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Historical Articles from Larry Ruickbie
Searching for Your Canadian/Scottish Ancestors
Techniques and Strategy


THE BLACK HOLES
I’ve now described the basic records, tools and main sites that you may use in your quest.

Many people encounter problems in the period of time from the formation of the Free Church until civil registration began (1843 – 1855). Use of census and death records can usually help “jump” this era. (Or (unfortunately) a trip to the National Archives by someone)

MOST people have problems when approaching the late 1700’s and beyond when records begin to dry up fast and create “The Brick Wall”. This is the woe of many, - we all hit it and it’s solid.

L Ruickbie

But, keep on fishin’…………

Snail Mail - One of the most enjoyable and personally rewarding experiences I’ve had in this pastime involved a small mass mailing to distant relatives scattered across this globe. I had managed to get a list of addresses from other relatives, old Christmas Card lists, and from electoral polls – so I sent off an introductory letter which explained exactly who I was, what I was trying to accomplish, a small sample of what I had accomplished regarding the family tree, and offered that I would be more than willing to share what I knew concerning our mutual ancestors with them -whether or not they wished to contribute. I did stress and clearly promise in the letter that I would never share any information regarding the living with anyone. Not all those sent a letter responded, but those that did were thrilled with the idea, and shared all they could possibly muster. We have been in contact ever since and it has extended my arms across the pond as more than a one are both willing and excited to help by doing “on-site” visits, investigations, and photography. -A total win-win for all. (and nae too expensive to boot me friend)

THINK - Use available databases against each other, and within themselves, to slowly narrow down the field of play as far as date ranges, location, church, birth place, occupation, parents’ names, children’s names, known associates (witnesses) etc. Use your knowledge, available Census info and Family Search (IGI) data to lock on to a target.

An example of this while using IGI data being- lets say your looking for a John Smith, perhaps the son of George, and that you believe was born about 1857, in Peebles somewhere, and you also know the names of one or more siblings. Searching on him alone may be an exercise in frustration with many hits. An alternate approach that sometimes works is to do your search on him within a 4 or 10 year window – paste this data into a document, - now do the same thing on each of the sibling(s) with the same or bigger window and again paste the data into a document. Now study all the saved document data and look for matches in time, and parish – and investigate the details of those that cross match as far as parents, or a father George go – this simple sifting out the non related persons can yield large rewards.

If you are lucky enough to have some info on siblings born prior to a census, and all children would be young enough to still be at home at the census date - search for a family of that surname that has those given names present. If one of the persons is known to have an unusual First or Given Name, try searching for that alone. Also try variants of the Last Name that are not covered by Soundex or similar, e.g. a Tant family was found miss-transcribed as Lant.

If you know the trade of the father from the 1881 census period and own the 1881 Census make use of the advanced search feature - on surname / trade/ location etc……….. The 1881 Census is an awesome tool if it coincides with your date ranges. In addition to names, trades, location you can also search on addresses that you may have picked up off birth, marriage or death certificates, - or from other census dates. And if you find your family or a member check the “neighbours” around them for a few buildings or so – you may see a familiar name from witness names on registrations. Furthermore – I’ve found good info searching on the witnesses and finding kin, kin-to-be, or kin-that-was living there. Always look at the detailed household reports and note the occupations, birth locations, marital status, and relationship to the “head”.

Be particularly wary where the “Head” is a baby or child! This can happen in some families when the parents are elsewhere, leaving the baby in the safe-keeping of servants.

Check addresses on death registrations – they may be a hospital, or other institution. If a census has been done just prior to the death you may find them residing there, and maybe get more useful information (such as birthplace) to use somewhere else.

Should a person’s occupation be a trade or profession – some localities have apprenticeship lists which can be useful. Also note that tradesmen seemed to be close friends with others in the same trade - and that searching for others in the same trade and location can find you a needle in the haystack.

And -when you do ask someone for help – tell ALL FACTS and FAMILY LORE you know. Others frequently read this differently and have other experiences which may help shed light.

Using Search Engines

It is evident that there are great numbers of people out there who can not efficiently make use of search engines such as Google.

Many queries posted could have been quickly answered via the effective use of a simple search, and many more through an advanced search.

The problem may lie in the bewilderment brought on when one is presented a list of thousands of hits, most being non-relevant or repetitive, or no hits at all -This being prompted by the subject search being much too wide or much too specific.

Learn to make use of the advanced search screens, read the help info.

or

Learn the use of quotation marks to do specific searches on a name or phrase, and then add at least one non specific key. These added keys being a country name, or a county name, or a parish name, or an occupation, a year, a spouses maiden name………. etc.

