Patronymic Surnames

In modern times in Scotland (and many other countries) the way surnames are assigned is well known to us. As a child you get the same surname as one or both of your parents. This has been the case since around the same time as the Statutory Records began in 1855. In Scotland, a Statutory Birth record provides both the parents names and the child’s full name so there is no doubt the name the child has been given.

The prior records, kept before 1855, are nowhere near as verbose. These Old Parish Baptism Records record the father’s full name and address and the child’s first name. Here’s an example.

Baptisms 1802
Oct 24 Thomas Johnson, Cliprogarth a Son John

You might be thinking, well, that’s not a problem, the child’s full name is easy to extrapolate from the father’s surname. Clearly the child is called John Johnson. You would not be alone in thinking that since that is how the various online indexes would interpret this record too. However, this is where the practice of using patronymic surnames comes in and confuses the issue.

Patronymic Surname

A patronymic is where the child does not inherit the surname of their parent but instead gains a surname based on the father’s first name. In the example above, if the child had a patronymic they would be known as John Thomason, that is John son of Thomas.

This is a pattern that I believe was inherited from the Norse people who settled Shetland. Going back far enough in the records I am studying you do also come across the female form of this pattern, for example Joanna Williamdottir, that is Joanna daughter of William. There are not many examples of these and it seems that by 1800 the girls were following the male pattern, so Joanna would be Williamson just like her brothers.

So how do you know which surname pattern is in use in this time period prior to the start of Statutory Records? The answer is you can’t tell from just one record. You simply have to remember to bear it in mind when searching for records about a person. Some people used them and some did not.

For further reading, the Icelandic scheme still in use today is similar to how it was in Shetland in the early 19th century.

I’ve written a few blog posts where patronymic surnames have played a part in the research:-

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Tracking Thomas Johnson

I can’t resist a puzzle, and when someone posted a question about an Unst ancestor in the Shetland Genealogy Facebook Group, I couldn’t resist taking a closer look. Their 4th Great-Grandparents were John Thomason and Barbara Jane Winwick who I had in the Unst Family Tree already, and they were trying to determine John’s parents. John died on 8 April 1847 which is before 1855 and thus part of the Old Parish Records which means that no parents of the deceased are recorded.

Obituary. Burials at Baliasta 1847
Died Buried
John Thomason, Watquoy 8 April 10 Apr at Baliasta

She had found a John Thomason born to parents Thomas Johnson and Ann Williamson, and wondered whether that John could be the same one.

Thomas Johnson from Unst, and Ann Williamson from Yell (the neighbouring island) were married in Unst on 29 November 1801. From the Old Parish Record of their marriage contract we also know that Thomas was from Clipragrath.

1801 Contracts of Marriage
Nov 29 Thomas Johnson, Clipragarth and Ann Williamson

Ann Williamson/Johnson can be found in the 1841 and 1851 census returns living with her daughter Mary. She is recorded as a widow in the 1851 census, and was likely a widow in 1841 as well, but that early census does not record such data. To double check this is the same Ann Williamson, I found her daughter Mary’s death record in Unst on 10 July 1877 which shows her parents to be Thomas Johnson and Ann Williamson. So we have the correct person here. Finding all the siblings seemed to be the right thing to follow.

Looking through the Unst Old Parish Baptism Records from 1800 until 1823 (starting just before they were married in case there was a first child out of wedlock) for all children born to a father of Thomas Johnson, yields the following list.

  • 1802 Oct 24 Thomas Johnson Cliprogarth a Son John
  • 1804 May 2 Thomas Johnson Cliprogarth a daughter Mary (this one is written on the end of the list of 1804, after all the December entries, it could be an infant who died young, or a recording error.)
  • 1805 May 10 Thomas Johnson Cliprogarth a daughter Mary
  • 1808 July 15 Thomas Johnson Cliprogarth a daughter Jean Barbara
  • 1808 July 15 Thomas Johnson Cliprogarth a daughter Elizabeth
  • 1814 Feb 17 Thomas Johnson Cliprogarth a daughter Margaret
  • 1818 Aug 23 Thomas Johnston Gardie a Son WIlliam born 20 Aug
  • 1819 Nov 1 Thomas Johnson Midyell a daughter Ann
  • 1820 May 14 Thomas Johnson Haroldswick a Son Thomas born 7 May
  • 1822 Sep 1 Thomas Johnston Skaw a Son John born 11 Aug

Clearly these are not all the same father, however, the first five children (with Mary recorded twice) all born to a Thomas Johnson of Cliprogarth look very likely to be siblings.

