Tag Archives: Isobel Walker

It’s easy to make false assumptions!

It’s very easy to make false assumptions; but harder to get the real facts.

I’d like to tell a cautionary tale from my own research.fieldnotebook

First some context; on occasions I’ve found other people’s family trees posted in various locations on the web, which appear to have connections to mine. They claim to have connections to the same ancestors. But there are some differences! Some “extra details” that are a surprise to me, or some clear discrepancies! So I try to contact the person who has posted the tree; to try and get more details and find out what their sources are; to see if it really does fit with my tree and whether there are new details that I can add to my tree.

Too often I’ve either had no response, or they are unable to explain the sources of their information. And too often people appear to have relied only on details obtained from the transcriptions of Parish registers (like the IGI), and to have assumed that the same “name” appearing in several places in the Parish register all relate to the same “Person”.6generation_ancestor_chart_braces

mag-glassI want to explain, from an example in my own research experience, why I believe that this particular approach is highly unreliable! And why I believe that more evidence is normally required!

It must be said that there is a scale to the reliability of this approach. If you’re dealing with particularly rare or unusual names then there may be a reasonable degree of reliability to this approach. But more often than not you’ll be dealing with relatively common names (both forenames and surnames), and here this approach is totally unreliable!

Remember also that in the past people rarely moved very far, unlike they do today. So it was very common to find extended families living geographically close together, and to find cousins or second cousins, or uncles/aunts & nephews/nieces, who shared the same names, living in the same parish. So, unless you can study the original text for un-transcribed details (which might confirm a continuity between different records), you can’t rely on a name that appears in the records on several occasions being a reference to the same person on each occasion. But also people did sometimes move, and the person you’re looking for may be married in a completely different parish to where they were christened.

IMG_7620-edIn my recent posts about Walker family papers, I have mentioned 2 examples (William Walker, b.1739, and Elizabeth Walker, b.1769) where trees posted by other people appear to have made assumptions from the Parish registers that the same “name” appearing in different places in the registers is the same “person”. But these associations seem to me to be at odds with the evidence that I have found in the original family papers that I have!

I have another example from the same family where I appear to have made the same kind of error! This demonstrates the unreliability of this approach, when there is no other evidence to support the assumptions being made!

When I uploaded my GEDCOM to FindMyPast (in Jan. 2016), I noticed that I had “Isabell Walker” (b. 23rd Aug 1729 in Kirkliston, West Lothian) recorded as marrying William Glass in May 1760. The “Walkers in Scotland” website lists the IGI transcriptions for the marriage like this;

  • 16750 – Isobel WALKER, William GLASS, marr, 4 May 1760, Edinburgh Parish Edinburgh, Midlothian, 993527
  • 16751 – Isobel WALKER, William GLASS, marr, 2 May 1760, Kirkliston West, Lothian, 1066630

The similarity of these 2 records means that they are almost certainly recording the same couple, registering their marriage in the parishes where each of them lived. This appears to be the only record for the marriage of an “Isobel Walker” (or similar name) recorded in the Kirkliston parish records. So at some point I appear to have associated this marriage with the Isabell Walker b. 23rd Aug 1729 in Kirkliston, to William Walker & Elizabeth Barron. I’m not sure if this came from seeing this association being made in someone else’s tree! But more likely, it’s an association that I had made myself!

IMG_9478-croppedI know that I’ve not found any evidence for this association from among the family papers that I have, or from any other sources. So seeing it again through the FindMyPast Family Tree Builder made me question what evidence I had for it. Nothing except the transcribed Parish registers, it seems, which I don’t think is sufficient!

So last week I started searching on-line to see if I could find any more evidence that would prove (or disprove) this association. If I couldn’t find more evidence, then I intended to delete this association from my tree, as unreliable! But it would be important to keep a separate note of it being a possibility, for future reference and further research.

