Thursday, 29 September 2011

US geological survey maps go online

The United States Geological Survey has uploaded 90,000 out of 200,000 maps online at The collection will be completed throughout the next year.

The University of Glasgow is blogging that its Maps, Official Publications and Statistics Unit is able to reproduce high-quality large-scale prints of the maps, and that many of the maps are also available for consultation on Level 7 of the university library. I can't tell if that means they are partnered in some way with the US site however.


Ancestry seeks Android app testers

Ancestry ( is looking for Beta testers for a new Android based mobile app, which will be utilised on either a mobile or tablet platform. Ancestry is asking for those potentially interested to take a short survey and will then select a small pool of respondents that meets its requirements.

The survey link is available at


Government considers Scottish Studies for schools

The Government is considering introducing a new Scottish studies subject for schools. Personally I think this is excellent news.


Wednesday, 28 September 2011

ScotlandsPeople Centre phones down

On the ScotlandsPeople Centre website at

IMPORTANT CUSTOMER NOTICE: We regret to advise that our phone system is currently unavailable.

If you need to contact the Scotland’s People Centre booking helpline then please call 07917 267015 (Please note that the call charge may be higher than normal). Alternatively, for the time-being, you can e-mail booking requests to us at

We apologise for the inconvenience.


Canada Gazette digitisation complete

Canada's equivalent of the London, Belfast and Edinburgh Gazettes - the Canada Gazette - has been undergoing a digitisation project for some time now, and John Reid has announced on his Anglo-Celtic Connections blog that the project is now complete. The coverage is from 1841-1997, and the records are available at the Library and Archives Canada website at The Gazette is the official paper of the state and contains all sorts of official announcements that may be of use genealogically.


Thanks to Standard Life Family History Club

A huge thank you to Standard Life Family History Club for its hospitality last night in Edinburgh, when I gave a two part Online Irish Resources talk, which I think went down well! I arrived a bit early and so went and had a look at St. Cuthbert's Cemetery for half an hour beforehand, which is located beneath the castle - all very civilised! The club is a little different to other societies in that its membership is drawn from the company as opposed to the general public, but it is a member of SAFHS and has an impressive library and many useful genealogical resources to help its enthusiastic members. It also has a free coffee machine, and you don't see that every day! :)

A great night - thanks again!


Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Berneray project launch event

There will be an informal evening launch on the Isle of Berneray of the A' tilleadh ar n-eachdraidh dhachaigh (Bringing Our History Home) project, to be held in The Nurse’s Cottage, Backhill, Berneray on Friday 14th October 2011 from 7:30pm-9:30pm.

For more information visit


Research position Carmichael Watson project

The University of Edinburgh is looking for a research assistant to help catalogue the Carmichael Watson project. Here's the blurb:

Following a recent funding award from the Leverhulme Trust, phase four of the Carmichael Watson Project aims to research the material culture and collecting practices of the Hebridean folklorist and collector Alexander Carmichael (1832-1912) and to catalogue and contextualise the objects, field monuments and sites collected or described by him. We require an experienced post-doctoral researcher with proven ethnographic, object-based, linguistic and research skills to play a key role in the Carmichael Watson Project team. You will identify, investigate, classify and contextualise objects collected by Alexander Carmichael, disseminate project findings and assist with overall project delivery and resource development.

You will have a PhD in one of the following fields relating to Scottish Gaelic/Irish: folklore, ethnology, literature, history or museum studies and be fluent in Gaelic, or fluent in Irish with some knowledge of Scottish Gaelic and willingness to augment that knowledge. Highly developed organisational and problem-solving skills are a requirement as are ICT skills and excellent interpersonal and communication skills.

The post is fixed-term for eighteen months and is available from 3 October 2011.

Further details, inclusing salary, and to apply, visit


Monday, 26 September 2011

Hawick family history workshop

The Heritage Hub in Hawick is running a family history workshop on Tuesday October 25th 2011 from 7pm-9pm. Places are limited and must be booked, charge £5, which includes handouts and a family history chart.

For more information, visit, call 01450 360699 or e-mail .

(With thanks to the Heritage Hub via Twitter @SBC_Archives)


Sunday, 25 September 2011

Tayroots Genealogy Fair - report

I'm sitting here in Largs and the rain is tipping it down outside and it is very grey - a marked contrast from yesterday at Dundee's Tayroots Genealogy Fair!

I had arrived in Dundee on Friday night (after a brief stop in Perthshire to take some photographs for a book project) and made my way to Duntrune House ( to the north of the city, which sits on the boundary between Dundee City and Angus. The B&B is run by the absolutely brilliant Barry and Olwyn Jack, who are keen genealogists themselves, and I could honestly have stayed there for a week, if only to go through their book collection! Big open fires, beautiful rooms, and yes, this paragraph has just turned into an advert for them, because YOU HAVE TO GO AND STAY THERE! :)

After dinner at a local pub with Olwyn, Barry and another guest, I returned to the B&B and got talking to some of the guests about Irish research (they were all staying to pursue their genealogy interests), and for one guest I was able to quickly make a few discoveries for a line that she has been researching for 40 years, including the fact that one member of the family ended up living on Albert Road, Carrickfergus - part of my old newspaper round when I was a kid! Unbelievably, that is the second time this year that my paper round has featured in someone else's research (the other was in Toronto a few months back)! A small room, with four or five people interested in genealogy, a big open fire, and Wi-Fi access - perfect conditions for an impromptu and enjoyable genie session, and we didn't finish until just after 11pm. YOU HAVE TO GO AND STAY THERE (sorry, think I've done that bit!)

Yesterday then was the Tayroots Genealogy Fair ( at the Discovery Point, organised superbly by Sheila Faichney and her team, with many societies and vendors in attendance from the surrounding area. A very busy day. I had gone to give two talks, one a beginners' workshop on Scottish research, and the other a talk on the handloom weaving industry in Perth. This actually ended up as three talks as one of the other speakers was unable to attend at short notice, so I offered to plug the gap with a lecture on online Irish resources, which ended up packed - even if the Powerpoint I had was 6 months out of date! For those who attended, I suggested that links to the websites discussed in my talks were on my research service website: for the Scottish talk, see, and for the Irish talk's links see (the Irish page is considerably expanded, as these are the links for the hour and a half version that I do).

Rather brilliantly, at the end of the weavers talk a gentleman called Ron Scrimgeour approached me and told me that he was in fact the Deacon of the Dundee Weavers Incorporation - thankfully he gave the talk a big thumbs up, which was reassuring! Keeper of the Scottish Catholic Archives, Andrew Nicoll, was also there and gave a much appreciated talk on the archives, and in conversation with him during the day he told me that he is preparing two further books on Scottish Roman Catholic based family history research, following up on his recent publication listing the records available (see, so keep your eyes peeled!

I managed to catch up with many people there including Vivienne and Pat from the University of Dundee's archives service ( and huge thanks to both for the image permission - will be in touch!. I also met John Irvine from the Scottish Local History Forum ( and was so impressed with the group's periodical that I ended signing up as a member. The membership rate from October 2011-September 2012 is £20, and the group is organising a conference for Friday November 4th 2011 at Renfield Centre, Bath Street, Glasgow, the theme being Travellers, Turnpikes and Tar - further information is available on their website.

