Thursday, 30 September 2010

Addressing History launches as beta site

So here's the shape of things to come - the Addressing History project has just launched a beta site at This site has one heck of a lot of potential so well worth exploring and providing feedback on.

The site basically links street directories and contemporary maps for three years - 1784, 1865 and 1905. You can search for individuals and locate them on the maps, as well as see the corresponding Post Office Directory entry on the relevant page at the Internet Archive.

The potential of this is simply enormous, and if successful, the project partners at the University of Edinburgh, JISC and the National Library of Scotland are planning to extend the concept across Scotland, utilising the info from some 400 directories from 1783-1912 currently being digitised for the Internet Archive (

Please have a look and give the team your constructive feedback!

Professional genealogical problem solving and research
Researching Scottish Family History (New book)

Chelsea Pensioner records completed on FindmyPast

The Cheslea Pensioner records collection from 1760-1913 has been completed at the website with the addition of the final records from 1900-1913. Amongst the records are service records for the Territorial Force and Volunteer Service Companies records. From the site's blog:

We’ve just added 341,888 records and 1,928,868 images to our Chelsea Pensioners collection for the period 1901-1913.

This completes the WO97 series of our Chelsea Pensioner collection and brings the total amount of these records and images on to 1,033,845 records and 6,131,443 images.

This collection comprises records of men pensioned out of the British Army 1760-1913. The connection with ‘Chelsea Pensioners’ is that the pensions were administered through The Royal Hospital at Chelsea.

For the first time on-line, in colour, you can now see Territorial Force attestations. The Territorial Force was formed in 1908 and so these men would not have appeared in earlier record releases.

Also for the first time, you can view – in colour – attestations for men who joined the Volunteer Service Companies during the Boer War. These men, who had previously served with Volunteer battalions, re-enlisted with these special volunteer service companies and served alongside regular soldiers in the regular regiments.

Still to come are records for WO 96 (Militia records), which will be made available this time next year.

Professional genealogical problem solving and research
Researching Scottish Family History (New book)

TNA - new Open Government License announced for information re-use

The National Archives has announced a new Open Government License for the use of its information. From the site's news page:

The National Archives is today launching a new Open Government Licence, which makes it faster and easier than ever before to re-use public sector information.

The UK Open Government Licence is a key element of the Government's commitment to greater transparency. It provides a single set of terms and conditions for anyone wishing to use or license government information and removes some of the existing barriers to re-use.

Developers and entrepreneurs wishing to use government data to create new websites and applications will no longer need to register or formally apply for permission to re-use the data. The new licence is interoperable with other internationally recognised licensing models, such as Creative Commons.

Commenting on the launch of the new licence, Lord McNally, Minister for The National Archives and Public Sector Information, said: 'The National Archives isn't simply a repository of our nation's history, its task is to bring information to life, make it accessible and enable its re-use. This innovative licence gives everyone the opportunity to create products and services which benefit society.'

The licence covers a broad range of public sector information, including Crown Copyright, databases and source codes and can be used across the entire public sector. It is published today in a machine-readable format on the Information management section of The National Archives website.

To support the UK Open Government Licence, The National Archives has developed the UK Government Licensing Framework which sets out the Government's overall policy on licensing and the re-use of public sector information.

From TNA's license document at

You are free to:

copy, publish, distribute and transmit the Infomation;
adapt the Information;
exploit the Information commercially for example, by combining it with other Information, or by including it in your own product or application.

You must, where you do any of the above:
acknowledge the source of the Information by including any attribution statement specified by the Information Provider(s) and, where possible, provide a link to this licence;
If the Information Provider does not provide a specific attribution statement, or if you are using Information from several Information Providers and multiple attributions are not practical in your product or application, you may consider using the following:

Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v1.0.

ensure that you do not use the Information in a way that suggests any official status or that the Information Provider endorses you or your use of the Information;
ensure that you do not mislead others or misrepresent the Information or its source;
ensure that your use of the Information does not breach the Data Protection Act 1998 or the Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations 2003.
These are important conditions of this licence and if you fail to comply with them the rights granted to you under this licence, or any similar licence granted by the Licensor, will end automatically.


This licence does not cover the use of:

•personal data in the Information;
•Information that has neither been published nor disclosed under information access legislation (including the Freedom of Information Acts for the UK and Scotland) by or with the consent of the Information Provider;
•departmental or public sector organisation logos, crests and the Royal Arms except where they form an integral part of a document or dataset;
•military insignia;
•third party rights the Information Provider is not authorised to license;
•Information subject to other intellectual property rights, including patents, trademarks, and design rights; and
•identity documents such as the British Passport.

More on the subject at TNA's dedicated page at

Professional genealogical problem solving and research
Researching Scottish Family History (New book)

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Portencross Castle to reopen in October

It's nice to have news about a major heritage attraction soon to be opening just minutes away from my house! Portencross Castle in North Ayrshire is to reopen to the public after 650 years, following final renovation work carried out last week by Stone Engineering. The building has just undergone a 15 month restoration, and will be open for public access from October 3rd-13th. It is then hoped to be fully open in summer 2011.

The castle was one of the contenders for the BBC's "Restoration" series in 2004, in a programme produced by a friend of mine, Andrew Thompson, in which it came second. Following the programme the site was able to attract funding from various bodies including Historic Scotland and the Heritage Lottery Fund.

One of a pair of stone towers (the other is on the island of Little Cumbrae) designed to guard the Clyde waterway, and frequently visited by Robert II amongst others, for the last few years it has provided my family and myself with a quiet wee picnic spot. I can't believe they went to the bother of actually renovating the place for us, that's just awfully nice of them!

