The ScotlandsPeople website today launched the digitised 1915 Valuation Rolls, which record proprietors, tenants and occupiers of property then. They plan to release the 1905, 1895, 1885, 1875, 1865 and 1855 valuation rolls later.
I did wonder how well the searching was going to work on these records, because I have looked at them, in undigitised form, before. The big issue is that names are recorded in lots of different ways. Not everyone has their full name, or even first name and surname, recorded. So you can get Mrs Scott, or Dr Smith, rather than the full name. And sometimes people can be recorded with initials, like T.C. Hall, rather than Thomas Cavers Hall, or Thomas C. Hall.
Having just tried searching for my ancestors some of my concerns have been vindicated. But I found them in the end, so that’s the main thing.
The first ones I searched for were Cavers for my one-name study. That was an easy search, I just pulled out all the index references, and will work through them slowly later.
Then I looked for Mrs Catherine Irvine or Dodds at Abbey Gate in Melrose. She died in 1917, but should show up in the 1915 Valuation Rolls. I didn’t find her, trying searching for forename Catherine and surname Dodds. But luckily when I searched for her son John, who I did find, Catherine appeared further up the same page. She is down as Mrs Dodds, widow, tenant of a house and garden at Abbeygate, Abbey Street, Melrose. Her son John Dodds, plumber, is down as tenant of St Cuthbert’s Cottage, Abbey Street. So to find Catherine I’d have had to search for Dodds in Melrose, which could have been quite a big search.
Next up was Thomas Cavers Hall, John’s father-in-law, who by this time farmed at Gattonside Mains near Melrose. The only reference I could find for surname Hall and place Melrose was indexed as Thomas Hall, for land Gattonside. So I clicked on that to see the whole digitised page from the original printed valuation roll. He had tons more! But not under a name that seemingly the search facility picked up on, and I’m doubtful that widening the search beyond the default exact surnames search would have worked too well either. There are masses of properties under the name “Thomas C. Hall & Sons, nurserymen – being Thomas C. Hall, Hugh Hall, and Peter F. Hall, Gattonside Mains, Melrose” – subsequently abbreviated to “T.C. Hall & Sons, aforesaid”. The family were tenants variously of:
- Farm, part of, and house, Gattonside Mains
- House, Gattonside Mains
- Land, part of farm, Hoebridge
- Part farm, Campknowe
- Part farm, Campknowe
- + (under “Thomas Hall, farmer”) Land, Gattonside
So that wasn’t entirely successful. Next up was my great-grandfather Michael Kerr. I searched for anyone of that name, and that found him, “Michael Kerr, rabbit-catcher”, tenant of a house at Belford, Morebattle parish. Didn’t know his occupation then was rabbit-catcher! He’s usually recorded in official records as a shepherd.
So that’s all the immediate ancestors found. I’m quite happy, but still somewhat concerned about how well searches work in these records where names are recorded in such various ways, and – as shown by the Hall example – searches may not always be that successful.
I’m doubtful about how well these records could be used for one-place studies since there isn’t for example a facility to step page by page, even paying for the privilege, through the pages for a given place. It would probably be much more sensible and economical to get photocopies of the printed volumes for a given place. Not necessarily from the central archives in Edinburgh, the now-called National Records of Scotland, who charge very expensive copy costs for people at a distance, much more expensive per page than people visiting the search room themselves. But if a local archive has the printed volumes then they would probably be a good place to get copies from.