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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Report of an ancestor’s estate garden in 1877 Cumbria

A while ago I found that my gg-grandfather Andrew Kerr had been visited and interviewed about the estate garden he kept at Netherby, just across the border in Cumbria. This was just a few months before he died of tuberculosis, the first of many of his family to die of the disease. I wonder if he knew that he was dying when he gave the garden tour. Anyway it is a lovely insight into a working garden at the time. I am particularly impressed by him growing bananas. Netherby lies right beside the Border with Scotland, so was just about as far north as you could get and still be in England.

From the Carlisle Patriot newspaper, 2 March 1877:

NETHERBY HALL – In the current number of the Journal of Horticulture, Mr James Dickson of Arkleton – who enjoys the proud distinction of “the champion grape-grower” among his brethren – writes an animated and interesting account of the Border land from Langholm to Longtown, ending with a description of the gardens and grounds around the stately seat of the Grahams of Netherby. Discoveries made some time ago show that the Netherby was the site of a permanent Roman station. Along the back of the mansion is a cemented terrace 25 feet broad used as a skating rink, then a grass verge 7 feet wide. A flight of steps down to the flower garden, or “terrace garden” as it is called. This was executed about two years ago, and is in keeping with the mansion. This garden is backed up to the east by woods; to the west and south lies a beautiful lawn studded with magnificent beeches, sycamores, oaks, limes, elms, and Scotch firs. Yet I am told that little more than a century ago there was not a tree to be seen in all the locality. Proceeding from Mr Kerr’s house in the direction of the kitchen garden, and passing many cold frames (which were filled with bedding and other useful plants), we come to a propagating pit, length 27 feet, width 11 feet. This is principally filled with some fine young plants intended for table work. The second house is a quarter-span length 31 feet, width 10 feet. This is used for growing pines, and at the time of my visit there were some very fine fruit in it. The sorts grown are principally Queens with a few Charlotte Rothschilds. Passing from this house you enter the kitchen garden, occupying about two acres surrounded by a good brick wall, which is covered with plum, pear, and cherry trees seeming to thrive pretty well. Vegetables are exceedingly well grown and merit special notice. In this garden stands the principal range of forcing houses. The first of the glass structures we enter is a peach house, length 36 feet, width 15 1/2 feet, filled with healthy fruitful-looking trees. I may mention, that when Mr Kerr entered on his duties as gardener here he was very much annoyed with scale on the peach trees, and after trying many compositions all to no effect, he resolved on trying paraffin oil, two wine-glassfuls to three gallons of water. After mixing it thoroughly wih the water he syringed the whole of the trees with this mixture. The result is, he has never been annoyed with scale since. The next house is a stove, length 44 feet, width 15 1/2 feet, filled with a fine variety of specimens of such plants as crotons, palms, ferns, begonias, dracaenas, bananas, &c., with cissus discolor trained-up the rafters, which has a grand effect. The whole are in perfect health. In passing through this house Mr Kerr gave me what he has found to be an effectual cure for mealy bug. To one pint of water add two tablespoonfuls of paraffin oil. After mixing it well go over the whole of the plant, leaves and branches, with a sponge. The next house is a vinery, length 48 feet, width 21 1/2 feet, in which the vines look remarkably well and bear fine crops of fruit. From this we enter a greenhouse, length 37 feet, width 16 1/2 feet. This house is filled with a miscellaneous lot of plants for house and table decoration. We then come to a vinery, length 41 feet, width 21 1/2, in which are hanging some very fine bunches of grapes. Mr Kerr grows all the leading sorts; his favourites are Black Hamburgh, Muscat Hamburgh, Duchess of Buccleuch, Frakenthal, Chasselas Napoleon, Royal Muscadine, Mrs Pince, Gros Colman, Lady Downe’s Buckland Sweetwater, and Muscat of Alexandria. The next house is also a vinery, length 43 feet, width 15 1/2 feet. The vines in this house also look well. The last of the glass structures is a peach house 44 feet in length and 15 1/2 feet wide, filled with peach and nectarine trees, all in fine condition and bearing remarkable crops of superior fruit. Midway between the house and kitchen garden is a geometrical flower garden, in gravel and edged with fancy tiles. This goes under the name of Lady Graham’s flower garden. It looks well at all times of the year, but decidedly best when gay with tulips, as they show off the figures to the best advantage. In the pinetum are the following trees:- Wellingtonia gigantea, Abies Douglasii, Picea Nordmanniana, nobilis, and Webbiana, Pinus austriaca, and Thujopsis borealis.

