Wordless Wednesday: growing up but not apart

Margaret, Elizabeth and Sandra Ramsay, Kirkcaldy, Scotland. c. 1952-53.

Margaret, Elizabeth and Sandra Ramsay, Kirkcaldy, Scotland. c. 1952-53.

I don’t have sisters, so I’ve always been fascinated by my mother’s relationship with her four sisters.  Seeing these old photos of them as girls just reinforces how close the bonds of family are.

Help wanted: must be interested in mysteries and have good eye for detail. Knowledge of 19th century Scottish religious practices useful

photo credit: chefranden via photopin cc

photo credit: chefranden via photopin cc

I seem to have hit a lot of brick walls lately.

I’ve been working on several branches of my tree and am becoming more confused by the minute. In particular, my 2x great grandfather George Leslie, and his parents John Leslie and Elizabeth Robertson are proving to be – in Churchill’s words – “…a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.”

Let me explain and perhaps – my wonderful blogging whanau – you can see what I cannot — or have knowledge I lack.

I believe John Leslie and Elizabeth Robertson to be the parents of “my” George Leslie,  based originally on George’s marriage record shown below.

Marriage of George Leslie and Janet Traill, Auchtermuchty, 1857.

Marriage of George Leslie and Janet Traill, Auchtermuchty, 1857.

It was normal in those days for women to have their maiden name recorded on official documents in Scotland, which is incredibly helpful in researching maternal lines. The document also indicated that John and Elizabeth were still alive in 1857; as otherwise “deceased” would have been written after their names.

Normally Scottish death records also show parents’ names, but in George’s case it shows only surnames, and that both parents were by then deceased. The informant of George’s death was his son, also called George. It seems likely that if he didn’t know his grandparents’ names, he may not have actually known them.

George Leslie, death record, 1902. Both parents are reported as deceased, and neither's Christian name is given.

George Leslie, death record, 1902.

George’s age on his death record was given as 70; which would have put his birth around 1831-32. His age on the marriage record in 1857 was given as 30; which would meant he was born around 1826-27. In the 1901 census, George’s age was given as 74. In the 1891 census, as 65; and the 1881 census as 53. It’s not unusual for ages to vary like this in nineteenth century census records – or even on statutory BDM records. These things are a guide, not gospel. However, on all but one census record I found for George, he gave birthplace as Elgin, in Morayshire.  The exceptions are 1851 and 1871 where I haven’t been able to find a record of him; and 1841 where his birthplace was shown as “out of county”.

With these parameters, I searched for a birth record – or more accurately a baptism record – using FamilySearch and Ancestry.

What I got were two baptism records for a George Leslie whose parents were John Leslie and Elizabeth Robertson – both for the month of August, 1822.

The first was in New Spynie, Morayshire, with a birth date of 3 August, and baptism on 31 August; the second in Portsoy, Banff, with a baptism date of 4 August. The New Spynie baptism was in the parish church, and so I was able to get a copy of the actual record from Scotland’s People.

George Leslie, baptism in the parish church of New Spynie, 31 August, 1822.

George Leslie, baptism in the parish church of New Spynie, 31 August, 1822.

The New Spynie baptism records says “George natural son to Elizabeth Robertson and John Leslie was born 3rd and bapt 31st August 1822. Witnessed George Stewart and Alan Stewart.”

Natural son means that John Leslie and Elizabeth Robertson weren’t married – at least not to each other.

The Portsoy baptism was in the Episcopal Church, so I haven’t yet accessed the actual record – but the entry on Ancestry says:

George Leslie or Robertson

George Leslie or Robertson.


 Location, location, location

The parish of New Spynie is about  2 miles from Elgin which George consistently claimed on census records was his birthplace. Because of that, it seems reasonable to believe that this record is for the right person. A little bit of extra support comes from the 1841 census, which shows a George Leslie aged 15, agricultural labourer, living with his mother Elizabeth Robertson (age 45), in Bishopsmill – the main village in the New Spynie Parish. George’s birthplace is shown as “out of county”. This census record is the only one I’ve found for a George Leslie of about the right age living with another person that I can link to “my” George.

