Come along to our talk on Friday night (22nd May) where Liz Irving, the Genealogy Detective will be discussing how to use fascinating sources to can add facts, context and colour to your family tree. Tickets are £4 and can be booked by calling 01555 661345 or ‘on the door’ on the night.
Here’s a guest blog from Liz to give you a flavour of what she’ll be discussing on the night…
Researching your family history is an absorbing and fascinating activity, but really getting to know your ancestors involves more than simply finding out their names and the dates and places of their birth, marriage and death.
In Scotland we’re lucky to have easy access to these “vital” or Statutory Records, along with other resources like Old Parish Registers, censuses and wills (known as Testaments). We can work back through the decades and build up a family tree to be proud of. But if you know where to look there’s much, much more that you can find out about your family, their neighbours, community and the world they lived in.
Being a genealogy detective means following clues, searching for evidence and building up a picture of our forebears and their lives.
New Lanark is a very special place, and its origins as a mill village have led to a large number of records specific to this community being kept together. Glasgow University Archives holds a myriad of “name rich” material – including rent, wages and school certificate books, medical reports, letters, even a petition signed by villagers who wanted to continue worshipping in the village’s Old Gaelic Chapel. Imagine the excitement of seeing your ancestor’s signature from a century or more ago.
Other archives and libraries also hold original volumes that record people’s lives in the past in intimate detail.
It’s sad but true that our ancestors often turn up in official records when they’re having a hard time. So the birth of an illegitimate child can lead to a mother appearing in Sheriff Court records as she attempts to have the father of her baby legally identified. An accident and the resultant inability to work may mean an application under the Poor Law, when an inspector would visit and record in detail the circumstances of the applicant, spouse, and wider family members. Committing a crime and being imprisoned can produce entries in prison registers, newspaper reports and even transportation records – often including a detailed description of the person. And being accused of what may seem to us quite minor misdemeanours – such as “horrid swearing” – could see a person appearing before the Kirk Session for censure.
The Lanark Prison Register from May 1859 records that Elizabeth Nichol, a 16-year old millworker was accused of “theft of silver money”. From this book, held at National Records of Scotland in Edinburgh, we also learn that Elizabeth had been born in Ireland but spent most of her life in Lanark. She was a Roman Catholic, 4 feet 11 inches tall, weighed 110 pounds, had a swarthy complexion, dark hair and black eyes. Elizabeth couldn’t read or write, but her health was good. She was liberated after spending one day in prison, her conduct said to be “tolerable”.
Thirty-five years later, another New Lanark resident found that with his eyesight fading he could do little work as a tailor. He was Patrick McGuckian, who lived in Double Row with his wife Euphemia. In September 1894 he applied for Poor Relief, and the Inspector recorded details of the couple’s birthplaces in Ireland, the names and occupations of their parents, Euphemia’s state of health, and the names, ages and spouses of their grown-up children. The report – held in the Mitchell Library in Glasgow – even reveals that Patrick and Euphemia had seven grandchildren, a two-apartment house that was “comfortably furnished”, and that while Patrick had resided in New Lanark for around 60 years, he had spent three months in America in 1857.
Documents like these turn our ancestors’ lives from monochrome to colour, words written in fading ink bring us details we could never have imagined. We become time travellers, dipping into previous centuries.
Let’s jump back to the late 18th century, when David Dale of New Lanark Mills was paying three pounds, eighteen shillings tax for having fourteen windows, and fifteen shillings for having four clocks. Or to 1823 when the Moderator of Lanark Kirk Session was admonishing “at great length” Elizabeth Dewar of New Lanark for her sin of Fornication, though he later absolved her from the scandal and restored her to church privileges.
Most heartbreaking of all, we find ourselves in March 1918 when Samuel Barr of the Gordon Highlanders was writing a will in his army paybook, leaving all he had to his four motherless children. Less than three weeks later he was dead and his mother in New Lanark was embarking on a correspondence with the authorities to ensure her orphaned grandchildren would be cared for. She also received and signed for her son’s effects – letters and photographs, his war medals and a gold ring.
These people come alive again as we see their handwriting, read their words, discover how they lived and understand their joys and sorrows.
Liz Irving – New Lanark Guest Blogger
Tickets for Liz’s talk on Friday 22 May are £4 and can be booked by calling 01555 661345 or ‘on the door’ on the night. http://bit.ly/1zR24ci