Thursday, 29 December 2011

You dirty old man?!

This one made me laugh! From the Inverness kirk session minutes:

20th November 1694

Compeared John Tailyour, who confessed that he was severall tymes in bed with Margaret ffraser, who lodges in his house, but was willing to depone that he never had carnall dealing with her. The Session finding the said John to be ane old poor man, about the age of 74 or 75, rebuked and seriously exhorted him with this certification if he should be found to cohabit with the sd Margaret that he should be brought to public censure.

Auld John Tailor must clearly have been quite sprightly for his age if the session thought he was having his wicked way with Margaret Fraser! :)


Sunday, 11 September 2011

9/11 Remembered

Ten years ago today the world watched in horror as the events of 9/11 unfolded. At the time I was in Sardinia, where I had been finishing work on a BBC documentary special for the Meet the Ancestors series about the possible links between malaria and the fall of the Roman Empire. The following is my diary entry for the day...

Tuesday, 11th September 2001 - USA attacked

Today I saw the most horrifying event ever on the TV. It may lead to war. Having checked out of our hotel and then done some shopping in Olbia, we flew back to Rome in order to catch a plane to London. Andrew, who had lost his luggage on the way to Olbia two weeks ago, decided to check our luggage only as far as Rome, instead of Heathrow, in order to then recheck it at Rome. It was a mistake. Getting all our equipment from baggage reclaim took forever, so much so that we ended up missing the flight. We were forced to re-book onto the 6.25pm (Italian time), which was bad news as I could no longer get a connecting flight on to Glasgow. I was livid, but the next events soon put everything into perspective.

I called Claire to tell her what had happened. Within seconds she asked me if I had seen the news - two planes had been hijacked and forcibly crashed into the two towers of the World Trade Centre in New York City.

I immediately called all the crew together and we headed for a TV set in a nearby cafe in the airport. Although the commentary was in Italian, the images were from CNN. The event had literally happened 20 minutes ago, and the two planes had crashed 18 minutes apart. The second crash had been filmed and the programme kept repeating the clip. It was horrifying. One of the Italians watching with us could speak English, and she translated the commentary for us.

Things were getting even worse. A car bomb blew up outside the Defence Department in Washington DC, and shortly after a third plane crashed into the Pentagon building. Shortly after that, a fourth plane crashed just south of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania. The nightmare continued to worsen, when the two towers in Manhattan collapsed. It is believed the death toll could be as much as 20,000. It's like something from the movie "Independence Day". We just watched gobsmacked. Neil called us from Glasgow to see how we all were, and to find out if we were going to have a problem getting home. Everything still seemed to be OK for our travel plans, but Rome was now on an alert, in case a terrorist attack was imminent on their US air base nearby.

We boarded the plane at 6.15, but immediate security precautions regarding re-routed flight paths into London (to avoid flying over the city) meant that we could not depart until 8.30. On the plane Andrew and I discovered that the passenger sitting beside us was about to start working at the BBC next Monday, so we gave her an insiders' view on the corporation.

We finally got to London for about 11.00, where we learned that all flights to the US had been cancelled. With no hotel rooms available, due to the number of stranded Americans, I ended up going to Geoff's house in Ealing, where he kindly offered to put me up for the night. We got there for midnight, and eating an Indian meal we watched BBC News 24 for two and a half hours, silently, as we were really shocked at what was happening. It seems that 250 firemen may have been in the World Trade Centre as it collapsed. Dante had nothing on this. And an amateur cameraman managed to catch the first plane crash. It was like a missile, the speed it was doing. I went to sleep at 2.30am on Geoff's couch.

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.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Wanted for MURDER

1866, Perthshire, Scotland. There's been a murder....

The Mount Stewart Murder, by Chris Paton. The unsolved case of the killing of the brutal slaying of my three times great grandmother, the UK's longest unsolved murder investigation by a modern police force.

UPDATE: Now available from The History Press at or in ebook format at

Friday, 29 July 2011

Drunk in Aberfeldy

This one tickled me a little earlier at Perth and Kinross Archives - a short note in the General Order Book for the Perthshire County Constabulary (POL1/2/2), written by Chief Constable George Gordon on Perth 3rd September 1866:

Upon examining Sergeant Allan why the woman Elizabeth McMillan or McKay was so long detained in the cells at Aberfeldy – two days – he stated that when he was sent for to the Breadalbane Hotel, the woman – a vagrant – was there drunk and incapable. She was lying in the Lobby and he had to get her conveyed to the Lockup in a wheelbarrow. This was about 2pm on Monday – and he relieved her at 10 o’clock am on Tuesday when sober on her promising to leave the village which she did.

No taxis in Aberfeldy then! :)


Saturday, 23 July 2011

The caesarean birth of Caesar Anna Low

I haven't blogged about one of my family heroes in a while - so here's another episode from the life of the incredible Doctor William Henderson of Perth (1784-1870), brother to my four times great grandfather Andrew...

In 1820, Dr. Henderson gained some notoriety as being the doctor who successfully delivered one of the first surviving babies in Scotland by a caesarean section. Although the procedure had been known to have been carried out elsewhere in Scotland prior to this, only a handful of children had been known to survive the procedure, perhaps most notably Robert II in 1316. The pregant mother in this instance was 30 year old Elizabeth Miller, spouse of David Low. The following account from the Perth Courier of October 5th 1820 describes what happened:
The Caesarean operation was performed here on Saturday last, by Dr Henderson, in presence of six of his professional brethren. The patient being much deformed, and in a reduced habit of body, survived the operation only about 24 hours. The child, a fine girl, is doing extremely well. We understand that this is about the 24th time this operation has been performed in Great Britain, and that only one or two have survived it. Of the 24 children, only 11 have been brought into the world alive. Much praise is due to the medical gentlemen who assisted in this distressing case, two of them having constantly attended by turns on the patient, during the whole time she was alive.

The baby girl was christened as Caesar Anna Miller Low, with the Perth baptismal record noting that she had been 'brought forth by the Caesarean Operation':

The case was an important success for its time, which William subsequently wrote up later in the year for publication within the Edinburgh Medical and Surgical Journal, under the title of "History of a Case of Impractical Labour, in which the Caesarean Operation was Performed". (Ed. Med. and Surg. Jour., vol.xvii.p.105, 1 NOV 1820). In his account William noted the following:

All circumstances rendered the case of this unfortunate woman a most hopeless one. She had laboured under mollities ossium for eight years, and, for the last four, had been chiefly confined to bed, and could not move her body from the position in which it was laid without assistance. Her appetite was much impaired, extreme emaciation, and great deformity. When she was viewed in bed, previous to the operation, her appearance was more like that of an Egyptian mummy than that of a human creature who lived and breathed.