Do remember that multiple phrases or names can be enclosed within the quotation marks.

Experiment with many combinations and be creative. It will pay off.

The point being (again) – use the unique aspects or things that define your subject to your advantage.

Example:

John Smith = 148 million hits at Google

“John Smith” Scotland = 287,000 hits at Google

“John Smith” Lanark = 29,900 hits at Google

"John Smith" Lanark McKernow = 1 or sometimes 2 hits at Google


A helpful note: wanna type a £ to show pounds? Just press and hold down the Alt key while typing 156 on the numeric keyboard while the Num-Lock is on. This extended IBM code works with most of the popular fonts. (So does 16 = ►, 17 = ◄, 1 = ☺, 7 = •, 4 = ♦, 22 = ▬)


Given Name Focusing

In your searching it would be useful to have knowledge of given name distributions (popularity). The GROS has done a complete study on these distributions for 1850, 1900, 1950 and 2000 in Scotland. While the 1900 lists are most likely much later than the periods of time most will searching, they are very close to that throughout the 1800’s (and perhaps earlier) as the order only jiggles a wee bit in 1850.

Here are 1900’s Top Ten most popular names per GROS:

1   John               Mary
2   James            Margaret
3   William           Elizabeth
4   Robert            Annie
5   Alexander      Jane
6   George          Agnes
7   Thomas         Isabella
8   David             Catherine
9   Andrew          Janet
10 Charles          Helen

Note that the male names above represented almost 70% of the male population, with the females totaling over 50% of the female population.

This data is useful in that all other names were unpopular, and therefore unique.

Use this when looking for a family in a Census or other database by focusing on the unpopular named individuals to reduce the number of hits returned by at least half. This method can further be improved by combined use of age information. Should the person also be young it further minimizes the numbers and reduces the range you will have to concern yourself.

The possibility of a reported erroneous age for a child is always much less than that an adult, or senior citizen (I doubt many would guess the age of an infant or toddler much more than a year or two off, while I’ve seen granny reported a decade off).

This information is useful in establishing possible given names of a child who was identified by surname only in very old parish records. (Try the popular names first in subsequent marriage or death investigations or related family lines.)

The rest of the above mentioned GROS listing of the top 100 names across the years 1900 to 2000, and much more, can be found here:

http://www.gro-scotland.gov.uk/statistics/library/occpapers/popular-forenames-in-scotland-1900-2000.html

 

Sites regarding the derivation of names, and other points:

http://www.clanmacrae.org/documents/names.htm

http://www.medievalscotland.org/scotnames/scotnames101.shtml

However, keep in mind that just like today, many adopted other names later in life, for various reasons.

One example with the extremely unusual, probably unique given name in Scotland of Rajahgopaul, “disappeared” from the records in adult life.

His last name and the complete names of his siblings were regular Scottish names.

However, he was eventually tracked down as “Paul” in several records, leading to confirmation as being the same person.

Whilst today there are many examples of virtually deliberate mis-spelling of traditional names, eg Alex to Alick, Alik etc, something like this happened in the past, due to the lack of education, non-centralisation, mis-interpretation etc, eg Janet, Jennet etc.

Plus after 1950 the distribution list of given names totally morphs – no doubt to the influence of television with added greater access to information, knowledge, options, Soap Operas, and the world wide blending of cultures and ethnic groups through the 60’s and on.

Miscellaneous Statistics

From 1855 to 1900 the infant mortality rate in Scotland was approximately 12% declining quickly thereafter to less than 1% by 1935.

In 1855 12% of the male population that signed registers used an “X” indicating they were illiterate. The female figure was 24%. Both numbers steadily decline to 2% by 1915.

Cemetery and Monumental Inscription Searches

Remember all the same things here as in all other searches regarding possible alternate spellings and then heap the added transformation of a name transcribed from a possibly damaged, moss covered, lichen spattered, eroded, dirty, faded tomb stone. Think of the possible ways stone erodes and then is miss-recorded with absolutely no phonetics considered. (“nn” becomes “m”, “h” becomes “b” or the opposite, “R” becomes “B”……..etc.)

Keep in mind that when you do find a relation’s grave that you should immediately do a similar search on that particular cemetery (and/or section) using only the surname with no given name – many times you can find entire family groups complete with spouses, and the resulting children. Further you may find that the file tag or record numbers match or are very similar.