Just to add - Portencross is self-financing, and could really do with your cash! From its website:

Friends of Portencross Castle is very grateful for the vital support of the public by way of donations and attendance at fundraising events. If you would be willing to give more regular support, then please consider becoming a Guardian of Portencross Castle. Most of the Guardians pay small monthly amounts, as little as £2.50, by Bankers Standing Order. You could pay more if you wish. The income from small tegular payments is very valuable to the long term FOPC Business Plan and helps to safeguard the future of the castle as a high quality visitor attraction and cultural resource. Or you might prefer to make a one-off payment (currently £200), to become a Guardian for Life. Some people give this as an interesting and unusual gift for a special occasion.

In return you will receive:

* A Certificate of Guardianship.
* Entry in the Book of Guardians, to be kept in Portencross Castle, arranged according to birthday (year optional). In honour of your support, the flag will be flown above the castle each year on your birthday.
* Invitation to occasional special events, and priority
booking for other events.
* Regular informal newsletters.

To become a guardian visit and for more on the castle itself, visit

(With thanks to the Largs and Millport Weekly News)

Professional genealogical problem solving and research
Researching Scottish Family History (New book)

The First World War - 1914-2010?

This coming Sunday Germany will finally pay off the reparations of £22 billion imposed on it following the First World War, with a last payment of £59.5 million under the 'war guilt' clause of the Treaty of Versailles. For more on the story see

Rumours that the current UK financial crisis will be resolved anywhere nearly as quickly have been woefully exaggerated...

(With thanks to Scott Addington's Military Search Twitter feed)

Professional genealogical problem solving and research
Researching Scottish Family History (New book)

Cumbria BMD to go online

For those with cross-border connections, news of forthcoming developments from Cumbria...

Cheshire BMD celebrates its tenth anniversary on 15th October 2010.
From its small beginnings in 2000 it has continued to grow steadily over the years as volunteers from the Family History Society of Cheshire work with the local register offices to put online the birth, marriage and death indexes based on the original records held by the local register offices.

Over the years eight other regions of the country made use of the free UKBMD software and therefore have web sites that function in an identical manner. All of these are accessible for the main UKBMD web site at

When you click on the "Local BMD" button in UKBMD's menu you will be shown a list of links to all the sites that use the UKBMD software, and also all the other sites that are placing their original BMD indexes online using differing systems.

Now as the project reaches its tenth anniversary the UKBMD project is pleased to announce the launch of the tenth web site to use the UKBMD software, Cumbria BMD indexes are now online !

As with the other BMD projects this is a joint effort between the register offices and various family history societies. Its initial launch will include data from the Barrow register office with other offices in the area adding their data soon after.

Terry Henshaw, Superintendent Registrar from the Barrow Register office said:

"It is with eager anticipation and excitement that I await the launch of the Cumbria BMD website. With all the indexes being transferred from my office I am glad that the new site will be open to the public, which I hope will enable us to provide an enhanced service for copy certificates direct from the original source and also a better tool for the public to search not only for their own certificate requirements but also for family historians to do their research. Having spoken with other Registration staff around the country, who already have their indexes on the other BMD sites, I know it has helped them enormously in being able to provide a much better and quicker service to the public."

As stated above, the software used in the UKBMD web sites is free for any society and register office to use. If your area of the country does not have their indexes online yet, perhaps it would be a project that your society would consider? Family Historians gain by having access to original BMD indexes, registrars gain by being able to supply copy certificates without needing to search. Everyone wins !

(With thanks to Ian Hartas - and congrats to him and Sharon on ten years of UKBMD!)

UPDATE: The link is active but records will not appear on the site until October 15th.

Professional genealogical problem solving and research
Researching Scottish Family History (New book)

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

FamilySearch soon to regenerate

More powerful than a Type 40 TARDIS, the long running FamilySearch website is about to undergo a major regeneration which will affect everyone doing family history research. One of genealogy's most useful resources is soon to pass its way into history, with its place usurped by a younger offspring...

The website is currently the host site for the International Genealogical Index, but by the end of this year, it will have ceased to be, it will have gone to meet its maker, it will be an ex-FamilySearch site, as its role is replaced by the work currently being produced for the new site. This has been on the cards for some time, but the complete programme of what will change, and how and when it will do so is now available to read online at The Ancestry Insider blog at

Whatever people may think of the theological drive behind the work of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, it will be a brave person who can honestly say that the site has played no part ever in their research. It is quite frankly unique, and one heck of an achievement. Sadly, it is now also about to be deemed obsolete, with the torch pased to a next generation of website which it is said will enhance what is already available, and perhaps correct some of the mistakes that blighted it in the past. Whether the present site as it currently exists will ever be granted some form of vicarious baptism is for others to decide, but in any case, when the current site serves its last day and is replaced the day after, many web users will probably begin to feel just that little bit older...!

(With thanks to the Guild of One Name Studies on Twitter, and to The Ancestry Insider)

Professional genealogical problem solving and research
Researching Scottish Family History (New book)

Chinese remembrance of ancestors

My father's second cousin was the Reverend David MacDonald Paton, an Anglican priest who became an honorary canon of Canterbury Cathedral in 1966, and later one of the present Queen's chaplains from 1972-1983. From 1939-1951 David was previously a missionary in China, and I thought the following passage may be of interest from a preface written by his son, also David, to a reprinted edition of a book I've recently discovered first written by his father in 1953 entitled "Christian Missions and the Judgment of God". It concerns the good reverend's witnessing of a ceremony commemorating the ancestors of the Chinese family which taught David how to speak in Mandarin:

On the wall facing me were three portraits: father, grandfather, and great grandfather. Beneath them was a table, with on it a small wooden casket containing the tablets of the ancestors, and in front of it a piece of red paper with the father's name in beautifully written characters. At each side was a red candle. At the front of the table was a bowl or two of offerings of food. In turn, first the males, and then the females, kowtowed three times each before the table...

