Tuesday, 1 April 2014

How to spot mistakes in online trees

I have been researching the Thorburn family in Ayrshire starting with James Thorburn b 1835 Ayr and wife Margaret Ramage

James and Margaret

James's parents were William Thorburn and Mary Begbie and the Begbie name is continued down through the generations.

However it was hard to find his parents William and Mary again.  Son James with wife and family are in Galston Ayrshire in the 1861 census.

Someone using the search facility on ancestry found a William Thorburn and wife Mary in Delhi Township in Ingham County in Michigan, USA. He and wife Mary had gone out about 1879 to join other members of his family who had been there since 1860s.

Previously to that, they had been in Leshamagow and the censuses reveal that Mary was born about 1831 in Cambusnethan Lanarkshire  - too young to be Mary Begbie the mother of James b 1835. William Thornburn was born in Douglas Lanarkshire in 1813 so this Mary is a second wife. More digging revealed an earlier wife Ann Sandilands whom  he married in 1842 in Douglas, Lanarkshire. I am still happy to go along with that.

However I am looking for James b Ayr in the 1841 and 1851 censuses. The only ones I can find are

1841 in Kilwinning
at Doura House
Wm Thorburn 25 coal cutter born Scotland not Ayrshire
Janet 15 b Ayrshire
James 5 b Ayrshire
Margaret 3 months b Ayrshire

The 1841 census does not give relationships.

in 1851 there is a family at Holmes Colliery which is near Galston (where James and Margaret are in 1861 census)
This clearly ties in with the family in the 1841 census
And interstingly it gives William's place of birth as Stranraer in Wigtownshire, nowhere near Lesmahagow in Lanarskhire.

I have a look for possible births for William Thorburn about 1814 in Stranraer. Wouldn't you know it, there are 2.

By now I'm pretty sure that "our" William is not the one in Michigan.

I found a marriage to Janet Stewart in Kilwinning in 1841
I found a likely burial for Mary Begbie in Ayr in 1837 although she is down as Mary Biggar wife of William Thorburn labourer. Biggar could have been Begbie misheard.

I look for William, Janet, Margaret Wm jnr and Daniel in 1861. Daniel seems a good name to search on.

I find him at Loudoun Kirk (near Galston) in the house of an uncle Robert.
Robert Thorburn     35 coal miner b Ayr
Elizabeth Thorburn     32
Mary Thorburn     5
Sarah Thorburn     10 Mo
William Thorburn     46 coal miner  b Stranraer
Daniel Thorburn     16 coal miner b Kilwinning

Finding that William had a brother Robert allows me to find the right family in Stranraer.

Robert Thorburn and Mary Milwrick /Millrick

I found a death certificate for William. It appears he fell into the river Irvine at Galston in the evening of January 4th 1870 and his body was found near Dundonald on the 29th January. No relatatives names are on the certificate but he is 55.  Other online trees have him dying in 1890 in Michigan.

One person gets it wrong and everybody else takes it as gospel and copies it without any further thought. It is well worth checking out the censuses and the other family members.

So unless I can get further back and establish a link to the Lesmahagow/Michigan Thorburns they are different families.

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Cast the net wide

Some people have a tree with only their direct line and births marriages and deaths. This is OK as far as it goes. 

It really helps to have the brothers and sisters as well.

And a good way to track the family is through the censuses. If you can see the same names appearing in the right order with matching birthplaces in the censuses, you know you have the right family. This is particularly helpful for common surnames.

If you can't find a birth record for your ancestor, you may find one for a sibling and that way you can establish the parents' names.

Cumnock Connections tree

As a member of Cumnock History group, I have created an online tree, called Cumnock Connections,  where anyone with an ancestor who was in Cumnock can add their line to the tree and see how we all link up.

This is how to do it.

First you need to get a invitation by email from me, so I need your email. Email me at kaymcmeekin[at]gmail.com

Follow the link in the email you get back from  tribalpages. You will need to create your own account with an email and a password.  (Remember your password!)

Once you have done that, you get a choice to create a new website or go to Cumnock Connections.

