Monday, 9 December 2013

RIP Mum: Charlotte Harper Graham 1950-2013

On Thursday November 28th 2013, my mother, Charlotte Harper Graham, better known to everyone as Cherie, passed away at the age of 63 after a battle with bladder cancer. Married first to my father and subsequently to Jim, my mum was one of those rare people you find in life: someone with a mad sense of humour, a deep sense of charity, an inner strength that carried her through when the chips were down - and huge hair! Sadly she was diagnosed with bladder cancer in May of this year, and despite a valiant fight against the tumour, it was one battle that would ultimately get the better of her. In her last moments I was seated beside her in her house in Manchester, telling her about her two grandsons and their latest school achievements, and I watched as she slipped away peacefully before me.

Mum and brother in Carrick
Mum was born in Carrickfergus, County Antrim, Northern Ireland on 29th June 1950, and was named after her grandmother Charlotte Harper Graham (nee Montgomery). Her mother was Martha Jane Elizabeth Watton Bill Smyth, a doffer from the mills of Belfast, and her father Ernest Graham, a boilermaker from the city. She spent most of her childhood in Carrickfergus, but as a wee girl in the early 1950s she spent some ten or eleven months in South Africa, where her father had gained work on a construction project, although was forced with her family to leave suddenly as apartheid legislation and its opposition intensified.

When quite young Mum's parents separated, and she was then raised by her mother alongside her siblings. She attended Sunnylands Primary School until 1961, and then Carrickfergus Intermediate Secondary Modern School, where she stayed until 1966. She was always proud that in her last year at school she came first in her class with English, Maths, French, History, Geography, Science, Domestic Science and Religious Education, and throughout her school years she loved playing netball for the school team. As a teenager Mum was a member of the Girls Brigade at Joymount Presbyterian Church, which she attended every Tuesday night for five years, until she turned 14, whereupon she left and joined the Girl Guides.

In Salia Avenue, Carrickfergus
In 1966, Martha moved the family to 12 Salia Avenue in Sunnylands, Carrickfergus, the first house for the family to have central heating installed, which was necessary because my Uncle Mark was severely disabled. Mum had many fond memories of Mark, stating that he was the only subject in their lives that the family never fought over. One of Mum's greatest regrets was not being able to join the Queen Alexander's Nursing Corps, within the Royal Navy, as she was needed at home to help with Mark. Aged sixteen she took a job at Simpson's Drapery Store on West Street in Carrickfergus, where she sold wool, buttons etc, working five days a week, Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, with Wednesday off. After three years working in the shop, she left and took up work in Belfast's prestigious Robinson Cleevers store, on Royal Avenue. However, when the Troubles started up in 1969, she quit the job, finding that Belfast was too dangerous a place for her to work in.

Wedding day, 1969
In 1969, a couple of days after her close brother Billy emigrated from Ireland to Melbourne in Australia, Mum married my father, a submariner, at Joymount Presbyterian Church. One of her funniest memories from the day was after they had subsequently all gone for a meal at the Coast Road Hotel. My grandmother Jean was about to wash my father's shirt, when Mum stopped her, telling her that she was now Mrs. Paton, and it was her job!

Just three weeks after the wedding Mum had to relocate to Barrow-in-Furness in England, where my father was posted, setting up home at 5 Torridge Drive, a three bedroomed house in the town's naval accommodation area. She took up work at a sewing factory in Barrow, and then at a men's drapery shop, but soon found herself pregnant with me. She returned to Carrickfergus to be looked after by her family, and I was duly born in late 1970.

Mum, myself & brother in Helensburgh
As a family we then moved to Helensburgh in Scotland, another naval posting, where my brother and sister soon arrived in due course. One of the funniest (and slightly alarming!) stories concerning my mum and myself occurred here. On one occasion Mum took me shopping with her, and whilst doing her messages she went into a butcher's shop. She parked her pram, went inside, bought her messages, left the building, got onto a bus and made her way home. Forgetting one thing, of course - me! When she got home, she suddenly realised what she had done, and in a mad panic, made her way back into town, to find me outside the shop where she had left me. (Talk about suffering from abandonment issues!)

