Tag Archives: records

Scotland trip – May 2017 – day 7

I’m aiming to write and post a little bit each day about the family history research I’m doing, and what I find, during a week staying​ in Edinburgh. But for personal privacy, the posting of these travels on AFamilyHistoryBlog will be delayed by a few days, and will not necessarily be in day by day order! Some of these posts may be given later tweets, with added photos, etc.

Hopetoun House

I spent much of a day in the archives at Hopetoun House, South Queensferry, near Edinburgh. I was looking into my WALKER ancestors, who were tenant farmers on the Hopetoun Estate through from the mid 18th to the end of the 19th century, and into the farms where they lived and worked.

Among other things, there are bits in the Walker family history, originally written by my Grandfather in the 1950’s, which I don’t know any original sources for. So I was hoping that I might find some of those in the Hopetoun archive records.

The archive room at Hopetoun House

I had previously been in contact by email with the volunteer archivists at Hopetoun, so they knew that I planned to visit. I arrived at Hopetoun House at 10:30am, as it was opening to public visitors. I went in to the lower ground floor reception, to the right of the main staircase up to the front door (where most public visitors go into the house). I was soon met by one of the archivists, Richard, who took me up through service stairs and corridors, to an archive research room on an upper floor.

Document bundles in the Hopetoun Archives

I spent several hours there, looking through a number of bundles of old documents; lease agreements (tacks), etc, and was permitted to photograph anything I saw that looked to be of interest. Each bundle has a reference number, and is catalogued in the National Register of Archives for Scotland (NRAS). All the papers in the Hopetoun Archives appear to begin with the catalogue reference “NRAS888/”. In the archive room I was able to search this catalogue, on a computer, to identify the catalogue entries that looked to be of most interest.

(Unfortunately on the internet the full catalogue does not appear to be available! When I search the NRAS Register, it only gives the “top level record” for the papers of the Hopetoun Estate; NRAS888. The individual records, which I was able to search for in the archive room at Hopetoun House, do not appear to be available to search for online!)

Among the papers I saw, there were estate copies of two or three of the same documents that I’ve already posted copies of onto AFamilyHistoryBlog from among the WALKER family papers that I have.

My STAR FINDS from among the papers that I saw at Hopetoun House were plans of Hiddlefaulds (which was demolished in the 1890’s) and of the farm buildings at Kilpunt – both plans dated 1841, along with notes which confirmed that the WALKER family became tenants at Hiddlefaulds in (or slightly before) 1745.

A printed document about the rental income from the estates of “Pumpberston, Illieston, and Kilpunt”, (associated with the sale of these estates at the time that Lord Hope acquired them, circa 1760), details that William WALKER was the tenant in Hiddlefaulds in 1745, but a David KER was the tenant in 1740. A handwritten footnote on this page says that “when Will Walker took Hiddlefaulds he was promised a Tack [a lease agreement] but never got it.“! So the original paperwork was never done!

In total, I took over 170 photos of the documents I saw, that looked to be of interest to me in my family history. These came from the following NRAS catologue numbers (with partial descriptions);

  • NRAS 888/16/Bundle 4; miscellaneous papers – including “lease of Kilpunt – 1843”
  • NRAS 888/28/Bundle 8; “papers relative to lease of Newmains, Overtoun and Kilpunt” – 1834
  • NRAS 888/28/Bundle 10; Tacks and Papers as to Kilpunt and Illieston, 1760 – 1830″
  • NRAS 888/40/Bundle 3; “papers relating to the lease of Kilpunt – including sketches for farm buildings – 1842”
  • NRAS 888/1879; “sketch of lands (of Kilpunt) – 1757”.

Its worth noting that the NRAS catalogue descriptions tend to identify the titled estates (such as Kilpunt), but not individual farms (such as Hiddlefaulds).

Its going to take me some time to process all of this, and I know that if I ever get the time and opportunity to go back to the Hopetoun Archives, there is quite a lot more of interest to look at there.

From what I heard the archivist saying, I gather that they have had very few people, like me, visiting the Hopetoun archives to do family history research into the tenant farmers on the estate. But from what I’ve seen, the Hopetoun archives must be a great resource for anyone who is researching a family history with this kind of connection to the Hopetoun estate.

Scotland trip – May 2017 – day 5

I’m aiming to write and post a little bit each day about the family history research I’m doing, and what I find, during a week staying​ in Edinburgh. But for personal privacy, the posting of these travels on AFamilyHistoryBlog will be delayed by a few days, and will not necessarily be in day by day order! Some of these posts may be given later tweets, with added photos, etc.

