Getting to grips with finding my past

Bronwen from Central Library’s Art and Design and Music team offers an insight into her first steps in family history…

“One of the great offers from the Library’s eresources over the lockdown period has been the opportunity to search the genealogy site Findmypast from outside the Library’s computer network. The site has always grabbed my attention but I’ve always been too busy… well, now’s the time and the opportunity.

With help and encouragement from the Library’s Digital Team guidance posted on Stay at home family history help, I’ve been dipping into this fantastic resource on family history. I’ve been focusing my search on one of my relatives.

Clarice Mary Watkins was my maternal grandmother. She later became Clarice Mary McGregor after she married my grandfather Michael Joseph McGregor in 1924 in Monmouthshire, Wales. Clarice died when I was 17 and for my part I knew her to be kind, softly spoken, an abstainer of alcohol and very good at making apple charlotte. After my own parents died I was passed down some of my grandmother’s writings and diaries. Married to an army school teacher she’d lived in Egypt, India and Germany at significant stages in the history of these countries and she’d written down much of her impressions of these experiences. I was fascinated to know more about this lady.

Clarice Mary Watkins

To begin with I found it quite difficult to find much information on Clarice. I was jumping in at the deep end wanting to insert a name and find records pinging back at me in a matter of seconds. It’s not as easy as that and takes a bit of patience.

Findmypast has some really good advice on how to start your family tree journey, writing down what you think you know, and asking relatives for information. There’s lots of advice on how to start creating and building a family tree should you wish to record this. For myself, I needed to go back to the basics.

I started off with the obvious – putting in the name Clarice Mary Watkins. I was fortunate to know my grandmother’s full name but you can use wildcards if you don’t know someone’s full name or the spelling, for example I could have searched for Clar* Watkins but I’d need to wade through more results. I knew she was slightly older than my grandfather who was born in 1900, so when some results came back with records dating 1896, I thought I’d struck lucky. I found a record for what was my grandmother’s birth and also a record for her in the 1911 Census but the dates of birth were out by a year. I knew the Census was a correct record because the names of her parents’ occupations and her brothers and sisters were correct. I’d learned a valuable lesson; not all dates, names, places etc are transcribed correctly in records at the time or later.

I started searching under my grandfather’s name to look for more information that might lead me back to Clarice. I was more sure of my grandfather’s birth and death dates but the only information I could find initially was an entry in the 1901 Census, and to me more interestingly, the record of his marriage to Clarice.

Findmypast includes information taken from many sources of records. This includes census returns, birth, death and marriage certificates and parish records but also some more unusual records, for example, passenger lists of people leaving the UK. Searching again under Clarice’s married name of Clarice Mary McGregor I found her bound for Port Said, Egypt in 1933: one of the clever features of Findmypast is that it lists other people with the same surname on the ship and there was my grandfather’s name Michael Joseph and my mother and her elder sister, so I knew for certain this was the right Clarice. Her date of birth on the passenger list was different to the earlier Census return and birth certificate so I now had her date of birth listed variously as 1898, 1897, and 1896 – and they say ladies don’t always tell the truth about their age!

Rather frustratingly I could never find my grandmother’s death dates nor my grandfather. I knew the dates of their deaths and also that they both died in Cupar, Fife. However, what I’ve learnt is that although Findmypast is a brilliant resources, it doesn’t have all the answers. With guidance from my library colleagues I was referred back to ScotlandsPeople where I was able to track down confirmation of Clarice’s death in 1980 and my grandfather a little later on.

I’m just on the start of my family history journey here. What I’ve learnt is this journey takes persistence but also patience and that you need to look at various sources and records. Different websites offer access to different sets of information and records from Scotland can be different from the rest of the U.K. A good starting point is to quiz relatives and stretch your own memory, gather together what you know, and be prepared to search records in different ways. But it’s addictive and I’ve discovered a brother to Clarice, a Benjamin Llewellyn Watkins, born 1895, who I’d never heard of before … he was never mentioned by the family … now that’s another story and given the timeframe I’m guessing one that didn’t end well.”