As a family we relocated to Plymouth, another naval posting, where my youngest brother was duly born. Not long after, however, her relationship with my father began to deteriorate, and by 1978 the two decided to separate. My youngest brother and sister went with her back to Carrickfergus, whilst my father retained custody of myself and my other brother. Not long after we also returned to Carrick.

Mum lived initially in North Street, in a flat over a butcher's shop, and then in a house at Rosebrook Avenue, and gained work in a chip shop in the town. The split with my father had been quite a messy affair, and a consequence of that was that we were initially not allowed to visit her, despite Mum living about a mile or so from us. But nothing was going to stop me from meeting my mother! On a couple of occasions I met up with her and my two youngest siblings in secret for picnics - on one of these occasions, thanks to a late newspaper delivery for my paper round, I was late for our meeting at Legg Park, and by the time I got there she had gone. I ran all the way up to her street and caught up with her just before she reached her house - we ended up having the picnic in her living room.

Glenfield 1999
In the early 1990s, Mum moved to a house in the Glenfield estate, and became an enthusiastic member of the Church of the Nazarene, where she worked as a youth leader in the church's Caravaners organisation, teaching children on week nights and then taking them away on annual camps in Northern Ireland. It was here that a true friendship was formed with Violet - two peas in a pod!

Mum continued to work hard in her chip shop in Sunnylands, and fortunately by the time I had become a teenager any such prohibition on visiting her was set aside. Each weekend when I finished my paper round job, I would pop in and get one of her legendary pastie bap suppers, and would regularly visit her at home. It's fair to say my parents still had their issues between them, but a consequence of that was that for many years, to keep both of them happy, I would eat two Christmas dinners on Christmas Day, and two Christmas puddings. Life was tough!

In Oz
When I gained a place in 1991 on a degree course at a university in Bristol, for which I received no grant or fees funding in the first year (long story!), Mum gave me an envelope a day before I got the ferry to England, which was stuffed with £200. Mum's earnings were limited, and she had full time care of two of my siblings, but she had still been scrimping and saving hard for months to try and give me some help. Very grateful for this, I promised that at some point after I graduated, I would send her to Australia to see her brother as a way of saying thanks. In the summer of 1998, I finally sent her on her way to Melbourne, where she had a ball for three weeks, attending barbecues, sight-seeing, and just plain catching up with the whole Aussie experience. She brought me back a pair of Aboriginal sticks as a souvenir - I still haven't a clue what they are supposed to be used for!

Mum's and Jim's wedding in 2002
The trip was quite a life changer for Mum, for no sooner had she returned to Ireland than in June 1999, she decided to move to Wolverhampton in England to start life afresh with her new partner Jim, whom she married a few years later at Beckminster Methodist Church in the city. She settled in Bristol Street, across the road from my sister, who had been to university in Wolverhampton. Whilst here she and Jim decided to take up foster caring with the Swiis agency, and between them over the next decade they raised over thirty six children for the agency, with some children in long term care, and others on a much shorter term basis.

Mum became a granny for the first time in 2000 with the arrival of my first son, and again four years later with the arrival of my second son. It's safe to say she spoiled them rotten! In 2006 she and Jim moved north to Manchester, where they continued to foster children for Swiis. A wall in her house here recorded every child she and Jim raised through a series of portrait photos - in every one of them there is a smile.

At my brother's wedding - clan matriarch!
In May 2013, Mum learned that she had advanced stage bladder cancer, but was determined to fight it. She went through a course of radiotherapy to try to reduce the tumour before its removal, but it was a fight against time which took its toll. In the summer her spirits were kept high by the arrival of a third grandchild, my brother's daughter Pippa, and even as her health declined she was adamant that she was still going to my brother's wedding in Portsmouth in October, which she did. On board HMS Warrior they married, but my mother was equally the belle of the ball, proudly watching as they exchanged vows.

A couple of weeks later I went with Mum to Christie's hospital in Manchester where we learned the disastrous news that her cancer was by now terminal. Even then she was determined to fight it, and we planned to have a massive family get together at Christmas, which she was looking forward to immensely. Sadly her health declined very quickly, before she passed away on November 28th.

