>A Special Set of Links

>Although I think I deserve some small credit for having seen the potential in the peculiarities of the Scotland Census transcriptions in allowing one to perform larger-scale genealogical analyses, it is to another blogger that I owe my gratitude for realising that a blog might be a suitable vehicle in which to publish my results.

He is a prolific blogger and, although we frequently include links to each-others work, I thought it entirely appropriate to provide this comprehensive list of his various blogs:
First World War
Faces from the Lewis War Memorial – lists the casualties from the Isle of Lewis
Iolaire Disaster 1919 – lists the casualties and survivors of the sinking of HMY Iolaire
Lewismen in Canadian service – lists all those from the Isle of Lewis known to have served in the CEF
Wargraves in Lewis – shows the wargraves, and war-related private graves in Lewis cemeteries
Isle of Lewis War Memorials – shows the war memorials in Lewis and transcriptions
Roll of Honour – lists all those who served (and died) from Lewis
Lewismen from the 2nd Seaforths – lists those who served with the 2nd Seaforth with transcripts from the war diary of that regiment
Lewismen at HMS Timbertown – islanders interned at Groningen, Holland

Other islands
Harris War Memorial (WW1 and WW2)
Berneray to Vatersay Tribute (WW1 and WW2, Berneray, North Uist, Grimsay, Benbecula, South Uist, Eriskay and Barra)
Lyness Royal Naval Cemetery (pictures and information on all the casualties buried in that cemetery in Orkney)

Second World War
World War II casualties from Lewis

Reports from the Napier Commission
Transcriptions of the 1883 Napier Report
Napier Commission in the Outer Hebrides
Napier Commission in the Isle of Skye
Napier Commission in Orkney
Napier Commission in Shetland
Napier Commission in Sutherland
Napier Commission in Ross-shire [work in progress]

Lewis and Harris witnesses to the Napier Commission


Local history blog
Pentland Road

Personal blog
Atlantic Lines

He also contributes to the Western Isles War Graves (forum) and Western Isles War Memorials (forum)

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>1911 Census – Initial Overview of the Kerr (& Shaw) Islanders

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I thought that on this, the day that sees the release of the 1911 Census on ScotlandsPeople , I would begin by looking at some overall figures:
KERR DATA & (VERY!) BRIEF ANALYSIS
HARRIS 4849 people, 2238 Male, 2611 Female ie 53.8% female, 46.2% male
Harris 15 Male 5 Female 10
Harris – decreased from 18 (9 of each gender) to 15 ie by nearly 17%
There were 6 Kerr births between 1901 & 1911 inclusive & 6 deaths.
Further examination is required to explain the decrease.
LEWIS
Stornoway 17 Male 9 Female 8
Lochs 17 Male 9 Female 8
Lewis Total 34 Male 18 Female 16
Stornoway – increased from 11(6 male & 5 female) to 17 ie by over 50%
There were 3 Kerr births between 1901 & 1911 inclusive & 3 deaths.
Further examination is required to explain the increase.
Lewis – increased by 13 from 21 ie by 62%
(inc the Lochs population which increased from 9 to 17 ie by nearly 90%)
INVERNESS-SHIRE 59 – 27 M, 32 F
Inverness-shire – decreased by 1 from 60 ie under 2%
ROSS & CROMARTY 26 – 13 M, 13 F
Ross-shire – decreased by 11 from 37 ie by 30%
ARGYLL – increased by 7 from 196 ie by 4%.
SUTHERLAND – decreased by 17 from 159 ie by 11%
SHAW OVERVIEW
HARRIS – 61, 26 Male, 35 Female – decreased by 19 from 80 ie by 25%.
There were 11 Shaw births between 1901 & 1911 inclusive & 11 deaths.
Further examination is required to explain the increase.
LEWIS – 3, decrease by 5 from 8ie since by 68%
3 in each of Lochs & Stornoway, in 1901 these figures were 0 and 8 respectively.
Between 1901 & 1911 inclusive, 1 Shaw was born in Stornoway & 1 in Lochs & 1 died in Stornoway & 1 in Lochs.
Further examination is required to explain the overall decrease.
SUMMARY
It was pretty surprising that in each set that I have examined, the births & deaths balanced each-other out hence the observed changes must be due to the movement of people.
However, the figure that stands-out the loudest to me is that by 1911 there were only 5 males called Kerr left living on Harris.
Of these, the youngest was 9 and he was the only boy aged 0-14, 2 were aged 15-29, none were 30-44, 1 was 45-64 & the oldest was 68.
As for the 10 remaining females, the youngest was 16 and she was one of only 3 aged 15-29, 1 was aged 30-44, 2 were 45-64, 2 were 65-79 and the eldest pair were 80 and 82 years old.
Within a little over 60 years since my great, great grandfather Malcolm Kerr had first emigrated to Lewis (He considered his ‘Nationality’ to be ‘Harris’!), there were for the first time more people in Stornoway bearing the name Kerr (his descendants) than Kerrs left living on Harris…

