A Doctrine of Doctors

I just wrote a guest blog post over at the Society for One-Place Studies, all about the Doctors in Unst in the late 1800s.

You can read it at A Doctrine of Doctors

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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.

Inaccurate recording strikes again

I love it when you find a record and all the names match up, correct parents, spouse, any mentioned children. Tick, tick, tick. All good, it’s definitely them.

However, every so often you come across one where it doesn’t fit and you run around in circles looking for the other person with the same name that isn’t them, to whom this record must refer, and end up back where you started with the belief that the record must be wrong. And after all, records are sometimes wrong. It’s like a detective story, where you have to work out who is lying, except (one hopes) the person who recorded the wrong information wasn’t lying deliberately, they just didn’t know (and didn’t realise the frustration their inaccuracies would cause 200 years later!).

This evening I have a Thomas Jam(i)eson whose death record shows his parents as William Jamieson and Catherine Christie, and wife Jane Fordyce. The record was informed by his son Thomas, so you start off feeling you can trust the information.

No. Name and Surname.
Rank or Profession, and whether
Single, Married, or Widowed.
When and Where Died. Name, Surname, & Rank or Profession, of Father.
name, and Maiden Surname of Mother.
Signature & Qualification of Informant,
and Residence, if out of the
House in
which the Death occurred.
16 Thomas
Jamieson

General Labourer

Married to
Jane Fordyce

1887
August
Twenty seventh
7h am

Cathoul,
Unst

William Jamieson
Fisherman
(deceased)

Catherine Jamieson
M.S. Christie
(deceased)

Thomas Jamieson

Son
(present)

Prior to his death Thomas can be found in the census returns along with his wife Jane and their children, and in two of the returns, also his sister Janet lives with them – in 1851 and 1871. I suspect she also lives with them in 1861, but she is recorded as a visitor in another house on the night of the census so that secret is likely lost to the mists of time.

1851 Census

Name of Street, Place, or
Road, and Name or
No. of House
Name and Surname of each Person
who abode in the house
on the Night of 30th March, 1851.
Relation
to
Head of Family
Condition Age of Rank, Profession,
or
Occupation
Males Females
Catt Houl Thomas Jamieson Head Mar 42 Day labourer, Crofter
Jane Do. Wife Mar 35
Ann T. Do. Daur 4
Elizabeth Do. Daur 2
Janet E Do. Sister Widow 49 Pauper
Catharine Fordyce Wife’s Sister U. 25 Pauper, nearly helpless

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
Catthoul Thomas Jameson Head Mar 67 Quarryman Crofter
Jane Do Wife Mar 60
Margery Do Daur Unm 15 Veil Knitter
Thomas Do Son Unm 12
Janet Do Sister W. 70 Pauper

When I find his sister Janet’s death record however, I find that she is recorded with different parents to that on her brother’s death record. The informant for Janet is her brother Thomas himself – so I feel this record is more trustworthy than his one.

No. Name and Surname.
Rank or Profession, and whether
Single, Married, or Widowed.
When and Where Died. Name, Surname, & Rank or Profession, of Father.
name, and Maiden Surname of Mother.
Signature & Qualification of Informant,
and Residence, if out of the
House in
which the Death occurred.
24 Janet Williamson

Pauper
Widow of
Thomas Williamson
Seaman

1874
June Fourth
5h am

Baliasta,
Parish of Unst

William Gilb’t Jameson
Fisherman
(deceased)

Isabella Jameson
M.S. Anderson
(deceased)

Thomas Jamieson
His X Mark
Brother, present

Peter Johnson
Registrar, Witness

Thomas clearly knows who his own parents are, so is the death record for a Thomas Jamieson actually for someone else? Perhaps there are two Thomas’s and both married someone called Jane and that’s what’s causing the confusion?

Looking at the Marriage record in the Old Parish Records it shows the names of the two parties but not their parents (that only comes in with the Statutory Records in 1855). However, it is likely that the witnesses are in some way related to the marrying parties, and looks like Thomas’ father William was one of the witnesses. (Note: The names Jane/Jean are often interchanged.)

1841 Contracts of Marriage
Dec 2 Thomas Jameson, Stutoft & Jean Fordyce, Greenroad, were married by the Rev James Ingram. James Johnson, Greenroad, William Jameson, Stutoft, Witnesses.

This is clearly the same Thomas as on the Death Certificate because in both cases we have his wife’s maiden name. Here we can see that prior to getting married, Thomas lived in Stutoft. If we look at the census which was taken less than 6 months before (1841 census was taken on 6 June 1841) we can see all the people who lived in Stutoft.