Mum had a sense of humour without parallel, which she passed onto us. When she had a minor heart attack in 2002 I visited the hospital ward where she was based with a balloon saying "It's a boy" on the side. Half the hospital wished her well on her heart issues, the other half congratulated her on her new arrival - she laughed all the way back to the house at that one! She was also occasionally gullible, and we always played on that when we could - on her first Oz trip, she had to change flights in the Middle East, and I convinced her that in transit at the airport she would have to wear a veil, as that was the culture. The sight of her practising with a tea towel on her head in her kitchen at Carrick will stay with me forever! You always knew when you had got her - she would suddenly tut and say "Och, son!", before laughing at being caught out again.

Mum was there for me when I came into the world, and it was an honour for me to be with her in her final moments. I love you loads Mum - Claire, the boys and I will all miss you dearly. xxx

Mum's 63rd birthday in June


Sunday, 20 October 2013

The 1949 Solemn League and Covenant

Between 1947 and 1950, some two million Scots signed a Solemn League and Covenant to demand a devolved Scottish Parliament within the UK - that's the signatures of some 40% of the population, with the 1951 census for Scotland noting that the Scottish population was 5.1 million.

The Covenant, or petition, was dismissed by British Prime Minister Clement Atlee as an irrelevance, but it does survive to this day. Part of the petition is held by the National Records of Scotland under GD1/1215, with the catalogue entry noting that 

Mr Ian Hamilton QC deposited this item with the Scottish Record Office (now the National Archives of Scotland) in April 1998. When first signed, the text had been hung on the wall of the Covenant Association Office in Glasgow and was accessible to the public. It was subsequently removed for safekeeping before being deposited in the SRO.

The rest of the Covenant - the overwhelming bulk of the petition - is held at the National Library of Scotland ( Again the NRS catalogue entry states the following extraordinary story about its survival:

The main body of signatures, except the 160 on the first page, is now in the National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh (their ref: Acc5492). They are contained in thousands of separate sheets and were placed there in 1970 by Dr Winifred Ewing who had rescued them from a Rutherglen builder's yard.

The signing of covenants in Scotland, in recent history at least (the concept is actually biblical), goes back to 17th century Presbyterianism and the defiance of the population against Charles I's attempts to further introduce episcopacy into the Scottish church (his father, James VI, had already attempted to get things underway on that front). In genealogical terms, one such Solemn League and Covenant from 1912 has been fully digitised and made available online - signed by the Protestant population of Ulster and Ireland (and many worldwide countries, including Scotland and England), the descendants of Scottish and English planters who actually feared home rule for Ireland, the thought being that "Home Rule is Rome Rule". It can be searched and viewed online at

The Diomhair (Secret) programme written by George Rosie for BBC Alba tells the extraordinary story of the Scottish Covenant movement of the 1940s (embedded here):

The 1912 Ulster Covenant signatures are online - what a great genealogical resource the 1949 Scottish Covenant signatures would be to see also.

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Great English tourist attractions - and Stonehenge

Last week I had the great pleasure to travel down to England, ostensibly to attend my brother's wedding in Portsmouth, and to meet my new niece for the first time, but also to catch up with family in Manchester, Yatton and Bristol. Along the way I took in a few touristy sites - here's a quick summary of what I got up to!

My brother Colin is ex-Navy, so his marriage to Mel Warner took place on board HMS Warrior ( at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard ( The weather was just glorious (the only day it was!), making it the perfect occasion. I hadn't twigged that I had actually been aboard the Warrior over a decade ago (whilst on a recce for a TV series) until I stepped on board, at which point I also recalled having previously visited the Mary Rose as it was being conserved. I sadly never got a chance to visit the new Mary Rose Museum or the National Museum of the Royal Navy, but if they are as well maintained as the Warrior, they'll be well worth a visit at some point! For the Warrior itself, there's a virtual tour online at, but here's a few pics also:

So bottom line - if you're looking for a wedding venue, HMS Warrior is definitely one to consider - and if you're just looking for a day trip, ditto!

The day after the wedding we visited Salisbury Cathedral (, and saw an original copy of Magna Carta (, a 13th century document that curbed some of the powers of monarchy (under King John) and which underpins the English constitutional legal system, which later spread to many of the colonies of the British Empire. This was not in fact the first time I'd seen an original copy, I once viewed a version of the document in the United States (I think in Philadelphia), but this had a better interpretation centre. Of course, we weren't allowed to take pics in the room where the document is on display - so here's a few pics of what we were allowed to photograph!