Portsoy is about only 27 miles from Elgin, though it is in the county of Banff, not Moray. When I first found the 1841 census record, I did wonder about the entry for George’s birthplace, but in light of the two baptism records, I’m beginning to construct a new scenario for George’s early life.

So here goes

Elizabeth Robertson and John Leslie have a son together, born in Portsoy, Banff, on (probably) 3 August 1822. They are not married to each other. They name the child George and have him baptised the day after his birth in the Episcopal Church in Portsoy. Sometime in the following weeks, the couple – or perhaps only Elizabeth – travel to Bishopsmill in New Spynie Parish and have the baby baptised again in a Church of Scotland Church.

I don’t know a great deal about the Episcopal Church in Scotland, other than it had been associated with the Jacobite movement and that until the early nineteenth century, Episcopalians in Scotland suffered considerable religious discrimination. The north-east of Scotland – where George was born – was considered something of a Episcopal stronghold. Prior to the introduction of statutory birth, death and marriage records in Scotland in the 1850s, churches – in particularly the Church of Scotland – were the principal record-keeper, so it may have been that George’s second baptism was a way of ensuring that his birth was “properly” recorded.

Because OPR records have very little information compared to statutory BDM records, I’m a bit stuck. I have searched Ancestry and FamilySearch for birth, marriage and death records for any likely candidates for George’s parents, but both names are quite common and no records really leap out at me.

The only clues I have to Elizabeth’s identity are her age and birthplace in the 1841 census, but as ages tended to be rounded and birthplace was confined to “in county” or “not in county”, they aren’t exactly strong clues. John Leslie is even more of a mystery.

I suppose a first step is to establish if my multiple baptism theory holds water. Are any of you knowledgeable about the Episcopal Church in Scotland in the 1820s?

Secondly, I thought it might be useful to find out if the Kirk Session Minutes for New Spynie Parish in 1822 still exist. Because John and Elizabeth weren’t married, if one of both of them belonged to the Parish, it’s possible they were hauled before the Parish Council for a telling-off. Again, does anyone have any contacts with the local family history society that I might email?

Meantime, I’ll have to put aside George and his parents and see if I can have any more success with George’s wife’s family — the Traill’s of Auchtermuchty!

 Information about Scottish Episcopalianism:

Scotland Church Records, FamilySearch

History of the General Register Office of Scotland (pdf)








On stilled voices and visualising silence

Yesterday my 100 days project word was ‘silence’ — and I have to say it was possibly the most challenging to date.

Partly that might be because I’m away from home, without access to my normal work tools and archives and reliant on my iPad. Partly it’s just because silence is something I find difficult to visually convey.

Eventually I realised that the most profound silence is not an absence of sound, but an absence of communication. Last year, on my trip to Scotland, I visited a number of cemeteries and kirkyards, looking for the headstones of ancestors. I found more than I’d expected and will always treasure those moments with those tangible symbols of my lineage.

But alone in those bleak, quiet places, I also felt the profound loss of lives stilled. I come from ordinary folk who don’t in general leave traces of themselves in recorded history. Once those who knew them stop sharing stories, their lives are silenced.

If I learned anything from my kirkyard visits, it is to speak to family members now; record their stories and share them with the next generations.


100 Days Project: making connections

100 Days Project: day 2, and already my interest in family history is seeping in. Photo: Su Leslie, 2014

100 Days Project: day 2, and already my interest in family history is seeping in. Photo: Su Leslie, 2014

I’ve signed up for the 100 Days Project – an exercise in creativity that involves doing one thing every day for 100 days. I decided to take randomly generated words and see what they inspired in me. Today (day 2 of the project), my word was sepia.

Of course that made me think of old photos and how I spend time looking at pictures of my female forebears in beautiful dresses and amazing hats — and wondering what those clothes really looked like — particularly  the colours.

Without the memories of those who remain, we will never know these things. But family history is a kind of exercise in “adding colour”. Not literally maybe, but by researching the lives of our ancestors, particularly the little details we often learn almost by accident, and the social context of their lives; we enrich the picture that we have of them.

I don’t think today’s exercise is particularly effective visually; I’m rubbish at hand-colouring images. But I’ve decided that it doesn’t matter. 100 Days isn’t just about product, but about process. About the way I think and the connections I make. And maybe I’ll learn to hand-colour old photos.