An important DNA match through a gateway ancestor

Last night I spotted that I had a new “Common Ancestor” DNA match in Ancestry, where I share DNA, and the Ancestry system works out the likely connection. These workings out aren’t always reliable, depending on the linked tree and other research, but in this case I think the other line back is solid, and because of where the person’s other lines are primarily (England) and that they don’t match my English dad, this looks solidly to be on my Scottish side. And probably right, as inferred on the site.

The common ancestors are my 5xg-grandparents John Usher last laird of Toftfield near Melrose and his second wife Agnes Blaikie. I descend from their daughter Jessie Usher, Mrs Somner, and through her son John Usher Somner. The new cousin descends from Jessie Usher’s sister Mary Usher, Mrs Menzies, who lived in Leith, but has English descendants down the line concerned.

This is a particularly important match for me because John Usher Somner’s line – father and mother sides – is very much a gateway ancestral line, opening up lots of fascinating ancestors, as well as my deep Melrose connections. Also the very first certificate I ever looked at in the General Register Office for Scotland – way back in 1984 or so, as a not yet teenager up for the day from Hawick! – was the 1865 Melrose marriage certificate of my gg-grandparents Alexander Burnett Dodds and Catherine Irvine. It was a bit of a surprise to see Catherine was recorded as illegitimate and her father was recorded as John Usher Somner, brewer. Who?!? Luckily I was able to trace that line back, even if her mother’s side is still somewhat mysterious! The kirk session minutes around her birth were also helpful. It does look like she had contact with her father John Usher Somner, but when she died her son John Dodds, my great granddad, didn’t know the name of the grandfather he was probably named after. I’ve never doubted the historical records re her parentage. However given that John Usher Somner was just newly 15 when his daughter was born it is rather nice still to see likely DNA confirmation of the link …

Nicely we also know what the Usher sisters look like, because there is a surviving photograph from circa 1883 of the then four surviving elderly Usher sisters and their brother John. Notes on the back indicate which were which, including Jessie (middle) and Mary (far right). And now I have a confident DNA link as well, which is nice.

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A retrospective look at my first history academic journal paper 15 years ago, on Haddington library borrowings in the late 18th/early 19th centuries

Sharing this on my genealogy blog, for the mention of ancestors

Viv's Academic Blog

15 years ago in 2006 my first academic journal paper as a historian was published. Sole authored, it looked at the borrowing records between 1732 and 1816 of Gray Library in Haddington, East Lothian, an unusual example of an early free town library. The paper examined these borrowing records to see what they told us about the town’s reading habits at this time.

I thought it might be nice to do a retrospective blog about this journal paper. The paper was published in the Journal of Scottish Historical Studies, and the full published PDF version is available on my website, in green Open Access form on my publications web page. Note I had earlier co-authored publications from my computer science days, but this was the first academic journal paper I wrote fully myself, and my first history piece after retraining as a historian, picking up BA, taught MPhil…

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Reading Andrew Greig’s new novel “Rose Nicolson”, the tale of my ancestor

Just blogged this. William Fowler was an ancestor via the Dodds, Somner and Logan lines of my family tree.

Viv's Academic Blog

I recently started reading this novel by Scottish writer Andrew Greig. Set in late 16th century Scotland, it is written in the words of William Fowler, student, poet, and later secretary to Anne of Denmark, Queen of King James VI and I. William Fowler also happens to be my 12xg-grandfather, and someone whose family history I have researched extensively, beyond that published to date.

Reading a good Scottish historical fiction book is always exciting for me. Reading one supposedly written in the words of my ancestor is a step beyond! Early on in the book Fowler starts as a young undergraduate student at St Andrews University, something I would do myself over 400 years later.

Fowler’s family history in the book is problematic for me, with an invented older sister, as well as elimination of at least two surviving Fowler brothers. I have to cut the author some slack though…

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Recording a talk about a Dandie Dinmont Terrier breeder ancestor

Sharing this for my cousins. The dog breeder ancestor was on the Dodds side of my family, so shared with my Lowrie and Blacklock cousins.

Viv's Academic Blog

I was asked a couple of years ago if I’d speak at an event in the Scottish Borders about my ancestor who was a pioneering breeder of Dandie Dinmont Terrier dogs. The event was going to include a walk around Kelso, seeing some of the places associated with my ancestor.

Sadly due to the Covid pandemic the 2020 event was postponed. And then by the time of the 2021 event it was (1) still too risky for immunosuppressed me to attend, and (2) not feasible anyway because of how much my progressive neurological disease had worsened.

Amazingly the event went ahead, despite the ongoing pandemic situation. Events covered three days, at the Haining near Selkirk, Abbotsford near Melrose (little Dandie Dinmont dogs racing!), and Oxnam and Kelso.

I’d recorded a talk about my ancestor and this was part of today’s Kelso events. I put together the slides in PowerPoint on…

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Review of David Dobson’s “Scottish Genealogy: The Basics and Beyond”

Sharing this genealogy book review from my academic blog

Viv's Academic Blog

Titled “Scottish Genealogy: The Basics and Beyond”, its emphasis is very much on the latter aspect, introducing the reader to less commonly used material which can be rich in information for people researching their family trees. The author draws on over fifty years of experience in this field, and is well qualified to write on this topic.

