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Ancestry Research
Various Sources


This article was written for the March 2002 edition of the Family Tree Magazine by Gordon McPhail, a
professional, practising genealogist.

Interest in genealogy is greatly on the increase and the "voices" from the past in most families don‘t need to rely on sensational stories to weave an exciting picture of their lives.

Ancestry research is a fascinating pursuit and can be made even more colourful by going beyond the basic and most often used sources of birth, death and marriage records. These can be, and in fact must be, used as a basis for using other records. Intense detail of particular times in a family’s life can be revealed.

Some old records are usually to be found in a family’s possession. One such certificate was from 1900, a marriage:

Marriages in the District of Dennistoun in the County of Lanark: 1900, July 13th at No 6 Garngad Road, Glasgow. Married, after Banns, according to the forms of the United Presbyterian Church, JOHN SHARPE, Iron Driller; Bachelor; aged 28, of 6 Garngad Road, Glasgow, son of Jason Sharpe, Slater and Mary Jane Sharpe m.s. [maiden surname] Campbell & ELIZABETH McELROY (Spinster) aged 22 of 52 Bright Street, Glasgow, daughter of Robert McElroy, Engine Fitter and Margaret McElroy m.s. Johnston. Witnesses: Robert Dickson and Jane McElroy.

Copies of all Scottish birth, death and marriage records are found at the General Register Office for Scotland, New Register House, Princes Street, Edinburgh EH1 3YT. These date back to 1855. Some regional record centres have copies for their areas, such as the Glasgow Genealogy Centre at 22 Park Circus, Glasgow. Registration was compulsory from 1 January 1855 in Scotland. Before that date parish registers which were church-based are relied upon for information regarding baptisms, marriages and burials. These exist for different dates depending on the parish, the earliest being from the 1550s, although many are well represented back to the mid-18th century. Those records, too (for the established Church of Scotland) are found at New Register House.

Returning to the above 1900 marriage record, a search was made in the index to births for John Sharpe, around 1871-2, given that he was aged 28 at marriage. It was found that he was actually born in 1870. Ages given on ancestral documents were often a year or two "out" and this is an aspect of research to be borne in mind when searching indexes. His surname was recorded as Sharp (without the "e") at birth, variation in surnames throughout record sources being another common aspect of research. His birth record reads as follows:

Births in the District of High Church in the Burgh of Glasgow: JOHN SHARA9 born 1870, May 21st at 6 Garngad Road, Glasgow, son of Jason Sharp. Slater (journeyman) and Mary Jane Sharp m.s. CampbelL Parents married 1858 June 8th Glasgow Informant: Mary Jane Sharp, Mother X (Her mark).

The Sharp ancestry was able to be extended further by locating the above mentioned 1858 marriage but for the immediate purpose of learning more of John Sharp(e), his death record was searched for and found:

Deaths in the District of Dennistoun in the Burgh of Glasgow: John Sharpe, Engineer’s machineman, married to Elizabeth McElroy. Died 1921 April 18th at the Royal Infirmary, Glasgow. Usual Residence: 282 Castle Street, Glasgow. Aged 50. son of Jason Sharpe, Slater (deceased) and Mary Jane Sharpe m.s. Campbell (deceased). Cause of death: compound leg fracture. Death under chloroform Anaesthesia. Informant: Elizabeth McElroy, Widow.

Now that the brief idea of the circumstances surrounding John Sharpe’s death had been discovered, the use of lesser-used but genealogically valuable records came into play. Old ward journals for Glasgow Royal Infirmary, which are held by the Greater Glasgow Health Board Archive revealed that he was admitted to the hospital on 12 April, six days before he died and that "patient states that a valve full of compressed steam burst and struck him on the ankle..?"

