Old Parish Register of Scotland

Old Parochial Registers of Scotland

In this archived post by the late Carolyn Barkley, she delves into the usefulness of old parochial registers of Scotland, including what they are and resources to utilizing them.

One of the three “C’s” of Scottish research is church records (the other two being census and civil registration). One of the most extensive collections of church records can be found in the Old Parochial Registers (OPR), which document births/baptisms, marriages/proclamations, and deaths/burials in the Church of Scotland (Presbyterian) from the late 1500s through the end of 1854, although the dates for extant registers differ with each parish. As such, these records represent the best source for vital (birth, marriage, death) records prior to the beginning of civil registration in Scotland at the beginning of 1855.

It is important to understand what information can be found in OPR records as the details may vary. First, registration was costly, and therefore unpopular, and thus events often went unrecorded. In addition, the denominational history of churches in Scotland is quite convoluted. If your ancestor was a non-conformist during certain time periods, there will be no record of birth, marriage, or death events in the registers of the established church.

Baptismal registers may provide as little information as the date of baptism, name of the child, and name of the father. If you are looking for a George Duncan, born ca. 1809, who was the son of Charles Duncan, and you don’t know the parish in which he was born, your search will be more difficult and time-consuming. If a baptismal record, in addition to the more basic information as noted above, including the mother’s maiden name, it will be much easier to determine if you have identified the correct child and father combination. Additional information in the register might also include the father’s occupation, residence and the names of witnesses.

Marriage records also vary in content. In addition to the name of the bride and groom, they may document the dates of three (usually) proclamations (notices of upcoming marriage), either instead of, or sometimes in addition to, the actual marriage date. In addition, the parish(es) of the bride and groom, their residences, the groom’s occupation, and sometimes the name of the bride’s father, although seldom the name of the groom’s father, may also be provided. If the bride and groom come from separate parishes, both should be searched.

Burial and mortcloth rental records may be available for some parishes, but are found much less frequently. A mortcloth was the pall draped over the casket at a funeral. Such a pall was often owned by the parish and rented out for a fee. If the parish mortcloth was used, the receipt of the fee and by whom it was paid would have been recorded in the register. Rentals may not have been paid in other circumstances including the funeral of a child, or when a mortcloth was owned privately. The information provided in a burial record may be very brief, perhaps only a surname and a date. Remember also that burial records are not indexed in the microfiche OPR index.

When I first began researching in the OPR, the best access to these records was through the Old Parochial Registers Index on microfiche at the Family History Library or a local Family History Center. The index could locate an ancestor’s parish, document an ancestor’s christening, marriage, or burial date, or identify an ancestor’s spouse or parent. There are several drawbacks in using the OPR fiche, however: it contains christenings and marriages only (burials were not indexed); and the microfiche are arranged by county, the very piece of information that you might not know. For example, I cannot look at all of the records for a christening of a George Duncan, born ca. 1809 (county unknown), without searching through the fiche for each individual county. Obviously if I already knew the parish and/or mother’s name, my search would be much simpler.

Once an entry of interest is located in the index, the microfilm of the original register can be identified either through the batch number for the entry (located in the right-hand column on the fiche) or through the Family History Library Catalog. This index continues to be available both in the Family History Library in Salt Lake City and in your local Family History Center. You do not need to go to General Register House in Edinburgh to do this research. If you do, you will be looking at Family History Library film! Save your time and look at documents not available to you on this “side of the pond.”

Today, OPR records are much more accessible, with several research opportunities available, some at no cost, some for a reasonable fee.