The whole ceremony was rather impressive. I don't know precisely what religious beliefs the various members of the family now have about the spirits of ancestors. But at the least, even for the most secularised, it represented a profound respect for the continuous achievements of the Chinese tradition, expressed in and disciplined by its main social organisation, the family.

You have to hand it to the Chinese - that's style...

Professional genealogical problem solving and research
Researching Scottish Family History (New book)

Monday, 27 September 2010

Oops - Scone Palace archway destroyed

Here's a real shock to the heritage system. A 16th century archway leading to historic Scone Palace in Perthshire has been totally destroyed by a contractor - and I mean totally destroyed.

See the BBC's coverage at

Professional genealogical problem solving and research
Researching Scottish Family History (New book)

British Library 19th C newspapers - free access

There appears to be a free access demo to the 19th century British Library newspapers collection and the earlier Burney Collection at - type in test for the password - no idea how long it may last, so suggest the in-like-Flynn strategy...

NB: This includes the 2nd part of the Collection, which includes the Dundee Courier - this is not available via the pay-per-view 19th century site as yet - so honestly, get in quick!

Professional genealogical problem solving and research
Researching Scottish Family History (New book)

More cuts at TNA?

The leaked document from the Government showing potential cuts includes an entry for the National Archives, the future of which is noted as "Still to be decided - retain, but rationalisation being considered". See

Looks like TNA may not be out of the woods yet...

Professional genealogical problem solving and research
Researching Scottish Family History (New book)

RCAHMS gains funding for aerial collection

From the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland:

One of the earliest and most significant collections of oblique aerial photography of the United Kingdom is to be conserved, digitised and made publicly accessible thanks to a Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) grant of £1,755,722.

RCAHMS, along with English Heritage and the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales, will use the funding to undertake a four-year conservation programme on the oldest and most valuable photographs in the Aerofilms Collection and make these images available freely online.

Acquired for the nation in 2007, the Aerofilms Collection of over 1 million photographs dates from 1919 to 2006 and presents an unparalleled picture of the changing face of Britain in the twentieth century. From shots of the RMS Queen Mary under construction in John Brown’s Shipyard, Clydebank in 1935, to views of the FA Cup Final at Wembley Stadium in London the same year, the archive is a treasure-trove preserving iconic moments from the history of the nation.

The four-year programme starts in 2011 and will involve the general public in sharing memories and information related to the images. Fragile negatives will be conserved and scanned into digital format, and a new website, Britain from Above, will be launched at the end of 2011. By 2014, 95,000 images taken between 1919 and 1953 will be available to view online.

Lesley Ferguson, RCAHMS Head of Collections, said “The HLF grant is key to making this fascinating collection accessible to everyone. Aerial photography provides a unique perspective on history and I’m sure the stunning images of both Scotland and the rest of Britain will inspire the public. By interacting with the collection and sharing their memories and wealth of knowledge, they will truly bring the project to life”.

Professional genealogical problem solving and research
Researching Scottish Family History (New book)

Sunday, 26 September 2010

More on English and Welsh 1939 National Register

An Irish genealogist called Steven Smyrl has been in touch to say he has secured more information from the English 1939 National Register, the accession of which was recently made available to the general public thanks to a Freedom of Information application by Yorkshire based genealogist Guy Etchells which subsequently paved the way earlier this year (see 1939 NHS 'census' to be made available in England and Wales, 1939 update - the decision and 1939 England and Wales: new service at £42 per look up ).

Although first created in 1939, the register remained in use until the early 1950s, and contains updates to a person's status from the initial enumeration at the start of the war. In this case, a date of death was requested from the NHSIC, which holds the records. This was rejected, but an appeal was was upheld by the Information Commissioner and the NHSIC was forced to release the date of death in question, which happened in 1948.

As part of the NHSIC's response, the body has stated that “in future any requests for information about date and place of death, where we hold this information, will be part of the 1939 National Register Cost Recovery Service”. This service was introduced earlier in the year, whereby a request for look ups from the NHSIC costs £42, with the relevant application form available at Mr Smyrl suggests that if making any applications in future, make sure that you ask for ALL information as recorded in the register.

(With thanks to Steven Smyrl)

Professional genealogical problem solving and research
Researching Scottish Family History (New book)

Friday, 24 September 2010

Free Northern Irish eBooks

A series of free eBooks has been made available in PDF format by Ancestry Ireland. The books are as follows, with direct URLs to their locations listed below each:

My Roots: tracing your Belfast ancestors (2007)

The 6th Connaught Rangers: Belfast Nationalists and the Great War (2008)

In search of Sperrins Ancestors (2004)

Belfast & Nashville (2010)

Apparently Belfast is Nashville's sister city - you live and learn!

Professional genealogical problem solving and research
Researching Scottish Family History (New book)

US, Scots, London and Nazi files update from Ancestry's WAP has announced that its volunteer based World Archives Project is now tackling the indexing of US based correspondence and case files from the country's Immigration and Naturalization Service from 1903-1952. Further details and examples of the material to be keyed are available at,_1903-1952.

From the same project the Fife, Scotland, Voters Lists, 1832-1894 are now complete and awaiting a release date, as are other potentially useful projects, such as an Index of Jews Whose German Nationality was Annulled by Nazi Regime and London, England, Land Tax Valuations, 1910.

