Always check the real records

Transcribed records, provided by the various online genealogy websites are all very well, but part of your research should include checking the actual record image as well. For English records you may well be lucky enough to do this at the same time, and on the same website as the transcribed version, but for Scottish records you have to get them separately from Scotland’s People.

I had a recent person I was looking into that illustrated, again, to me, that it’s always important to look at the real records.

This lady was recorded as living in a house called Garden, in both the 1901 and 1911 census, and the transcription of the 1901 census said she was born in “North Unst”. That was in itself slightly unusual because most people recorded in Unst census returns have their place of birth recorded simply as “Unst”, without it being broken down any further. This is in contrast to the neighbouring island of Yell where birth places are broken down into “North Yell”, “Mid Yell” and “South Yell” because the island itself is not a single parish, and thus not a single registration area, unlike Unst which is.

When I found this lady’s birth record, it showed she was born in Garden, Unst. Not a surprise since this is where her parents, and later she, also lived.

Now there are two houses called Garden in Unst, one in Colvadale, and one in Snarravoe, neither of which I would consider to be in North Unst! See map for the two locations.

So, I brought up the actual 1901 census record, and it doesn’t say North Unst at all! It just says Unst. It would seem that the transcriber’s eye has been pulled offline to the record below her which records someone born in “North Yell”.

1901 Census

and No. or NAME of
NAME and Surname of each
to Head of
as to
(last Birthday)
Males Females
Garden Thomas Irvine Head Mar 34 Shetland, Whalsay
Janet Irvine Wife Mar 41 Do North Yell
Williamina Irvine Daur 10 Shetland, Unst
Thomasina Do Daur 5 Do Do
Andrina Williamsom Sister in law S 53 Do North Yell
Cathrine Do Do S 45 Do Do

So, remember it’s always worth checking!

Second Genealogy Group Presentation

Captain John Gray

Captain John Gray of the SS Great Britain

Last week at my local monthly genealogy group, I gave another presentation (the first one was a few months ago). This time my presentation was about John Gray, Captain of the SS Great Britain.

I’ve written a little about Captain John Gray before, and that post formed the basis of my presentation.

I added some of the quotes from the Bristol Museum webpage from various travellers who went on the SS Great Britain to Australia under the captain’s command. These quotes paint a picture of the man that you don’t normally have as a genealogist.

“Mr Gray is a very fine fellow with the most athletic proportions, a voice that can be heard above the storm and the most untiring energy”.

“the only fault I have to find with him is that he has such a strong hand with which he squeezes peoples fingers like a pair of pincers if that can be called a vice”

I also found that the first all-England cricket team to tour Australia travelled on the SS Great Britain in 1861 under John Gray’s command. Wikipedia even has a picture of them before they set off.

English Cricket Team 1861

English cricket team of 1861 just prior to departure for Australia.

It was a fun presentation to do, and the group seemed to really enjoy the various quotes.

Naming in remembrance

It is common to see children named after their grandparents in Scotland, and no doubt elsewhere in the world. I’ve seen many examples of it, but I came across one today that made me go, “Awww, how sweet.”

Jane Williamson was born to John Williamson and Susannah Spence, but Susannah died not long after she was born, and her dad remarried an Ursula Fraser, so Jane was brought up by her.

Jane marries Hosea Spence, and their first child is a daughter who they name Susanna Ursula Spence, which has to be named after her mother and her step-mother who brought her up.

Susanna Ursula Spence Tree

The Family Tree for Susanna Ursula Spence

Their second child, a son, was named after Hosea’s father, Thomas; their third after Jane’s father, John; and their fourth named James William was likely a nod to Hosea’s mother Williamina, as well as being named after his eldest brother.

Family History Month at my local Library

Family History MonthAugust is Family History month at my local library. After giving a presentation to my local genealogy group, a couple of the ladies there volunteered me to repeat the presentation during the Family History month event at the library. Today was the day that I gave the presentation.

I extended it a little from the first run, making it into three distinct sections.