To double-check sibling-ship, we need to find the death records for those who died after 1855.

  • Mary Thomason we found already, died in Unst on 10 July 1877. Her death record confirms both parents.
  • Elizabeth Thomason died in Unst on 17 May 1899. Her death record confirms both parents.
  • Jean Thomason is living with her twin sister in the 1861 census, and the relationship recorded confirms her as Elizabeth’s sister.
  • Margaret Thomson died in Unst on 18 December 1884. Her death record confirms both parents.

Confirmation of the parentage of all the sisters, who died after 1855, and the high likelihood that all the children born to Thomas Johnson of Cliprogarth are siblings, leaves me in no doubt that John Thomason was the son of Thomas Johnson and Ann Williamson as well.

Finally we must ask, could there be any other John Thomason born around the same time who is the man married to Barbara Jane Winwick? All we really know of John is from the 1841 census return where his age (which will have been rounded up) is given as 40.

Looking through the Unst Old Parish Baptism Records from 1795 until 1805 for all children called John, yielded a list of 46 Johns. It is unknown when looking at such entries, what surname the child will use in future records, as patronymic surnames were still very much in use at this time and the OPR entry only records the child’s given name (regardless of how some genealogy websites choose to transcribe it!). Considering both surname forms, we end up with the following list of John’s to follow-up on.

OPR Baptism Entry Patronymic Name Name
1798 June 17 George Thomson Gunister, a twin Son John John Georgeson John Thomson
1798 Sep 9 Thomas Miller, Skreveld, a Son John John Thomason John Miller
1802 Oct 24 Thomas Johnson Cliprogarth a Son John John Thomason John Johnson
1804 Mar 10 Laurence Thomson Setter a Son John John Laurenson John Thomson
1804 July 8 Thomas Harrison & Ursula Williamson a Son John John Thomason John Harrison
1804 Dec 14 Thomas Anderson Cliff a Son John John Thomason John Anderson

Here’s what we know about the above John’s.

  • John Thom[p]son, son of George Thom[p]son, lived and died in Bighton and married Ann Spence Trail. He is not the John we are looking for.
  • John Miller, son of Thomas Miller, lived and died in Petister and married Catherine Thomson. He is not the John we are looking for.
  • John Thomson, son of Laurence Thomson, married Margaret Mathewson. He is not the John we are looking for.
  • John Harrison, son of Thomas Harrison & Ursula Williamson, was a mariner, lived outside of Shetland, and married Margaret and Sarah. He is not the John we are looking for.
  • I don’t know anything about John son of Thomas Anderson, but the other children born to Thomas Anderson of Cliff used the surname Anderson, so I don’t believe he is the John we are looking for.

Through a process of elimination, we can therefore confidently say that John Thomason, son of Thomas Johnson of Cliprogarth, is the same man that married Barbara Jane Winwick. There is no other man it could be.

John Thomason and Siblings

John Thomason and Siblings with their spouses

My grandmother in the 1939 register

My grandmother in the 1939 register

The 1939 register is a census-like snap shot of people in England and Wales that was taken just as the Second World War broke out. It was taken on 29 September 1939 and the information was used to produce identity cards and, once rationing was introduced in January 1940, to issue ration books.

There is actually also a 1939 register for Scotland too, but it is not available to view in the same way as the England and Wales register.

Due to this I had largely discounted the 1939 register as a source of information for my research because I was looking for people in Scotland.

When I was visiting my family recently we were talking about my maternal grandmother and about the house she worked in as a Cook in London before the war. We had the address from letters she had written, 20 Halsey Street, and my sister had been along to that address in modern day London and taken a photo of the outside.

My mum wondered whether it would be possible to find out anything about the people who she worked for. This resulted in me realising that I did have a reason to look in the 1939 register after all!

Nana Cook 1939

Nana recorded as a Cook in the 1939 register

Mary Anderson London

This is my grandmother in London – perhaps this is in the garden of 20 Halsey Street?

We found her in the register at exactly the address we knew from the letters. Unfortunately only domestic staff were listed at that address, no owners. I don’t know whether this means that they were away or perhaps were military people and so excluded from the 1939 Register because they were counted on some equivalent list that the military kept.

