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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A Suffolk case of poaching, stolen birds found cooking in the pot, and transportation

My husband and I were watching the Gary Linekar episode of Who Do You Think You Are last night. And, as is usual with this programme, I was researching the lines as they appeared on screen. But in this case I got rather sidetracked into our own family history, and made quite a big discovery.

One of Gary’s ancestors was convicted for stealing fowl, which were found cooking in the pot afterwards. And this reminded me of my husband’s distant uncles in Suffolk, who were described in 1838 as “notorious theives”. But I’d only found one newspaper reference to them – were there more? So I fired up the British Newspaper Archive on my iPad (I have a rolling subscription for that site), and searched for

“william sharman” AND wortham

to look for one of the uncles. What I found was remarkably similar to Gary’s story, but with a less happy ending. I found the detailed court case report of the 1838 trial, and it told me so much more about these people.

The Ipswich Journal, Saturday 27 October 1838


IPSWICH, Saturday, October 20

STEALING TURKEYS AT WORTHAM – William Sharman, 25, Zachariah Sharman, 23, both shoemakers, and John Day, alias Garrod, labourer, were charged with having on the 9th of August last, stolen seven turkeys, the property of Mr Charles Marshall, farmer, of Wortham … From the evidence it appeared that the turkeys were left safe in the cart lodge of the prosecutor on the evening of the 8th August. A noise was heard during the night, but Mr Marshall did not get up to ascertain the cause. He found, however, on the following morning, at 6 o’clock, that the turkeys had been stolen, and the  heads wrung off and left in the yard. Suspicion having fallen upon William Sharman, the prosecutor went to his cottage, and found in a field of wheat, just opposite the window, the bones of one of the birds, and in the house an iron pot, containing the bodies of six turkeys whole, and part of another. The whole had been flayed and prepared for being cooked. Mr Marshall procured the assistance of Thirkettle, the constable, and when the latter approached the house, William Sharman attempted to walk away, in the direction of Botesdale; but was ultimately apprehended and brought back to his cottage, when it was searched, under the authority of a warrant, for that purpose. The pot, containing the turkeys, was shown to William Sharman, and in answer to the question, “What do you think of these?” he observed, “What is done cannot be undone.” As regarded the other prisoners it was shewn by the testimony of Mr Henry Scarfe, who keeps a public house at Wortham, that the three prisoners who had been drinking at his house, left it about ten o’clock in the evening, on which the robbery was effected. They were also seen together between 7 and 8 o’clock, and Mrs Elizabeth Frost, who lived next door to William Sharman, proved that she saw two men pass her door and go into the yard, and from thence into the road leading into the field of wheat. Mrs Jemima Keeble, of Burgate, saw Day and Zachariah Sharman “pop down” in the wheat. She inquired of the former “what he was after?” but he made no answer. The court was of opinion that no case had been made out against Day and Zachariah Sharman. Mr O’Malley addressed the Jury in behalf of William Sharman, remarking that there was no evidence to prove that he ever was in the neighbourhood of the prosectutor’s yard; and that in order to convict they must be satisfied that the turkeys found in his possession were the identical turkeys stolen from Mr Marshall. The case was one of mere doubt and suspicion, but that was not sufficient to warrant a conviction. The Jury found the prisoner, William Sharman, Guilty, and he having been previously convicted of felony at the Sessions at Ipswich, in June 1837, was sentenced to be transported for seven years. There was another charge against the prisoner, of having stolen a hurdle and stake, the property of Mr J. Nunn, of Wortham, upon which no evidence was offered. Day and Zachariah Sharman, after a wholesome admonition, were ordered to be discharged, the Chairman observing that these depredations would soon be put an end to, if the people only paid a proper police rate.

Whether William was actually transported, or sent to a convict ship, or even imprisoned locally, we had had no idea that he had gone through anything like this. This was because he appears in later years in the census, back in Wortham, and lived to a ripe old age. But he’s missing in 1841, not recorded in the census with his wife and three young sons. And there’s a gap of 5 or 6 years between the known births of some of his children. So maybe he was transported after all, but returned home later. I thought we had seen a sketch of what he looked like, in the collection of drawings and paintings by the Wortham parish vicar Richard Cobbold. I was wrong, but William and family (including his “afflicted” wife) get a brief mention in the notes that the vicar wrote about parishioners, as does his brother James Salter. William Sharman died in 1894. Zachariah Sharman had died in 1845. Their younger brother Israel Sharman (1816-1891) was my husband’s great great grandfather.