Such a discovery hints at an accident at a workplace and so the records of Fatal Accident Inquiries, held, along with a variety of other genealogically useful records (such as wills, inheritance records and non-established church parish records of baptism, etc) at the National Archives, Edinburgh (next door to New Register House) were consulted and an eight page "Proceedings in Inquiry was found for the case of John Sharpe, going into great detail about the "violent explosion" which led to his injury. He was employed at the Caledonian Railway Company’s locomotive works in the north of Glasgow, and it is towards the end of the report that we get a vivid picture of his injury:

..so great was the force of the explosion that the same part of the cone, after striking the deceased John Sharpe on the leg, glanced off his leg and embedded itself in the wood of a railway carriage which was standing near..

If we stay with John Sharpe, the research was able to pinpoint his family’s burial lair in Glasgow’s Sighthill Cemetery, whose records were viewed at the city’s Mitchell Library, and a further record in this series, a lair purchase certificate, revealed that he had bought the ground in 1906 for the burial of his mother.

In order to find details of John Sharpe as a child, I turned to the Scottish census returns. These can be used for genealogical purposes between 1841 and 1891, and, just as they do today, they provide a lot of information about families. All Scottish returns are held at New Register House, whilst many reference sections of local libraries have copies for their areas. The clue to searching for the Sharp(e) family lay in their address at the time of John’s birth in 1870 - 6 Garngad Road, Glasgow. The family were, indeed, found here on the 1871 return, but at No 8:

Jason Sharpe, Head of House, Married, aged 32, Occupation:
Slater, Born: Ireland
Mary Jane Sharpe, Wife, Married, 29, weaver, Ireland
Jason Sharpe, Son, 8, Scholar, Glasgow
Jane Sharpe, Daughter, 6, Scholar, Glasgow
Margaret Sharpe, Daughter, 3, Glasgow
John Sharpe, Son, 10 months, Glasgow

Much cross-referencing and intriguing turns of research gradually built up the story of the Sharp(e) family, going back to their days in Ireland, a dominant feature of many Scottish searches. A steady tide of Irish persons arrived in the country from the mid-1840s through several successive decades - in Glasgow alone in the months of July to September 1847, 26,000 Irish arrived, seeking employment and housing, this being a time of particularly severe difficulties for them, stemming from the worst known famine, related to a blight on their potato crops, in their history.

In this case, the Sharp(e) family were traced back, in Glasgow, to Jason (John’s father) who was found, as a boy of 15, on an 1851 Census return with his widowed mother and his siblings. The information "Ireland" as regard to place of birth on the old census returns is a notorious stumbling block for many researchers, but it can often be overcome: for the Sharpes, this was achieved by searching the applications to relief for poor persons which are held at Glasgow City Archive within the Mitchell Library. Whilst neither Jason nor John Sharpe were mentioned in such records, an application for a brother of Jason, called Edward, was found, highlighting the value of accessing information on your direct ancestors through their siblings. In this record the following information was found that:

Edward Sharp, 8 Hertfield Street, 4 up; born: Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh, Ireland; Widower; age 67, Labourer; Protestant; Disabled through Chronic Rheumatism, certified by Dr Wilson; wife Elizabeth Reid died at Fraserbank St 2 years ago; son of Robert Sharp, labourer and Dolly Ingram. both dead; he (Edward) was married at Garngad Road, 30 years ago, by the Rev Dr Norman McLeod...

As the relief committee had to satisfy itself that an applicant was, indeed, in financial trouble, questions as to family income were asked, and so we find Edward’s sons: "... Alexander, 31, in America ..?‘, "William, 19, about Cowcaddens ...", "... Robert, 35, residence unknown ..?‘ and in a further application the following year we find "... Robert in America".

The Sharpe family were not found in Enniskillen as expected but in a rural parish called Devenish, 10 miles west of it, and its original baptism records for the Church of Ireland were accessed, revealing the entries for Edward and his brother Jason’s baptisms as well as those of several sisters. Not only was the benefit of searching records for parishes surrounding Enniskillen (the recorded place of Edward’s birth according to the Glasgow source) revealed, but by finding the entries of baptism for all Jason’s siblings, we find that while the father, Robert Sharp(e) is recorded as a farmer, one entry, in 1830, found that he was also a "Constable".

