Category Archives: Genealogy


For the last few weeks I have been busy with the McManus168 project – an exciting investigation in to the middling classes of Dundee in the mid-1860s and consequently my blogging has been on the back burner.

However, that doesn’t mean that I have not been thinking about the 52 ancestors in 52 week topics and one name that has been at the forefront of my thoughts is  Louisa Jeffery, my husband’s great-grandmother.

William and Louisa Palmer, Leacroft, Staines

She would certainly be near the top of the guest list to invite to dinner and it was through the 1901 census that I began to unravel her story.  Not to mention the fact that despite no-one in the family “knowing” her maiden name when I first asked, once it was confirmed as Jeffery, her grandson remarked – of course it is – that’s why I was named Jeff!

Louisa was born on the 1st April 1861 in Lambeth, one of the ten children of Joseph Pratt Jeffery and his wife Sarah Reid.   Her father worked as a coach builder and wheelwright and her mother supplemented the household income by taking in sewing.   Louisa was brought up in London and on Christmas Day 1880 married William John Palmer at St Mary’s parish church in Staines.

By 1885 William, Louisa and their children William, Flo(rence) and Albert lived at 7 Woodham Place, Staines and next door at number 6 lived William’s brother Alfred who had married Louisa’s sister Ellen.  The brothers worked in the local linoleum factory, Barrys in Staines.

My  first dinner invitation to Louisa would be in 1900 at the turn of the new century.  Her family of eleven surviving  children now lived at number 12 George Street, including twins Leonard and Stanley (she had lost a baby, Percy aged just 25 days on the 22nd December 1895).  Her married brother Alfred lived at number 6 along with her sister Alice.

12 George Street, Staines

12 George Street, Staines

I’d ask her what hopes she had for the new century, what her aspirations were for her children’s futures?  

Her sister Ellen and two of Ellen’s children had died in March 1899 and her brother-in-law Alfred Palmer and surviving children had moved to Kirkcaldy in Scotland to take charge of the paint and printing department at Barry, Ostlere & Shepherd linoleum factory. I’d like to know what Louisa thought of this radical move and did she and William ever consider following his brother north?


With my wonderful time machine I’d then travel forward to the 30th October 1920 and have dinner with her once more.  The intervening years, as for so many families, had been filled with the consequences of war. Louisa saw four of her sons head off to war.  The eldest William survived but the consequences of being gassed affected his health for the rest of his life; Walter returned physically uninjured, Charlie returned but his story remains a mystery yet to be untangled and her son Stanley was killed on the 15th September 1916 at the Somme.

Louisa had also lost Stanley’s twin brother Leonard and infants Mabel and Frances to diphtheria and whooping cough in 1901. Another unnamed infant had been born prematurely and died 12 hours later in 1904.   Amidst all the challenges of war Louisa also had to nurse her ailing husband who following a colostomy had died from cancer in December 1917.

So why do I want to meet her at the end of October 1920?  Louisa would be aged 59 and would have recently received a letter from the Infantry Office addressed to her deceased husband William:

The Late No 2209 Pte S Palmer 1/8th Battn. Middlesex Regt.
I have to inform you that in accordance with the agreement with the French and Belgian Governments to remove all scattered graves, and certain small [??], which were situated in places unsuitable for permanent retention, it has been found necessary to exhume the bodies buried in certain areas, and to re-inter them. The body of your son, the above named soldier, has, therefore, been removed to the Cemetery described below.

The necessity for removal of the [??] is much regretted but was unavoidable for the reasons given above. The work of re-burial has been carefully and reverently carried out, special arrangements having been made for the appropriate religious services to be held.

I am sir, Your Obedient servant, Major for Colonel i/c Infantry Record Office, Hounslow.”

This letter followed one in 1919 informing her that Stanley’s remains had been exhumed and re-interred  in Bois Bouleaux , a mile north-west of Combles.  

Combles Cemetery


I would have so many questions to ask her about those intervening twenty years and how she felt about all that happened to her family. 

But that’s not why I want to meet her in October 1920. However upset she was by this letter, how sad she might have felt to know that she would never visit his grave I want to reassure her that the message she chose for Stanley’s gravestone at  his final resting place on the outskirts of Combles  ” He died for us, gone but not forgotten by all who loved him”  was honoured.

Stanley’s photo hung on the wall of his brothers home for all of Walter’s life and almost 100 years after Stanley’s death her great-grandson visited the grave in Northern France and remembered him.

