Friday, 24 April 2015

A-Z Challenge - U for Unusual, Unforgettable, Unlucky & Uniforms

A-Z of Family History Sources & Stories 
Join me on this A-Z journey to explore the fascinating records 
that can  enhance your family history research and writing.

This letter has proved a challenge in itself, so here are a random selection of suggestions for family history writing.

UNUSUAL WORD - UNQUIHILE  - this word was new to me until I began researching Scottish records in more  depth   You may come across this in old documents, wills etc. and it  is an archaic Scots word meaning "the late" or "the deceased."  I lay claim  for this being the  most unusual U word!  

UNLUCKY SEARCHES  - sometime researching family history is a matter of luck.  In researching my  my father's childhood in Shropshire. I was delighted to find that the Broseley Historical Society website included extracts from newspapers  with fascinating titbits of life in the local church and school.  But guess what?  The crucial years I wanted of 1925 and 1926 were missing!  

You may also be unlucky when trying to trace  World War One service records for an ancestor, as so many were destroyed in a 1940's bombing raid on the National Archives in London.  My five Danson great uncles served, but I have only managed to trace the records for one of them - George.

Tom and George Danson
 UNIFORMS   - Whether  it is military, school or work, photographs of our ancestors in  uniform   put them in the context of their wider lives.  Below  is my Great Aunt Jennie Danson  (second left)  with colleagues who worked in the local post office in Poulton-le-Fylde, Lancashire.

UNDISPUTED RECORDS We are always looking for that undisputed  record on an  ancestor.  My four times great grandfather John Danson had a daughter Ellen Danson, baptised at St. Chad's Church in 1763 (Poulton Parish Register).   In searching for a marriage I came across an Ellen Danson marrying a Ralph Dewhurst - and made the basic fatal error of assuming this was "my " record - until I discovered that there were two other young Ellen Danson's in Poulton around the same time.  Given that the marriage entry does not name her father, I remain Unsure that I do have the right record.

UNFORGETTABLE - we all have a person in our ancestry who makes a particular impact.  For me it is my great grandmother Maria Danson, nee Rawcliffe.  It was Maria's photograph that started me on the ancestral trail and has been at the heart of my blogging activity.   Below with her only daughter Jennie, born after 10 sons (2 died in infancy) and her little granddaughter Annie whose mother died of TB aged only 21.

And finally I remain Unflagging in my family history activities and in following this A-Z challenge - soon nearing its end.  

Copyright © 2015 · Susan Donaldson.  All Rights Reserved 

On to V  for Verses & Vicissitudes

Thursday, 23 April 2015

A-Z Challenge - T for Tributes, Timelines & Travel

A-Z of Family History Sources & Stories 
Join me on this A-Z journey to explore the fascinating records 
that can  enhance your family history research and writing.

TRIBUTES  - I perhaps was slow to realise this, but I have discovered that blogging gives me a marvellous opportunity to pay Tribute to my ancestors through profiles of my great grandmother Maria Danson, nee Rawcliffe, to my great uncle George Danson who was killed in the First World War, to my grandfather William Danson who won the Military Medal,   to my feisty Great Aunt Jennie, to the war time experiences of my father John Weston, to my uncle Harry Danson  who was evacuated at Dunkirk, and to the talents of my mother and aunt - Kathleen and Edith Danson. I am proud to have done this.

A Painting by my Aunt Edith

TRAVEL  is a sideline on family history whether we  follow the ancestral trail by  exploring in  the footseps of our forebears or discover  how our ancestors got about.   Both aspects can provide you with inspiration for a family story.

  Earlston Parish Church Outing, 1907  -
one wonders how they managed going up and down the Scottish Borders hills!

My brother on the  ancestral trail in front of the famous Ironbridge, in Shropshire built in 1779.  Our father grew up here, sang in the local church choir from the age of seven and was vice-captain of the school football team.  His father Albert Weston walked  35 minute each way across the bridge  each day  to get to work.

TIMELINES   to me are an important feature of a  family history narrative.  Our ancestors did not live in a vacuum.    I am  a firm believer in setting their  lives in a wider context of life around them - what was happening at a local, national and international leveL?  I usually present this in the form of a text box in each chapter. 