General Register House, from North Bridge, Edinburgh.

National Records of Scotland, General Register House, Edinburgh.

I spent a large part of the day in the National Records of Scotland, Historical Search Room at the General Register House. I arrived before their doors opened at 9am. When I got into​ the search room I was immediately handed 3 of the “Kirkcaldy Burgh Register of Deeds” books that I had requested when I registered​ on Friday.

So I began by looking in the oldest of ​these books, at a record involving “Issobel WYSE”, the wife of “James OLYPHANT”, and her sister, “Janet WYSE” (wife of John [S~~irkar]). The old writing is difficult to interpret, so I got permission to photograph the pages that I was interested in, so that I can work on them from the photos, more carefully, later. James OLIPHANT and Isobel WYSE are the first (oldest) couple that I have in my OLIPHANT / HUTCHISON family tree (my 8x great-grandparents). So this entry in the “Register of Deeds of the Burgh of Kirkcaldy”, adds the names of Isobel’s parents.

I then turned to the latest book of Deeds, containing several entries that I wanted to look at. First was the “Trust Disposition and Settlement by Henry OLYPHANT, in favour of George DOUGAL, and others”.

Next; the “Disposition and Deed of Settlement by Henry OLIPHANT, to His wife”; img; 9868 – 9873, followed immediately by the “Deed of Agreement among (Henry’s) widow & children, and Mutual Discharge”; img; 9867 – 9884 (9885).

There was a lot in all this! More than I can process in a day! So by 1pm, I had had enough of the Kirkcaldy Burgh records! The first book had already confirmed for me the names of Isobel WYSE’s parents (something I think I had a suggestion of from searching the IGI, but this is the first confirmed source!).

So then I turned to some pieces that I wanted to look at, about the BARRON family in West Lothian. I had ordered 2 off-site records to look at; the marriage contract of Janet BARRON and Henry HARDIE, in 1684, then a collection of papers from c.1708, apparently about a dispute between Janet BARRON and one of her sons; Henry HARDIE. I photographed these. There may well be evidence in there to connect them to Elizabeth BARRON (m. William WALKER!)! I then ordered some of the documents about the BARRONs of Preston, and it appears to confirm my suspicion that there is NO link between these two families, proving Hardy Bertram McCall to have been wrong about this.

By 2:30pm I had had enough, so wrapped up what I was doing, handed back the documents I had out, and left the Register House to find some lunch in the nearby Waverley Mall.

After lunch, between about 3 & 4pm I had a wander around the National Gallery, where I saw one painting by E.A.WALTON, among several other by the Glasgow Boys. I then went to the Edinburgh Central Library for about an hour, between 4 & 5pm to look at some OPR micro-films.

Scotland trip – May 2017 – day 3

I’m aiming to write and post a little bit each day about the family history research I’m doing, and what I find, during a week staying​ in Edinburgh. But for personal privacy, the posting of these travels on AFamilyHistoryBlog will be delayed by a few days, and will not necessarily be in day by day order! Some of these posts may be given later tweets, with added photos, etc.

On Saturday morning I attended a class at the Scottish Genealogy Society’s family history library in Edinburgh. The subject was “Kirk Session Records”, led by Bruce Bishop. I found this very interesting and informative, and learnt a lot about the Scottish Kirk, how it functioned, what kind of records were (and weren’t) kept, and the limitations of those records. It was very useful in understanding how to make good use of these records in family history research.

During the afternoon I used the Edinburgh Central Library, to look at the OPR microfilm for Kirknewton parish – looking for the WALKER family at Overtown. I made some notes and printed off some images from the records, but I didn’t identify anything particularly new there!

Scotland trip – May 2017 – day 2

I’m aiming to write and post a little bit each day about the family history research I’m doing, and what I find, during a week staying​ in Edinburgh. But for personal privacy, the posting of these travels on AFamilyHistoryBlog will be delayed by a few days, and will not necessarily be in day by day order! Some of these posts may be given later tweets, with added photos, etc.

I began the day by going to obtain a readers ticket for the National Records of Scotland Historical Search Room. I arrived at the General Register House just before their doors opened at 9am. The registration process was quick and easy (as I had come fully prepared). So I was done and out again in just 20 minutes.

General Register House, from North Bridge, Edinburgh.

My plan is to return to the Historical Search Room later during my week in Edinburgh, to see some records I’ve identified from the National Records of Scotland catalogue, that look to be of interest to me. Some of these records are listed as being “off site” and need to be ordered in advance. So before leaving I made my request for those documents, so that they will be available to view on the day that I plan to go back there.

