WDYTYA – New data launches

Just got back from the first day of WDYTYA at Olympia and I’m shattered so this is just a quick post to let you know about two new data products launched today.

  • The Federation of Family History Societies has launched Version 3 of their National Burial Index for England and Wales.  This new edition includes the data from the first and second editions plus a further 5 million entries to bring the total to over 18 million records.  9,100 burial locations in 50 counties are indexed.
  • Ancestry has launched the Alien Arrivals and Alien Entry Books for the UK.
    • The Alien Entry Books cover correspondence and other documents from the Home Office and the Aliens Office for 1794-1921 the originals of which are held in Class HO5 at The National Archives.  There are un-indexed, you simply browse through the images.
    • The Alien Arrivals records have been indexed or you can browse them by port of entry.  They cover the periods 1810-1811 and 1826-1869 and are digitised from Classes FO 83/21-22: Lists of aliens arriving at English ports, August 1810-May 1811; HO 2: Certificates of alien arrivals, 1836-1852; HO 3: Returns of alien passengers, July 1836-December 1869 and CUST 102/393-396 Accounts of aliens arriving at London (July-November 1826) and Gravesend (October 1826-August 1837) from The National Archives.  You should be able to find the alien’s name, age, profession and country of origin together with their port and date of arrival, and where they exist, certificate number.

Have fun!


New course format

Mr Burns USB Webcam
Mr Burns USB Webcam

For the past two years I’ve been teaching a Basic English Research genealogy course with GenClass.  Every time this course runs, part of the preparation involves updating the course materials to incorporate new research sources as they come available and also checking the web links to make sure that they’re all still alive and kicking.  This time it’s slightly different…..

As part of the new arrangement with the National Institute for Genealogical Studies I’m also having to change the format of the course material so that it fits in with their IT systems.  I’ve had to learn how to use to Microsoft’s Live Meeting software which we’ll be using to run the class chats and I’ve still got to buy a webcam for the chats.

It’s all very exciting and the course material looks great!  The only downside is the webcam – I’ve always hated having my photo taken.

Here’s the full press release:

NEWS RELEASE: GenClass instructors merge 24 courses with the 150 existing courses at National Institute for Genealogical Studies!

GREAT NEWS! Lots of new topics & new courses available through the National Institute… As of February, you will see a new ‘type’ of course offered at the Institute — INTENSIVE SHORT TERM courses.

* Intensive — packed with lots of very helpful information, research techniques & tips;

* Short Term — most will be four (4) weeks in length;
* Instructors — experts in their field of genealogical research;
* Live Meetings (optional) —  four (4) optional ‘real-time’ online meetings with your Instructor and fellow coursemates;
* Direct Communication — consult directly with your instructor via e-mail;
* Feedback — discuss specific topics through various online or offline threads;
* Assignments (optional) — although there may be some personal assignments to enhance a technique, submitting them is completely optional;
* Exam (none) — no final exam to be completed;
* Inexpensive — under $50;
* One-on-One Advice — Book an appointment with your instructor to discuss in-depth individual research problems (additional fee).
(The above may vary by course; check the course description for details.)

Below is a list of the new courses, the instructor and their first anticipated start month. Check online for a full description of the course, actual dates courses are offered throughout the year and to complete your registration. (Go to www.genealogicalstudies.com, click on menu item COURSES, click on COURSES again, click on INTENSIVE SHORT TERM view, click on name of course).

START DATE: February 15

Research: African-American Ancestors; Michael Hait


Investigation: Adoption Records; Linda Rakita
Investigation: Lost Friends and Family; Linda Rakita
Research: English Ancestors-The Basics; Sheena Tait


Brick Wall Research; Lisa Alzo
Research: Australian and New Zealand Ancestors; Kerry Farmer
Research: Female Ancestors; Lisa Alzo
Research: Native American Ancestors; Barbara Benge


Research: Jewish Genealogy on the Internet; Micha Reisel
Step-by-Step Guide to Writing Your Family Story


Research: Canadian Genealogy on the Internet-Part 1; Pat Ryan


Research: Canadian Genealogy on the Internet-Part 2; Pat Ryan
Research: Salt Lake City, The Largest Genealogical Library-Part 1; Pat Ryan
START DATE: August 2
Research: Canadian Genealogy on the Internet-Part 3; Pat Ryan
Research: Jewish Ancestors-Basic Introduction; Schelly Talalay Dardashti
Research: Salt Lake City, The Largest Genealogical Library-Part 2; Pat Ryan


Electronic Resources-Family Tree Maker 2009-The Basics; Cindy Rowzee
Electronic Resources-Family Tree Maker 2009-Advanced; Cindy Rowzee
Jump Start your Genealogy; Lisa Alzo
Organizing Your Family History; Cindy Rowzee
Research: European Ancestors-Part 1; Lisa Alzo
Research: European Ancestors-Part 2; Lisa Alzo
Research: United States-Great Lakes States; Lisa Alzo
Research: United States-Northeastern US; Cindy Rowzee

GenClass was formed in 2007 by a group of instructors who formerly taught courses for MyFamily.com. They quickly earned the reputation of offering affordable intensive courses with lots of valuable information covering a variety of general and specialized topics. Students enjoyed the Instructor involvement throughout the process. Ten instructors, with a total of 24 courses, have recently moved their courses to the Institute’s training platform.