Find out more about how to gain temporary access to Find my Past from home and go to the Library’s Family Tree guide providing information on Library resources to help you trace your family tree.

Discovering history online

The Edinburgh and Scottish Team at Central Library share some online resources for discovering history and heritage.

Image: David C. Weinczok @TheCastleHunter/ Twitter

Some residents of Stockbridge have been finding novel ways of keeping themselves busy/entertained in these times of social distancing, see above photo, however if you are stuck inside and looking for ideas here are some suggestions with a history and heritage focus.

Let’s start with anniversaries. April is an important month for two monumental events in the history of Scotland. April 6 marked the 700th anniversary of the Declaration of Arbroath and there is a fantastic radio programme made by Billy Kay to celebrate the document and assess its impact and importance. ‘The Declaration’ was broadcast on BBC Radio Scotland this week and is available for one month on the BBC Sounds app. For younger people interested in the document, Historic Environment Scotland and National Records of Scotland have collaborated to produce this excellent free printable illustrated activity booklet.

The second anniversary of note this month is the bicentenary of the Scottish Radical Rising of 1820. We were all very sad to have to have to postpone the wonderful Maggie Craig’s talk at Central Library this month, but we encourage you to check out her great blog and new book on the topic. The aptly titled ‘One Week in April’ is newly published by Birlinn.

For the family tree researchers out there – an exciting development from Edinburgh Libraries has arrived. Free access to Find My Past has been extended to home users for the duration of this lockdown period. This was previously only available at a physical library site. For more information on how to access from home please visit our Your Library website.

The National Library of Scotland maps team have been busy producing this very nifty and useful digital map overlay. This allows you to see a comprehensive range of the maps of Edinburgh and its environs, what they cover and within what time period they were produced.

Now for any budding archaeologists out there (young or old…) Dig Ventures have made a fantastic online learning course available for free (usually costs £49.00!) and the next course begins on the 14 April. Archaelogy Scotland have also produced a handy toolkit of resources too.

The always excellent Battle of Bannockburn Experience has created an online classroom, which may be of interest to those currently partaking in home schooling (- we salute you!)

For those of us that perhaps can’t commit or aren’t interested in a formal learning experience but are really missing being able to go out and enjoy visiting a great museum or gallery, please have a look at these virtual options. A very comprehensive list has been produced by the MCN in the US. There are a great many to choose from all over the planet all free to access and enjoy.

Finally bringing things a bit closer to home and in case you missed it – episode 1 from the BBC Scotland series ‘One Night in the Museum’ was recently aired and available for the next month on BBC iPlayer. It follows three groups of primary school aged children on a journey of discovery as they are able to explore the National Museum of Scotland’s collection at night and free from adult involvement. It is adorable and well worth a watch.

Findmypast give temporary home access to library users

During this period of Libraries’ closure, Findmypast are kindly offering our library members free access to their fantastic family history resource from home.

If you’re interested in accessing Findmypast through Edinburgh Libraries whilst you stay at home, please contact informationdigital@edinburgh.gov.uk with your library card number and we can provide login instructions.

David Doull studio portrait of Daniel Gray and his children, 1866. Photograph from Capital Collections

If you’re used to accessing Findmypast in the library you’ll notice that the site looks a little different from usual but you’ll still have full access to the millions of records available via the Library’s subscription.

With access to UK parish records, census records, Irish records and British military records, Findmypast is the ideal resource for making progress with your family history research and many of us also have a bit more time on our hands to take advantage of this brilliant offer.

 

Find my past and British Newspaper Archive

Two fantastic family and local history resources are now available for free from all Edinburgh Libraries!

Find my past is a superb resource for all family history researchers. You can search across millions of genealogy records including UK parish records, census records, Irish records and British military records. Find my past also gives unique access to the 1939 register, which recorded 41 million citizens throughout Great Britain and Northern Ireland at the outbreak of World War Two.

The British Newspaper Archive is now available from within all libraries too! The British Newspaper Archive is a fantastic resource giving access to local newspapers from across the UK and Ireland going back as far as the 1700s.