>More on Family Names in the Western Isles

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I came upon an excellent & eloquent explanation of the usage of family names written by Blair MacAulay, Toronto, who is an authority on the genealogy of North Uist.
Here are the key points, to which I have added a few brief comments:  

In … the Outer Hebrides before about the year 1800 surnames did not exist!



A fact that simply cannot be over-emphasised…


People were known by their “sloinneadh” (i.e. their “handle” or name by which they were commonly known) that was a combination of one or more of the following: nickname, patronymic, occupational name and/or place of residence.
For example, the tailor Angus MacPherson might be known as “Angus Tailor”. More frequently the “sloinneadh” was the person’s patronymic (e.g. “Aonaghus Iain Domhnullach” (Angus John son of Donald) which was the patronymic of Angus John MacDonald of Knockline, the well-known North Uist genealogist born in 1900).
Another example would be “”Domhnull mac Alasdair ‘ic Raonuill” (Donald son of Alexander the son of Ronald) (in Gaelic “mac” means “son” and mhic, or abbreviated “’ic”, means “son of the son”.
Note in the foregoing examples that the surname is not used (or needed!) as everyone would know from the naming pattern the family to which such person belonged.



When in the early 19th C surnames became necessary for civil purposes most Highlanders simply adopted the surname of their Clan Chief, which in the case of North Uist was Lord MacDonald of Sleat (Skye).
This partly explains why some 70% of the population of North Uist today has the surname “MacDonald”.
He was their clan chief as they were his followers and resided on his lands and under the pre-1745 feudal system in Scotland were obligated to fight for him.
Thus notwithstanding their common surname, few MacDonalds from North Uist have any blood relationship to the MacDonald’s of Sleat, or indeed to others in Scotland with the surname “MacDonald”.
The predominate view, at least in North America, that every one in the Highlands belonged to a clan to which they were related by blood is accordingly a romantic myth.


A myth that, in part, came about with the Victorian reinvention of Highland Scotland. 


The following extract from “How The Scots Invented the Modern World”, by Arthur Herman, Crown Publishers, New York, 2001 at page 104 makes this point very clearly:

“The term clan, comes of course from the Gaelic clann, meaning “children”. It implied a kinship group of four or five generations, all claiming descent from a common ancestor. And clan chieftains encouraged their followers to believe that they were indeed bound together like family.
Men such as the Duke of Argyll of the Campbells or Lord Lovat of the Frasers routinely demanded a loyalty from their tenants not unlike that of children for a father. But it was entirely a fiction.
The average clan … was no more a family than is a Mafia “family”.
The only important blood ties were between the chieftain and his various caporegimes, the so-called tacksmen who collected his rents and bore the same name.
Below them were a large nondescript, and constantly changing population of tenants and peasants, who worked the land and owed the chieftain service in war and peacetime.
Whether they considered themselves Campbells or MacPhersons or MacKinnons was a matter of indifference, and no clan genealogist or bard, the seanachaidh, ever wasted breath keeping track of them. What mattered was that they were on clan land, and called it home.”
That may sound somewhat harsh to our modern ears, but it encapsulates the circumstances pertaining at the time.

It is another common misconception is that there is a distinction between a “Mc” and a “Mac” – say one family with the surname “McDonald” and another with the surname “MacDonald”. There is no distinction whatsoever. Both are attempts to translate the Gaelic “mhic” (meaning “son of”) into English. Thus “Iain mhic Iomhair” (John son of Iver) became “John MacIver”.

This non-distinction is still erroneously held to be true by many an Anglo-Saxon!