PLACE NAME and SURNAME, SEX and AGE,
of each Person who Abode in each House
on the Night of 6th June.
OCCUPATION
Here insert
Name of Village,
Street, Square, Close
Court, &c.
NAME and SURNAME AGE Of what Profession,
Trade, Employment, or
whether of
independent means.
Male Female
Stutoft William Jameson 75 Farmer
Thomas do 30
William do 12
Ursula do 19
Joan do 8
Catharine do 50
Isabella do 70

1841 census don’t show all the relationships between members of the household (that doesn’t begin until 1851). The pattern I’m used to seeing, from extensive reading of 1841 census taken in Unst, is the Husband and head of household on line one, followed by his wife on line two, and then the children listed either in descending age order, or grouped into boys and then girls and in descending age order within each gender. This record has an odd order. William is listed first, and that is one thing all records agree on – Thomas’s father is called William. There is also a woman, of an appropriate age, called Isabella also living at this house, but she is listed last, like a servant or ‘other’ relation would be. If she had been listed second, that would have sealed it for me, but this record still leaves a small doubt in my mind.

Isabella and William Gilbert’s children span birth dates from 1791 (when Isabella was 20) until 1807 (when she was 35). I believe that the younger children on the 1841 census are not her children but in fact her grandchildren (and in one case step-grandchild), and that may account for the odd ordering.

Stutoft 1841 Residents Annotated

Here are William Gilbert Jameson and Isabella Anderson’s children.
The red borders show the people present on the 1841 census
The green bordered person shows where the death record confusion may have come from.

Christie is not a common surname in Unst, and it always pays to have a wider look around when faced with confusion such as this. I see that Thomas’ brother James is married to a Catherine Christie. I have to assume that this is where the confusion came in for Thomas’ son when informing the register of the details for the death record.

So I’ve come to the conclusion that the death record is wrong.

Scotlands People Centre

Register House, Edinburgh

Register House in Edinburgh

Whenever I’m in Edinburgh, I make sure I have time to visit the Scotlands People Centre in New Register House on Princes Street in Edinburgh. It’s a location where you can view, on computer, scans of all the records useful for family historians; the Statutory Records, Old Parish Records, Census Returns and many others.

Inside the building itself is very library like, it is lined with books (the old registers themselves) and everyone there works away quietly. However, the architecture of the building gives another sensation, perhaps one of a place of worship, and certainly it is where Scottish Genealogists come to worship the records of old. It is also a respectful silence, where people are looking for long dead ancestors.

These various links have more photos of the inside of the centre.

ScotlandsPeople Centre

Book lined search room at the ScotlandsPeople Centre in Edinburgh.
Photo source: Telegraph article

The combination of all these things on your senses; the sight of the old books; the quietness of the sounds around you; and the library smell (old books do have such a wonderful smell) do provide a motivational ambiance which encourages you in your search for ancestors (although the £15 per seat per day may also have a motivational effect!).

I do love visiting the place for my ‘old records fix’.


This post was prompted by the WordPress Discover Challange: Blogging the senses

Presentation at Genealogy Group

I joined a local genealogy group, and today I gave a small presentation about James Moar, the man who turned to knitting when he do no other task to support himself. I’ve written about him in a number of blog posts before.

I created the presentation from the material I had in the above blog posts, using some of the photographs as illustrations as I talked. I also used old maps to show where they lived, and showed the various census records and birth and death records that I had discovered when researching James’ life. I also talked about getting his Death record updated so that he was finally recorded correctly, which seemed to be met with great approval.

Aberdeen Show Newspaper Cutting

Aberdeen Show Newspaper Cutting, from Dundee Courier, Wednesday, July 25th 1894

I had one new piece of information in the presentation that is not in any of the previous blog posts. As you’ll know if you’ve read the others, James turned to knitting when he was invalided, and while he had a slow start, he did clearly get better. In the 1901 and 1911 census he is listed as a Shetland Lace Knitter, which shows a certain skill as that is a complex and delicate knitting style. Well he, must have been quite good because he won first prize in the Aberdeen Highland show (held on Tuesday, July 24th 1894) for a Fine White Shetland Shawl, beating another lady from the same village, Uyeasound, into second place.

I brought along my copy of the Unst Heritage Lace book for the group members to look at as well, since James is also mentioned in there.

I think the presentation was well received, and I hope to maybe do another subject at a future meeting.

Look around for clues

It’s certainly true that you can’t always use ancestral records in isolation. Sometimes there is simply not enough information in them to be able to use them alone. However, the supporting information can sometimes be closer to hand than you realise.

I am gradually working my way through the Statutory Death records from Unst and trying to process one for a man called John Henderson. The record is quite early in the Statutory Records processing, 1857 – only a couple of years after they started in 1855, and they record whether a person was married, but not who to. I have a number of John Henderson’s but which one is it. How can I be sure? After trying a variety of different ways of looking at it (looking for siblings with the same parents; trying to track down the Brother-in-law who was the informant on the record) but I get the feeling I’m not going to be able to place this one.