Charles Ruickbie at Victory Loan Parade

Images:
This alternate form of searching really can work and lead to new information, links and contacts.
Pictures and photograph searches can lead to new sites, or even pictures of your relatives from the past (like the one above).Plus it is usually the quickest way to find a picture of the ship they emigrated on, and perhaps detailed information on it, and its sailing schedules and ports of call.
Try doing a name search for IMAGES on Yahoo, Google or DogPile, and just recently MSN offers such.  Don’t forget that the advanced search options and use of quotation marks also might help.

Also try the photograph specific sites such as Photopolis, Scran, and Ancient Faces.
 

The printed word

Walter Chepman and Andrew Myllar set up the first Scottish press in 1508.

The first published newspaper in Scotland was detail of a political debate in 1641. In the early 1770’s newspapers became more established and by the early 1880’s they existed in many larger towns.

Books and newspapers from the 1800’s can be valuable in genealogical searches. Not only do they convey the atmosphere of the times, they can also contain information on individuals who were not famous or noble.

This is particularly the case in smaller towns where often local poets or writers made mention of friends and family within their books of verse or reminiscences. The value of newspapers is obvious with their birth, wedding and death announcements plus note that you may also find articles concerning family associated with legal proceedings, business, item sales, accidents, plus sporting, political and social events.

Though not available to those in Canada it is interesting to note that the National Library of Scotland claims to have 30 kilometers of shelves containing newspapers published in Scotland, and add 50,000 more copies a year.

Current and past publications put out by individuals, Genealogical Societies and Family History groups are also valuable as they contain information and databases that are not on line.

Take the time to visit the sites of the Scottish Genealogical Society and any local ones in your county or parish of interest to see what printed information they have for sale. The cost is usually not that over the top, and sometimes a bargain.

The books or CDs you will find includes: census, monumental inscriptions, merchant and trade indexes, poll tax lists, hearth tax lists, burgh records, local histories, shipping lists, maritime records, emigrant lists, some Kirk session records, family histories, registers of testaments, county directories, military records, militia lists, apprentice lists, Burgess rolls, peerage lists, names and clan lists, post office directories, alumni and graduates lists, and more.

While visiting each society webpage it would be wise to also scan the directories of what was contained in past newsletters or member magazines as they can also contain a valuable document for you search.

Family History Societies in Scotland:

Scottish Genealogical Society
Look around in every menu.
http://www.scotsgenealogy.com/ 
Here you can also purchase monumental inscriptions (MI’s)of gravestones for parishes from all over Scotland. Plus wills, and much more….
http://www.scotsgenealogy.com/acatalog/shop.html

Aberdeen & NE Scotland FHS
http://www.anesfhs.org.uk/ 

Borders FHS Lothians FHS
Again – look around.
http://www.bordersfhs.org.uk/ 

Caithness FHS Mull Genealogy
http://www.caithnessfhs.org.uk/ 

Central Scotland FHS
http://www.csfhs.org.uk/ 

Dumfries & Galloway FHS
http://www.dgfhs.org.uk/ 

East Ayrshire FHS
http://www.eastayrshirefhs.org.uk/ 

Fife FHS
http://www.fifefhs.org/ 

Glasgow & West of Scotland FHS
http://www.gwsfhs.org.uk/

Highland FHS
http://www.highlandfhs.org.uk/

Lanarkshire FHS
http://www.lanarkshirefhs.org.uk/

Largs & North Ayrshire FHS
http://www.largsnafhs.org.uk/

Lothians FHS
http://www.lothiansfhs.org.uk/

Mull Genealogy
http://www.mullgenealogy.co.uk/

North Perthshire FHG
http://www.npfhg.org/

Orkney FHS
http://www.orkneyfhs.co.uk/

Shetland FHS
http://www.shetland-fhs.org.uk/

Tay Valley FHS
http://www.tayvalleyfhs.org.uk/

Troon & Ayrshire FHS
http://www.troonayrshirefhs.org.uk/

West Lothian FHS
http://www.wlfhs.org.uk/

The Scottish Association of Family History Societies
http://www.safhs.org.uk/

Society of Genealogists
http://www.sog.org.uk/ 

Be Realistic In Your End Goal.

We all have heard about “so and so” using only the net and tracing firmly their family tree near to the Viking era in Scotland. Bunk! I ain’t buying.

Anyone restricted to tracing their tree online (even with the fantastic services available from the likes of LDS and Scotlands People) is quite lucky to get into the early 1700’s with hard core fully confirmed source data. Most stall out in the late 1700’s.

