Finding an ancestor in the mental health records

Graham and Emma Maxwell have started looking at mental health records of Scots admitted to various asylums (National Records of Scotland records MC2 and MC7), with a view to indexing these by name of patient, thus opening them up more to family history researchers. They knew of my Cavers one-name study, so when they stumbled across a Cavers reference they kindly sent me the images. And it turns out to be a relative of mine.

William Cavers (1798-1873) was my distant g..uncle, son of Francis Cavers and Euphemia Hogg, and younger brother of my 4xg-grandfather Thomas Cavers. Like most of the men in his immediate family William worked as a shepherd, moving about various parts of the Borders and other parts of southern Scotland. By 1859 he was at Ancrum, living with his wife Mary and some of their children.

At this time, before Dingleton Hospital opened at Melrose in 1873, people suspected of being lunatics in the Borders were typically sent to Musselburgh, near Edinburgh, to be assessed, and admitted to the asylum there if need be. So that was where William was sent. The records reveal he was certified insane, and admitted to Millholme House there. It is definitely “my” William, because the details recorded include his age, marital status, ocupation, place of abode, the parish or union to which he was chargeable i.e. his place of birth (Kirkton in Roxburghshire), and details of his next of kin (son Francis Cavers).

And of course the records include details of his mental state. When assessed in late May 1859 he was noted as having been insane for three and a half years, with the first attack occurring on 1st January 1856. In May 1859 a physician and surgeon gave evidence that he had examined William Cavers at “The Lockup House” at Selkirk, and found him to be exhibiting great excitement of manner and boasting of things he has no prospect of. Most telling is the evidence from William’s wife and daughter, of his restlessness at night, his refusing to rest, and his berating them. Various neighbours also gave evidence of this.

I don’t know what treatment if any William received. But he was released from Millholme House, only to be readmitted again, this time to Campie Lane also at Musselburgh, soon after. Though this second time the doctor examining him could not find anything particularly wrong with him mentally, apart from a tendancy to mental excitement. He also noted that the man’s physical health and condition was good.

William was discharged from Campie Lane on 30th August 1859. As far as I know he wasn’t readmitted to any asylum, though I hadn’t known about this case before and it is possible he did go in again. He appears in later census returns, in 1861 at Ashkirk and in 1871 at Makerston, recorded with his wife and family. And he died at St Boswells in 1873.

I know of other ancestors who ended up in asylums. John Cairncross uncle-in-law of my gg-grandfather Thomas Cavers Hall died in an asylum. And two siblings of my great-grandfather John Dodds died at Dingleton Hospital in Melrose. But there may be more still to find, which emerge as Graham and Emma’s indexes go online. Keep an eye on these indexes as they evolve over time. They can be searched easily at Scottish Indexes. Emma has also written a useful blog post, explaining these records in more detail.

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Remembering great-granddad’s WW1 service, 100 years after he enlisted

This week has seen many events commemorating the 100th anniversary of Britain joining World War One. My great-granddad John Dodds served during the war, as did my husband’s great-granddad Edwin Dawe. I thought I’d blog about John’s army service 100 years almost to the day after he enlisted.

This is just one man’s story, obviously of interest to his descendants, but it may not seem important in the wider scale of things. But I think it’s important that we remember what happened to people like John, including those who made it back from the war alive. Those who returned were fortunate, yes, but they would be forever changed, though often unable to speak, bottling it up inside.

John was born at Abbey Gate in Melrose in 1877, the son of a brewery worker who was also colour-sergeant in the local volunteer detachment. So there was a strong army tradition in his family. John married Margaret Hall in 1905, and soon the couple had three young sons, including my grandfather. The family moved around a little, but by 1914 were settled at St Cuthberts Cottage down near the Abbey, and John worked as a plumber. He was also church officer, or beadle, for Melrose parish church.