Tauranga Library Speakers SeriesIt was a pleasantly informal event, with the projector and screen set up in the middle of the library in an area that is usually a small conversation area with some comfortable chairs (see photo below). There were a few questions at the end, and everyone seemed genuinely interested. One lady brought me a present of a Shetland dialect story book, “Da Peesterleeties an da Curse o da Njuggle” by Valerie Watt which was a lovely gesture.

Tauranga Library Presentation Area

A photo from another event showing where I was presenting in among the books
Photo courtesy of ARTbop


Looking through the Statutory Death Records for Unst today, I came across this record. Normally the age of the deceased is recorded just with a number of years, except in the case of infant deaths which haven’t made it to one full year yet.

I get the impression in this case that her grand-nephew wanted to make sure it was known how close to 100 years she achieved.

No. Name and Surname.

Rank or Profession, and whether
Single, Married, or Widowed.
When and Where Died. Sex. Age. Signature & Qualification of Informant,
and Residence, if out of the House in
which the Death occurred.
11 Elizabeth

Widow of Charles


Twenty sixth
4h 30m P.M.


F 99
11 mo
25 days
Thomas Gifford


While she and her family and friends may have celebrated had she reached 100, the telegrams from the monarch to congratulate a centenarian didn’t begin until 1917.

Elizabeth was born before the days of statutory birth records, so the only record of her early life is a baptism record for 10 Aug 1802. With this detailed age on her death record however, we can calculate her exact birth date to be 1 Mar 1799.

Orange Street

I’ve written before about difficulties in reading the handwriting on old documents. I had another example again today when trying to read a street name. This was for someone who had moved from Unst, Shetland to South Shields, County Durham, so it was in an area I don’t know well. The street name looked like “Orange Street” but I could have also believed it to say “Osange Street” so, since I didn’t know the area, and one should get to know the area you are working in, I decided to look it up.

Searching on Google Maps I could find no sign of either name. I recalled a previous time when I had been searching for a street and it turned out to no longer be there. So I thought it likely that the same had occurred with Orange Street.

Normally I’m used to looking at old Scottish Maps, but now I needed the same facility for English Maps. I found such a facility at Old

In these old maps, I found that, sure enough, Orange Street and it’s neighbour Raglan Street that I had found by paging forward in the census both no longer existed. I found nearby streets Frederick Street, Green Street and Brunswick Street, all coming off Laygate to allow me to line up the old and new maps together to see where the old streets previously were.

Orange Street Map 1858

Map from 1858 showing Orange Street in South Shields

Orange Street no longer there

Area in South Shields where Orange Street used to be.

Orange Street and it’s neighbours were redeveloped in the 1950s. I found a book South Shields in the 1950s: Ten Years that Changed a Town which says this:

.. the St Marks’s redevelopment scheme, at Laygate. On 3 July 1950 a notice had been placed in the South Shields Gazette giving notice, that the council of the Borough of South Shields … had made an order .. to compulsorily purchase the land and dwelling houses. Part one of the clearance area meant the demolition of Dixon Street, Raglan Street, Orange Street, Hardwick Street, Bedford Street – and part of Maxwell Street.

There is a little stub of a road coming off what is now Bedford Avenue which appears to be the remnants of where Orange Street once was. If you look at in on Street View it’s a parking area leading to some garages.

The Southtyneside images website has this photo of Orange Street (and the corner of Princes Street).

Orange Street and Princes Street, South Shields

When initially searching for Orange Street, I found various people asking for its location, so I will post links to this blog post as answers to their questions.

Who is Elizabeth Fordyce?

To ensure I’ve found everyone who lived in Unst, I am going through each page of the census returns. In one page in the 1871 census I’ve come across an entry that has me stumped.

1871 Census

ROAD, STREET, &c., and
No. or NAME of HOUSE.
NAME and Surname of each
to Head of
Rank, Profession, or OCCUPATION
Males Females
Burnside Alexr Fordyce Head Mar 75 Fisherman
Catherine Do Wife Mar 75 Do Wife
Elizabeth Gaunson Daur Mar 38 Sea Capts Wife
Elizabeth Fordyce Grand Dr 14
Catherine A Gaunson Grand Dr 22M
George F Do Grand Son 3M

I have found Alexander Fordyce and his wife Catherine (neé Jamieson) and their children, one of whom is Janet Elizabeth who married George Gaunson and had several children, the first two being Catharine Ann Gaunson and George Francis Gaunson, two of the three grandchildren listed on this return.