Be advised on a visit though that you are advised to make a "suggested donation" as an entry fee, with specifically laid out rates. I was tempted to ask what would happen if I made a lesser donation, but fair enough, it was an extraordinary building, and well worth the fee, sorry, donation!

Which brings me to Stonehenge... ahem! Without a doubt, Stonehenge is one of England's most extraordinary monuments. Having once worked on an archaeology series for the BBC, I'm only too aware of the extraordinary ritualistic landscape around Stonehenge (and similar sites such as Avebury). But it has to be said, Stonehenge is by and large the worst tourist attraction I have ever visited in the country. We had to pay for a family ticket costing more than £20 to get in to see it. The attraction itself was superb - despite the pouring rain! - they certainly don't build 'em like they used to. But where was the history of the site? Where was the interpretation centre? We were glad to visit the site to say we had done it, but also swore never to go back. A serious disappointment from what should be one of the jewels of the English tourist establishment, instead of the tourist trap that it actually is. 

Finally, we visited family in Yatton and Bristol, and took our boys to three key areas - the Clifton Suspension Bridge, somewhere I know only too well having spent a good while in the past walking over it every day to get to university! - the first flat that Claire and I shared in Totterdown ("this could be Totterdown or anywhere, Redland or St Pauls, cos Totterdown is anywhere, anywhere but Knowle"!!), and the ASDA store where Claire and I used to work in in Bedminister, where we met in 1995.

A great trip down - but last pics go to my Mum and niece Pippa. My mum's bravely fighting bladder cancer just now, but managed to get to the wedding in Portsmouth - and Pip was just a wee star!

Normality now resumes...!

UPDATE: Just read that a new visitors centre is in fact under construction at Stonehenge - see About time - just a pity it wasn't up and running when we were there. *sigh*

Friday, 27 September 2013

Baptised on a submarine - and a PM's wife insulted!

Tonight marks the 8th reunion of the crew of HMS Churchill at a posh dinner and dance in Glasgow. Churchill, named after the former prime minister of the UK, was one of the first British nuclear powered submarines of the Warspite class. Whilst I was never a member of her crew (waaaayyy too young for that!), I do have a minor claim to fame with the boat - I was apparently the first child to be baptised on board her.

My father was a submariner, and had previously served on board a Valiant class submarine called HMS Warspite, the second of the class which was launched on September 25th 1965, and which went into service on April 16th 1967.

My nan, Jean Currie
At Barrow-in-Furness a reception was held to celebrate the achievement of Warspite entering service. As a part of this, my grandmother was invited along by my father, along with many other relatives of the crew. The guest of honour was the wife of the then Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, the leader of the British Labour Party, and at one point, during the reception in the submarine's Ward Room (Naval jargon for the officer's mess), the story has it that my father took my Ulster Unionist supporting Glaswegian nan to introduce her to the Prime Minister's wife. The conversation went as follows:

"Mum, I'd like you to meet Mrs Wilson".

"And which Mrs Wilson is this son?".

"This is the Prime Minister's wife, Mum".

"Oh, that Mrs Wilson", she replied haughtily, and immediately turned round and walked away!

My christening - mum & aunt Sheila
As part of the new Churchill class of submarine, HMS Churchill was in fact just another Valiant class boat with a few extra bells and whistles, and was herself launched on December 20th 1968, entering service in July 1970. When Warspite was involved in a Cold War incident in late 1968 (with my father on board) her fin was actually so badly damaged that it had to be replaced with that of Churchill at Barrow, when it was still under construction.

My father was assigned on board Churchill. A few months later I was born in Northern Ireland, whilst my dad was setting off from Helensburgh on his first tour of duty with the boat - he actually received the telegram about my birth whilst at sea. Upon his return, in grand naval tradition I was then baptised on board the vessel in January 1971, with the ship's bell used as the font. I still have the baptismal certificate, as well as images from the day - one of those images is actually in this months's Family Tree magazine in the UK (see right)!