Old newspapers, held at local reference libraries, are of value in most searches, as there is always at least one ancestor whose name appeared in print, either through notable local personal prominence or through links with some event, possibly of a dramatic nature. A death certificate in 1864 revealed that "James McAllister, Shoemaker, journeyman" had his "dead body found in town Mill Gardens about Midnight" and cause of death was recorded as "supposed suicide from laudanum poisoning". A search of the columns of the local press for the appropriate date found three different papers carrying the item, all unique in some detail, The Glasgow Morning Journal said that, "Two phials were found near the body and one of them contained a little laudanum," and that "there were found on the person of the deceased a memorandum book in which were written the following words - ‘All I request is that you will take me from this privately and put me beside Nannie. Your brother J McA, Monday 20th June’?’ A perusal of Glasgow Sentinel, as well as basic searches in marriage records, showed that Nannie had been his first wife and that he had married his present spouse only two weeks before he died. Further research unearthed that this second wife, by the time of her death, had been married five times, lastly to a herbalist and druggist. The written facts upon which we rely for our picture of our family’s past may hint at other unrecorded circumstances, details of which we will never know for certain.

On a more optimistic turn, the Banffshire Journal of 21 November 1888 carried, as well as a basic death notice for James Main, a 90-year-old local farmer, an article summing up his "great many improvements, laying off the fields and removing the stones ..?‘ on several farms he had occupied with his wife and family. His death certificate and the census returns had referred to him as a "farmer", while the newspaper article opened up whole new aspects about the kind of character he had been:

left home at the early age of eight years and went to live on Arndilly estates where he continued for 15 years. The then proprietor of Arndilly, having also estates in the West Indies and wishing to have a manager ... chose James for the post. After being three years resident in Jamaica where he carried out some important improvements in roads etc, in recognition of this services, he was presented with a gold medal...

Testaments are an obvious source of interest. At New Register House in Edinburgh there are two basic types, those which contain an inventory of the deceased’s moveable belongings and those also involving a will. Both kinds are of great interest. In the "Inventory of the Personal Estate of Mrs Isobel Low m.s. Irons, Dundee" in 1845 we find that she was "widow of the late William Low, Flesher, Dundee" and in this particular search the inventory supplied the first clues to the existence of a retail business and property leasing business for the family: "... cash in the house and sums received for goods in shop sold immediately after deceased’s death -£4 9s 10d?’ A list of tenants’ names followed the heading of "arrears of rent due to deceased at Martinmas [sic] 1844" and "rents due to deceased at Whitsunday 1845". Her "household furniture ... sold by auction" fetched £59 17s 6d. The inventory did not list all the furniture but the local newspaper did, detailing among much else that there "will be sold by auction ... the household furniture and stock of spirits and liquors which belonged to her estate - mahogany and other tables, chairs, bedsteads, curtains, mirrors, eight day clock ..?‘

Lair registers, as has been shown, allow us to visit ancestral resting places, but where this is not possible through time or distance, the extensive records of gravestone inscriptions for Scottish churchyards/cemeteries can reveal new data, as in the following entry for Dundee’s Constitution Road Cemetery (in this case, a lucky find as the site is now built upon by a car park):

"Erected by William Low, Flesher, Hilltown, Dundee and Isobel Irons his wife in memory of their daughter Ann who died 7 February 1842 aged 18 months. The above William Low died 14 February 1843 aged 48 years 5 months and his widow Isobel Irons died 27 January 1845 aged 47 years. His grandson ..."

Gravestone inscription books are found at New Register House and at some reference libraries for particular areas.

Living descendants - people who share an ancestral branch - can be put in touch with one another by several methods. One is accessing the Ancestral File, based at the world’s largest genealogy library, in Salt Lake City, Utah, USA, but available here via "Mormon" (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-thy Saints) family history centres. Another method is to search the birth, marriage and death records "forwards" in time. Ancestral research is both a process of learning a craft (for there really are a multitude of records available involving different research methods) and discovering about your background, and it is this part of it which can be most fascinating when linking up with living descendants since they may be aware of family tradition (even orally, which can be checked out in record sources) to add further colour to the picture and this is often true, especially of descendants whose ancestor emigrated.


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