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1823 inventory of possessions (farming and household) of Robert Ormiston tenant farmer of Drinkstone near Hawick

Recently I discovered that my distant aunt Helen Hall (1792-1858) had been married to Robert Ormiston tenant farmer of Drinkstone north of Hawick. Robert Ormiston died relatively young, in March 1823, just four years after his marriage, leaving his widow to bring up four young sons, including one born less than a month after his father had died.

After his death Robert’s possessions were recorded in the registers of Peebles Commissary Court, and I transcribed this inventory. Because they may be of interest to my cousins, fellow descendants of the Hall family at Wilton Dean, I’m posting the transcript here. Helen Hall, Robert’s widow, was the younger sister of John Hall (1790-1867) who was the grandfather of my gg-granddad Thomas Cavers Hall.

Firstly the inventory recorded the farming side of Robert’s life. Values after each item are amounts of money in pounds, shillings and pence. As the record shows he was mainly a sheep farmer.

List of Farming Stock &c on the Farm of Drinkstone as valued by Mr George Ballantyne Tenant in Essenside and George Hall Tenant in Newhouses per valuation dated 2nd May 1823
7 score & 10 Ewes at 15/ each 112 11 –
14 Do at 11/ Do 7 14 –
5 Score of Dinmonts at 11/ Do 55 – –
5 Score of Hoggs at 8/6 Do 42 10 –
21 Do at 6/6/ Do 6 16 6
4 Tups @ 18/ Do 3 12 –
15 Milk Cows @ 8 8/ Do 126 –
4 two year old queys @ 4 15/ 19 – –
7 Stirks @ 2 3/ Do 15 1 –
2 Work Horses @ £15 Do 30 – –
1 Ditto 3 3 –
A Riding Poney 9 – –
2 Young Horses at £7 10/ each 15 – –
1 Brood Sow 1 10 –
1 Breeding Mare 2 10 –
A Cart & frame 2 – –
Do 3 15 –
Do 1 10 –
A long Cart body 2 – –
An old Do & Wheel barrow – 5 –
Cart Harness 3 – –
2 ploughs & Tackle 2 9 –
4 Harrows @ 2/6 each – 10 –
a pair of Fanners, Riddles, Half full &c – 12 –
A Turnip Drill &c – 15 –
Rakes, pitch Forks Spades &c – 4 –
Riding Saddle Bridles &c – 15 –
473 9 –

Then further along in the inventory is a record of Robert’s furniture etc. Note this was incomplete, missing as often happened items such as clothes, and also the books that he almost certainly owned, such as a bible. Nevertheless it is an interesting read.

List of Household Furniture Bed and Table Linen belonging to the said deceased as Valued by James Robson Wright in Hawick and Adam Hart weaver at Lockiesedge per valuation dated the 22nd of March 1823
One closs Bed 2 10 –
Do Do – 10 –
one hanging Do 1 10 –
Two Do Do 2 13 –
A Cupboard 1 1 –
A Press – 7 6
A Clock 5 5 –
Two Tables 1 10 –
A Craddle – 6 –
Fire Irons – 14 –
A Weather Glass – 5 –
Four chairs – 16 –
Ten Do @ 10/6 each 5 5 –
Two chairs – 6 –
Two Beds, a meal ark, two churns and churn standers 2 – –
A Gun 1 10 –
A Table 3 – –
A Meal chest – 8 –
A Cloth Do 1 – –
Two Do Do – 7 6
A Writing Desk – 15 –
A bed and meal chest – 5 –
A press two dressers with crockery ware and four chairs 1 4 –
one Table and resting chair – 7 6
A Brass Kettle 1 10 –
A Copper Do – 2 6
A bake board – 6 –
Five potts 2 5 –
A frying pan, girdle & Boiler – 10 –
Three spinning wheels – 3 –
Twenty one Bowies 1 10 6
Three stools – 7 6
Three Tubs – 5 –
An Iron Beam weights &c – 12 –
A looking Glass – 1 6
23 1/2 pairs of blankets at 5/6 per pair 6 9 3
3 1/2 Do Do 1 5 –
4 Do Do 1 10 6
2 Do Tartan Do at 5/6 – 11 –
4 Do Do Do at 8/ 1 12 –
11 Ticks 2 7 –
4 Bolsters – 6 6
1 Feather Do – 5 6
1 Do Do & 4 feather pillows – 14 6
2 bed covers at 6/ each – 12 –
2 Do Do @ 2/6 – 5 –
2 Table Cloths – 5 –
1 pair of Sheets – 3 6
28 Sacks @ 2/4 each 3 5 4
15 3/4 yds Do – 14 5
61 15 –