My father was always called a Titanic baby - a bit of a misnomer, but it related to the  fact  he was born 15th April 1912, the night the Titanic sank.  For major events, date reference books can help, but local newspapers and local histories are invaluable sources of information.    Some ideas here: 
  • Was your ancestor alive when there was the threat of a Napoleonic invasion with towns and villages were ready to light beacons to warn of the French attack? 
  • Might your ancestors have seen the Jacobite army marching through Scotland and the north of England  in 1745,   as Prince Charles Edward Stuart (Bonnie Prince Charlie) attempted  to take the Hanoverian throne.
  • The coming of the railway to a community must have been a thrilling event to witness, with local newspapers giving extensive coverage of the excitement generated. 

  • What about the impact of the invention of the sewing machine  on the task of making a family's clothes?  
  • Might your female ancestors have seen suffragettes campaigning  locally?
  • When was your local cottage hospital built, or the local football  club formed? 
  • How did your  ancestral town or village mark the death of Queen Victoria in 1901?  

    The possibilities are endless.for adding colour to a family story................

    Copyright © 2015 · Susan Donaldson.  All Rights Reserved 

    On to U for Unusual, Unforgettable,
    Unlucky & Uniform 

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Sepia Saturday - Down the Decades with Hair

Sepia Saturday give bloggers an opportunity to share their family history and memories  through photographs.

My focus this week is on hairstyles down the decades. 
Not quite as luxurious a head as in the prompt photograph, but here is Annie Bailey of Blackpool - an ancestor of my third cousin. Taken in the 1880's-00's perhaps? 
The impact on the First World War on the changing role of  women saw an abandonment of the  traditional long hair styles of the Victorian period to the new short styles of the bob, finger-wave, Marvel wave, shingle and Eton crop, with their popularity continuing well into the 1930's. 

An elegant unidentified portrait in my husband's collection - thought to be a relation of his aunt Annette.  

My great aunt Jennie Danson  who sacrificed her long plait for the new look.

My mother Kathleen Danson -Jennie's niece, though there was only 11 years difference in their ages.  

My mother again - with more waves this time

My mother's second cousin Elsie Oldham - hairdresser "Elise".

In the 1930''s and 1940's  a  softer look crept in, with curls and waves all the rage, and during the war the "roll" was the defining style.  This was the age of trying to emulate  Hollywood glamour, despite the realities  of life during the  depression and war

My mother  - Kathleen Danson
My aunt - Edith Danson

Another new look for my mother who seems to have adopted an Austrian style, with what looks like  braids over  her head.  She was always very proud of her distinctive widow's peak.  

Below some typical 1940s looks from my aunt Peggy Danson (in WAAF uniform), my mother and finally  my husband's elegant aunt Annette.

 On some decades  - with my student look of the 1960's,  and the heavy glasses of the 1970's (now back in style), though I wish I had hair like that now! 


The nearest I came to big hair  with the permed look and big shoulder pads for this photograph taken for a work Annual Report c.1991.   With owlish glasses to match, there were comments that I looked like  Deidre out of soap opera  "Coronation Street"!!

Copyright © 2015 · Susan Donaldson.  All Rights Reserved

Click HERE to see how other Sepia Saturday bloggers
have taken up this week's theme

A-Z Challenge - S for Scottish Records to the Fore

A-Z of Family History Sources & Stories 
Join me on this A-Z journey to explore the fascinating records 
that can  enhance your family history research and writing.

SCOTLANDS' PEOPLE.  is the definitive site for anyone researching Scottish ancestry, and the only one to date which offers digital, downloadable records.  

The website at features old parish records (pre-1855), census returns, statutory BMD - wills,  catholic registers, and a more recent feature valuation rolls of property + much more e.g. research tools and background information. 

A pay-as-you-view site where you buy 30 credits for £7.  Search results only cost 1 credit (23p), but to view the actual record costs 5 credits (£1.16), which is where you can soon go through your £7 purchase, f you click to view on a wrong record.

A tip - as I have a subscription to Ancestry, I search initially on this to establish which record is "my" family, before paying to view and download the right record from ScotlandsPeople.