This is not due to your abilities, but due to lack of records, incorrect records, migration, and illegitimate births when the trail ends abruptly.

You should be quite proud to accomplish getting to approximately 1800 – few do without making an assumption based on overwhelming coincidental information.

Here’s my best cut at the probabilities on getting back so far in Scotland using on-line information based on a multitude of facts, plus some gut feel in what I and others have experienced. Do not let this dishearten you as it does not include off line information.

Year

Census

Period

B & M

Deaths

Wills

Probability

1901

7

SR

99%

99%

5.0%

Excellent

1874

4

SR

95%

95%

5.0%

Very Good

1855

2

SR Optional

70.0%

0.0%

5.0%

Good

1800

0

OPR

40.0%

0.0%

1.0%

Fair

1750

0

OPR

20.0%

0.0%

few

Poor

1700

0

OPR

5.0%

0.0%

few

Very Poor

1650

0

OPR

2.0%

0.0%

few

Unlikely

1600

0

OPR

1.0%

0.0%

few

Very Unlikely

1553

0

OPR

0.1%

0.0%

few

Sheer Luck

1500

0

n/a

0.0%

0.0%

0.0%

Nil (almost)

The census column is total number of census available. The “B & M” would be my estimate of what birth and marriage vital statistics are on line or available in most areas. I know many will pooh-pooh the numbers but this is my opus and I can not be wildly off the mark.

Certainly the numbers would look a lot better if all records available at GROS and the NAS were on line. But even with this the well does have a bottom.

The reality of this is seen in the many queries posted which are centered on desires to find information on family from the early 1800’s and back in time.

I once put a query up myself seeking a way of establishing what is impossible to find. The answer being that no such gap analysis has been done. So…. I did three counties associated with my heritage to see what it might look like. This study being based on the Extant Parish records list of GROS. The Peeblesshire matrix follows further below.

Note that the date spans are as stated by GROS but realize, as is warned by GROS, that there can be many non-evident gaps, or few records within these spans.

I have included Death dates. They are not on line, but may be in the years ahead. I saw that in these counties that while the death data generally matched the spans of births and marriages there were many more gaps and some parishes where deaths had never been recorded (particularly in Roxburgh).

Combine in your mind this analysis with the history of Scotland. Throughout its early tumultuous past many events occurred that resulted in records being destroyed, not taken, or in some cases banned. Such events being the various changes in the recognized Church, changes in the ruling power, wars, plagues, fires, floods, mice, mold and the fact that parish churches were not everywhere.

Some examples: 1640 – estimated that only 5% of the Presbyterian parishes were actually recording things (these are the primary records on-line); 1642-1649 Civil War when many records were destroyed, many not even taken; 1645 Black Plague sweeps across Scotland - many abandoned record keeping altogether for some years; 1783-1793 a tax exists on all records taken and many Scots refuse to pay or can not afford it; …..Etc.

The matrix:

PEEBLES GAP ANALYSIS

  BIRTH GAP

 

 Marriage GAP1

 Marriage GAP2

Parish

Earliest Birth

from

to

Earliest Marry

from

to

from

to

Broughton

1697

 

 

1697

1702

1827

1846

1854

Drumelzier

1649

1695

1699

1649

1695

1699

1814

1823

Eddlestone

1713

 

 

1714

 

 

 

 

Glenholm

1747

 

 

1784

1796

1854

 

 

Innerleithen

1643

1681

1705

1642

1693

1705

 

 

Kilbouch…B&G.

1749

 

 

1749

1757

1854

 

 

Kirkurd

1705

 

 

1705

 

 

 

 

Lyne & Megget

1649

 

 

1649

 

 

 

 

Manor

1663

 

 

1664

1819

1823

 

 

Newlands

1677

 

 

1677

1790

1837

 

 

Peebles

1622

 

 

1628

 

 

 

 

Skirling

1683

 

 

1665

 

 

 

 

Stobo

1671

 

 

1783

 

 

 

 

Traquair

1694

 

 

1694

 

 

 

 

Tweedsmuir

1644

1698

1719

1644

1684

1719

 

 

West Linton

1656

 

 

1657

1792

1797

 

 

Earliest Start

1622

 

 

1628

 

 

 

 

Latest Start

1749

 

 

1784

 

 

 

 

 

PEEBLES GAP ANALYSIS

  Death GAP1

  Death GAP2

Parish

Earliest Death

from

to

from

to

Broughton

1828

 

 

 

 

Drumelzier

1649

 

 

 

 

Eddlestone

1714

 

 

 

 

Glenholm

1783

1852

1854

 

 

Innerleithen

1706

1763

1823

 

 

Kilbouch…B&G.

