Sunday, 30 September 2012

The Scottish Cemetery at Kolkata, India

Known as Calcutta until 2001, the West Bengal city of Kolkata was founded on the banks of the River Hooghly in 1690 as a trading post for the English East India Company. Soon after its foundation, and the union in 1707 between Scotland and England, thousands of British migrants were making there way to the settlement to partake of the economic opportunities that soon followed - particularly during the 18th and 19th centuries, when the city was the centre of the Company’s opium trade, with the locally grown opium crop shipped to China after auction. Kolkata remained the capital of the British Raj until 1911.

The Scottish Cemetery was established in Kolkata about a mile and half from the original British cemetery site at North Park Street, and was opened shortly after the construction of St. Andrew’s Church at Dalhousie Square in 1818. The kirk, now part of the Church of India, was the first adhering to the Church of Scotland to be built in India, and was raised to cater for an ever growing Scottish contingent within the Kolkata population. Amongst its worshippers were migrants from Dundee who came to develop and work within the city’s fledgling jute industry, building new jute mills and facilitating the export of raw materials from India back to the Highland city for processing. Other settlers from Scotland included industrialists, soldiers, and missionaries. Between eighty and ninety per cent of the burials are believed to be of Scots, with the remainder comprising of Christian Bengalis, and adherents to non-Anglican faiths, such as members of the English and Welsh dissenting churches.

Many of the monuments in the cemetery were constructed from Aberdeen granite, with others from brick and lime mortar, and remain in good condition, despite the deterioration of the site. The monuments were extensively photographed in November 2008 by the RCAHMS, with most of the images recorded now available to view on its Canmore database at From a genealogical point of view, the images provide a great deal of information for those who may have ancestors buried there. A good example is that of James Miller, who died in Calcutta on November 2nd 1918, with his stone recording that he was ‘aged 27 years, dearly loved and only son of Alexander & Jeanne Miller, Inverkeithing, Scotland’.

Whilst the cemetery was believed to have commenced its burials in the early 1820s, it is thought that the last bodies to be interred there were done so during the 1960s. The monumental styles discovered by the survey team ranged from very ornate classical monuments and urns to the most simplistic inscribed headstones. Amongst some of the more interesting discoveries on the site were the graves of a Glasgow iron master named Boyle, a director of Calcutta’s zoological gardens, and the Reverend John Adam, noted as a ‘late Missionary to the heathen…’. Within the site, James Wilson of Hawick is also believed to lie, who in addition to introducing a paper currency and income tax into India was also the founder of the Economist magazine in Britain.

For more on the RCAHMS visit in 2008, see its dedicated blog at


Monday, 3 September 2012

Convict blood - thanks to a horsewhipping

I've just been playing with the online offerings of FindmyPast Australasia ( as part of my world subscription on, and was surprised to make an unusual discovery about the husband of one of my family members. David Bell was the husband of Helen Paton, the sister of my three times great grandfather William Paton, the couple having married in the Scottish city of Perth in 1836. In 1849 both David and Helen emigrated to Queensland on board the Chaseley with their family, and to this day at the city's Kangaroo Point there exists two streets named after them, Paton Street and Bell Street. Two years ago I actually managed to walk down both streets, as I recalled some time ago on this blog at

David Bell initially worked for a Captain Robert Towns for several years after his arrival, his obituary many years later stating that he did this in the 'early fifties', where he managed punts between Brisbane and Ipswich, before building his own hardware store in Stanley Street in 1863. In 1868, when the Duke of Edinburgh visited Brisbane, David was one of the fully costumed Brisbane Highlanders to personally greet him at Queen’s Park. A newspaper article from May 1871 showed that as part of his Highland outfit, David had commissioned a local Brisbane craftsman to make him an expensive ornamented dirk, to promote the talents of the settlement’s skilled silversmiths. David clearly had some standing in the community - which makes the following story all the more remarkable!

The site has surprisingly revealed that David was briefly imprisoned on December 5th 1856, the entry confirming that it was the correct person by noting his arrival on the Chaseley in 1849 (Brisbane Gaol. Register of prisoners admitted & discharged 1856 -1859, PRI 1/25, Column Or Folio:267). The record notes him to have been a storekeeper at this point also, though he was clearly still working for someone else, as identified from the following newspaper article from the Moreton Bay Courier of Saturday December 6th 1856, which explained what happened:

POLICE COURT: Yesterday, David Bell and James Bryon were charged by Mr. Souter, of South Brisbane, with assaulting him on the 28th of last month. It appears, though the facts did not come out at the Police Court, that Mr. Souter had had some differences with a gentleman, also resident in South Brisbane, and had taken the liberty of chastising him with a horsewhip, which he borrowed for the purpose from one of the defendants, but without informing him as to the use to which it was to be applied. Both defendants are in the employment of the party alluded to; and the one who lent the whip to Mr. Souter, feeling exasperated at being made the innocent instrument in the chastisement of his employer, took the first opportunity of making an attack on Mr. Souter, in which he was assisted by his fellow employee. Mr. Little appeared for the plaintiff, and Mr Ocock for the defendants. The assault being proved, both defendants were sentenced to two months' imprisonment.

Either David or James had lent a horsewhip to Souter, who immediately began to assault their employer with it! In retaliation they struck Souter - and they were the pair convicted of assault! There's justice for you...

It's not many who can claim a badge of honour by stating that they have family that gained convict blood after it reached Oz. But all credit to David and James - I think I would probably have done the same!

NB: for newspaper coverage in Australia, visit the excellent Trove website at


Sunday, 12 August 2012

Pawn shop ledgers in Carrick-on-Suir

Last week I spent a few days with my wife and kids in Ireland, mainly to go camping in Connemara, Waterford and Down, but we also managed to spend a couple of days in Piltown, County Kilkenny, with my mother-in-law. Just up the road from Piltown is a town called Carrick-on-Suir, just over the county border in Tipperary, and the birthplace of my now deceased father-in-law Paddy Giles.

Carrick-on-Suir Heritage Centre
Every time I go to Carrick I try to get in some research, either with visits to the local graveyards in Carrickbeg, or at the local Heritage Centre, based within an old converted Presbyterian church building in the centre of the town. The centre has many interesting displays on all sorts of aspects of history, including the War of Independence, and the raising of the red flag over the town's creamery in 1922 just prior to the civil war in the 1920s. Within several glass cases there are also many rare gems - a physician's prescription book, letters from many former residents, and more. Each time I have visited in the past I have asked if it was possible to be able to see some of these rare gems, and have previously always been denied. On this occasion, however, my luck was in!

