Category Archives: Scotland


My Favourite Photograph

Week 2 of 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks

The Edward Family

The photograph was taken around 1907/1908 as the baby in his mother’s arms, Edward Scorgie, was born in October 1907.

So why did I choose this out of the many in my family album?

I love the fashions especially the hat on baby Edward and the beautiful lace collar on Beatrice, my grandmother, front left.

The absence of men intrigues me, we have matriarch Jean in the centre with her daughters Mary and Agnes and five of her grandchildren surrounding her.

However, this is also one of my favourite images because all is not quite as it appears.

To the causal glance it shows a respectable family who are comfortably well off.  Little David Watt holds a toy yacht and the children are fashionably dressed.  But how many of these were studio props?  A closer inspection shows Beatrice and David’s shoes to be scuffed at the toes.

In truth the family had already experienced scandals with two illegitimate grandchildren including Beatrice, and heartbreak as two of Jean’s daughters Susan and Elizabeth had died from TB.  The family scraped a living on a small holding.  Son Dave (who had emigrated to Alaska and the gold mines before this photo was taken) was soon to be called home to help provide for the family as his father was no longer able to labour on the land.

The disparity between image and truth doesn’t really matter to me, nor the fact that we may never know why this photograph was taken or who paid for it.  It captures a moment in my ancestors’ lives when they stood proudly in front of the camera as an united family group.

It also encapsulates the challenge of all research – take nothing at face value.  Always question the source be it a photograph or document and always set the material within the context of what you already know.



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.

Walking in the steps of your Dundee Textile Ancestors

Dundee Law looking towards Tay Rail Bridge and Fife

Dun Deag and 5 Glens designed by Catherine Redgate. Dundee Law with Tay Rail Bridge & Fife in the background

Last week we completed the Oor Wullie Bucket Trail visiting all 55 of the statues placed throughout Dundee, Broughty Ferry and Carnoustie.   In September these will be auctioned with proceeds to Archie Foundation’s Appeal raising funds for a new theatre suite at Tayside Children’s Hospital.

The city of Dundee is undergoing yet another transformation as the V&A Museum of Design takes shape.

Discovery Point with V&A Dundee in background

Oor Wai’ o’ Spikin’ designed by Gabrielle Reid. RRS Discovery and V&A Museum of Design in background

Many are concerned that this focus on the Waterfront area is to the detriment of other parts of the city.  The innovative Oor Wullie Bucket Trail has in a way helped redress this by taking people to explore areas of Dundee that they might otherwise never visit.   In this Year of Innovation, Architecture & Design placing Oor Wullie statues throughout the city has also taken visitors to some of the less well known architectural gems in Dundee.

The Hilltown

Sweet Shop, Hilltown, Dundee

Sweet Shop designed by Rachelle Wong, Hilltown

If you have Dundee ancestors who were employed in the textile industries it is likely that some may have lived in and around the Hilltown.  The Street which now runs steeply upwards from the Victoria Road entrance to the Wellgate Shopping Centre originally started at the “Wellgait Port” in Dundee city wall.  In 1643 the Hilltown of Dudhope (also known as Rotten Row) was created as a Burgh of Barony by Charles I who granted Crown lands to Sir James Scrymgeour. The merchants and craftsmen who lived and worked in the Hilltown operated outside the jurisdiction of Dundee and as Free-Traders were able to undercut the craftsmen inside the city boundary.   The Hiltown is most famous for the bonnetmakers who made hand knitted bonnets but other tradesmen included buckle-makers, tailors and of course spinners and weavers.


Women of the World, Lochee High Street

Women of the World designed by Dundee International Women’s Centre, Lochee High Street

Another part of Dundee rich in textile history is Lochee.  From a small village of hand loom weavers the population grew rapidly as workers, predominantly Irish, came to Camperdown Works, owned by the Cox brothers and once the world’s largest jute mill.  By the mid-nineteenth century the factory housed 820 power-looms, 150 hand-looms and employed over 5,000 employees.  By 1855 there were around 14,000 Irish born Dundonians and Lochee was known locally as “Little Tipperary” or the Irish Quarter. This rare film clip from 1912 shows the workers leaving the factory gates and at the top of Lochee High Street.  At the peak of the industry in the 1870s over 40,000 people in Dundee were employed in jute and associated industries with women making up an unusually high proportion of employees.