Notwithstanding the failure to discover who she worked for, it was lovely to find her in the register.

A real register

On Monday, Tuesday and half of Wednesday (today), I was at the Scotland’s People centre in Edinburgh. I had a couple of main tasks I planned to do this time around. One was locating the marriage records of people who were born in Unst, and that I knew were married from census records, but they got married outside of Unst. I was able to search the database that my TNG website creates to produce a list of all those couples where I didn’t yet have a marriage date for them and I worked my way through that.

My other task was about Unst houses. I’ve written in the past about normalising the names of Unst houses, since they seem to choose a different spelling every census, and trying to locate them on the old maps. One piece of data that can sometimes help with this is the column available from the 1861 census onwards that records the “No. of Rooms with one or more Windows”. It’s not something that websites such as Ancestry and Find My Past include in their census transcriptions, but if you look at the images of the census returns in Scotland’s People then you can see all the columns.

I came across one problem with this data in the 1871 census. This column is at the far right of the page, and for Enumeration Districts 1, 2 and 3 the curve of the pages into the binding was such that the images did not show this column on all the even page numbers.

I had a chat with the supervisors at the Scotland’s People Centre and they decided that rather than put in a rescan request for all those pages, they would get the actual book out for me to look through!

Enumeration Book Cover

Example Enumeration Book Cover

I was very happy with this as you might imagine. I got to leaf through the actual 1871 Unst census return enumeration book. I was actually a bit bigger than I imagined it would be. I am so used to seeing the pages printed on A4 sheets, but the real thing is probably another 20% bigger. It was a fairly plain cover with the five Enumeration Books for Unst bound together. Each Enumeration book within the plain covered book still has it’s blue cover (rather like the 1911 cover shown here but in Landscape orientation for the pre-1911 census returns), so you are physically aware as you move from one Enumeration book to the next, and of course there are a number of blank pages at the end, which you don’t really realise when just looking at the images.

I had all my research from looking at 1871 census images ready in a table with empty boxes where I could write the missing numbers so it didn’t take too long to turn over each page and find the column. It was really tucked in there, so I was having to look sideways into the binding crease to read it, rescanning them wouldn’t have helped as it turned out.

No photography is allowed in the Scotland’s People research rooms, so I wasn’t able to take a picture of this real register book, but I won’t forget it.

Misheard place name?

I was transcribing a marriage record today where the groom gave an address in Aberdeen to the registrar in Stornoway (so he was unlikely to know the address). Unusually, the handwriting on this record is very clear and easy to read (oftentimes the handwriting is utterly atrocious!) so I’m absolutely certain of what it says.

No. When, Where, and How Married. Signature of Parties.
Rank or Profession, Whether Single or Widowed,
and Relationship (if any).
Age. Usual Residence
3 1903on the Eighth
day of January
at The Free Church
Manse, Back,
Stornoway
(Signed)
Henry Bruce

Herring Worker
(Bachelor)
29 10 Gasmine
Aberdeen

However, there doesn’t appear to be a street in Aberdeen called “Gasmine”.

In the 1901 census (2 years earlier), Henry Bruce is living in 25a Roslin Terrace.

Looking at a modern day map of Aberdeen at where Roslin Terrace is, quite close by are Jasmine Place, Way, and Terrace.

Ear

So I wonder whether the way Henry said “Jasmine”, with perhaps a strong Shetland accent, was misheard by the registrar as “Gasmine”?

Chain of Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness

I have a profile on the Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness (RAOGK) website (actually I have two, that one and one for my Unst work). I was recently contacted by a gentleman who was trying to track down the child of a couple and had no luck and wondered if there was anything I could do from within NZ as he had exhausted the online databases.

The couple were Mabel Meredith Maitland (b.16 Jun 1869, NZ) and John Arthur Mason (b. 1864, Woodford, Essex, England). They were married on 8 Jul 1891 in St Matthews Church, Dunedin, Otago, NZ, and their marriage can be found in the local paper, the Otago Witness.

MARRIAGES.
MASON-MAITLAND.-On the 8th July, at St. Matthew’s Church, Dunedin, by the Right Rev. Bishop Nevill, assisted by the Rev. R. T. Howell, John Arthur, eldest son of Thos. Mason of Merleswood, Woodford, Essex, to Mabel Meredith, younger daughter of the late W. G. Maitland, Moylneux, Otago.