We’ll never know what Lousia thought about her life as no written or anecdotal material survives.  It is also dangerous to try and second guess from the viewpoint of the twenty-first century.   She had lived through a time when every household was affected by infant mortality, overcrowding and losses following the first world war.  However at the start of the ‘Roaring Twenties’  I want to believe that Louisa felt hopeful for the future.  Her surviving seven children were nearby, married and raising families of their own. Women over 30 had the vote; the world was at peace following the “war to end all wars” and the depression of the mid 20s was still a few years away. 

Louisa c1920




2018 Genealogical New Year’s Resolution

Family History ResearchAt this point, mid way through January, the goals and resolutions we set at the turn of the year often become lost in the reality of day to day life. Genealogical goals are no different and keeping that research momentum going throughout the year requires planning and identifying tools to help us achieve our aims and break down those brick walls. Often we recognise the need for further support – a course we want to attend; books to read or calling in a professional to review existing research. One of the simplest steps is to tell someone about your goal.

As a professional genealogist time spent on my own family tree is often low priority in any week, so this year I am taking up Amy Johnson Crow’s challenge to blog about 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks

Week 1 – the Starting Point

Beatrice Laing nee Beattie

Beatrice on her wedding day , December 1922

My interest in family history started as a wee girl listening to my maternal grandmother, Gran Laing talk about her family. Born Beatrice Beattie on the 3rd August 1898 Gran was illegitimate, her mother died from TB in February 1907 leaving six year old orphaned Beatrice to be raised by her maternal grandparents Peter and Jean Edward.

Peter and Jean had 12 children who survived to adulthood and their humble household often accommodated extended family members. Six of their children emigrated and throughout her life Beatrice maintained a connection with these scattered family members.

Widowed at the age of 67, Beatrice moved in with my parents when I was a toddler and lived with us for the next 17 years. The stories from the dispersed Edward family and how the choices each sibling had made led to a very different life, some filled with success and others with hardship, started me on the family history research  journey. The tales of my grandfather’s family were equally intriguing- why did Willy leave home and never return? What became of his sisters? Was he really related to Major-General Tom Gordon Rennie?

Beatrice Laing

Beatrice with great grandchild Susan Paterson, 1969

In the years since her death I have answered some of these questions and reconnected with descendants from most of the branches of the Edward family. However there are always more questions to research. I look forward to sharing the successes and the remaining challenges throughout 2018.

Happy New Year 2017

The festive period is always a fitting time to reflect on the past year but whatever your memories are of 2016 I hope you have recorded them somewhere.

Christmas Table 2016

I have been thinking of the Christmas traditions within our own family and how they evolve as we grow older.  This year our Hungarian hostess suggested we adopt the European tradition and we exchanged gifts on Christmas Eve, a new tradition to blend with the old.

How we celebrate today is very different from the Christmases of my childhood, spent with my Dad, Mum and two grandmothers.   Each year up to a dozen assorted family friends and distant relatives were squeezed around the dining room table.

Christmas Dinner c1960s

My parents, brought up in the inter-war years would have had a very different experience and I regret not asking them about their childhood memories of Christmas and New Year.  As both my grandfathers worked on estates they would have been lucky to have any time off but I do know that they always received a traditional Boxing Day gift from the wife of their employer.

As we research our ancestors it is easy to forget that our stories, traditions and where they originated from should also be preserved for future generations.   As you plan your genealogical goals for 2017 why not also include time to document your own family traditions.  Future genealogists will thank you for the insight into their ancestors’ lives!

Record your Family History


A book I will probably never read


For Book Week Scotland it might seem odd to write about a book that I have never read. It is a small, rather tatty volume with yellowing and grubby pages but it is one of my more precious books.

Sandford cover

“The History of Sandford and Merton, A moral and instructive lesson for young people” has a wonderful gold and black thistle embossed cover.

It is of little monetary value but it contains a presentation bookplate that is priceless to me.


John Paterson III Class for proficiency in all subjects 1879-1880

John Paterson, my great-grandfather was born in 1869. Like his father he worked his whole life on farms in Fife employed as a ploughman and later as a farm grieve (overseer).  The 1881 census recorded the family in a farm cottage on the outskirts of Cupar with John at school, this bookplate confirms the name of the school as Madras Academy.

The 1872 Education (Scotland) Act introduced compulsory education for all children between the ages of 5 and 13. The Act also transferred control of schools from the church to elected school boards.  John probably left school aged 13 a year before the school leaving age was increased to 14 in 1883.

Madras Academy in Cupar (now called Bell Baxter High School) was, along with Madras College in St Andrews, founded by Rev. Dr. Andrew Bell.  These schools were named after the Madras system of education Bell had developed while teaching the children of the Honourable East India Company regiments. The system used older boys to instruct groups of younger pupils and was eventually adopted by over 10,000 schools worldwide.

