Today was a fantastic mix of genealogy, a walking tour and good food. And more Harry Potter! I’ve split this post into three parts – the diary of the day’s events, a photo gallery, and today’s genealogical findings.
It was our first day at the ScotlandsPeople Centre and the National Archives. An introductory presentation by one the staff people was full of good research tips and some interesting stories. We learned about the different kinds of information you can find in a variety of record sources. Besides the usual types of vital records and record tabulations, there are also “Kirk Session” records – unique to Scotland – that are a treasure trove of information of a more juicy sort.
Kirk Sessions were the monthly meetings of the church minister and church elders elders, and minutes of the meetings were kept. Besides the usual sorts of financial and administrative matters, they also discussed various disciplinary matters involving the personal lives of their parishioners.
I found information in census records, statutory (vital) records, AND Kirk Session records! I found out more about Andrew Fraser’s brother Alexander, Alexander’s daughter Annie Susan, Andrew’s half-sister Mary, his step-mother Margaret and his half-brother Joseph. Alexander is proving to be a bit shifty – his name is somewhat common so I can’t be sure I’ve got the right Alexander in all instances. Anyway, I’ve got all the details at the end of the post.
After more than six hours at the library, a group of us opted to walk back to the hotel rather than take the taxi. Edinburgh is a busy city in the late afternoon – the sidewalks were packed and buses and taxis are everywhere. After only a few minutes at the hotel, a small group of us went with our tour guide for a quick walk around Old Edinburgh. She wanted to show us another Harry Potter sight! See the photo gallery below.
At the end of the walk, we gathered for dinner at Doctor’s Pub near the hotel. I was delighted to enjoy a Steak & Ale Pie, “mash”, veggies and a cold Tennant’s lager. I’m back at the hotel now and I’m watching “Yorkshire Vet” on Channel 5. So far, I’ve seen a horse with colic, a sheep with tetanus, and a Guinea pig with an abcess. In graphic detail. Next up is a news show about the forthcoming EU Referendum which seems to be the political topic of the day.
The most photo-worthy sight today George Heriot’s School, said to be the inspiration for Harry Potter’s Hogwarts. Read the Wikipedia entry – this school had four “houses” and a long list of venerable headmasters. Fun!
First, a bit of a refresher on the Fraser family. My 3x-great-grandfather Andrew Fraser came to America in 1855. He was born to John Fraser and Henriet Reid. An older brother Donald died as a young child. Andrew had another brother Alexander, two years younger. Andrew’s and Alexander’s mother died when Andrew was young and their father John soon married a second time to Margaret Beattie. The family moved from Leslie to nearby Kennethmont, where Margaret’s family was from. John and Margaret had twin daughters Mary and Margaret and a son Joseph. Then John died when Andrew was about eight years old, leaving him and Alexander in the care of their step-mother.
Andrew supposedly served in the military for a few years (still trying to verify this!), but he is shown in the 1851 census records back in Kennethmont, living on the farm with his step-mother, brother Alexander and half-sister Mary.
Alexander Fraser had a daughter Annie Susan, born to Helen Mackie. They were not known to have been married. (We don’t know anything about Alexander after this.)
It has proven difficult to find any details about John’s birth or the identity of his parents. So I adopted another tack, which is to trace all of John’s descendants forward in the hopes that an actionable clue turns up.
I found a lot of records about this family group today – some confirmed what I already knew – but now I have an image of the original record. But there were a few new discoveries too! Here’s the rundown:
1. Marriage record of John Fraser and Margaret Beattie on July 9th, 1827.
2. Census record for Margaret Beattie, living alone in Kennethmont in 1851.
3. Death record for Margaret (Beattie) Fraser, “widow of John Fraser, agricultural labourer”. She died September 15, 1879 at the age of 86.
4. Death record for Joseph Fraser, younger half-brother to Andrew. This is the man who left a small bequests to his Fraser cousins in America (I have the legal correspondence from his lawyer in Insch). He died November 25, 1900. He never married.