As it was, I soon found evidence that this association was completely false; that the “Isobel Walker” who married “William Glass” in 1760, could not be the daughter of William Walker & Elizabeth Barron, b. 1729. The first thing I found, from Google Books, was; “The General Correspondence of James Boswell, 1766-1769: 1768-1769”; a transcription of letters, published by Edinburgh University Press in 1997. On page 92, an editors’ end-note about one of James Boswell’s letters says the following;

“ Lady Jane’s serving-maids were Isobel or Isabella (‘Tibby’) Walker and Euphemia (‘Effy’) Caw. Walker (b. 1719), a naitive of Leith, re- mained in the service of Lady Jane until Lady Jane’s death. She later (c. 1759-62) became servant to William Hogg of Edinburgh and c. 1762 married William Glass, gardener at Newliston (Douglas memorial, pp. 130-31, 142; Hamilton Proof, p. 48).”

(“Lady Jane” was; Lady Jane Douglas, married to Sir John Stewart)

This indicates that the “Isobel Walker” who married William Glass was 10 years older than the daughter of William Walker & Elizabeth Barron. None of the described life events of this Isobel Walker appear to match with what I would expect to find for the Isabell Walker in my family tree! I wanted to find out more! I wanted to check out what the source of this note; the “Douglas memorial” actually said!

After a bit of web-searching, trying slightly varying terms, I found 2 contemporary records, digitised on Google Books, which mention the Isobel Walker who married William Glass;

The Memorial for Archibald Douglas contains numerous mentions of “Tibby Walker”, or “Ifobel Walker” (the “s” being replaced with an “f” – it was common in old handwriting to sometimes write an “s” like an “f”. This practice has been copied in the original print, and in the modern, digital transcription.). She is also identified in parts of the text as “Isabella Glass”, and “Mrs Glafs”.

It takes a while to read through these references and their contexts. There are 2 or 3 points where the text indicates that Isobel was “about the age of twenty-nine” (in 1748), and that she was further advanced in years” than her colleague, Effy Caw, whose birth-date is identified in one place as “1st February 1727”. All this proves to me that this “Isobel Walker” (who married William Glass) is too old to be the “Isabell Walker” in my family tree, who was born in August 1729.

The point of this post is to show how easy it is to make false assumptions. It was unreliable for me to assume (without other evidence) that a name appearing more than once in the records of a parish related to the same person on each occasion. It may, more often, not be the case. I have tried this approach and proven it to be potentially faulty! But it seems to me that too many people take this kind of approach, or at least fail to provide sufficient details of any other evidence that they may have to support such assumptions.

The trouble I have is that when someone posts, publishes, or shares a family tree which contains this kind of assumption, these assumptions become “pseudo-facts” which people using the tree further down the line will treat as real, proven information.

JOHNSTON-family-tree-coverTake the Johnston family tree (published circa 1909). I have treated it all as fact. Looking at the tree, without other evidence to hand, you have no way of knowing if it all has evidence to prove it, or if any of it is based on assumptions (like those I’ve describe above) which may turn out to be false (if you could find the genuine evidence)! I do have other evidence which supports significant parts of the Johnston tree.

Likewise the genealogy of the “Barons of Preston” in “Some Old Families”, by Hardy Bertram McCall (published in 1890); you would probably take it on faith to be accurate! But due to the evidence that I have found in my family documents, I have some questions and doubts about that genealogy (expressed in my notes HERE).

I want my trees to be as accurate as possible; based on evidence rather than assumptions; facts rather than theories. I’m happy to discuss assumptions and theories (mine and other people’s), as you can already see from some of my blog posts. But I want to be really clear about what has evidence and what is assumed. I want to try and avoid including assumptions, that lack clear evidence, in any formal trees or genealogy reports that I post to this blog or publish anywhere else.

I hope that others will also want to be as clear in distinguishing between evidence and assumptions, and in providing reasonable evidence for their information.

