Uncovering ancestors, the Scottish way

If you do any kind of Scottish family history research, you’ll find people who have left Scotland for various other places. Maybe it’s because of the weather – even I, with my well-known aversion to change and my poor command of other languages, have fantasised about retiring to the South of France or the coast of Spain. Most of the emigration has probably been for economic or social reasons. In some cases politics might have been involved.

Working again on ‘Reunited in Death’ I realised that I had modelled Jemima Stevenson’s family on one branch of my own: thirteen children born in the later part of the 19th century, of whom only two or three were still in Scotland by the 1930s. As Jemima discovers, it is one thing to trace your ancestors back a few generations using standard research methods, but quite another to trace your living relatives, following the trail down from the 1890s to the present day. Not surprising, then, that by the time she finds out about her cousins some of them are in fact no longer living!

In many ways it’s easier to research family history in Scotland than elsewhere. All the official records of births, deaths and marriages are centralised and most are available online at the Scotland’s People website; many collections of estate papers and similar documents have been placed in the National Archives of Scotland; and until recent years there hasn’t been much immigration although plenty of emigration. Some of the old parish birth and marriage records are very patchy, but this is counter-balanced by the fact that the Kirk Session records are also available to research and sometimes give extra insight into how people lived.

Jemima Stevenson is lucky enough to find a family Bible recording the names of all her mother’s siblings; my equivalent of that is a family photograph taken in 1900 of my great-grandparents and their children.

The plot of ‘Reunited in Death’ revolves around an incident very similar to something that really happened in my own family (but without the murder mystery!), although I can’t go into more detail here as that would spoil the surprise which I hope people will get towards the end of the novel.

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