Sunday, March 27, 2011

Census 2011

I’ve completed our census form on line this morning which was both quick and simple. This set me musing about the reaction of my great-grand-children when they get to see it in 100 years time and how it compared with the ones we’re used to from the 19th and early 20th century. Having completed it on-line my descendants will not get a chance to see just how bad my writing is which is possible with the English census for 1911 where the household schedules survived. There will however be no need to transcribe those schedules completed electronically before they can be indexed which should make for fewer mistakes.

Regrettably there’ll be no information about place of birth beyond the fact that I was born in Scotland and there are no middle names but they will get date of birth not just an age, it was chastening to see that the public exams that I (and thousands of others of my and my daughter's generation) took as a 15 year old in England - GCE O-Level (General Certificate of Education, Ordinary Level and the qualification that A-Levels are more advanced than) was merely “any other similar qualification”.

The question (in Scotland) about language where the choices were English, Scots and Gaelic did have me wondering about the point at which a dialect becomes a separate language. If Scots why not Yorkshire?

The first comments about returning the completed form by post appeared in the papers at least a fortnight ago. It looks as though another trap for our unwary descendants will be the people who were born or died between the actual census date and the return of the forms.

I must have completed 4 census returns since I left home but the only one I remember at all is 1971 when I was an Enumerator. We got £50 of which £20 (I think) was classified as expenses and thus not taxed. Not a fortune even thenbut welcome as I was not long married, our daughter had just been born and we were about to buy our first house.

Scotland's Earliest Census (before the English Domesday Book)

We're all accustomed to regarding the census for Scotland starting in 1841, and whilst it's true that this is the first detailed census useful for most people's family history, there were censuses before that, for example, various parishes in 1835, for Jedburgh in 1821, for Hutton in 1811 and Stow in 1801, and Portpatrick in 1763.

I was astonished to see a BBC article about Scotland's first census  occurring in the 7th century. It's called Senchus fer nAlban (History of the men of Scotland) and it's Scotland's earliest census. It is a list of the population of Dál Riata, the kingdom of the Gaels on the west coast of Scotland, in Lorn and the islands of Islay and Jura.

I assume that it's written in classical Irish, the forerunner of modern Irish and Scottish Gaelic. There's much more in the BBC article including a picture, and a video in Scottish Gaelic which has some English subtitles, for example "Eogan Garbh has 30 houses, his wife is Crodu, daughter of Dallan, son of Eogan, son of Niall".

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Free Access to the Census on 27th March

If you're in the United Kingdom, no doubt you'll have received your census form ready to be completed on Census Day, 27th March.

To celebrate Census Day 2011, Ancestry is providing free access to all of its UK (England, Wales and Scotland) census collections from 1841-1901 for 24 hours.

More details on the blog.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

A different take on Family History!

This came my way recently - the sender thought it might answer some questions!

A little girl asked her mother, "How did the human race start?"

The mother answered, "God made Adam and Eve and they had children, and so all mankind was made."

Two days later the girl asked her father the same question.

The father answered, "Many years ago the human race evolved from ape like creatures like monkeys."

The confused girl returned to her mother and said, "Mom, how is it possible that you told me the human race was created by God, and Dad said they developed from monkeys?"

The mother answered, "Well, dear, it is very simple. I told you about my side of the family and your father told you about his."

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Family History Makes You Smarter

An intriguing few minutes discussion between
Claudia Hammond and Peter Fischer, Professor of Social Psychology at the University of Graz in Austria, about research suggesting that thinking or writing about your ancestors makes people more confident and motivated, and able to perform better in tests and exams, or in stressful situations like interviews.

Hear it at

or download the podcast (All In The Mind: 21 Dec 10) from

approximately between 23 minutes 40 seconds and 28 minutes 20 seconds.

I found this on an old bookmark while looking for something else.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Small Island, Big World: Border Roots

Just a reminder that this coming Sunday, 20th March; Colin Murray will be giving his talk Small Island, Big World: Border Roots at the Abbey Row Centre, Kelso, TD5 7BJ starting at 2.30.