My christening cert

Last night my wife came across the Churchill reunion dinner announcement online, which got me interested in having another wee forage online, and after a bit of digging I was astonished to find that there is now a website about the Churchill at Even better though, the site has two videos depicting the launch of both vessels, as hosted on the British Pathe site:

Mrs Wilson launches 'Warspite' (1965)

And Nuclear sub launched (1969)

So now I know who my nan insulted with a spot of Bridgeton class!

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Useful records from Islandmagee

I managed to make another visit over to PRONI ( in Belfast last week, in order to attend a meeting, but as a part of my trip I also managed to spend a bit of time looking into several resources for two of my ancestral lines in Islandmagee, the Gordon and Montgomery families. Islandmagee suffers from a lack of Anglican church records, due to the Four Courts fire of 1922, but if anybody tells you that no records exist for Ireland, poke them in the eye and tell them to catch themselves on!

My three times great grandfather was Robert Montgomery, a blacksmith, and son of John Montgomery of the townland of Dundressan, a farmer. Robert married Jane Gordon, daughter of a labourer called David Gordon, on October 22nd 1863. I managed to identify a few months back that David resided in Brown's Bay, but was also connected to a family of Gordons in the townlands of Kilcoan Mor and Kilcoan Beg (big Kilcoan and wee Kilcoan!). A bit more digging also revealed that Robert Montgomery had a brother called Hugh Montgomery, who was also a blacksmith, and also based at Brown's Bay. A search on the PRONI online catalogue turned up an interesting possible find under D4014/2 - an account book with details of jobs undertaken by Hugh Montgomery, blacksmith of Islandmagee, between 1858 and 1875. If this was my Hugh, this seemed to imply that the smithy operation was Hugh's and that perhaps Robert worked for him, or with him, before he relocated to Ballycarry after his marriage and then to Belfast by 1866, where he became a clerk and later a merchant seaman (there's a saying that everyone on Islandmagee was either a farmer or a sailor!).

I ordered up Hugh's accounts on the off chance that it might provide some kind of useful genealogical information. On that front it failed, other than to confirm that it was indeed Hugh in Brown's Bay - but from a family history point of view it revealed a great deal of information on the type of work carried out by a rurally based blacksmith in Co. Antrim.

The first thing it did was to provide a sense of the clients engaging his services. The document at PRONI is in fact a photocopy of the original (no details are given on the location of the original), and the pages are not in chronological order - whether that is a reflection of the original register or just the photocopies assembled in the wrong order is not known. Hugh kept regular ongoing accounts for work carried out for the following people on the peninsula, reckoned every three months, though some paid up half yearly or on an annual basis:

Mr. Hugh Holmes of Islandmagee: May 1858 - Jan 1872 (no listing in Griffiths Valuation 1861 in Islandmagee)
Mr. Thomas Holmes of Islandmagee: June 1869 - May 1873 (Griffiths Valuation 1861 has a Thomas Holmes at Ballycronan More)
Mr. Nathaneal Holmes of Islandmagee: Nov 1858 - Jan 1873 (noted as being at Ballyboley in Jan 1873; Griffiths Valuation in 1861 has him at Ballylumford)
Mr. Samuel Smiley of Islandmagee: Dec 1867 - 1872 (possibly that based in Townparks, Larne, in Griffiths Valuation 1861)
Mr. Robert Smiley of Islandmagee: Jun 1859 - Sep 1867 (one entry at Ballylumford in Griffiths Valuation 1861, another at Mullaghboy)
Mr. Robert Davidson of Islandmagee: Dec 1870 - Jan 1875 (no listing in Islandmagee in Griffiths Valuation 1861)
Mr. Robert Farries of Islandmagee: May 1861 - June 1870 (listed as Robert Ferris in Ballylumford in Griffiths Valuation 1861)
Mr. Thomas Bell of Islandmagee: July 1864 (no listing in Islandmagee in Griffiths Valuation 1861)
Mr. John Bell of Islandmagee: July 1864 - Jan 1865 (no listing in Islandmagee in Griffiths Valuation 1861)
Mr. David English of Brown's Bay, Islandmagee: May 1859 - May 1864 (there's a David English based at Ballylumford in Griffiths Valuation 1861, another entry at Ballycronan Beg, where Brown's Bay was based)
George Hickenson of Islandmagee: Jun 1861 - Mar 1865 (annual accounts; no listing in Islandmagee in Griffiths Valuation 1861))
Miss Dondleson of Islandmagee: Oct 1858 - May 1865 (there is both an Anne and an Eliza Donaldson at Ballycronan More in the 1861 Griffiths Valuation, the townland next to Ballycronan More, which contains Brown's Bay, likely to be one of them)