In one of the cabinets I noticed a pile of books with a small label stating that they were pawn shop ledgers. Intrigued, I asked if I could perhaps have a look at them, explaining that I worked as a genealogist but was in this case interested for personal reasons. The attendant unbelievably agreed! It took a few minutes to work out how to unlock the case, but once done I lifted down the books and began to browse.

Anyone who regularly researches will know that in many cases the records available for genealogical excavation tend to be better for those slightly further up the social scale, with property records, newspaper coverage, and more. In Ireland, much of the population was at the other end of the social scale, often destitute and barely able to make ends meet. One of the big surprises for me personally in the last few weeks has been to discover just how polarised the population of Carrick was in the War of Independence. I had always believed the town to be pro-independence, but in fact, hundreds of men had been recruited in the town to the British Army in previous years, and the wages sent back to wives and mothers was a much prized resource. Far from being supportive of Irish independence, many were in fact openly hostile to it, fearful for the loss of wages that would ensue. The lack of income for many of the population was a serious issue.

A key problem with Irish research is the lack of censuses prior to 1901 for most of Ireland. Carrick-on-Suir is a remarkable town in that it has a major exception, in the form of a census that was taken in 1799, now held by the British Library in London, and which acted in many ways as a forerunner to the later British decennial censuses. The census lists names, ages, occupations and addresses, and more. (A truncated transcript is online at The population in 1799 is therefore well recorded, as it is again in 1901. The problem lies in the middle. Griffiths Valuation is one of a few census substitutes which lists the heads of household for the middle of the century, but any new resource is always welcome.

So having placed the pawn shop ledgers on the table, I had a look to see what I could find. The records cover the period from 1864 to 1868, and are absolutely packed with details of those who took trinkets to the local pawn shop on the Main Street, often on a monthly basis. So detailed were they that in four hours I was only able to get through the records for July1864 to October 1865, and the few records available for 1868. Having previously built up a picture of the Giles, Donovan and Colleton families from the town from other sources such as parish and statutory records, I was now able to learn a great deal more.

Carrick-on-Suir circa 1925
For one thing, a new family member was revealed - a Rose Giles who like the rest of the family lived on the Ballyrichard Road and later at the town's Fair Green. Rose was noted as pawning a brown vest for 2s 1d on Tuesday October 25th 1864, and a pair of grey trousers and a vest just four days later for 4s 7d. In the period of a year she was in fact recorded a total of thirteen times, with other items pawned including a black cap, a handkerchief, an old calico shirt, with many of the same items apparently pawned on several occasions. Quite how Rose ties in I have yet to establish, but without these records, I would never have heard of her. Elsewhere, my sons' three times great grandmother, noted as 'Mrs Donovan' from Ballyrichard (and later Oven Lane), is also noted as pawning a pair of shoes and a dark frock coat on a couple of occasions, with her daughter, the boys two times great gran also noted as pawning boots from Oven Lane just four years prior to her marriage. On the Colleton side, a well established family of bakers in the town, there are also many other entries showing that a visit to the pawn shop was a way of life for many within the town.

Whilst Carrick-on-Suir is a huge town, it has no historical society, and so records such as these are lying around in display cabinets gathering dust, when they in fact contain a gold mine of information. When somebody next tells you that there are no records in Ireland - they were all destroyed, and all the rest - ignore them. Put your coat on, head for the area of interest and start to dig - you never know what you might uncover!


Friday, 20 July 2012

Maybe they could be buried first?

Am I the only one that finds it a little outrageous when mainstream genealogical records vendors start using the deaths of celebrities as a means to immediately peddle their wares - just hours after the celebrities' deaths have been announced?

To give a couple of examples - on July 8th, veteran Hollywood film actor Ernest Borgnine passed away. On the following day, an American based vendor's blog had a post detailing the story of the actor - not by his achievements, but by the long list of records found on its site. Could it perhaps be an American thing? Sadly no. Today, with the announcement of the death of British news reader Alastair Burnett, a British vendor noted within hours that it was sad to hear of his loss on a social networking site, the comment accompanied by a full blown image of his birth index entry. 

An obituary is a wonderful way to commemorate the loss of a talent, to remind people why such a loss is indeed a loss. A cheap advert exploiting a tragedy just hours after the announcement of such a loss doesn't really impress quite so much... 


Monday, 18 June 2012

Going ape in Aberfoyle

It was Father's Day yesterday, so my son Calum and I did the Go Ape course at Aberfoyle in the Trossachs (  My arms are now killing me, but it was well worth it - nothing beats doing a zip slide over a valley and singing the James Bond theme as you go! I should add, it also reminded me that I was approaching 42 and not 22...! :)

As a professional genealogist, my only work related thought after a day's tree climbing, zipsliding, tunnel crawling and midge dodging was the following - thank goodness we evolved beyond the monkey stage! :)

Here, for your delectable pleasure, is a ten tonne genie hurling himself across the void...

Now - back to work!


Monday, 11 June 2012

Church of England disestablishment

I am fascinated by the news headlines in tomorrow's Times newspaper - Gay marriage law could divorce State from Church (also the BBC at Apparently the issue which has festered within the Anglican communion could lead to a religious armageddon - the article states that "senior church sources warned that if the legislation goes ahead as proposed, the only way forward will be to cut an important tie between Church and State. Divorcing the Church from its role as religious registrar for the State would not amount to total disestablishment, but it would be a significant step in that direction..."

The idea of the monarch being the head of the state church, which still exists in England, is one that baffles me. To me, the monarch is not in that position because of any divine appointment, but instead because one of his or her ancestors, Henry VIII, simply decided he was going to get a divorce and the Pope didn't agree with him! The absurdity of it to me is up there with the absurdity of maintaining a monarchy in the first place. Of course, here in Scotland it is not an issue, as the monarch is no longer the head of the state church, and has not been for centuries. As a non-Anglican with a Scottish and Ulster based Presbyterian background, I don't understand the logic behind maintaining the link. Other branches of my family though were, and still are, Anglican, and one member in particular is certainly an authority I am happy to draw inspiration from on the matter!

My second cousin once removed is the Venerable Michael Paton, former archdeacon of Sheffield Cathedral, and a man with whom I have in the past had the great honour to speak with and to receive correspondence from. Way back in 1958, Michael's brother David, later to become a chaplain of the present Queen, pulled together a publication (as editor of SCM Press) entitled Essays in Anglican Self-Criticism. Michael made a magnificent contribution entitled Can we Ignore the Establishment? in which he was highly critical of the link between state and church. He pointed out the arguments of critics - for example, "there is no constitutional reason why the Prime Minister should be a member of the Church of England, or indeed a Christian at all; yet even if he were a bitter enemy of the Church of God, he would still have virtually the final say in the choice of bishops for that Church". Against this he also outlined arguments in support - sure the PM would consult the Archbishop of Canterbury first, and disestablishment would lead to the Anglican Church merely becoming a sect. After comparing such arguments and many more on each side, Michael's opinion was that in fact most arguments work against the idea of Establishment, "for the hard fact is that in practice it works badly".

