Three Generations of Weddings

Three Generations of Weddings

A wedding in the 1900s

My grandparents were married in 1908, and there are no photos from their wedding, but here are their photos.

Robert lived with his parents in Uphouse, the family croft house. My mother talked about what she had heard about her parents wedding. She remembered that they cleared all the furniture out of the house (a small two room Shetland croft house) into the barn. They left the sturdy kitchen dresser for the fiddler to sit on!

The wedding took place in the nearby chapel and the guests would then walk down to the reception in the house. Looking at the bill from the local shop, it seems that they paid a lot for the wedding. Given that the house was so small, I wonder if folk from the community stayed briefly for a dram of whiskey and then left. There were certainly big amounts of whisky used at the event!

The wedding bill

Family and close friends would maybe then stay on and be fed and dance to the fiddle tunes.

A wedding in the 1940s

Mary and John Gray

My mother’s wedding took place in the same chapel, from the same house, Uphouse in Clibberswick, in the Haroldswick area of Unst. They were able to use a barn owned by relatives, and have tables set for folk to be fed. Since she was trained as a cook by this time, I am sure she had a hand in the catering for the wedding reception.

A wedding in the 1970s

Alastair and Rhoda Hughson

My wedding reception was held, as was the custom 50 years ago in Unst, at the local community hall. The venue was booked, trestle tables and benches for seating were set up. The bride went round and asked various ladies to be hostesses. These ladies came to the hall the evening before the wedding bringing enough crockery and cutlery for a table of 10 or 12 people. They set the table with white tablecloths, their fine crockery, and plates and cake stands. They were given flour and asked to make bannocks. The bride’s family supplied the meat, salad etc, and home bakes. My mother, a neighbour and I did home bakes for the 100 guests.

After the wedding in the local church, the guests gathered and were fed, then the tables were cleared away and the dancing began with a band of musicians playing on fiddle and accordion. As always, it started with the bridal march.

So, that was three generations of weddings in our family. Customs change and evolve with each generation doing things slightly differently, and so it will continue!

Gold Miner in New Zealand

Gold Miner in New Zealand

One cousin in my tree, William Parsonson Anderson, I had no idea where he was during the 1871 census. A timeline for him simply had a gap. Then today, when I brought up one of the records I had already attached to him in Ancestry, there was a suggested record for the same name in New Zealand.

His name is somewhat unusual. Parsonson is not a common Unst name. He appears to have been named after the minister who baptised him who was called William Parsonson. This combination of names therefore make you feel it is likely to be the same person when you find another record with the same name.

Before today, I knew when he was born, and had found him in the 1851, 1861 and 1881 census. I also know that he got married in 1878 in Unst, and his occupation on the marriage record is stated as Goldminer. Although married in 1878, unusually, their first child was not born until 1883.

So my questions about him were:-

  • Where was he in 1871?
  • Why did this couple not have children for 5 years after being married?

I found a man with the same name living in Sowburn, Otago in New Zealand, recorded as a miner, in an 1880 Electoral roll, and also in the same region in 1871. If this is the same man as my Unst-born cousin, it would answer both the above questions with “he was in New Zealand”. It would also suggest that he went to New Zealand sometime between 1861 and 1871; came back before 1878 and got married; went out again after that; and came back again before 1881 – possibly before, or because, his father died in late 1880.

Sowburn, Otago is now called Patearoa. It is a small settlement in the heart of the Maniototo Plain that is a rural farming community that has links going back to a gold rush in the 1860’s. The location he lived in New Zealand and the occupations listed on various records, suggest he went to New Zealand for the gold rush.

Also, he is one of the few people in my Unst tree from this era that had a will. When he died in 1918, he left his wife £573. 12s. 5d. suggesting he was successful in his foray in gold mining.

Unst Population Changes

Unst Population Changes

I was recently asked how the population of the island of Unst has changed over time, and since I couldn’t find a place online which pulled together all the numbers, I thought I would write it myself.

Unst Population Graph

These numbers come from a variety of sources. Open the twisty below to see the data and the sources.

