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

Tracking Martha Johnson

I was contacted through this blog by the great-great-grandson of Martha. He was looking for information on her birth and death details.


We knew from her marriage record to Donald Sutherland on 23 Jan 1840 that her maiden name is Martha Johnson, and that she lived in Ungersta. Interestingly, on her son James’s marriage record she is recorded as Martha Jamieson. Being a little less specific about her surname and searching for Martha J* soon reveals the following record in the Old Parish Records of Births and Baptisms in Unst.

Day of the
Childs Birth
Day of the
Childs Baptism
Baptisms 1816
April 1
April 3
John Jameson in Ungersta a Daur Martha

Seeing this record explains the discrepancy and also the difficulty in finding it. This is a common problem with patronymic surnames, since that record is indexed as Martha Jameson, not Johnson as she was actually known.


Finding her death record was a little more difficult however. From census returns we know she died between 1861 and 1871 since in 1861 she is in Unst with her family, but in 1871 she is nowhere to be found and her husband, who is still living in Skaw, is recorded as Widowed. She didn’t die in Unst though as there is no sign of her in the Unst death records.

So, since I was in Edinburgh at the ScotlandsPeople Centre I had a thorough look at all the Martha’s who died anywhere in Shetland between 1861 and 1871, still no sign. Expanding my search for Martha Sutherland’s in the whole of Scotland I found one possibility, a married woman called Martha Sutherland who died in The Sunnyside Lunatic Asylum in Montrose – a long way from Unst!

No. Name and Surname.
Rank or Profession, and whether
Single, Married, or Widowed.
When and Where Died. Sex. Age. Name, Surname, & Rank or Profession
of Father.
Name, and Maiden Surname of Mother.
Cause of Death, Duration of
Disease, and Medical Attendant
by whom certified.
77 Martha



Lunatic Asylum
Parish of Montrose

F 50

Six Months

as certified by

The informant didn’t know enough about her, or didn’t bother to find out enough, to fill in her husband’s name, which is usually recorded below the word Married, nor her parents names. So, this could be her, but equally it could be anyone.

Upstairs in Register House, above the ScotlandsPeople search rooms, is the Historical Records search room, so I looked for admission records for the Sunnyside hospital in their catalog index. I found them, but they are not digitised, and they are stored in the University of Dundee Archives. I was ready to pop over to Dundee the following day to get a look at them, only to discover that Thursday (the last day of my visit to Scotland this time) was the day their archives are closed! I definitely had a “so near, and yet so far” feeling then.

Sunnyside Hospital

Sunnyside Hospital. Photo courtesy of the Memories of Sunnyside webpage.

So, I emailed the Dundee Archives in the hope that they could look up the Admission records and find the Martha Sutherland who died in the Hospital and see if there was any additional information recorded that would refute or prove that she was the one we were looking for. I wasn’t sure how well indexed such records were, whether looking one person up, even with such a narrow date window (1861 – 1867), would mean literally turning every page.

Well, I was very pleasantly surprised. It was an easy look up for the archivist to do, and by the time I left Register House on Thursday aftenoon (where there is no internet access) and could read my email for the day, I had a response from them with the details from the Hospital Records. It was a woman from Unst, with a husband Donald Sutherland who lived in Skaw. It was our girl! She checked into the Hospital on 9 January 1865, at age 48. It was recorded as her third attack, the first being when she was 36 years of age.

The record also shed some light on why she was there. It records the Supposed Cause as “Death of an infant from being overlaid and death of a child thereafter from burning.”

It just shows that it really is worth following every possible lead, even if you don’t think it’s likely that someone would be so far from home when they died, Unst to Montrose is quite a long way from home.

I’d like to try and find the children who died but that will be the subject of a future blog post.

Correction – James Thomas Irvine Moar

I’ve written a number of blog posts about James Thomas Irvine Moar, the invalided man who taught himself to knit.

Register House, Edinburgh

Register House in Edinburgh

The last post ended with me sending off the details to the Correction of Errors Section at New Register House in Edinburgh to get his Death record updated to include his parents. My evidence included the above blog posts where I’d gathered everything I knew about him.

They replied fairly quickly to let me know that the correction had been accepted, but that it would be a number of months before the amendment would appear in ScotlandsPeople for everyone to see.

Before we can correct an entry in the Registers, we must establish that an error has been made & therefore ask to see some form of documentary evidence.

Before we can correct/insert a person’s parentage on a death entry we would require to see their statutory birth entry.

As we have James Moar’s statutory birth entry I can add the parents’ particulars no problem & also insert James Moar’s middle names (Thomas Irvine).

RCE Marker

RCE Marker on James Moar’s Death Record

This week I was back in Edinburgh at the ScotlandsPeople Centre where you can view all the records (and purchase and download any that you wish to keep a copy of), so I looked up the Death record that I had previously found. And there it was, the marker to note that a correction to this record exists in the Register for Corrected Entries (RCE). The system I was using to view the record in the ScotlandsPeople Centre also provides a link to the RCE, so I clicked on it and there were my corrections.