Chalmers General Biographical Dictionary has also just gone live at - see

Professional genealogical problem solving and research
Researching Scottish Family History (New book)

Thursday, 23 September 2010

RCAHMS Doors Open Day

From the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland:

Doors Open Day at RCAHMS

On Saturday 25 September from 10am to 5pm, RCAHMS is showcasing historic images from its National Collection in a remarkable illustration of the Victorian era.

Our Doors Open Day event will open with a series of presentations by RCAHMS Head of Collections Lesley Ferguson, focusing on photographs of Victorian Scotland. She will also talk about the work of the amateur photographer Erskine Beveridge, whose stunning collection of 850 glass plate negatives - held at RCAHMS - recently featured in our best-selling book 'Wanderings with a Camera in Scotland'. RCAHMS Architecture, Industry and Maritime Manager Neil Gregory will discuss how and why RCAHMS records Victorian buildings, and there will also be the opportunity to see RCAHMS films and exhibitions.

Visitors will get the chance to take behind-the-scenes guided tours to access the expert knowledge that goes into our survey, photographic and conservation work – but be quick as spaces will be limited.

In our Search Room, visitors can explore fascinating photographs and unique family albums of Victorian people and places, as well as viewing historic and modern images from the National Collection of Aerial Photography, some of them in stunning 3D.

There will be the chance to buy copies of our two new publications a week before they are officially on sale, with a £5.00 discount:

Victorian Scotland (RRP £30.00) - one of the greatest showcases of nineteenth century photography of the nation ever published

Above Scotland – Cities (RRP £25.00) - the compelling stories of Scotland's six cities told through stunning aerial photography, including a special 3D section

You’ll also be able to purchase framed prints of evocative photographs taken by Erskine Beveridge that featured in a country-wide exhibition in 2010.

For more information see

Professional genealogical problem solving and research
Researching Scottish Family History (New book)

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Dundee genealogy student turns detective again

An ex-detective from Lothian and Borders Police is studying at the University of Dundee's postgraduate genealogy course in order to lead the new Banffshire Family History Centre based at Buckie.

For more on the story visit

Professional genealogical problem solving and research
Researching Scottish Family History (New book)

War Walks repeats on BBC4

Just a quick heads up to say that the 1997 BBC history series War Walks, featuring Professor Richard Holmes as the presenter, is being repeated on BBC4.

I have a lot of very fond memories of the series - I was its researcher! Tonight's episode (7.30-8.00pm) features Hastings. If you miss it, you can catch it again on the BBC iPlayer.


Professional genealogical problem solving and research
Researching Scottish Family History (New book)

Statistical Accounts of Scotland now on Twitter

The good folks of EDINA have now created a new Twitter page for the Statistical Accounts of Scotland, and each day will be tweeting select entries. After the ScotlandsPeople website, this is one of the most important resources online, hosted at The first two accounts were recorded in the 1790s and the 1830/40s and describe life in each parish, with a great deal of useful info to help build up the social historical landscape within which your ancestors lived. Unmissable.

The Twitter feed is at

Professional genealogical problem solving and research
Researching Scottish Family History (New book)

Thanks to Alloway & South Ayrshire FHS

A big thanks to Alloway and South Ayrshire FHS for their hospitality last night. I was at the society to give a talk on DNA and its potential uses in genealogy (basic summary:- Y-DNA tests, very useful, so many practical applications, but not always a magical solution to problems: MtDNA tests, don't bother, you'll die before it becomes useful!; autosomal DNA tests, new, exciting, perhaps limited usefulness for most people, but new kid on the block to keep an eye on).

Thanks especially to John and Pat Weston, with whom I had a nice bite to eat at the highly recommended Brig o' Doon House Hotel prior to the meeting, and to all who attended. I also managed to gain a glimpse of the new Burns centre being built in Alloway. That's a lot of wood...

There will be an information evening hosted by the society on Tuesday September 28th September at the IFE Wing Doonfoot Primary School, from 7.30pm-9.30pm "aimed at showing what we can offer to all those interested in researching their family tree by becoming a member". If you're in the area, why not pop in?!

Posing like my life depended on it - and take that back, I've lost half a stone in the last month!

Professional genealogical problem solving and research
Researching Scottish Family History (New book)

Free student memberships to London based Irish society

The London based Irish Genealogical Research Society is offering ten free memberships for undergraduate and masters students, and for a maximum term of four years. The application deadline is December 30th 2010 for 2011 membership - there are more details at

The page does not state which discipline you need to be studying, it merely states that "you will need to demonstrate an interest in Irish genealogy and Family history". How this is to be evaluated is actually unclear - the application form merely states that you should give a "brief statement in support of your application", along with your personal details and those of the course you are studying. I suspect entries merely stating "I love my mum" with a nice cheesy photo of you and your mater at your wedding may not be considered a heavy enough burden of proof!

Nevertheless, if you do decide to go for it, membership will include four free academic journals a year on Irish matters, two newsletters and access to certain library facilities in London.

(With thanks to the Strathclyde Genealogy Survivors Group discussion board)

Professional genealogical problem solving and research
Researching Scottish Family History (New book)

APG to attend WDYTYA Live 2011

The Association of Professional Genealogists, of which I am a member (see, has some exciting news for those wishing to consider the merits of hiring a professional genealogist. Here's the news release:

The Association of Professional Genealogists (APG) announced today that it will participate in the Who Do You Think You Are? LIVE 2011, The National Conference, this coming February in London. The APG will exhibit at the event, with the goal of educating new audiences on the benefits of hiring professional genealogists who adhere to genealogical standards and ethics.

