A Very Scottish Family

I’ve been researching family history for some time now, and recently I began to wonder about writing up what I’ve found so far. I have notes and fragments of research scattered all over the place, odd chapters I’ve written in a notebook, old photographs, my mother’s travel diaries and the basic facts recorded in a family history database. Oh, yes, and my Ancestry DNA results, a recent addition which shows that despite having been born in England I am more Scottish than the average Scot, something that my family tree also demonstrates.

There is nothing particularly famous or special about my family. I haven’t (yet) been able to link it to William the Conqueror, Charlemagne or Attila the Hun. Occasionally family members have featured in minor newspaper stories, but mostly they seem to have led quiet, unremarkable lives, worked in jobs that were typical for the time, and kept out of prison and the workhouse, although they do seem to have had slightly more than their share of lunatics.

I’ve had to go back to 1800 to find an ancestor who wasn’t born in Scotland, and some of the families involved evidently stayed in the same area for hundreds of years. However their births and deaths cover more or less the whole of Scotland, from Helmsdale in Sutherland to Port William in Kirkcudbrightshire, and from Kilmartin in Argyll to Elie in Fife. This makes it easier in many ways to trace basic family records, since most of them are to be found on the Scotland’s People website.

However in some cases I’ve found it more productive either to look at records in a different form or to visit the places where people lived. For instance, looking at census records online you generally only see what you search for, whereas if you look at them on microfilm you see who lived next-door, and how many families with similar names lived nearby. If you go to a place such as Kilmartin, you see the carved rocks and many stone monuments and wonder if your stone-mason great-grandfather was descended from the people who made them. And of course there is nothing quite like having coffee and a scone in your great-great-grandmother’s kitchen, which has been turned into a tea-room!

When I add detail to this page I will include links to family history sites I’ve found useful. So if you are interested in Scottish family history please re-visit the page.


River Helmsdale, Sutherland

And now for two stories about outliers in my family history: the first of these, Jenny McCallum, was the oldest in a typical Victorian family of 11, who gave up her job in a textile mill in Dunfermline to travel to London and invade the Houses of Parliament.

‘You are in it as deep as the others.’


My great-aunt Jenny McCallum, my grandmother’s sister, joined a group of around 14 members of the Women’s Freedom League at a demonstration at Westminster in 1908 during which some of the party tricked their way into the House of Commons during a debate and two of them chained themselves to the grille at the front of the Visitors’ Gallery and shouted ‘votes for women’ slogans, which were a bit wordier than they would probably be nowadays, while others climbed on benches just outside and others clambered on to an equestrian statue in the courtyard. They were all arrested and in court the following day were each fined £5. They refused to pay the fine and were sent to prison instead, apart from a younger member of the group, the daughter of one of the others, who was told not to do it again, at least until she was 21!

I discovered this much in a report in The Times which was filed with the prison record at the National Archives in London. There was also a small paragraph in the local Dunfermline newspaper at the time, and quite a lot more in a report for the 50th anniversary of women first getting the vote in 1968. The story also made its way into several books not long after that.

More recently, I was asked for an interview by BBC Scotland to mark the 100th anniversary of the Representation of the People Act of 1918. If they still have it on their website you can see it here: A suffragette in the family.

Just beforehand I thought I had better refresh my memory about what had happened that day, and as part of that I took out a subscription to a family history website (Find My Past) where there was access to the British Newspaper Archive. I found quite a few more newspaper articles about the demonstration. These varied quite a bit in the amount of detail they gave and also in the variations on Jenny’s name they used, but at last I came to one where my great-aunt’s words in court were actually quoted. It wasn’t exactly great oratory but it gave me a sense of connection to someone I had never met that none of the other reports did.

‘Why did they give me a ticket [to the House of Commons] if it was not to admit me?’ she asked the magistrate. He replied, ‘You were as deep in it as the others’, to which she said, ‘Perhaps more so.’

A House Called Hyderabad

I am only just starting to find out about another ‘outlier’, one of my great-grandfather’s brothers James Young, who was from a farming family on the Angus / Perthshire borders but who had a rather different career from almost everyone else in the family, as an engineer who built canals in various parts of India during a career of several decades working for the India Office.

My first inkling that he might be different was when I noticed him in the 1891 census for a parish in the north of Fife. By that time his father (my great-great-grandfather, also James Young) had moved much of the family across the Tay to a farm near Leuchars, although my great-grandfather John Young was farming near Meigle at that point. Whereas all the other adult males in the family were farmers (and had been for generations), his occupation was given as ‘Civil Engineer Pub Wks Dep India’, which was something of a surprise.

I followed up on this recently when the India Office records became available to search, and I found he had worked on canal projects from 1868 onwards. By 1901 he was living at Crieff Hydro with one of his unmarried nieces. Oddly enough, this was what led me to discover the House Called Hyderabad.

Once I had read all the newspaper articles I could find about my great-aunt and her exploits, which continued after the war with involvement in the Rosyth Rent Strike of 1919, I turned my attention to other members of the family. I was searching for ”Thomas Morrison’ which confusingly was not just my father’s name but also my grandfather’s and great-grandfather’s, when I came across a couple of mentions of my father as a pall-bearer at funerals. The first funeral was that of his mother in Meigle, Perthshire in 1938, and the other pall-bearers were mostly her brothers, also from the Young family  The other was for a ‘Miss Young’ whose address was given as ‘Hyderabad, Meigle.’ Of course, you can’t always be certain of things in family history, but in this case I am as certain as I can be that this house must have been named by my engineer great-great-uncle to commemorate his time in India.

Now, of course, the hunt is on to discover whether the house is still there, and if I can get hold of a picture of it with which to illustrate this story!