Photo of John Dodds and Margaret HallBritain declared war against Germany on 4th August. John enlisted just four days later, long before universal conscription. Like many people he probably hoped the war would be over soon. He enlisted at Galashiels on 8th August 1914, joining the 4th Battalion of the Kings Own Scottish Borderers. His regimental number was 23314 and he was just under 36 years old. His enlistment papers reveal that he, like his father, had been active in the Volunteer Border Rifles. And it records his physical description: 5 feet 7 inches tall, weight 166 lbs, chest girth 38 inches fully expanded, of fair complexion, with blue eyes, and dark hair. He also had to give details on enlisting of his wife, including when and where they married, and the names and birth dates of his children.

Military histories of the 4th Battalion KOSB reveal that they sailed for Gallipoli in May 1915. On 12th July 1915 they sustained their heaviest losses, with over 500 casualties, over half their original number, and over half of the 500 casualties killed. For more about the scale of the losses, and the action leading to them, see W. Sorley Brown’s War Record of 4th Bn. King’s Own Scottish Borderers and Lothians and Border Horse which was published in 1920 and contains a vivid account of the KOSB experiences. I’ve been told that John Dodds had a commemorative plaque in his house in Melrose remembering the KOSB losses on this day. I don’t know if it is still in the family anywhere.

KOSB survivors would be redeployed in later years on the Western Front, where more of them would die. John was lucky to avoid this, being invalided back to the UK because of severe dysentery – a common condition for soldiers to pick up in Gallipoli. In December 1916 he was transferred to the 7th Royal Scots at Chelmsford, and then transferred again on 17th February 1918 to the Royal Army Medical Corps at Blackpool. He was granted leave to return home to Melrose twice, in summer 1917, the second time just after his mother had died. He would never return to active fighting duty.

As an invalided soldier John ran the risk of being perceived as a man avoiding fighting. So he was awarded the Silver War Badge, given to invalided soldiers to wear to show what had happened to them. He was also awarded the 1914-15 Star Medal, the British War Medal, and the Victory Medal. I don’t know if anyone in the family still has these.

Sadly John’s return was marked with sadness. His mother had died in summer 1917, and in November 1919 his wife died too, just seven months after John was finally discharged from the army, leaving three young children, who John’s sister May helped to raise. John only saw active service for a relatively short term, but he saw his fellow soldiers from the Borders be massacred in vast numbers. It must have traumatised him for life.

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Weighing up pros and cons of a FindMyPast subscription

I’ve been trying out a free 14-day trial with FindMyPast, prompted by them adding Staffordshire parish registers. My Moore ancestors came from there, before one family moved to West Yorkshire, and I’ve been keen to trace them more in parish registers.

However I’ve decided for now not to continue with a monthly subscription after my free trial. I’ve drawn up a list of pros and cons of the site for me, to help me decide whether to subscribe, and thought it would be worth blogging them here in case they might be of interest to others. I should say that I have found FindMyPast’s Irish collection enormously helpful in the past – my Dublin ancestors were constantly in jail (!), and I’ve found them in the Irish prison registers. So I now know what my gg-grandfather and gg-grandmother looked like, for example. However the site has big problems, and I’ve been very concerned about recent changes which have alarmed many long-term subscribers. At least I wasn’t locked into a yearly contract with no chance of a refund. It makes me very unlikely to take out a yearly subscription with them ever again. I would only consider monthly options now, because of what happened recently.

On the plus for me the site has Staffordshire parish registers, with indexes and images. It also has some Cornish parish register indexes, though not images, useful for tracing my husband’s Cornish ancestors (Dunstan is a very Cornish-based surname, and my father-in-law was born in Cornwall). It also has some nice pre WW1 army records, which I was able to use in the past to find my Yorkshire g-grandfather enlisting in the 1890s, which ties up with our family story of him being a soldier, then invalided, treated in an Irish hospital, and meeting and marrying my Dublin-born g-granny. Those early army records – with indexes and images – are not available, for example, at Ancestry.