Registration District of Shetland Islands
Register of Deaths District of Lerwick ( 5/1 ) Year 1919 Entry No. 132
James Moar – Correction of name in column 1
Insertion of parents’ particulars in column 5
Annotation of the entry
Annotate the margin of the above-noted entry as follows:- R.C.E. 118/2014/13

Issue of extracts, special-purpose certificates and, where applicable, abbreviated certificates of the entry
In column 1 for James Moar substitute James Thomas Irvine Moar
In column 5 for parents’ particulars insert John Moar Fisherman (Deceased) Margaret Moar M.S. Robertson (Deceased)

It was great to see James now properly recorded for posterity, only 100 years late!

Unst peerie knitters

The Peerie Knitters group at the Baltasound School in Unst is an after school club that has been meeting for the past 15 years or so.

Peerie Knitters Group

Unst Peerie Knitters at work. Running for the past 15 years.

Unst’s knitting history

Knitting in Unst in the past was an economic necessity. Many women were living on a croft, which was seldom large enough to provide a living for a family. Out of necessity too, most of the men were crofter/fishermen, leaving the womenfolk to tend the croft and knit in every spare moment to support the family, for the fishing too could be very uncertain, especially with the Truck system in operation.

Mothers and Grannies have always taught their bairns to knit, as they too could contribute to the family as well as helping with croft work.

Until recently there were knitting teachers in Shetland Schools, till the Education Authority in their wisdom decided to cut this vital service.

Peerie Knitters Out and About

Over the years the Peerie Knitters has taken part in a variety of activities.

One year a group was invited to the Royal Highland Show and demonstrated knitting to other young folk.

Peerie Knitters stand at Royal Highland Show

Our stand at the Royal Highland Show.

Peerie Knitters Demonstrating

Showing others how to knit.

Peerie Knitters with Edinburgh Castle in the background

Enjoying the visit to Edinburgh.

Unst Heritage Centre fashion show and book launch

A Stitch In Time Book Cover

“A Stitch in Time”, a book about Unst Lace knitting created by the Unst Heritage Centre, was published and launched at the Fashion Show event.

The children made jumpers and took part in the knitwear fashion show “One hundred years of Unst knitting”.

Unst Knitware on the Catwalk

On the catwalk.

Fine Lace Bridal Shawl

Fine lace shawl for a bride.

It is interesting to see that, when the local Care Centre has a Knit and Chat evening, the range of ages of knitters attending ranges from a lady of over 100 years to a child of 7 years of age!

Maima Jean

Maima Jean, a lovely lady of over 100 years of age.

It is to be hoped that the special knitting skills for Unst’s fine lace live on in the next generation now learning to knit.

How can I help?

One of my aims with my work to create a complete Unst Family Tree is to be able to help out anyone stuck with their own Unst related ancestry. By being visible online (through this blog among other things) I have already had contact from, and helped out, a number of people who have traced their relations back to Unst folk.

I can’t claim to be being completely self-less in these endeavours because in each case both parties learn something. I can provide details about their Unst relations, and they can provide me details of where an Unst born person who moved away from the island ended up. I’d love to learn where all the Unst people ended up in the world. I know many went to Canada, U.S.A., Australia and New Zealand, but also in the U.K. many moved to Edinburgh, Leith, and Toxteth Park (undoubtedly related to the sea going industries from those places which would attract men with previous sea-going experience as Fisherman).

Here is a newspaper report published in the Zetland Times on 14th September 1874 about emigrating Unst people.

EMIGRATION.—Emigration from the islands to New Zealand is still being carried on, and almost every month a good many people leave to try their fortunes in this new field of industry. In the present state of matters in Shetland it is best that the labouring classes should leave the islands altogether than that being turned out of their crofts to make room for sheep farms, they should settle on wild moorland waster or on projecting points, and lead a life of—at the very best—semi-starvation, for the benefit of a few selfish lairds, whose short sighted policy will ultimately ruin themselves and the islands. On Thursday last about 100 emigrants left here for New Zealand by the “St Clair,” eighty of whom were from Unst. We understand that more are to follow shortly.

I’ve written a few blog posts as a result of these contacts:-

So if you’ve found a relation in your family tree from Unst, Shetland and would like some help, please get in touch. Eventually I will have all my research on a webpage but in the mean time I’m happy to help out in an ad hoc manner.

So close, but never knew

I’ve been contacted by a number of people who have ancestors from Unst, looking for for more details about them. On several occasions it has enhanced my tree by providing me with information about the married name of a woman in my tree who had “disappeared”. It feels like a very fair swap, I give them her ancestors, and they provide me with her descendants.

Group of servants

A group of domestic servants in Edinburgh.
Photo Source: Shetland Museum

In one particular case, the young woman from Unst had, as many girls did, moved south to work as a domestic servant, in Edinburgh. She met and married a man in Edinburgh, and I was contacted by one of their descendants. He knew that she was from Unst from her marriage record but had not found any more about her.

Along with providing the details about her life in Unst, and ancestors’ details, I sent him the link to the census return which showed where she lived in Edinburgh, working as a domestic servant, before she was married. It turned out that he had lived within 250 yards of that address while growing up. As he said, “how can you be so close without knowing”. It was an wonderful coincidence.