I then headed to a bus stop and caught a bus out to explore a bit of West Lothian. My first stop was Kirkliston where I had arranged to meet Joe Henderson, who was able to open the church building for me to see inside. I have visited the Kirkliston churchyard a couple of times before, but not previously seen inside the church. Joe appears to know a great deal about the history of Kirkliston church and the parish. He gave me a copy of “Kirkliston; A Parish History” by Donald Whyte, and I gave him a copy of the history I have about my WALKER family.

After a little while inside the church, we went out into the churchyard, where I went particularly to look at the WALKER family gravestones there, and to take some new photos of them. Unfortunately (as you will see from the photo – below) a bush has been allowed to grow up right in front of the oldest gravestone – that of “William WALKER, late tenant in Hiddlefold, who died on Jan.1st 1768, aged 73″. But I was able to pull the branches away enough to check the inscription, which is still readable.

3 Walker family gravestones in Kirkliston churchyard; the oldest (on left) of William Walker, d. 1/1/1768, aged 73; on right, William’s son and daughter-in-law, James Walker & Janet Flint, and centre, James & Janet’s grandson, also James, his wife, Margaret Johnston, and several of their children.

Joe was then able to give me a lift to Kilpunt. I had a good look around there, taking a number of photos, and wandered down to the nearby site of Hiddlefaulds, where the Walker family had farmed from about 1745. There is now just a pile of stones on the site of Hiddlefaulds (which I believe was demolished in the 1890’s), and all the farm buildings at Kilpunt have been converted into houses.

View of Kilpunt, from the south

From Kilpunt I went on to Broxburn, then Livingston. In the afternoon, on route back to Edinburgh, I got off the bus in Kirknewton, where the Walker family also farmed, to have a look at the old graveyard there. I didn’t really expect to find any Walker gravestone inscriptions there, but thought I’d have a good look anyway! So I looked, but didn’t find anything of family interest there!

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.

A new user’s review of FindMyPast

FindMyPast-free-weekendI was tempted last week by the offer of a weekend of free on-line access to “billions of historical records” at FindMyPast.co.uk. And after a great talk at my local Family History Society meeting, by Myko Clelland from FindMyPast, I decided to sign up, give it a go, and see what new things I could find. So I registered, and uploaded a GEDCOM file, with nearly 4,500 people in it. Then I had an initial explore of the site, and waited for the free access weekend to start.FindMyPast-logo

The FindMyPast website was not as good as I had hoped! I’ll explain how I got on as a new user, and in particular the things that frustrated me about the site.

The first thing I found disappointing with the site was that the “Hints” system which FindMyPast advertises as a great way to find new, relevant records to help build up your family tree, only works (currently) when you edit entries, or manually enter new ones. It doesn’t provide hints for the people that you’ve added from a GEDCOM file! FindMyPast should make it clearer before you start that when uploading a GEDCOM file you won’t get “hints” for the individuals in that file.

FindMyPast-hints-imageMy next frustration was that when I did start getting “Hints” (after adding details from paper notes that were missing from the GEDCOM file) – although at first sight many hinted records looked to be relevant, digging deeper revealed that they really weren’t relevant to my tree. A couple of times I added facts to my tree using the hints provided by FindMyPast, but then deleted them again after looking much more closely and checking back on my paper notes of details I’ve previously found! (this largely related to parish registers from the 1700’s).

It appears to me that FindMyPast‘s threshold for matching the information to provide its “Hints” may be set too low! Many of its hints can be very quickly screened out. But the difficulty comes with the ones that you have to dig into much more deeply to detect the inconsistencies. It is so easy to see something that seems to match, and add it to your tree. This could so easily lead to many false paths in numerous family trees.

All known surnames in Matt's ancestry upto his 6x Gt Grandparents

AFamilyHistoryBlog is (in part) my attempt to counter some of these “false” trees that appear on-line, where people have assumed connections to exist between separate records, but without any clear evidence for the connection. I hope that by posting the real evidence that I have from original family documents and other reliable sources, I can help to challenge and correct some of those “false” trees which can so easily develop. I also hope that if and when I follow a false path, my blog will allow others to contact me with any evidence they have, to put me back on the right path.

I had hoped to find many more images of original documents to be available to view on the FindMyPast website. But while it does have images of things like census records (which is useful), it doesn’t seem to have images of the parish registers which I had hoped for! Only the transcriptions of them!