I caught up with Helen from Scottish Monumental Inscriptions (, who was having a busy day, and who is currently making her inscriptions data available down under through Gould Genealogy, which should hopefully be of interest to Ozzie readers! I also met up with genealogists Chris Halliday and Caroline Makein, and many others, including a Canadian lady who had previously been a Pharos student of mine!

After the main event, in the evening I had the great pleasure to be given a guided tour of the Howff Cemetery in Dundee by Karen Nichols of Scotia Heritage ( It was the first time I'd actually seen the place, and I was shown everything from the gravestones of the marmalade Keillors to the stones of the Nine Incorporated Trades! A fascinating visit, so many thanks Karen!

After a quick visit to the pakora bar just off the Nethergate (sorry, I AM human!), it was time to head home, and from this my final thanks to the makers of the new M74 to the south of Glasgow - honest, it makes a HUGE difference!

A great day out - thanks to all!

View from the lecture room - not bad really!

Karen Nichols at the Howff


Aberdeen & NE Scotland FHS - evening openings

Thanks to Susan Free on Google+ for news that the research centre of the Aberdeen and North-East Scotland Family History Society ( is to resume evening opening hours on Tuesdays from September 27th. The centre is located on King Street, Aberdeen, and is ordinarily open Mondays - Fridays,10 am - 4 pm. The evening opening hours will be 6pm - 9pm. The centre is also open Saturdays from 9 am - 1 pm.


Genes Reunited war memorial competition

Genes Reunited ( has launched a competition for schools to create a war memorial commemorating those who fell in the First World War within the local community, essentially in the form of an individual or class project. The competition is open to both primary and secondary schools, and the winner will receive £500, 2nd place £250, and 3rd place £150.

Full details on the competition are available - the winning entries will be announced on Remembrance Day.

Some additional key dates for the competition:

Registration complete: Noon on Monday 3 October.
Entries submitted: 9 am on Monday 31 October.


In search of an axe murderer

I am currently putting the finishing touches to a book that I have written about the murder of one of my ancestors in Perthshire in 1866. As a part of that I made a location visit to the area where it happened on Friday, just to refresh some details in my mind, having not visited in a while. On this occasion, however, I learned for the first time that a house which I previously had thought destroyed was still able to be found, albeit in ruined form. The occupant of the house was James Crichton, who played a key part in the story. Never one to miss an opportunity, I had my video camera with me also, so recorded a short video diary within! Definitely an odd experience...

The Mount Stewart Murder will be released next year by The History Press - more details soon!


Thursday, 22 September 2011

Berneray historical project

Hebrides News has an account of a historical project on Berneray entitled A' Tilleadh ar n-Eachdraidh Dhachaigh (Bringing Our History Home), now underway on the island to try to trace what became of many of the island's emigrants.

For the full story visit

(With thanks to project worker Peter Kerr, @direcleit on Twitter)


Canadian Genealogy Survey

The Canadian Genealogy Survey was launched several weeks ago by two professors at Carleton University in Ottawa and is now being expanded to seek participation from genealogists outside Canada who have an interest in Canadian family lines. The survey itself can be found on-line at and there is a companion blog about the research at

I've just taken the survey - it takes about 5 minutes to complete.

(With thanks to Gwyneth Pearce of the Toronto Branch of the Ontario Genealogical Society)


National Library unhappy with Ancestry

A huge spat appears to brewing over the decision by Ancestry ( to publish transcriptions of 433,560 historical Irish Catholic parish records two days ago. The National Library of Ireland claims that the publication was done without its permission, with director Fiona Ross stating in an Irish Times article that "We are currently investigating our precise legal position in relation to this issue". A spokesperson for Ancestry is said to have claimed that there is no dispute over the files.

Brian Donovan of Eneclann and FindmyPast Ireland is also quoted in the article as saying it was "deeply regrettable" that Ancestry had published the records "without the agreement of the Irish cultural institutions" and that "an opportunity has been missed here".

The National Library of Ireland announced some time ago that it was planning to digitise the microfilm collection of Roman Catholic records in its possession and to place them online for free. The article reveals this project has stalled, and that the institution is now awaiting further direction from the Government on the matter.

The full story is available

Might be worth using the records quickly if you need to - just in case!


Hugh Wallis batch numbers site problem

The popular Hugh Wallis website (, which lists batch numbers for the old IGI, is currently experiencing problems in progressing searches further beyond the identification of the batch number. Where before you could click on a batch number and then perform a search on the returned page for a particular set of microfilmed records, now you receive the following message:

Due to changes on the LDS site this facility is currently unavailable

I am investigating a solution but have no estimate for when it will be available. Please check back in a few days to see if I've figured it out. In the meantime please make use of the batch numbers on my site when accessing the LDS site via their provided interface. For more information on the updates to the LDS site please visit their news release here.

The batch numbers are still listed on Hugh Wallis's site, however, and can be utilised in the Advanced Search field on new FamilySearch (

The IGI search for Scottish records on Scots Origins ( still works however, allowing searches by parish without a batch number. The parish descriptions are a bit odd though, now listing years well beyond 1875. For example, Perth is listed as Perth (1559-1971). Despite this, when you perform a search, the results are still only returned up to 1875, confirming that the results are being drawn from the IGI still on old FamilySearch, and not the new Historical Records database on new FamilySearch.


Wednesday, 21 September 2011

British Garrison Cemetery in Sri Lanka

The BBC has a report on the British Garrison Cemetery in Sri Lanka, established in 1817, and today taken care of by Charles Carmichael for the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

The full story is at

(With thanks to the FFHSEzine on

* An article written by yours truly on the Scots cemetery in Kolkata, India, is available in Discover my Past Scotland issue 5 (April 2009), available as a back issue online


Have your say on Scottish museum strategy

Have your say on a national strategy for Scotland's museums - see

(With thanks to @EarlyModernNow on Twitter)


Perth in the 1960s talk

Rhoda Fothergill will be giving a talk on Perth in the 1960s at the Soutar Theatre, AK Bell Library, Perth, tomorrow evening (Thurs 22 Sept) at 7pm.

(With thanks to @PKCArchive on Twitter)


MAJOR News - Ancestry releases Irish civil registration indexes

Ancestry ( has released the following collections online

Ireland, Catholic Parish Marriages and Banns, 1742-1884
Ireland, Catholic Parish Baptisms, 1742-1881
Ireland, Civil Registration Deaths Index, 1864-1958
Ireland, Civil Registration Births Index, 1864-1958
Ireland, Civil Registration Marriages Index, 1845-1958
Ireland, Births and Baptisms, 1620-1911
Ireland, Catholic Parish Deaths, 1756-1881

Some excellent materials there - one down side though, is that as with the FamilySearch offering for civil marriage indexes, there is no way to search for matching partners on the search screen - BUT - you CAN click to see others on the page on a search return. I have just tried to find my 2xgt gramps Cochrane Watton, and in seeing who else is on the page, four women are returned, one of whom is Elizabeth Holmes, who was indeed his wife. In other words, this has just trumped FamilySearch.

I knew the Catholic records were coming, but had no idea about the civil registration records! There's no details yet as to whether the civil records collection is more comprehesive than FamilySearch after Partition in 1921 - no doubt Ancestry will have a press release out soon!