APG president Laura Prescott and APG executive director Kathleen Hinckley, CG, will represent the organisation at the show. “The APG represents more than 2,000 professional genealogists in more than 30 countries,” said Prescott. “The Who Do You Think You Are? LIVE conference will give APG an opportunity to meet approximately 15,000 family history enthusiasts and educate them about our mission and the availability of our members to serve them.”

The APG’s international committee has been exploring the growing need for professional genealogists in markets outside of North America. The committee, with members in England, India, Ireland, Israel and the U.S., examines opportunities to share the APG message and promote international awareness of, and interest in, professional genealogical services. The upcoming exhibition will be the APG’s first conference presence outside of North America.

About the APG
The Association of Professional Genealogists (, established in 1979, represents more than 2,000 genealogists, librarians, writers, editors, historians, instructors, booksellers, publishers, and others involved in genealogy-related businesses. APG encourages genealogical excellence, ethical practice, mentoring, and education. The organisation also supports the preservation and accessibility of records useful to the fields of genealogy, local, and social history. Its members represent all fifty states, Canada, and thirty other countries.

Professional genealogical problem solving and research
Researching Scottish Family History (New book)

Monday, 20 September 2010

Order of the Eastern Star in Bridgeton

I don't think I have ever been as busy as I have in the last couple of months, but that does not mean that I still can't get the odd moment of personal family history research in!

I've just received the papers of my grandmother's membership of the Order of the Eastern Star from my father. They are in a sorry state, but include a diploma she was awarded in November 1922, just after she had turned 18, and her life membership card from the following month. My grandmother, Jean Currie, was born in Bridgeton, Glasgow, and moved to Northern Ireland in the mid 1930s, settling initially in Belfast and then moving to Carrickfergus, where I was subsequently raised some years later.

I have posted copies of her Eastern Star documents here - she was in Bridgeton No. 88 Chapter. I have not been able to find anything about the chapter online, though have made enquiries of their head office in Glasgow earlier today. However, if anyone knows anything about the order's history in Scotland, and perhaps of the Bridgeton chapter, I would love to hear from you!

Here goes...

Many thanks!

Professional genealogical problem solving and research
Researching Scottish Family History (New book)

2011 - Year of the Light for Bellrock Lighthouse

From Tayroots:

2011 - The Year of the Light

On February 1, 2011, it will be exactly 200 years since the first beacon of light shone out from the Bell Rock Lighthouse, warning passing vessels of the treacherous reef lurking below the waves, 11 miles off the east coast of Scotland.

The people of Arbroath, the town on the east coast of Scotland that is closely associated with the Bell Rock Lighthouse, will be celebrating the 200th anniversary of ‘their’ lighthouse with a year of special events. “We’re looking forward to welcoming visitors from across the world to the celebrations marking the 200th anniversary of the completion of the Bell Rock Lighthouse,” said Harry Simpson, chair of Arbroath and Area Partnership’s Year of the Light Steering Committee, which is supported by the Local Community Planning Team. “Our 12-month programme of celebrations includes a spectacular firework displays, parades, a yacht regatta and boat trips to the Bell Rock.”

The Bell Rock Lighthouse is widely considered one of the world’s greatest feats of engineering and has protected the lives of innumerable seafarers. “Before the lighthouse was built, the Inchcape or Bell Rock had claimed countless vessels,” explained David Taylor, editor of the highly-informative website and whose great-great-great-grandfather, Captain David Taylor, was closely involved in the construction of the Bell Rock Lighthouse.

“Following the great storm of 1799 on the east coast of Scotland, at least 70 vessels came to grief, if not on the Bell Rock itself, certainly on the neighbouring shores trying to avoid it! However, it wasn’t until 1806, and not before the loss of the 64-gun man-of-war HMS York with all hands on board in 1804, that permission to build the lighthouse was finally granted.”

David added that, although the Northern Lighthouse Board's young engineer Robert Stevenson had already put forward plans for a lighthouse on the Bell Rock, it was decided that the construction techniques used by John Smeaton some 50 years earlier at the Eddystone would be the blueprint for the new lighthouse, with certain modifications.

“John Rennie was appointed chief engineer to the project, with Stevenson his resident engineer and assistant,” continued David. “Rennie adopted a narrower structure than those shown in Stevenson and Smeaton’s designs, with the all-important curve at the base of the lighthouse which dissipates and deflects the force of the sea as it comes into contact with the tower."

Constructing the Bell Rock Lighthouse was a massive undertaking. The reef on which the lighthouse was to be built was only visible for a few hours a day and work was also severely restricted by the weather and the seasons – the winter months were so stormy, working on the Bell Rock was only possible between April and October. However, after only four years, the Bell Rock Lighthouse was completed and it became operational on February 1, 1811.

There are many links between the town of Arbroath and the Bell Rock and its lighthouse. Legend has it that, in medieval times, the Abbot of Aberbrothock – as Arbroath was originally known - warned sailors of the deadly rock by placing a bell on the Inchcape Rock, only for it to be removed by the dastardly pirate, Ralph The Rover, who later came to a well-deserved watery end on the Bell Rock!

Many of the blacksmiths, builders and masons who were involved in the construction of the Bell Rock Lighthouse - both off-shore and at Arbroath Harbour, where the great stones were cut to size before being transported to the Bell Rock - were from the town. Arbroath’s Signal Tower Museum was formerly the shore station for the lighthouse and housed the lighthouse keepers and their families although, in the final years before the Bell Rock light was automated in 1988, it was serviced and its keepers relieved by ships from Leith.

“2011 is going to be a memorable year for everyone with a connection to Arbroath and to the Bell Rock,” added Harry Simpson, “whether they live in the town, their ancestors were from Arbroath or worked on the Bell Rock, they are fascinated by lighthouses – or if they have ever wondered about the light that’s been flashing across Arbroath’s horizon every night for 200 years.”