This is now, I think, the 24th time that the Caesarean operation has been performed in Great Britain; one woman out of that number has been saved, but 12 children have been preserved.

He also noted that Elizabeth Low was aged 30 and had been twelve years married, with three living children, the last of which had been born in 1814. Images of her pelvis were included in the article, having been drawn following the mother's autopsy.

In a postscript in the article he adds the following about Caesar Anna - 'A fine full grown female infant, who is doing remarkably well'. He also adds that 'it was a case in which no alternative was left; had it not been recourse to, both lives must certainly have been lost'.


Thursday, 21 July 2011

Resources for Western Isles research

This is obviously going to be a hopeless task, as there will be lots of sites I don't know about - nevertheless, this is a start at a list of online resources for research in the Western Isles, which may help!

Lewis (Leòdhas) – mainly for Bernera, Uig, Pairc and Kinloch, - 1841 census for Lochs, Uig, Barvas and Stornoway – 1718 Judicial Rental roll of Nether Barvas, Barvas School log book from 1899 and an index to articles and photographs in Fios a’Bhaile, the society’s newsletter - Comainn Eachdraidh Nis (Ness) -
Comainn Eachdraidh na Pairc - Comainn Eachdraidh Uig Angus MacLeod Archive – North Tolsta Local Historical Society, emigrants lists, galleries, timeline, etc.,_Ross_%26_Cromarty,_Scotland – FamilySearch parish of Stornoway wiki,_Ross_%26_Cromarty,_Scotland - FamilySearch parish of Barvas wiki,_Ross_%26_Cromarty,_Scotland - FamilySearch parish of Lochs wiki

Harris (Na Hearadh) – records coming soon, starting with Harris but widening out across western isles – Seallam! Visitor Centre website,_Inverness,_Scotland – FamilySearch parish of Harris wiki

St. Kilda (Hiort) - article by Donald MacDonald on island’s history,_Inverness,_Scotland#St._Kilda_Free_Church.2C_Station – FamilySearch Free Church of St. Kilda wiki

Barra (Barraigh) – Comann Eachdraidh Bharraidh agus Bhatarsaidh - history of Barra, Vatersay, Mingulay, Berneray, Pabbay and Sanday,_Inverness,_Scotland – FamilySearch parish of Barra wiki

Berneray (Beàrnaraigh) – images of Berneray - Comann Eachdraidh Bhearnaraigh

Benbecula (Beinn na Foghla) – Comann Eachdraidh Bheinn na Foghla

North Uist (Uibhist a Tuath) - 1841 census,_Inverness,_Scotland – FamilySearch wiki of North Uist parish

South Uist (Uibhist a Deas) – discussion board,_Inverness,_Scotland – FamilySearch wiki of South Uist parish

Skye (An Eilean Sgitheanach) – Clan Donald Centre at Armadale – Comann Eachdraidh Shlèite Sleat - Gaelic local place name index, old photographs and the histories of townships. – gravestone inscriptions from Struan’s municipal cemetery – Elgol and Torrin Historical Society - resources for Elgol and Torrin - Skye Roots emigration project,_Inverness,_Scotland – Snizort parish wiki,_Inverness,_Scotland – Portree and Raasay parish wiki,_Inverness,_Scotland – Duirinish parish wiki,_Inverness,_Scotland – Bracadale parish wiki,_Inverness,_Scotland – Strath parish wiki,_Inverness,_Scotland – Sleat parish wiki

Inner Hebrides - Isle of Eigg History Society resources - resources for Muck – Colonsay and Oronsay resources – resources for Coll – Tiree resources,_Inverness,_Scotland – Small Isles wiki

Mull (Muile) – Mull Genealogy, baptism and burial indexes, censuses, databases such as deaths in Kilninian and Torloisk estate rental rolls. - Mull natives who settled in Prince Edward Island, Canada,_Argyl,_Scotland – Kilfinichen and Kilvickeon parish wiki

Lismore (Lios Mòr)
Comann Eachdraidh Lios M
òr – Lismore images,_Argyl,_Scotland – Lismore parish wiki

Islay (Ìle) - some parish, census and rental records,_Argyl,_Scotland – Kilchoman parish wiki,_Argyl,_Scotland – Kildalton parish wiki - parish records for Bowmore, Killarow and Kildalton – Islay Cultural Database – burials at Kilearnadail

Jura (Diùra) – blog based site – Gaelic place names of Jura,_Argyle,_Scotland – Jura wiki

Gigha (Giogha) – history of the MacNeill lairds,_Argyle,_Scotland – Gigha and Cara wiki

I am more than happy to receive suggestions for additional resources!

UPDATE: Don't forget the new Hebrides people site also at!

For more on online based Scottish resources, please consult my book Tracing Your Family History on the Internet (2nd edition) - details at


Saturday, 16 July 2011

Writing for genealogy magazines

I’ve often had people get in touch and say “I’d love to write for a genealogy magazine” or “I wish I could write an article”. I’ve had a few articles of varying lengths published in magazines over the last few years, and twelve years experience of television documentary script writing before that, so here’s a few tips which might help. (Just to add, these aren’t rules - there are no rules!)

i) Be confident

Everyone who has ever written articles always started off with a first effort. Many people worry that writing something down is an impossible task requiring great linguistic skill and dexterity, and best left to the likes of Shakespeare and Robbie Burns. Personally I find them both a bit old fashioned and boring, so here’s how I see the content of an article. It’s a conversation between you and the reader and its main purpose is to communicate and to impart knowledge. If you can talk the hind leg off a donkey when it comes to your friends and family, try doing the same with a keyboard instead. Do try to get the spelling and basic grammar right though.

ii) Who to write for

If you want to be in print, you can try writing for your local family history society publication, a local newspaper or a mainstream magazine for the shop shelf. Genealogy is a growth area – any subject that can involve a family history connection can be the basis of a great article, whether read by 1 person or 20,000. You can also self-publish, the easiest way to do so being through a blog (through sites such as Wordpress or Blogger). So ignore any snobbery about being published online or offline. The lines are blurring and each provides a valid forum with its own dedicated target audience. Writing is about delivering a target message or article to the reader, using whichever medium works best for the task at hand.

iii) What to write

Most mainstream magazines have a pool of so-called ‘experts’, a regular core of writers who can be relied on to regularly produce articles on various aspects of the family history profession, but there are slots in all magazines for others to contribute, and these are the best places to get started.

The easiest way to get an article published in one of these titles is to submit an idea for something for which you are the absolute person for the job. You may have a real interest in a particular regiment, or old fashioned occupation, or place in the country. If so, convince the editor that you need to write about it.