UPDATE: Unfortunately it looks like this collection is as incomplete as the FamilySearch collection for post-Partition entries for Northern Ireland, i.e. from 1922 onwards. So almost completely effective for the Republic from 1845-1958 (one or two minor gaps not filmed by the Mormons), and for the north from 1845-1921, with some hit and miss entries for the north from 1922 onwards. Nevetherless, still an important resource.


Aberdeen family history course

From Aberdeen City Council:

A new course on researching family history is set to start at Aberdeen Central Library.

The Monday evening sessions follow the successful 'Family History for Beginners' course and will be taught jointly by staff from Aberdeen City Libraries Local Studies, Aberdeen City & Aberdeenshire Archives, and Aberdeen City Registrars.

Lynn Allan, Assistant Registrar at Aberdeen City Registration Services, said: "This course is the perfect opportunity for those wanting to know more about their family history and delve deeper into sources available in Aberdeen.

"By drawing on the rich collections available in the library, archives and registrars, the course will show people how they can go beyond a list of names and dates and use sources such as burial records, directories and school records, as well as gain a better understanding of the census and other records they are familiar with."

The course starts on Monday 03 October, 6.30pm–8.30pm, in the Committee Room in the Central Library on Rosemount Viaduct, and continues each Monday for five weeks.

The cost is £30 (£25 concessions), including all learning materials and a resource pack. Places are limited to 15, with bookings accepted on a first come, first served basis. Places can be booked in person at the Local Studies Department in the Central Library or by contacting (01224)652512.


Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Borders witch trials talk

Mary Craig will be giving a talk about the witch trials of the Borders on Sunday 25th September at 2.30pm at the Corn Exchange, Market Square, Melrose, TD6 9PN.

For more information visit


Monday, 19 September 2011

Archaeology talk on Lewis

Recent Archaeology Work in Uig: an illustrated talk by Dr Mike Church, will be held at Uig Community centre tomorrow, Sep 20th, 7.30pm-10.30pm.

For more information visit


Scotland 1750-1850: Beyond the OPRs course

The following is an introduction to another 5 week long Pharos Tutors course which I will be teaching online from October 17th, entitled Scotland 1750-1850: Beyond the OPRs.

The course is priced at £45.99. For further information, or to register, please visit

Hopefully I will see a few of you there!


Scottish weavers - Robin Gibb, and Dundee!

Robin Gibb's Who Do You Think You Are? episode will feature the story of the collapse of the Scottish weaving industry - of particular interest to me as I've been looking at Perth's weavers resources for last couple of years (see

For more details on the forthcoming episode see

For my talk on the records of the handloom weavers of Perth, come to the Tayroots Family History Day at Dundee's Discovery Point this coming Saturday 24th September - more details at The talk will look at the records generated by a trade incorporation or guild, and how these can help with research.


Sunday, 18 September 2011

Alloway and Southern Ayrshire FHS event

Alloway & Southern Ayrshire Family History Society are holding an Open Day Search for your Ancestors on Saturday 8th October 2011 from 11 am – 4 pm.

This will be open to non-members and is being held in the Alloway Church Halls. There are talks “Getting Started” and “Certificates and Censuses” at 11.15 am and repeated again at 1.15 pm.

Researchers will be on hand to assist with requests on the laptops and various monumental inscriptions will be on sale.

There will also be an exhibition of “Maybole Past and Present” by Maybole Historical Society.

Entry free - Refreshments available at £1.

(With thanks to Barbara Finlay)


Rootstech 2012

Rootstech 2012 - Genealogy versus the Borg!

Looks great! :)


Saturday, 17 September 2011

GRO Ireland digitised images - four years away

Claire Santry has news that the stalled Irish GRO digitisation project at Roscommon is still at least four years away until completion, having already cost €10million, and with €1.5million still needed.

The full story is at


Friday, 16 September 2011

RCAHMS Edwardian photos in the Scotsman

More from the RCAHMS (

RCAHMS are working with The Scotsman to showcase some of the finest images of Edwardian Scotland from our historical photographic collections. Over the weekend of 24 and 25 September, free 24-page picture supplements will be available inside every copy of The Scotsman and Scotland on Sunday.

From 1888, when George Eastman launched his No.1 Kodak Camera with the slogan "You press the button, we do the rest", photography, once a hobby practiced only by a privileged few, was open to the masses. By the Edwardian era, cameras, photographs and family albums were ubiquitous, and people were recording nearly every aspect of their daily lives.

This unique and largely unseen selection of period photography, taken from the RCAHMS archives, reveals an intimate portrait of an age. From the work of famous photographers like Bedford Lemere & Co and Thomas Annan, to snapshots from private family albums, these images provide a fascinating glimpse into a remarkable period in our history.

For more information and to view images online see our Edwardian Scotland Gallery at


RCAHMS - Doors Open Day

From the Royal Commission on Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (

Visit the RCAHMS archive in Edinburgh between 10am and 5pm on Saturday 24 September and find out more about sport and leisure in Scotland through the ages.

From Victorian and Edwardian photographs of golf, tennis, curling and mountaineering, and original architects' drawings of swimming pools and ice rinks, to survey photographs of football stadia and rugby grounds, and aerial photographs of sporting venues across Scotland and Europe, a wealth of material relating to Scotland's sporting history will be on show.

Hear experts talking about sport and leisure collections, find out how and why RCAHMS record sporting venues and which ones are on the Buildings at Risk Register, and view exhibitions and films. Visitors will also get the chance to go behind-the-scenes to discover the secrets of the RCAHMS survey, photographic and conservation work, as well as learning how to share their own images and information with the National Collection.

Find out more about Doors Open Day on RCAHMS website at


TNA developments - War Diaries, Home Guard and more

The following is an abridgement of an email from Roger Lewry, Archives Liaison Officer for the Federation of Family History Societies ( , summarising the main items discussed at the recent TNA User Advisor Group meeting on September 6th (I've added a couple of extra links to help clarify some points):

New Discovery service

This is due to replace the existing catalogue and DocumentsOnline service (which hosts digitised TNA records) from March 2012. The development of this new service is iterative and feedback from users is greatly appreciated.

See for the new service.

Pilot Home Guard digitisation project

This concerns the pilot stage of a project to digitise Home Guard records, which were recently transferred to TNA. The pilot will focus on records for County Durham - see for details (I would humbly suggest Glasgow as phase 2 if you need one!)

Based on its own work and on the user group's recommendations, TNA has decided on the following:

· The fields in the Basic search option will be name; DOB; address; place of birth; and Home Guard place
· The fields in the Advanced search option will be National Registration number; former service (Y/N); next of kin; relation to next of kin; date of record

A commercial partner has yet to be chosen. The basic search will likely be free, with payment required for the advanced options and for the images. For the pilot exercise, payment will be required only for the images. All searches and images will be free at Kew.

Digitisation of indexes to Foreign Office correspondence

The following have been scanned:

· The Foreign Office card index to correspondence 1906-20 (FO 1111, over 500 drawers of cards)
· The printed books of Foreign Office indexes to correspondence 1920-1953, 1959 (FO 409, over 140 volumes)
· The Dominions Office card index to correspondence 1925-1947 (un-accessioned, c. 80 drawers of cards)

It is planned that by March/April 2012 images for these will be made available free on the TNA website, including a working ‘reference convertor’ programme to convert old references in the indexes to TNA references.