Very often seeing images of the original parish registers (which I have done in the past on microfilm) provides additional clues/evidence that is too often missing from the transcriptions; for instance names of witnesses (who often may have been relatives), or names of places (houses/farms) where the people lived, which can confirm a continuity between different records. Without establishing such continuity between records you often can’t be certain if the name appearing several times in a parish register relates to one person, or to several different people with the same name. It was very common in the past, when extended families often lived geographically close together, to find cousins or second cousins, or uncles/aunts & nephews/nieces, who shared the same names, living in the same parish. So in the records (and more-so in their partial transcriptions) it can be very difficult to tell these individuals apart!

After these initial frustrations with the FindMyPast system, where I was largely trying to find more about earlier ancestors through parish registers, etc – largely the Walkers of Kirkliston (whom I’m currently posting documents about), I decided to change track. I began to have a look at the lines of my ancestry that I can trace least far back. From my 3x Gt-grandparents back, some gaps begin to appear. So I began looking to see if FindMyPast could help fill any of these gaps.

That generation of my tree typically features individuals born in the late 1700’s and particularly the early 1800’s – people who often had their families at the time of the early censuses. So it proved easy to find out some more about some of these ancestors from the UK censuses. In one case I have been able to obtain the maiden name of a 3x Gt-grandmother, where before I only had her married surname.

census-picElsewhere I was able to work out sideways, adding children and other details in the next generation. But this also produced one more frustration with the FindMyPast system. FindMyPast would try to use the census data about a household to identify everyone in the family and use that to update or add individuals in your family tree. But too often it risked duplicating individuals because slight differences in name spelling meant that it didn’t link the person in the census to the person in your tree! And you couldn’t easily compare the full household list in the census with the whole family group in your tree, to check who was there and who was missing.

In one case I added a “son-in-law” from the census to my tree. I already had the son-in-law in my tree, but FindMyPast didn’t connect the two together, or connect the son-in-law from the census to his wife in my tree (who was also in that census entry), but only to his parents-in-law! So “Henry” then appeared twice in my tree – a duplicate! I tried to find out how I could merge the two entries into one! But I couldn’t!

The best help I could find was on a blog by Phil Moir, who is “technical lead for the Family Tree team” at FindMyPast. That helped a little, but wasn’t exactly what I wanted! In the end I had to resort to copying the new details provided by the census, from the “new” Henry, and pasting them into the profile of the “old” Henry, then delete the “new” Henry from my tree. Not very satisfactory! It should be much easier to merge two “profiles” into one.

FindMyPast-screen-print2Another example of the problem with FindMyPast‘s handling of census records is where a child in a family had died. Then a new child was given the same name, which was common when child mortality was high – in this example “William”. The 1891 census records the younger William (b.1886). But the FindMyPast system picks up on the older “William” in the family tree (b.1867), who had died (1871) before the 1891 census, and attempts to persuade you to change his date of birth to that of the younger James, who is in the census and on your tree. If you were to follow through on FindMyPast‘s advice and update “William’s” details based on the census record, then you would have two “William”s with the same approximate date of birth in the family group. This would then look like a duplicate of one individual (similar to what I described above), when in fact they were two different individuals, with a wide gap between dates of birth.

You really need to be able to compare the census records, and what FindMyPast is hinting you to change in your tree, side-by-side with the WHOLE family group that you currently have in your tree. You need to be better able to see the context of the wider family into which you’re being prompted to add new details of an individual. As far as I can see at the moment the best that you can do is to switch between the “merge” page and the “family view”, in separate browser tabs. This isn’t satisfactory. You should be able to view them side-by-side, in the same tab, in order to fully check how the details in the hinted record compare to the family group that you already have in your tree.

So, to summerise my experience; while FindMyPast could be very useful as a research tool, the frustrations that I’ve had as a new user trying it out for the first time, mean that I can only give it 2 stars! ★★☆☆☆

The free Family Tree Builder app is great and I’ll probably continue to play with it, adding material that I’ve got elsewhere. It looks great. I just wish it was a bit easier to navigate between different branches of my tree. A tab at the top of the “family view” that would let you get quickly to an index of all the individuals in your tree would be great for that.

The available records that you can search is also good. But I think that the systems of “Hinting” records, and of merging record details into your own family tree needs improvement (I realise that this is sure to be a very technically challenging thing to get right!).

So I think that I am unlikely to take out any kind of subscription to FindMyPast until I can see them ironing out many of the frustrations that I’ve mentioned above. Once they do, it’ll be a really great tool.