Reflections on 2018
2018 was another busy year professionally (I am very grateful to all my 2018 clients) and I thoroughly enjoyed the Scottish Association of Family History Societies conference in Glenrothes, the Lanarkshire Local and Family History Show in Motherwell (where once again I volunteered on the ‘Ask an Expert’ stall) and the Scottish Local History Forum conference in Perth. I enjoyed days out to Glasgow with the Scottish Local History Forum and to Perth and Kinross Archives, Dundee City and Council Archives and East Ayrshire Archives and Dick Institute museum in Kilmarnock all with the Scottish Genealogy Network.
However, the absolute highlight for 2018 for me was making a lot of use of 2 ‘new to me’ record sets, asylum records and poor law records.
The asylum project originally started because I noticed I had a quite a few ancestors who had died in asylums and I wanted to know why. I started with 6 ancestors who had died in asylums and I am now looking at 9 ancestors who have been in asylums. I have found exploring the asylum records in National Records of Scotland, the Highland Archive Centre in Inverness, the North Lanarkshire Archive in Motherwell and the NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde Archive based in the Mitchell Library both fascinating and depressing. The admission reasons and health issues of my ancestors in asylums have actually been very useful in helping me form a wider picture of their lives: hormonal disease leading to exposing sexual organs, several occurrences of violence and threats of violence, delusions and hallucinations, creeping along floors on all fours, being admitted to an asylum from a prison under a charge of malicious mischief and attempting to jump out of a tenement window 3 storeys up to escape personal demons. I found the medical certificates and case notes especially informative. However, I was really quite disappointed that no records appear to have survived for a private asylum which is actually still in existence as a care home.
[In North Lanarkshire Archives in Motherwell I found an outline of my great, great grandfather’s hand (in black) surviving in his case notes from his stay in Hartwood Asylum]
I also attended a poor law workshop at Strathclyde University in 2018 and was then inspired to start working with the Glasgow poor law records held at Glasgow City Archives in the Mitchell Library. Again, what amazing, depressing information. Highlights for me were the shock of finding my grandfather in the poor law records (his father was unemployed therefore claiming prior to emigration), a claim for an ambulance for my great, great grandfather who was days from death and an ancestor, for whom I have a very elegant photograph, being described as an alcoholic by her family. I’m intending starting working with the poor law records held in Paisley in 2019 – see below.
My initial exploration of court records and fishing records held at the National Records of Scotland also started in 2018. The court records for my family were fascinating witness statements, at this moment I need to work out how to go forward with court records. I intend re-visiting fishing records in 2019 as part of a long term project – see below.
So many brick-walls have been smashed this year by me using DNA research. I built a spreadsheet-based chromosome browser in 2018 and I have found it fascinating being in contact with so many lovely cousins who share DNA with me and I find it quite a thought that I can now match up actual segments of my DNA to specific ancestors.
New Year’s Resolutions for 2019
I’ve been the owner/manager of 2 One Place Studies projects (also known as local history projects) for several years now. One is researching the 18th century weaving village of Cairneyhill, Fife where I grew up and the other is the village of Shandon near Helensburgh which was populated by wealthy Glasgow merchants (plus my family, 2 generations of whom had holiday homes there). I’ve been continually collecting data, stories and photos for both villages over the past several years. My aim for 2019 is to formally build and launch new websites for my One Place Studies.
As I said above, I’ve been enthralled by the poor law records in the Mitchell Library for most of 2018. The poor law records for the Paisley area have also survived with an online index where I have spotted many of my great-grandfather’s family who emigrated from Buncrana, Co Donegal to Johnstone. I am looking forward to visiting Paisley Heritage Centre in 2019 to explore their poor law records. My Armour family are a true mystery – not only are they one of my Irish brick walls (see below for my upcoming visit to the archives in Belfast), they were a relatively impoverished family, my great grandfather’s mother was admitted to an asylum as a pauper, but they also donated a large stained glass window to St Margaret’s church in Johnstone. That to me is a contradiction yet to be resolved ….
My major aim, because I believe there is a gap in the market, is to launch an online database on the fishing boats of the Moray Firth coastal communities. Ideally, my database will contain the physical details of the boat, who built it, the details of the owner, a picture of the boat and any relevant newspaper articles. I’m already collecting much information on this subject and hope to, in 2019, start formally recording the fishing boat information that is held in the National Records of Scotland and also build and launch a website for this project. Learning how to put a database online is another aim but that may take some study ….
[One of my family’s fishing boats]
As I may have mentioned above (!), I discovered many asylum records for my ancestors in 2018. I will keep going with this project, but I now want to find out much more about the conditions in the asylums. I know from my ancestors’ medical records that they did get happier and more stable in the asylums. I gather from speaking to archivists and fellow professional genealogists that I need to consult official lunatic asylum reports which I aim to seek out in 2019.
One major family history website I have unfortunately not kept up to date with is Family Search. This website is ran by the Church of Latter Day Saints (aka the Mormons) as a result of their wish to baptise all of their ancestors into their church and so they have a big interest in family history. Strathclyde University held a workshop on the Family Search website last summer which unfortunately I was unable to attend. I am hopeful that Strathclyde will repeat this workshop on the Summer of 2019 ….
And finally, I am so excited about my first ever visit to Belfast in hopefully May 2019. I do love Ireland, I try to visit every 2nd year and it just always feels like a second home to me as I am 25% Irish. One of my focuses in Belfast will be to visit the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI). At the moment I think my main aim there will be to hopefully demolish 2 of my Irish brick walls. The first concerns my great grandfather William Armour who was born in Buncrana, County Donegal in 1866 – I have been unable to trace the family for definite before that date and I would love to know where they came from (at the moment I’m unsure whether there will be much for County Donegal in PRONI as County Donegal is right on the modern border between Northern Ireland and the Republic). The second concerns my great, great grandfather Michael Cadden from County Fermanagh who I have traced from around 1845 when he was born to when I last ‘saw’ him in 1911. Unfortunately, I’ve been unable to find his death yet either in Ireland or Scotland.
[On the right is my great grandfather William Armour who was born in Buncrana, County Donegal in 1866 but where were the Armour family prior to 1866?]
I’ll look forward to reporting back to you in a year’s time regarding which of my aims I’ve achieved in 2019!