  • Scotland Births and Baptisms, 1564-1950. This free electronic database has an interesting description in the FamilySearch Wiki: “This index is an electronic index for the years 1564 to 1955. It is not necessarily intended to index any specific set of records. This index is not complete for any particular place or region. This collection may include information previously published in the International Genealogical Index or Vital Records Index collections.”However, the Wiki goes on to state the primary record collections are pre-1855 Church of Scotland and Civil Registration 1855 to 1875. In addition, researchers are prompted to use the following wording as part of any citation of information from this database: “…citing Scotland Registrar General, Registers of births, marriages and deaths, FHL microfilm 232638, The New Register House, Edinburgh, Scotland.” My current research about George Duncan, my great-great-great grandfather, has led me to a hypothesis that he might by George Duncan, born 1809 in Auchterless, Aberdeenshire, the son of Charles Duncan and Elizabeth Middleton, although my reasoning is very circumstantial at this stage in my research. My search for George in this database identified 167 entries for George Duncan, but did not identify a record for a George Duncan, son of Charles and Elizabeth, in the parishes of Auchterless or nearby Fyvie.
  • Scotland Marriages, 1561-1910. This free electronic database includes the same FamilySearch Wiki caveat as did Scotland Births and Baptisms. I searched in this database for a marriage between Charles Duncan and Elizabeth Middleton in Auchterless ca. 1806, information that I had obtained from a family tree on Ancestry.com.  Once again, I was unsuccessful in searching based on the information currently available to me, and I was equally unsuccessful when I searched for any Charles Duncan who was married in 1806 in Auchterless.
  • ScotlandsPeople. This site is fee-based and in addition to the OPRs, provides access to wills and testaments, coats of arms, Catholic parish registers, statutory registers (civil registration), and census records. In the case of an OPR search, the cost is approximately $11.00, which provides thirty “page credits” and access for one year after your credit card payment is authorized. You may extend your access for a further year and additional page credits can be purchased for about $7.00. Before using the site, read the information on charges carefully to understand their intricacies. Because other known information suggests that George was not married in Scotland, I searched for the marriage/banns of George’s possible parents, Charles Duncan (and variants of Duncan) and Elizabeth Middleton, for whom I had located a specific date and place in an Ancestry.com family tree (with no documentation provided). As I had such specific information, I first searched narrowly for a marriage between Charles Duncan and Elizabeth Middleton between 1 April 1806 and 1 June 1806 (the marriage date in the family tree was 6 April 1806) in the parish of Auchterless, Aberdeenshire. There were no matches. I tried several other searches including a very broad search for this bride and groom in all parishes and counties in Scotland from 1800 to 1810. Again, there were no matches. I also searched in the marriages and banns in Catholic registers. This search yielded two marriage records, but neither event occurred in Auchterless, and neither bride’s name was Elizabeth Middleton.

Not willing to give up, I tried one last, very broad search for a Charles Duncan marrying any woman between 1 January 1800 and 31 December 1810 in the parish of Auchterless. Bingo! The entry I received was for 6 April 1806, Charles Duncan to Elisabeth Midleton (please note spelling!) in the parish of Auchterless in Aberdeenshire. The lesson to be learned from this group of searches is that unexpected spelling variants can trip you up every time! Less information can often produce a more successful search. The entire search cost me seven page credits, three to view index entries identified by my searches and five to view the actual register page. I was able to print an image of the original register page at no cost.

You will also want to learn more about pre-1855 church records in Scotland in general and about the availability of specific parish registers. After you identify a possible parish, search for more information about it and its records, including pages for specific parishes on the FamilySearch Wiki. For example, there is a specific page for the parish of Auchterless. You can also consult V. Ben Bloxham’s Key to the Parochial Registers of Scotland from Earliest Times Thru 1854 (1872, Brigham Young University Press, 1970).

There are numerous titles providing general assistance with Scottish research. In particular, I recommend the 3rd rev. and updated edition of Kathleen B. Cory’s Tracing Your Scottish Ancestry (Genealogical Publishing Co., 2004). Appendix three in this book is particularly useful as it provides an alphabetical list of parishes with, for each, its district number (Registration Act of 1854), county, the year of its earliest OPR, and its earliest testament or inventory.

Other titles include:

  • Tracing Your Scottish Ancestors: the Official Guide (National Archives of Scotland), 6th ed. (Birlinn, 2012).
  • Linda Jonas and Paul Milner’s A Genealogist’s Guide to Discovering Your Scottish Ancestors (Betterway Books, 2002), in particular Chapter nine.
  • Sherry Irvine’s Scottish Ancestry: Research Methods for Family Historians (2nd ed., Ancestry, 2003), in particular Chapter five and Appendix A.

Image Credit: VisitScotland, Scottish Ancestry

 

Ahnentafel

Ahnentafel, Anyone?