Old WALKER papers – Disposition of William Walker, tenant in Hiddlefolds, 1763

This is the second blog post in a series about some old papers of the WALKER family, from Kirkliston, West Lothian, Scotland. I will compile a list of these papers HERE.


Below is one of several documents from an envelope labeled “Old Wills etc. of the Walker family”, which is part of a box full of family papers that I received from my aunt at a family gathering in January 2014. The contents of this envelope all date from the 1700’s. This one is the “Disposition” (Will) of William Walker, whose marriage contract (from 1728) I have already posted -> HERE.

IMG_9490-croppedPlease click on the images to see the scans at full resolution. Transcribed text appears in a Maroon colour below each scanned image. At the bottom I’ve made some notes of my own about the document.

Cover; Wm-Walker-Disposition-cover_300dpiPage 1; William Walker - Disposition - 1763 - page-1-ed_300dpiTranscription of Page 1;

Be it known to all men by #
these presant me William Walker tennant Hiddelfold #
and also tennant in Overtoun of Kirkneuton for the love favour #
and afection that I have and bear to my Children James #
and Thomas, Jannet and Isobel Walker and to the Effect #
ther may be no Despute or Devision betuixt them at or after #
my Decease when the same in Providance shall happen therefor #
[wit] ye me to have [asigned] and disponed as I [Do] hearby asign and #
and make over and dispond to in favours of my said sons James and #
Thomas Walkers first I asigne and make over and dispond to James #
my oldest son his heirs and asigness all and sundrey my whole stocking #
Corns Cattle hors nout sheep labouring Instruments out sight and #
insight houshold plenishing and furniter of whosoever quality #
sort or Denomination that pertain and belong to me this presant #
day and date Janury the twenty eight one thousand sevin hun- #
-dred sixty three in or about Hiddlefolds and to fulfill the premices #
of the Tack together with [all] sundrie debts and sums of money #
reasting and adebted unto me this time aforesaid by whatever per- #
-son or persons upon whatsoever acoumpt – and second – #
I dispone and mak over to Thomas my youngest son his heirs #
and asigness the whole Stocking Corns Cattle hors nout sheep #
labouring Instrumints out sight and insight houshold plenishing #
whatsoever quality sort or denomination that is in or about #
the farm Overtoun of Kirkneuton and likwise he binds and #
obledg himself to pay the yearly rent and Tack Duty of Overtoun #
for this year and [crop] one thousand seven hundred and sixty two #
and every year during the tack and also he binds and oblidges #
himself to give me his father and his two sisters an equall half along #
with his brother James which shall be after mentioned. James #
and Thomas Walkers binds and obliges themselves to pay to their #
father each of them for themselves [fiftinth] pound sterling #

William Lin, witness
James Brown, witness

William Walker
James Walker
Thomas Walker

Page 2; William Walker - Disposition - 1763 - page-2-ed_300dpiTranscription of Page 2;

which is thirty pound to both and if our father require #
not the moniey nou mentoned in his life the one half #
shall be to Thomas and the other to James after his Decease #
and likwise I bind and oblige my sons James and Thomas #
with ther own consent therto to give to ther two sisters Isoble and Jannet #
Walkers portions as followeth – [Vis] to Isoble twenty five pounds #
sterling James and Thomas each one for himself paying twelve pounds #
ten shillings sterling and likwise to Jannet twenty five pounds sterling #
James for himself paying twelve pounds ten shillings sterling and #
Thomas for himself paying twelve pounds ten shillings and in case #
any of them should marrye it shall be given unto them upon Demand #
but if otherwayes they remain unmaried ther portions shall not be #
due to them or the first term martimess or whitsundy after ther fathers #
Decease and if any of them dye ther portion shall be equaly divided #
among the survivors – – I heirby have resigned given up and #
made over in favours of my two sons as is afore mentioned to James #
the farm of Hiddlefolds and all goods and effects in or about #
that farm with full pour to dispone or dispose thereof at [plisoure] #
and also with pour to him to receive the debts generaly asigned and #
to discharge the same and if need be pursue therfore as accords and #
every thing Compelant in law —-
and als[o] to Thomas the farm of Overtoun of Kirkneuton as is afore #
mentioned and all goods and effects in or about that farm or any #
ways beloning therto with full poure to dispon or dispose thereon #
at plesure and also with power to him to receive and discharge the #
debts generaly asigned and if need be pursue therefor as accords #
every thing Compelant in law —-
and we bind and oblige ourselves James for himself and Thomas #
for himself not Conjunctly but [sveraly] to fullfile our oblegations #
to our Father and sisters as is above mentioned —-
[we] all Conjunctly and unanimasly agree to what is hear insear- #
-ted in this and the other preceding page of stampt papper and willingly #
consent to the Regerstration herof in the boks of Council and Session #
or other Competant therin to remain and Constitute —-