SCOTLANDS' PLACES is a much lesser known site at   The website  allows  you   to search across different national databases using geographic locations. It features historical buildings and monuments,  gazetteers, name books  & maps.

Of particular  interest are  largely unknown tax records from the 17th and 18th centuries.  e.g. window tax, hearth tax,  carriage tax, male and female servant tax rolls, farm horse tax, cart tax, clock & watch tax, and non-working dog tax.    Well worth looking at for their curiosity value!      A subscription site.

STATISTICAL ACCOUNTS - Written by each parish minister  they give a contemporary  account of life at the time, with the first edition published 1791-99 and the "New Statistical Account" 1834-45, so they largely precede the first census.   They tell you how many paupers, cattle, sheep, horses,  etc. were in the parish,  give details on the land,  trades and occupations, the school, and the church, with frank comments on "miserable hovels", "the church roof leaks rain  on the congregation"  and "there is a want of fuel in winter".

if you have Scottish ancestors  these are "a  must see" rich  source of background information.  Take a look at

SADNESS, SOLEMNITY & SISTERS  are all sources of family history stories,  illustrated in this photograph of the MacFarlane family of  Fife in Scotland -  nine sisters (Bridget, Kate, Mary, Ellen, Sarah, Annie, Jane, Maggie and Jemima)  and one brother  (Patrick), with their mother Annie.  The dark clothes and solemn expressions, with their mother holding a bible or prayer book suggest this was on the occasion of a funeral.   The style of dress and the estimated age of the youngest daughter indicated c.1910 and I believe this was taken after the death of their father James in 1912. 

And finally  
SCHOOL RECORDS  have a look HERE at an earlier post on the topic.

SASINES - Scottish property records
Records of all land and property titles or transfers by grant, inheritance or sale as appearing in the Sasine (pronounced 'say-zin') Register or the Land.

The General Register of Sasines - also known as the Sasine Register - is the oldest land register in the world, dating back to 1617. Its name comes from the old French word 'seizer', which means 'take'.
The Sasine Register is a chronological list of land deeds, which contain written descriptions of properties. It is gradually being replaced by the map-based

Onto T for Tributes, Travel  & Taxation 

Copyright © 2015 · Susan Donaldson.  All Rights Reserved  


Tuesday, 21 April 2015

A-Z Challenge: R for Reconnecting & Research

A-Z of Family History Sources & Stories 
Join me on this A-Z journey to explore the fascinating records 
that can  enhance your family history research and writing.

Records, Resources, References and Registrars are  at the heart of our family history activities.

RECONNECTING WITH RELATIVES   - family history has given me the push  to get in touch with relatives e.g. my mother's cousins, who  I knew about from my childhood,  but had had no personal contact  with as an adult  particularly when we moved to another part of the country. I prevaricated about this for ages,  but what  a resource I had been missing out on!  I have had a marvellous reception from them  to hearing  a family voice from the past - "I remember a little girl with pig tails".  We have exchanged memories, paid visits and I have gathered additional material for my blog posts. 

The daughter of my Great Aunt Jennie had a box of memorabilia in her loft, which she  wondered what to do with - and I was the benefactor of photographs, used heavily in my blog, including the only photograph of my great grandfather James Danson  and two unknown photographs of my great grandmother Maria Rawcliffe - plus much much more.   I was also able to read  the moving letter written by my great uncle George three weeks before he was killed on the Somme in 1916, and  photograph Maria's tea set and jewellery.  I was touching personal possessions used by Maria who lived 1859-1919. 

So don't delay in accessing the wonderful resource of family.  

RESEARCH in itself can be a source of family history writing,  especially if you are blogging.  Do you always use a dose of sceptism and  question information you find,  sources uncovered, the validity of online transcriptions and  family trees?   We all like to learn from others, so do you have you a particular research story to tell?  Mine was a tale of following false trails and making wrong assumptions.  Yours may be  a particularly exciting discovery.

Copyright © 2015 · Susan Donaldson.  All Rights Reserved 

On to S for ScotlandsPeople, ScotlandsPlaces, Sasines, Statistical Accounts, Sadness & Sisters


Monday, 20 April 2015

A-Z Challenge - Q. for Questions, Questions

A-Z of Family History Sources & Stories 
Join me on this A-Z journey to explore the fascinating records 
that can  enhance your family history research and writing.