The National Institute for Genealogical Studies, in affiliation with the Continuing Education unit of the University of St. Michael’s College in the University of Toronto, offer Certificate Programs in Genealogical Studies in the records of Canada, England, Ireland, Germany, United States and a Librarianship Program. The Institute celebrated its 10th anniversary of Genealogical Education during 2009.

Louise St Denis, Managing Director

The National Institute for Genealogical Studies

Happy Valentine’s day

A 1920s Valentine card
A 1920s Valentine card

It’s Valentine’s Day today which, after Christmas, is the biggest card sending day of the year.

Like other celebrations, Valentine’s Day has very long history; however no-one seems to be sure of its origin.

There were many early Christian martyrs named Valentine three of whom were remembered on 14 February:

  • St Valentine of Rome who died around 270AD in a Roman prison.  One legend says he continued to perform marriage ceremonies after they were banned by the emperor (who wanted to increase the number of bachelors, as they were supposed to make better soldiers than married men).  Another legend says he died for refusing to give up his faith.  A third legend says he gave a note to a young woman (a jailers daughter in some versions), signed “Your Valentine”.
  • St Valentine of Terni, who is said to have been killed during the persecution of Emperor Aurelian.  A bishop who performed miracles, healed people, and was persecuted and beheaded around 170AD.
  • A third St Valentine was martyred in Africa with a number of companions.

Another possible source of inspiration is an ancient Roman fertility festival Lupercalia, which used to be celebrated on 15 February.  In medieval times people believed that the middle of February was when birds started their mating season.

Whatever its origins, the oldest known valentine still in existence today is a poem written by Charles, Duke of Orleans to his wife while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London following his capture at the Battle of Agincourt.

In Great Britain, Valentine’s Day began to be celebrated widely around the seventeenth century. By the middle of the eighteenth century, it was common for friends and lovers in all social classes to exchange small tokens of affection or handwritten notes – so much so that in 1835 the secretary of the Post office in England was complaining about an additional 50-60,000 letters being sent.

The introduction of the Penny Post in 1840 made it possible for more people to afford to send items through the post. Valentine card production became big business and cards sent during this period were often beautifully made and decorated.

In the United States the first commercial valentines, made of embossed paper and lace, were sold in the 1840s by Esther Howland of Worcester, Massachusetts whose father operated a large book and stationery shop.

Some local traditions have grown up in Britain:

  • Jack Valentine disappears into thin air after knocking at the door and leaving gifts in Norfolk. Children are as likely as adults to receive a visit.
  • According to Welsh folklore, ornately carved lovespoons were traditionally made from a single piece of wood by a young man as a token for his sweetheart to show his affection and intentions. Each segment of a lovespoon can have different symbols, and each symbol has a different meaning.  Sailors would often carve love spoons during their long journeys, which is why anchors were often incorporated.

If you’ve ever wondered why some gifts are supposed to be romantic here are a few pointers:

  • Lace is apparently romantic because women’s handkerchiefs used to have lace around the edges. If a woman was interested in a man, she’d drop her handkerchief, allowing him to pick it up and giving them an excuse for formal introductions.
  • The romance of flowers has its roots in their use as a language, a fashion popular in the 18th and 19th centuries.  Each flower would have a meaning: violets – modesty, faithfulness; yellow tulip – hopeless love; snowdrop – hope; red rose – I love you; daisy – innocence, loyal love.
  • Chocolate is supposed to have various effects, ranging from inducing happiness to acting as an aphrodisiac.  This is an exaggeration. Chocolate does contain some compounds that are linked to feelings of love, but the digestive process hugely reduces their effectiveness!

To find out more or see examples of antique valentines try:

And if all of this is a bit too sickly, The National Archives has a piece about a crime of love at Huntingdonshire archives.


Dumfries & Galloway archives online

Dumfries - engraving by William Miller after C Stanfield
Dumfries - engraving by William Miller after C Stanfield

As part of my certificate in Family and Local History being run by Dundee University Archives we’ve been looking at the financial records of Scottish burghs and specifically at some records created by the burgh of Dumfries.

Because of this I’ve now discovered that Dumfries & Galloway Archives have some very useful online resources.