William Lin, witness
James Brown, witness

William Walker
James Walker
Thomas Walker

Page 3; William Walker - Disposition - 1763 - page-3_bk-of-cover_300dpiTranscription of Page 3;

 – – – in witness thereof written upon stamped #
papper by James Walker I have subscribed ther presance #
at Hiddlefolds the twenty eight day of January one thousand #
seven hundred and sixty three years before these witness #
William Lin of Lins millin and James Brown #
tennant in Bromfilet

William Lin, witness
James Brown, witness

William Walker
James Walker
Thomas Walker


Terms used in the text;


Hiddlefold (or Hiddlefaulds) lay S.E. of Kilpunt, between Kilpunt and Birds Mill.

I believe that “Bromfilet” is Broomflat, and “Lins millin” is Lin’s Mill (which is the place where the Union Canal crosses the River Almond). Both sites lay to the south of Hiddlefaulds, on opposite sides of the River Almond.

Walker family;

“Here lies the dust of William Walker late Tennant in Hiddle-fold… who died Jan~ 1st 1768 aged 73 years”

William Walker’s tombstone, in the churchyard of Kirkliston Parish Church, records that “William Walker, late tennant in Hiddle-fold … died Jan.1st 1768, aged 73 years“.

Note; GravestonePhotos.com has mis-transcribed William’s age as “75”! Having seen and photographed the stone myself, I am certain that it reads “aged 73”, and  other publications of “Monumental Inscriptions” that I’ve seen, agree.

Notes written by my Grandfather in the late 1950’s say that the Walkers moved from Puncheonlaw (N.E. of Kirkliston) to Hiddlefolds in 1745, and that William had inherited the tenancy at “Overtoun of Kirknewton … from his brother, David Walker, who had died, it seems, without issue“. I have not yet confirmed either of these statements from original sources!

From Kirkliston parish records I know that William Walker, and his wife Elizabeth Barron, had 5 children; “Isabell” and Janet were twins, christened on 24th August 1729, James was christened on 8th August 1731, and Thomas on 26th October 1735 (all named in William’s Disposition, above).

A third son, “William” is recorded; christened on 2nd February 1739. I have seen trees posted on-line which claim to link this christening to a marriage at Kirkliston in 1774, between another “William Walker” and Catherine Muir (see HERE ). But I believe this connection to be wrong due to the details in the Disposition above which clearly mention only 2 sons; James and Thomas (also note in that link, the supposed birth year of the father; “1706”, which does not fit with the record on his tombstone!). It is my assumption that the third son “William” (b.1739) had died sometime in childhood; before his father wrote the Disposition above.

Also the lack of any mention of William’s wife, Elizabeth Barron, in this Disposition suggests to me that she had died before it was written. I have not yet found any record of Elizabeth’s death.

If anyone has evidence that can prove (or disprove) my assumptions here, I would be very interested to see it. If you do, please leave a comment below, or use the Contact Page to get in touch. Thanks.