Amongst the many reasons he then discusses about why the Church was happy to establish the status quo was that concerning one of its greatest fears - the fear of splits: "this is the deepest of our fears, and the least acknowledged". He then stated that if the church did disestablish, it was assumed by many that all hell would break loose - "it seems to be assumed that the parties in the Church would instantly burst asunder: the Anglo-Catholics presumably to Rome, the opposite wing perhaps to one of the Free Churches, whilst the centre would be left, a pathetic remnant, to bear the sectarian name of Anglican".

Michael's final take on disestablishment was nevertheless very much in favour of it: "no doubt there would be some losses, at either end, of extremists: but what gains!" and "What new life it would give to our Church to recognise... the hypocrisy and falseness of our present position! We could then set about composing our differences under the guidance of the Holy Spirit (including common sense), instead of relying on the artificial constriction of an Establishment fashioned for quite different needs".

I am no Anglican - I am not even religious - but it strikes me that much of what Michael was writing about seems almost prophetic. His father William Paton was in fact a Presbyterian minister before him, and I do wonder if some of his father's impressions may have influenced his own opinions! Whatever the reason, what I read in Michael's writings from over half a century ago make as much sense to me now as it seemed to him back then - and far be it for me to argue with any member of my family described as 'venerable'...!


Sunday, 3 June 2012

An old photo album & the Comrie family

I received an extraordinary email a couple of years back from Susan Barnett in Dundee. I had picked up on a post that she had written on the Perthshire Rootsweb list concerning a photo album that she had discovered whilst clearing out the attic of the house in which she was residing. The album was not hers, but one that had lain forgotten in the attic from some previous owner. There were few details other than the fact that it involved a family by the name of COMRIE.

My five times great grandmother was a Janet McEWAN (1781 - bef 1851) from the Perthshire parish of Madderty, and she had a brother called Andrew McEWAN, who married Ann REID. One of their daughters, Annie McEWAN (1821-1873) married an Alexander COMRIE in 1843. As such, on a whim I contacted Susan and asked if she might send some more details. She kindly emailed me a few names mentioned inside, and several seemed familiar. I asked if it might be possible to see a scan or two of the images - instead, she offered to send me the album!

A few days later the album arrived, but as I worked my way through the pages I nearly jumped out of my seat - I had seen one of the images before! The Scottish Cultural Resources Network (, better known as SCRAN, has a series of images on its site from later generations of the COMRIE family at Drummie Farm in Fowlis Wester, as held by the National Museums of Scotland. Most of the images were from the early 20th century, with some that were from the late 19th Century, depicting both family gatherings and work based images from around the farm.

The following is a quick screengrab of some of the thumbnails:

One photo in particular, however, would confirm the link between the album and my family. It depicted the family of Alexander COMRIE and Mary PATERSON, from Perth, Scotland, alongside their children, Annie McCowan COMRIE, David Paterson COMRIE, Jessie Paterson Copeland COMRIE, Peter William  COMRIE, Helen Hardy COMRIE and Alexander COMRIE. Alexander COMRIE (snr) 1847-1913 was Janet McEWAN's great nephew. An almost exact copy of the same image appears on the SCRAN website, although was clearly taken as a separate photograph a minute or two before or after the other, as the hand positions and expressions are just slightly different, but the family is arranged in the exact same pose.

The family of Alexander Comrie and Mary Paterson

As I worked through the album several other images began to click into place - the family of John KINLOCH and his wife Annie COMRIE, the Reverend William COMRIE who emigrated to New Zealand and more. The images are truly superb, but some of them still remain unidentifiable. As such, I have now scanned them all and placed them onto a Flickr gallery at, with as much information as I have been able to glean from them.

If you have a connection to the family, feel free to use the images for your own research - and of course, if you are connected to my McEWAN line and its descendants, including the COMRIE line, do drop me a note! The information I have on the family so far can be viewed at

The Reverend William Comrie and his wife in Auckland, New Zealand


Friday, 1 June 2012

Jubilee - and winds of change

This weekend is the present British Queen's jubilee, where she celebrates 60 years of queening, a feat only previously matched by Queen Victoria. At a time when Britain is in its worst financial state for decades the national media - even lots of the Scottish media - is stuffed to the brim with coverage on how wonderful the institution of monarchy is, with extravagant and expensive celebrations in London and more to commemorate the event.

Yet all is not quite as it seems. In England and Wales some 6500 applications for street parties were made to local authorities to close streets off to have parties for the jubilee weekend - in Scotland, however, there were just a paltry 97 applications received. Of the 33 applications received in Edinburgh, only twenty were agreed, and in Glasgow, Scotland's largest city, just seven were agreed. In North Ayrshire, where I live, there is not a single official street party, a situation matched by 13 other local authorities across the country - Aberdeen, Argyll and Bute, Clackmannanshire, Dundee, East Dunbartonshire, Falkirk, Moray, North Lanarkshire, Orkney, Renfrewshire, West Dunbartonshire and the Western Isles. (Scottish Television has the story at (UPDATE: BBC Scotland news tonight claimed 9500 street parties in England, less than a hundred in Scotland - "Figures suggest the Scots haven't embraced the Diamond Jubilee as much as the south")

The Scottish independence campaign kicked off last week, but independence will not see a change to the status quo with regards to the monarchy. In this regard I actually disagree with the campaign, as I have always perceived the institution to be undemocratic. Yes campaign supporter Patrick Harvie of the Scottish Green Party has argued for the institution of monarchy to be consigned to history north of the border, and in this I am with him one hundred per cent. It's ironic that Alex Salmond and the SNP make the case that maintaining the Queen as the head of state in an independent Scotland would help to cement a social union with England, when the evidence of this weekend would seem to suggest that the majority of people living in Scotland just can't be bothered to actually celebrate what is certainly a historic occasion for the institution  itself. As with many other issues, on this there would appear to be an equal wind of change north of the border.

There are many ties that will forever unite us with England, even if and when we go our separate ways, not least of which the fact we share a small island together. But a democracy with an imposed head of state is not a true democracy. I certainly have nothing against the Queen on a personal level - as Billy Connolly once said "if anyone is going to save the Queen, God's the very chap!" - but if I cannot vote for her, I personally cannot view her as my head of state, despite the state imposing that on me. She is only my queen because I am told she is - it would appear to be a view shared by many across Scotland.

