Galloway Council, ‘Researching Local History - A Guide’ (available at £5.99 from most D&G libraries). I would also recommend the book ‘Tracing your Scottish Ancestors’ published by the National Records of Scotland. Other books such as ‘The Surnames of Scotland: Their Origin, Meaning and History’ by George Black may also be useful to visitors. If you want to have an even larger library for your visitors I would also recommend the books by Chris Paton.

Visit Scotland’s Ancestral Welcome Scheme - Participation in the Ancestral Welcome Scheme gives you the opportunity to publicise your knowledge and commitment to meeting the needs of the ancestral visitor. For more details see the Visit Scotland website.

Scotland’s People - www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk is the foremost website used in researching Scottish Ancestors online. They give access to the key building blocks of a family tree: Birth, Marriage, Death, Census and Parish Records as well as wills and some other key resources. The website is a ‘pay-per-view’ site (not a subscription website). Scottish libraries sell half price starter cards, giving 60 credits which can be used on the site for just £7 (the standard price is 30 credits for £7).

Once your visitors arrive

The Old School House at the long abandoned Woodhead lead mines, Carsphairn, Stewartry of Kirkcudbright.

Maps - People visit the area where their ancestors lived is to visit the homes they once occupied and visit their graves. If you are able to offer help by supplying maps this would really help your visitors. The National Library of Scotland has a fantastic collection of historic maps (many of which can be overlaid on modern maps for comparison) which could help them work out where a long demolished house once stood.

Archives - At the time of writing (August 2014) the main archive for Dumfries and Galloway is within the Ewart Library (Catherine Street, Dumfries, DG1 1JB). Access is free and you can use your digital camera to photograph many records (permission needed). Here are the opening times:

Archive Search Room Opening Times
Monday- CLOSED
Tuesday - 10.00 - 13.00, 14.00 - 17.00
Wednesday - 10.00 - 13.00, 14.00 - 19.00
Thursday - 10.00 - 13.00, 14.00 - 17.00
Friday - 10.00 - 13.00, 14.00 - 17.00
Saturday - 10.00 - 13.00, 14.00 - 16.00 (First Saturday in month only)

Important - Most archive material is stored off-site, you need to contact the archive a day or two in advance so that they can make sure the items you need are brought in for you.

The archive at Dumfries has records such as school log books, poor relief applications and minutes, valuation rolls and newspapers throughout D&G. They also have copies of the census for D&G on microfilm and also local pre-1855 parish records (OPRs). As well as providing access to these key resources they also have a genealogist who can help searchers; there is a fee for this service and booking is essential.

Dumfries Archive in the Ewart Library

Other archives and museums - Whilst the Ewart Library is the main repository, local museums and libraries throughout D&G can also be useful. They sometimes have original records, and in many cases have key resources in the form of printed transcripts and microform. Most importantly, though, they can provide local knowledge!  This map can help you find archives across Scotland. The guide book published by D&G council that I have already mentioned (Researching Local History - A Guide) includes a comprehensive list with contact details.

Online Indexes

Friends of the Archives of Dumfries and Galloway - A lot of work has been done by the Friends of the Archives of Dumfries and Galloway group to index historical records. These indexes include the 1851 Census, Dumfries Jail books, various Kirk Session Minutes, Poor Board Minutes and much more. All indexes are free to access from the archive’s website.

Scottish Indexes - Our own website www.scottishindexes.com has census indexes, prison indexes, patenity indexes, mental health indexes, as well as birth, marriage and death indexes.

Gravestones - The website www.kirkyards.co.uk has free online access to gravestones or Monumental Inscriptions for a number of churchyards in the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright. Its sister site www.kirkcudbright.co has an historical index of the people and places of the Stewartry of Kirkcubright and other useful local resources.

Family History Societies and Researchers

Dumfries and Galloway Family History Society - The society is run by volunteers and has its premises in Glasgow Street, Dumfries. The opening times vary between summer and winter so it’s best to look at their website for details. As well as being able to visit the research centre and use their resources you can also buy their publications.

Dumfriesshire and Galloway Natural History and Antiquarian Society - This society is perhaps more immediately thought of by the historian than the genealogist but as they are so closely connected I have included them in this list. Their website has an index to their transactions and many volumes are online.

Scottish Indexes - Most people these days are able to trace their own family tree, sometimes however they need some help. As well as providing indexes we also have a research service. Feel free however to give us a quick ring if you have people coming to stay and you need some advice on how to help them.

Scottish Genealogy Network - This is a group of professional genealogists working across Scotland. For more information see their blog.

If you have any questions please post a comment below and I’ll do my best to answer it.