Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Top gift is not an iPhone, iPod Touch or XBox

Talking to one of my neighbours, I was interested to learn that her young son's Christmas wish list contained no mention of iPhone, iPod Touch, Wii, PS3 or XBox, and it's not because he's already got them, he hasn't.

She's a pious woman who frequently visits churches on her days out, and she takes her son with her. About 6 months ago he told her that he was bored and she allowed him to wander around the churchyard.

He became interested in the gravestone inscriptions and symbols, and they have become a major interest. He started off a project to do his family history with the help of his mother, other kids, and a teacher.

Clearly, it's useful for him to have started young, as there are still plenty of the older generations to tell him their stories. So this Christmas, Santa's been asked for family history software, various volumes of monumental inscriptions, and a paper record book.

He hasn't completely ignored modern technology; he's asked for a mobile phone - he says it's so he can let his mother know when he's ready to be collected from a graveyard.

His mother, thinks that Santa will deliver on most of his wishes, though perhaps she'll just lend him a mobile phone for when he's researching in remote places.

Have a great Christmas !

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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

'Festive Celebrations' Christmas event at the Hawick Heritage Hub on Thursday 17 December

Just a reminder that you are all invited to attend the 'Festive Celebrations' Christmas event at the Hawick Heritage Hub (see below for directions) on Thursday 17 December from 4 pm to 6 pm.

It's free, will be fun, and there's no booking, just turn up.

The evening will include live carol singing, mulled wine and mince pies, and a special Christmas archives quiz in the exhibition space.

In the search room there will be an open family history surgery, where visitors can ask questions of staff and browse the Hub’s Christmas archives. There will also be a display of creative Christmas artwork inspired by the archive collection.

Walter Elliot will also be there signing copies of his new book 'Selkirkshire and the Borders'.

We will have a sales table including our 3 new publications:
Morebattle MI CD - 3rd edition revised. Includes stones in new extension and photographs of all stones. Now with photographs of the site of Mow church and Mowhaugh Public School admission log 1873 - 1918. Price £10.

Smailholm MI CD - 2nd edition revised. Includes new burial ground and photographs of all stones. Includes 1814 plan of churchyard. Also Smailholm Public School Admission Log 1884-1915. Price £10.

A new book, Days of our Youth - Memories of Melrose. Price £3.75.

The space for the sales table is limited, so if there is something else we sell that you particularly want to buy, please send me an email and I'll bring it along and reserve it for you.

The Hawick Heritage Hub is in Kirkstile, Hawick, TD9 0AE - map .

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Thursday, December 10, 2009

Irish Times Newspaper Archive - Free Access till 14th December 2009

I've just discovered the Irish Times archive which has archived all its material for the last 150 years.

Like the majority of Scots, I, too, have Irish ancestors somewhere in my family tree, so being able to access newspaper archives online could be a real boon.

According to the Scottish Genealogy News and Events blog, to celebrate its 150th birthday, the Irish Times is offering free access until December 14th. The archive website is at

That's a really good offer however their user interface is a little unfriendly, and there's no useful help available.

Initially it seemed that one can search only for single words which isn't much use if you're looking for a person.

I thought a search for a 19th century relative 'Hamlet Lowe' might produce some results, as he was possibly involved in a hotel crime, and spent time in jail.
This search produced 1,073 results but the first few results found 'Hamlet', the play; a 'low' comedian; Tower 'Hamlets'; rather than Hamlet Lowe.

On the other hand, a search for 'Poor Law' found several instances of 'Poor Law' but also some instances of 'poor' and some of 'law'.

The first result of a search for my great grandfather, Harry Lowe, produced the completely unrelated name, Barry; other results included 'low', Mr 'Lowe', another instance of 'Barry'.

With this kind of output, the search mechanism is pretty useless.

Additionally, I didn't spot the date range selection boxes until my searches had mysteriously come up with no results.

Also, there are some strange indexing errors.

I was searching for the rare surname 'marchanton', but some of the results were for the much commoner and completely unrelated surname 'marchant'.

It's clearly not done on the first 8 letters because a search for 'armstronzq' for which I expect no results (I just made up the name) finds no results, where as a search for 'armstrong' (9 letters) finds 84,798 results.

Unfortunately, these problems mean that it's of rather limited purposes at the moment.

Another problem is that the although the searched word is highlighted in the text, it's often not visible until you've scrolled the displayed excerpt. I'm assuming that they always show the beginning of the article in which the search result appears, but some help text to clarify this would be useful.

I hope they'll make the archive available for free for another trial period when the bugs have been ironed out.

There's also a browse feature so that you can look at old issues of the paper.

However, while it's free, make use of it and see what you can discover.

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Tuesday, December 8, 2009

School Attendance Medals

The BBC reported on Monday that Kingston-upon-Thames Council in London has given medals to two boys from New Malden for not missing a day of school for five years.

It goes on to say that medals for good attendance were introduced in London schools in the 1880s (actually 1887) - with special medals for any pupil maintaining a perfect attendance for more than three years.

See the BBC's full article.

Schools all around Britain gave these medallions out and the attraction for family historians that they usually carry the pupil's name and the school's name and the date - surely a treasure if it's one of your ancestors.

Some schools gave them out as prizes for scholastic achievement too.

In most cases they are made of white metal, an alloy of antimony and tin, copper or lead, and they have a silvery colour.

Some schools used copper or bronze, usually getting a die-stamper to strike them a stock of medallions with the school's name and or crest; and then having each winner's details engraved at the time.

Others, particularly, the fee-paying public schools had their stock of medallions struck in silver, or even in gold.