UPDATE: Looks like the First Minister is trying to apologise on behalf of Scotland with some interesting excuses! I suspect it will take a bit more than a few Lion Rampants, Alex, to get us to bite at the royal pie - but at least the chimps in Edinburgh are having fun! See

For a republican perspective on the jubilee, here's an interesting post also -

And see for how America views it all...


Sunday, 27 May 2012

Inveraray Castle

It's been a gorgeous few days in Scotland, with sizzling hot weather. The traditional response to such climatic conditions is to dive for cover in the heather and bracken, and hope it goes away until the welcome misery of the rains returns. But being only half Scottish, and ever optimistically half Northern Irish, I decided instead to go on a camping trip to Loch Lomond last night, followed by a trip earlier today to Inveraray.

The last time I visited Inveraray was to take part in a Most Haunted type scenario a couple of years ago, spending a night with my wife and a few others at the town jail in the hope of catching ourselves a wee banshee or two. As my wife put it, she went in a believer and came out a sceptic! (For a full account on the trip you can read my article in Discover my Past Scotland issue 20, June 2010, available at Today we decided instead to visit Inveraray Castle, home to the Dukes of Argyll, of the Campbell clan. I won't bore you with the history of the place (see, suffice to say the clan chief is still chiefing away - instead here's a few snaps!

Incidentally, Most Haunted visited the castle a couple of years ago, and all sorts allegedly happened! Whilst there today of course, we saw nothing. I think Inveraray ghosts suffer from Patonitis! Chris

Friday, 25 May 2012

Scottish Independence

Today saw the start of the Scottish independence campaign, a movement which, if successful in 2014, will see Scotland leave the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and become a self-governing nation once again, for the first time since the 1707 Act of Union was enacted. The "Yes" campaign website formally launched today at, with the BBC coverage of the launch event at

There's lots of work ahead on the political front for the independence movement, and the unionist case gets underway next month, which will no doubt be equally rigorous. It promises to be a fascinating two years ahead.

Having spent roughly a third of my life living in Northern Ireland, a third of it in England and a third in Scotland, I am minded towards Scottish independence for many reasons. From a genealogist's point of view, whether Scotland goes independent or not is almost irrelevant, as my daily work deals with our lives in the past, and that will always have been dominated politically by the union. As a father of two small boys, however, with an eye to their future, it's a very different story. For the past few years, Scotland has increasingly felt like a nation in transition, increasingly confident to follow its own path no matter what the rest of the UK has chosen to do.

Scotland will always be in Britain, and as such will always be British, with much in our shared history to admire. On a personal note, to the day I die I will maintain that there has never been a finer moment in the island's history than the Battle of Britain, fought predominantly in the south-east of England in 1940, the outcome of which would have had grave consequences for us all if it had been different. But whilst the past can be a great place to find comfort, there is also the here and now, and the future to consider. Where our future lies is now the biggest political question faced by my generation, and I am very much looking forward to the debate.


Saturday, 12 May 2012

The Commando Memorial at Spean Bridge

Last weekend on a visit to Inverness I finally stopped off at a monument I have wished to have a proper look at for years, having often passed by it on the road in the past. The Commando Memorial at Spean Bridge, unveiled in 1952 in memory of the commandos who trained in the area during the Second World War, is one of Scotland's most famous military memorials - it is also one of the most moving, with memorial crosses in the Garden of Remembrance filled with too many soldiers who have fallen recently in Afghanistan.

The following are some images taken at the site:


Wednesday, 9 May 2012

The MacGillivrays and Culloden

Last weekend I enjoyed a bank holiday break in the Inverness area with my wife and kids. I have several lines of family from the vicinity, including Frasers, Camerons, Munros, MacFarlanes and MacGillivrays, who endured many ups and downs in their lives, none perhaps worse than the death of my great great grandmother, Janet MacGillivray (nee Fraser), who committed suicide in 1860 at the Bridge of Tomnahurich in Inverness - she jumped into the Caledonian Canal and drowned, being so distraught at the death of her daughter during childbirth. But the real mission for me was to explore the ancestral area of my MacGillivrays, in the parish of Dores, for the first time.

My five times great grandfather James MacGillivray, from the farmstead of Dunchea in the parish of Dores, married Ann Cameron on May 1st 1772 at her home in nearby Ruthven, before the couple settled at Dunchea, and later at nearby Bochruben. Although a birth record for James cannot be found, he was likely born in approximately 1750, just a few years after the tragedy of Culloden. On Saturday I spent a couple of hours within the parish, and located the modern farmsteads at Bochruben, Ruthven and Dunchea, within some of the most stunningly bleak landscape I have yet found in the country. There was light snow, and a biting wind - life would not have been easy back in the mid 18th century.

Whilst I have located several vital events shortly after 1750 for members of the MacGillivrays in Dunchea, almost certainly related to my family in such a small area, the records are sadly quite limited before this, mainly because most of the members of the clan back then were adherents to the Scottish Episcopal Church, the former aspect of the Church of Scotland prior to 1690 which continued in an independent form after the Glorious Revolution, and which remained staunchly Jacobite in its support. But what I had not previously realised prior to my visit was just how close to the centre of the MacGillivray clan territory my family locations were.

The chiefs of MacGillivray were based for centuries at Dunmaglass, in the nearby parish of Daviot and Dunlichity, and just over a mile and a half from Ruthven and a couple of miles from Dunchea. In 1746, Alexander MacGillivray of Dunmaglass led the Jacobite charge of the Clan Chattan confederation, of which the MacGillivrays were a long standing member, against the Hanoverian army at Culloden, where he lost his life. Realising just how close my family now was to the clan seat, I wondered what the chances were of my lot being caught up?

I visited Culloden, and purchased a copy of No Quarter Given: the Muster Roll of Prince Charles Edward Stuart's Army, 1745-46. The list of those who fought for Lady Mackintosh's Regiment, led by MacGillivray, records 26 MacGillivrays and several Camerons. Their places of origin were listed, with four MacGillivrays from Dunmaglass, a John MacGillivray from Aberarder, and a couple of Camerons from Dalcrombie, on the other side of Loch Ruthven from the farmstead at Ruthven where Ann hailed from.

James MacGillivray named his first son Donald, and my family, stuck almost religiously to the Scottish naming pattern, and so it is likely that my six times great grandfather was called Donald MacGillivray also. The name was certainly important, with a John MacGillivray also christening his son Donald in 1760 at Dunchea, and a possible sibling to James called Donald, also from Dunchea, marrying an Elizabeth MacGillivray of Gortleg in the same year. Of the 26 MacGillivrays at Culloden, six were Donalds, all from farmsteads in the area. Could one of these have been my ancestor, or related to him perhaps as a cousin?