Alternatively, go for a case study. This is basically a story about something that has usually happened in your personal family history, for which you will be the best expert by far. Magazines are always desperate for case studies! They are also easy to write – how often have you wanted to tell someone about something you’ve found in your tree?! But bear in mind that you are writing it for your reader, not for you. Give the reader something to take away from your story – what way did you research it, what resources can you recommend, how did you overcome a particular problem?

iv) How to write

Before you start writing, pitch the idea to an editor first. You will normally find contact details for the editor inside the cover of a magazine on the first or second page, or on the magazine's website. In a simple paragraph, try to make the editor see why he or she should commission your piece. How will your piece help the reader? If the editor agrees, you will then be asked to give it a go. If it is for a commercially produced magazine, don’t forget to ask how much you are to be paid.

Some editors may then send you a formal commission document, a brief with a shopping list of things to include etc, possibly even ideas on how to structure it. Others will let you do it entirely as you see fit. If you don’t get formal guidance but feel you need it, ask! It is in the editor’s interest for your piece to work as much as it is in yours.

You will be asked to write to a particular length, and as long as you are usually within about twenty words or so on either side of that word count you should be fine. Don’t worry about over-writing it to start with – in fact, it can often be easier to write too much and to then edit it back than to be three hundred words short and to worry about how to fill the gap.

But some things to watch out for – don’t waffle, don’t repeat yourself, and keep pushing the narrative forward in a coherent way. Don’t waste a third of the piece writing an introduction, just get into the subject matter. In many cases I will actually leave the intro until the end, once I know what I want to write into.

Don’t patronise your reader. An opening line such as “As everyone of course knows…” will likely annoy your reader if he or she doesn’t actually know what the hell you’re on about. Don’t assume that you are writing a Janet or John kiddies book either (“Once upon a time there was an archive…”!). Talk to your reader as you would expect to be spoken to. And don’t use language that will make someone think that you are a self-important idiot - you will only end up looking like the fool.

Don’t be too precious about your final product once it is submitted. If lucky, you may be asked to proof read it before publication - if you get the chance, take it! The editors will use your article almost word for word, but they may need to abridge it, they may need to redefine something if they think it is unclear, or they may even postpone its publication. If changes need to be made, they may ask you to do them, they equally may not and may make the amendments themselves.

v) Images

Where possible, try to supply images which you own, or for which there is no copyright claim – ancient black and white images which you don't own the rights to are usually OK if over a hundred years old. If you don’t know the original source of an image, tell the editor. It is then up to he or she to decide whether to use it or not. In most cases, magazines have their own photo editors and access to image libraries etc, but it is always better to try to supply the images you want to see if you can.

vi) Publication

Normally with publication you will get a free copy of the magazine you've written for, but it may not come immediately. For commercially produced magazines, payment can also be delayed after publication (to suit the relevant accounting department's payment run), though make sure you have your invoice in! With the fee from your first article, buy a bottle of Champagne. Drink said Champagne, realise you have no money left, and feel inspired to try again!

The more you write, the more confident you will become at it, but listen to criticism. When I used to work in TV I hated people telling me what they loved about a programme, I always wanted to know what they didn’t, so that I could learn for the next effort. We all make mistakes, the trick is to learn from them, take it on the chin, and produce an even better article next time.

Most importantly, make sure there IS a next time!

Happy writing!


Friday, 8 July 2011

Missionary man - David Macdonald Paton

In 1939 my father's second cousin David Macdonald Paton was ordained as an Anglican deacon by his old headmaster Geoffrey Fisher, prior to taking up work as a missionary in China. From 1939 to 1944 he lived in Beijing (Peking), working first as a YMCA secretary, and then with the Church Missionary Society.

Whilst living with a mandarin family there he learned to speak the local language, and also witnessed a ceremony to welcome in the New Year in honour of the spirits of the family's ancestors. The whole encounter was later recorded in David's publication "Christian Missions and the Judgment of God" (p.8):

On the wall facing me were three portraits: father, grandfather, and great grandfather. Beneath them was a table, with on it a small wooden casket containing the tablets of the ancestors, and in front of it a piece of red paper with the father's name in beautifully written characters. At each side was a red candle. At the front of the table was a bowl or two of offerings of food. In turn, first the males, and then the females, kowtowed three times each before the table...

The whole ceremony was rather impressive. I don't know precisely what religious belief the various members of the family now have about the spirits of ancestors. But at the least, even for the most secularised, it represented a profound respect for the continuous achievements of the Chinese tradition, expressed in and disciplined by its main social organisation, the family.

David believed passionately that for a missionary to be able to work effectively as an evangelist in China, he or she had to have a deep understanding of Chinese culture, and some sympathy, and throughout his time there he was very pro-Chinese. When the Japanese occupied Beijing, David helped to smuggle surgical instruments to a bunch of Chinese guerillas in Yanjing, believing that it was important to stand up for his principles. He was later ordained as a priest in 1941 in Hong Kong's St. John's Cathedral. Between August 1941 and July 1944 he worked amongst students at Chongqing (Chungking). Conditions were atrocious, and there was hostility from some elements of the Chinese society, who remembered Britain's role in the treatment of the country after the Opium Wars. He realised it was better not to try to dictate the agenda but to work under the leadership of a Chinese national called Jiang Wen Han in his missionary work.

After a brief return back to England, and his marriage to Alison Stewart, David returned to China in January 1947, arriving at Fuzhou (Foochow) in Fujian (Fukien) province, where he took up work at Fujian Union Theological College, at a time when the country was in the midst of a civil war. David's work as a missionary was threatened seriously with problems affecting hyperinflation and shortages, and the church's structure itself, unable to take to the strain of the situation. Things worsened when Fuzhou fell to communist control in 1949, forcing the Chinese church to cut its ties with foreign missions in order to show loyalty to the new regime. At the same time, a Chinese church faction called 'Little Flock' was also determined to destroy the foreign based missions. In January 1951, David, Alison, and by now their three sons, left China for the relative safety of Hong Kong, and returned back to England.

David later became one of Queen Elizabeth II's chaplains for eleven years, and eventually passed away on July 18th 1992. In March 2009, I had the great pleasure to talk on the phone with his son, who described how his father had always been quite socialist in his outlook, and yet disappointed at the same time never to have been made a bishop within the Church of England. He had in fact been offered the role of Bishop of Hong Kong, but turned it down believing that the job should by right be given to a Chinese candidate. Whilst disappointed never to have been made a bishop in Britain, he was delighted when appointed to the role of chaplain to the Queen, one of a handful of members of the clergy who were required to preach to the Royal Family throughout the years. For this role he was given a red ceremonial cassock to wear, of which he was very proud, and when he was cremated in 1992 following his death, he was dressed in this robe.