For more information, visit

Professional genealogical problem solving and research
Researching Scottish Family History (New book)

Forthcoming talks by yours truly

A quick heads up to say that if you have nothing to do tomorrow night and you are in Ayrshire, I will be doing an introductory talk at Alloway and Southern Ayrshire FHS on DNA and Genealogy - specifically the basic ideas behind it, where it can be used, how it can be helpful and recent developments - but also where to be wary of it as a 'magic solution' to your brick wall problems. For details see

On October 5th I will be doing a talk on Online Irish Resources for family history at West Lothian FHS - this one is usually packed when I do it! For more on this see the Syllabus page at I may be wearing a black arm band on this night, as three hours after it finishes I turn 40...!

From October 18th-25th I will also be doing a Scottish talks roadshow in Australia. These will include a basic introduction to Scottish research, and also closer examinations of land and church records, and will be held at family history societies in Perth, Melbourne and Brisbane in Australia, as well as at the Sydney Expo on October 22nd-23rd - further details at and

Following that, I will also be doing a talk at Lanarkshire FHS on the Mount Stewart Murder, the subject of my next book and the UK's longest unsolved murder case. The victim was my 3 x great grandmother. This will be on November 11th, and will basically examine the anatomy of a Scottish Victorian murder investigation, how to research its progress and its consequences (there's a real sting in the tail with this one). It will not just confine itself to the murder, there will be other examples included also. Further details at

Look forward to hopefully seeing you somewhere along the line...!

Professional genealogical problem solving and research
Researching Scottish Family History (New book)

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Secular society? No, the worship of Burns continues!

This week has obviously been a big week for the Scottish Catholic Church, with the arrival of the Pope in Edinburgh. Although my wife and children are Catholic, I was actually raised as a Presbyterian in Northern Ireland, though am no longer that religious at all. For me, once we go, that's it, and hence why I think the recording of our family history is so important, as it is probably the greatest gift we can leave the next generation.

I did however watch the coverage of the pontiff's visit to Holyrood, it was after all a great moment in Scottish history. It did amuse me when he met various dignitaries in a marquee in the grounds of Holyrood that the band struck up with the theme from the movie 'Gladiator' - quite possibly taking the theme of Rome a little too literally! :) (Thankfully they didn't play the best bit of music from the whole film, entitled "The Fall of Rome"! lol)

However, the Pope did warn that Scotland is becoming dangerously secular. That may be worth challenging. You see, it is quite clear that the Government's worship of Robert Burns is actually alive and well, and clearly on the increase. If you don't believe me, read the press release quoting Culture Minister Fiona Hyslop, where she has announced yet another £1.084 million to the new Robert Burns Museum in Alloway, now taking the Government's spending on the £21 million project to some £8.6 million. The reason why this strikes a chord with me is that Government minister Jim Mather has also just announced that he has asked the National Archives of Scotland, the General Register Office for Scotland and Registers of Scotland to consider merging to save money. As a genealogist, I have to say that I know which I think probably gives better value for money.

I may not be the religious man I once was, but one aspect of Presbyterian theology has always stuck with me - the fact that in the Bible there is no mention of a moral authority for the raising of one man in a hierarchy above another. Presbyterians have long argued that that does not justify the role of the Pope - to me however that also applies equally to John Knox (is the statue of him on the Mound in Edinburgh the true definition of irony?!), and let's face it, the establishment's continual obsession with Robert Burns!

(Actually, come to think of it, the Pope may be right. I think I'm going way beyond secularism...)

Professional genealogical problem solving and research
Researching Scottish Family History (New book)

Melrose family history event

Details of Family and Local History Conference in Melrose on October 9th are available at

Looks to be an interesting talks schedule, with many family history socities exhibiting (sadly I'll be in Skye running away from my 40th, but hope it goes well!).

Professional genealogical problem solving and research
Researching Scottish Family History (New book)

Friday, 17 September 2010

Glasgow University Archives - the movie!

Glasgow University Archives are packed with goodies galore. Damn, but there is so much going on there - business archives, university records and so much more - if only there was a handy dandy ready reckoner of a film, say about 8 minutes and three seconds long (any more and I'm just being greedy!), that will tell me everything I need to know about such an institution. But where, oh where, might one find such a gloriously useful production...?

Get the popcorn out folks, pull up a pew and get ready for the university archives' first ever feature production...!

Can I just say how hurt I now am to discover that that ancient building on Gilmour Hill, the pride of Glaswegians for centuries, is a FAKE! Built in 1871, and previously located on High Street? I hope the university did some fact checking before this went online, because if I find out that you have lied to me... lol

Excellent stuff! :)

Professional genealogical problem solving and research
Researching Scottish Family History (New book)

Government responds to English GRO certificate fee increases

A recent e-petition has now been answered down south by the UK Government concerning the rise in fee charges for English and Welsh certificates to £9.25:

Thank you for your e-petition on costs for certificates from the General Register Office (GRO).

The fee changes you refer to were introduced from 6 April this year following a comprehensive review of existing fees which took place during 2009. The Government has an obligation to ensure that the income from GRO fees recovers the cost of providing the service, and the review concluded that the increases (the first since 2003) were now necessary to recover those costs.

The changes introduced in April were also aimed at simplifying the previous fee structure, reducing the number of types of fees from 8 down to 2. Although the cost of the cheapest certificate – those ordered online with an index reference number – rose from £7 to £9.25, some of the previous fees were reduced, for example for those ordering by telephone or post without an index reference number.

We recognise the important role played by genealogists and appreciate that they will be disappointed by the recent fee increases but the recent fee changes will help to maintain the efficiency and quality of service to customers, and both the processes involved in this and the fee structure itself will be subject to future review.