You’ve probably run across the word “Ahnentafel” over the course of your research, but have you ever had it explained? The word’s origin is German for “ancestor table.” Most recently, however, it refers to a particular kind of numbering system used to keep track of our ancestors. Best used with pedigrees, as opposed to the more complex descendancies, Ahnentafel numbering allows each ancestor in the pedigree to have a discrete identification number (in ascending order).

The ahnentafel construct displays an individual’s genealogy compactly, without the need for a family tree or other diagram. This binary code-like abbreviated system can be particularly useful in space- or image-restricted situations, like sharing your genealogical findings with a family member via email, or with a larger group in a plain text forum. 

In his book, “Managing a Genealogical Project,” William Dollarhide describes Ahnentafel numbering in layman’s terms. Making excellent use of charts and tables, this book also explains the three main types of descendancy numbering systems for genealogy: the Register System, the Record System, and the Henry System.

Besides clearly describing the term, Ahnentafel, “Managing a Genealogical Project,” offers a number of other suggestions for organizing family history data – with or without a computer. Readers learn how to solve the paper collection problem, how and how not to take notes, and what to do with your correspondence. One of the most important features of the book is the collection of “Master Forms” (relationship chart, research log, ancestor table, etc.), which can be photocopied over and over again to enter and organize the information gathered by hand. Other “beginner” genealogy books can be found here.

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons, Costados de Anselmo Braamcamp FreireFrom the book “Brasões da Sala de Sintra”, by Anselmo Braamcamp Freire

Irish American, Dublin Chronicle

Early Newspaper Genealogy

Newspapers of present and past can be a great genealogy resource, especially for marriage and obituary notices. In fact, early newspapers are sometimes the ONLY available resource of genealogical information for a particular city, county or point in time.

Not long ago, the process of searching through newspaper archives was incredibly laborious, since 18th- and 19th-century newspapers are not indexed, which means searching through stacks and reels of microfilm. Fortunately for us, a number of dedicated genealogists have taken on the assignment of sifting through early newspapers to find buried genealogical information. These efforts have yielded book-length collections of marriage, death, or other vital records; they have also compiled lists of passengers, public officials, college graduates, members of committees of correspondence, addressees of unclaimed letters, and other items of genealogical value.

Early New Haven, Connecticut newspapers, in particular, are rich in data on individuals who might not otherwise appear in the public records. “Genealogical Data from Colonial New Haven Newspapers,” written jointly by Kenneth Scott and Rosanne Conway, contains abstracts of all items concerned with persons in New England mentioned in New Haven newspapers between 1755 and the outbreak of the Revolution.

Another example, The Irish-American, a weekly newspaper published in New York City for the edification of the Irish immigrant population, began publication in August 1849, at the height of the great exodus from Ireland. Besides community news, this newspaper also ran a popular classified section for people seeking information on relatives and friends who had recently taken up residence in the U.S. This resource, by Laura Murphy DeGrazia and Diane Fitzpatrick Haberstroh, contains over 8,500 names of Irish friends and relatives, some of which cannot be located elsewhere.

Additional resources related to old newspaper genealogy can be found here.

Image Credit: By Osioni at en.wikipedia [Public domain or Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons

federal census record photo

State Census Records

What first comes to mind when genealogists think of census records are the federal censuses that are constitutionally mandated and occur every ten years. The purpose of the federal census is to count the number of people living in the United States in order to apportion Congressional districts. For the first censuses, which began in 1790, getting a head count of people is really all it did. In the early years, from 1790-1840, only the head of household is listed and the number of household members in selected age groups. Beginning in 1850 and continuing through the 1940 census, details are provided for all individuals in each household, such as names of family members; their ages at that certain point in time; their state or country of birth; their parent’s birthplaces; year of immigration; marriage status; occupation(s); etc. Not all of this information is available for every person in every census, however. As years passed, the census became a way to gather even more data about the nation, such as health, housing, employment, growth, and other statistics.

State censuses, because they were taken randomly, remain a much under-utilized resource in American genealogy. State census records not only serve as a substitute for some of the missing 1790, 1800, 1810 and 1890 federal censuses, but they are also valuable population enumerations. State censuses are also important resources because some states asked different questions than the federal census and they were opened to the public faster; some state censuses taken as recently as 1945 are already available.

