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.