Business planning cycle

The group was invited to feed in suggestions for inclusion in TNA’s business plan for 2012-13. The following ideas were put forward at the meeting:

· Examine linked records to Home Guard series for digitisation
· Prioritise non-heavy use records for digitisation to open up the collections, based on onsite use
· Ring fence funds for cataloguing Map Room content
· Promote the link between improved indexing online and greater use onsite
· TNA looking to find ways to plug the current funding gap, so suggestions welcome with the caveat that they cannot contravene terms of operation and reputation
· Voluntary sector to be encouraged to help with cataloguing and transcribing when appropriate
· TNA and the cultural Olympiad – Mel Hyde, Head of Press, to lead on this project, and she would welcome suggestions for other anniversaries
· Paper lists to be retained in the reading rooms, though they will not be updated

NB: Roger is seeking suggestions on these from family historians within the next two weeks for consideration prior to an October meeting to take further.


A revised list of public service, cataloguing and digitisation project updates will be placed online end of September. 52 projects at present.

Major project announcement - War Diaries to be digitised

WO95 will be digitised to commemorate the centenary of the First World War, with 3-5 extra search fields to be included in the catalogue
· Full details to be announced around Remembrance Day
· 2 year project, biggest every funded by TNA; 4m images

NB: WO95 is the War Office: First World War and Army of Occupation War Diaries series -

With thanks to Roger. If you wish to contact Roger with suggestions for the business plan, or for topic suggestions for future meetings, please do so via


Scottish banker tweets from 1745

The Caledonian Mercury has a story about a banker from 1745 now tweeting his experiences of the Jacobite rebellions. John Campbell was cashier of the Royal Bank of Scotland at the time. To follow his account, visit @JohnoftheBank. The newspaper story is at

No comments about RBS bankers now...!

(With thanks to @vivdunstan and @lynncorrigan on Twitter)


Military records on Ancestry - TNA podcast

A useful tip to pass on from William Spencer's recent excellent National Archives podcast on British military records from 1800-1920, which I finally listened to last night.

I had previously heard that when you arrived at First World War military service records on Ancestry (, occasionally there may be a page or two before the first record you arrive at that relates to your record, rather than all the documents following immediately after. After last night's experience I will now ALWAYS be checking for earlier documents!

In this case, my great uncle William Paton's record was stated by Ancestry's index to have been 7 pages long. William was born in Belgium to Scottish parents, the eldest of four. His father managed two shoe shops for a Glasgow firm in Brussels, and stayed in the city when war was declared. Only William left to return to Scotland. I knew he joined the Royal Army Medical Corps and that he saw action at Gallipoli. Ancestry had a service record for him, for which I was grateful, as only a third of them have survived from the period. Ancestry's description stated that it was seven pages long, and sure enough, when I clicked to view there were seven pages from the "landing page", with only three or four actually having any info; the rest being blank pages.

After listening to the podcast I had another look last night, and checked the page before William Paton's landing page. And then the page before, and the page before, and the page before. After fifteen minutes, William's seven page service record ended up 45 pages long! The reason I hadn't pursued it before was because Ancestry's index stated seven pages, and I had found seven pages, and so assumed I had the lot.

But Ancestry, as William states, is not actually at fault. It is the collection itself which after a hundred years of use has been occasionally mishandled, meaning some pages have been replaced in the wrong order. Ancestry obviously batch digitised and indexed in the order they were presented, as would be expected, and would not be expected to know which order badly filed documents should be held in. But the moral of the story is that it is worth checking the pages before as well as after the landing page.

I was also interested to note William's comment about pre-1914 records appearing in the First World War collections. I have direct experience of that - my great great uncle Charles MacFarlane has a service record in the WW1 collections running from 1899-1914, which stops just before the war! He did actually see action in the war as he re-enlisted, but that part of his career, i.e. his WW1 service, is bizarrely not in the WW1 records, when his pre-WW1 service is! So, as William also says, always check WW1 records for details of earlier service.


Thursday, 15 September 2011

Scorched Earth - book offer

Naval and Military Press has a weekend offer on one of its titles:

The Germans on the Somme
By Gerhard Hirschfeld, Gerd Krumeich, Irina Renz
Hardback 224 pages
Published at £19.95 THIS WEEKEND ONLY PRICE £4.95

ONLY 300 COPIES OF THIS TITLE AVAILABLE (you can find it in the special offer section of the website)

This book discusses in detail the experience of German warfare in the first World War, focusing specifically on the battle of the Somme.

The Somme, together with other regions of northern France, had lain under German domination. And its inhabitants had been rigorously suppressed and their possessions carted off as booty. Finally, during their 1917 withdrawal, the Germans had subjected the whole region to Operation Alberich, a retreat involving unparalleled brutality which left the population in occupation of a wilderness wrought by war (the "scorched earth policy").

It was a planned withdrawal to new positions on the shorter, more easily defended Hindenburg Line which took place between 9 February to 15 March 1917 and which eliminated a salient between Arras and Saint-Quentin.

The operation began on February 9 1917 throughout the area that the German army planned to abandon. Railways and roads were put out of action, trees were felled, water wells were polluted, towns and villages were destroyed and a large number of mines and other booby-traps were planted. 125,000 able-bodied French civilians in the region were transported to work elsewhere in occupied France, while children, mothers and the elderly were left behind with minimal rations.

This is well-researched account, the authors have combined their skills to produce a book which includes private testimonies. Amongst these are many unknown or previously unpublished letters and diaries as well as numerous photographs.

The Small Print
This title in this E-mail is offered on a first come first served basis. All orders must be placed using our website. This Item will be removed from the site when stock becomes sold out. ONE COPY PER CUSTOMER ONLY

To order, visit


Stirling University Musicians Union catalogue

Thanks to the Canada based Scottish Genealogy Tips Tricks & Tidbits blog for news of the following. The University of Stirling has placed online a catalogue for the Musicians Union collection that it holds, covering Scotland, England and Wales.

The catalogue is accessible at

It includes:

MU/ Musicians Union
1/ Union publications and circulars
1/ Amalgamated Musicians Union Reports and Journals (1894-1921)
2/ The Musicians Report and Journal (1900-1921)
3/ The Musicians Journal (1921-1932)
4/ Monthly / Quarterly Reports of the Musicians Union (1921-1950)
5/ The Musician (1950-2004)
6/ Bulletins to Branches (1949-2004)
2/ Executive Committee and central organisation
1/ Minutes (1874-1985)
2/ Accounts
3/ Districts
4/ Branches

1/ Manchester
1/ Minutes (1936-1978)
2/ Accounts (1928-2002)
3/ Correspondence (1933-1998)
4/ Membership material (1893-1994)
5/ Other Branch material including election and strike material, press cuttings (1914-2002)
2/ Glasgow
1/ Minutes (1902-2004)
2/ Accounts (1912-2000)
3/ Correspondence (1959-2004)

More will be added in due course.


Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Council screws up cemetery sign

Glasgow City Council now welcomes people to visit Riddire Park Cemetery, which most of us know as Riddrie.


New Memento Mori blog

Those who have used the Memento Mori service ( for tracing headstones in the Scottish central belt will be interested to know that there is now a Memento Mori blog, which will examine gravestones of ‘interest’ from around Central Scotland.