An obituary in the Guardian on July 24th 1992 sums up what a remarkable man he was, stating that "he was arguably the most far-sighted English Anglican this century" and that "if he had been given greater responsibility, the Church of England would be now less busy contemplating its own navel." It also asked "Did his outspoken understanding of contemporary issues and his sharp insight into people make him a threat to people responsible for easing round pegs into round holes?" If so, a far-sighted English Anglican he may have been, but he was fuelled with Scottish presbyterian blood! (His father, my grandfather's cousin William Paton, was a presbyterian minister!)

Very proud of the man! :)

Thursday, 23 June 2011

St Andrews Church in Toronto

St Andrew's Presbyterian Church in Toronto was established in 1876 as a Scottish kirk building in Canada, though the congregation had already existed from 1830. From the church's official website at comes the following snippet from its history:

The present building was opened for worship in 1876. At that time the King and Simcoe Streets location was a busy place and most of the congregation lived within easy walking distance of the church. Across the street stood Government House, the official residence of the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario. Upper Canada College stood on a second corner and on a third was a popular tavern. With St. Andrew's, the four corners were known locally as Legislation, Education, Damnation and Salvation!!

It is worth knowing if you have Canadian Presbyterian roots that many congregations of the church merged with the Methodists and the Congregationalists in 1925 to form the United Church of Canada - there is more on this aspect of Canadian church history at Both the Presbyterian and United Church denominations have separate archive collections. For more information on these in Toronto contact the Toronto Branch of the Ontario Genealogical Society at

I managed to make a quick visit to the church on Monday of this week, and the following are a few snaps!

With thanks to Dave Fenwick for taking me there! :)


Saturday, 11 June 2011

Balancing the books

Ever wondered what our ancestors earned? The following is an example of an agricultural labourer's income and expenditure, as recorded in the First Statistical Account for Auchterarder in Perthshire, 1790s. The family consists of a husband and wife, and seven children:

Man - 1s. per day for 8 months, and 8d for remainder........£13 17 0
Mother and eldest girl by spinning, 1s 6d per week.............£3 18 0
Eldest boy herding cattle.......................................................£0 18 0
Produce of his acre of ground-
6 firlots of oats, at 13s 6d.....................................................£1 0 3
4 bolls of barley, at 14s.........................................................£2 16 0
6 bolls of potatoes, at 6s 6d..................................................£1 6 0
Sold a calf..............................................................................£0 7 0
TOTAL INCOME..................................................................£24 2s 3d

Rent of house and land, seed & management....................£4 5 0
Cow's grass in summer, 10s; straw in winter 6s................£0 16 0
Fuel, £1 5s; 8 lbs soap, 4s 8d................................................£1 9 8
8 1/2 bolls of oatmeal............................................................£6 3 3
4 bolls of barley meal............................................................£1 17 4
Butcher meat, 18s; 4 pks salt 3s 4d....................................£1 1 4
3 pints lamp oil, 3s 6d; candles 2s 2d..................................£0 5 8
2 stones cheese (cow yielded milk and butter).....................£0 8 0
Molasses for beer, 4s 6d; groats & barley 7s.......................£0 11 6
Potatoes produced and consumed.......................................£1 6 0
Whisky, small beer, & wheaten bread at New Year.............£0 3 4
Needles, pins, and thread.....................................................£0 0 10
Expenses in sickness.............................................................£0 15 0
Father's clothes 10s; 2 shirts, 7s; shoes 10s......................£1 7 0
2 pairs stockings 4s 6d; wear of bonnet & kerchief..............£0 5 6
Mother's clothes 4s; 1 shift, 2s 6d; 2 aprons 2s 3d...............£0 8 9
Shoes and stockings 4s; kerchief, cap, etc 3s.....................£0 7 0
Pair of shoes to each of 7 children........................................£0 14 2
Clothes to 3 youngest, 9s; to 2 next 8s; to 2 eldest 10s......£1 7 0
Shirts to youngest 2s; to 2 next 2s 6d; to 2 eldest 3s 4d.....£0 7 10
TOTAL EXPENDITURE........................................................£24 0s 2d

The Statistical Accounts of Scotland from the 1790s and 1830s/40s provide all sorts of useful information on the environments where our ancestors lived, and can be viewed freely at


Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Tears for Sarah Jane

Elisabeth Sladen has sadly passed away. As a wee boy, I was fascinated by the TV series Doctor Who, so much so that it actually led me into a career in television. Every week I would read Doctor Who Monthly and the interviews with actors, actresses, directors, producers, writers, costume designers and more. What I thought was a magazine about a science fiction series in fact turned out to be my first manual in television production! The day I received my first BBC contract was one of the proudest days of my life - and the fact that Valerie, the production assistant in my first office had just worked on the series was as close to the magic of the series as I ever got, with my interest then veering into documentary rather than drama.

But what lured me to the series in the first place? It was three things - Tom Baker, the TARDIS, and Elisabeth Sladen. A Time Lord, a time machine that could take me to any time and place, and my first ever crush! As Sarah Jane Smith, Lis Sladen brought a real spark to what had previously been the role of the screaming assistant, with real attitude. She was a journalist - forget bow ties, journalists were cool! Now many years later I sit and watch the new version of the series with my own sons, but also had the pleasure to see Lis Sladen's acting career resurrected when they created a special series for her, The Sarah Jane Adventures, allowing my boys to equally find a hero in Sarah Jane Smith also.

I left the Beeb a few years back. Now as a family historian I travel to all sorts of times and places, and as a writer get to record my exploits through various avenues. Journalism and time travel, a wonderful mix - but I never got to travel with the Doctor!

To quote Jon Pertwee from his last ever story in Doctor Who in 1973 - "A tear Sarah Jane?" Many tears Lis Sladen - thank you for being as much a part of my childhood as you were of my children's.