The petition also refers to certificates being sent by email to reduce costs. Under current legislation GRO may only provide copies of entries by means of a paper certified copy.

The original petition is at

Professional genealogical problem solving and research
Researching Scottish Family History (New book)

1911 Scottish census - sneak preview!

Those lovely folk at the ScotlandsPeople Centre have very kindly allowed me to show you a sneak peak of the 1911 Scottish census, which will be released in April of next year. The first thing to point out is that this is NOT an image from the census, but instead a guide page sample for enumerators who were asked to fill out the actual forms once the original household schedules had been filled in by the head of every household. So PLEASE don't write to them asking to see your great granny's record just yet - it just won't happen...! Nevertheless, when the records are released next year, this is the format in which they will be presented.

The eagle eyed amongst you will notice one very huge difference to this and the 1911 census' English, Welsh and Irish counterparts. Whereas elsewhere in the United Kingdom the original household schedules have been preserved, digitised and made available online, the equivalent household schedules for Scotland have unfortunately not survived. So when the images are released, you will instead see the enumerators' returns, as with previous decennial census releases, but running at two pages in length, as opposed to one with previous entries.

However, all is not lost! Whilst your great grandfather's bad handwriting may not be accessible to ponder over, the information contained within the enumerators' returns will in fact be very similar to that found in the front pages of other British 1911 census returns. The column on the right hand side of the first page asks the same 'fertility census' questions for married women - how many years married, how many children, and how many still alive. The question of proficiency in Scottish Gaelic (Gaidhlig) and/or English is also retained, and the number of rooms with one or more windows is surprisingly noted in one of the earliest columns on the first page, rather than to the right hand side. There are four columns dealing with occupation on the second page, and I had been told from one source that those with Irish ancestors could be in for a treat as the county of birth was said to be noted - however, in this example page two mythical Irish people have had their birthplaces simply noted as 'Ireland', so I guess we'll have to see how that one plays out!

At present there is no information available on how these returns will be priced, but it is the intention that they will be made available on both the ScotlandsPeople website ( and the ScotlandsPeople Centre ( via a simultaneous release next April, which I think may be a first for a records release in Scotland.

Don't say I am not good to you - and roll on next year's release of the Scottish 1911 census!

(As ever, I am again hugely indebted to Dee Williams and the team at ScotlandsPeople)

NB: For a closer look, please visit the Scottish GENES Facebook page!

Professional genealogical problem solving and research
Researching Scottish Family History (New book)

Irvine Burns Club set to take over the Vennel

The Irvine Herald is reporting that the Irvine Burns Club is poised to takeover the Glasgow Vennel local archive and family history centre in Irvine, to use as a winter museum - the premises are where Burns learned the flax trade. Very handily for me, as it will be just down the road, the present centre and archive will be moving to Saltcoats next month. As such, the Vennel will be closing from this Saturday 18th September in preparation for the move.

The full story can be read at

Looking forward to seeing the new facilities!

Professional genealogical problem solving and research
Researching Scottish Family History (New book)

Thursday, 16 September 2010

National Library's maps room on the move

The National Library of Scotland's maps room is on the move. From the NLS site:

Relocation of Maps Reading Room, September 2010

The Maps Reading Room will be moving, with the new room due to open on Tuesday 21 September.

We will remain in the same building, but move to street level, so there will no longer be any stairs to climb! Our bright new entrance will be round the corner at 159 Causewayside.

The move will take place over the September holiday weekend. The Reading Room will be closed from Saturday 18 to Monday 20 September inclusive.

We hope to minimise disruption as we prepare for the move. We are re-organising our reading room material in advance. Some of this, along with desks and shelving, will be moving during September.

We apologise for any inconvenience, and we hope that you will come and visit us in the new reading room.

Our new postal address will be:

Map Collections
National Library of Scotland
Causewayside Building
159 Causewayside
Scotland, UK

Our email address and telephone numbers will remain unchanged.

If you would like any further information, contact Maps Collections or email

Professional genealogical problem solving and research
Researching Scottish Family History (New book)

Laois and Offaly records now online

From the all new singing and dancing, genealogically friendly Irish Family History Foundation website at

Laois and Offaly added to Irish Genealogical Online Record Search System

The Irish Family History Foundation's Online Research Service (ORS) are pleased to announce the availability of the records from Irish Midlands Ancestry covering the parishes of County Laois (Queens's County) and County Offaly (Kings Country). This adds another 800,000 records to our online database.

Just go to the following sites and login using your existing IFHF login details.

(With thanks to the IFHF)

Professional genealogical problem solving and research
Researching Scottish Family History (New book)

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

New Ancestry releases - parole licenses and prison hulks

Ancestry has released some new material which may be of interest if your ancestors fell foul of the law at some point. From the site:

UK Licences of Parole for Female Convicts, 1853-1887

In 1850, Margaret Bannaghan was convicted of robbery in Edinburgh, Scotland, and sentenced to "be transported beyond the Seas for the term of Ten Years." In 1854, after four years in prison, Margaret was essentially paroled when she was granted a "License to be at large in the United Kingdom" during the remainder of her sentence.

This database contains documentation surrounding the licences to be at large given to Margaret and some 4,400 other female prisoners between 1853 and 1887. The documents include the revocation of some of these licences as well. (Note that licences with numbers 3900 to 6624 are missing in the original collection.)

Using the Records

The records can be searched by:

•Year of the licence
•Estimated birth year
•Court and year of conviction

The database includes images of the records themselves, which make up a file on the convict. Their contents varies but can include next of kin, religion, literacy, physical description, a medical history, marital status, number of children, age, occupation, crime, sentence, dates and places of confinement, reports on behavior while in prison, letters or notes from the convict, and (from 1871 forward) a photograph.

