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Sunday, 18 March 2012

Some of the many advantages of being Scottish

Janet Soutar Brown 1856-1915
This is a post about mothers, because it is Mothering Sunday here in the UK. My own ancestry, so far as I have been able to trace it so far, is entirely Scottish and Irish, mostly Scottish. And one of the great things about Scottish records is that women never really lose their maiden names, and this makes them much easier to trace than most English women; in fact they are often easier to trace than Scottish men too.

In my own case the direct paternal line comes to an abrupt halt with the birth of my great grandfather Robert Collins in 1874 - if you want to know why, I wrote about it in a post called The cautionary tale of McIntyre.

I have been much more successful with my research in the opposite direction, where I can trace my direct female line back six generations. The severe looking lady in the picture is my great grandmother, Janet Soutar, and her great grandmother, Margaret McJannet was probably born in the 1750s or 1760s, more than a century before Robert Collins. Granted, I don't know anything about her, beyond the fact that she and her husband Andrew Drennan or Drynan were the parents of another Margaret, who was born in Carrickfergus, Co Antrim in the 1780s. This Margaret also married a soldier, William Charlton, and one of their daughters, called (guess what) Margaret, married a soldier, William Soutar, and they became the proud parents of six children, including my great grandmother Janet.

I have all the relevant birth, marriage and, crucially, death certificates. Plus of course parish register entries, census, military records and poor law applications to support my conclusions. And this is another advantage of being Scottish; there is a lot more information on certificates, and in particular you get details about mothers; for example, a marriage certificate in England and Wales gives details of the fathers of the bride and groom, but in Scotland you get the names of the mothers too, including their maiden names. Better still, if the mother has been married more than once you get all of her surnames. Death certificates give a wealth of information that English and Welsh researchers can only dream of; the full names of all of the deceased's spouses, and the names of both of their parents, including of course the mother's maiden name.

Searching for the deaths of married women or widows is also easier in Scotland, because they are indexed by both surnames. So even someone with the commonest of names is comparatively easy to find because you are looking for a pair of matching entries, rather like searching for a marriage. This is just as well, since Janet's married surname was Brown. Have you any idea how many Janet Browns have died in Scotland? Neither have I, but a Janet Brown cross-referenced with Janet Soutar wasn't hard to find. Finding her husband John's death was a lot more difficult! And I only know about Margaret McJannet in the first place because she appears on her daughter's death certificate; Margaret Charlton (nee Drennan/Drynan) lived long enough for her death to be recorded in Scottish civil registration. Registration began in 1855, and she died in 1858, aged 75.

Death entry for Margaret Charlton 1858 RD 644/03 (courtesy of ScotlandsPeople)
 I know a lot more about many female ancestors in all of the direct lines; the Scottish practice of recording maiden names in all kinds of records was very useful, but the fact that they were poor was of even more help. All four of my great grandmothers appear in the Glasgow Poor Law records held at the Mitchell Library; Janet was the only one of them who did not apply for poor relief, but her mother did so when she was a young child so details are recorded for Janet and her siblings. Whenever the central heating breaks down, or I run out of milk, or suffer from some other 21st century inconvenience, I think about the incredibly hard lives these mothers led, their many pregnancies, and the children they lost. I have led a charmed life by comparison,

So let's hear it for mothers past, and their mothers, and their mothers' mothers. We wouldn't be here without them.


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