Monday, 4 April 2011

Recording Sandy on the 1911 census

The following wee gem of a story was published in the Glasgow Herald on April 3rd 1911 (p.9), the day after the recording of the decennial census. I have no idea who the author was, other than the initials R. K. R. at the bottom, but thought it worth sharing! You can find the original online at


The Child studied the census paper attentively for a moment, wrinkling her brows over it.
"What an awful lot of writing there is on it. And on all the back of it too, " she added, turning the sheet over.
"Yes, isn't there?"
"Have you read all the writing on the back?"
"Well, perhaps not every word."
"Why have you not read every word?"
"Well, you see, it's Sunday, and it's not right to work too hard on Sunday."
"Who makes you do it on Sunday?"
"Who makes you do it on Sunday? I suppose it must be Mr J. Patten Macdougall, Registrar-General. You'll see his name on the back."
The Child checked this statement carefully.
"Wasn't it kind of Mr Macdougall to send you all this writing?"
"It was indeed. He is goodness itself."
"Does he send them to many people?"
"Yes. A good many."
"Will Amy Douglas's father get one?"
"Ad Mrs McClintock the washerwoman?"
"I think so."
"And will she have to write down all her children?" (Breathlessly) "She has ten-living-and-two-dead."
"Yes. Every one. What did you say cook's name was?"
"Just cook or Margaret. What a lot of numbers all down the side. 1, 2 , 3, 4, 5-10-17, 18, 19, 20. Are these for putting children in?"
"Yes, children and people."
"What would you do if you had more than twenty children?"
"I would whip them all soundly and put them to bed."
"No, but really and truly?"
"I would have to get another paper from Mr. J. Patten McDougall."
The Child studied some entries on the paper. Then she laughed.
"You're a silly to put mother 32. Mother has always been 21, ever since she was married."
"Of course. I must correct that."
"And you've missed Sandy out altogether."
"Tut-tut. We mustn't miss out Sandy. You'll help me to write him down."
"Of course I'll help you. Write Sandy Rutherford."
"No middle name?"
"Sandy Woggins Rutherford."
"Right. Alexander W. Rutherford. What next?"
"I'm afraid that wouldn't do. It must be Head, or Wife, or Son, or Daughter, Relative, Visitor, Boarder, or Servant. He's more than a visitor."
"Of course he is. He's my own always doggie."
"Well, we'll call him a Boarder. So that's all right. Age - three last birthday." Gaelic and English - "Both I should think. Particulars as to Marriage - Single."
"Yes, he's my own single dog." (Looking closely at the paper.) "Per-son-al Occ-u-p-a-t-i-o-n. What does that mean?"
"It means what does he do for a living?"
"He barks a good deal!" the Child said, doubtfully. And he eats a lot of bones - and watches the house."
"Good. We'll put him down as night watchman."
"Of course," said the Child impartially, "he's really and truly asleep at night."
"We needn't tell anybody that. Then he's a Worker, isn't he? Worker at Home will be right. Birthplace?"
"Island of Skye," said the Child promptly. "What is this last thing, Infir-mitty?"
"That means any weakness he has."
"Mother says he has a weakness for butter."
"That'll do then. Infirmity. Steals the butter. That finishes Sandy."
"Couldn't we put my own dear Dicky-Bird in?"
"I'm afraid not. Mr J. Patten Macdougall mightn't like it. He may not care about canaries."
"I am sure he would love my canary, if he knew it. But it won't mind if you don't put its name in as much as Sandy would."
"No, and you don't need to tell it. Are you going to tell Sandy?"
"Tell Sandy! Sandy knows already. He's been watching us all the time."

R. K. R.

The moral of the story - is everyone that you find on the census quite who you think they are?!!!


Thursday, 31 March 2011

The Troubles and the Lovely Ladies of Kragfergus

I'm just back in Scotland after a two day visit to Northern Ireland. I was born in the Province in 1970, although with my father in the navy it was not until I was 8 years old that I actually went to live in the country, having left when just a couple of days old to reside in Helensburgh and then Plymouth. This week was my first visit back home in seven years, but although my main reason for going was to see the new PRONI building and to do some research in some Belfast cemeteries, I managed to get in a couple of hours research at the library in my home town of Carrickfergus.

I decided to look through some old editions of the weekly newspaper, the Carrick Advertiser, from 1980-1982, really to see if I could find any stories concerning my family. I successfully located an image of myself and my brother in a primary school choir, and several of an aunt winning golf tournaments.

There was one discovery that really came as a surprise though. I'm sure everyone is aware that Northern Ireland spent 30 years going through the Troubles. In 1979, when I moved back to Carrick, I had no idea about the Troubles, I was a kid who had grown up in Britain - I had no idea my family were all Protestants, as I had no idea what the word actually meant - I'd never heard it before. We returned to Carrick after my parents separated, and after the death of my gran. My father inherited her house in a part of the town called Joymount - it had only one tap in the house with cold water (hot water had to be boiled in a big pot on the gas cooker!), no bathroom, no washing machine (we had to use the sink and then a mangle!) and an outside toilet, and we stayed there for two years.

One night, aged 11, I remember suddenly waking up in my bedroom in the middle of the night and going to the window to peak outside. There was a car park outside about fifty yards away, facing the library, and around a car was the British Army. Not all of them mind - it was the bomb squad. I watched absolutely fascinated as a small robot was driven over to the car from where the soldiers were deployed, with police cars nearby with blue globes flashing, all an extraordinary sight for an 11 year old kid half-asleep! My dad came in and told me to get back into bed; he may have possibly even moved us into a back room, I can't remember.

Yesterday I came across a newspaper article about this very incident. The car, it transpired, was a Ford Cortina, and had been hijacked at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast a month before. It had suddenly been spotted in this Carrick car park, and being suspiciously parked the standard response was to get the army out to perform a controlled explosion on it, in case it was actually carrying a bomb. It only occurred to me yesterday whilst reading the piece that nobody actually knocked on our door to tell us that there might be an IRA bomb just fifty yards from the house! The whole operation lasted 3 hours and 20 minutes, all over by 5am. The article also showed a picture illustrating what happens when you park a car badly...

The Troubles did occasionally hit Carrickfergus when I was there. The papers ran the occasional funeral report of an RUC (police) officer from the town being killed in another part of the Province, but nothing else ever really seemed to happen if you believed the press. The papers were instead more filled with ridiculous bickering between the borough's politicians, often on thinly veiled sectarian or class based issues. They were also extremely sexist! Lots of "Lovely Lady of Kragfergus" competitions, women posing in football tops when the boys were going off to play, and more. And religion. My God, if ever a place was contaminated by self-opinionated men of the cloth, it was Carrickfergus! One minister wrote often in the paper to basically tell us how evil we all were - he actually carried out my Gran's funeral ten years ago and spent 5 minutes telling us who she was (getting just about every detail wrong) and then an hour telling us why we were all sinners and needing to repent! And so on.

Whilst the national press would have of course focussed on a Troubles based story every day, in a local paper like the Carrick Ad, you got a different image. A tiny, quiet wee community just 9 miles from Belfast, more worried about their version of God than they were the paramilitaries, where nothing ever really happened. Lovely Lady competitions and bonnie babies.

And yet things did happen. I remember one time, for example, of not being able to get into the railway station shop, to pick up newspapers for my paper round, because somebody had been shot in the loyalist pub next door. Then there's the story of an ex-loyalist in the town. He had apparently served time for making the fundamental error from the loyalist POV of blowing up the British Legion by mistake (not sure if he ever claimed his Darwin Award!). Another loyalist who did time in the Maze, and who learned Gaelic to try to understand the communications of IRA men - and who subsequently fell in love with the language. And so on.