A typical example of the work undertaken by Hugh Montgomery is as follows, from the accounts for Hugh Holmes from December 17th 1868 to February 27th 1869:

Dec 17;  1 shovel repaired 3d
Dec 17;  1 shoe repaired and driven 2 1/2 d
Dec 19;  1 remove of mine repaired and driven 3d
Dec 30;  2 shoes made of my stuff and driven 1s 3d
Jan 1;  2 shoes made 1 of my stuff and 2 driven 11 1/2 d
Jan 5;  2 shoes made 1 of my stuff and 2 driven 11 ½ d
Jan 21;  1 shoe repaired and driven 2 ½ d
Jan 26;  2 pair of tongs repaired 8d
Jan 27;  1 set of plough irons repaired 9d
Feb 1;  2 shoes made of my stuff and driven 1s 2d
Feb 3;  1 plough laid of my stuff mouldboard put on 3s 6d
Feb 11;  1 pair of boots repaired and brook repaired 4d
Feb 16;  1 shoe driven 2d
Feb 16;  1 set of plough irons laid and steeled 2s 4d
Feb 19;  1 shoe driven and C (E?) shook made 3d
Feb 23;  2 shoes 1 remove of mine and 2 driven 5d
Feb 27;  2 shoes made 1 of my stuff and 2 driven 10d

A fascinating glimpse into his lifestyle, and almost certainly by default my direct ancestor Robert Montgomery!

The next useful set of records were the school registers for Kilcoan Primary School, on microfilm at MIC15H/6, which provided some more useful information. In particular I found a Robert Gordon from Browns Bay who was found to have signed up aged 11 in April 1874, and another Robert Gordon from Millbay aged 8 1/2 in 1862, and who was stated to have left the school to go to the Model Primary School in Carrickfergus - my old primary school! There was also evidence of an Ephraim and Thomas Gordon, both from Brown's Bay, who obviously fit in somewhere also (I'm on it!).

The final document I looked at was a map dated circa 1850 depicting the townlands of Kilcoan More and Kilcoan Beg (D1954/6/68). On this each plot of land was identified with its tenants, conclusively listing my Gordon family in both townlands at that time.

If you haven't had a look at the PRONI catalogue, get cracking...!

Saturday, 14 September 2013

A huge thank you!

I am in the presence of a superhero just now!

My wife recently decided that she wanted to swim from the island of Cumbrae to our town of Largs, a distance of 1.7 miles, to help raise money for Gillian's Saltire Appeal (, a local charity that tries to provide respite care for cancer sufferers and the family of cancer sufferers. Three members of Claire's family have been through the trauma of cancer, my aunt died of it in January, and my mother is currently bravely fighting a severe form of bladder cancer.

But this was not only Claire's way of wanting to try to help those who deal with the effects of cancer, it was also her personal mountain. You know that scene in Father Ted, when Dougal is on the plane, and Ted shouts out "Dougal, whatever you do, don't hit that red button"? He tried and tried and tried not to, but ultimately gave in. Replace the red button with the desire to swim over an insanely wide stretch of water on which we have often travelled over by ferry - well, swimming part of the Firth of Clyde was Claire's big red button!

Here's the woman herself in a good frame of mind just a few minutes before she got underway:

Claire started fundraising just under two weeks back, and initially set herself the target of raising £100, before upping it to £400. Friends, family and Claire's work colleagues chipped in magnificently with contributions; I also blogged on here about what she was hoping to do, and we both used other forms of social media to ask people for support. By the time Claire set foot in the water earlier this afternoon, her grand total raised, including donations on Just Giving at (with Gift Aid), cash raised locally, and secured pledges, was a sensational £1027.44.

