… another brick in the wall?

david leslie with craig leslie 1964

Descendants of George Leslie, my grandad David Leslie, and my brother Craig. Kirkcaldy, Scotland, c. Mar-Apr 1964. Photo: Leslie family archive.

I’ve been working on my surname line for a while but have struck a brick wall at my 2x great grandfather, George Leslie.

While I’m confident I have accurately documented George’s adult life – certainly from his marriage in 1857 — information about his parentage and early life is sparse and less certain.

One of the great things about Scotland’s statutory records is that details of parentage are generally included on marriage and death records, as well as (more obviously) those of births. Oh what joy when the information on these sources is present and consistent!

Unfortunately, when George died in 1902, his son (also George), reported his grandparents by surname only – both Leslie — and both deceased.

The only record I have then which names George’s parents is that of his marriage to my gg grandmother, Janet Traill. They are named as John Leslie and Elizabeth Robertson. John’s occupation is shown as flax dresser, and the record indicates that both parents’ were alive at the time.

Looking for evidence

Without corroborating evidence, I had to assume that the names on the marriage record were largely correct in order to search for traces of George’s birth and early life.

George’s age at death was shown as 70, which would have made his birth year 1832. However, this is inconsistent with other records, including his marriage and census returns.  George’s age may have varied across records, but he consistently reported his place of birth (in census records) as Elgin, in Morayshire.

I used both FamilySearch and Scotland’s People; and searched for children named George Leslie (or Robertson) – born between 1810 and 1840 – where the father’s name was John and the mother’s Elizabeth.

I allowed for name variations and misspellings with wildcard searching, and in Scotland’s People, searched both OPR (Church of Scotland) records, and those of other churches.

Search results

Ultimately, three records were returned – two in Morayshire, and one in neighbouring Banffshire.

  1. George Leslie born 20 May 1833, baptised 27 May 1833; in Rothes, Morayshire to John Leslie and Elspat Riach in 1833.
  2. George Leslie, baptised 4 August 1822; in Portsoy, Banffshire, to John Leslie and Betty Robertson
  3. George Leslie born 3 August 1822 and baptised 31 August 1822, New Spynie, Morayshire; 1822 to John Leslie and Elizabeth Robertson.

Hunches and deductions

I’m confident that the Rothes-born George is not my ancestor, for several reasons.

  • While his birth date is not entirely inconsistent with the age given on George Leslie’s death record, it is much later than any of the records created in George’s life-time –which would have been self-reported.
  • While the mother’s first name is a variation of Elizabeth, the surname is different. Though it is conceivable that an error was made on George’s marriage record, one of George and Janet’s children was given Robertson as a middle name, and I can find no other source for that name than George’s assumed mother.
  • Finally and most importantly, census records consistently show this man living in Rothes with his family, when I’m confident my 2x great grandfather was in Angus and Fife.

But here is where it gets a bit complicated.

I believe that the second and third records actually relate to the same person – and here’s why.

The August 4th baptism took place in the Episcopal church of St John at Portsoy in Banff. These records aren’t available through Scotland’s People, and I found this on FamilySearch.

The records of the St John’s Church in Portsoy are held at the University of Aberdeen, so I emailed the Special Collections Librarian who kindly photographed and sent me the appropriate extract of the birth register. Copyright conditions mean I can’t publish this photo, but I can transcribe it. The extract reads:

August 4th 1822 Leslie     George son of John Leslie, Farm Servant to Capt. Cameron, Banff, born in fornication by Betty Robertson, Forres. Sponsored Adam & (Ian, Jm??) Wilson, Square Wrights, Portsoy

The baptism register from the Church of Scotland kirk at New Spynie  reads:

1822 Leslie           George natural son to Elizabeth Robertson and John Leslie was born 3rd and baptised 31st August 1822. Witnesses George Stewart and Alex (Alan?)  Stewart.

The case for one George, two baptisms

As I noted above, my search had quite wide parameters, yet returned only three hits across a 30 year period – and two of those births were in the same week in 1822.

  • The New Spynie register records the child’s date of birth as 3 August. The Portsoy baptism took place on 4 August, which was a Sunday. According to Stewart Brown’s book History of Everyday Life in Scotland 1800 -1900, “baptism was to take place in front of the congregation during a time of regular worship, and as soon as possible after a child’s birth.” (p.126).
  • The parent’s names are virtually the same in both records (Betty being a variation of Elizabeth)
  • In both baptism records, George is noted as illegitimate (“born in fornication …”, “natural son … ”)

Why two baptisms?

Before statutory records, the Church of Scotland was the “official” keeper of BDM records. Parishes were also responsible for poor relief (welfare). I have found several instances of children being baptised in the parishes of both parents. I think this was a kind of insurance, so that if poor relief was ever required, the child was “of the parish” and therefore eligible. I think it likely that this child was baptised the second time in New Spynie, in the Church of Scotland, for those reasons.