This copy of “Sandford and Merton “does not look well thumbed. However, in a family where very little was kept except for a few photographs it must have been considered valuable in some way. I’m certainly glad that it survived as a small tangible connection to my great-grandfather and his early life.

Paterson Family pre 1904 cropped

John Paterson and family circa 1900s




James Blyth Morrison

Image © D.C.Thomson & Co. Ltd. All rights reserved. Image created courtesy of The British Library Board. Image reproduced with kind permission of The British Newspaper Archive (

For armistice day I am remembering my great-aunt’s husband James Morrison.  After many years of researching I was delighted to find the above photograph thanks to the British Newspaper Archive records and Find My Past.

James was born on 19th July 1890 at 43 Hospital Wynd, Dundee, the son of Jane Blyth and John Morrison.  The family moved to Murroes a few miles north of Dundee sometime between 1893 when James’ sister Jane was born in Dundee and 1897 when his sister Christina was born at Murroes.

By 31st March 1901 when the next census was recorded the family lived at Cotton of Brighty, Murroes.  James was at school and his father worked at the local sandstone quarry.  By 2nd April 1911 John had joined his father as a labourer at Duntrune quarry.

Nearby at Ballumbie House, the family of Alexander Gilroy, Jute merchant included James’ future wife, 21 year old domestic servant Maggie A. W. Laing.

Map of Murroes


Three years later James and Maggie were married at his home, Burnside of Duntrune.  Maggie worked as a domestic servant in Broughty Ferry and James still worked at the quarry.  Their first child, James Alexander Morrison, was born on 15th September 1914 and his sister Jane Blyth Morrison was born 6th October 1915.

Nine months later James enlisted with The Black Watch.  Unfortunately his army enlistment and pension papers have not survived but some of his military service can be pieced together using other sources including newspaper articles.

Dundee Courier 19th December 1917.

“Dundee Soldier Killed in Action.

Mrs Morrison, 3 Constitution Street, Dundee, has been informed of the death at the front of her husband, Private James Morrison, Black Watch.  Deceased enlisted in July 1916, and went to the front In December, 1917 (sic)*.  Prior to joining the army he was employed at the quarries at Duntrune.  Private Morrison leaves two children.”

*December 1916?

Private James Morrison, service number S/16515 enlisted at Perth and served with the 1st Battalion Royal Highlanders (The Black Watch).  Sixteen months later he was killed in action on 18th November 1917, aged 27, leaving his widow Maggie with two children aged three and two.

The 1st Battalion Black Watch was engaged in the second battle of Passchendaele in November 1917 and attacked Vox Farm on the nights of the 18/19th.  The failed attempt led to the deaths of 24 officers and men; a further 60 were wounded and six declared missing.

James has no war grave but is listed on the Tyne Cot Memorial, Belgium.   He is also commemorated on Murroes War Memorial.

Murroes Memorial

In May 1922 his widow Maggie, son James and daughter Jane sailed on SS Metagama from Glasgow to Canada. Maggie built a new life in Canada, remarried and had a further three children.  She died in British Columbia in 1983 aged 94.

We Will Remember Them


British Army WW1 Medal Roll Index Cards, 1914-1920.

Scottish births, marriages, deaths and census entries.

British Columbia death records .

Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

Passenger Lists Leaving UK, 1890-1960.

British Newspapers 1710-1953 collection.

Wauchope,Major-General A.G. (1925) A History of The Black Watch [Royal Highlanders] in the Great War 1914-1918.  Vol.1 pp.70-71. London: The Medici Society Limited.


Lance Corporal William NIVEN 1st Battalion Black Watch. Service No. 8104.

William Niven has sat for over twenty years on the periphery of my father’s family tree.  A chance conversation at the end of last year made me unearth the hand written tree that an elderly relative sent to my Dad and research William.

Today is the centenary of piper William Niven’s death at La Bassee.

William Niven was born 14th October 1878 at Fordelhill, Leuchars, Fife where his father James Niven worked as a farm servant.  He married Elizabeth (Lizzie) Cramb Lammond on 19th December 1913 at Laidlaw’s Temperance Hotel, St Leonard’s  Street, Perth.

On the 10th February 1915 his death was announced in the Perthshire Advertiser:

“Stanley Soldier Killed

Mrs Niven, who since the outbreak of war has resided with relatives in Commercial Street, Bridgend, Perth, was officially notified to-day of the death of her husband, Corporal William Niven, of the 1st Black Watch.  The deceased served for eight years in the Army, and was called up with the reserves.  Prior to August he was employed as postman at Stanley.  Sad to relate, a baby was born to Mrs Niven a short time ago.”

Five days later the Dundee Evening Telegraph published the following photograph and summary of his service.