There was also a report on the fashion and social attendance of the wedding in this newspaper report.

Also in the papers was their divorce, an extract of which is shown below. It was this report that showed that there was a child from this union, but that child was no where to be found in any of the online genealogy databases.

DIVORCE COURT
In the Divorce Court yesterday the Chief Justice heard the undefended suit Mason v. Mason, a wife’s petition for dissolution of the marriage.
Mabel Meredieth Mason, the petitioner, said she was married to John Arthur Mason in Denedin on the 8th July, 1891. There was one child as issue of the marriage.

I tracked down the divorce record which was found to be held in Wellington. It was free to go along to the Wellington Reading Room to view the document. However, I am not in Wellington, so it was not free to me. So I went back on the RAOGK website and found a Wellington based volunteer, and she was very happy to go along to the reading room and see what this document contained. It was a stack of about 15 documents, each with numerous pages, in a bundle and tied with a pink ribbon. They were folded legal docs and the pile stood about 3 inches high. She was so relieved when all the pertinent genealogical information was found on the first page!

Under “The Divorce and Matrimonial Causes Act 1867”

TO SIR JAMES PRENDERGAST KNIGHT CHIEF JUSTICE.
THE 26th day of November 1897.
THE Petition of Mabel Meredith Mason of the City of Wellington sheweth.
1. THAT your Petitioner was on the 8th day of July 1891 lawfully married to John Arthur Mason at St.Matthew’s Church Dunedin by the Reverend Bishop Neville.
2. THAT after her said marriage your Petitioner lived and co-habited with her said husband at Tapanui in Otago, New Zealand, Melbourne in Victoria Australia and at Plymouth in England and that your Petitioner and her said husband had issue of their said marriage one child to wit John Clifford Stuart Mason aged 1year and 10 months.

I have to assume that the quoted age of the child is at the time of the document, since we know the child still lives as Mabel is granted custody of the child, according to the newspaper article on the divorce.

His Honor said he though a divorce should be granted, He gave the petitioner the custody of the child, leaving power to the respondent to apply under the Children’s Custody Act, of he desired to do so afterwards.

This would mean that John Clifford Stuart Mason would have been born around Jan or Feb 1896. From the newspaper report on the divorce we know a little of their travels around that time.

About five years ago they left New Zealand. They arrived in England in January, 1895. Whilst they were in England there was a quarrel between her husband and herself, and she returned to New Zealand with her mother in February 1896. She left her husband three or four months before that.

So would she have traveled when heavily pregnant and had John in New Zealand, or perhaps on board the ship? Or is the three or four months wait between leaving her husband and traveling to New Zealand because she waited and had the baby before traveling? This would mean that John was born in the UK.

Mabel actually married three times. She has a helpfully unique combination of names and so searching Papers Past found her several times. After her divorce from John Arthur Mason she then married Frederick Stuart Des Barres on 1 Sep 1900 in the Registry Office, Napier, Hawkes’ Bay, New Zealand. This marriage also ended in divorce on 14 Mar 1912, as per another newspaper report. Then she married a third time, in 1913, to James Ambrose Eivers and shows up in the papers again trying to get back the jewelry that her second husband used as security on an overdraft.

Helpfully, Mabel’s son John also has a seemingly unique combination of names, so I searched for his names. Nothing came up to start with, so I dropped the surname, and up popped a war record in the Auckland Museum Online Cenotaph for a John Clifford Stuart Des Barres. Des Barres was his mother Mable’s second married name. Could this be him? Reading through the record, in the listing of his company:-

1st NEW ZEALAND CYCLIST COMPANY
Reg. No. Rank. Name. Occupation. Name and Address of Next-of-kin.
10747 Corporal Des Barres, Clifford Stuart Picture-show Manager Mrs. M. Eivers (mother), Opotiki.

John Clifford Stuart Mason/Des Barres

John Clifford Stuart Mason/Des Barres
Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 31-B53

He died on 30 Sep 1916, by which time his mother had married a third time and was now Mrs. Eivers. It is definitely him! And there’s even a photo of him! It seems he had dropped the John and was more commonly known as Clifford Stuart.

Knowing how he was referred to, I was then able to find a report of his death in Papers Past, in the New Zealand Herald.