Contact details and a summary of their holdings are at http://www.dumgal.gov.uk/index.aspx?articleid=2300

They’ve also put their catalogue online at http://archives.dumgal.gov.uk:8814/ Even without seeing the documents, it’s amazing what you can find just by playing with the catalogue:

Warrant to Arrest Elizabeth Gordon for Alledgedly Keeping a Disorderly House

Date: 5 Jun 1735

Scope & Content: Mittimus [ie warrant for the arrest and imprisonment] of Elizabeth Gordon, accused of keeping “a lewd & disorderly house by entertaining soldiers and young women”, contrary to public morality, with depositions relating thereto [RB2/2/162 CB821/5/7/]

– was she one of yours?

or this:

Instructions for the Commissioners of the Sheriffdom of Dumfries Against the Passage of the Act of Union with England, Signed by 32 Freeholders

Date: 29 Oct 1706

Scope & Content: Printed Instructions for the Commissioners of the Sheriffdom of Dumfries against the passage of the Act of Union with England, signed by 31 freeholders of the County viz: William Fergusson of Caitloch , Robert Murray of Dumcrief, John Creichton of Crawfurstoun [Crawfordton], Alexander McGahen of Dalwhat , James Kirk of Bogrie, John Maxwell of Steilston, William Johnston of Granton, Mr John Cunningham of Birkshaw, John Corsan of Meikleknox, James Carlile of Breakwhat, James Rorison of Calside, James Douglas of Dornock younger, Francis Maxwell of Tinwald, Andrew Johnston of Newton, David French of Frenchland, Mr John Henderson of Broadholm, Sir Thomas Kirkpatrick of Closeburn, Sir John Jardine of Applegirth, Sir Walter Laurie of Maxwellton, Robert Johnston of Wamphray, George [Millar] of Dalswinton, Walter Riddel of Glenriddel, Alexander Fergusson of Craigdarroch, Robert Brown of Ingliston, Char[les] – of Cowhill, William Hairstains of Craigs, John ..Bedieknowe, James Ferguson of Fourmerkland, William Grierson of Lag, George Johnston of Girthhead and Mr Ar[ni]ston, portioner of Moffat [RG2/6/17]

If your ancestor was listed there, you now have some idea of his feelings about the proposed Act of Union.

Unfortunately, although I’ve got ancestors from Dumfriesshire, none of them could be classed as one of the “great and good”.

Even better, the Friends of the Archives of Dumfries and Galloway have produced a series of indexes to some of the records:

  • 1851 census for Dumfriesshire, Kirkcudbrightshire  and Wigtownshire
  • Dumfries Kirk Session
  • Troqueer Kirk Session
  • Mouswald Kirk Session
  • Dumfries Jail
  • Dumfries Town Chamberlain’s Accounts
  • Dumfries Dean of Guild Plans
  • Dumfries, Kirkcudbright, Stranraer & Wigtown shipping registers
  • Dumfries Poor Board Minutes

You can search all these indexes free of charge at http://www.dgcommunity.net/historicalindexes/default.aspx

I’m away to play with the Jail and Poor Board indexes – that’s where I’m most likely to find my ancestors!


Of haggis – both wild and domestic

It’s Burns Night tomorrow and the last night of the haggis season, so it’s time to go haggis hunting!

The haggis season runs from 30 November to 25 January when they go into hibernation.

The Wild HaggisRemember that wild haggis are shy creatures who only appear at dawn and at dusk so patience is needed. The rural haggis has two short legs and two long legs to make it easier to run round hills. It feeds on heather, blaeberries, turnip and potatoes. A rare variety of haggis is the urban or Tartan haggis which lives on a diet of shortbread. In the last 10 years a further species, the virtual haggis, has appeared which can be hunted online.

Those who are anti-hunting can make their own haggis using this traditional recipe 1:


the large stomach bag, the smaller bag and the pluck (including lights, liver and heart) of a sheep, beef suet, oatmeal, onions, black pepper, salt, water.


Brown and toast a breakfast-cupful of oatmeal in front of the fire.   Clean the large bag thoroughly and soak it overnight in cold salted water.   In the morning put it aside with the rough side turned out.   Wash the small bag and the pluck and put them on to boil covered with cold water, leaving the windpipe hanging out over the pot to let out any impurities.  Let them boil for an hour and a half, then take them out and cut away the pipes and any pieces of gristle.   Mince the heart and lights, and grate half the liver.  (The rest of the liver is not required).   Put them into a basin with half a pound of minced suet, one or two finely chopped onions, and the oatmeal, and season highly with black pepper and salt.   Over the whole pour as much of the liquid in which the pluck was boiled as will make the composition sappy.   Fill the large bag rather more than half full, say five-eighths, as it requires plenty of room to swell.   Sew it securely and put it into a large pot of hot water (to which half a pint of milk is often added).   As soon as it begins to swell, prick it all over with a large needle to prevent its bursting.   Boil steadily, without the lid, for three hours. Serve very hot without any garnish.