Whether any of my ancestors were at Culloden I may well never know, but my family in Dores would almost certainly have suffered the same persecutions after Culloden as did all the Highlanders, being prevented from speaking Gaelic, wearing tartan plaids, carrying weapons and more. Having visited the area now, and having realised that many of the homes of those who were confirmed as having fought at Culloden were within walking distance of my ancestors' homes, it is almost certain that they at least knew many of those who fought there. Whilst I have no love for Bonnie Prince Charlie - or any monarch for that matter - I do have a lot of admiration for the loyalty of the MacGillivrays who fought and in many cases died on Drumossie Moor in April 1746.

Cuimhnich air na daoine o'n d'thàinig thu - here's to the MacGillivrays...

Touch Not This Cat Bot a Glove


Culloden - where Alexander MacGillivray fell

Dunchea - possibly the original farm (the RCAHMS has aerial photos showing imprints of a couple more nearby no longer in existence)

Bochruben farmstead

Ruthven (Loch Ruthven behind)

UPDATE (18 JUN 21012): My wife and I were so impressed with the visitor centre at Culloden that we made a donation of £50 towards its upkeep - in return we get to have our names put on the ceiling in its cafe! A pic was sent to me today showing the new addition - if you wish to contribute, please visit the centre's page at


Sunday, 25 March 2012

Lance Corporal Robert Currie MM

I've been researching my family history for 12 years now, and am still finding all sorts of extraordinary stories. One of those concerns the discovery in the last few days of a first cousin of my grandmother Jean Paton (nee Currie), who I never knew existed - Robert Currie.

Robert was born in Glasgow in 1882, the son of Jackson Currie and Eliza Armstrong. Jackson died in 1891 and Eliza in 1898, leading Robert and siblings Jane and George to emigrate to Canada. Robert signed up to the Canadian Expeditionary Force from his home in Norman, Kenora, Ontario, and would be awarded the Military Medal for bravery in an action in 1918. Sadly he lost his life in September 1918 whilst storming the Drocourt-Queant Line near Arras with his battalion. His achievement and eventual death were recorded on October 3rd 1918 in the Kenora Miner and News. Sincere thanks to Becky Johnson in Ontario for her help in locating this article, and to the Your Family Tree magazine forum at which allowed us to establish the connection between the Robert Currie she was researching on her local war memorial, and my family.


Mrs J. Holmes, Norman Receives Medal Won by Her Brother and An Account of Gallant Action

Mrs J. Holmes, Norman, this week received the Military Medal won by her gallant brother the late Lce.-Cpl. Robert Currie, in action in France. It was forwarded to her through the General Officer Commanding Military District No. 10, who says "In forwarding this decoration I desire to express my appreciation of the gallant conduct displayed by your brother on the field of battle, which merited the award of this military medal."

The following extract from the London Gazette, gives a short account of his conduct for which he was awarded the decoration:

"Lnc-Corpl. Currie, 199201, 16th Can. Infantry battalion - For his great bravery and personal initiative on Feb. 13. 1918. He commanded one of the leading sections of the raid and when unanticipated wire was encountered wire was encountered he showed great pluck in getting his men through the three lines of wire and rushing the German trench.

"With a shower of rifle grenades the gunners were chased to their dugouts and the way made clear for the whole party. Lnce.Corpl Currie then led his party down the German front line bombing dug-outs and inflicting a great many casualties. He brought back one prisoner. His section and the wounded were withdrawn with the utmost precision under his direction."

Mrs Holmes also received the following letter from Lieut. Elliott, giving an account of the death of her brother in action on September 2nd:

16th Batt. Can. Scottish, B.E.F.

Sept. 11th. 1918

Your Family Tree issue 120 - illustration
accompanying article on Robert
Dear Mrs Holmes - I thought you might like to hear about your brother Robert Currie from his platoon officer. I have just got back to the regiment from the hospital as I was wounded in the previous action on the 8th. Since my return I have been making enquiries so as to get some information. I find that Bob went over with his section and just before half way to the objective the platoon was stopped for a few minutes by a burst of machine gun bullets. Sgt. Earwaker says that Bob was killed instantaneously. I am glad to find that he had no suffering, it must have been just like stepping into Heaven. Bob was one of my best N.C.O.s was a clean lad in every way and was noticed amongst the brave lads for his coolness. he was always in good humour and knew how to take the rough with the smooth. It is very hard to lose him, and you have my deep sympathy as you have lost a very gallant brother. I was mighty proud of the platoon, even if the place was warm, they allways followed without hesitiation. Bob has done his big share towards the peace of the world.

Yours very sincerely


The history of my Currie family, originally from Maghera in County Londonderry in Ireland, is commemorated at

UPDATE: Since this first post I have managed to establish considerably more on Robert's story and service with the Canadian 94th and 16th Battalions, as well as his connections to Glasgow and Ireland. As a result an article was published about Robert in Your Family Tree magazine issue 120, and now the final part of the picture has come to light, again thanks to Becky's continued efforts in Canada. A photograph of Robert with fellow members of the 94th Battalion has been identified in the Lake of the Woods Museum, Kenora, Ontario, and is presented here with grateful thanks to both Becky and the museum. Robert is the second from the left in the back row.
Robert Currie with 94th battalion, back row, 2nd from left
(with kind permission of Lake of the Woods Museum, Kenora)


Monday, 20 February 2012

Charles Paton in the RAF

I never knew my grandfather, but the more I learn about him the more I wish I had. Born in 1905 in Brussels, Belgium, to two Scottish parents, he spent his early childhood in Belgium before visiting Scotland for at least two years, where he is found in the Inverness school record books and later the 1911 Glasgow census. By 1911 he had returned to Belgium and was trapped in Brussels throughout the war as an enemy civilian, along with his parents, a brother and sister (with his father dying in 1916 whilst avoiding internment, and his brother subsequently interned a few months later).

After the war Charlie moved to Glasgow, married a Glaswegian born daughter of Ulster immigrants, and moved to Northern Ireland in the late 1930s, where he pops up in several trade directories and the 1939 National Register. In 1942 his house was then blitzed by the Germans. After this trade directories noted his involvement with the RAF.

Until last year I knew little of his RAF service, but managed to obtain his service record, which showed that he had initially served with the Volunteer Reserve before transferring to the main body of the RAF after the war. In the last week the National Archives has now made Squadron Operations books available, prompting me to have another wee look at what he got up to.

