I first visited New Register House in Edinburgh, the home of the General Register Office for Scotland, aged about 12 in 1984 or 1985. Back in those days there were no computerised indexes for any records, and it was necessary to plough through old bound paper volumes to find certificate index references. Then you filled out a paper form requesting each certificate, up to three at a time, and waited until, some time later, the original bound volume of certificates for a particular registration district and year was fetched from the upper levels of the Dome and brought to your table. Opening each volume was always thrilling, flicking through the original certificates. It isn’t quite the same nowadays, looking at digital copies.
The second certificate I ever looked at in Edinburgh was the marriage certificate of my great-great grandparents Thomas Cavers Hall and Agnes Fair. They married in 1871 at Otterburn, Morebattle parish, Roxburghshire. Both lived at Otterburn, Thomas a gardener / domestic servant, and Agnes a house servant. Because they married shortly after the 1871 census I decided to look for them in that census. Again there were no name indexes for this, and it was a case of picking a locality, and plodding page by page until you hopefully found what you were looking for. If I remember correctly the Scottish census returns were viewed then on microfilm, and the original manuscript volumes only produced rarely, if there was a problem with reading the film.
Thomas and Agnes both appeared in the 1871 census as servants at Otterburn Farm, Otterburn, Morebattle. The head of the household was Marion Milne, aged 60, from Galashiels – I later found she was born at Faldonside in Melrose parish, near Abbotsford – whose occupation was “Income from Dividends”. Agnes Fair was Marion’s housemaid, aged 27, born Yetholm. Similarly her husband-to-be Thomas Hall was a gardener domestic servant, aged 23, born Wilton. But what surprised me was how many other relatives were there.
Living with Thomas, as his housekeeper, was his sister Sarah Hall, aged 15, born Wilton. At the time I knew little about Thomas’s family, and the parents’ details recorded on the marriage certificate – father Hugh Hall, and mother Margaret Cavers – were new for me. I later found out that Thomas was one of ten children, five sons and five daughters.
Immediately after the Halls in the 1871 census was Alexander Fair, groom, aged 30, born Makerstoun, with his wife, and four children. From the names of those children, including eldest son Peter, the name recorded on the marriage certificate for my Agnes’s father and a name she gave to her second son Peter Fair Hall, I was confident that he was related. And he turned out to be Agnes’s older brother.
And also at Otterburn Farm was John Fair, aged 39, agricultural labourer, born Crailing, and his sister Helen, aged 37, also born Crailing, his housekeeper. These, too, turned out to be Agnes’s siblings.
So that was Thomas and his sister, and Agnes and three of her siblings, all living and working at the same property in rural Roxburghshire.
After their marriage Thomas and Agnes returned to Thomas’s home town, Hawick. Initially Thomas worked as a gardener and domestic servant, but a few years later he established his own nursery at Wilton Dean. Decades later he moved to become a farmer, firstly at Kirkton, a rural parish east of Hawick, and then at Gattonside Mains, near Melrose, where he lived for the rest of his life.