Roll of HONOUR.
DES BARRES.-On September 30, 1916, killed in action in France, Corporal Clifford Stuart des Barres, eldest son of Mrs. J. A. Eivers, Te Telo, Whakatane; aged 19 years.

I stopped briefly when I saw the mother’s name here, wondering if I’d mixed up two different people. But then I realised Mabel Meredith was also Mrs James Ambrose Eivers.

According to his war record he was born in Ireland, so I guess Mabel did wait until after he was born before traveling back to New Zealand with her new-born, and it’s no wonder we couldn’t find his birth in England or New Zealand.

It seems rather fitting that this chain of Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness should find this man, who died serving his country in WWI on the eve of ANZAC day.

31 Days of Family History Fitness – Week 4

I only came across the blog post 31 Days of Family History Fitness at the very end of January so I decided to do it in February instead. I’ll update you with my progress on a weekly basis.

Day 25: Set up a research log to help you keep track of your research. You can find sample logs on our website. Be sure to include when and what you researched, plus what you found and where you found it. If you already have a research log, make sure it’s up to date and backed up.

I’m really not sure about this one. I can understand the need for a research log when you are working on behalf of someone else, and to some extent that’s how the referenced sample log looks as well. So I don’t really know what to do here. I wouldn’t use the data in the log, so why keep it? Perhaps some of you that do keep research logs can tell me what the point of it is?

Day 26: Find genealogy blogs or Facebook groups that cover your ancestry. In addition to having resources for various ethnic groups and research roadblocks, these groups will also allow you to collaborate with like-minded genealogists. Check out Family Tree Magazine’s list of blogs or the Geneabloggers’ Blog Roll.

Back when I first started this blog, I took an online blogging course run by WordPress, and one piece of advice from that course was to find other blogs that interested you and follow them too. I found a number of the blogs I follow now back then, and have added to it gradually as I find others through various social media posts. I created a blog roll (which you can see on the right hand area of my blog if you are reading this post online) back then, but I haven’t updated it since. So, prompted by the task for today, I have updated my blog roll.

Day 27: Review your privacy settings, and lock down your data as appropriate. Most online family trees will make any people who don’t have death dates private, but make sure that you know who can see what of your family’s information. Consider editing privacy settings to be more restrictive, using encryption to lock down your data, or changing your password to prevent hacking or unauthorized access to your account.

My tree on ancestry is completely private, so for now I don’t have concerns. When I complete my work to the point where I choose to put it online, then I will have to ensure living people’s data is protected. Helpfully this comes built into TNG which is the model I intend to use to get it all on line.

Day 28: Search the free Social Security Death Index on FamilySearch.org. Check for any 20th-century US relatives who lack death dates.

There doesn’t seem to be an equivalent collection for the UK. I expect to find the death dates I need from the statutory records.

Day 29: Pick a problem that you’re having in your research (tracing slave ancestors, finding ancestors before birth records began, etc.) and search the web or your local library for potential solutions. Resources like the FamilySearch Wiki or books or downloads from ShopFamilyTree.com may be able to help.

My biggest problem at the moment is not having enough hours in the day to process all the data I already have. Once I get through all that then I will step back and look for incomplete people that I will then focus on.

Day 30: Perform a quick Google search for the hometown of one of your ancestors. Learning about the places your ancestors lived (as well as how those communities have changed over time) can give you insight into your ancestors’ lives in ways other records can’t. Be sure to check out city directories and other place-specific resources to learn more.

I know Unst fairly well, although, as I noted in the post about Old Maps, I am still discovering where some house names are on the maps. Going through the census page by page helps hugely with that because the houses are recorded by district and area, and in a fairly logical progression, i.e. if you come across an unknown house, it is likely somewhere close to the previous and next houses on the census. There are a number of areas that crop up again and again where Unst people moved to, such as Leith in Edinburgh, and Toxteth Park in Liverpool. Both are areas with docks which no doubt would be attractive to men who had grown up with fishing as a livelihood. These two areas are good candidates for me to dig into further.

Day 31: Now that you’ve got your research in order, find some ways to share it! Look for project ideas on Pinterest, FamilyTreeMagazine.com and other websites to get started.

I’ve enjoyed quite a few of these prompts that got me doing things that I knew I should be doing but wasn’t. While some aspects of my research was already in good shape, now other aspects are in better shape too. However, it is by no means finished, and so I’m not yet at a point where I’ll be putting it up online yet. That’s something I am looking forward to in the future though.