I am though at a loss as to why the kirk at New Spynie was chosen for a second baptism, when the Portsoy extract says that the mother, Betty Robertson, was from Forres — another parish in Morayshire.

It is of course one thing to argue that the same George Leslie was baptised twice; another to argue that this child was my 2x great grandfather. I think that there is some support for that hypothesis:

  • The parent’s names exactly match those my gg grandfather George reported at the time of his marriage
  • The parish of New Spynie is about 2 miles from Elgin; the place George consistently reported as his birthplace. If George lived in New Spynie as a child he may have assumed it to be where he was born.
  • 1822 is at the early end of possible birth dates derived from other records of George’s life. However, I’m going to make the entirely unscientific assertion that adults more often shave a few years off their age, than add a few years on.
  • The 1841 census shows Elizabeth Robertson, aged 45 and George Leslie, aged 15, as the occupants of a dwelling at Front Street, Bishopsmill, New Spynie Parish. Elizabeth is recorded as of independent means and having been born in the county (Morayshire). George is shown as an agricultural labourer, born outside the county.

Dazed and confused

As always, I have more questions than answers: why New Spynie? Why the Episcopal church? Was John a member of the congregation? Or perhaps his employer Capt. Cameron was.  Who was Capt. Cameron? Was Betty Cameron also a servant of the Captain’s? What happened to John Leslie and Elizabeth Robertson after the birth of their son?

I’ve been working on this for a while and am beginning to feel that I wouldn’t recognise resolution if it danced naked in front of me. So I’m turning to you my blogging whanau. Any thoughts on my logic (or lack of)? Suggestions for further research?




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)








before I leave christenings

My christening; four generations of strong women. My mother, grandmother, great-grandmother and - as it turns out - me.

My christening and four generations of strong women. My mother, grandmother, great-grandmother and – as it turns out – me.

While I’ve been on the subject of babies, christenings and naming ceremonies, I found these photos and wanted to include them. The photo above shows Katherine Black, Margaret Cruden and Elizabeth Ramsay – the maternal line that led to me (the cute one all wrapped up in white).

Looking back, it seems to me that the lives of these three women were not dissimilar, but very different to mine. My great-grandmother and grandmother both married at 18; my mother at 19. Katherine (great-grandmother) and Margaret (grandmother) were pregnant at the time of their marriages;  my mum had to wait four years for a child, and then my older brother was stillborn. Katherine raised five children, Margaret six, my mum three. Weirdly, both my great grandmother and grandmother had husbands with prosthetic legs. My great grandfather was wounded in WWI; my grandfather suffered from diabetes and lost both legs to gangrene.

I don’t know how much formal education my great grandmother or grandmother had, but I know my mum had to leave school at 15 because her father thought any more education would be wasted on a girl who “was only going to get married”, and besides, the family needed her wages. Until she married she was a weaver in Nairn’s linoleum factory in Kirkcaldy. On Katherine’s marriage certificate it says she was a housekeeper. My grandmother’s occupation on marriage was listed as shop assistant.

Although I also left school young (major rebellion at 16), I studied at night school to get University Entrance and have ended up with two post-graduate degrees. I have one child, born when I was 36 and have never married his father – though we’ve lived together for almost 22 years.

I look more and more like my maternal ancestors as I get older and feel a greater kinship with them then ever before, so perhaps the fact that my life has been so different to theirs says a little bit about the gains feminism has made –  at least for my generation.

Alexander Cruden and Katherine (nee Black); my great grandparents with my at my christening.

Alexander Cruden and Katherine (nee Black); my great grandparents with me at my christening.

Basically, I just love this one. I love the fact that I look so adoringly at the old woman holding me and that my great grandfather looks so lovingly at me. Admittedly, great gran looks a bit underwhelmed; but I guess by the time I came along, she was probably totally over babies . Who can blame her?


On ancestry in the making

On ancestry in the making

I’ve been posting about “family history in the making” and then I read Helen Tovey’s blog post on “becoming an ancestor”. It’s made me think about how important it is to document the present (and recent past).

Today is a particularly appropriate day for such thoughts as it’s my son’s 15th birthday. He is my only child, so his birthday is not just a celebration of his life, but of his father and I becoming a family rather than a couple.

I sometimes wonder if our pleasure in that doesn’t almost outweigh the boy-child’s enjoyment of presents, cake and devoted parental attention for the day. And that got me thinking about his day.

Naming Day, Thomas Alexander Gray.

The boy-child with proud parents and god-parents.

We’re not religious, so a christening was out of the question, but when he was born, I remember thinking that it was important to celebrate the significance of his life to us in some way. It took a while to organise (10 months), but on 17 January, 1999 we held a naming ceremony for our baby boy. Continue reading