QUESTIONS   are at the heart of our family history research. So many avenues are open to us now, beyond the traditional local and family history society magazine pages, with online message boards, social network sites etc.

We can  generally find out the "who, where, and when" about our ancestor's lives, but the "why" remains a mystery and we can only hazard a guess as to motives.  

Why was 6 year old John Robert Donaldson left behind when his parents moved 350 miles south?
John was born in 1854, the son of Robert Donaldson, a shipwright, and Isabella Walton of South Shields ON  the north east coast of England.  An obvious next step was to find the family in the 1861 Census, but frustratingly, in the days before online records, this proved impossible to trace. Yet all the indications were that direct Donaldson descendants had remained in South Shields down the generations.

It was only much later the opportunity to do national searches online revealed that by 1861 Robert and Isabella were at Portsea in Portsmouth on the south coast of England. With them were two young sons Thomas, aged 4, born South Shields and one year old Frederick W. (Walton perhaps after Isabella's maiden name?) born at Portsea, indicating a move c.1857-1860. But there was no mention of their eldest son, John who would have been 6 years old. 

How had the family travelled 350 miles from South Shields to Portsea, by rail or more likely by sea? Was work the reason, with Robert now employed at Her Majesty's Dockyard as a shipwright? Why was John not with them? 

Back in South Shields, I returned to the 1861 census and found John's maternal grandparents, John and Hannah Walton, with the household also including their grandson John Robert Walton aged 6. This must be "my" John Robert Donaldson, mistakenly recorded in the census with the wrong surname. An entry in the 1871 census gave further confirmation - a John Donaldson, aged 16, born c.1855 was living at the home of his maternal uncle Robert Walton. Death records showed that John must have lost his grandparents (and his home) in 1868.

Eight year later John married Jane Elizabeth Rushton. and they had four sons - John Robert, Henry, Thomas, Frederick and one daughter Isabella. Interestingly these names echoed those of his siblings in Portsmouth. For Robert and Isabella had more children, making a family of Thomas, Fredrick, Henry, Robert, Charles, Isabella and Alfred.

The fact that John retained the name of his father and mother for his eldest son and daughter suggests that the split had been amicable. One cannot help wonder did the two families ever meet again.

Why was my great grandmother, who was named Maria on her birth certificate, noted as  Martha M.   in later official records, including her marriage certificate?

Maria was only 4 years old when her baby sister Martha died, so could hardly have remembered her, but did she, for some reason, adopt her name as her own?  
Maria Danson, nee Rawcliffe (1859-1919) 
with her only daughter Jennie (after 8 surviving sons)
and granddaughter Annie Maria.

Why did Maria's sister Alice and family (husband John Mason, a general labourer,  and six children under 11 years old)  emigrate  from Fleetwood, a fishing town in Lancashire to Brooklyn, New York in 1886-7. 

Alice and John Mason and their eight surviving children c.1920's

These Questions remain mysteries that can be the source of family history stories  and I may never know the answers - another factor that makes this hobby  so absorbing. 

Something else to ponder on:
  • What questions do you regret not asking your parents or grandparents? 
  • What questions do you ask yourself when viewing sources of information, online transcriptions and family trees  etc. to assess their validity? 
Copyright © 2015 · Susan Donaldson.  All Rights Reserved


On to R for Reconnecting with Relatives 
& Research Tales 

Saturday, 18 April 2015

A-Z Challenge - P for Poor Law Records

 A-Z of Family History Sources & Stories 
Join me on this A-Z journey to explore the fascinating records 
that can  enhance your family history research and writing.

A Plethera of Ps is awaiting you, including  Photographs, Postcards, Police Records,  Population Studies,   Parishes, Prisoners, Personal Memories and Places  to give your family story colour and context. 

But here I am focusing on POOR LAW RECORDS with a look at a Pauper's life in Scotland in the 19th century.