One thing that was really good about the Who Do You Think You Are programme is that it put such actions into context, explaining how much poverty many were living through, and why they needed to poach or otherwise steal food. So although the story was initially amusing, with the birds found cooking in the accused’s pot, it quickly took on a more sinister aspect. Having said that, Gary’s ancestor, like my husband’s, was clearly known for this kind of thing, so authorities knew exactly where to look first for evidence of the crime.

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Making sense of my mitochondrial DNA test results

I got my mitochondrial DNA test results today, and wanted to blog about the experience of testing, and getting the results, to help others considering going down this route.

First it’s worth saying that I avoided DNA testing for a long time. Personally I found the terminology confusing and baffling. Also testing prices were generally high. As a genealogist who researches every branch of my family tree I was also somewhat sceptical about the benefit of tracing one line back out of many more, and finding out about its deep origins. What finally swung me was FamilyTreeDNA slashing their testing prices, combined with their large international database for matches. This opened up the possibility of matching – most probably in the future – people who shared the same genealogical line as me. And as a genealogist that was quite exciting. I did look at other testing companies, but this one for me offered the best combination of sufficiently detailed testing, a large international database for matches, and good value in terms of the test kit and (unlike some other companies) shipping costs.

Ordering the test online was really easy. And then a few days later it arrived from America in the post. I delayed doing the testing for a bit, but then finally plucked up the courage. It was very much a CSI moment, what with the swabbing. It just took a few minutes anyway, repeated for the second sample a few hours later, and was really easy and painless to do. Sending it off in the post was slightly trickier, not expensive, but I pondered for a while what to write on the customs form! Apparently “genealogy sample” is a good thing to put on. The test arrived at FamilyTreeDNA a few weeks later, then there was the delay while I waited for the results. It can take a lot of weeks for mitochondrial DNA to be fully sampled.

The results came overnight, and I was emailed to say they were available, and logged in today to FamilyTreeDNA to see them. As expected I was a bit baffled by it all initially, again the terminology rather frying my brain, but I’ve taken time to try to make sense of everything. I’ll explain it here as best as I can. The test that I got done is the mitochondrial DNA one, their more expensive mtFullSequence one, which tests the mother’s mother’s mother’s etc. line back in time to a high degree of accuracy. So it’s a deep genealogical test, analysing the DNA which has been passed down through many generations on one line. Mitochondrial DNA can only be passed down through the female line, from mother to child (male or female). But it indicates deep ancestry, even for male line descendants.

The mitochondrial test results come back in a number of formats, but the easiest to understand is probably the predicted haplogroup. As I understand this is the group of DNA, with a common ancestor, that most closely matches the numbers that come back from crunching your saliva sample. In my case that’s V-C16298T!. As the FamilyTreeDNA page explains, “Mitochondrial haplogroup V is a primarily European haplogroup and underwent an expansion within Europe beginning approximately 13,000 years ago.” This is a relatively rare hapiogroup, even within Europe, and may originate in the Near East. The FamilyTreeDNA database includes other people whose DNA sample gave this result. Quite a lot of them are of Scottish origin, some English or Irish, some Spanish, French or German. But basically European.

More interesting for me as a genealogist is the possibility of linking up directly with distant cousins, especially provable ones, through the site. There is a difficulty in that we may be so distant that the paperwork doesn’t survive, and it isn’t possible to make a connection that can be proved in the conventional historical records. There can also be matches where the DNA link isn’t as strong as it could be. So in the matches page you get you need to look carefully at the information recorded about earliest known direct maternal ancestor, as well as number of steps between your genetic results, to see if there’s a likely connection. So far not in my case, though some of the matches seem to be very low in number of steps from my DNA (even 0). But I’m more hopeful of making useful connections in the long term, as more people are tested, especially as the prices for testing continue to drop.

For the record my currently known most distant all-female line ancestor is Elizabeth Oliver, who married Robert Govanlock at Southdean in Roxburghshire, Scotland, in 1787. They were my 5xg-grandparents. Via them I have Robson, Scott, Kerr and Dodds female descendants before reaching me.

One thing I couldn’t get tested as a female was Y-DNA. This is another form of deep DNA, but it’s only passed down from father to son. Although it, too, only traces one line back, it does have the advantage of potentially linking people of a given surname, and seeing if and how they are related. This assumes that there are no non-paternity events on the line back in time. I’m so inspired by the possibilities of this that I’ve started a Cavers Y-DNA surname project, to try to figure out how all the different lines in my Cavers one-name study are related, if at all. This needs male line descendants to volunteer to be tested, and again they must have no female link in the chain, for example through illegitimacy on the Cavers line. It’s very much a long-term project, but one that I’m extremely hopeful for.