However the site has many more disadvantages than advantages for me. Firstly with the Staffordshire parish registers the collection is currently very incomplete. In particular it misses West Bromwich All Saints parish, which is probably where my pre-1820 baptisms and marriages took place. And because that parish’s registers are deposited somewhere a bit odd for Staffordshire records it may be that they will never be digitised by FindMyPast.

Another big downside for me with FindMyPast is the very slow loading I am finding with digitised images. This isn’t a problem with my broadband – Ancestry loads fast, as do other sites. But when I click on a FindMyPast image to view it I have to wait for many seconds, while the progress counter ticks round, with me losing the will to carry on, and getting annoyed EVERY SINGLE TIME! The site should work more zippily than this.

Another major downside is that a number of intriguing data sets do not have extra search options to make them more useful. For example I found a dataset including 18th century Somerset apprentices, but it was impossible to search this by place, even though this has been indexed and shows up in the search results. I wanted to pull out references to my husband’s home village/parish Maperton. I could leave the name field blank and step through thousands of results, looking at just the Maperton ones, but I could not narrow down the search by place any other way. This is ridiculous.

Likewise marriages in digitised parish registers cannot be searched by name of father. Marriage certificates in England after 1837 include this information, and marriages in parish registers reflect this. In Ancestry I could pull out lots of references to my ancestors by putting in the name of the father into the search over West Yorkshire parish registers. There is no facility to do an equivalent search in the Staffordshire parish registers at FindMyPast. If I want to look for my Moore ancestors I have to view every single Moore marriage in a plausible place, to see what the father’s details are. And every single Moore marriage image loads very very slowly. I’m not going to do that any time soon.

My biggest gripe with FindMyPast concerns its revamp, and its new default search interface which searches over all records, possibly in a way that may be easier for newcomers to the site, but makes it harder for more experienced users to control exactly what you search over. It is possible to narrow this down to specific data sets, in particular using the A-Z record list to drill down to what you want and a better search form, sometimes. But this isn’t as quick or as intuitive a process as it should be.

And one more moan about very poor name variant handling. For example my Moore ancestors sometimes were recorded as Moor or More. So it’s nice to be able to tick the name variants box in the search form. But the name variants it matches are a bit bonkers. Even Mitchell will be matched if I do that! This gives me far too many irrelevant results.

So for now I will not be subscribing. I may take out a short one or two month subscription in future, keeping an eye on the Staffordshire parish registers collection in particular. But I will never ever take out a yearly subscription again, after the recent disappointing revamp. I continue to be an Ancestry subscriber (again on a month by month renewing basis), and continue to be a very happy annual British Newspaper Archive subscriber.

EDIT: Update to say I ran into problems after cancelling my free trial. I cancelled it online, 3 days before the trial was due to expire, and got an email confirmation from FindMyPast confirming the cancellation and saying that I would not be charged. 6 days later then it was a big shock to get another email from them saying my monthly subscription had been renewed, and that I had been charged £12.95. This has now been sorted out, and apparently occurred – wrongly – because I bought Pay As You Go credits days after my trial was cancelled, and somehow – goodness only knows how! – this triggered their system to activate my subscription and charge me. How absurd, not least because I spent a lot of PAYG credits, with the amount dropping accordingly. The technical people at FindMyPast are looking into fixing this bug, but it’s another thing deterring me from resubscribing in future. A customer should never ever be wrongly charged after cancelling a free trial properly, per the terms and conditions, and getting a cancellation confirmation email. Fair play to FindMyPast that they have fixed it for me since, but the whole experience does not fill me with confidence about their computer and billing systems.

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Various receipts in run-up to 1905 wedding

Along with various other documents I inherited a set of receipts from around the time of my great-grandparents’ marriage in Melrose in 1905. These were in the run-up to the big day, variously made out to John Dodds and his future wife Margaret Hall, and covered a mix of furnishings and clothing which the couple presumably needed for their new home and life together. I’ve digitally photographed the receipts and am putting them online here to share with cousins.