Initial Fordyce Family Tree

Alexander and Catherine with their five children

It is interesting to see the daughter listed as Elizabeth here, and not as Janet/Jessie as in all previous census returns. She is listed as Elizabeth in the 1881 return as well (where she and her children are again seen living in Burnside with her parents while her Sea Captain husband is, one assumes, away at sea). Did she adopt her middle name upon marriage or does her father, the head of the household and likely person to convey names to the census enumerator, prefer to call her that?

So, what of this other grand-daughter, Elizabeth Fordyce?

At this point in my research, I was aware that Alexander and Catherine had five children, two sons, one who dies as a youngish man, neither of whom have any children that I know of, one daughter Ann dies young, and two remaining daughters, one also called Anne Ursula, both of whom have children.

We’ve seen the daughter Janet Elizabeth, on the census return. Her two children have the surname Gaunson as per her married name. If the other grand-daughter was also hers, she would have been born prior to her marriage (which would explain the surname being Fordyce) and when Janet was aged 23. This is certainly a possibility.

The other daughter, Anne Ursula, married Charles Johnson in 1856 and had a daughter, Catherine Elizabeth Johnson in 1857. This girl is a grand-daughter of the correct age, and could be known by her middle name. The use of her mother’s maiden name instead of her correct surname is not unheard of. This could be her, except, she’s recorded on the census in 1871 as being with her parents and siblings in their house in Lerwick.

I have seen several examples of people recorded twice in one census, some cases of grandchildren recorded both at home with their parents, and also at their grandparents house. One assumes the child was visiting the grandparents in the evening when the enumerator visited, but then went home and so met the criteria of “everyone who sleeps in the house on the evening of the census.” However, it is highly improbable that such a visit could happen in Unst by a grand-daughter from Lerwick.

Having ruled out that grand-daughter, I looked for all girls born in Unst (as this census return records she is) around 1857 (+\-2 years) with Elizabeth as a first or middle name (given the use of a middle name elsewhere in this household), listed in the 1861 census. There are 19 of them. My hope here was to find a girl in the 1861 census that is unaccounted for in 1871 and is maybe a grand-Neice or cousin of the family, who has just been rather sloppily referred to as a grand-daughter. However, none of the girls are unaccounted for in 1871. There is quite simply no-one called Elizabeth Fordyce born in Unst around that timeframe.

Having followed the premise that the name was wrong and that the place of birth was correct, I now changed tack. I started to search for Elizabeth Fordyce, born around 1857 anywhere in Shetland, which yielded nothing, and then born anywhere in Scotland. At this point out popped Elizabeth Fordyce, born 15 May 1856 in Edinburgh to parents James William Fordyce and Elizabeth McLeod. If this is James William Fordyce born in Unst, then she would indeed be a grand-daughter. I had not been able to find anything about James after he left Unst and was living in Edinburgh in 1851.

Having found this family through the grand-daughter Elizabeth, I could now see why. Her father James, is listed as having been born in Golspie, Sutherland and his wife Elizabeth McLeod is recorded as being born in Shetland. Following Elizabeth with her remaining children after James dies, it would appear that she was not from Shetland, it was she who was born in Golspie. So I believe that either the enumerator or the Ancestry record transcriber (since I haven’t seen the image for this one to know) has got the places of birth switched around. This is indeed James William Fordyce from Unst and his daughter Elizabeth Fordyce is visiting her grand-mother in Unst.

Fordyce Family Tree

Fordyce Family Tree
Green shows the people on the census return. Blue shows the family discovered as a result

Two wrongs don’t make a right, and in this case the two wrongs

  • Elizabeth Fordyce (grand-daughter) was not born in Unst, but in Edinburgh
  • James William Fordyce (son) was born in Unst and not in Golspie

left me with some searching to do, but I found them in the end!

The added benefit of locating this mystery grand-daughter was also the finding of the missing son and thus several more grand-children who are Unst descendants, so well worth the search.