The blog is located at - I've just had a look and burst out laughing at one of the posts, which shows a headstone of somebody who clearly did not get on too well with his family members, but nevertheless felt resigned to spending all of eternity with them!

Well worth signing up to!


Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Scotland's Archives Matter

The Scottish Council on Archives has posted a summary of the recent launch of the Scotland's Archives Matter report on August 31 with Fiona Hyslop MSP, Culture Minister.

To view the report, and to download the document itself, visit

(With thanks to Patricia Whatley at the University of Dundee)


Hunt for Missing WW1 Air Heroes

From the Royal Aero Club and Ancestry (


The Royal Aero Club (RAeC) Trust and have launched a worldwide search to uncover missing images of over 200 pioneer aviators.

Family history enthusiasts and local history communities are being urged to help find the images which accompany a number of Aviators’ Certificates held in the Trust’s extensive archive (, which includes over 28,000 index records and 34 albums, or “volumes”, containing about 13,000 photographs of early aviators.

Like a modern passport, these certificates were given to pilots who, in the early days of the First World War, successfully completed their initial training through the Royal Aero Club before joining the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) or the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) for active service. The licence required the submission of two photographs, one of which was pasted into the licence; the other was retained by the Club.

“Unfortunately, Volume 4 is missing, so volunteers from the Royal Aero Club Trust are busy compiling a “virtual” replacement album, drawing on photographs from other sources,” explains Andrew Dawrant, a trustee of the Royal Aero Club Trust. “Thanks to Cross & Cockade, the First World War Historical Aviation Society, we now have replacement images in about two-thirds of the cases. But nearly 200 photographs are still missing.”

“We are urging any budding history sleuths, or anyone with an interest or family connection with the early days of flying to go to or and help us track these images down, whether they are from personal collections, school photos, newspapers or obituaries.

If you can provide a copy of one of these missing photographs, or if you have any ideas about where may be a good place to look, please email us at It is important for us to fill in the gaps in these records, both to commemorate the lives of those brave pilots, and also to provide a complete historical record.”

(With thanks to Annabel at Ancestry)


St Kilda and Mingulay school log books go online

An abridged story from the National Records of Scotland news site:

The last school log books for the abandoned islands of St Kilda and Mingulay have gone online, thanks to a partnership between the National Records of Scotland (NRS) and the Tasglann nan Eilean Siar (Hebridean Archives). After a careful conservation and digitisation effort, both books are now available as virtual books, allowing the browser to flip through the pages and zoom in to read individual text.

These fascinating documents give a weekly account of life on these islands from the school teachers' point of view, commenting on discipline, the weather and the progress being made by the students. Attendance is often an issue, with children being kept away from school to help with picking potatoes, cutting peat or unloading the supply boats. Illness and fear of illness also had an effect. The Mingulay log book, covering the years 1875 to 1910, notes for Valentine’s Day 1896 "Only 20 came forward on Friday. This is owing to a whim of the parents that two or three other children are infected with a harmless rash on their hands. It is all a want of control of the [School] Board."

The St Kilda log book, dating from 1901 until the island was evacuated in 1930, is equally detailed. Its final pages record important non-school events such as the death of Mrs John Gillies (Mary Gillies), the visit of Tom Johnston MP and Under Secretary of State for Scotland, and the final day of the school before evacuation.

To view the books visit the Comhairle nan Eilean Siar website at and follow the links to the volumes.

For more on the story visit the NRS website at

(NB: St Kilda, aka Hiort, is to the west of Harris; Mingulay is south of Barra and Vatersay)


The Statistical Accounts of Scotland

The following was first published on my Walking in Eternity blog on 20 NOV 2010:

After birth, marriage, death and census records, one of the greatest resources for Scottish research is the special gazetteer collection known as the Statistical Accounts of Scotland, which provides a detailed parish by parish guide, including information on local landowners, schools, churches, morality of the people, industry, antiquarian sites and much more. (If you're English, think of them as a sort of equivalent to the Victoria County Histories, though more complete.) There have been three national statistical accounts, recorded in the 1790s, 1830s/40s and the mid 20th century. (In fact, there's also a fourth for East Lothian, currently being compiled over seven volumes and covering 1945-2000!).

The first two accounts are digitised and available on several platforms. Electric Scotland ( and Google Books ( have copies which are fully downloadable in PDF format and wich are keyword searchable. In most cases however, I have used the non-subscriber version of the collection available on the EDINA website at This allows you to search by parish and by account, and then browse through the pages. I say non-subscriber version, because at the AddressingHistory launch on Wednesday 17th November I listened to a talk from Helen Chisholm of EDINA about the subscription version, which I had always assumed was just for academic and/or institutional access. I was surprised at some of the features available through this version of the site, so here is a run down..!

The first account, collated by "Agricultural Sir John Sinclair" runs to some 21 volumes, the second, commissioned by the Committee of the Sons and Daughters of the Clergy in 1832 runs to 15 volumes. In the first account 938 parish ministers were asked to provide answers to 166 questions concerning their parishes, with 'Statistical missionaries' sent to hurry them on if they fell behind schedule! The second account maintained this tradition, though in the cities many other observations were also included.

There were 28,000 pages scanned in 1998 and first launched online in January 2001, though from 2005 the service has been run by EDINA. The subscription service has several differences to the free version. You can do a keyword search across all accounts at one go - the example given was "tea-drinking" - and compare various anecdotes from parish to parish, something that can't be done on the other two online suppliers with any ease. The accounts are also linked to the Ordnance Gazetteer of 1882-85, and as well as the scanned page returns you get a transcript along site which can be cut and pasted into any document you may be writing - very handy! There are also several related resources, such as background documents to the records' collation and more.

So how can the accounts help? In my recent talk in Australia on church records I gave a good example from the parish of Kinclaven's second acount. If I want to know what was going on by way of church denominations in 1843, this is what I am told:

Parochial registers: The parochial registers, consisting of six volumes, commenced in 1725, and do not appear to have been kept with sufficient care, - several of the volumes beng a good deal torn, and the writing defaced. It is to be regretted that parents are not sufficiently sensible of the importance of registering the births and baptisms of their children. Among the Dissenters, especially, great negligence in this respect still prevails; although, to induce them to do so, it has been the practice, during several years, to exact no fees for such registration.

and also:

The number of communicants at the sacrament generally amounts to 180. There are 86 families, inclusing 413 individuals, belonging to the Established Church, and 96 families, inclusing 465 individuals, who belong to the United Secession. It may also be mentioned that, within these few months, three Roman Catholic families have been brought to the parish, as servants to the Rev. Mr MacKay, the clergyman of the Roman Catholic church in Perth, who has obtained in lease a farm of seventy acres on the Arntully estate, which he is improving at great expense.

So if I am wondering why I can't find a Church of Scotland baptism on ScotlandsPeople for Kinclaven, this might give me a few clues!

Subscription costs for the enhanced version of the site are £10 for two months' access, £25 for six months' access and £40 for a year. If you need to do more with the material than just look up a simple parish account and read it, this is well worth the value and just might transform your research!


The Scottish Intellect

The BBC will be running a new seven part radio series entitled The Scottish Intellect, examining the history of Scotland's universities. The series starts on September 14th on Radio Scotland at 2.25pm, with various repeats.