The origin of this project is a small uninhabited island in Galloway that Colin has known and loved for more than fifty years. Other 'key individuals' have also known and loved it. His objective is to trace their extended family histories, dispersed around the world as they were. There are many particular trails, linked broadly by the theme of Empire. His father's family were rooted in the Borders, mainly Roxburghshire, from at least the late 17th century. He has recently been pursuing our own history seriously for the first time. This slide show concentrates on 19th century trails between the Borders and India. The Kelso connections are strong.

This talk was originally scheduled for 28th November 2010 but was cancelled due to extremely snowy conditions.

Doors open at 2pm. Talk starts at 2.30pm.

We warmly invite you to attend the talk whether you are a member or not. There is no admission charge.

We'll have a range of family history publications available to buy.

Light refreshments available after the talk.

If you have a problem with your family history, please discuss it (no charge) with one of our volunteers.

See this map for directions.

Update about the Map Comparison Tool from the Visualising Urban Geography Project

A few days ago, I blogged about the new map comparison tool from the Visualising Urban Geography project and lamented the lack of provision for maps outside Edinburgh.

Chris Fleet, Senior Map Curator at the National Library of Scotland has kindly pointed out that if I pan to the area of the country in which I'm interested, if there are geo-referenced maps available for that area, they will appear in the list and can be selected.

I've tried this out, and it works. However, I've also discovered that the map availability doesn't appear until you've zoomed in to an appropriate level.

So, for example, starting from the initial view of the dual map tool, I zoom out 4 times to pan quickly to Jedburgh, and zoom in 4 times, the Jedburgh town plan of 1858 appears in the list and can be selected. Note that if the area of your view is outside the area on a specific map, that map won't appear in the list. So if know a map should be available (see the list of geo-referenced maps in the Map Library) but doesn't appear in the list, try panning around and zooming in or out.

Of course, as I mentioned before, there aren't many geo-referenced maps for the Borders, however the view below shows the expansion of Kirkcaldy, Fife.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Parishes Ancient & Modern

As you may have seen we’ve now got pages on our web-site for the Counties of Berwick, Peebles and Selkirk. Those for Roxburgh should make an appearance soon. Some of these pages include more detail than others so if you can contribute to one of the pages get in touch with us either via this blog or through the contact form on the web-site (you’ll need to scroll down the page to find it). Please let us know about any mistakes or if you find a broken link.

A few weeks ago I was contacted by the local minister who wondered why Innerleithen and Traquair merited a page each whilst Walkerburn didn’t. For most part the parishes listed are the historic parishes not the current ones. Whilst there's nothing quite as formal as a cut-off date in practice it's those parishes that existed in 1855 the point at which Civil Registration was introduced to Scotland and the cut-off date for the Old Parochial Records held by the General Registrar's Office for Scotland (and available on the Scotland's People web site). Not that we’re totally consistent as Kirkhope and Caddonfoot do have their own page despite being 19th century creations which have now been absorbed by neighbouring parishes. However I did borrow the Church of Scotland Yearbook from the local minister and in time the parish pages will indicate what has happened to the ancient parishes – and where I can find one a link to the church web-site.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Updated Name Search at Public Record Office of Northern Ireland

On 11th March a major new update to the Name Search facility was launched on the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) website. Eight further pre-1858 will indexes have been added, containing around 53,000 new entries and the index to coroners’ inquests has been extended by ten years to 1920.

These entries are in addition to the pre-1858 administration bond indexes, fragments of the 1740 and 1766 religious census returns and 1775 dissenters petitions already available on Name Search. The application now provides a searchable index to thousands of records as early as 1608. The new indexes cover the dioceses of Armagh, Clogher, Connor, Down and Kilmore. Given the loss of census records for Ireland prior to 1901, these records will be of great interest to genealogists tracing their family tree as far back as the 17th century.