1905 kansas state census record

From the Census.gov website: “The Kansas State Board of Agriculture conducted a census
of the state in 1905 (questionnaire above). The census collected the names of all members of household and their age, sex, race or color, and state or country of birth. The census also collected information about members’ state or
country of origin and military service.”

 

To find out what state censuses exist, what kinds of information they contain, and importantly, where they can be found, reference Ann Lainhart’s first comprehensive list of state census records ever published. State by state, year by year, country by county and district by district, this reference publication is the definitive guide to state census records, even used as source information on the government’s census website.

 

Image Credits: Wikimedia Commons, 1920 Census Kennedy Carr; Census.gov, State Censuses.

 

West Virginia

West Virginia – A Spotlight on the Mountain State

“West Virginia, mountain momma, take me home, country roads.” John Denver’s anthem speaks to the state’s humble beginnings and the hearts of generations living there.

Following an earlier unsuccessful attempt in 1769, on June 20, 1863, West Virginia, or as the locals call it, the “Mountain State,” broke away from the eastern counties of Virginia over the issue of secession and became the 35th state to be admitted into the Union. Land of rugged mountains, West Virginia has the highest altitude east of the Mississippi River and also has the largest single natural scenic and outdoor recreational area in the eastern United States. The state’s motto, Montani Semper Liberi — Mountaineers Always Free, tells the tale West Virginia’s first settlers.

By the time the Constitution had been ratified, Virginia’s western counties encompassed over 50,000 inhabitants, many of whom came from nearby Pennsylvania and Maryland. The majority of colonial West Virginia settlers were English, but a third of the population was reported to be German. In addition, those of Scotch-Irish decent inhabited West Virginia’s least accessible and mountainous terrain. Since the local economy was dominated by subsistence agriculture, and, in any case, would not support a plantation economy, there were scarcely any persons of African-American birth living along the Blue Ridge until after the Civil War.

The history of the state and its people, from the Upper Monongalia Valley to the Lower Shenandoah Valley can be vast, therefore, genealogical references materials can help locate and research 18th and 19th-centrury relatives. “Early West Virginia Settlers,” for example, is a CD that contains the records of 200,000 early West Virginia settlers. The CD’s contents consist of wills, land grants, marriage records, military records, family histories, and local histories. To browse a wider selection of West Virginia publications available from Genealogical.com, click on the following link here.

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons, the Proposed State of Kanawha

Ship passenger lists

The Pitfalls of Passenger Lists

Michael Tepper is a leading authority on passenger and immigration lists in the U.S. He is the author of “American Passenger Arrival Records,” which is a road map through the tens of millions of records and resources documenting immigrant arrivals from the time of the earliest settlements to the passage of the Quota Acts of the 1920s.

The following is an excerpt of an interview from Genealogy Pointers about some of the problems researchers run into when they are on the trail of an immigrant ancestor.

GP: “What would you say is the most common misconception about passenger lists?”

MT: “Almost certainly it is the belief that people had their names changed when they got to Ellis Island. In fact, immigrants did not change their names unless they applied for a change of name by deed poll at a courthouse or when they were naturalized. During processing at Ellis Island, officials had the actual ships’ manifests in front of them. They called each immigrant by name, according to the manifests, and often put a check next to the name after it had been called. So the passenger records are an exact reflection of the immigrants’ identities before they crossed the Atlantic, not after.”

GP: “Are there other false assumptions about passenger lists?”

MT: “Among Americans of relatively recent ancestry, say researchers whose immigrant forebears arrived after 1850, there is the belief that official passenger lists must also exist for the Colonial and Early National periods of our history. The fact is they don’t. No colony-wide or U.S. law requiring the compiling of immigration records was enacted before 1820. The only immigration records prior to 1820 to have survived are really kind of quirky. For instance, we have lists of German immigrants who immigrated to colonies like Pennsylvania because the authorities, intent on keeping tabs on these newcomers, required them to take a loyalty oath. Also, some of the most important published immigration records are not immigration records at all, but land records, such as Nugent’s “Cavaliers And Pioneers” and Skordas’s “Early Settlers Of Maryland,” which identify early immigrants taking up land grants.”