North Uist forenames are also unreliable. Until the end of the 19th C few in North Uist could speak, read and write English and certainly used only Gaelic in everyday life (they still do – but today are also completely fluent in English).
However, one of the results of the defeat of the Scots in 1745 at Culloden was that priests, ministers, and government officials in Scotland were forbidden to maintain any public record in Gaelic. Thus you frequently had a Census taker who only spoke English having to record information given to him by persons who spoke only Gaelic.


The attack upon Gaelic culture included every aspect of it, especially the language.


As there were no commonly accepted English equivalents of many Gaelic names, particularly in early periods, the result was that the Census taker “tried his best”, usually phonetically, to record a Gaelic name in English. Thus you can find the same person referred to by completely different English names in different records.


This is extremely important to understand for those attempting to research their own family history, and it didn’t stop with the peoples names. Placenames suffered this same mangling in their Anglicisation too.


Over time certain Gaelic names came to have an “accepted” English equivalent, often with no obvious connection to the Gaelic name. For example a person locally known in Gaelic as “Gilleasbuig Mac Dhomnull” would probably appear in the Census or in a register of marriages etc. as “Archibald MacDonald”. Thus an official record may contain reference to a person under a name that was completely different to the name that he was known by to his contemporaries.


Were I to travel back in time & present my (painstakingly recreated) family tree to my ancestors, they would probably wonder who on Earth I was referring to!


With many thanks to Blair MacAulay for permission to quote these extracts.

>The Southern Shaws

>I am descended from a Shaw of Srannda/Strond. The Farm of Strond was part of the Tack of Strond & Killegray* and from amongst the various families of Shaws from Skye at least one settled in Strond.
The holder of this tack in the18th and early 19th Centuries were Campbells and Mrs Ann Campbell was particularly noted not only for her care and consideration of those living on the land she rented but also for the developments that she brought to part of the South of Harris (as can be read elsewhere in this blog).

*The RCAHMS entry for Killegray House provides a little more information relating to that island.

 According to Bill Lawson, in his excellent guide ‘Harris Families and How to Trace Them’, the Shaws of Strond were descended from one particular line of those who had been Ground Officers for the Macleods on Skye. Whether or not my ancestor, Effie Shaw, was a daughter of this family or, perhaps, from one of the other branches on neighbouring Berneraigh & Pabbay I shall probably never know.
This doesn’t greatly trouble me for I am more interesting in attempting to understand the social history of the times in which my ancestors existed rather than being able to trace them back to some arbitrary point of origin. On that note, it is interesting to reflect upon this observation made more than 300 years ago:

Every isle differs from each other in their fancy of making plaids as to the stripes in breadth and colours. This humour is as different through the mainland of the Highlands, in so far that they who have seen those places are able at first view of a man’s plaid to guess the place of his residence.
‘A Description of the Western Isles of Scotland’ by Martin Martin, 1703, the text of which may be read here.

In other words, the colours & patterns worn distinguished which place you belonged to, not what family you were descended from. I would hate to be thought of as dissuading people from parting with their (much-needed) dollars from across the oceans to purchase ‘plaid’ according to the clan(s) that they consider themselves to be a part of, but for our predecessors in the Gaelic world such a notion would seem very strange indeed.  On a practical note, what would one do if the particular plant required to provide the dye needed for the family ‘tartan’ didn’t grow in the island you lived on? Martin’s observation demonstrates precisely what the answer to that hypothetical question was!

It is also worth mentioning that, at the time that Martin was making his tour, the notion of a family name would have been virtually unknown (and almost certainly unused) on the isles. A man would be very likely to be able to say that he was Angus son of Donald son of Malcolm son of John etc…but he was known as Angus son of Donald the Red Haired, or the Tailor, or some other feature that distinguished the father from the other Donald’s thereabouts. The first form is called patronymy, the second I call common sense!

These Shaw families (& coming from the mainland perhaps they had already adopted the ‘modern’ style and were using a family name by the time they reached the isles?) were never numerous on Harris and those of the South appear to have dispersed and then declined due to dilution as patrilineal descent replaced the previous patronymic practice. There certainly still are Shaws living in the South, and the churchyard at St Clements testifies to several Shaw interments, but I have been unable to link any of these, whether living or dead, to my own ancestry.

