Light Keepers recorded at home

Muckle Flugga Lighthouse

Muckle Flugga from the seaward side
cc-by-sa/2.0 – © Mike Penningtongeograph.org.uk/p/941026

The North Unst Lighthouse, or as it is now known, Muckle Flugga Lighthouse, was one of the few lighthouses in Scotland which had a separate shore station that served as accommodation for the lighthouse keepers when they were off duty. Three Light Keepers would be on duty at any one time, and the others would be on shore leave.

Lighthouse Shore Station

The Shore Station, Burrafirth
cc-by-sa/2.0 – © Mike Penningtongeograph.org.uk/p/311395

In the census returns for Unst, you can see the Light Keepers recorded in the census at the Lighthouse, and their families recorded in the shore station.

1871 Census

ROAD, STREET, &c., and
No. or NAME of HOUSE.
NAME and Surname of each
Person.
RELATION
to Head of
Family
CON-
DITION
AGE
of
Rank, Profession, or OCCUPATION
Males Females
Light House Robert Burnett Head Mar 44 Principal Light Keeper
William Anderson Assistant Mar 37 Principal Assistant Keeper
Peter Anderson Assistant Mar 34 Assistant Light Keeper

1871 Census

ROAD, STREET, &c., and
No. or NAME of HOUSE.
NAME and Surname of each
Person.
RELATION
to Head of
Family
CON-
DITION
AGE
of
Rank, Profession, or OCCUPATION
Males Females
Light House Shore Station Elizabeth Anderson Head Mar 37 Light Keeper’s Wife
Laurence     Do Son 15 Scholar
Grace         Do Daur 11 Scholar
Catherine     Do Daur 5     Do

Except that is for 1861.

In 1861, the Light Keepers are all recorded as living with their families in the shore station, and there is no record of anyone at the Lighthouse. Now 1861 is some 134 years before the Lighthouse was automated in 1995, so there were definitely Light Keepers on site. Perhaps instead the problem was that this was the first census since the Lighthouse was built. It was first lit on 1 January 1858, so perhaps the enumerator simply wasn’t familiar with how he was supposed to record the keepers.

At the bottom of Page 25, of the 1861 census for Unst, Enumeration District 2, there is the following note:-

15 May 1862. Messrs Stevenson Engineers state 3 Lightkeepers were on the Lighthouse which is on the Island of Muckle Flugga. The ??????? with wives & famililes on Unst.

I’m not quite able to decipher all the words in the last sentence so an image is shown below if any of you can decipher it. However, you get the gist of it. They weren’t where the enumerator said they were!

Light Keepers Census Note

Light Keepers Census Note

Oops!

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Adding context to census addresses

I’m currently going through an exercise to normalise the spelling of all the place names in my Unst Family Tree – every census seems to invent a different spelling for the same house! At the same time I’m adding a ‘district’ to each house as I’m aware of a number of house names that are not unique within the island of Unst; “Garden” is a house in Colvadale and a house in Snarravoe for example (as I’ve previously written).

The absolute need to do this was illustrated to me when I found this particular couple.

Andrew Smith (b. 1836) m. Jane Winwick (b.1835)
1881: Middleton Ancestry Icon 1881: Middleton Ancestry Icon
married
1891: Middletown Ancestry Icon
1901: Middletown Ancestry Icon

Above is what you would discover about the couple (from 1881 onwards) using just Ancestry transcriptions. You would be forgiven for thinking that they live in the same house before and after the marriage (spelling variations being what they are), AND that they lived in the same house as each other before they married.

If, however, you look at the census pages with the neighbouring houses in context, your understanding of this couples residence would be as follows.

Andrew Smith (b. 1836) m. Jane Winwick (b.1835)
1881: Middleton, Muness 1881: Middleton, Colvadale
married
1891: Middletown, Muness
1901: Middletown, Muness

So they lived several miles apart before they married, and after being married they lived in the house where Andrew lived, in Muness. The spellings of both houses use both spellings throughout the census returns over the decades.

If you then follow this up with the marriage record for this couple, from Scotland’s People, it pulls it altogether, giving their addresses at the time of marriage.

Andrew Smith (b. 1836) m. Jane Winwick (b.1835)
1881: Middleton, Muness 1881: Middleton, Colvadale
1883: Muness 1883: Colvadale
married
1 Mar 1883
Middleton, Colvadale Scotlands People icon
1891: Middletown, Muness
1901: Middletown, Muness

I can’t stress enough how important taking all records in their full context and understanding the local area where you are researching.

Spelling of Place Names

I was prompted to write this post after I saw these two tweets.

I have recently got myself a copy of TNG to work with privately (some time in the future I intend to get all my research online using it) and one of the features I am very taken with is the ability to view all your place names used in the various facts attached to each person in your tree. I was aware that there were different spellings of many of the place names in Unst throughout the records, but until I started to use TNG I couldn’t see the extent of differences.

It’s allowing me to easily normalise the spellings I use throughout my tree so that it is clear when the same place is being named. I knew a time would come when this normalisation task would need to be done, and I had originally imagined that I would choose the spelling of place names based on those used on maps. However, now that I’ve come to actually do the task, I have made a different decision.

I have found with a number of the place names that I have started looking at, that the most commonly used spelling is not the same as the one on the maps, and I have decided that it is more appropriate to use the most commonly used spelling as written by a local – all census enumerators were local men – rather than the spelling on a map created by outsiders to the area.

In normalising the place names I don’t intend to throw away all the other spellings, they will be kept as alternate spellings against each place name.

Here are a few examples of the place names that I’ve seen multiple spellings for through the various records for Unst, with an asterisk marking the chosen spelling.

Map of Petester

Map showing the houses of Petester. Click on the map to go to the zoom-able version on NLS the website

Spellings
Petester
Petister *
Pettister
Spellings
Feall
Feal *
Phael
Phail
Phaill
Pheal *
Pheall
Phiall
Fjeal
Map of Feall

Map showing the houses of Feall. Click on the map to go to the zoom-able version on NLS the website

Muriscoe

Map showing Murrasko. Click on the map to go to the zoom-able version on NLS the website

Spellings
Mooraskoe
Muirescoe
Muirskoe
Mures Coe
Muriascoe
Murris Coe
Murrisgio
No strong favourite. Different in every document!

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

ROAD, STREET, &c.,
and No. or NAME of
HOUSE.
NAME and Surname of each
Person.
RELATION
to Head of
Family
CONDITION
as to
Marriage
AGE
(last Birthday)
WHERE BORN
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.

Almost…

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
Sandison

Widow of Charles
Sandison

Fisherman

1899
February
Twenty sixth
4h 30m P.M.

Muness,
Unst

F 99
years
11 mo
25 days
Thomas Gifford
Sandison

Grand-nephew
Muness

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.