GP: “Let’s turn that situation around. Can you think of an instance when surviving records are frequently overlooked?”

MT: “Yes. Here’s a common mistake that’s made by researchers hoping to find an ancestor during the 1840s. Let’s say the genealogist is looking for a Sean O’Shaunessey, who is supposed to have come from Dublin to New York in June of 1849. The researcher finds a Sean in the official Customs Passenger Lists; however, because the record indicates that his country of origin is Great Britain, not Ireland, the genealogist concludes, mistakenly, that this Sean is not his relative. This is an error that could have been avoided had the researcher known that shipping agents, or bursars, or others who were responsible for compiling the ships’ manifests were far more likely to write ‘Great Britain’ and not Ireland as Sean’s country of origin during the 1840s because Ireland was, in fact, officially part of Great Britain.”

Image credit: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration

 

CU Heritage image

Evidence Explained: An Interview with Elizabeth Shown Mills

Dipping into the Genealogy Pointers archives, we unearthed a fascinating interview with Elizabeth Shown Mills, author of “EVIDENCE EXPLAINED: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace.”

As one of the most respected and influential persons in American genealogy, Published widely in academic and popular presses, she was editor of the “National Genealogical Society Quarterly” (NGSQ) for 16 years.

Mrs. Mills has also taught for 13 years at a National Archives-based institute on archival records and, for 20 years, headed the program in advanced research methodology at Samford University in Alabama.

Mrs. Mills knows records, loves records, and regularly shares her expertise in them with audiences across three continents.

“EVIDENCE EXPLAINED” is Elizabeth Mills’ third major publication pertaining to source citation. Her earlier works include: “EVIDENCE! Citation & Analysis for the Family Historian” (1997) and “QUICKSHEET: Citing Online Historical Resources “Evidence!” Style” (2005). The groundbreaking “EVIDENCE EXPLAINED” analyses citation principals and includes more than 1,000 citation models for virtually every source type. In the process, it covers all contemporary and electronic history sources–including digital, audio, and video sources–most of which are still not discussed in traditional style manuals.

“Genealogy Pointers” spoke with Mrs. Mills about the making “EVIDENCE EXPLAINED” and how researchers can benefit from it. Here are the exchanges from that conversation:

GENEALOGY POINTERS (GP): Why did you write this book?

ELIZABETH SHOWN MILLS (ESM): Researchers need help and want help, but what they need today is not available elsewhere. Those who study history now probe far beyond the materials covered by standard citation guides–combing long-ignored original, grassroots-level records for fresh insight into our world. Thanks to modern technology, billions of these original records are now easily accessible through many different media. However, today’s researchers also know two things: First, all these records are not created equal. Second, the real reason to carefully identify sources for each piece of information is to ensure that we use the best sources possible. Otherwise, we just can’t reach reliable conclusions. Analyzing evidence is no easy task, considering the volume of information available, the diversity of the records, all the quirks within each type of document, and all the media formats.

Since the 1997 publication of the original “briefcase edition” of “EVIDENCE!” (which compactly covers 100 of the most common types of history sources), researchers have deluged me with questions about thousands of other materials. I definitely understand their angst, after three decades of my own research in the archives of most western nations, as well as writing for journals and presses in several academic fields and 16 years of editing a major scholarly journal. The new “EVIDENCE EXPLAINED” draws on that experience–but it’s also rooted in four file drawers of inquiries and debates generated by the users of that first edition.

Continue reading…

ESMills

We’re all family. Cousins, actually

When we remember that we’re a part of the greater human family, will we be nicer to each other? Maybe, but hopefully we will at least remember to look beyond what we think we know.

Elizabeth Shown Mills is a historical writer who has spent her life studying Southern culture and the relationships between people—emotional as well as genetic. She is an accomplished researcher and writer, having her work published widely by both academic and popular press. Mrs. Mills has also taught for 13 years at a National Archives-based institute on archival records and, for 20 years, headed the program in advanced research methodology at Samford University in Alabama.

In We Are All Cousins, a brief video produced by National Genealogical Society, Mrs. Mills discusses her own family history and the richness that can be found with the realization of our own interconnectedness. She stresses the importance of not limiting ourselves to the ethnic and religious groups we believe we belong to exclusively, as our histories are often more complex and interwoven.

