Finding locations for old houses

If your ancestors lived rurally, it is possible that the house they lived in is no longer occupied, or even standing. This is certainly the case for many of the houses mentioned on census in Unst, where the old croft houses are “vod”, that is unoccupied, as Rhoda wrote about here. If you see a house name on a census, how can you find where it is now?

Let’s look at an example, Ed Johnson and his family living in Watquoy – here from the 1881 census (ED2 Page 11).

1881 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]
Rank, Profession, or OCCUPATION
Males Females
Watquoy Edward Johnson Head Unm 43 Stone Mason, Crofter
Janet Do Sister Do 47 Stocking Knitter
Joan Do Do Do 45 Spinner of Wool
Sinney Do Do Do 33 Invalid
Andrina Sinclair Serv. Do 51 General Serv.

First thing to do is take note of the house names that neighbour the house you are looking for – to give you a few more names to find on a map. Watquoy has neighbours “Stove” and “Watquoy Brake”.

Each parish was broken down into enumeration districts to ensure that they covered an area that could be enumerated in a single day. The parish of Unst was broken into 5 enumeration districts (ED) in 1851 – 1911 (1841 it had 9 EDs). You can read the description of the ED from the header page of the census return booklet. Access to this page in Scotland’s People is free as described here.

The description for Enumeration District 2 in 1881 is as follows:-

So much of the Parish of Unst as lies between Houston and North-Dale, between North-Dale and Burrafirth, thernce southward to Houland, then to Petister. Comprehending – Houston, Gardie of Haroldswick, Houl, Roadside, Bothen, Mullapund, North Dale, North Fael, Supton, Ungerstae, Budigarth, Westergarth, Stove, Watquoy, Quoyhouse, Budabrake, Sandfield, School-house, Sotland or East Burrafirth, Biggershoul, West Burrafirth, including Lighthouse, Petister, Cathoul, Gardie of Baliasta, Houland.

With this information we can see that we are looking at the north-western end of the island. Now we get the maps out. I’ve written about the NLS Maps before, and we’re going to look at them again now.

Unst Graphic Index North

Unst Graphic Index (North of island)

Using the graphic index I zoom in on the north end of Unst, and identify that I need to look at the sheets II.12, II.13, II.15 and 11.16. Each of these sheets can be selected from the Ordnance Survey Maps – 25 inch 1st edition, Scotland, 1855-1882.

I open each sheet in turn looking for the house names that I noted earlier, “Stove”, “Watquoy” itself, and “Watquoy Brake”. I spot “Watquoy Brake” on sheet II.12 near the south of the sheet, so I suspect the other two houses will be nearby and decide to open sheet II.15 next because it is south of sheet II.12 and sure enough there they both are.

Map of Watquoy and Stove on Unst

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

Now we need to align that map with a modern day Google Map to get it’s geographic coordinates. This is the fiddly part. There may be tools out there that help, but the way I do it is to find the approximate area in Google Maps Satellite view, and then in my favourite layered paint program, take a screen grab of each map, lay one on top of the other and make the top one 50% transparent so that I can see through it. Then I resize and move the map until it lines up with the features that are on both maps. In this example there is a small quarry and various field boundaries that are clearly visible to line things up. Hopefully the animated gif below of my two layers will show what I mean.

Watquoy animated gif

Animated gif of two layers to find Watquoy

Now I know, by joining the two maps with transparent layers, exactly which building on the Google Maps Satellite view, is in the same location as the house on the old map. I go back to Google Maps and single click on that point in the map. Google will place a ‘pin’ on that location and at the bottom of the screen pop up a little banner that shows the longitude and latitude of that pin.

Watquoy Located

Place a pin and Google Maps will give you the longitude and latitude.

And that’s how I find the location of old houses on a map.

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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 down) 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

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!

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.

31 Days of Family History Fitness – Week 2

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 9: Branch out and pick a genealogy website you haven’t used much (perhaps FamilySearch.org, MyHeritage, Findmypast, Access Genealogy, Genealogy Today or Olive Tree Genealogy). Spend at least 15 minutes perusing its offerings. Look for a content listing, how-to articles, resource listings and more. You might discover a new favorite website!.

AncestryFind my pastI’m normally an Ancestry girl so I tried out Findmypast with my local genealogy group the other day. They have the same data essentially it would seem, but choose to display it in a different format. For example, for census records, Ancestry shows you one record at a time on the page with the list of other household members at the end, whereas Findmypast shows all rows from that household on the page at the same time (rather like the image shows you).

Day 10: Choose a specific problem in your research, such as identifying your great-grandmother’s parents, finding when your second-great-grandfather immigrated, or locating your great-aunt after she was widowed and remarried. Write a plan to research that problem, and list your question, the information you already know, a hypothesis and some records to check. Check out a sample plan.

New Zealand MapOnce I get through all the records I am currently processing, my next problem to work on will be finding all those families that emigrated to New Zealand. I know there are many of them, although some of them I may not yet have even identified as having gone anywhere, they’ll just have disappeared off the face of the planet! This is my basic research strategy.