On December 6th 1943, Charles (pictured standing on the right of this photo) joined the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve as an Aircrafthand/Wireless Operator (AC2), enlisting at "Edin/8 R & DC", presumably at a base in Edinburgh, Scotland. Charlie’s record shows that his service number was 1828704, and that his previous occupation in civilian life, surprisingly, was a utility man (labourer) in the rubber tyre making industry. The employer was noted as based in "Ind. KA. L279" (presumably an India rubber company?). Absolutely nothing else of this is known about, but it may be that this was some form of war work, as both prior to the war, and after leaving the RAF, he was noted as a wireless shop manager in various records. His home address upon attestation was listed as 187 1/2 Dalmarnock Road, Glasgow, c/o Currie, therefore the home of his in-laws, though his next of kin was noted as his wife, Mrs J. Paton, resident at 42 Whitewell Crescent, Belfast. Did Charlie come to Scotland to enlist, or was he already here when deciding to join up? Charlie’s physical description was given as 6 foot and a half inch tall, a chest size of 33 1/2 inches, with brown hair, blue eyes and a fresh complexion. Under marks, scars etc it states "Vac. 1 L.A.", presumably a note of a vaccination. His date of birth is confirmed as May 24th 1905 and in Brussels, Belgium, though his nationality was given as British, whilst his National Registration number was again noted as UAFH 849/1. A previous medical on November 9th showed his medical category as "Grade II (A) ft".

On Feb 3rd 1944, Charlie was posted to "13 RS", location unknown, and from May 3rd was working at Central Depot, Colnbrook, Buckinghamshire, not far from Windsor. On June 23rd he was transferred to 5358 Wing. This group was one of the Aircraft Construction Service wings equipped with mechanical plant and specialist quarrying and construction units, which was employed in expanding and improving airfields all over the country. 5358 Wing was comprised of 5024, 5025, 5026 and 5207 Squadrons. When Charlie joined, it was in the immediate aftermath of D-Day (June 6th). Most ACS Wings took part in the Normandy landings, but there is some confusion about Charlie’s movements here. An article in an online magazine called Line of Communications (issue 2 September 2007) states that 5358 Wing was "formed in 1945... to construct airfields for the RAF on Okinawa and was en route there when the war ended". But Charlie’s record clearly states him to have been with the wing from June 23rd - was he therefore in Normandy? Still working on that!

On October 31st 1944 Charlie was posted to HQ No. 33 Base (a), RAF Waterbeach, and then rejoined 5358 Wing on December 9th. On April 1st 1945 he was promoted to AC1, and on April 28th was specifically assigned to 5025 Squadron within the wing. On July 3rd he was then posted to 5011 Squadron, within 5351 Wing. It is believed this was based in Britain. Just over two weeks later, on July 20th Charlie was posted to "11 EU", where he spent the next fifteen months. During this period, on November 1st 1945, Charlie was promoted to be a Leading Aircrafthand. From April 24th 1946 to May 13th 1946 Charlie qualified to become a French Instructor (Class C), having attended an EVT Instructors Course No. 25 at RAF Barton Hall. Just a few months later, on October 14th 1946, he was formally discharged from the RAF Volunteer Reserve.

That wasn't quite the end of it though – on the following day, Charlie re-engaged with the RAF, at his last RAFVR post at 11 EU on October 15th, and continued to serve there. From December 6th-19th 1947 he was granted re-engagement leave. After the war (and perhaps during as well), Charlie apparently used to bring his children and his wife over to Scotland on holiday once a year. One of his nieces, Sheena, daughter of his brother John, has memories of him coming to visit them at their home in 1947, in the aftermath of her father's death, and remembers him making frequent visits right up until she was about ten years old, which may imply that he based himself in Scotland during periods of leave. Sheena describes him as having been a really handsome man, and always a good laugh when he visited her house.

On January 15th 1947 Charlie was again promoted to the rank of Corporal (T/Cpl), and from February 18th to March 3rd he was again granted 14 days End of War leave. On August 18th 1947 he was transferred to "HQ RAF, NI Unit". Following four more days End of War leave from October 25th, he joined 82 Squadron at RAF Benson in South Oxfordshire, and on January 28th 1948 was further transferred to RAF Station Eastleigh, near Nairobi in Kenya, for the next eight months. According to his daughter Sheila, Charlie had once stated to her that he had been somewhat sad that he had not been able to bring his house boy with him to his next post, having grown fond of him during his stay there.

From September 28th Charlie was then posted in West Africa, and on October 1st he was further promoted to the rank of Sergeant [A/Sgt (PO)]. On December 6th he was awarded a Good Conduct Badge, displayed as an inverted chevron on the cuff of his left jacket sleeve, which was awarded after receiving three years consistent Very Good appraisals, and which entitled him to an extra 3d a day "good conduct pay" (3s 6d a week). On December 18th 1948, he was admitted to the "Eur. Hosp." (European Hospital) in Takoradi, and discharged three days later on the 21st. No reason is given, but at this point the Squadron Operations Records provide some useful detail:

“The morale and health of the Squadron has on the whole been good. Fifty airmen reported sick during the month and 11 were admitted to the Hospital in Takoradi. It was found that no less than 44% of those treated were victims of some kind of skin disease, 12% minor injuries and 10% ear trouble and 8% tonsolitis, 2 cases of dysentery were treated, and thanks to paladrine, only once case of malaria.
“Xmas period found the detachments very content to stay put and not return to Takoradi. At Takoradi a good programme was arranged, excellent food laid on, and all ranks participated heartily, if somewhat beerily”
(AIR 27/2436)

Although Charles is not named, the records provide details on his squadron’s mission in Africa, which was essentially to carry out aerial survey work across the Gold Coast. It was based in separate camps at Takoradi and Lagos, as well as Lungi (Freetown), from which Dakotas and Lancasters were sent up in repeated sorties to photographically survey the West African topography, though on many days cloud cover frustrated their attempts to get airborne.

On February 18th 1949 Charlie was prepared for Home Embarkation at 5 Personnel Dispatch Centre. Four days later, on February 22nd 1949, Charlie took up his next post at the Air Sea Warfare Development Unit at RAF Ballykelly, County Londonderry, Northern Ireland. The base had actually closed at the end of the war but had been re-opened in 1947 as the home of the RAF Joint Anti-Submarine School, a training flight flying Avro Shackleton aircraft. Charlie spent the next 20 months here, with only one major two weeks period of End of War leave from July 3rd 1949. He was finally discharged from RAF Whole Time Service on October 14th 1950.

The release of the Squadron Operations Records is a useful resource in terms of background reading on the squadrons’ monthly movements, though it can be expensive. Each document costs £3.50 each, and in some instances I have found four documents a month, so it may take some time to get through all the relevant records unless I can get to visit Kew at some point. Nevertheless, they are another useful resource, slowly adding a bit more detail to Charlie’s career. He eventually passed away in Northern Ireland in the late 1980s.

Obviously if anyone knew of him during his service I'd love to hear from you!


Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Marriages in Scots

Although this took place two years ago, the marriage of Colin Wilson and Fiona Henderson has just been tweeted by @scotslanguage on Twitter. It shows footage of the first non-religious wedding ceremony to take place in Scotland in the language of Scots, more specifically the Doric of the north-east, rather than in English. It apparently took some organising as the couple were first refused permission to have the ceremony carried out in their own tongue, but subsequently received an apology from the Registrar General over the issue. The full story is at

Scots wedding from scotslanguage on Vimeo.

(The exchange of vows is about 5 minutes in!)

For those not in the know, Scots is not the same language as Scottish Gaelic (Gaidhlig), but a separate dialect of the old Germanic tongue that later became English. It was actually referred to as 'Ynglis' or 'English' in Scotland in medieval times, but over time evolved separately to its southern linguistic neighbour. Gaelic ironically used to be referred to as 'Scottish' but later was given the more derogatory title of 'Erse' (meaning 'Irish'), with 'Ynglis' becoming known as 'Scots'. The wedding above now apparently sets a precedent in Scotland for others to be able to do the same.

Incidentally, when it comes to civil marriage, Scotland again differs, as in so many areas legally and genealogically, with the rest of Britain. In England and Wales you could marry in a civil ceremony from July 1837, with the establishment of civil registration. In Scotland, it did not happen until the Marriage (Scotland) Act of 1939 established the practice, despite the commencement of civil registration in 1855. The reason was simple - we didn't need it. You'll often read in family history books and publications that 'irregular' marriage, i.e. a ceremony performed without the prior proclamation of banns (or marriage license) and by the Church of England, ended with Lord Hardwicke's Act of 1753. Again, this was only in England and Wales, with this English law not having any relevance to Scotland at all (with the exception of driving hundreds of elopers over the border to Gretna and other border marriage centres!). Irregular marriage here continued mainly until the reforms of marriage law in Scotland in 1939, and even then was not totally abolished - it was not until the Family Law (Scotland) Act of 2006 that it completely went away, with the abolition of 'marriages by cohabitation and repute'.

So there you go - Happy Valentine's Day!


Monday, 13 February 2012

Doctor Who Do You Think You Are?

I love it when worlds collide! One of my passions apart from genealogy is cult television, particularly shows from the 60s such as The Prisoner and Doctor Who. Earlier today I purchased a DVD of an old William Hartnell Doctor Who story from 1964, the ninth story ever made, entitled The Sensorites. Little did I know that I was about to watch a half hour of genealogy related programming...

It seems that the writer of the episode, Peter R. Newman, had only once written a story for the series. As a consequence very little was known about his career, and so the DVD makers, funded by the BBC, decided to commission a special feature as an extra to try to find out more about him. In the feature the presenter tried to find out about Newman by first visiting Westminster Registry Office to locate his death certificate from 1975. Further investigation then took him to meet the archivist of the old Hammer films studios at Shepperton Studios, where it was discovered that Newman had written a war film of all things for Hammer, but had later priced himself out of the market as a writer.

Following his story for Doctor Who nothing further was known about him. Tracing his parents back to Ilford in Essex through his birth certificate the presenter established the names of several siblings, and through investigation into local electoral registers for the area he then traced the writer's sister and niece, who recalled his final days. Having developed writer's block Newman had taken up a job as a porter at the Tate Gallery, but had later collapsed from a cerebral haemorrhage in 1975 and died. The feature ended with the presenter interviewing the niece, and her comments that he would have been delighted that a show written for children almost 50 years should still see his name discussed all these years later. The presenter concluded the piece by then listening to an audio recording made by the writer in the 1960s, in which he had recited some Shakespeare.

Completely unexpected - who needs a celebrity for an interesting genealogy show?!

Now to the main feature....! :)


Sunday, 12 February 2012

Rottnest Island cemetery

In the summer of 2007 I visited Perth, Western Australia, with my wife and two sons, as part of a three week holiday. During the trip we spent two days on Rottnest Island, just an hour or so away from Freemantle, and whilst there I came across the most amazing wee cemetery, which was just begging to be photographed! I previously hosted photos and a summary of those buried on my old genealogy research website, but here it is presented once more.

Thirteen people are believed to have been buried in the cemetery, though the names of only seven are known:

Luke ANKERMAN Drowned 19th Dec 1883 Age unknown

Henry PHILLIPS 7th B. Rifle Brigade Died 1st Nov 1862 Age 46 years
Emily SHEA Died 1869 Age 9 years
Queenie GURNEY Died 3rd Nov 1893 Age 6 years 4 months
Florence Mary STORRS Died 10th May 1898 Age 10 1/2 weeks
Patrick William O' DONOGHUE Died 13th Jan 1899 Age 10 weeks
Henry HALL (Father a warder) Died Unknown Age 26 days

To learn more about Rottnest Island, visit the following Wikipedia link: Rottnest Island

The following are the photos of their graves - click on each to enlarge.


Saturday, 11 February 2012

Land inheritance in Scotland

I'll be writing a book soon for Unlock the Past ( on Scottish land records, but thought I'd do a quick post on the fundamentally big differences between Scottish land and property inheritance and the situation around the rest of the British Isles.

When Scots died in the past, their assets comprised of moveable and immoveable goods - things pinned down and things not pinned down - or the house, as an example, on one hand, and its contents on the other. Coats of arms were also classed as 'heritable' property (and just to clarify, there is ABSOLUTELY no such thing as a 'family coat of arms' - use someone else's coat of arms, even if he or she has your surname, and you're breaking Scots Law). Houses and land fell into the 'immoveable' or 'heritable' goods category, and prior to 1868 could not be directly bequeathed in a will, unlike the rest of the British Isles, thanks to Scots Law dealing with the matter in a different way to English Law. (There were exceptions, such as 'trust dispositions' from the 19th century on, but let's not muddy the water just yet!)

If you couldn't leave land in a will then, it had to be disposed of in a separate manner. Until 1964 primogeniture operated in Scotland, the right of the eldest son to inherit land and property, and his dad's coats of arms etc. In the past, the way that the formal inheritance of land worked involved the heir having to prove that he (and sometimes she) was the legitimate heir of the deceased, but how you did that depended on who your 'feudal superior' was. We had a very long, complicated and brilliantly fascinating land system based on feudalism until 2004, which basically ensured that there was a long chain of people looking after land through a web of supervision all the way back up to God.