The point is that it is great to flesh out the context of our ancestors' lives from contemporary resources, but those resources, such as local newspapers, will never tell the whole story, despite being right on the doorstep. To address this, over the last few years I have actually been writing up an account of my childhood for my sons, painting a picture of the Carrickfergus where I grew up, the issues that affected my family (and not those of the middle class God-fearing "dressed in their Sunday best" elite in the town), and what made us tick.

My story of Carrickfergus is the story of being raised in a single parent family. Where everyone knew somebody involved in the Troubles but always turned the other cheek to look away. Where despite patronising ministers and unambitious politicians who only understood the word "Never" there were also some real heroes - the summer scheme volunteers at the Leisure Centre, acting as surrogate parents for a few hours every day in our long summer holidays; Paddy Lennox and his boxing club, designed to get boys off the streets and to give them something to think about other than orange or green; the strikers at Kilroot and the workers of Courtaulds fighting to save their living; and the true heroes like Sean Neeson, a politician and family friend of real conviction who eventually rose to great heights within his Alliance party. It's the story of the working harbour where Kane's fuels were delivered each week, and where you could climb the castle's rocks or go fishing without a permit at the pilot boat base at the end of the quay. A town where the neighbours always had an open door and a cup of sugar or milk you could borrow before your dad could buy some more once he had picked up his dole cheque down at the 'broo'.

The Carrickfergus I lived in has long gone, and walking around the place yesterday, a lot has changed and some things have remained the same. West Street is a ghost town, and my old housing estate of Castlemara is now infested with paramilitaries, with their pathetic paintings on each gable end wall from a culture imported from Belfast shortly after I left in 1991.

The only place where the Carrickfergus I grew up in now truly resides is in my memory - it will never return and that is why I am writing it all down now before it fades away.


Sunday, 27 March 2011

Census Day 2011

Today is the day of the latest decennial census here in Scotland, and for the first time we have been able to supply our information online. We were also given a paper copy as an option, meaning that this time around we have had two possible ways to submit the required information. And that has allowed for a bit of fun in the Paton household!

I answered the census first on paper to make sure that I had all the details right for myself, my wife Claire and boys Calum and Jamie. An interesting question for me is "What is your ethnic group?" Crikey, what is my ethnic group?! The options were Scottish, Other British, Irish, Gypsy/Traveller, Polish, or Other. I'm from Northern Ireland's protestant community, though not religious in the slightest. Am I ethnically Scottish? My Ulster lot arrived from Scotland with the Plantations. Am I Irish? I was born on the island of Ireland, and have some southern Irish connections also. Am I Other British, being Northern Irish? As in not-Scottish, having been born in Ireland? You can't beat an identity crisis like those enjoyed by your average Ulsterman! lol I opted for ethnically Irish but put my national identity as both Scottish and Northern Irish (Tick all options that apply!).

With the written document complete, I then used the online website to submit the required details to the Scottish Government, the whole procedure taking just a few minutes more. With that completed, I received a receipt code to confirm that the Government had received the information required. So that then left me with a redundant paper copy! Now the census asked some seriously dreary questions, so I decided to get my boys and wife together, and to go through it and ask for some additional material, scribbling the extra information onto the pages also.

So now posterity will know that my eldest son's favourite bands are Queen and Bon Jovi; my youngest son's favourite book is "Star Wars: Clone Wars annual 2011"; and my wife speaks English very well, but has her own "Clairey words" that only she understands, and has a birthday celebrated only every four years!

Then the interrogation got much more in depth! So my eldest son's religion is accompanied with the note that he goes to church reluctantly, my youngest returned home on Census Day from a sleep over at his best friend's, and my wife's favourite quote comes from her father in Ireland, who once answered someone knocking on his front door with "Feck off, there's nobody home!"

I've still to ask myself some additionally probing questions, but hopefully anyone reading the paper version, if it survives for another hundred years, will know just what made us tick as a family, and not just what our contribution to the state's problems were! lol


Thursday, 17 March 2011

Irish poor sent back home

As it's Saint Paddy's day, here's a wee gem that might be of interest for those with Irish ancestors who settled in Scotland and England.

It's often suggested that it is worth checking poor relief records for members of the Irish community who settled in Britain in the decades following the famine of the 1840s. In some cases, many were actually sent back to the poor law unions from whence they originated, if the money needed for that relief could not be reclaimed by the relevant poor law union handling the claim.

The British Parliamentary Papers contain accounts of some of these returns. I've not had a chance to go through the original returns myself, but a very nice man from Wishaw who goes by the name of Raymond has created Raymond's County Down website at, and in this he has copied some of the records (perhaps all). The following collections can be browsed on his site:

* Return of all poor persons, removed from Scotland to Ireland Jan 1st 1867-Dec 31st 1869

* Return of poor from Scotland to Ireland, 1875/76/77/78

* Return of all poor persons removed from England & Wales to Ireland 1867/1869

* Return of poor persons, England & Wales since 1st Jan. 1875

The records are extremely detailed, often stating how long a person was resident in Britain, how many were in the household, their ages, and the parish to which they were returned in Ireland. They are laid out in county order, and then by parish and alphabetically by name.

Perhaps a member of your family was kicked out of Britain? If so, you may find them here. Free to access.

Hope it helps!


Thursday, 3 March 2011

Wha saw the 42nd?

Folk songs often have a lot more to them than meets the eye - a song of the Black Watch is "Wha Saw the 42nd?" ("Who saw the 42nd?"), but this was in fact a reworking of a Jacobite song called "Wha Wedna Fecht for Charlie?" ("Who wouldn't fight for Charlie?") - the Black Watch were very much an anti-Jacobite militia in origin! Here's my youngest son Jamie giving it lally....!

Thanks wee man! (He's been practising it for a Burns competition!)


Thursday, 17 February 2011

Who's the wife?!

Here is an interesting newspaper story from the Edinburgh based Caledonian Mercury, Monday July 23rd 1849, concerning a man with two irregular wives - or is that two wives from irregular marriages?! You decide! Both women tried to claim that they were the wife of the same man at the Court of Session:

Both parties belong to Glasgow. Mr B-- , a young man of considerable property, resident in that city, eloped with a young girl of seventeen, E--, the daughter of an innkeeper there, named M--. The parties proceeded to Edinburgh by the railway, on the 21st July 1846, and went to the Albion Hotel, where they occupied separate apartments for the night. On the following day they waited upon a solicitor who prepared a formal contract of marriage, which was signed before witnesses, and B-- wrote to several of his relations announcing his marriage. There was no religious ceremony; but the parties proceeded to Kirkcaldy, and lived together at the George Hotel, for three days and three nights, during which they slept together.