Emigration, whether by choice in earlier times or under duress due to the Clearances, clearly offers an alternative tack to be taken but, as the British Government did not keep records of those emigrating (those that exist are simply the manifests that vessels were required to keep of all souls on board) it it extremely difficult to accurately identify all the families that went abroad. It is possible to do so, and their are several professional genealogists who specialise in this particular field, but that is, perhaps, a subject for another time.

A few notes that may be helpful to those researching families in this part of the Western Isles (prompted by enquiries made elsewhere on the interweb):

‘Bermesay’ (as I have seen it transcribed) is the island of Berneraigh/Berneray which was part of the Parish of Harris. When Borve on Berneray was Cleared in 1851 those who did not immediately emigrate were settled in Direcleit & Ceann Debig on the shore of East Loch Tarbert in the Baighs/Bays of Harris so do not be surprised if a family that you are following suddenly appear there in the censuses of 1861 onwards.

The Parish of Kilmuir was the old name for what became the Parish of North Uist and thus this can create confusion as there is also the Parish of Kilmuir on Skye, and both of these were within the old county of Inverness-shire…

Ages – we spend most of the first two-decades of our lives wishing that we were older, and the remainder of out time wishing that we weren’t as old as we are! I have seen some alarming age-transformations across the censuses, and not all of them were women shaving a few years off here and there. In fact, sometimes one discovers an islander who clearly has physically aged considerably during the past decade and this is reflected in what I assume to be the Enumerator’s guesstimate of the persons age. If possible, always check the original document (or an electronic image of the document) as transcription, especially that done electronically rather than by human hand, is easily led astray.

Oh, and the Gaelic name Iain was usually ‘translated’ into the English name John but the distortions & contortions that took place when the registration of Births, Marriages & Deaths became compulsory in 1855 (not to mention the variations of spellings seen both there and in the Censuses) require the interrogator to adopt what might be termed a ‘fluid’ approach in their investigations, and names such as Ann can easily, perhaps at the choosing of the lady herself as time & fashions change, metamorphose into Anne or Annie.

Finally, the more that those researching island families pool their resources, share and collaborate, advise & assist each-other, the more complete the picture will become. I am relatively fortunate in having a very close cousin on Harris but even she, despite being a Hearach (Harris-born) herself, has been unable to progress our family tree further back into the past than our mutual origin in Srannda.

If you have family who were living on Harris or (but to a lesser extent) Lewis during the 19th Century then you might well find items of interest in the pages of this blog. I do not pretend to have all the answers, and certainly do not claim to be 100% accurate in my assertions, but am attempting to provide a resource that casts some light into some of the hidden history of Harris and her neighbours.

>My Five-Penny Worth

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On April 14th 1884 the Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland included a contribution called ‘What is a Pennyland? Or Ancient Valuation of Land in the Scottish Isles’
by Captain FWL Thomas RN, FSA Scot.
The first part of his conclusion reads:
‘At a very early period, probably from the time of the invasion of Harold Fairhair, the arable lands of the uthalmen…were for the support of the Earl’s government, assessed for skatt or tax.
The divisions of the arable lands of the former Celtic inhabitants, each called a dabach, were assessed to pay a Norwegian ounce of silver; from which circumstance each division so paying was called an Ounceland.
Each ounceland was, for the purpose of assessment, divided into eighteen parts, each paying 1/18th of an ounce of Norwegian silver, which was equal in weight to one English penny, from which each subdivision was called a Pennyland.
Neither ounce nor penny land was a measure of surface, but of produce.’
Which is how the townships of Fivepenny in Ness and Fivepenny Borve in Barvas came to be so-called.
Today, ‘Fivepenny Park’ ‘Fivepenny Park’ is the home of Ness Football Club, but whether their current collection of silverware would be sufficient to pay the tax or not, I couldn’t possibly say!

His Majesty’s Yacht Iolaire

 Links to sites & pages about the Iolaire Disaster – New Year’s Day 1919:

The Disaster
Stornoway Historical Society
Roll of Honour article from The Scotsman
The Sinking of HMY Iolaire – 1 January 1919
Iolaire 1919
Book
When I Heard The Bell – Book Review – The Scotsman
Historical Societies Page Links
Barvas and Brue Historical Society – Timeline
Ness Historical Society
North Tolsta Historical Society
Uig historical Society – An Iolaire Survivor
Audio Recordings
Angus Macleod Archive