Although most pre-1858 wills do not survive, the indexes provide information of use to genealogists, such as the names of the deceased, their address, the date of the grant of probate or administration and occasionally their occupation.

The site can be accessed via PRONI’s main website at

Monday, March 14, 2011

Two Announcements from ScotlandsPeople

These announcements arrived in an email this afternoon, which seems rather late for an event on Wednesday. Also, the email doesn't look up to their usual standard, and that's a bit odd. Even odder, they also don't mention the address, which I presume is General Register House, 2 Princes Street, Edinburgh, EH1 3YY. The phone number is correct.

Free Evening Introduction Session  - Wednesday 16 March
For anyone who has yet to embark on their family history research, we are running a free introductory evening session this Wednesday 16 March from 18:00 to 20:00. The evening will commence with a 30 minute talk about our records and then you will be given an opportunity to search for your ancestors. Staff will be on hand to provide guidance and advice. Booking is essential so please ring us on 0131 314 4300 to book your place for this special event.

1911 Census Evening Session - Tuesday 5 April
The 1911 census is being launched on Tuesday 5 April. We are running an evening session from 18:00 to 21:00 that night for a cost of £10 per person. This is an opportunity for those who work full time to carry out their research during their leisure time. If you are interested in attending then ring us on 0131 314 4300. Please note that seats must be paid for in advance.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Family Legends

We've all got them as part of our family history, haven't we ?

The odd tale woven by one of the older members of the family about someone (even older) they knew, about what they did, won a medal, made the nicest cakes, was in a cup final, or fouught heroically.

Usually there's a good grounding in fact, and often the action has been embroidered or aggrandised a bit, but it's only when you start digging around that you discover the truth.

There was a Family Legends Writing Workshop with Robert Douglas, author of Night Song of the Last Tram and 3 other books, at Tower Mill, Heart of Hawick, this afternoon; and 18 people attended to get some tips on writing.

There was a handout from the Hawick Heritage Hub about the Rutherfoord Mystery as inspiration, however, it wasn't needed, Robert Douglas read us a bit about his Uncle George, and after a writing exercise, it was clear that lots of people had interesting stories to tell.

Family Legends is a national story project and competition from Scottish Book Trust, to involve people all over Scotland in creative writing – using family stories and heritage as inspiration.

A selection of the most interesting and inspiring stories will be published in a book and the best five will be broadcast on BBC Radio Scotland.

To find out more, read stories and enter your own story (between 100 and 1,000 words) go to

The radio competition is open to UK residents only but the book competition is open to everyone.

Beware ! The closing date is 31st March 2011.

Looking after Old Photographs

Want to know more about looking after old photographs?

Then go to a free Photographic Workshop by Jim Walker on Saturday 26 March 2011, 9.30am to 12.30pm at Berwick Parish Centre, The Parade, Berwick-upon-Tweed, TD15 1DF, England. Map. It's next to Holy Trinity Church. Entrance is through the churchyard. The suggested car parking is near the Barracks and Wallace Green.  

The session will cover types of old photographs, techniques in looking after them  and restoration. The session is free of charge thanks to funding received from sponsors for the year of events organised to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Berwick Record Office.  Booking is essential as there is a limited number of places.  To book or get more information, phone Linda Bankier at Berwick Record Office on 01289 301865.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Handouts from Who Do You Think You Are? Live 2011

The Society of Genealogists, London, has posted handouts for the presentations and workshops given at the Who Do You Think You Are? Live event at London's Olympia, which ran from 25th to 27th February.

They're mostly of PowerPoint slides but packaged as PDF documents, so you should all be able to read them. If you haven't got a PDF reader, you can download Adobe Acrobat from our Joining page.