William Niven

“The parents of Corporal William Niven, 1st Black Watch, who reside at Bridgend, Ceres, have received information that their son had been killed in action at La Bassee on the 25th January.  He enlisted in the Black Watch at Perth in 1901, and was eight years with the colours.  He served most of his time in India, but he also took part in the South African War, for which he held the medal.  He was called up with the Reserves when the war broke out, and took part in the great struggle round Mons and Charleroi, and was wounded in the retreat from Mons.  After being in hospital for some time in France he once more returned to the firing line, fighting in all engagements with his regiment in which they were engaged until he fell at La Bassee.  He was 36.”

We Will Remember Them.

Sources: ;



Wha’s Like Us, Stirling

On Saturday I attended the “Wha’s Like Us” Family History event at Stirling.  Organised by Stirling Archives it combined a number of talks and a small family history fair.

The opening talk by Richard McGregor, chairman of the Clan Gregor Society gave an overview of DNA and its use as a tool for genealogy.  This was followed by Stirling Council archivist Pam McNicol who talked enthusiastically about the rich source of detail that can be found in Poor Law records.  She accompanied her talk with some fascinating examples that illustrated how useful these records can be at providing personal details unlikely to be found in any other official registers.

Over the lunch break I took some time to wander round the nearby Holy Rude kirkyard and of course took one or two photographs of gravestones.

Holy Rude Kirkyard, Stirling

On my walk back I passed Cowane’s Hospital.  Founded in 1637 as an almshouse – it has also served as a hospital, Guildhall, isolation ward during the 1832 cholera epidemic and as a museum.  It now houses a coffee shop and an artist in residence .  The future of the building is currently under discussion.

Cowane's Hospital Stirling

Adjacent to the Hospital was something that caught my attention.  A metal sign explained:

 “Shortly after Cowane’s Hospital was built this area was laid out as a garden with lilies, carnations and double yellow roses and with cherry and apricot trees nailed to the walls.  The Bowling Green was laid out in 1712 by the Earl of Mar’s gardener and is now one of the oldest bowling greens in Scotland”.

Cowane's Hospital Bowling Green, Stirling

The website suggests that bowling in Scotland dates back much earlier –  to the reign of King James IV.  Sadly this one no longer appears to be used as a bowling green, but it is fascinating to consider who might have played there over the last three hundred years.

Heading back to the Tolbooth, I passed The Boy’s Club reconstructed in 1929 from a much earlier building.  It has a number of mottos on the exterior including this one above one of the windows:

Quarrelling is taboo

For the afternoon session I opted for the talk by Ross Blevins, senior steward at Stirling Castle.  Using account books he gave a very animated presentation on the castle during the reign of James IV.  He was able to paint a detailed picture of daily life and suggest evidence to prove and disprove some tales from the period.

The final presentation tied in to the “Off the Page”, Stirling Book Festival.  Author Chris Brookmyre was presented with his family history by Stirling archives.  In a question and answer session author Gordon Brown discussed some of the findings and any parallels Chris saw with his own life and his writing.

It was an interesting range of talks and I certainly enjoyed my brief walk through Stirling’s ‘Top of the Town’ and some of the surprises it revealed.

Tolbooth, Stirling

What’s in a name?

It seemed appropriate to start this blog with the story of my own name.  Just as my maternal Gran ignited my passion for genealogy, she was also responsible for choosing my name.  An avid Scrabble player, she took the initials from family names and arranged them to give:

Scrabble Letters


M – Aunt Muriel; E – Great-Granny Elizabeth Edward; R – Grandad Robert; L – Grandad Laing and E –  Mum Elizabeth.

As I child I wasn’t grateful for my name.  At school, I stood out from the Kirstys and Morags in my class – not always a good thing.  In adulthood it has resulted in some hilarious spellings. My favourite has to be Merie.  However now, as a genealogist I’m particularly thankful to Gran.


Well it makes me think why Betsy was called Betsy or why Horace is known in the family as Bert.  When I started researching our Palmer Family Tree, my father-in-law didn’t know his grandmother’s maiden name.  When I discovered it was Jeffery his brother piped up, “oh yes I was named Jeff after her”!!

I learned something very useful that day – always question where a name came from. 

For many families the traditional Scottish naming patterns dictated by the order of birth if a baby was named after their parent, grandparent, aunt or uncle. However, look beyond the first to the middle name and a family connection might be uncovered.  Of course sometimes, there is no link to the family.  The choice of name may have been based on the parents’ favourite film stars, military commanders or even the doctor who delivered the baby.

My name is not unique; when I married into the Palmers I discovered I shared it with five members of my husband’s extended family. Gran’s choice of name is nevertheless always a talking point.  It also reminds me to consider the possible origins of a name – another tool in the genealogical research process.

I think my Gran would be pleased.