  • List all those people in my Unst Family Tree that do not have all census records or a death record – suggesting they have disappeared somewhere.
  • Visit Tauranga Family History Centre with said list and work through them to see if any came to NZ
  • For those known to have come to NZ, work through death, and if applicable marriage, records, plus electoral rolls (no census to work with in NZ) to find out more about them.
Day 11: Select one kind of record (census record, birth record, marriage certificate, Social Security death index entry, etc.) and ensure you’ve found a record of that type for all your relatives back to a certain generation. If a relative who should have that kind of record doesn’t have one, go find it. Make sure you save a copy of the record, and be sure to cite your sources.

That’s essentially what I’m working through for my tree. I have, for example, got all the census records from 1911 back to 1871 associated with all the people in my tree, and all the marriage records (since they are the most helpful, listing both sets of parents!)

Day 12: Select one ancestor and research any of his or her siblings that you know about but haven’t previously studied. This “collateral” research can help you uncover information about your direct-line ancestors, such as parents’ names or birthplaces.

Again, this may be one of the reasons why it’s taking me so long to do what I plan, but I do this as a matter of course. It has been extremely useful in locating all sorts of missing people who were later found with their siblings or children.

Day 13: Write a paragraph or two that includes everything you know about an ancestor. Writing out that person’s information can help you identify gaps in your research.

This is something I plan to put together programmatically when I get everything onto a website. In the process of producing such a paragraph, it would then become clear when I didn’t have all the information needed to finish the paragraph. I imagine it looking something like this:-

Janet was born on 27 Apr 1848, the second child of 13, to parents Andrew Scott Edwardson and Barbara nee Sinclair. As with all their children, Andrew and Barbara baptised her within a few months of her birth on 11 Jun 1848. She lived in the family home in Collaster, and then Snarravoe, until she married Laurence Sutherland on 21 Nov 1857 in the Uyeasound Free Church, on the same day as her sister Tamar married.

She and Laurence had 13 children and lived in Lerwick and Unst throughout their marriage. She died the year before her husband, on 3 Apr 1936 in Murrister.

Day 14: Set a goal that you’ve been holding onto and break it down into smaller parts. By establishing a research plan, you’ll give yourself a guide to future research.

For me this is the same thing I described on Day 10, so I won’t repeat it, and catch up another day in my aim to complete this in February.

Day 15: Create a checklist of possible records you still need to research for an ancestor. As you work, check off the records you’ve found.

I have this checklist for my tree as a whole, rather than per person. The list currently looks a bit like this (since I’m working on both census and statutory records to give myself some variation!):-

  • ☐ 1841 Census
  • ☐ 1851 Census
  • ☐ 1861 Census
  • ☑ 1871 Census
  • ☑ 1881 Census
  • ☑ 1891 Census
  • ☑ 1901 Census
  • ☑ 1911 Census
  • ☐ Statutory Birth Records
  • ☑ Statutory Marriage Records
  • ☐ Statutory Death Records
Day 16: Make sure all the birth, marriage and death dates in your family tree are formatted consistently. Having all these data points in the same format will make it easier for you to compare them and identify errors

All my dates are formatted thus:-

  • 10 Apr 1874
  • abt 1874
  • before 1874

Well that’s Week 2 finished, and I feel my tree is in quite good health, albeit still with a lot of work to do, but at least I have a plan!

The puzzle of Jemima Georgeson

I do love a good puzzle, especially when you find the last little piece of the puzzle fits in perfectly and proves all your remaining outstanding questions.

I was actually following the branch of an Unst gent, Charles Peterson who, like many Shetland men, had moved to Toxteth Park to work in the docks. I found two possible marriage records for him, which upon further digging both turned out to be him as his first wife died not long after they married, as he is then recorded as a widower in the census and then in the second marriage record.

  • Oct-Nov-Dec 1890: Married Jemima Georgeson, Toxteth
  • Apr 1891: Recorded as a widower in the census return, where he is boarding
  • 4 May 1892: Recorded as a widower in the second marriage record

As I always do, I like to branch out sideways in the tree and find out what I can about spouses, siblings etc. But I didn’t really know very much at all about his first wife Jemima. I had an approximate age, and her father’s name Peter Georgeson, from the marriage record.

I had a Jemima Georgeson, born in Fetlar (the neighbouring island to Unst), with Unst ties in my tree, with the same approximate birthdate and father’s name. Could it be the same woman? I didn’t even know if Charles’ first wife was from Shetland, although it was certainly a common occurrence for two Shetlanders to meet in Toxteth Park and marry, I’d seen that many times already. If she was the same woman, then I wouldn’t find any evidence of her in the census in Toxteth Park because she was in Unst in 1881, and had died before 1891.

Then I found that she and Charles had a daughter, born in the same registration quarter that she died – suggesting a childbirth related reason for her death. This daughter died in Shetland in 1892. She wasn’t with her father in the 1891 census as he was on his own as a boarder. She must be somewhere in the 1891 census, perhaps she was already in Shetland by then, sent home by her widowed father to be looked after by relatives?

Sure enough I located her in Fetlar, living with her grandmother, her maternal grandmother. That link proved that Jemima Georgeson was indeed the one I already knew of. Also, the census showed that little Jemima Margaret Peterson was 4 months old in the 1891 census narrowing down her birth date from a registration quarter to a month, and also the same for her mother’s death date.

Charles Sinclair Peterson's Family Tree

Charles Sinclair Peterson’s Family Tree

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!