This is obviously a genie blog, so we'll thank our friends and family personally, but I wanted to say a HUGE thank you to the genie community - of the amount raised, many of you contributed over £550, including Gift Aid, to the final amount, with donations from Australia, France, Ireland, Scotland and England, including from members of The, Unlock the Past, Irish Lives Remembered, the University of Strathclyde, the Scottish Genealogy Network, Troon@Ayrshire Family History Society, and from many other colleagues and blog readers around the world.

From both of us - THANK YOU!

So how did it go? Claire was convinced that she would probably come in last, after about two hours in the water. There were 77 swimmers, two were pulled out towards the end, but Claire was still going strong. She did come in last - but in about an hour and a half. She wasn't in it to win it (it wasn't a competition!), she wanted to climb her own mountain, push the big red button, and raise some money for a great cause - and she did!

We watched Iron Man 3 last night at home - but today was the first time I met a real superhero. Her name is Wonder Woman!

Some pics from the day:

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Recognising yourself as an heir...!

This one tickled me slightly during a visit to the National Records of Scotland last Friday, when I was looking up the minute book to the Particular Register of Sasines for Renfrewshire. Amongst various finds I noted an entry that had nothing to do with what I was researching for my client, but which was just a little odd and worthy of note!

The sasines registers record all transactions that involve the exchange of land, whether by purchase, gift, exchange or inheritance (the minute books provide short abridgements to these entries). Here's the entry that interested me:

5 December 1778

James Ritchie from himself  /  Govan

Seisin James Ritchie of Paisley Merchant in Glasgow. On a precept of Clare Constat from himself for infefting him as heir to John Ritchie, Merchant in Glasgow, his father In twenty six acres and a half acre of land or thereby acquired from John Colquhoun and part of Tewerhill quarter of Meikle Govan with moss & salmon fishing and twenty eight acres of Craigton houses salmon fishing & part of Robert Wallace's twenty four shilling land and the lands of Drummaid or Drummoyn. All lying within the parish of Govan and shire of Lanark, dated 21 November last presented by the said, Alexander MacCulloch and registered on the 205 and 206 leaves of the register.

Jas Hill   Alex MacCulloch

Now here's the thing! A precept of clare contant was a document issued by a subject superior to a vassal to clearly show recognition by the subject superior that the vassal was indeed somebody's heir. It was a preliminary towards the formal inheritance of the property (every bit of land had a superior over it in the feudal system, so all permissions had to be sorted, all i's dotted and t's crossed, for the transaction to be formally complete - though this could take many years, and the new owner may already have taken up occupation). In this case though, James Ritchie has decided to just recognise himself as his father's heir. Was he therefore both his own vassal and his own superior? And how does that even work?!!!

I posted the comment on Twitter, and one response I had was "is that even legal"? At this stage, I genuinely have no idea - but it happened!

For more on Scottish land records, and how they can help with research, my book Discover Scottish Land Records may help. It can be purchased from Gould Genealogy in print form, or via an ebook from Gen-eBooks.

The print copy costs AU$20, whilst the ebook (in PDF format) is much cheaper at AU$9.95. Hope it helps!


Monday, 2 September 2013

Cumbrae to Largs swim for Gillian's Saltire Appeal

My lovely wife Claire is swimming from the island of Cumbrae to Largs on September 14th to raise money for Gillian's Saltire Appeal, a local charity which raises money for respite care for cancer sufferers, their families and carers in Ayrshire and elsewhere in Scotland. The following is her reasons for doing so:

Far too many people these days are affected by cancer and any charity trying to alleviate the pain and stress by family members needs to be commended and supported. I am doing this swim because my mother, my sister and sister-in-law have all been cancer sufferers, thankfully all have survived. My mother-in-law is currently in the process of giving cancer a kick in the ass. Gillian's Saltire Appeal cannot help my family, but I can totally appreciate what they are doing to support families in Ayrshire. So please dig deep and donate now. 

Click on the link below for more information. 

Donating through JustGiving is simple, fast and totally secure. Your details are safe with JustGiving – they’ll never sell them on or send unwanted emails. Once you donate, they’ll send your money directly to the charity. So it’s the most efficient way to donate – saving time and cutting costs for the charity. 

If you can make a wee donation to support her, she'd be ever so grateful! Her Just Giving page is at

Thanks again - and yes, she is one in a million...! :)

Great Cumbrae - about one and a half miles from Largs.