Immediately thereafter, B-- deserted the young woman E-- M-- , and went off to live with another woman of the name of J- McD-, with whom it was alleged he had formerly cohabited. A declarator of marriage was then brought by E-- M-- against Mr B--, for establishing her rights as his wife. The proof led, consisted of the contract and correspondence, and the cohabitation of the parties for several days at Kirkcaldy, and Lord Wood found the marriage to be clearly established, by an interlocutor on the 5th June 1849.

The case came before the First Division of the court by a reclaiming note at B--’s instance, on Tuesday last (the 17th July). It was then stated by the counsel for B--, that J-- McD-- the daughter of a dyer in Glasgow, had raised a declarator of marriage against him, setting forth that they had been married, by mutual consent, in the end of May 1846; and that two children had been born of the marriage, one in March 1848, and the other in May 1849.; and he moved the court to delay giving judgement in the action at E-- M--’s instance till the claim put forward by J-- McD-- was disposed of.

The court overruled this motion, and adhered to Lord Wood’s interlocutor, finding the marriage between E-- M-- and B-- to be clearly established, and without giving any opinion on the claim of McD-- , which was not then regularly before them.

Here is an instance of two irregular and clandestine marriages said to have been contracted by parties belonging to Glasgow, and where two women are each laying claim to the same man. After about three years’ litigation, one of the women succeeds in getting a judgment declaring her marriage with B-, but in place of having her status conclusively fixed by this decision, she finds the whole case re-opened by her competitor, J-- McD--, who pretends to have a prior claim to B--, in respect of an alleged irregular marriage of an earlier date; and the position of wife and children is thus left in a state of lamentable uncertainty till another litigation has run its course.

You won't find every Scots marriage in the church records pre-1855. But you will find more about how to locate them in my forthcoming book, Discover Scottish Church Records, coming soon from Unlock the Past! (UPDATE: now available from or in ebook format from


Monday, 14 February 2011

How many Scottish church denominations?

If you are having problems trying to find a pre-1855 birth in Scottish parish records, here's a wee eye opener as to why that might be. The ScotlandsPeople website only hosts the registers of the Church of Scotland and the Roman Catholic churches. But there were plenty more!

The following is a list of church denominations, and the number of premises they had, as returned for the Religious Worship Census of 1851, taken alongside the main decennial census on March 30th-31st.

Established Church 904
Reformed Presbyterian Church 37
Original Secession Church 30
Relief Church 2
United Presbyterian Church 427
Free Church 824

Episcopal Church 112
Independents or Congregationalists 168
Baptists 100
Society of Friends 6
Unitarians 5
United Brethren, or Moravians 1

Wesleyan Methodists:
* Original Connexion 61
* Primitive Methodists 10
* Independent Methodists 1
* Wesleyan Reformers 1

Glassites, or Sandemanians 6
New Church 5
Campbellites 1
Evangelical Union 27

Isolated Congregations:
* Various 8
* Common 2
* Unsectarian 1
* City Mission 7
* Christians 7
* Christian Disciples 14
* Christian Reformation 1
* Reformed Christians 1
* Free Christian Brethren 1
* Primitive Christians 2
* Protestants 4
* Reformation 1
* Reformed Protestants 1
* Separatists 1
* Christian Chartists 1
* Denomination not stated 6

Roman Catholics 104
Catholic and Apostolic Church 3
Latter Day Saints, or Mormons 20
Jews 1

(Extracted from Table A: Summary of the Whole of Scotland, p.2-3, from Histpop at

So just a few more denominations to think about!

For more information on how to find the registers of those other denominations I have written a book entitled Discover Scottish Church Records for Australian based genie venture Unlock the Past ( Available in paperback from and in ebook format at


Sunday, 6 February 2011

The Paton Pride

There's a bit of a joke in my family about a long running trait on the Paton side of the family. A few years ago I met one of my first cousins in London for the first time, and one of the first questions I asked him was whether his father shared a certain characteristic that my father did - the 'Paton Pride'? He instantly knew what I was referring to without me having to explain it - the answer was a resounding yes...!

Basically, my father won't do anything he doesn't want to do, and is more than happy to speak his mind. He'll listen to anyone making a fair argument, but for those talking just to hear the sound of their own voice, he won't listen for much longer! I share the trait to an extent, and by the way my youngest son is beginning to look at me, there is definitely a case forming of history about to repeat itself!

But how far back does the Paton Pride go, and how widespread is it amongst the 'clan'?! I had to laugh a few years ago when I found a record concerning my four times great grandfather, William Paton, a weaver in Perth who had been signed up to serve in Breadalbane's Fencibles. A Sergeant MacKay was doing the recruiting, and ran into a spot of bother, as the following letter he received from Edinburgh Castle, and held within the Breadalbane Muniments (GD 112) at the National Archives of Scotland, showed. The question - "Where are my troops?"!:

Perth, 24th March 1797


I had the honour to receive your two letters and in answer to the first letter, I wrote the commanding officer mentioning that the most of my party were weavers by trade and some of them were committed to stay until they should find security to finish and work the webs they had in the looms at the time they were inlisted; and indeed the greatest part of them had webs incurring fines at that period, which they were obliged to finish, therefore I could not get them away until all these points were settled; but now I think it will be in my power to march 8 recruits from here on the 28th March to head quarters, and I expect they will arrive there in due time.

I have the honour to be

Sir, your humble servant

Robert McKay,
Sergeant 2nd Battalion, 4th Fencibles

Possibly the threat of a fine was holding him back, but I like to think that William had decided he wasn't going anywhere until he was good and ready!

In another example, when the First World War broke out, my great grandfather elected to remain in Brussels to look after his shoe shop. The decision costs him his life two years later during the occupation, and a family letter states after "what a pity he didn't leave when he could". I can imagine the conversation - "No bloody Bosch is going to make me give up my shop...!"

The Paton Pride seems to have been long established - but how widespread is it?!

Earlier today however, I received an email from someone containing a Daily Telegraph obituary from 1992 for the Reverend David MacDonald Paton, my father's second cousin. David was something of a high flyer within the Anglican Church, some said one of the greatest archbishops the church never had, but he never made it to such a high office, settling instead for a role as one of the present Queen's chaplains for eleven years. The reason for his apparent failure? Here's an extract:

"Yet after 10 years of fine service at Church House - which included acting as an adviser to Archbishop Michael Ramsey, a close personal friend - Paton was denied the senior appointment for which he was so admirably equipped...

"The Archbishops of Canterbury and York pleaded his cause with the Secretary of Appointments at Downing Street and with bishops who had patronage at their disposal. But all to no avail.

"The reason for Paton's failure to secure a cathedral canonry or even deanery is not clear. It was sometimes suggested that he spoke too freely and too frankly..."