Here's the definition of feudalism in a nutshell - God was a busy chap, so let the monarch look after Scotland for him - except he was too busy off shooting wild boar and grouse. To keep the house in order he in turn carved Scotland up into vast tracts of land known as 'feus', and let a few earls and nobles look after them on his behalf. In return they paid him a tribute for the privilege, which was known as a 'feu duty' - this initially comprised of them volunteering some of their tenants to go off and get hacked to death on the king's behalf when he lost his temper with an enemy or two. Later everyone realised paying a sum of money would be a lot more civilised and would save on the body count - the king could also now just buy boar and grouse with the proceeds, so turned his attention to shooting deer and pheasants (not to be confused with 'peasants') instead. The nobles were also fairly busy, so they in turn kept on carving up their territories into smaller portions, with those looking after the land on their behalf giving them a feu duty also, which the nobles would pass part of back to the king. The land was in turn divided again and again until it became impossible to carve up further (unless you are my eldest son, who in 2000 apparently became the laird of one square foot of the Isle of Islay!). As long as the feu duties kept passing up the chain, everyone was happy. Feudalism was not the only way that land was managed in Scotland, but was almost universally the main method until finally abolished in 2004.

Lots of land was 'feued' directly from the Crown - in which case the Crown was the feudal superior (i.e. the person above you in the chain). Other lands were feued from one of a series of middle men beneath the king, as described above, who were known as 'subject superiors' or 'intermediate lawful superiors'. So how you formally inherited land - who you had to prove your entitlement to inherit to - depended very much on whether your superior was the Crown or a subject superior.

The first thing to note though is that when someone died, the heir actually immediately became what was legally known as an apparent heir, and had certain rights from the start. He or she could actually take possession of the property immediately, and assume various responsibilities (for debts etc). The problem was an apparent heir could not pass on the property himself unless he completed the process of inheritance.

That's where the type of superior comes in. If it was one of the middlemen, the subject superiors, all you had to do was to obtain a document from him that showed that he (it was mainly a he!) recognised that you were the lawful heir. This document was known as a precept of clare constat which basically started its wording along the following lines:

"___ having, &c, the said precept of seisin, commonly called a precept of clare constat, made and granted by an honourable genetleman A of___ , in favour of the said B of ____ , as heir to the said umquhile D of ____ , his father, of all haill the lands, annual rent, and others under written, of the date, tenor and contents after written".  [Followed by the description of the property etc]

There is no register of such documents unfortunately, as they are scattered all over the place in estate papers, dusty cellars, solicitors offices and probably in a few compost heaps - assuming they've survived at all. However, anytime land was transferred, whether by purchase or by inheritance, it had to be entered into the Registers of Sasines which can be consulted either in Edinburgh or at a local county archive (depending on the type of register - again, let's not go there for now!). So usually if land was inherited after a precept of clare constant was issued, you'll find it mentioned in the sasine record. Here's an example of a sasine abridgement that does that:

MARION McKECHNIE, spouse of Hugh Paton, Grocer, Largs, as heir to John McKECHNIE, Grocer and Manufacturer there, her father, Seised, in the half of a Dwelling House with Byre and Yard at the back thereof on the north side of the Street of LARGS, and of a Barn extending to about 10 Feet in length adjoining, par. Largs; on Pr. Cl. Con. by Gen. Sir Thomas Makdougall Brisbane of Makerstoun and Brisbane, Sept. 21. 1849 P. R. 353.249.

[Pr. Cl. Con = precept of clare constat]

NB: Other documents would be involved possibly also, with Godforsaken names such as writs of clare constat and charters of confirmation, but the bottom line is you'll find evidence for them in the sasine registers, not in some dedicated central register for heirs.

If the Crown was the superior, however, it was a different kettle of fish. You instead had to do something a little different, and go through a process called the Services of Heirs to prove you were the legitimate heir. This was a jury of local landowners who would take a decision as to whether you were who you said you were. If they agreed, they 'retoured' their decision to the Chancery, and you were recognised as the lawful heir and could take full and formal possession, no longer as just an 'apparent heir'. The Services of Heirs are therefore also known as the retours (Scots word for 'returns'), and these judgements are today held at the National Records of Scotland (there are exceptions, such as areas known as regalities not having to retour their findings, and some local courts forgetting to send the records through etc etc - but you get the song now, "let's not go there for now"!). There were two types of retour - general retour and special retour, basically dependant on whether the heir was about to be made infeft into land left by his ancestor, or simply needing to be recognised as an heir (e.g. to inherit a heritable benefit not involving his predecessor's land, such as a heritable bond, or if simply needing proof to convince a subject superior that he or she was who they claimed to be, in order to receive a precept of clare constat).

(It's also worth noting that the retours were also used to record the appointment of tutors for minors - via 'brieves of tutory' - when they succeeded an ancestor but were too young to take full possession of an estate - but that's another story for another day!)

On the whole the retours or services of heirs were indexed in the 19th century, with records from 1530-1699 indexed between 1811 and 1815, and records from 1700-1859 indexed in 1860. After this they were indexed annually. The indexes from 1530-1859, as with the later indexes, are available for consultation at the NRS, though it's worth mentioning they aren't quite complete - in the annual index for 1906 there are in fact five pages added which contain details of missed entries for material from 1700-1859. The indexes from 1530-1699 and 1700-1859 are also available on CD now from the Scottish Genealogy Society (

An index entry for a retours / services judgement would typically be as follows:

Paton – Marion: Wife of H. Paton, Grocer in Largs, to her father, John McKechnie, Weaver there – Heir General – 6th October 1849 (Recorded 1849, Oct. 12)

The eagle-eyed among you will notice this is actually the same piece of land being described above with the precept of clare constant. Some people actually went through both just to be super-sure, getting a court to back up the position as well as the local superior.

There was actually a third method by which an heir could secure his or her position. The following quote comes from A Dictionary of the Law of Scotland from 1815 (available on Google Books at, and describes the third process that could be undergone by the apparent heir:

"...he may give a trust bond to a confidential friend, who, having charged him to enter, may adjudge, and in that way acquire a title by an adjudication, which will enable him, without representing the ancestor, to try the effect of any right the ancestors may have given; and having cleared the estate of any claims, the adjudger may transfer to the heir the whole right under the adjudication."

So there you have it, a ready reckoner to the simplicity of Scottish land inheritance...! (You'll notice I quickly left the last bit!) It's actually a lot more complicated than all of that, with different types of heirs, such as heirs portioners, heirs of tailzie, and more, but this is the basic backdrop guiding it all. Thankfully from 1868 onwards you could just chuck it all in a will and deal with it that way - but there was a certain elegance to the old system!

I'll be dealing with Scottish land records and inheritance in my forthcoming Scotland 1750-1850: Beyond the OPRs course taught through Pharos Teaching and Tutoring Ltd from May 16th - see Prior to that though I will be teaching a more introductory course entitled Scottish Research Online from March 8th - see Both courses cost £45.99 and last 5 weeks.

Hopefully see a few of you there!

UPDATE: The book is now available from - from sasines to skat, and retours to tailzies, it's all in there! :)