The handouts include:
  • In and Out of the Record Office - An overview of what information can be found in church registers before 1837 by Alec Tritton.
  • Latin: The Next Big Thing in Genealogy - There comes a time when every BMD & C record had been pored over, filleted and wrung dry. Where then? by Bruce Durie.
  • Stuck in London? Resources at the Library of the Society of Genealogists and elsewhere - Founded in 1911 as the Society of Genealogists of London the SG library holds some unique and remarkable resources for anyone researching London Families by Else Churchill. There are also some additional notes provided by Else to accompany this presdentation.
  • Using the census records online - by Peter Christian.
  • Your Norfolk Ancestors; an insider's guide - How to find and use resources from the well known to the hidden gems by Gill Blanchard.
  • Preserving Family Treasures - This lecture covers techniques to save your pictures and papers by Maureen Taylor.
  • My Ancestors came from Essex: where can I find out more about them? - An illustrated exploration with examples of the sources for research by Eric Probert.
  • Why Pay? The top free websites - No one likes to pay for information unless they have to by John Hanson.
  • Joining the dots: bringing all your information together - Some suggestions on how to bring together the many different sources of information by Anthony Adolph.
  • Starting from Stratch by Dominic Johnson.
  • Using the Imperial War Museum and UK National Inventory of War Memorials for Family History Research - A look at how the holdings of the Imperial War Museum and using war memorials can further your knowledge and understanding of your relatives' service during the First and Second World Wars by Sarah Paterson and Jane Furlong. The presentation was mainly illustrated so they have provided copies of the leaflets from the IWM they are Army, Merchant Navy, Royal Navy, Royal Air Force and Prisoner of War.
  • Finding Nonconformist Records Online - This talk will look at websites that contain nonconformist records by Alec Tritton.
  • How Do I Research Before 1837? Sources at the Society of Genealogists and elsewhere - For some getting back before the census years can be a challenge by Else Churchill.
  • Nottinghamshire Family History - Where Nottinghamshire lies in relation to other counties by Dominic Johnson.
  • Beyond the Census and BMDs: fleshing out the skeleton - The first records most family historians search are censuses and birth, marriage & death records by Ian Galbraith.
  • Understand Your Ancestors Through Their Handwriting - The lecture aims to increase awareness among genealogists of the rich information available about ancestors from their handwriting in wills, marriage certificates and letters by Adam Brand.
  • Researching Families in British India - Over three million Britons lived in India over the three and a half centuries of British involvement in that country by Peter Bailey.
  • Making Contact: surnames and pedigrees online - Once you've got back a few generations, one of the most important ways of making progress in your family history is making contact with others who have interests in the same surnames or perhaps even share some of your ancestors by Peter Christian.
  • Looking at Family Portraits: artworks and photographs, 1780-1920 - This illustrated talk begins by discussing British portraiture and the rising demand for hand-crafted portraits in the late 18th and early 19th centuries by Jayne Shrimpton.
  • Lesser Known Sources for Family History - An illustrated exploration with examples and case studies of the unusual sources for research into the lives of ancestors by Eric Probert.
  • Smart Genealogy Solving Genealogical Brick Walls - Everyone hits a brick wall sometimes by Dr Geoff Swinfield.
  • My Top 10 Websites for Family Historians - My guide to the best websites to kick-start you in family history by John Hanson
  • Yorkshire family History - resources in Britian's largest county by Roy Stockdill and Jackie Depelle. There are two handouts here - Internet resources and archives.
  • Records of Deaths and Burials - All good genealogists learn to kill off their ancestors. Records of death and burial can be tricky to find but often provide the vital clues by Alec Tritton.
  • Treasures of the Society of Genealogists: online and in the library - This talk looks at some of the unique collections and resources held by the Society of Genealogists which celebrates its 100th anniversary in 2011 by Else Churchill.
  • Retours: Scottish Land Inheritance - Up until the 1860s it Scotland, it was not possible to leave "real" property in a Testament, and only some Testaments even contained Wills. by Bruce Durie. There is a supplementary presentation on Scottish Wills and Inheritance.
  • How to Make Google Work Harder for your Family History! - Discover innovative ways to work smarter and find more family history golden nuggets than you thought possible with the power of Google by Lisa Louise Cooke.
  • Irish Records: Beyond the Obvious - After a brief summary of the usual sources, the talk will cover a huge variety of lesser known sources by Rosalind McCutcheon.
  • The National Wills Index - Wills are probably the most important source of information to the family historian after census records and bmds - and typically provide far more interesting information than either by Ian Galbraith.
  • Family History in the Thames Valley - This lecture will advise you of the many available resources both online and at local archives by Chad Hanna and Gillian Stevens.
  • Are Your Ancestors Frozen in Time? - Keeping up with the latest ways to record and preserve our genealogy is a daunting task by Claire V Brisson-Banks.
  • I'm Stuck! How can I find my lost ancestors? - Everyone hits a brick wall sometimes by Dr Geoff Swinfield.
  • My Ancestors were in the Parish Registers - well they chould have been! - A look at whats in parish records, where you can expect to find in them and why your ancestor may not be there by John Hanson.
  • Reading the Writing of the Past - You have your register, you have your will but con you read them? by Barbara Harvey.
  • Caribbean Genealogy - The unique Caribbean Family Dynamic and how it can affect/impede research by Sarah Tomlin.
  • Moving from Amateur to Professional: making the leap - Many professional genealogists started out by doing their own family history research by Eileen Ó Dúill. 