Am I glad that I’ve taken the test? Yes definitely, and I’m going to continue to get my head around the results. Hopefully I’ll make some good matches with people through the database in future, which would be great. And it’s opened my eyes to DNA testing. So much so that I’ve just ordered, for the low price of $99, the FamilyFinder test. For me this is an upgrade, using my existing DNA sample, so there is no need for me to do the swabbing and posting thing again. And it will look for DNA matches across all lines, in the last 5 generations. Again very much a long-term thing, but worthwhile I think.

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Bible presented to Catherine Dodds in 1919

In my maternal side of the family, through the Dodds side, there is a long tradition of ancestors being beadles or church officers for Melrose parish. The earliest was Alexander Dodds (1816-1877), the first of the family to settle in Melrose. He was succeeded by his son Alexander Burnett Dodds (1836-1895). After that I think his eldest son Alexander Dodds (1866-1935) was beadle for a while – we have a photo with lots of Doddses in it which seems to show an older man of this generation holding the abbey keys. And then his younger brother John Dodds (1877-1945) was beadle for many years, and later John’s son Thomas Cavers Hall Dodds (1910-1981), my granddad.

But when John Dodds was away at war in World War One, having enlisted with the King’s Own Scottish Borderers, his eldest sister Catherine Mary Helen Dodds (1868-1929) acted as beadle. We know this because after her brother returned she was given a bible as thanks for her work. Quoting from the inscription in there:



Miss Catherine M.H. Dodds


the Children attending Melrose Parish Church Sunday School
in grateful & affectionate appreciation of the many kind services she rendered to them when acting as Substitute Church Officer during the period of the Great War, 1914-19.

The bible was passed down through the family and we inherited it after granddad died.

Here are some pictures of it, firstly the outside:

Bible presented to Catherine Dodds in 1919and then the inscription inside:

Inscription in bible presented to Catherine Dodds in 1919and the title page:

Title page of bible presented to Catherine Dodds in 1919and the interior:

Interior of bible presented to Catherine Dodds in 1919

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Ancestors paying the window tax

A large number of Scottish 18th century tax records survive, and are gradually being digitised. The latest to go online are the window tax records. Sadly the equivalent records for England were mostly thrown away and destroyed.

In early years the window tax was only payable on properties with 10 windows or more. Later it was changed until properties with 7 windows or more became liable. Still it was a tax generally only paid by the wealthy, as well as those with other reasons for many windows, such as innkeepers. Manses also seem to have had large numbers of windows.

I am going to transcribe some of the window tax records for Melrose and Coldingham parishes, my two one-place study parishes. But before doing that I looked for ancestors. Firstly I looked for those in the tax year 1797/8, the last surviving year for these records. Generally the people I found are ancestors of my ggg-grandfather John Usher Somner (1829-1879) whose illegitimate daughter was Catherine Irvine, Mrs Dodds at Melrose. Here are the ancestors I spotted in that year. A lot of the people below were farmers. Some were minor gentry.

  • part of Galashiels parish (Roxburghshire): Geo. Anderson, Bridgeheugh, 8 windows
  • Melrose parish (Roxburghshire): Jas Blaikie, Langhaugh, 7 windows
  • Melrose parish (Roxburghshire): James Usher, Toftfield, 7 windows
  • Wilton parish (Roxburghshire): Thos Usher, Burnhead, 20 windows
  • Haddington burgh (East Lothian): Willm Veitch, watch maker, 11 windows
  • Haddington burgh (East Lothian): Dr Geo Somner, 18 windows
  • Stow parish (Midlothian): John Usher at Pirn, 9 windows
  • Garvald parish (East Lothian): Dr Somner, Castlemains, 13 windows
  • North Berwick parish (East Lothian): James Seton, Redside, 11 windows
  • Gifford parish (East Lothian): Richd Somner, Townhead, 8 windows
  • Cockburnspath parish (Berwickshire): George Hood, Bowshiel, 8 windows
  • Edrom parish (Berwickshire): George Logan, Edrom, 14 windows

I also checked earlier years, looking for other interesting ancestors who should show up, but were long gone by 1797/8. Here’s what I found. James Veitch below (father of William earlier) sold Bowhill to the Duke of Buccleuch. The house he had has been largely replaced by later building work, but it clearly had an awful lot of windows.