Firstly here’s a photo to remind people what the couple looked like. John Dodds (1877-1945) was a plumber in Melrose. Margaret Hall (1878-1919) was originally from Hawick, born at Wilton Dean, but by this time was living with her father Thomas Cavers Hall and other family at Gattonside Mains farm near Melrose. This photo was probably taken around the start of World War 1, when John enlisted in the King’s Own Scottish Borderers. The couple married at The Manse in Melrose on 13th October 1905.

Photo of John Dodds and Margaret HallAnd now here are the receipts. Firstly here’s an undated one, for various clothes for John from draper David Bunyan.

Receipt for clothes from David BunyanAnd now for the earliest dated receipt, from May 1905, several months before the wedding. I like that it’s from an auctioneer’s. I wonder if John attended an auction, and bid on the item, and what else might have been for sale that same day.

Receipt for clockNext up is a receipt from July for, I think, a suit for John.

Receipt for a suitAnd next up, from 16th September, getting closer to the big day, here’s John buying lots of furniture. Note how the mattress cost significantly more than the bedstead.

Receipt for furnitureAnd from the next day, and the same shop, here’s John buying more furnishings, including lino for the floor and stairs, and a rather expensive parlour suite. To put its cost in context, when his father-in-law died a decade or so later Margaret inherited £10 from him.

Receipt for furnitureNext up is a third receipt from Thomas Goodsir’s shop in Galashiels, this time for lots of things, including tables and pictures.

Receipt for furnishingsThe next two receipts are from the same day, just six days before the wedding. Firstly here’s one made out in John’s name, from a clothier in Abbey Street, Melrose, very near to John’s childhood home at Abbey Gate. I particularly like the striped tweed trousers and the felt hat he was buying.

Receipt for clothesAnd on the same day Margaret was buying a framed photo and prints, presumably to decorate their new home.

Receipt for printsThere were presumably other purchases made in the run-up to the wedding, and these surviving receipts present only part of the picture. But it’s remarkable that they were kept, and that they survive, passed down through the family. They give a wonderful glimpse into the run-up to a happy occasion.

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A curler in the family tree

With the Winter Olympics on again, and Britain’s all-Scottish curling teams doing so well, I was reminded that there’s a curler in the family tree. John Usher (1809-1896) was my 5xg-uncle, via the Dodds side of the family. Originally from Darnick, near Melrose, he farmed at Stodrig near Kelso for many decades, and was an active member of Kelso Curling Club. He was also a poet, and songwriter, and near the end of his life his poems and songs were published in book form. Here’s one of the songs he wrote about curling:



[Music, Original]



Up! curlers, up! oor freen’, John Frost,

Has closed his grip on loch an’ lea;

Up! time’s ower precious to be lost,

An’ rally roun’ the rink an’ tee,

Wi’ steady han’ an’ nerve an’ e’e;

Noo cannie, noo wi’ micht an’ main

To test by “wick,” an’ “guard,” an “draw”

Oor prowess wi’ the channel stane.

O, the roarin’ channel stane,

The cannie, creepin’ channel stane,

What music to the curler’s ear

Like music o’ the channel stane.


It’s bliss to curler’s eye an’ ear

When “Crack an egg” or “Chap an’ lie”

Is greeted wi’ responsive cheer

An’ wavin’ besoms raised on high;

Or when nocht else is left to try;

Wi’ rapid glance an’ easy swing,

The “ootring” o’ a stane is chipp’d

An’ twirled within the inner ring.

O, the roarin’ channel stane,

The toddlin’, trinklin’, channel stane,

What music to the curler’s ear

Like music o’ the channel stane.


The time is called – the match a tie –

The game, contestit close an’ keen,

Seems sealed, for guards like bulwarks lie,

Nae vestige o’ the winner seen;

Anon the skip, wi’ dauntless mien,

Pute doon the broom, “Creep til’t,” cries he;

The stane’s sent hirplin’ through the “port,”

An’ soopit deftly to the tee.

O’, the roarin’ channel stane,

The hirlplin’, wimplin’ channel stane,

What music to the curler’s ear

Like music o’ the channel stane.