Photo Credit: Samford University

Evernote for the Genealogist

Evernote for the Genealogist

As a working professional, I was forced to look for an organizational solution to my compulsive note-taking problem. I used to carry around a small notepad and a package of sticky notes. My two companions lived in my backpack as a student, on my desk at work, even in my purse as an adult. My scribbles followed me: from my colorful tabs of commentary peeking from between the pages of my books to important thoughts in meetings to my grocery list, my tiny paper trail kept me organized.

After losing one too many notepads, I started to jot my notes-to-self on my iPhone. This was a vast improvement, but not quite there. When I found my solution in the free app Evernote, I didn’t realize I was using an awesome tool for a genealogist to solve my personal organizational struggle.

Evernote is an app that has thankfully replaced my paper system. I can take notes, keep track of online articles I want to read later, open spreadsheets and other documents on my mobile device, use it as a calendar and planner, and even record passages from my e-reader.

While I use Evernote on my iPad or iPhone, I can sync what I’m working on to my computer as well. I can seamlessly move back and forth between my linked devices - two computers and three digital devices – keeping all of my notes and research in one central location. It’s password protected, giving me peace of mind that my important information is safe.

The best part? I’ll say it again, Evernote is free!

In her blog post Evernote and Genealogy: They’re Made for Each Other, Alona Tester gives a great introduction of how and why to use Evernote for genealogical research.

Think of Evernote as a shelf of blank notebooks that you can jot down all your little notes and add in those newspaper and any other clippings you find that are relevant too (you know, old-school scrapbook-style), while still keeping them in a relevant notebook … that’s what Evernote allows you to to do digitally. Yes, seriously!

Evernote Tips: The 11 Amazing Features That Make Using Evernote So Freaking Awesome

Just think if you had digital notebooks for each family group? Or for your local history study? Or a particular topic that you are researching? Or a to-do notebook? It gives you a place to enter notes that you currently have on scraps of paper everywhere (I know we all have them), as well as filing them into a relevant folder.

Additional information: To learn more about Evernote this video is a great place to start. Ready to try it? Download it for your computer or device. Evernote thinks it’s a great fit for genealogists too! Cyndi’s List has an entire category devoted to Evernote, and an entire Evernote blog to accompany it.

We’d like to thank Alona Tester for allowing us to reprint her work.

Image Credit: Evernote.com

brainpickings.org

DNA, Genealogical Research and Privacy

Building your family tree is a painstaking process, traditionally comprised of careful historical research. Using advances in science, direct to consumer DNA testing is gaining tractions as a new genealogical tool. You, the consumer, are sent a kit to collect a sample; the company will sequence and compare your results to those within their database. The idea is to match you to your genetic relatives, enabling the discovery of missing links and the ability to close doors on cold leads.

When a company can offer a quick and easy way to discover your heritage, it’s a tempting idea. That’s not to say one shouldn’t use new technologies to discover genealogy, or that there isn’t a place for DNA testing in the new research landscape. However, just as the expanding web comes with a heightened awareness of a long and lingering digital footprint, using a DNA testing service should carry at least equal caution.

What happens when you give away your DNA for testing? Do you know where it will end up, who will see it, or how it will really be used? An Alaska class action lawsuit against Family Tree DNA claims that the company posted personal information on very public websites, in violation of state law.

According to the complaint of Michael Cole, Family Tree DNA publishes the results of its genetic tests on a publicly available website, not just their customer site, as he believed. This additional access on their own site and that of an Ancestry.com subsidiary is what Cole claims is “unbeknownst to and without the consent of its customers.”

The suit claims “Family Tree’s practice of releasing information about its consumers’ genetic makeup without their permission, carries serious and irreversible privacy risks and violates Alaska’s Genetic Privacy Act.”

As with any piece of personal information, caution and good judgment should be exercised. Read the small print to learn how your DNA will be used and shared, as well as who may have access to it.

Source, Kyla Asbury, “Alaska class action lawsuit says Family Tree DNA posted info on public websites,” May 16, 2014.

Image Credit: Brainpickings.org