After a brief introduction to the basic Scottish genealogy records (birth, marriage and death certificates, census returns, and old parish registers) it turns to the other less known records. Examples covered (and these are just some of them) include other church records, gravestone inscriptions, statistical accounts, tax records, sasines and land registers, maritime records, burgh records, tracing specific occupations, covenanters, military records, education, poor law records, and emigration. It really is quite an extensive list. In each section there is a brief introduction to the type of record, and then a look at…

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A female ancestor borrowing books in 18th century Haddington

Posted today on my academic blog. This is about my 5xg-granny.

Viv's Academic Blog

It’s International Women’s Day, and the Books and Borrowing 1750-1830 project I’m involved with blogged today about women borrowers in libraries.

I studied such records as part of my PhD examining Scottish reading habits between circa 1750 and 1820. Women are largely hidden as readers in historic library borrowing records, especially in libraries which restricted access to men. But sometimes they show up as borrowers directly, or it is recorded that a book was borrowed on their behalf. Other female members of the family may potentially have read any other book borrowed from the library.

At Haddington’s Gray Library which I studied female borrowers make a prominent appearance, and their borrowing patterns can also be compared with male borrowers at the same time. For example it’s possible to detect that they were borrowing on different days of the week from men, and that they also tended to choose a different…

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Identifying ancestors among the men who signed the 1320 Declaration of Arbroath

Sharing this post from my academic blog. The ancestors are via my Dodds side, going through the Somner line and then various branches back in time. Lots of lines of descent from thereon in.

Viv's Academic Blog

2020 marks the 700th anniversary of the Declaration of Arbroath. I originally intended to write a blog post about this in the anniversary month of April, but illness prevented this. But I can do it now, better late than never, and still in time before the end of the 700th anniversary year.

The Declaration of Arbroath was a letter of April 1320, from the Scottish barons to Pope John XXII. It asserts the independence of Scotland, in particular with regard to the threats from England, and asks the Pope for his support and assistance. The letter was drawn up probably at Newbattle, but then written at Arbroath Abbey, the chancery or royal writing house at the time. A particularly famous part of the letter is the following, which is oft cited even to this day, especially in the context of moves for Scottish independence.

As long as but a hundred…

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Smallpox inoculation in late 18th century Melrose

Just shared this on Facebook with my cousins, and sharing here too. Toftfield = Huntlyburn. Recollections of my 6xg-uncle, Andrew Usher at Darnick (born 1782, died 1855) who founded the whisky distilling dynasty in Edinburgh:

“I was born and brought up at Toftfield and the oldest circumstance I remember about that place is that when the doctor came to inoculate the family with the smallpox (vaccination had not then been discovered) as I thought it was something very painful I ran away. My father came after me and when in the act of taking me home his heart failed him and he said to himself ‘What if I should be leading the laddie to his death’ (for children so inoculated not infrequently died) and he set me at liberty again. I was, however, persuaded to go into the house and seeing what a simple matter it turned out to be, I presented my arm to the doctor. It so happened that I was very slightly affected while some of the rest were very ill. I had no fever and kept singing away as usual. One of the servants asked me how I could sing when the rest were so ill. My reply was that I would sing as long as I was able.”

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Reflecting on a parser text adventure game I wrote about an ancestor

In the 1590s my 12xg-grandfather Sir Robert Logan of Restalrig hired mathematician and occult practitioner John “Logarithms” Napier to hunt for hidden treasure in Fast Castle in Berwickshire.

I wrote a text adventure based on this true story, filling in the gaps in the record creatively, and entered it into the Spring Thing 2020 interactive fiction competition.

Today I wrote up some thoughts about the development of the game.

The game is freely available online to play via browser or download.

Robert Logan was an ancestor via the Dodds side of my family, via the Somner ancestors of my Melrose gg-granny Catherine Irvine, Mrs Dodds.

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A mystery Cavers girl from Selkirk

Here’s a blog post from my Cavers one-name study blog related to my Hawick Cavers ancestry. A very unexpected discovery, solving a mystery in the family tree that had puzzled me for over 30 years.

Cavers One-Name Study Blog

While browsing through the Scottish birth, marriage and death certificates again I looked at the 1861 marriage of “Isabella Scott or Cavers”, a 21-year old mender in a wool hosiery factory, living at 4 Fore Row, Hawick, daughter of Barbara Moyes maiden name Scott. Isabella married wool sorter William Spalding, also aged 21, of Wilton Place, Hawick. Very sadly Isabella died just over a week after her wedding. Her death certificate names just her mother again, no father noted. Who was he?

My working presumption is that he was a Cavers man, hence the two surnames that unmarried Isabella used when she married. Looking in the census finds her mother Barbara (who died in 1869 aged 51) was born at Selkirk. And a bit more digging finds mother and daughter together in the 1841 Selkirk census, living at Edinburgh Road, Selkirk, in the large household of Alexander and Jane Scott…

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