 Seeing an ancestor described as a "pauper" in a census return conjures up images of Charles Dickens' "Oliver Twist" and a time when the word "poorhouse" (or  "workhouse" in England) struck fear in people living close to destitution.  But for family historians searching for a story beyond the simple names and dates, such a discovery is an  immediate prompt to turn to poor law records - not generally available online.
They are one of the most popular types of offline tools at my local archive centre, the Heritage Hub, Hawick in the Scottish Borders,  and, although they have not been a source for my own family,  I find it fascinating to browse through them. 

Poorhouses were set up in Scotland as a result of the Poor Law (Scotland) Act of 1845 Between 1845 and 1930 over 70 poorhouses were constructed in Scotland  with an additional 90 smaller almshouses in operation. In the Scottish Borders, poorhouses were set up  in five towns serving not only the immediate town but surrounding parishes - hence their name of Combination Poorhouse or Union Poorhouse.  My own village of Earlston in Berwickshire was one of twenty-three parishes  served by Kelso Poorhouse in Roxburghshire - a lesson in research  not to get  too restricted by county boundaries. 

The Victorians  were great bureaucrats and the Heritage Hub holds a large collection of local Poor Law Registers, Poor Relief Applications and Parochial Board Minute Books, many of which can give a mini-biography of an ancestor, in often tragic circumstances, with details of name, address, aged, birthplace, marital status,  occupation, whether disabled and if so how, financial circumstances, and dependents.  Here are some examples which caught my attention:
  • Robert Leck, once a well known clockmaker of Jedburgh, admitted to the poorhouse aged 67, with a pattern of admissions and discharges until the time came when he was "wholly disabled, nearly blind and wholly destitute".  Interestingly when I did a Google search, I found  an illustration of a Robert Leck grandfather clock about to be auctioned in London.
  • The story of Janet Scott had a more positive outcome.  Her admission record in 1877 gives us a glimpse of the desperate situation in which many applicants for poor relief found themselves.  A single mother with  two children and a baby, working as an agricultural  labourer, she  was "wholly disabled by a cart falling on her".  She was on parish relief for three years.  However she also demonstrated her resilience, as  in the 1881 census she was back earning a living, as an Ag. Lab, along with her two eldest daughters.  
Janet Scott's entry in the Jedburgh Union Poorhouse Register, 1877.  
In the collection of  the Heritage Hub, Hawick
Being a "pauper" did not always mean being admitted to the poorhouse,  as those on "out relief" lived in the  community and received support such as clothing, fuel or food, as illustrated in these records from Duns, Berwickshire:

  •  15 year old James Robertson is described as "delicate and deformed by spine curvature and will never be able to do much.  He needs a suit of clothes, 2 pairs of stockings and 2 handkerchiefs.  Allowed. 
  • Mary Burns, also in need of clothing , was granted " 1 frock, 2 yards flannel, 2 yards drugget, 2 pinafores and a  pair of boots."
  • At Melrose, Rosburghshire, a mother and young children were "footsore and weary"  and given help as they made their way from Newcastle to Glasgow to rejoin family  - a distance of 114 miles.
  • Mary Phllips was admitted to the Poorhouse as "this woman's husband deserted her, having absconded to America.  She has 2 children and is about to be confined.  Her parents very poor."
  • The Inspector was not always the hard face of the law.  At Melrose two young children whose mother had run away with another man,  were given a penny to buy a roll and told to return home and send their father.   The record showed six  young children in the family aged from 13 to 3 years old.
  • Rebecca Ballantyne, however, "burdened with 2 illegitimate children" was refused poor relief on the grounds she was able bodied and earning a good wage - 15 shillings a week as a mill worker.
  • In Hawick "Robert Campbell, a weaver, almost disabled by rheumatism applied for relief and was offered admission to the Poorhouse, but declined the offer."
  • "George Wilson, a labourer, wholly disabled by bronchitis,  as certified  by Doctor McLeod, was sent to the Poorhouse on 26th March but left the same on 2nd April."

Most of these records are not available online, so my tip of the day is {again} to contact the appropriate local archives centre, with most offering  a remote research service.  You never know what might be unearthed to throw light on your ancestors' lives.

Take a look  too, at the definitive website that covers  England, Wales, Ireland and Scotland - a compressive, invaluable site, full of information including  transcripts of the 1881 census of staff and inmates. 


Onto Q for Questions, Questions