Although my ancestral investigative activity is (usually) limited to searching online records, there are times when it is necessary to make an actual site visit to seek out historical records that are not available online and to get a broader perspective of the lives and times of your ancestors.
A classic example of where this is often necessary is in Scotland.
Although many records are available on line, there are very many more that are not. As Scotland has historically been a net exporter of people, particularly to Canada, US, Australia and New Zealand, a major ‘industry’ has developed in Scotland over recent years, catering to the desire by descendants of Scots to discover their Scottish ancestry.
So there will always be cases where McMohammed must go to the McMountain.
My own Scottish voyage of discovery took place in 2008.
I flew into Glasgow with my favourite airline (Emirates) and drove on to Inverkeithing, a small town on the north side of the Firth of Forth in Fife (try repeating that rapidly – part 1), opposite Edinburgh. It was there that my 3x great grandfather, John BRAID (c1785-bef.1841) married Mary JACKSON (c1785-bef.1858) in 1807.
I was seeking records of their births and marriage and any records of the births of their children. At the time, I knew of just three – Janet, born in 1815; Jane, born in 1817; and James (my 2x great grandfather), born in 1822. I was also looking to find any other male Braid descendants, as they are rather thin on the ground (see below).
Unfortunately, the Inverkeithing church was closed for refurbishment (and had been for a while), so I was unable to find whether any records were held there. The local librarian referred me to the Fife records office in Dunfermline, and there I found a few grains of gold. Although there were no formal birth or death records, there was a microfiche of a register showing rentals by the church of shrouds for funeral services. These showed the services for three Braid children (named Janet, Anne and Mary) all in the month of February 1814 (two on one day!), but no record of where (or even if) they had been buried. No further information could be found.
The staff at Dunfermline referred me to the Scottish Genealogical Society, in Edinburgh. So a quick trip across the Firth of Forth from Fife (part 2) to find that they could not provide a great deal of assistance. However, since I already knew that the family had moved north (to Ross & Cromarty), they recommended that I visit the Highland Archive Centre, just outside of Inverness, as well as the records office in Dingwall.
I began in Dingwall, where the staff were able to search Scottish census records to a depth that I’ve never been able to achieve with online records. After discovering new names, places and dates I went on to the Highland Archive Centre to investigate further. And here lay the motherlode.
Thanks to some extremely helpful staff, and three visits over three days, I was able to find parish records for the births of 12 children to John and Mary! Only four made it to adulthood: Janet (1815-1866), Jane Gordon (1817-1893), James (1822-1900) and Mary (1831-1911). The others either died in infancy (confirmed by records), or no further records exist (which probably means the same thing – death records are very rare in Scotland).
So after the births of the first 5 daughters – Anne (1805-bef.1811), Janet (1807-1814), a second Anne (1811-1814), Mary (1813-1814) and a second Janet (1815-1866), and the subsequent deaths of the first four girls, the family (John, Mary and the surviving daughter Janet) moved to Resolis (on the Black Isle), in Ross & Cromarty, north of Inverness (apologies for the lack of alliteration).
Here John was a brewer and cooper, as he is described on the birth records of his subsequent children: Jane Gordon (1817-1893), Eliza Montgomery (1819-?) and a second Mary (1821-bef.1831), all born in Resolis.
James BRAID (my 2x great grandfather) was born in 1822 in Poyntzfield, a farming estate just up the road from Resolis, and where the distillery was located. The original manor house has been subdivided into holiday lets.
Following the discovery, seizure and forced sale of the distillery equipment (Inverness Journal, 23 July 1823), the family moved further north to Tarbat, Portmahomack, where 2 further children were born: Alexander Muir (1824-?) and Henrietta (1826-?).
The family is next found in Maggot, Inverness, where the last of the Marys was born (1831-1911).
Mary (John’s wife) appears in the 1841 census, living in Gilbert Street, Inverness (on the north bank of the River Ness). She is described as a widow living on her own means (I am advised that this just means she was independently wealthy), so John must have died sometime in the intervening decade after daughter Mary was born, but no records have been located.
When Mary married (in 1858), John and Mary are both described in the marriage register as being deceased.
I was disappointed not to find further records for the other children, as their given names create more questions than answers: Jane Gordon; Alexander Muir and Eliza Montgomery – these middle names could all be surnames – ancestor family names, family friends or benefactors/employers perhaps?
Great great grandfather James made it into the local press twice – Inverness Courier, 15 October 1845: he was named as one of several as being ‘most meritoriously active and useful’ in saving life and property in a large fire between Inglis Street and Theatre Lane, Inverness. Six months later, the other end of the scale – Inverness Journal, 24 April 1846: he was charged with mobbing and rioting (potato riots) and assault, at the Inverness Circuit Court (one of five so charged). A year later, James was married and had moved to Tower Hamlets, East London.
So the net result of my visits to all of the (Scottish) locations involved in the Braid family’s peregrinations was a greater number of names, dates and places to investigate further! Needless to say, I subsequently discovered, investigated and documented the marriages and children (and their descendants) of those that did survive (Janet, Jane and Mary) and have even made contact with the Australian descendants of Mary (she and her family emigrated to Sydney in 1865).
However, no further surviving male Braids came to light. My 2x great grandfather James BRAID (1822-1900) was the only surviving male of his generation; his son, my great grandfather, David Alexander BRAID (1857-1938), was one of five children – two died in infancy, and the second surviving son did not marry (or have children). David Alexander had two sons, one of whom married but had no children; the other, James BRAID (1888-1951) is my grandfather. He also had two sons, James and John, both of whom married and had one son. Both of those sons (one of them being me, of course!) also had a son, but neither of them have had any children.
So in a few short years (relatively speaking – literally!), the male BRAID line will come to an end. Fortunately, a number of children born to Braid wives over the years and generations have been given the name Braid as a middle name, so it will live on.
One highlight of the visit (apart from the excellent results and the warm welcome from (it seemed) everyone in Scotland, but certainly the staff at the records offices in Dingwall and Inverness), was the discovery of the Glenmorangie and Dalmore distilleries, located on Dornoch Firth and Cromarty Firth respectively. A bottle or two of their product made it into my bag for the return flight.
As a side note, whilst in Dunfermline I visited the tomb of Robert I Brus (the Bruce) (1274-1329), that rather famous King of the Scots with a thing about spiders.
It wasn’t until some few years later, after very lengthy research into my mother’s side of the family, that I discovered that he is my 1st cousin 23x removed! Who knew? Robert Brus’ grandfather, also Robert Brus (1210-1295) is my 23x great grandfather. ‘Tis a small world – but that’s another story.