UK Prison Hulk Registers and Letter Books, 1802-1849

This collection consists of registers and letter books of prisoners on convict prison hulks in England between 1802-1849. A hulk is a decommissioned ship that is either technologically out of date or cannot make it through the open sea without taking on water, but is still able to float without problems. There were many of these ships available when engines started to power ships instead of sails, so the hulks were moored in harbors and used as floating prisons or for other purposes. The hulks’ place in harbors also made it easier to hold and transport convicts being sent to Australia. The first prison hulks in England appeared after a 1776 act allowed them to be used to house prisoners.

The collection contains a letter book relating to the establishment of hulks written from 1847-1849 and the registers of prisoners on 19 different hulks between 1802-1849. The registers contain:

•Date received
•Birth year
•Date convicted
•Where convicted

The collections are available at

Professional genealogical problem solving and research
Researching Scottish Family History (New book)

Monday, 13 September 2010

Another English GRO bird to be shot down?

Many readers may be aware of the fairly disastrous attempts of the English and Welsh General Register Office's civil BMD records to be digitised and reindexed over the last few years, with various projects such as DOVE, MAGPIE and EAGLE being announced in a blaze of publicity and then duly shot down due to problems with contractors and more. Rumours that the project management has been as birdbrained as the project titles can truly not be substantiated, but it is the case that not one of the projects is flying any more, having been abandoned only half completed and after a lot of taxpayers' money spent.

Following the aerial cull, a replacement project was announced last year called the Digitisation and Indexing project (abbreviated to D&I - I suspect the supervisors did not wish to be known as DIPS...). Here now is the latest update to the GRO soap opera plot of will they/won't they, as identified on the Identity and Passport Service website at

The Digitisation and Indexing Project (D&I) is the project to scan and digitise birth, marriage and death registration records for England and Wales from 1837 to present day. As well as the digitisation of the records themselves, the project includes the creation of an online index to the records and an upgrade to the online certificate ordering process.

Project Update September 2010
The D&I project is currently in a pause status as IPS awaits the outcome of the government's Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR). It is possible that the outcome of the CSR will impact the overall scope of the project, as well as timescales and procurement activity.

Further updates will be posted on this page, as soon as information is available.

If you have any comments on this page please contact:

So, once again, it has been stopped, and in a recession where the Government looks just about ready to go all medieval on our posteriors, it does not look good for a new improved English and Welsh system anytime soon. It is worth mentioning that this project was never going to be a ScotlandsPeople type scenario, with digitised images being made available online, but merely a way to provide better indexes and quicker certificate dispatch times. But you do have to wonder why one UK based GRO can find a perfectly adequate way to make its records accessible and another can constantly keep finding perfectly adequate ways to keep landing on its aforementioned posteriors.

Rumours that Bon Jovi are also getting together for a special performance of "Blaze of Glory" in Southport are equally unfounded...

(With thanks to Roger Lewry of the Federation of Family History Societies)

Professional genealogical problem solving and research
Researching Scottish Family History (New book)

Sunday, 12 September 2010

LothianLives blog

Thanks to Sheena Tait for her blog post on the new LothianLives blog at The blog has many useful historic resources and insights into the lives of those from the three Lothians, as recorded in material held by the relevant local archives (City of Edinburgh, East, Mid and West Lothian Archives). Well worth a look.

Professional genealogical problem solving and research
Researching Scottish Family History (New book)

FindmyPast - interview with Amy Sell

Well that's me back from the National Family History Fair at Newcastle, after a great couple of days in the city. I travelled down on Friday to do some client research at the new Newcastle Library facilities - an amazing place! I spent many hours going through old trade directories, electoral rolls and all sorts of material, a great place to do research, and I look forward to a visit to the city archives soon.

The fair itself took place yesterday, at a new venue, the Tyne Suite of Newcastle Premier Inn. The event was a tad smaller compared to that held at the previous venue in Gateshead, but had a much nicer feel about it, and much less stressful! It was busy constantly throughout, whereas before the mornings had tended to be busier and then much quieter in the afternoon.

I was down to help introduce the three excellent talks given by Amy Sell of FindmyPast, Audrey Collins of The National Archives (Kew) and Jeanne Bunting from Census Detectives. As such I did not have as much of a chance to get around to talk to vendors as in previous years. I did pick up from Sharon and Ian Hartas of UKBMD that a new series of BMD indices for civil records will soon be going online for the Cumbria region which may be of interest to those in the Borders with family just to the south. The lovely folk at the Scottish Association of Family History Societies were also there, and have just produced a new version of The Parishes, Registers & Registrars of Scotland, which is a handy guide with parish maps and more, costing £4 (see I also spoke to Nigel Bayley of S & N Genealogy, who was a happy bunny about a recent piece I wrote on the new Tree View software on The website, which is a free to access site, and rather impressive. What I didn't know though was that there is now a Facebook app version of this, located at - well worth a look.

I did bring my new camcorder this time, and had intended to grab a few words with a few people there. Sadly, however, I was only able to grab one quick chat, with Amy from FindmyPast, which is reproduced below. Amy works as a marketing executive with the company, and was lucky enough to join the Battle of Britain memorial flight last week, which FindmyPast were part sponsors for. Amy is a contributor to FindmyPast's blog at

A huge thanks to Amy. Keep an eye out for the new Family and Local History Handbook 13 early next year, and if you can get to Newcastle for the event next year, you won't be disappointed!

Professional genealogical problem solving and research
Researching Scottish Family History (New book)