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! :)