Tag Archives: registers

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.

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.