Morgan Academy

Wizard Wullie, Morgan Academy, dundee

You’re a Wizard Wullie designed by Lee O’Brien in front of Morgan Academy

The Stobswell area of Dundee was another part of the city developed to accommodate the influx of jute workers with “The Morgan” a well know landmark.  Opened in 1868 as the Morgan Hospital it was funded by a philanthropic legacy from former Dundonian John Morgan. The institution aimed to provide accommodation and education for “sons of tradesmen and persons of the working class whose parents stand in the need of assistance”.  The provision of free education led to the closure of the hospital and in 1889 it opened its doors as the fee-paying Morgan Academy.

Another textile baron, Sir David Baxter part of the linen manufacturing company Baxter Brothers was a passionate philanthropist.  David and his sisters gifted 38 acres of land to form Baxter Park and Gardens which sit across the road from Morgan Academy.

Baxter Park

Baxter Park Pavilion

Little Hands designed by Emma White and the children of Tayside Children’s Hospital in front of Baxter Park Pavilion

Little Hands, created from the handprints of children at Tayside Children’s Hospital, sits in front of the Baxter Park Pavilion.  It was built around 1860 to house a refreshment room, gardener’s room and ladies’ room. The building now includes a small cafeteria and offers a beautiful setting for functions.

This jute baron’s legacy also links the Dundee of the nineteenth century to one of the city’s current industries – computer games.

Mechanic’s Institute, Dundee

Oor Lemming, Abertay University

Oor Lemming designed by Ryan Locke in front of Abertay University

Following David Baxter’s death in 1872 part of his legacy was £20,000 towards the foundation of a mechanics’ institute in Dundee.  Dundee Technical Institute opened in October 1888 at Small’s Wynd with the aim of improving the technical and scientific skills of young male mechanics and craftsmen.  By 1906 it moved to Bell Street, Dundee and in 1911 opened as the Dundee Technical College & School of Art.  In 1994 it became Abertay University the first in the world to offer a “computer games” degree (1997).

The men and women who worked in the factories and mills; at the docks and throughout the city could never have imagined that the hard, grim and often dangerous industries could inspire such beautiful works of art. The Bucket Trail is also a reminder of some of the more positive legacies of the jute industry not least the parks and green spaces throughout Dundee still being enjoyed by residents and visitors in the twenty-first century.

There is a final opportunity to see all the Oor Wullies on the 9th-11th September at Slessor Gardens before they are auctioned off on 13th September at Dundee Rep.

Oor Wullie Buckets

Buckets from Oor Wullie Bucket Trail

Oor Wullie Bucket Trail

Boot detail from Oor Wullie Bucket Trail

Check out my Pinterest board for more Oor Wullie images

All images are Copyright of Your Scots Past


The Barronie of Hilltown of Dundee by Wm Cumming Skinner M.A. (1927); City of Dundee Official Guides (1980s);;; John Bartholomew’s Gazetteer of the British Isles; Lochee – As it was and is by Alexander Elliot (1911);


Finding your Agricultural Ancestors

Last week The Royal Highland Show once again provided a showcase for the very best in Scottish farming, food and all aspects of rural life.  This and the many local shows and competitions held annually throughout Scotland are a rich source of material for those of us with ancestors associated with agriculture and the countryside.

Ram at Royal Highland Show 2012

The Royal Highland Show

The first show took place in December 1822 at Queensberry House (now the site of the Scottish Parliament) with a focus on the production of fat cattle for the Christmas market.  Initially the annual show was held in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Perth before moving to various venues throughout Scotland.  The following snapshots from our own family archive show the main ring at Alloa (1953) and Dumfries (1954). From 1960 the show was based at Ingliston showground on the outskirts of Edinburgh.

Royal Highland Show at Alloa 1953 and Dumfries 1954

Alloa 1953 and Dumfries 1954

The Royal Highland Show remains a meeting place for crofters, farmers, agricultural  and countryside workers.  A place to share their successes and failures; find out what is happening in their industries and seek out new opportunities.

Resources for family historians

Newspapers and farming magazines such as The Scottish Farmer and Farming News often included lists of show winners and photographs of both livestock and their handlers. By the mid-twentieth century the publications also included group outings and events for local societies and Young Farmers Clubs.

Young Farmers 1940

Farming News and North British Agriculturist January 1940

Competitions not only showcased livestock but also the skills of farm workers and some included a wealth of information on the local community.  Ploughing match results were regularly published in local newspapers.

National Ploughing Championship of Scotland 1960s

National Ploughing Championships of Scotland 1960s

My great-great-grandfather Alexander Hutton farmed near Stonehaven in Kincardineshire and the following article was published in the Aberdeen Journal on 13th January 1864.  In addition to the prize winners it helpfully adds information on how individuals were related for example “George Dunbar son-in-law to Mr Knowles, South Glenton”.