[the uninitiated are advised to note the danger of a too sudden assault on the “chieftain o’ the pudden race”.]

I’ve actually made this recipe and can recommend it.

Although people used to think that haggis came from France (as a result of the “auld alliance”), no-one really knows its origins.   One theory is that the ancient Romans used to make a haggis-like dish; another is that it came from Scandinavia; while an early printed recipe appears in The English Huswife by Gervase Markham, printed in 1615.

Whatever its origins – have a good Burns Night!


  1. The Scots Kitchen by F Marian McNeill


Thanks to Katrina McQuarrie over at Kick-Ass Genealogy I’ve been playing about with digital scrapbooking this evening.  Her latest blog post is all about using your computer to create a digital keepsake which you can easily post online or print multiple copies of to share with your family.

This is what I came up with…..

Celebrating my grandparents' marriage in 1925Celebrating my grandparents’ marriage in 1925

Thanks Katrina, I’ve now found another displacement activity skill to learn!


Beyond Google – other sources for free books.

Old books - the genealogist's friends

Old books – the genealogist’s friends

We’re all so used to using Google books to search for digital copies of family history related books that it’s easy to forget there are other sources.
  • Project Gutenberg has over 30,000 free ebooks both fiction and non-fiction, mostly in html or plain text format. Use the advanced search option and put “Scotland” in the Subject box to find the 90 books classified under Scotland.
  • Electric Scotland has over 250 complete books that have been either OCRd or scanned to read online; and a further selection of books which have been converted to pdf so you can download them.
  • The Internet Archive is the grand-daddy of them all with over 1.8 million texts and provides a variety of digital formats for each book. This is where to go if you want a copy of the Old and New Statistical Accounts of Scotland or the Fasti Ecclesiae Scoticanae (search for Hew Scott – without inverted commas – to find all the volumes).

Just remember that these book sites are US based and although the books may be out of copyright there, laws may vary in other countries.

If you’re looking for journals, try the Internet Library of Early Journals which has 20-year runs of

  • Gentleman’s Magazine (1731-1750)
  • The Annual Register (1758-1778)
  • Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society (1757-1777)
  • Notes and Queries (1849/50 – 1869)
  • The Builder (1843-1852)
  • Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine (1843-1863)

What other libraries of digital books have you come across? Please add them in the comments section below.


*** Snow ***

It’s snowing again and, as usual, the south of England has come slithering and sliding to a standstill.

I’ve made my fair share of “don’t know what things are coming to”, “I remember when…”, “when I was a kid…” type comments; including a “southerners don’t know what snow is” conversation with a Geordie lady at the bus stop – but I’m not sure that our ancestors coped any better than we do.

Take this from the 17th century…

January 1695

Monday 28th. I took horse in the morning betwixt seven and 8 being resolved if possible for Edr [Edinburgh]. it snowed all the time as we went to Dunse…we had very deep snow and very oft were forced to walk above the knees in snow whc toild me very much. yet God be thanked we had a clear day and now blowing so that we mist not the way.

[An Album of Scottish Families 1694-96 by Helen and Keith Kelsall; 1990, Aberdeen University Press, ISBN: 008040930X]

or this from the 19th century…

Edinburgh Dec. 18.

The frost, which set in on the 6th inst., supervened on the severest snowstorms by which Scotland has been visited for 21 years. A continuous fall for 24 hours, followed by intermittent showers extending over several days, covered the streets of Edinburgh to the depth of two or three feet… the snow in exposed places was drifted and piled up in solid wreaths five or six feet high. The street traffic was either wholly stopped or greatly impeded, and for several days the running of the tramway car was entirely suspended… This has come very hardly on the poor, especially on those who are engaged in open air labour – on masons, gardeners, and day labourers, who have been for two or three weeks frozen out of their employment. Then the ravages of disease have been greatly increased, especially among those who are ill-fed and underclad, and also among the very old and the very young of all classes.

There have been several deaths from exposure.

[The Times, Wednesday, Dec 20, 1882; pg. 3; Issue 30695; col E]

or this from the 20th century…

The height of drifts in Shetland are shown by this photograph, taken yesterday of John Henderson (13) and his dog behing the boy's home at Yanlop.  [The Glasgow Herald.  Monday, January 26, 1959.]
The height of drifts in Shetland are shown by this photograph, taken yesterday of John Henderson (13) and his dog behind the boy's home at Yanlop.

[The Glasgow Herald.  Monday, January 26, 1959.]

Maybe we never have had it so good!