Don't start a new tree as no-one else will be able to see it. Go to Cumnock Connections tree. and click on the link.

This takes you to the home page. It has a blue background.

 Click on edit (below the ct in the word Connections) and it asks you to log in again.
Then the background turns to cream when you are in admin/editing mode.

Remember to check the person you are adding isn't already on the site.

If the person is on the tree, you will see three icons to the left of his/her name. Click on the middle one to edit. ( a notepad and pen symbol) Add your name in the Notes - a Connects to

Click save at the bottom.

Remember not to add yourself, or anyone else living. If you add someone born after 1900 and don't give a date of death, it will assume they are alive. Be sure to click the "No" button beside Alive? under the name.

Census information, if you have it, should be entered in the Notes section of the head of the household

Generally it is pretty straightforward and I like the layout of the tribal pages tree.

There is a video tutorial here

On Facebook I have a group called Cumnock Family History to discuss the tree.

Friday, 14 March 2014

Tips for entering on an online tree

More tips for beginners

5  Always use a married woman's maiden name when adding her to your tree. If you don't know it, leave blank, or write unknown.

6 Always put a date of birth even if it is a guess eg 25 years younger than the child

This saves (or helps save) the application eg ancestry giving you false "hints" or ridiculous returns in searches.

Monday, 3 March 2014

Skeletons in the cupboard

More tips for new family researchers.

There are  plenty "skeletons" in my tree!

Tip no 3

Be prepared for some skeletons in the cupboard. It may turn out your great granny wasn't actually married to your great grandad.

Divorce was expensive and ordinary folk just moved on.

There were plenty illegitimate births before the days of contraception.
Often the child was brought up by the mother's parents and sometimes as a child not a grandchild. The birth certificate gives the game away. It was, and is, illegal to give false information to the Registrar.

You are not responsible for the actions of your ancestors.

Tip no 4

Don't be too quick to judge your ancestors. Times were different. Widows and widowers left with children often remarried quite soon. This was a matter of necessity for financial support for the widows and childcare for the widowers. I spotted a comment on a forum along the lines of "his wife died and he remarried with indecent haste"

Another one I hear often is "they had a hard life". Certainly they did, compared to us but this doesn't necessarily mean they were unhappy.

Friday, 28 February 2014

New to family history?

I am often asked how to get started. Often people have heard they are related to someone well known. There are no short cuts to family history. Here are my two top tips:-

1   Start with what you know and work backwards in time. Ask your oldest relations what they know.
You may need to get some certificates to get started eg
Your grandparents' marriage certificates. If they married in Scotland, both sets of parents will or should be on it and fathers' occupations. If they married in England you will just get the fathers' names and occupations.
Once you get back to people born before 1911 (UK) you will find them in the censuses.

Keep an open mind, especially re the spelling of names. Before about 1900 there was a lot of illiteracy. People signed their marriage certificates with a X mark. So their surname was open to interpretation by the registrar. If the person (being married) was not a local, which happened more than you might imagine, the registrar may have struggled with the unfamiliar name in an unfamiliar accent. Generally the consonants would be the same eg mcmeekin was recorded as mcmeikan, mcmackine, mcmeeking and countless variations.  In some search engines it is possible to search with "wildcards", so I would search Mcm*k* which would return all of these. Strangely nowaways McMeekin is often mispelt as McMeechan but not once on historical records have I seen CH instead of K.
Ages are often misrecorded for various reasons but usually in my experience from not knowing their birthdate or being able to do the subtraction. Sometimes they made themselves younger. On old people's death certificate they are often mistaken by their grandchild who gave the information as much older!

More tips next time!

Monday, 27 January 2014

World War One Soldiers - part 4

Some Cumnock families had the heartbreak of losing more than one son.

The family of James and Elizabeth Kirkpatrick of Sykeside near Cumnock, Ayrshire suffered two losses in the war.