Towards the end of the article it mentions my great-grandfather Peter Edward “A handsome Whip, given by Mr Findlay, innkeeper, Stonehaven, to the youngest ploughman on the field without a purse, given to P. Edward, servant to Mr Hutton, Easter Auquhollie.”

This usefully placed him at Auquhollie a year before his marriage to Alexander Hutton’s daughter, Jean.

Aberdeen Journal 13 January 1864

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. (

Peter was mentioned again in The Dundee Courier and Argus on 15th January 1890, although his prize was not for his skill as a ploughman rather his fecundity: “Ploughman with the Largest Family (12 Children) – Peter Edward, Cairniemore.”

Newspapers published results for other associated events including livestock sales and  dairy shows.  Other rural industries were also featured including cheese making, poultry and beekeeping. This example is from the Angus Show results published in The Dundee Courier and Argus on 8th August 1887

Dundee Courier and Argus 8 August 1887

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. (

Why not start your search at the British Newspaper Archive which has good coverage for Scotland and check out the online archives for The Scotsman.  It is also worth investigating any regional papers held by libraries and archives in the areas where your ancestors lived and worked.  The Scottish Farmer archive can be visited by appointment in Glasgow and they have over 5,500 photographs available to view online.

Although many publications focus on images of livestock they can also include, as in this 1919 Farming News, photographs of named individuals.

1919 Farming News - Highland Show judges

1919 Farming News – Highland Show judges

The Royal Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland

The Royal Highland Show is the showcase event for The Royal Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland.  Founded in 1784 The Society encourages and supports the rural industries of Scotland and strives to educate the wider public about both the heritage and future of that way of life.

What is really useful from a family historian’s viewpoint is their  online digital archive of The Society’s Transactions Reports from 1790-1969.  The quality of the scans is quite poor and the OCR transcriptions  are not perfect.  However, the search facility allows you to search by name or place.  Searching for Auquhollie where Alexander Hutton lived returned three results for 1863, 1877 and 1886.  The information in the volumes covers all aspects of The Society’s work and provides background material on the rural economy.

It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that your “Ag Lab” ancestor left behind little information on his or her life.  However, newspapers and magazines can often provide quite detailed (or amusing) insights into their lives and position in the local community.

And if you are lucky you might even find a photograph of your ancestor at work or play…..



All photographs are ©Your Scots Past and are from author’s private collection.;;

Kirriemuir Camera Obscura

Where better to start my occasional blogs for the Year of Innovation, Architecture and Design 2016, than with The Kirriemuir Camera Obscura –  a great example of the richness of Scotland’s beautiful built heritage.


The Camera Obscura can be found inside the cricket pavilion situated on Kirriemuir Hill which was gifted to the town by Kirriemuir’s famous (and perhaps most controversial) son, author and playwright J.M.Barrie.

At a cost of £25,000 it was designed by architect Frank Drummond Thomson of Dundee.  Thomson designed numerous public and private buildings in Dundee including the Blackness and Coldside libraries, Alhambra Cinema (now the Whitehall Theatre) and the King’s Theatre.  Thomson won the pavilion design competition because his plans were closest to Barrie’s original idea for the building:

“It should not be ornate, or call attention to itself, but should be something that settles down quietly as belonging to the Hill – a Kirrie building, not something from the outside”.

Thomson’s design created a structure with no roof support posts thus providing an uninterrupted view of the cricket game from all parts of the pavilion. However, the most significant architectural feature was the incorporation of the Camera Obscura.


Now one of only four in Scotland it provides panoramic views of the town and the surrounding countryside including the Sidlaws to the south, the Ochils to the west, and the Grampians to the north.

Opened on 7th June 1930, J.M. Barrie’s speech was broadcast by the B.B.C. using an innovative system of microphones and amplifiers set up by the Dundee branch of the Edison-Swan Electric Company Ltd.

Over the years various caretakers have looked after the pavilion and Camera Obscura including Charles Melvin (1885-1941) who in November 1917 received the Victoria Cross while serving with the Black Watch in Iraq.

In 2015 the management of the Pavilion passed from the National Trust for Scotland to the Kirriemuir Regeneration Group whose enthusiastic and knowledgeable volunteers provide guided tours.  It is well worth a visit  – check the Camera Obscura Facebook page for 2016 opening hours.



Sources: Dundee Courier 7 June 1930 p.6; Falkirk Herald 11 June 1930 p.15; Dundee Courier 18 July 1941 p.2; Dictionary of Scottish Architects




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