WDYTYA red button feature on BBC

From the BBC Internet blog:

First Click

BBC One's smash hit genealogy series Who Do You Think You Are? is encouraging computer novices to go online and research their own genealogy as part of the BBC's First Click campaign.

The series delves deep into celebrity family ancestry, uncovering a host of hidden pasts and shock revelations.

Larry Lamb presents three fascinating films, available on the BBC's Red Button, in which experts explain how viewers new to computers can use some of the key resources available to the amateur family historian.

Each film features examples and stories from the current series highlighting how passenger lists, birth, marriage and death certificates; census returns, Army Service records, foreign records and Poor Law records can all be accessed online.

A special family history guide for new computer users offering advice, tips and encouragement to get online is available at and at venues running the popular First Click beginners courses.

Wed 14th September, 9:55pm-4:00am

Wed 14th September, 9:55pm-10:50pm

Virgin Media:
Wed 14th September, 9:55pm-4:00am

Comment - about bl**dy time! The red button features were what made the first series of WDYTYA so accessible to the viewers.


British GENES launches

Eagle eyed readers will be aware that on the right of this blog page there has been a link for a few weeks to the British GENES Daily, a development from Scottish GENES based on the Twitter reader format, which presents Twitter based links from friends I follow as newspaper stories. The idea was launched in December last year in a post within which I also asked about people's thoughts on expanding the Scottish GENES blog to cover wider British news (see

Most of those who posted comments wished for Scottish GENES to be kept as is, though I also received comments by email and other means saying they would love to see an expansion. So here's the solution - a separate blog! British GENES ( will cover developments across the British Isles, including Ireland and some content from Scottish GENES. But don't panic - Scottish GENES will carry on!

I've had a few mad months this year with a variety of projects, but with light at the end of the tunnel now there will be a few developments with Scottish GENES. I have for a few months been running a parallel blog entitled Walking in Eternity, in which I have added some feature stories beyond news. I will integrate this occasional blog into Scottish GENES, to provide a wider mix of news, stories and tips, so hopefully Scottish GENES should retain its own separate identity to the British site. I've a few other wee tricks up my sleeve, but everything comes to he or she who waits! :)

So business as usual - and now another blog if you wish to look further afield for ancestors beyond Scotland! :)


Monday, 12 September 2011

Scottish military group changes status

From the Scottish Military Research Group (

The Scottish Military Research Group becomes a society

The Scottish Military Research Group has decided to move to a more formal footing by forming themselves into an association. Although the SMRG has been in existence for a number of years it has always been run as an informal organisation. On Saturday 3rd September 2011 at a meeting of its members in Glasgow it was agreed to form an association and appoint a committee.

The Scottish Military Research Group is a troop of dedicated volunteers who have worked on the Scottish War Memorials Project since 2006, and the Scottish War Graves Project since 2007. The Group members are also working on transcribing the Glasgow Roll of Honour 1914-1918, and indexing the Daily Record between 1914 and 1919. Just this month the Scottish Military Research Group has also agreed to work in partnership with Edinburgh's War to further the aims of both groups.

Although a great deal of the Group’s activities currently focuses on the First World War, the Group is keen to research all aspects of Scotland's military history. The War Memorials and War Graves project record memorials and graves commemorating the Wars of Independence, Covenanters, Jacobites and the British wars which involved Scots from the Seventeenth Century up until the Twenty First Century.

The future aim of the Group is to consolidate its online databases onto one dedicated website as well as co-ordinating a nationwide newspaper indexing project in the run up to the 100th anniversary of the First World War. This will create an index of references to military individuals (casualties, enlistments, decorations for gallantry) in Scottish newspapers from 1914-1921.

The first Chairperson of the Group is David McNay, the co-founder of the Scottish War Memorials Project.

The Group can be contacted at or through the website

The Scottish Military Research Group is on facebook:

and Twitter as @S_M_R_G

(With thanks to David McNay, and congratulations to the group!)


Silver City Vault for Aberdeen

A new website is online to cater for those with Aberdonian connections. Silver City Vault at contains over a thousand historic images of old Aberdeen and a Local Studies Index containing almost 50,000 entries from various sources, such as Obituaries, Marriages, Pauper Lists, Periodicals and Newspapers.

Don't forget also to check Deceased Online for its latest Aberdeen additions (see

(With thanks to Aberdeen and North East Scotland FHS on Twitter @anesfhs)


Sunday, 11 September 2011

9/11 remembered

I was at the National Family History Fair yesterday, and had the pleasure to introduce talks by William Rouslton, Nick Barratt and Laurence Harris. One of the points Nick raised in his talk was that of not forgetting to record your own lives when researching our family histories, a point I could not agree more with.

For over 11 years I have been keeping a diary to pass on to my kids in the future. On today, the tenth anniversary of 9/11, I've reproduced my diary entry for September 11th 2001, when I learned of the attacks. I was travelling back from Sardinia when I heard the news at Rome Airport. The entry is available on my Walking in Eternity blog at

Remembering all 2,977 killed by the hijackers, including 67 Britons, and the 411 emergency workers who died heroically in the United States of America.


Lost Cousins discounts

Peter Calver from Lost Cousins has two offers for discounts to subscriptions with FindmyPast and Deceased Online. On top of the recent FindmyPast price drop he has secured a further 10% discount to a Full subscription, whilst there is a double credits offer with Deceased Online.

To obtain the promotional codes - and to check his other news - visit


Kerry burials records online

Kerry County Council in Ireland has placed online the burial records from 140 cemeteries under its control, some 70,000 records in all. They can be accessed freely at and either searched or browsed.

The project has been facilitated by Kerry Graveyard Records Heritage Steering Group, which consists of North and East Kerry Development, IRD Duhallow, South Kerry Development Partnership, Meitheal Forbartha na Gaeltachta and Kerry County Council.

(With thanks to the Genealogy in Time newsletter)


More Aberdeen & Edinburgh burials on Deceased Online

From Deceased Online (

Another 67,000 Scottish records added to Deceased Online

Burial and cremation records for the cities of Aberdeen and Edinburgh are the latest additions to

Over 22,000 burial records dating back to 1824 are from three Aberdeen City cemeteries; Nigg, Trinity and St Nicholas Kirkyard. The records are in the form of scans of burial registers, dues registers and burial indexes (full details are in the database coverage section on the website).

Register scans for a further 45,000 cremations from Warriston Crematorium in Edinburgh are also now available, covering the period 1991 to 2009. This brings the total number of records on Deceased Online for Warriston Crematorium to nearly 225,000, covering the period 1937 to 2009.

For details on all data, see the database coverage section at

(With thanks to Richard Gray at Deceased Online)


Wednesday, 7 September 2011

New National Library of Scotland Bill

Major news from the Scottish Government about a new bill to strengthen the remit of the National Library of Scotland:

The Scottish Government will bring forward a National Library of Scotland (NLS) Bill to modernise governance arrangements which were established in 1925, enabling the NLS to update and develop its services and functions for the 21st century and respond to the changing needs of its customers.

NLS is Scotland's only legal deposit library and can claim copies of anything published in the UK. A national resource and one of the major research libraries in Europe, it offers free access to a collection of over 14 million items which include rare and valuable items such as the last letter written by Mary Queen of Scots and the first printed book, the Gutenberg Bible of 1455. Material is held in over 490 languages.