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Analysing 18th century Scottish shop tax records

Tonight I blogged about a research project I’m in the early stages of, analysing Scotland’s 18th century shop tax records from an urban history perspective. There are some mentions of ancestors in these records, and in the example I cite in the blog post there are two of my 6xg-grandfathers, Richard Somner and William Veitch, both in Haddington.

Viv's Academic Blog

I’ve various academic history research projects on the go, and one of these, still in the early stages, is to look at 18th century Scottish shop tax records. My taught postgraduate Masters degree at Dundee was in Cultural and Urban Histories 1650-1850, and I also worked as a Research Assistant on a pilot study of small towns in Scotland circa 1750-1820. So to study shops and their development in this period is perfect given my background.

Fortunately for me these records have been digitised at, and so are conveniently accessible. As a disabled academic, with a severely disabling neurological illness, this access is particularly important, meaning I can work on these records at home. You used to be have to go to Edinburgh to look at these records in manuscript form, which I certainly can’t do any more.

The shop tax records that survive for Scotland only cover…

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Family history goals for 2018

Looking ahead to the New Year I thought I’d jot down things that I’d like to tackle in this area in the next 12 months.

Researching all of my ancestral branches as I do, I have masses of stories that I can share about the ancestors. It would be good to blog more of them in 2018, writing about interesting families, people, places and events. I can also usefully blog on issues, such as inter-faith marriages in the past, and ancestors who had the right to vote.

Another good thing would be to blog more about methodological issues and specific sources. For example I’ve a lot of experience working with kirk session minutes, and could reflect on those. Similarly mental health records and 18th century tax records.

And, extremely importantly, I need to catch up with a backlog of genealogical email. Being long-term ill with a severely disabling neurological illness email replies often have to wait for better patches. But it often means that the most interesting emails can wait longer for a reply. I definitely have some emailing to be getting on with.

My ancestral research is just part of my wider genealogical research. I’ve also blogged 2018 goals for my Cavers one-name study, my Coldingham one-place study and my Melrose one-place study. And re more general historical research I’ve blogged 2018 goals on my academic history blog.

Many ideas anyway. Looking forward to it!

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Autosomal DNA tests verifying conventional paper-based genealogical research

Some months ago I blogged about a major DNA breakthrough, confirming that I’d traced my Irish great granny properly. DNA testing was needed to be sure of the line, because we lack certain conventional key paperwork, and so it was enormously difficult to trace back.

That testing was with FamilyTreeDNA, using their FamilyFinder test, which finds chunks of DNA from all branches of the ancestral tree. This is called autosomal DNA testing.

I’ve since tested with AncestryDNA as well, which is a purely autosomal test, and have found that very useful too. It’s confirmed numerous ancestral lines, that I traced the conventional way through paperwork. So I thought it might be worth reflecting on that.

My ancestry is 1/2 Scottish (mainly Scottish Borders), 3/8 English (West Yorkshire and West Midlands) and 1/8 Irish (Dublin and County Cork). And I trace every single line, and have been doing so for 35 years.

Many people signing up for AncestryDNA do so for the approximate ethnicity measures, but as a genealogist I find the genealogical potential vastly more exciting, allowing me to make contact with cousins – near and far – who are tracing the same ancestral lines, uncovering more information about my ancestors, and letting us combine research efforts.

A big drawback with AncestryDNA is that people who are going just for the ethnicity angle don’t know their ancestral lines. So often they won’t respond to messages from possible cousins. And they would rarely have uploaded any summary of their family tree, which can be so useful for comparing trees automatically in the Ancestry system, identifying possible shared lines. I just have a skeletal ancestry tree entered into my Ancestry account, but find that invaluable for comparing potential matches, and helping people find me there too.

I find that out of about 150 AncestryDNA matches I can see from online trees in the system how about 30 of the people are probably linked. I contact those with particularly promising looking lines, perhaps those I’m struggling to trace, or am keen to make contact with a living cousin. Not even all people with online trees respond, but a fair number do.