5. Alexander. Oh, Alexander. I found him in the Session records – interestingly, not for the regular parish but in the Free Church Parish (see this article for details about the Disruption of 1843 for more information about these churches). He was one of the first “transgressors” of the newly-formed congregation. Here are transcriptions of the Session records:
8th October 1843. Compeired [i.e., summoned] Alexander Fraser, a young unmarried man resident in Law [the name of the farm they lived on] and confessed having been guilty of the sin of of fornication with Helen Mackie an unmarried woman. The case being known to be correctly stated, he was rebuked and cited [..something in Latin?…] to appear a next meeting of sessions.
5th November 1843. Compeired Alexander Fraser as cited at last meeting of session. On account of his youth this never having been a communicant, the sessions resolved to carry his case by reference to the Presbytery for advice. After being seriously and affectionately exhorted to repentance he was cited to appear again at next meeting of sessions.
3rd December 1843. The session then took up the case of Alexander Fraser. The moderator reports that the session has been [advised?] to proceed in this case as they see fit. Taking all things into consideration, they resolved to free him from church censure. Further, it did not appear to the session that his not having communicant could deter him from the privilege of receiving baptism to his child, provided he himself had been baptized, and now made an intelligent profession of his faith. Being [culted?] in he was acquainted with the resolution of the session and after being admonished was absolved from church censure.
So that’s quite a story! The child in question was Annie Susan – who later came to America. I have some of her correspondence.
Those session records are pretty interesting. It seems that one or two cases of “ante-nuptial fornication” was on the agenda at nearly every meeting. In fact, I transcribed these notes from the session records in the months following Alexander’s episode:
1 December 1844
…The session then took into consideration the fearful prevalence of the sin of fornication and several suggestions were made in regard to the best way of checking it. The matter was left for more mature consideration at a future time. Meeting was closed with prayer.
The session then discussed the propriety of making the administration of discipline more rigid than heretofore, with the intention of putting a salutary check on the commission of scandalous sin. A suggestion was made to the effect that public information be given of the sentence passed by the session. Doubts however were entertained in regard to the working of this plan and the further consideration of the matter was deferred.
Many other tour participants found similar records from this period. In the Kennethmont records, there was a period of time where the secretary made notations in the margins about the various topics or persons discussed at each meeting. Of course when the subject of fornication came up, it was always the woman’s name that was highlighted – even in cases where the man’s name was known.
6. So what happened to Alexander after this? Census records show that there was an Alexander Fraser living in St. Nicholas parish in 1861. His birthplace is listed as Leslie, but his age is off by two years. I can’t be certain that he is our Alexander. Then in 1871 there is an Alexander Fraser working farm labor in Kinellar parish – also born in Leslie but his age is again off by two years. Then in 1891 there is an Alexander Fraser back in St. Nicholas again, now married to a woman named Isobel. His age is still off by two years, and the birth parish is listed as Kennethmont. Is this our Alexander? I could not find a marriage record for Alexander and Isobel, but perhaps I will be able to do a little more digging later in the week.
7. And what about Annie Susan and her mother Helen? I found them in the 1851 census living in Law (the name of a farm in Kennethmont). Now Helen is shown to have a son who is three years older than Annie – his name is James Anderson. I couldn’t find Helen in 1861. Annie was working as a “domestic servant” in 1861 for the William Souter family. In 1871, Helen is still in Kennethmont and has two grandchildren living with her – Helen Ewing and William Fraser. Annie supposedly had two children with a “Thain Fraser” but now I wonder if these are two children born out of wedlock. At the same time, Annie herself is in Leslie working as a servant for William Mackie. I wouldn’t necessarily assume that she has dumped her children on her mother – I remember reading somewhere that the census records in the UK are specific to where people were physically located on the date of the census, not necessarily where they lived. So I would assume that she was “on duty” that day. There may be more information in the Session Records about all these events – but I ran out of time.