NLS brings to life Scotland's history and culture. There are 70,000 visits per year to the reading room and around 2.5 million calls on the digital library. NLS is currently undertaking a significant programme of digitising its collections (410,000 items in 2010-11).

The Bill will define the functions of NLS and update its powers in line with those of modern public bodies. The National Library of Scotland Act of 1925 did not specifically provide for the Board's functions, which have evolved over time.

The functions will reflect the role of NLS in relation to:

Preserving, conserving and developing the collections

Making the collections available to the public and to people wishing to carry out study and research

Exhibiting and interpreting objects in the collection

Promoting collaboration and shared practice amongst the library community.

The Bill will also reduce the size of the Board, remove reserved places and ensure all appointments are made by Scottish Ministers based on merit and selection. This will bring NLS into line with current public appointments practice following the Nolan Principles.

A public consultation carried out between March and June 2010 showed broad support for the Government's proposals. Respondents recognised that governance reform is required to allow NLS to fulfil its organisational ambitions.


(With thanks to the NLS on Twitter)


Perth and Kinross archive news

Perth and Kinross Archives have added a new page to its website entitled Beyond the Archive, providing links to various catalogues that outline what is available at the archive and elsewhere. It includes links to the burgh records listings for Perth as originally held by the NAS (now NRS), and since returned to Perth, as well as details of the archive's holdings on the Scottish Archives Network catalogue and Ancestry. I'm flattered to say that they have also added a link to my Handloom Weavers of Perth website, which is sorely in need of an update, as I have lots of material to add over the next few months.


Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Donegal Presbyterians lecture in Belfast

A forthcoming lecture from the Presbyterian Historical Society of Ireland:

On the Edge of Darkness. The Presbyterian Community of the Laggan, East Donegal, 1880-1973 by the Rev Dr Brian Brown.

Thursday 15 September 2011, Cregagh Presbyterian Church, Belfast, from 8.00 p.m.

Everyone welcome; Refreshments provided

(With thanks to Gavin McMahon at PRONI)


Scottish 1841-1911 census street indexes go online

From the ScotlandsPeople Centre:

The street indexes for the Scottish Censuses from 1841 to 1911 can now be viewed for free on Look under the 'Research' tab and then select the heading 'Census Records up to 1911'. You select the Census year and then the street indexes are arranged in urban areas. These books are useful because they show whether a street existed at that time and which registration district and enumeration book covered that area.

COMMENT: Handy! :)

Also - the ScotlandsPeople Centre will be closed for its autumn holiday on September 19th. So please don't go to Edinburgh to research your ancestors on that day - or the only story you will be able to tell will be your own, and it won't be a happy one!

(With thanks to the ScotlandsPeople Centre)


National Records of Scotland schools programme

The National Records of Scotland has announced details of its 2011-12 schools workshop programme, Scottish Archives for Schools, at

The programme has several free workshops open to primary (P3-P7) and secondary school pupils (S1–S6), using primary sources held within the National Records of Scotland and in support of the Curriculum for Excellence and National Qualification.

Topics include:

Tartan: a Chequered Tale
Witches on Trial
Scottish Census records The Snail in the Bottle
The Snail in the Bottle
The Age of Reformation
Migration and Empire

It looks like the workshops are only offered in Edinburgh itself, at the former GROS's Education Room in the NRS building, and on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from September 6th 2011 to March 29th 2012. You'll need to book in advance for your class, and there is a limit to 33 pupils per session.

Further details are available on the site.

(With thanks to the NRS)


National Family History Fair 2011

A quick reminder that the National Family History Fair 2011 takes place this coming Saturday in Newcastle, at the Newcastle Central Premier Inn, from 10am-4pm, admission £3. It's a great chance to meet many key vendors as well as to attend talks by William Roulston, Nick Barratt and Laurence Harris (tickets for these are limited and £3 each - please ask to purchase them when you come in if you wish to attend, they will go quickly).

I'll be helping at the event, taking tickets, introducing speakers etc, but if you have any Scottish queries I'll be more than happy to help if I can - just come and find me! :)

If you haven't been before, and don't know if it is worth crossing the border - trust me, it is a great occasion. It's at a great central venue and many key groups will be there, including Ancestry, the National Archives (Kew), the Scottish Association of Family History Societies, Your Family History magazine, The Genealogist, Anguline Research Archives, and more. Full details at

Look forward to hopefully seeing you there!


Scotland's Archives Matter

A new publication from the Scottish Council of Archives has been produced giving an overview on the value and existence of Scotland's many diverse archives. The 32 page guide, entitled Scotland's Archives Matter, is available via a download link at the bottom of

(With thanks to Pat Whatley via Twitter)


Monday, 5 September 2011

Lanark Festival of History report

The Scottish Military Research Group has photos and videos taken at the recent Lanark Festival of History now online via its blog at

(Thanks to the SMRG)


FindmyPast Ireland forums

FindmyPast Ireland ( has now launched a new discussion forum facility on its website, which can be located at

The categories are a bit generic, such as 'Using the Records', 'Tracing Specific Ancestors' and 'Places and Geography in Ireland', but nevertheless may provide a useful tool for people looking for assistance.

(With thanks to @FindmypastIE on Twitter)


Saturday, 3 September 2011

Same sex marriage consultation launched

The Scottish Government has launched a consultation on the implementation of same sex marriages and religious ceremonies for civil partnerships, the introduction of which is a stated aspiration of the government, though according to Nicola Sturgeon it is not the intention to force faith groups to solemnise such marriages against their will. The BBC has the full story at

A Register of Civil Partnerships and a Register of Dissolutions of Civil Partnerships were both introduced in December 2005. Both are held and administered by the National Records of Scotland (

The consultation paper is online at


Friday, 2 September 2011

FindmyPast Ireland developments

A couple of developments from FindmyPast Ireland (

First, an announcement from its Facebook page on search improvements:

We've enhanced our search function! Now you can search specific sub-categories within our six main categories. This should make it much easier for those who just want to search wills or marriages or directories or even evicted tenants. Happy searching!

Secondly, the site has added a Huguenot collection to its offerings, The Registers of the French Non-Conformist Churches Dublin 1701-1831, with some 1500 records. Further details are available at


UK Merchant Navy records go online

From FindmyPast (


* Churchill’s ‘fourth service’ who helped to make Britain ‘Great’

* Fascinating photos of British merchant mariners from 100 years ago

* A ‘floating United Nations’, women and men, young boys, ‘donkeymen’ and manicurists, as well as personal descriptions such as tattoos

* 54% of the UK population have no idea who or what the Merchant Navy is

* Merchant Navy Day is on Saturday 3rd September 2011

One million 20th century Merchant Navy Seamen records are going online for the first time ever, as Britain approaches Merchant Navy Day on Saturday 3rd September. But when asked what the Merchant Navy was, 54% of the British population couldn’t answer correctly, even though almost 90% have heard of them. This is a sad fact considering the Merchant Navy was integral to putting Britain on the trade and industry world map and were named by Churchill as Britain’s ‘fourth service’. The revelation comes as, a leading UK family history website, publishes these fascinating records online in partnership with The National Archives.