New Map Comparison Tool from the Visualising Urban Geography Project

There's a new tool from the Visualising Urban Geography project that allows you to compare two different maps of Edinburgh side by side on the screen.

We've always had the capability to do this manually using two paper maps but it's very laborious and not very easy to compare like with like.

This new tool uses geo-referenced maps which are overlaid on top of the current street map, and you can decide which maps to compare.

For family historians, this has several great benefits; you can see, at a glance:
  • how streets have developed since the previous map
  • where new buildings are
  • where streets have disappeared
  • which streets have been renamed
and that will make it easier than ever to look at census records, view the route taken by the census enumerator, and go directly to the site of an ancestor's dwelling, and if you're lucky the actual dwelling itself.

Also, I think it will be helpful when looking at valuation rolls to see what a street looked like before or after.

The picture shows an area of Spring Gardens, Edinburgh. Notice how a bit of land to the right of St Ann's Bank House in the top map (1849) has become a row of buildings, Violet Bank, in the bottom map (1876).

Have a go at using the dual map tool, yourself, and let me know what you think.

If you want to change map when you're in the tool, click the [clear overlay] link to remove the map, then click the new map you want.

Of course, the great drawback for us is that it allows only the comparison of Edinburgh maps, however, as it has been done for Edinburgh, it presumably can be done for other places, too; and that's another great reason to get on with the geo-referencing of historical maps.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Return of Kirk Session Records to the Scottish Borders

During a small ceremony on Monday 14 March at 3pm, George MacKenzie, Keeper of the Records of Scotland, will officially handover important historical records of Borders Kirk Sessions dating back to the 1660s to the Heritage Hub, Heart of Hawick.

The Kirk duties were to maintain good order amongst its congregation (including administering discipline and superintending the moral and religious condition of the parish. It also took a keen interest in, irregular marriages, welfare and religious observance.

With moral stories and tales of scandal and social responsibility, the Kirk Session Records give us a real glimpse of the past. They show us what our ancestors and our communities thought and did, rather than just details of names and places. 

This is real recognition of the quality of the facilities at the Hawick Heritage Hub and its staff.

It's also much more useful to have these records available for research in the Borders from whence they came rather than having to go to Edinburgh for them.

More information on the press release from the Hawick Heritage Hub.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Old Films of Berwick-on-Tweed, England

On Friday 18 March 2011 at 7pm there will be a special showing of archive
films of Berwick and district at The Maltings, Berwick. This is a unique
opportunity to see old films from 1911 to the 1980's, many of which have
never been shown before.