In 1901 the family was at Hillhead, Lugar

James Kirkpatrick 37 railway surfaceman b Dryfesdale, Dumfriesshire
Elizabeth Kirkpatrick 35
Agnes Kirkpatrick 12
Mary Kirkpatrick 11
Jessie Kirkpatrick 7
William Kirkpatrick 5
John Kirkpatrick  3
Marion Kirkpatrick 1
Andrew Kirkpatrick  30 brother

Son John Kirkpatrick who was with the Northumberland Fusiliers died of wounds in France on 15 Oct 1916.

Son William Kirkpatrick who was with the Seaforth Highlanders was killed in action on the Somme on 25 March 1918. 

The sons-in-law happily fared better.
Agnes Kirkpatrick married Alexander Caughie who was a driver in 280 Company and served in France. He survived the war and his address on discharge was 33 Greenside, Maybole.

Jessie Kirkpatrick married John Priest of Ayr in 1915. he enlisted in Ayr on 29 sep 1914. He was a ploughman. He served as a saddler in the RHA in France. He had a spell in convalescent hospital in 1916.
His address on discharge in July 1919 was Sykeside, Cumnock.

Montgomery Davidson of 78 Skares lost three sons. This information came from an in Memoriam Announcement in the Cumnock Chronicle in 1918 by the men's sister Jessie, wife of Matthew Shirkie.

First, oldest son David Davidson, a Lance Corporal in the Royal Scots Fusiliers was killed in the Battle of Loos on 26 Sep 1915. He was married to Martha Keirs in 1901.
Thomas Davidson was a private with the RFA and was killed at Gallipoli on the 30th December 1915. Thomas had married Margaret Reid in 1912.
The youngest son Robert Davidson also a private with the RFA died in France on 27 Sep 1918.

Their mother Janet McMurray had passed away in 1901 so was spared the grief of losing three sons.
Here's the family in 1901 census
Bargany Cottages, Dailly

Montgomery Davidson             46 coal miner b Kirkoswald
Janet Davidson             42
David B Davidson             23
Elizabeth J Davidson             16
John Davidson             15
Jessie Davidson             13
Thomas Davidson             11
Montgomery Davidson             9
James Davidson             8
Andrew Davidson             6
William Davidson             4
Robert Davidson             3
Martha Keier             24 (future wife of David)

Cumnock soldiers now here http://cumnocksoldiers.blogspot.co.uk/

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

World War 1 Soldiers - part 3

There are three soldiers on Cumnock War Memorial in Ayrshire, Scotland who served with the Canadian Expeditionary Forces.

Mitchell Taylor was born in Cumnock in 1885 and left for a new life in Canada, arriving on the Ionian on 15 March 1912. He returned to Scotland in 1914 but went back to Canada in September on the Scandanavian.
He signed on in Dec 1914 in Winnipeg.  He had previously served 3 years in the Ayrshire Yeomanry. He was 5 ft 6 with a sallow complexion, grey eyes and fair hair. He was a plasterer like his father.
His parents were Mitchell Taylor and his wife Annie Watt of 51 Ayr Road.
He was killed on 8 Oct 1916 aged 32 and is remembered at Vimy Ridge in France.

Robert McLelland Munn, "Bertie"  was born in 1894 in Cumnock. In 1901 he was living with his parents Robert and Beatrice Munn at the Dumfries Arms Hotel. He left Glasgow for Montreal on the Grampian on 3 Aug 1912 as Bertie Munn age 18 occupation "F.L." which I think is farm labourer, since on the Canadian passenger list his intended career is farming in Ontario.  He enlisted at Valcartier, Canada on 24 Sep 1914 when he was 20 but gave his date of birth as 14 May 1891 making himself 3 years older than he actually was.
His occupation was "horseman" and he had previously served 5 years in the Yeomanry. He was 6ft tall with blue eyes and light hair. He was a Gunner with the Canadian Field Artillery and he died on 26 Apr 1915 aged 20. He is buried at Hazebrouck Communal Cemetery in France.