There's one in the National Museums Scotland of a Selkirk Grammar School silver medal awarded to Elizabeth MacKenzie in 1827 for excellence in English composition.

Perfect attendance records for shorter periods were often marked by the issue of a book to the pupil with a suitable inscription. I saw a book relating to a prize given by Ednam school recently. Such books used often to be seen, however, as they were usually of a Christian nature, bibles, Sunday school stories, or accounts of religious figures, they aren't much sought after, and frequently get thrown away.

If you would like to know whether your ancestors received medals or other prizes, the best place to look is in the school's log book, though they are sometimes mentioned in the local press too.

Keep an eye out for them at car boot sales, too.

If you know your ancestor was awarded a prize, and you would like to find it, do let us know in the forum, somebody may be able to help.

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Sunday, December 6, 2009

Vacancy for a Magazine Editor

We're looking for a new (volunteer) Magazine Editor !

Our magazine which began life as a newsletter with the birth of the Borders Family History Society in 1985 has always been seen as one of the principal ways that we use to communicate with our membership.

Over the years it has grown from being a thin newsletter to a 44 page magazine, produced three times a year, normally in March, June, and October and it contains articles, members' interests, queries, correspondence.

Almost everything comes from members, either directly or via the other office-bearers, and except if you want to write a column, there is seldom any need for you to write, other than for filling up small gaps.

What you do need is a gift for spotting articles that aren't interesting, mistakes, poor grammar, spelling mistakes, and typos, a keen eye for detail; and naturally, we expect the Editor to use a grammar amd spelling checker.

Even so, there's always another person to proof-read it.

You need to be diplomatic, too, for turning down the occasional boring article.

Most of all you need to be capable of laying out content (text, tables, and pictures) using a suitable program, organised enough to ask for the content when you need it, determined enough to chase it up (though when I was Editor, this was never a problem), so that it can be printed and sent out reasonably near the publication date.

Our current Editor has enjoyed immensely the job for 3 years, but work has to take priority and he feels he is just unable to devote as much time as he would like to the role of Editor.

There are lots of testimonials from happy readers, and very rarely any moans.

We're not tyrants, and we quite understand when your circumstances force a delay to the magazine; and the current dates aren't fixed in stone.

The job could be done from anywhere that has internet access, but you do need a fairly modern computer. The last 3 editors used Microsoft Word, but that's not a requirement, so long as you can produce a PDF to send to the printer by email; and we may be able to supply the software you wish to use.

Additionally, it will be our Silver Jubilee next year, so there will be plenty of readers wanting to know what's happening.

If you're one of our members, and this seems like a job you could do and would like to do, please do let us know as soon as possible, using the form on our Contacts page and selecting Unlisted Questions.

Here's your chance to be even more well known !

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Scott's Selkirk

Yesterday and today, the Scott's Selkirk festival took place in Selkirk.

It's been very good in past years, and previous festivals have included a barrel-organ and monkey outside the Co-op in the High St, as well as stalls lining both sides of the High St, in the Market Square, the front garden of the Southern Reporter office and in the back yard of the County Hotel, as well as decorated shops, people dressed up in period costume and re-enactments, with a finale of fireworks at about 4.30 pm on the Sunday.

This year it was not so good. Admittedly, I didn't go yesterday, but today there seemed to be fewer stalls than there were on the Sunday last year. The shops were decorated, and there were a few people in period costume, but far fewer than last year. The tunnel underneath the main A7 road linking the Court house and the old Gaol (now where the library is), was open, and that's new.

It would be sad if this festival had had its day, because it's a nice celebration of Sir Walter Scott and other famous local people. In the past, I've felt it's brightened up a drab and dreich cold December weekend and been something to which to look forward, and an opportunity to buy last minute Christmas presents, particularly for people that seem to have everything.

And why has Borders Family History Society not had a stall ?
I don't know the answer to that question, and it's something to think about for next year, which will be our Silver Jubilee year.

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Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Irish Roots Magazine

Just seen the latest issue of Irish Roots.

Like the majority of Scots, I, too, have Irish ancestors somewhere in my family tree, so this looks like a useful magazine.

The magazine has 30 pages, plus covers, and is generally well laid out on glossy paper, and most of the text is black on white, which makes it easier to read. The front cover has a picture of Angela Lansbury, who stars in the popular TV crime drama, 'Murder She Wrote' and there's an article about her Irish connections inside.

There's a lot of fascinating articles in this magazine.

Most of interest to me is the article about adoption before the 1952 Adoption Act.
It discusses the records at different areas back to 1842, after Irish Poor Law was reorganised. I hadn't realised that Poor Law Unions crossed county boundaries, the article identifies the records to look for, and there's an interesting case study illustrating the difficulties.

There's an interesting article connecting an emigrant to the USA with the 1901 Irish Census, however the image of the 1901 census entry and land and building return is too small to read comfortably. There's unused space on that page, and the images would have been readable if that space had been used.

I found the article about the Royal Hospital Kilmainham, the Irish equivalent to the Royal Hospital Chelsea, quite absorbing.

Other interesting articles are about stereo view photographs of Ireland; curiosities in Roscommon, and a female hangman; a review of a Family History Diploma course, the (English) National Archives at Kew and their usefulness for Irish records, and a page about the O'Toole clan.

There are also reports from family history societies, a conference in Wellington, New Zealand, an article on DNA, queries, correspondence, and adverts.

Will this magazine help me with my Irish forebears ?
Yes, and in this issue, I've seen several things to follow up.

At a price of 4.50 euros, it is on the expensive side, although that's probably due to the weakness of the pound sterling; however there's a lot of useful information between the covers, and I certainly feel that it's one of the better family history magazines I've seen.

More information at .

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