Unst Population numbers and Sources
Year Population
Total
Source
1755 1368 Webster’s Census (see page 113 of the PDF)
1780 1853 Statistical Accounts of Scotland, OSA, Vol V, 1793
1790 or 91 1988 Statistical Accounts of Scotland, OSA, Vol V, 1793 and NSA, Vol XV, 1845
1801 2259 1884-1885 – Ordnance gazetteer of Scotland > Volume 6
1831 2909 Statistical Accounts of Scotland, NSA, Vol XV, 1845, and 1884-1885 – Ordnance gazetteer of Scotland > Volume 6
1841 2828 Totals from 9 x Census Enumeration booklet summary pages
1851 2976 Totals from 9 x Census Enumeration booklet summary pages
1861 3060 Totals from individual census pages, as no summary pages, and 1884-1885 – Ordnance gazetteer of Scotland > Volume 6
1871 2780 Totals from individual census pages, as no summary pages, and 1884-1885 – Ordnance gazetteer of Scotland > Volume 6
1881 2181 Totals from 5 x Census Enumeration booklet summary pages, and 1884-1885 – Ordnance gazetteer of Scotland > Volume 6
1891 2014 (+ 225 people in Herring Fishing Stations) Totals from 5 x Census Enumeration booklet summary pages
1901 1867 Totals from 5 x Census Enumeration booklet summary pages
1911 1828 Totals from 5 x Census Enumeration booklet summary pages
1921 1568 Reduction from 1911 detailed in Preliminary Report of the thirteenth Census of Scotland 1921 [*]
1931 1341 A Vision of Britain through time [*]
1951 1112 A Vision of Britain through time [*]
1961 1148 or 1151 Gazetteer for Scotland and A Vision of Britain through time [*]
1971 1124 Gazetteer for Scotland
1981 1140 Gazetteer for Scotland
1991 1055 Scotland’s Census 1991 – National Records of Scotland via Scotland’s Census website
2001 720 Statistical Bulletin on 2011 Census
2011 632 Statistical Bulletin on 2011 Census


[*] This work is based on data provided through www.VisionofBritain.org.uk and uses historical material which is copyright of the Great Britain Historical GIS Project and the University of Portsmouth


The lower numbers in the early years in the graph are attributed, in the Statistical Accounts of 1845, to two bouts of small pox.

In 1729, and again in 1740, the small-pox appears in Zetland in such a virulent form, and made such havock, almost depopulating some districts, that they are yet spoken of under the name of the mortal pox. Accordingly, we find, that, subsequent to that time, the population was very low; for, in the year 1755, it consisted only of 1368 souls. From that period, the increase has been steady and rapid.

Vaccination, which has been resorted to ever since the year 1800, may be assigned as one cause of this great increase. Another cause may be found in the very favourable seasons this country has enjoyed during the last thirty years. There has been no failure of crops; the fishing has been successful; and trade has greatly improved.

and in the earlier Statistical Accounts of 1793, a similar comment is made against the population numbers.

If the numbers have increased, however, within these last 30 or 40 years, it is owing chiefly to the introduction of inoculation for the small pox. For more than 100 years past, this epidemical distemper used to visit the island nearly every 20 years, and to carry off, with the rage of a pestilence, great numbers of all ages. In 1770, inoculation became general here among all ranks. In 1783, a general inoculation was repeated through the parish with the most flattering success.

In the years 1740, 1766, and 1783, excessive scarcity was felt here. But even in those periods of famine, none are known to have absolutely died for want.

The steep decline seen after the 1861 census peak is as a result of large numbers leaving. This was due to a number of factors, but evictions of tenants from crofts to create larger sheep farms was one factor; also the pull of the new world, such as New Zealand, (a very large Shetland population went to New Zealand), Australia, Canada and the United States. This article, “Finding a place”, will be of interest to anyone curious about emigration patterns. My own great-great-grandmother was evicted from their croft at Clugan as I wrote about before.

The population of Unst received a boost from 1957 through to 2006 when the RAF Saxa Ford radar station was installed and manned. At the height of the Cold War, more than 300 personnel were based at Saxa Vord, with hundreds of knock-on jobs for islanders.

The next census will be taken in 2022. I wonder what the population count will be then. Will the Unst Space Station make a similar change to the population that the RAF base did in earlier decades?

A Family Tree on Wallpaper

Before the advent of online or software methods to capture your family tree, people wrote it down on paper. In our case, we had it on a long length of wallpaper as the tree was very much wider than it was tall, since it had all the cousins on it too.