Of course, being ex-BBC, I know only too well the dangers of single sources for stories. So, erm - here's the Guardian's take!

"Canon David Paton, who has died at the age of 78, was arguably the most far-sighted English Anglican this century and yet was denied any influential post, let alone a bishopric. Did his outspoken understanding of contemporary issues and his sharp insight into people make him a threat to people responsible for easing round pegs into round holes?"

A potentially definite pattern emerging there then?!

So the Patons of old and far may share the same Y-chromosome, but do we also share the same sense of individuality?

Haha - for my boys, I say "hopefully!" Even if you open your mouths and say something inconvenient to the listener but which you passionately believe in, go for it (just make sure it's legal! lol)

Be yourselves and listen to no man - and long live the Paton Pride!!!


Disclaimer - I can offer no scientific back up to this, but only the perspective of someone equally afflicted with the condition. Secondly, no animals were harmed in the making of this blog post. Thank you!

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Haggis - the shocking truth...

I know it is Burns Night and all that, but there comes a time when one must reveal the horrors of our society in all their true manifestation. Personally I am a bit bah humbug about some of the stuff they'll have ye believe is a true representation of Scottish culture (they'll be inventing religion next!).

However, tolerable as one has to be amidst such nonsense, I ABSOLUTELTY DRAW THE LINE at what some will do to fulfil such traditions.

Ladies and gentlemen, the terrifying evidence...

Not from this wee shuggie actually... this is from Mr Paton the Butcher, who lives down the road from me in Largs...!

Mr Paton - haggi have human rights also!
(Incidentally, Mr Paton is a very lovely man, and I have researched his family tree for him, which can be seen on his website at - and his haggis is nice!)


Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Away with the fairies

There are many ancient tales in Scotland and Ireland of the Daoine Sìth (pronounced "doonya shee", and known as the "aos sí" in Irish Gaelic), the mythical supernatural race of fairy folk said to live underground in fairymounds, who some believe to be descendants of the Tuatha Dé Danann, the Tribe of the Goddess Danu. To this day people who seem a little strange are often referred to as being "away with the fairies", and indeed there may well be some truth to it - the following photo shows me quite literally away with the fairies in Donegal about ten years ago...

Belief in the Sìth was extremely common in Highland Scotland, much to the disgust of the Kirk. The Kirk represented truth, as opposed to the paganism of such beliefs, and many ministers ranted against the nonsense of such tales.

Well, most of them did! The following is a recollection of an event in the Dumfriesshire parish of Kirkmichael from the First Statistical Account of Scotland (1791-1799 Vol xii. p.461), as recorded by the Reverend Dr. John Burgess M.A., and said to have happened half a century before:

"About fifty years ago, a clergyman in the neighbourhood, whose faith was more regulated by the scepticism of Philosophy than the credulity of Superstition, could not be prevailed upon to yield his assent to the opinion of the times. At length, however, he felt from experience, that he doubted what he ought to have believed. One night as he was returning home, at a late hour, from a presbytery, he was seized by the fairies, and carried aloft into the air. Through fields of aether and fleecy clouds he journeyed many a mile, descrying, like Sancho Panza on his Clavileno, the earth far distant below him, and no bigger than a nut-shell. Being thus sufficiently convinced of the reality of their existence, they let him down at the door of his own house, where he afterward often recited to the wondering circle the marvellous tale of his adventure."

(A fuller account can be found at

So next time you feel like you're about to go away with the fairies, be assured the church has already confirmed their existence on your behalf!

Friday, 7 January 2011

Penny Weddings

The Scottish kirk had a very traditional outlook on things - if it was enjoyable, then the Calvinist medicine of "thou shalt not" should be applied. Wedding celebrations were most definitely a case in point.

According to George Penny's 1832 book "Traditions of Perth", there were three types of wedding prevalent in the 1830s in Perthshire - the free wedding, where only a few select friends were invited and the guests were not to be the cause of any expense; the dinner wedding, where a dinner was provided by the marriage party, and the penny wedding (also known as the penny bridal), where each guest contributed financially or by way of food towards the dinner and then paid for their own drink, and which by the end of the festivities (which could go on for several days) could yield a tidy profit for the newlyweds. The latter type of wedding was particularly common across rural Scotland, and virtually everyone in the parish was invited. Of course, the Kirk hated penny weddings, and there are plenty of scathing comments about them in the first Statistical Accounts recorded in the 1790s (online at

The Reverend Alexander Johnston, minister of Monquhitter in Aberdeenshire, noted in a supplement to his account that the "scene... which involved every amusement and every joy of an idle and illiterate age, was the Penny Bridal. When a pair were contracted they, for a stipulated consideration, bespoke the wedding dinner at a certain tavern, and then ranged the country in every direction to solicit guests. One, two, and even three hundred would convene on these occasions to make merry at their own expense for two or more days. This scene of feasting, drinking, dancing, wooing, fighting, was always enjoyed with the highest relish, and until obliterated by a similar scene, furnished ample materials for rural mirth and rural scandal. But now, the penny bridal is reprobated as an index of want and money and of want of taste."

The Kirk was never happy at the prospect of such fun at a wedding, and had for years been fighting to deter such activities. The following example of record of a marriage being contracted from Methel Hill in Fife on May 18th 1694 shows a good example from a century before (source: OPR M 459/00 0050 Wemyss 18 MAY 1694):

Patrick Dunsyre & Janet Lumbsdale

The whilk day was contracted in order to Marriage Patrick Dunsyre to Janet Lumbsdale both in ys paroch & pledged them [..] dolers & David Lambsdale in methel hill became caution yt yr sould not be promiseray dancing at yr wedding married 18 of may

In this case David Lambsdale was asked to be the 'cautioner' (pronounced 'kayshuner'), i.e. a 'guarantor' that there would be no 'promisary dancing' at the wedding!

There was also a great deal of superstition held onto at weddings. Some people refused to marry on the unlucky day of Friday, though in some parts this was a lucky day! Many also refused to marry in January or May, with May 14th in particular deemed to be particularly unlucky - many people noted the day of the week on which it fell and refused to marry on that same day when their ceremony took place later in the year. Conversely, for some, April and November were deemed to be extremely lucky months in which to marry! Many also refused to carry the proclamations of banns (which had to be called three times prior to a wedding) over into a new year, and for some even the nature of the moon or the tide was a factor in deciding when to perform the ceremony.

So when you find the date of your ancestors' weddings, there may be much more significance to the date chosen than at first may meet the 21st century eye, and the subsequent celebrations may have damned them for ever in the eyes of the very minister who performed the rites!!

UPDATE: My book Discover Scottish Church Records covers this and more - available from