Richard Davidson
"Dick" was born about 1896 in Cumnock to Archibald Boswell Davidson, a tailor, and his wife Margaret Douglas Lorimer. In 1901 they were living at Strand Street, Cumnock. Dick and his mother and sisters went out on the Hesperian in June 1912. His father had gone ahead the year before. In 1916 the family was living at 413 Simcoe St, Winnipeg. Richard enlisted on 24 Sep 1914 at Valcartier. He was an 18 year old clerk. He had fair hair and blue eyes and a scar on the bridge of his nose. He was 5 ft 5 1/2in. He was a private in the Canadian Army Medical Corps. He died on 31 Oct 1917 aged 20. He is buried at Potijze Chateau Grounds Cemetery in Belgium.

While looking through the Cumnock Chronicle on microfilm, I found another Canadian soldier who had lived in Cumnock. He is not on the Cumnock War Memorial. His grandmother Mrs David Fraser was living in Common in 1918.
 He was born David Chalmers Fraser in Kilmarnock on 2 Oct 1894 to James Fraser and his wife Maggie Miller. In 1901 they were living at Ayr Road, Cumnock. The Chronicle has them living at Bank Avenue. They emigrated to Calgary about 1906 and David enlisted at Valcartier in 1914. In the 1916 census of Canada they are in Calgary. Brother James Miller Fraser enlisted at Calgary in 1915. He had previously been 3 years in the Calgary Militia. He was with the Canadian Army Medical Corps. He died on 19 May 1918 in an air raid on the hospital. He is buried in Etaples Military Cemetery near Boulogne in France.

1916 census
James Fraser             47 can't decipher his occupation, but working on his own account.
Margaret Fraser             45
David Fraser             21 soldier
James Fraser             20 soldier
Jane Fraser             19 stenographer
William Fraser             18
Margaret Fraser             16
John Fraser             13
Robert Fraser             11
Hugh Fraser             7
Thomas Fraser             1

Database of WW1 soldiers in Canada
Commonwealth War Graves Commission

I am not related to any of these families. It would be great to hear from any living relatives. Add a comment or email me at kmcmeekin at me.com

Monday, 20 January 2014

Fleming Descendants - the Biggers in Australia

Dave McCartney and Isabella Fleming (previous post) moved with their 10 year old daughter Marion to Cessnock, Sydney in 1910.  Marion was musical and played violin in the Sydney Philharmonic,

She married Frederick C Biggers who was a clerk, a mine worker, a journalist and a writer. In 1929 he was on the staff of the Burwood Courier. He also wrote and performed in musical plays eg the Matrimonial Tangle which was staged in 1933.

They lived in Cessnock, New South Wales and had one daughter Joan Isobel. She was a ballerina (I was told) but tried tragically young aged 19.

Fred and Marion
The Biggers' house in Cessnock, New South Wales
Joan Biggers 1934-1953

Friday 26 November 1948

The Cessnock Eagle and South Maitland Recorder


Photos kindly sent by Kathy Wright, a friend of the family in Australia.

Thursday, 16 January 2014

World War One part 2

My father-in-law David McMeekin, 1892-1973 was a miner,  son of John McMeekin and Annie Gibson Murdoch of Glengyron Row. We know he was in the Royal Scots Fusiliers and served in Palestine; he was fond of talking at length about Palestine. Unfortunately his son did not pay much attention to his tales. His service records did not survive, but he did.

David McMeekin aged about 22

His younger brother Jimmy 1895-1978 also a miner, enlisted in the Royal Scots Fusiliers and his records survive. He enlisted at Cumnock on the 28th August 1914. He was recruited by recruiter John Sykes. He gave his age as 20 years and 160 days but he was only 19. This was probably a mistake and not an attempt to enlist when too young. You could enlist at age 18 but you weren't sent abroad till you were 19. He was 5 ft 5 and a half inches, blue eyes, fair hair, teeth defective, but nutrition good. Pulse 70 (underlined, is this good?). This noted by Dr McQueen in Cumnock. He was discharged at Aldershot after 25 days, as he was "physically unfit for active service due to chronic rheumatism and valvular heart disease". Nevertheless, he continued to work as a miner and died age 83!

Although none of the family died in the war, the family did not escape unscathed. A third brother Andrew died in 1916 in a rock fall in Garallan colliery. He was only 19. I wrote about his death here.  On his death certificate his father John is listed as a miner and a private in the Royal Defence Corps (the Home Guard).