I was in the process of adapting an earlier blog post (A family tree and more) for an article in a local genealogy club’s newsletter, and I thought I would try to find an image of a family tree written on wallpaper to add to the text.

So, I searched with Google Images, “Family Tree on Wallpaper”. What I discovered made me chuckle, how times have moved on. All I had were many different, and beautiful images of how people heave decorated their homes with their family trees on the wall, one such example below.

Unfortunately I couldn’t find a picture of what I was actually looking for. Never mind.

Euphemia Betsy Hughson

Euphemia Betsy Hughson was my husband’s grand-aunt, and Morag’s great-grand-aunt. She was born in 1875. The family refer to her as Aunty Phemie.

Auntie Phemie

Auntie Phemie

Her family lived in Colvadale, now an abandoned area (on the island of Unst in Shetland), father John Hughson, mother Jemima (nee Johnson). The family home was Gardin, Colvadale.

Colvadale Map

Map of Colvadale
Click on the map to go to the zoom-able version on the NLS website.
This view is spread across three maps, click on quadrant to go to the full view of the appropriate map.

Top Left of Map Top Right of Map Bottom of Map

They were a large family, sisters Jemima and Robina and brothers James, Arthur, Thomas and John Henry.

John and Jemima Hughson's Children

John and Jemima Hughson’s Children

In the 1891 census Aunty Phemie was detailed as a knitter – (mostly the occupations for women on the census were knitter or spinner).

Her father John, was skipper of a sixareen. Read a story about him here.

In the 1911 census Euphemia was still living at home and detailed as a knitter. The household, as normal in those days, was large.

By this time her father, John Hughson had died (in 1909) and her mother Jemima was listed as head of the household, which included three daughters (knitters) and a son (working on the croft) as well as a six grand children and a elderly boarder.

1911 Census

ROAD, STREET, &c.,
and No. or NAME of
HOUSE.
NAME and Surname
of each Person.
RELATION
to Head of
Family
AGE
(last Birthday)
and Sex.
CONDITION
as to
Marriage
PROFESSION or OCCUPATION.
Males Females Personal Occupation Employer,
Worker, or on
Own Account
If
Working
at Home.
Colvadale Jemima Hughson Head 73 W Knitter On own account at home
Jemima Spence Daur 43 W Do Do Do
Euphemia Hughson Daur 35 S Do Do Do
Robina Hughson Daur 32 S Do Do Do
John H Hughson Son 26 S Crofter Do Do
John T Hughson Grand Son 16 S Working on Croft Worker
Jemima J Spence Grand daur 10 School
John A Spence Grand Son 6 Do
James Hughson Grand Son 4
Tamar Williamson Boarder 85 S
John W Hughson Grand Son 18 S Fisherman Own account
Peter J Hughson Grand Son 17 S Do Own account

They would have a struggle to make ends meet.

Croft details Colvadale

This document shows the croft details from her father’s time at age 51. A cow, a calf and three sheep were the extent of their croft animals.  His main source of income was fishing, and if it was not a good year at the fishing, they would fall behind on rent payment etc. Notice that they were in arrears to the tune of £22 which was several years-worth in arrears.

There is a saying about Orkney and Shetland, that Orkney men are farmers with a boat, and Shetland men are fishermen with a bit of land.

John Hughson obviously depended on the fishing to make a living, and if there were some bad years for the fishing, then it was very hard for the family.

Euphemia Betsy Hughson married Andrew Thomas Cluness in Colvadale, on 7 December 1916 when she was 41 years old. They were married for 26 years before he died age 75.

As an older lady, having lived for so many years in Colvadale which was in quite an isolated part of Unst, she moved to “Westerhoose”, Muness and lived there for some time.

Later she moved to the centre of Uyeasound to a smaller house at Hays Place.

This was originally accommodation for workers in the Herring Fishing times, and later was rented by a variety of folk.

Robert Hughson (my husband’s brother) can remember her “flittin” (moving house). He thinks he would have been 4 years old at the time, so that is about the mid-1940s. He recalled two boats being taken round from Uyeasound to Muness, one with a motor, the other sail.

“There was a fine big stone that we could take the boat in alongside at Muness.

The furniture and bits and pieces were taken from “Westerhoose” to the shore by gig, loaded onto the boats and taken round by sea to the pier at Hays Place, Uyeasound.