  • 1748, Humbie parish (East Lothian): Mr John Henderson, Leiston, 36 windows
  • 1748, Lochrutton parish (Kirkcudbrightshire): Edwd McCulloch Esqr, Hills, 20 windows
  • 1753, Selkirk parish (Selkirkshire): Mr James Veitch, Bowhill, 43 windows
  • 1760, Hutton parish (Berwickshire): George Logan, Fishwick, 16 windows
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Sitting on Sir Walter Scott’s knee

Just found this in the online collection of digitised New Zealand newspapers, though it’s referring back to a death of a ggggg-uncle in Scotland, John Usher (1809-1896) who farmed near Kelso:

Otago Witness, 1896 April 23

The men who have seen Sir Walter Scott must now be getting few. Mr John Usher, of Stodrig, who died the other day, himself an enthusiast on Border ballads, was one of the rapidly diminishing little company. He used to tell with no small pride that on one occasion, when Sir Walter was a visitor at Toftfield, his birthplace, he had sat on the great novelist’s knee, and had sung several songs, for which he was rewarded by Sir Walter with the present of a white pony. Mr Usher in later life was something of a poet himself, and a collection of his verses and songs appeared about a year ago.

I have a copy – bought from a secondhand book dealer – of John Usher’s collection of poems and songs. It includes his photograph at the front, and there is a long list of subscribers at the back, many of them members of his extended family.

An earlier blog post here recounted another gift Sir Walter Scott made to the young Usher children, in that case a pianoforte.

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Three old postcards of Cupar, Fife

I lived in Cupar from 1995 to 2001. It was the first proper home I had with my husband. We lived in a flat in Cupar Mills, which is a converted old mill building on the Millgate, with massive thick stone walls. I looked into some of the past inhabitants of the building, in 19th century census returns, and valuation rolls, and got quite interested in the local history.

So I have a soft spot for Cupar, and keep an eye out for interesting postcards. And I’ve just bought three, all looking as though they date from the early 1900s.

The first, postmarked 1919, shows the River Eden, near the old Gaol, which later became a pub where we often ate high teas.

Postcard of Edenside, Cupar, Fife

Postcard of Edenside, Cupar, Fife

Next up is a view along the Bonnygate. This reminds me of the many times my husband and I would get ice cream on Sundays from Luvians along there.

Postcard of Bonnygate, Cupar, Fife

Postcard of Bonnygate, Cupar, Fife

And the third postcard, also undated, shows a group of boys gathered around the Mercat Cross at the top of the Crossgate.

Postcard of Mercat Cross, Cupar, Fife

Postcard of Mercat Cross, Cupar, Fife

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Cavers people in Massachusetts, USA

I’ve just posted about Cavers people in Massachusetts, USA. This is basically the family of my gggg-uncle from Hawick.

Cavers One-Name Study Blog

Ancestry has recently added Massachusetts parish registers to its online indexes and digital images. Part of my own personal Cavers line has a Massachusetts connection, so I was really pleased to see these new online records.

John Cavers son of Thomas Cavers and Helen Scott emigrated from Hawick to Massachusetts with his wife Sarah Duncan. John was a tailor. John and Sarah had children in Massachusetts, then after John died Sarah returned with her children to Hawick. At least one of her children went back out to marry in Massachusetts. And now I know so much more.

Children that I’ve been able to establish for the couple are now:

  • Thomas Francis, b. ca 1848; d. 1861 at Wilton, house painter
  • Janet, b. 2 Jul 1850 at Boston, Massachusetts; m. Thomas Binns (b. England, son of George & Martha), on 21 Jun 1876 at Lowell, Massachusetts, and had children
  • Ellen, b…

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Surgeon ancestor in Haddington with lots of apprentices

I recently discovered Ancestry’s database of apprentice indenture duties. As the blurb there says:

This collection contains registers of the money received for the payment on taxes for an apprentice’s indenture between 1710-1811. The registers kept track of the money paid by masters of a trade to have an apprentice. The dates in the records are for when the tax was paid and may be some years after the apprenticeship, not when it started or finished.

The original records are held in The National Archives at Kew, London.

Searching for Somner found lots of references to Dr Richard Somner (1731-1804), my surgeon and apothecary ancestor at Haddington, East Lothian. I reckon he was active as a surgeon in the town from the 1750s through to the 1790s or so. And he seems to have taken on a lot of apprentices, as the list of names below shows:

  • 24 Oct 1766: Alexr Dickson
  • 17 Dec 1766: Alexr Hamilton
  • 30 Oct 1769: Alexr Swanston
  • 14 Jul 1772: Jno Maitland
  • 18 Nov 1772: James Thomas Buchanan
  • 27 Nov 1772: Ja: Baillie
  • 27 Nov 1772: Wm Grieve
  • 27 Jan 1774: James Rennie
  • 5 Feb 1777: Jno Yule
  • 2 Dec 1777: Rob: Baillie
  • 10 Dec 1777: Jno McArthur
  • 30 Oct 1780: Wm Swanston
  • 30 Oct 1780: Jno Mcclarran

Richard’s Haddington practice was continued by his son, Dr George Somner, who later went into partnership with Jane Welsh Carlyle’s father. Later generations of the family were also medics.

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