I sit back and stare absently at my screen.

No. Surname and Name.
Rank or Profession, & Condition,
(whether Married or Single,
Widower or Widow.)
When and Where Died,
with Hour of Death.
Parents’ Names,
and
Rank, Profession, or Occupation.
Cause of Death, and how long
Disease continued. – Medical
Attendant by whom certified,and
when he last saw deceased.
Signature, Qualification, and Resi-
dence of Informant, If out of the
House in which the Death
occurred.
16 Henderson
John
Fisherman

(Married)

1857
June
Eleventh
7.30 am

Some miles
off Skaw

Andw Henderson
Fisherman
(deceased)

Margt Henderson
maiden name
Gray (deceased)

Drowned at Sea
in a gale of wind
John Priest
Brother in law
of Deceased
17 Henderson
Laurence
Fisherman

(Single)

1857
June
Eleventh
7.30 am

Some miles
off Skaw

John Henderson
Fisherman
(deceased)

Mary Henderson
maiden name
Spence

Drowned at Sea
in a gale of wind
John Priest
Uncle of Deceased

Skaw Map

Map showing Skaw in the north of Unst. Click on the map to go to the zoom-able version on the NLS website

It’s then I notice that the informant for all three death records on this page is the same name. It’s clearly a boating accident as all three are recorded as “Drowned at Sea in a gale of wind” at the same date and time, and “Some miles off Skaw”. Three people registered with the same cause of death on the same day, and the informant has the same name surely means that the informant is the same man.

This man, John Priest, is a Brother-in-law to the first man, Uncle to the second man, and neighbour to the third. The second man is recorded with a father’s name the same as the name of the first man. Given the relationship of John Priest to each of them, this means that the first man is the father to the second man. Father and son working in the same fishing boat is certainly a common occurrence.

This also means that the mother recorded on the second man’s death record is the missing spouse on the first man’s death record. Now I can place them both.

Knowing the spouse is Mary Spence, I am also then able to place John Priest, as there is a John Priest married to Catherine Spence (who lives in Norwick in 1851 which is not far from Skaw) which tells me something about the Spence girls – that they are sisters – that I didn’t previously know. Finding both their death records also confirms they have the same parents.

So, when all looks lost, sit back and look around you!

Some people just make it complicated

I’m continuing to work through all the records for Unst, and today I came across a death record for a little girl with the surname Meal. This was not a surname I had come across before, so I could tell straight away that this was going to be someone from outside of Unst, perhaps whose father had married an Unst girl. If nothing else, I knew this was not going to be an easy one to track down, because the death took place in 1857, so only a couple of years after statutory records began in 1855. We were into the less reliable era of Old Parish Records for any birth or marriage records. As it turned out, I had no idea how difficult it was going to be! A whole catalog of quirks made it very hard to track this little family down.

  • Father’s surname spelling change
    After a little research it became clear that ‘Meal’ was an alternate spelling of ‘Mail’, a fairly common surname from Dunrossness, Shetland. James Meal/Mail was a Boot and Shoemaker, which was an unusual enough occupation among the hundreds of Fishermen and Crofters to make him a little easier to find.
  • Mother’s names – all change
    Janet Elizabeth Jameson, the little girl’s mother, was baptised as Jenny Betty Jameson. I’m used to searching for both Jameson and Jamieson as those spellings get interchanged a lot; and I’m used to looking for Elizabeth’s and Betty’s interchangeably; but the Janet vs Jenny was a new one for me, and so the triple combination meant she was hard to find. She seems to be most frequently called Jane Elizabeth, from which it is easier to see how you get to both Janet, and Janey/Jenny.
  • They married in England
    Finding the marriage record did help to figure out who the mother was, with her name on the marriage recorded as Jane Betty Jamison (yet another spelling) – and her father’s name which truly sealed the find.
  • They lived in England
    Having married in England, in Monk-Wearmouth, Durham, they had two daughters there, and Jenny/Jane died there.

So the resultant family was Jenny Betty Jameson, from Unst, married James Mail, from Dunrossness, in Monk-Wearmouth, Durham. They had two daughters there, both called Joannah Elizabeth (a nod to the two grannies, Joanna Arnot and Elizabeth Leslie), both of whom died at a young age, the first in the same area, and the second in Unst – which is the death record that started this search. Jane also died in this area before the death of her second daughter. All this happened between the years of 1853 (marriage) and 1856 (Jane’s death) so this couple and their children never show up in a census record anywhere – both are in Shetland for the 1851 census. What is a mystery is why James took his daughter to Unst, after his wife died. Maybe a vist to the grandparents?

Joanna Elizabeth Mail Family Tree

Joanna Elizabeth Mail’s Family Tree