Then everything had to be taken in a hurl (wheelbarrow) up to the house and put in place for her in her new home.”

She lived there for some years before she died in 1969 age 84.

Transcription correction

I was looking through the various notes I have made against people in my Unst Tree (using a TNG website has a marvellous view that shows you all our notes, and allows you to search them all).

I found one note that I had made against a person called “Mary Meynson” which said:-

Not a surname I’ve seen before. Expect it to be a mis transcription, but from what I have no idea!

She was discovered in the 1881 census, and the name was an Ancestry transcription.

So I decided to look at the actual image from Scotland’s People to see if I could get to the bottom of this one and remove this note.

Turns out her name is “Mary Hughson”!! Perhaps I should have been able to guess that one since it is my own surname!

Ancestry thought this said Mary Meynson

Searching my tree for a woman named Mary with a spouse’s surname of Hughson (since the 1881 census image also shows she is widowed), born around 1831 +/- 2 years, I find only one option.

Woman Symbol

Mary Isbister
b. 8 May 1829 Underhoull, Unst, Shetland.
m. Thomas Hughson on 12 Jan 1860 Unst
widowed 28 Apr 1866
Found in Unst census 1841 – 1871.
Not found in 1881 census.
d. 30 Oct 1887, Clivocast, Unst, Shetland.

The death record I had already found shows she died in Clivocast which is where she was residing in 1881, so that also fits.

And this woman is my 3rd Great-Aunt. Glad to have found her missing 1881 residence.

Knitting superstition

In my old Shetland dictionary, “A glossary of the Shetland dialect” by James Stout Angus, the word Amos appears.

Amos, a noun, is explained as “a dole promised to some indigent person on condition that some hoped for good comes to the person who promises.”

An amos boddie: a person deserving of charity; a person capable of winning an amos.

“To lay on an amos” means to promise an amos or reward.

I wonder if it originally came from, or is connected to the word “alms”, and originally was a way of giving something to a person in need of charity while allowing them to keep their dignity.

An elderly friend, a keen knitter, used to give me a gift if I had come upon her starting a piece of knitting and it turned out well. She was born during WW1 and like Shetlanders from that time, always had a knitting project on the go.

Starting a piece of knitting

Starting a piece of knitting

Chrissie Henderson

Chrissie, who was full of old superstitions, used the old superstition to “laid on amos” on knitting projects

She would suddenly appear with a packet of tea, or biscuits. When I asked why, she would say “you were a good amos on my knitting” (in fact that she had laid on an amos on her project and found I had brought it luck.)

Certain people were thought to be lucky in this respect. You weren’t meant to tell of the amos till the project was finished.

Recently on a local (Shetland) social media site concerned with dialect words, I asked if anyone still “laid on an amos”. I was rather astonished to find that many people still did, as well as remembering the previous generation doing it. Someone mentioned a niece getting a “peerie hansel” (small gift) often when a project went well.

It is interesting how these customs linger on, and it also make me wonder where it all started.

Auld Erne Hughson

John (Auld Erne) Hughson was my husband’s great-grandfather, and Morag’s great-great-grandfather.

He was skipper of a sixareen and was known to be an experienced seaman.

Auld Erne John Hughson

The sea eagle ‘Auld Erne’, John Hughson


red-sailed sixereen: "The Far Haff"

A sixereen built to replicate the type of boat used, and now housed at the Unst Boat Haven.

There is a story about John, who was called Auld Erne, the sea eagle.

One day when they were going out in the sixareen to go fishing, a visitor to the island asked to go out  with them. After they had gone a considerable distance from the land, and fished for a time, it became apparent that a storm was starting to build up and it could be dangerous to be out there. So, Auld Erne set them to rowing hard back towards the land.

After a period of heavy rowing, he judged that they were near enough to land that they would make it before the storm broke, so he let them stop rowing to have a break.

Being a Shetlander, and a man of few words, he didn’t say a word, but put his oar to rest under his thigh and took out his snuff box. This signaled to the rowers that they could pause.

Once ashore, the visitor declared that Auld Erne:

hoched his oar in the eye of a storm,

( put his oar to rest under his thigh )

And took snuff on the brink of eternity!”

He certainly sounds a real character!