Good contacts that I’ve made include:

  • finding a distant Hall cousin, proving that my ggg-grandfather in Hawick had a brother we didn’t know about born 1820, who emigrated to USA. The emigrant was a spinner in the woollen trade in Hawick before emigrating, and did the same thing in the USA!
  • matching a Broadhead cousin, which is great because I struggled to trace back past my gg-granddad, who was illegitimate, and wasn’t sure I’d traced him right. Now I can be.
  • matching a Senior cousin, my granny’s line, contacting someone whose ancestor was the older brother of my gg-grandfather, and who returned to help run the family farm near Barnsley. This opens up the possibility of finding out more personal family information about the family farm, which our branch knew nothing about today.
  • contacting a very eager genealogist who descends from the younger brother of my Fair gg-granny in Roxburghshire. We are now sharing family info, both actively tracing all lines back, and swapping and sharing notes.

All these connections through DNA confirm I’ve traced the relevant family lines properly through documentary records, including in tricky cases like my Irish great granny and the Broadhead example where the documentary record wasn’t clear, and so there was doubt. That’s been weird to experience, making me reassess lines, and know 100% they are right! I hadn’t expected DNA results to have an emotional effect like this, when it comes to confirming the accuracy of conventional documentary research. But for me it has done.

I also run a Cavers one-name study. My own Cavers link is quite far up my family tree, via mother’s father’s mother’s father’s mother. So that line can’t be Y-DNA tested, at least in my immediate family, and we haven’t been able so far to add it to the Cavers Y-DNA project I run, allowing its male-line DNA profile to be compared with other Cavers branches. But I seem to have autosomal DNA matches through AncestryDNA with other Cavers descendants. Some of the matching people descend from the Cavers ancestors I’ve traced back to, but others concern other Cavers lines, which may hint at a hitherto undiscovered link between my Cavers branch and others, that predates the paper records. That is potentially very exciting, and I’m considering widening my Cavers DNA project on FamilyTreeDNA to include autosomal DNA as well as the more conventional Y-DNA tests focused on by surname DNA projects which seek to match up paternal/surname lines.

Anyway those are just some thoughts. I expect to make more good autosomal DNA matches over the next year, as more people get tested and their results are added to the AncestryDNA database of test results. We have also bought an AncestryDNA test for my husband, having seen how useful it was for me. Fingers crossed he finds good links too!

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Huge DNA breakthrough with Irish part of family tree

I’ve blogged before about the enormous difficulties I had tracing my Irish great granny. She died young, in childbirth, and all her family history died with her at her new home in Leeds, Yorkshire. We could never find a marriage certificate – anywhere in England, Scotland, Wales or Ireland – for her and great granddad. That would normally identify her father, and we knew nothing about her parents at all. The story is that she was nursing near Belfast, and met an injured Yorkshire soldier – late 1890s – and they got married. Well yes, they were a couple, but we’re not sure they ever legally married. And then even when I had census birthplace clues (1901 Ireland, 1911 Dublin) I had trouble finding her birth certificate, cos her birth was registered strangely. And even when I found it I couldn’t be sure all the info I had was right. What if my great granny wasn’t really from Dublin, but from nearer Belfast maybe, where the surname Tate is much more common? But I did trace her, and I found a wonderfully rich and characterful family history.

I’ve made contact with two descendants of Annie’s siblings, and we’ve exchanged lots of info. But I could never be totally sure it was my line, until both cousins recently agreed to take a DNA test to compare their ancestry scientifically with mine and Dad’s (Annie’s grandson). We all tested with FamilyTreeDNA using their Family Finder autosomal test which looks for bits of DNA from all ancestral lines. FTDNA have a huge database of results, and cousins, close or distant, can be matched.

The first Irish result came through today. It was the DNA test of the great granddaughter (daughter’s daughter’s daughter) of Annie’s sister Mary in Dublin. And it’s a match! No doubt. FTDNA even estimate the relationship accurately. Dad is a 2nd cousin once removed of this lady. FTDNA estimated 2nd-3rd cousin, from the shared DNA.

We still await the second DNA test result, for the grandson of Annie and Mary’s much younger half brother George. But I expect it will match. And already, from the Mary result, I can be 100% sure I traced my Annie right. Delighted doesn’t come close to how I’m feeling 🙂

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A Jacobite ancestor in fiction and reality, including his clothes and books when he died

I’ve blogged before about my ancestor James Veitch of Glen and Bowhill (1700?-1761), in particular about some of the strange Jacobite-related names he gave his children.