1749

1758

1854

 

 

Kirkurd

1718

1793

1854

 

 

Lyne & Megget

1840

 

 

 

 

Manor

1663

1851

1854

 

 

Newlands

1677

1759

1854

 

 

Peebles

1828

1713

1741

1847

1854

Skirling

1723

1737

1749

1795

1854

Stobo

1681

1849

1854

 

 

Traquair

1695

 

 

 

 

Tweedsmuir

1645

1693

1760

1854

1854

West Linton

1667

1734

1798

1836

1854

Earliest Start

1645

 

 

 

 

Latest Start

1840

 

 

 

 

A quick look at the above will show that in Peebles, the absolute earliest one might get to using the OPRs is early 1600’s (and that in many areas it is later) with all areas going through a broken chain of continuous records. In a straight up comparison of the supposed 302 year period that OPRs could exist (1553 to 1855) the county of Peeblesshire really only covers 57% regarding births, 47% regarding marriages, and 32% regarding deaths (and these are based on averages so the percentages are vastly inflated).

Okay – now you’ve seen a typical example of really what is available and I will let you ponder this to draw your own conclusion and establish a personal end goal for your on line search.

You too could do such a study on your relative parish – the data is here:

http://www.gro-scotland.gov.uk/famrec/hlpsrch/opr-cov.html

Look at the links at the bottom of the page.

(An interesting aside I learned while doing this study – in 1746 the wearing of kilts was prohibited, those not abiding were subject to punishment by death… is that sorta like being caught dead in one?)

And while we are on the subject of knowing how big the haystack is – I would point out that it might be useful to get an understanding of the population of the areas in your search. The larger – the more complex and difficult.

County

1841Population

%

Aberdeen

192,400

7.3%

Angus

170,500

6.5%

Argyll

97,400

3.7%

Ayr

164,400

6.3%

Banff

49,700

1.9%

Berwick

34,400

1.3%

Bute

15,696

0.6%

Caithness

36,300

1.4%

Clackmannan

19,200

0.7%

Dumfries

72,800

2.8%

Dumbarton

44,300

1.7%

East Lothian

35,838

1.4%

Fife

140,100

5.3%

Inverness

97,800

3.7%

Kincardine

33,100

1.3%

Kinross

8,800

0.3%

Kirkcudbright

41,100

1.6%

Lanark (Glasgow)

427,000

16.3%

Midlothian

225,500

8.6%

Moray

35,000

1.3%

Nairn

9,200

0.4%

Orkney

30,500

1.2%

Peebles

10,500

0.4%

Perth

137,500

5.2%

Renfrew

155,100

5.9%

Ross & Cromarty

78,700

3.0%

Roxburgh

46,000

1.8%

Selkirk

8,000

0.3%

Shetland

30,600

1.2%

Stirling

82,100

3.1%

Sutherland

24,800

0.9%

West Lothian

26,900

1.0%

Wigtown

39,200

1.5%

Total

2,620,434

100%

Looking at this it does not take long to figure out where the searches are more complex.

Here’s a breakdown of Peebles across time (a work in progress that I shall update):

PEEBLES

 

            YEAR

 

Parishes

1755

1801

1831

1861

Broughton

no info

no info

no info

no info

Drumelzier

no info

no info

no info

no info

Eddleston

no info

no info

no info

no info

Glenholm

no info

no info

no info

no info

Innerleithen

559

609

810

1823

Kilbucho

279

 

353

 

Kirkurd

310

327

318

362

Lyne & Megget

265

167

156

134

 Manor

320

308

254

247

Newlands

1009

950

1078

987

Peebles

1896

2088

2750

2850

Skirling

335

308

358

317

Stobo

313

338

440

478

Traquair

651

613

643

687

Tweedsmuir

397

277

288

196

West Linton

831

1064

1577

1534

Totals

7165

7049

9025

9615

Population numbers for other parishes are available at GROS, EDINA, etc.

I will end this section with a brighter note – many other records do exist, such as local polls, tax records, Kirk sessions, books, sasines, letters, trials, military records, cemetery records, monumental inscriptions, and many more items – the list is great. But at this time most are available to you (or a friend) only in person in Scotland, or via purchase. Each day more and more arrives online and your prospects to reach back farther in time grow in suit.


Return to Larry's Searching for Your Canadian/Scottish Ancestors Index Page

 


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