Snapshot of a mariner

Today’s launch sees records of crew members of UK merchant ships from 1918 to 1941 made available online, including rarely seen photos of the mariners. This is the first time that many relatives will be able to see what their seafaring ancestor looked like and also learn more about the people who made up Churchill’s ‘fourth service’.

The records provide fascinating details about each individual mariner. The most complete records have extremely detailed descriptions, including hair and eye colour, height, and distinguishing marks such as tattoos. In one case, Ordinary Seaman Henry Duncan Abbot from Dundee was listed as having a Chinese death head tattoo with the inscription “Death is Glory” on his right forearm – perhaps not so ordinary after all.

The shocking gap in Britain’s general knowledge is highest amongst the younger generation – just 26% of those aged under 35 know what the Merchant Navy is, compared to a wiser 64% of over 55s. Many will therefore be surprised to learn that the Merchant Navy consists of all seagoing UK vessels with commercial interests and their crews.

So it may be a shock to many that at various points in the last millennium, Britain had the largest merchant fleet in the world. The workforce on these vessels was a casual, ‘jobbing workforce’ so in any one year as many as 1.5 million people could be employed in the Merchant Navy, meaning many people are likely to find ancestors in these records. In the popular BBC programme Who Do You Think You Are?, David Suchet and Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen both discovered ancestors who had been in the Merchant Navy.

Debra Chatfield, Marketing Manager at, comments: “This is the first time the UK Merchant Navy Seamen records, with their fascinating images of the mariners, have been made available online. Many people aren’t sure what the Merchant Navy is, even though a large proportion of the UK population will have Merchant Navy seamen in their ancestry. Hopefully these records will help fill the gaps and people will enjoy learning about what life was like for the brave, seafaring merchants who helped the island nation of Britain prosper.”

A floating United Nations

The Merchant Navy Seamen records reveal the diverse crews that manned vessels ranging from cargo liners to passenger ferries to luxury cruise ships, working in a variety of professions and industries through some of the most vital moments in British history.

The term ‘floating United Nations’ has often been linked to the Merchant Navy and these records go further to support this idea. As high as 70% of ships’ crews were made up of international seamen from countries such as the West Indies, Scandinavia and Japan. These records hold details, and in many cases photographs, of these multi-national mariners.

Ship shape and women’s fashion

The Merchant Navy has been in existence for a significant period of British history, owing much of its growth to British imperial expansion. One of the most notable observations from the records is that women were prevalent on the ships. One example is Doris Abbey from Liverpool, a 5’4” Manicurist with hazel eyes, brown hair and a medium complexion – perhaps she joined the Merchant Navy to make sure the mariners’ nails were kept ship shape!

Janet Dempsey, Marine and Maritime Record Specialist at The National Archives comments: “The Merchant Navy Seamen records cover a very significant era in nautical history commencing at the very peak of the popularity of ocean travel, in the time of the great ocean liners, when overseas tourism meant taking to the seas. The years that followed saw the end of this period of prosperity, and the start of the Great Depression. For mariners this was a time when work on board was hard to get, and many men were forced to take other work between voyages to make ends meet. These newly digitised records make a fascinating social record as well as a valuable family history resource.”

Young hands on deck

At this time, many young mariners were operational at sea and a number of them can be found in the records. One young seaman, Allison Robinson Saville, was a 14 year old boy who was born in Hull in 1904. As Cabin Boy, the lowest ranking male employee, his role would have been to wait on the officers and passengers of the ship, and run errands for the ship’s Captain.


Though these records do not cover the war time period, the Merchant Navy supported the Royal Navy during times of conflict, including WW1 and WW2. During these wars the Merchant Navy suffered heavy losses from German U-boat attacks. Official recognition of the sacrifices made by merchant seamen throughout history has taken place every 3rd September, with the Annual Merchant Navy Parade and Reunion taking place in Trinity Gardens, Tower Bridge on the closest Sunday, this year Sunday 4th September.

The Merchant Navy Seamen records are the only set of their kind available online and have been published in association with The National Archives. The records show that the seamen who made up the Merchant Navy not only came from the UK, but from every continent, with large numbers from across English-speaking world (notably the Maritime provinces of Canada), from the West Indies and Sierra Leone, and from Scandinavia, Somaliland, China and Japan. There are even some seamen from landlocked Switzerland.

You can search these records from today at

(With thanks to Amy at FindmyPast)


Thursday, 1 September 2011

Discover my Past Scotland 35 on sale

The latest edition of Discover my Past Scotland (September 2011, issue 35) is now on sale

This 40-page A4 issue is packed with special features and how-to guides to connect you with your Scottish Heritage, including:

Glory days of the Scottish motor industry
Parish Accounts - a rewarding resource for genealogists
Historic Directories onine
Trace your toll keeper ancestors
Spotlight on Kirkintilloch
Expert Q&A
Family history newsround, library and events

All for £2.50 in a digital format from

Ah, go on....! :)


Irish Roots Autumn issue on sale

Irish Roots magazine's autumn issue (79) is now on sale.

Amongst its articles are pieces on Griffith's Valuation, postcards, an interview with one of the Corrs, the Irish Brigade, the forthcoming Back to our Past show in Dublin, a spotlight on Galway, Irish research in Australia and more.

Yours truly also has an article in this month - were your Irish ancestors kicked out of Britain by the poor law authorities? If so, my piece explores the British Parliamentary Papers, and the wealth of treasure they contain for poor removals back to Ireland.

All for the you-know-God-loves-you price of €4.50 - cheaper than a 'Certificate of Irishness' and eminently more satisfying!

To purchase a copy visit a digital edition is also available for download.


Dunfermline Registers on Ancestry

Ancestry has added a new collection to its site - Fife, Scotland, The Dunfermline Register, 1829-1859.

From the site:

The Dunfermline Register, years 1829–1832, 1834–1838, 1842, and 1851–1858, are contained in this database. Districts covered by the Registers, which are a cross between an area directory and an almanac, are the western district of Fife, Clackmannan and Kinross, and the Culross district of Perthshire. Listings include local nobility and knights, clergy, justices of the peace, Freeholders (persons who have been granted rights to regulate local business and trade), members of parliament, police commissioners, dates of market fairs, roads, pricing lists for agricultural produce, coach schedules, ferry passage schedules, horticultural societies, banks, religious societies, and many other things pertinent to the community.

Further information, and access to the collection, is at


Scottish Working People's History exhibition

The National Library of Scotland is hosting a Treasures display entitled Scottish Working People's History

From the NLS website:

2 September to 31 October

Items relating to working people in Scotland feature in the National Library of Scotland's Treasures display this autumn.

Exhibits tell the story of Scottish working people's efforts to improve work and social conditions in Scotland and beyond. They include:

Poster for National
Council of Labour
Full colleges poster
Original letters
Minute books
Printed items.
Unrivalled collection

The collection of archival sources at NLS that cover working people's history is unrivalled.

A significant amount of this material has been donated or deposited through two organisations:

* The Scottish Labour History Society
* The Scottish Working People’s History Trust, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year.

Amongst the items of display will be a membership card of the Edinburgh Journeymen Bookbinders' Society (an early Scottish trade union from 1822), the original deed establishing the Fenwick Weavers Society from Ayrshire in 1761, and the 1915 desk diary of James Keir Hardie, one of the founders of the Independent Labour Party and chairman of the Labour Party.

Further information at

(With thanks to the NLS)