But I’ve just found some great references to him in fiction, in James Grant’s The White Cockade (1867), which is an account of the events surrounding the Jacobite rising of 1745.

To quote from there:

Their costume was generally somewhat dilapidated and they criticised each other’s appearance freely, even at the risk of measuring swords, for most of them were out of pocket, and all ripe and ready for anything that would further the good old cause. Sir John Mitchel’s faded green frock was ridiculed by the Laird of Bowhill, who appeared in blue velvet with tarnished silver; and Dalquharn’s queued hair was quizzed by the Lord Dunkeld, who could boast of a court peruke, and a somewhat out-at-elbow green and gold suit


On those occasions the Prince always appeared with the insignia of the Garter, and the broad blue ribband which he wore was long afterwards preserved by Veitch of Bowhill (a gentleman who rode in Dalquharn’s troop), and since whose death it has been placed among the Jacobite relics of the Scottish antiquarians

Now these are fictional versions of people and events, but I know that my James Veitch of Bowhill was a Jacobite, apparently at Culloden, supposedly one of the Prince’s guards. I’ve also read before about him having an item of the Prince’s, so that part of the novel may have been based on true events.

But in real proven historical evidence James Veitch left a wonderfully detailed inventory of his possessions after he died in 1761. It’s a room by room listing of what he had in his home in Musselburgh. Masses of detail, far far too much to cover here. But some highlights for me include his six maps of Peeblesshire (his home county), a Stuart family tree (great for a Jacobite!), his fiddle, and “a backgammon table dice box and men”.

His clothing alone is entertaining:

Three pairs of breeches three shillings Item a coloured coat and vest six shillings Item a blue  upper coat ten shills and sixpence Item a hat & old wig one shilling item a blue coat and old rag of a black coat and vest four shillings Item five shirts very old and tore four shillings Item nine pair of stockings old three shillings Item four pocket napkins ten shillings and sixpence Item four shirts five shillings.

And for me as a book historian perhaps the biggest highlight of all is the record of his wonderful book collection:

Follows the defunct’s books viz Folio’s Natural History of Four Footed Beasts Imp., History of Appian in Alexandria Land: 1679, Quarto Baskets Bible Edinr 1726, Boyers French Dictionary 1727, Steuart’s History of the Steuart Family Edr. 1729, a clean paper book, Octavo’s Infra Scots Acts of Parliat vol: 1 & 2d Edr. 1682 & 1683, Colden’s History of the five Indian nations Lond: 1750, Townsend’s History of Mexico 2 vols Dub[lin] 1727, Life of Q[ueen] Anne 2 vol: Lond: 1721, Adventures of Richard Falconer Lond. 1728, Milson’s companion Lond. 1722, Baillies Dictionary Lond. 1723, Turkish History Epitomised, Gardners Almanack Lond., Paschoud’s Geogrphy 2 vol Lond. 1722, Moral Reflections 4 vols Lond. 1734, Tale & Brady’s Balms Lond. 1728, Vol: of pamphlets … of Britain London 1751, Traders Companion London 1734, McKenzies Institutions Edr 1730, Baynes note Lond. 1731, Baynes criminal law Insd Lond. 1730, Marlboroughs Life Lond. 1741, Serious Amusements Hague 1719, Justin Lat. & Eng., Husbandry Edinr. 1724, Memoirs of Donzie Lord Holles Lond. 1699, Mortimer’s Husbandry 2 vols London 1721, Book of Common Prayer Ox, 1712, Gerard’s meditations Edr 1720, Arabian nights Entertainment Glas. 1751, History of Tanzai & Neadaine vol 1 & 2d Lond 1735, Abridgement of the Acts of Parliat 1685, Index of the British Acts Edinr 1726, Fields bible small 2 vols Lond. 1658, Manual of Spiritual Exercises 1752, Thomas a ??? and which books were valued at two pounds fifteen shillings by Gideon Crawfurd Bookseller in Edinburgh conform to his signed estimation thereof dated the twenty seventh day of April said year seventeen hundred and sixty one.


I’d like to know more detail about James’s history, beyond the family history I’ve pieced together. There are more papers I can follow up sometime, for example concerning his sale of Bowhill to the Duke of Buccleuch. But, for now, the inventory will keep me amused.

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