This event has been arranged by Berwick Record
Office to celebrate its 30th anniversary.

Tickets are only £5.
Book now on 01289 330999 !

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Visualising Urban Geography Launch Event

Last Thursday (23 February) I attended the launch event of the 'Visualising Urban Geography' project at the National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh. About 80 other people attended. There was an introduction to the project at the Addressing History launch event in November, and I reported on the December Visualising Urban Geography workshop that provided a chance to try out one of the tools, ExtMap (now Map Builder), that the project had developed using sample data produced by the project.

In last week’s event, Professor Richard Rodger discussed the objectives of the project:
  • to create geo-referenced maps of Edinburgh
  • to develop software that could be used for free
  • to reach a broader public
  • to develop dynamic maps so as to further knowledge in the 19th and 20th centuries

He gave interesting examples in the ways, the tools developed have been used; we saw the development of Edinburgh over time, easy ways to calculate the area size and the length of the perimeter of irregularly shaped plots of land. He suggested other sets of data that might be used with these tools:
  • landowners and property holdings
  • shareholders
  • store and credit card holders
  • utility bills
  • census information

The new tools, ExtMap and MapBuilder, use a Google interface for viewing maps and the open source Thematic Mapping Engine.

Chris Fleet discussed the mapping results of the project including a demonstration of geo-referencing and suggested this would be a good tool to use for mapping burial grounds.

Professor Bob Morris talked about the massive impact this project will have on historical analysis. He said that images, graphs and maps are more important in
writing about history than ever before. He used examples to compare the ration of women to men in Edinburgh's 19th century population.

Lastly, Dr Gittings, a geographer at the University of Edinburgh, pointed out how this project has brought history and geography closer than ever before.

Borders Family History Society has been closely involved with the project since the December workshop, and our goal of representing poor relief recipients in Melrose and Jedburgh representation on dynamic maps was mentioned as one of the case studies. For me, there’s been a steep learning curve in using the new tools, ExtMap and MapBuilder, to produce these maps, however, we’re very grateful for the support we’ve had from Stuart Nicol in using these tools and from Professor Rodger in analysing the results.

In our research into poor relief, we transcribed the core information exactly as it’s written, but that was not the end of the process for creating these maps. In the case of Jedburgh, the Poor Law Inspector did not record the town name of Jedburgh, so I had to add that for Jedburgh addresses. For Melrose, the inspector abbreviated many road names (often in different ways) and they needed to be manually expanded. Any addresses that are unrecognised get assigned to 0 degrees latitude and longitude, which is in the ocean to the west of southern Africa, so such addresses need to be removed or substituted with the modern address and that has been a lot more work. We have so much data that the tool is quite slow at creating the map co-ordinates, and I found that for each set of data there’s a re-iterative process – run the tool, check the results, resolve the problems and repeat until there are no more errors. The tool uses a vast database created by Google of addresses, and that imposes limitations, as their database is not completely accurate.

Residential Addresses of Poor Law Recipients in Jedburgh and Melrose

Have a look at our initial attempt at mapping the residential addresses of poor relief recipients. The image is a snapshot, click the link to see the full interactive map. There's still a bit of work to be done on this map.
Each pin represents one or more recipients - we can't yet show the number of recipients represented, however clicking on a pin shows the information about one of the recipients.
Click on the ticks on the layers to the left of the map to select or deselect specific layers corresponding to our different publications.

The main drawbacks are:
  • There are still some recipients positioned off the coast of Africa
  • Only recipients in and around Jedburgh from our Jedburgh publications have been included
  • The pink pins represent Melrose 1871 to 1874, the blue pins representing the other publications
  • Each pin represents one or more recipients - we can't yet show the number of recipients represented

We hope you find this map as interesting as we do.
These are early days in the use of this tool, and we expect to be able to use it more effectively in the future.

We would like to have your feedback (using the comments link below), especially any suggestions you have for further improvements and suggestions of other data sets that you would like to see mapped.