It boots not whence the curler hails,

If curler keen an’ staunch he be –

Frae Scotland, England, Ireland, Wales,

Or Colonies ayont the sea –

A social britherhood are we,

An’ after we are deid an’ gane

We’ll live in literature an’ lair

In annals o’ the channel stane.

O, the roarin’ channel stane,

The Witchin’, winsome channel stane,

What music to the curler’s ear

Like music o’ the channel stane.

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A Dodds ancestress advertising her new dressmaking business

I have an ongoing subscription to the British Newspaper Archive website. I’ve run a lot of searches there, but also rerun them at times, in case of new issues included, or improved OCR recognition. I tried a search tonight for dodds AND “abbey gate” and found more references to my maternal ancestors in Melrose, including the one below:

Southern Reporter, 17 March 1898



Respectfully announces to the Inhabitants of MELROSE and District that she has commenced Business on her own account as DRESSMAKER, &c.

Having gained experience in Leading Establishments, she confidently solicits a share of public patronage.


I suspect that this was my distant ggg-aunt Elizabeth Wilson Dodds (1839-1902), only sibling of my gg-grandfather Alexander Burnett Dodds. Checking the 1901 census shows her as a dressmaker, but so were some of her nieces, Alexander’s daughters. Perhaps the new dressmaking business was doing well, and she roped in younger relatives to help.

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Clues to the 17th century Maxwell family of Hills in Kirkcudbrightshire

Through the Dodds side, and then Somner, and Veitch, and Logan, my ancestral tree reaches the Maxwell family of Hills in Kirkcudbrightshire. This family descended from the Maxwell Lords of Caerlaverock, and I was able to piece together a lot about my 17th century ancestors from various historical records. My Maxwells were cousins of the Logans they intermarried with: a Logan daughter married John Maxwell younger of Hills, in 1624, and their son and daughter married a Logan sister and brother, the youngsters’ first cousins. But I was able to find out much more about the family, very unexpectedly, in a trip a few years ago to the Scottish Genealogy Society Library in Edinburgh.

Initially my husband and I were looking in parish registers etc. for other branches of our family. And then I started looking in the large collection of published family histories that the library holds. And to my amazement I found Walter Jameson McCulloch of Ardwall’s self-printed A history of the Galloway families of McCulloch. This was exciting because the McCullochs of Ardwall had inherited the Maxwell of Hills estate, through the female line. And opening up the book I found masses about my ancestors.

I have photocopies here of some of the pages from the book, but will only give a few details. But it gives a taste of the type of information in there.

The Logan of Burncastle family had a lot of deaths of fathers at a young age, including George Logan in 1645. This resulted in his children John and Isabella being assigned to a tutor, their uncle-by-marriage, James Logan, second husband of their aunt Elizabeth Logan who had firstly married John Maxwell younger of Hills. This meant that the two Logan youngsters and their Maxwell cousins would often be together, and became very close. But they also had to contend with a wicked stepfather / uncle, James Logan, who seems to have tried to disinherit his wife’s son Edward Maxwell (very young) of Hills. Edward’s cousin young John Logan of Burncastle managed to outwit the uncle, through the courts, became the sole owner of Hills, which he then assigned to his cousin Edward, who by this time was married to John’s sister Isabella Logan. John Logan himself would marry Edward’s sister Agnes Maxwell, and that’s the line I descend from.

The Maxwell of Hills family eventually died out in the male line, and was succeeded by a McCulloch descendant. They also inherited a family bible, described in the relevant will as a ‘gilded bible’, which originally belonged to George Logan of Burncastle’s parents-in-law, Ludovick Fowler and his wife Jean Cathcart, who married at Edinburgh in 1622. The bible has Ludovick and Jean’s initials worked into the cover, in gold and silver thread. The McCulloch book says it was passed down in the family at Ardwall, but I’m unsure if it’s still there. I do remember reading of what looked like the same bible now being held in Dalbeattie Library.

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