Wednesday, June 5, 2024

Join us as author Nancy Jardine shares valuable tips for Family Research #Ancestry #HistoricalFiction @nansjar @cathiedunn

Novice Threads

Silver Sampler Series, Book #1

by Nancy Jardine

A thirst for education.  Shattered dreams. Fragile relations.

1840s Scotland

Being sent to school is the most exhilarating thing that’s ever happened to young Margaret Law. She sharpens her newly-acquired education on her best friend, Jessie Morison, till Jessie is spirited away to become a scullery maid. But how can Margaret fulfil her visions of becoming a schoolteacher when her parents’ tailoring and drapery business suddenly collapses and she must find a job?

Salvation from domestic drudgery – or never-ending seamstress work – comes via Jessie whose employer seeks a tutor for his daughter. Free time exploring Edinburgh with Jessie is great fun, but increasing tension in the household claws at Margaret’s nerves. 

Margaret also worries about her parents' estrangement, and the mystery of Jessie's unknown father.

When tragedy befalls the household in Edinburgh, Margaret must forge a new pathway for the future – though where will that be?

Family Research

Ah! Wouldn’t it be lovely to do family research and find that you are descended from the great and worthy of society, or to someone historically recognisable from your home country? My DNA test indicates I’m 74% Scottish, 24% Irish and 2% Scandinavian. My paternal grandfather was from Ireland so that percentage definitely bears out. Since I am born and bred in Scotland, there has to be a good chance I’m related to somebody famous from Scotland like Sir William Wallace, or King Robert The Bruce – don’t you think?

I’ve seen many people claim to be descended from The Bruce of the 1200s but finding actual documented evidence on paper for ancestors, during those eight hundred years in between then and now, is incredibly difficult. Personally, I’m a little bit tied up with my ancestors of the middle of the 1800s and what I’ve uncovered so far is already quite sufficient to give me plenty of ideas for writing my Silver Sampler three-book series! Who knows what I may do in the future?

Which resources do I find useful for ancestry research?

There are excellent Scottish Birth, Marriage, and Death records which officially began around 1856. These include the name of the person involved in the event plus the date; the time and the place. What’s particularly useful for ‘researching backwards’ are the entries on a Marriage record which detail the maiden name of the woman; the occupations of both people being married; and their age at the time of the marriage ceremony. The name and occupation of the parents for each person being married is also included in a Scottish record (win/win!). The inclusion of witnesses to the marriage might lead to more relatives being uncovered. The person registering a birth or death may be a ‘traceable’ close relative, and the reason for a death is also entered. This can be very useful at a time of epidemics in a particular locale e.g. if a child has died of infantile cholera, then other relatives who lived in the vicinity may also have died of cholera round that time. Finding details of twins dying on the same day can be heartbreaking!

Prior to 1856, Parish Churches in Scotland recorded a birth with the name of the child, the mother and father (if known and /or acknowledged), and the date of the birth. Unfortunately, not all of the Old Parish records still exist, or are available for researching online, which is why attesting to being a descendant of someone famous can be grunt-work and very laborious.

If a child wasn’t legitimate, it may not have been recorded at all in any formal way. Dead ends are quite common in ancestry research! And so are complex family relationships. An illegitimate child might have been brought up by grandparents, or an aunt, or a cousin and declared to belong to the person who was raising the child, though no official adoption was entered into.

Another complex scenario is when a first, or even a second, child in a family has legitimate status on their Birth record (after 1856) but subsequent children created by the same two parents are recorded as illegitimate. How can that happen? I’ve no numerical evidence to know how common this scenario might have been, but if a male or female entered into an official documented marriage ceremony when already married to someone else, then they were committing bigamy (whether by deceit or unknowingly). If the authorities had no knowledge of this breaking-of-the-law till after the births of the first children then that’s one reason for the subsequent children being officially illegitimate. The perpetrator of the bigamy (probably the male though not necessarily) may have been apprehended by the law, may have been tried in court, and they possibly served some kind of jail sentence. Children of such marriages may not have known their parents were ‘living in sin’ according to the Victorian morality of the time. Delve deeply enough and you may find that other complicated family situations occurred. Secrets were kept, and I’m sure some official documentation was ‘mislaid’ on purpose to avoid exposure of the law breaking.

Not all countries made such detailed personal recordings as Scotland did after 1856, which is a shame as it would definitely make it easier for the hobby ancestry researcher. Though I claim to be Scottish through and through, at least one of my direct relatives on my paternal side was born in England, and I also have that Irish connection. The English record for my relative gives almost no details at all in 1879. Many Irish Parish records held in Dublin were destroyed by fire during the early 1920s, again an inconvenience to me but these things did happen.

Census records can be useful, as can Valuation Rolls which are especially useful for some rented city properties. Valuation Rolls can indicate the location of a householder though not the whole family, as the case in a Census record when they are present during the Census-taking. Searching a Valuation Roll can mean identifying a place of domicile for an individual in between the official Census recordings (which are only once-a-decade).

Newspaper entries of a targeted era can provide valuable information regarding life events, some of these very enlightening. Whether or not the newspaper reporter meant to be funny is debatable, but some provincial newspaper articles have made me chuckle heartily.

A Pigot’s Directory was a list which indicated the landowners; business proprietors; shopkeepers; publicans; church personnel and teachers, in a particular district. Those lists can corroborate if, for example, a relative ran a shop in a particular village, or town, and was in residence there during a particular year. Unfortunately, those UK records don’t exist for every year you might want to research. However, if for example, a father is recorded on a marriage certificate as a draper, and lived in a particular town, he may be cross-referenced via a Pigot’s Directory.

If you need to pinpoint a surrounding environment where someone lived then I’ve found that the National Library of Scotland Map records are immensely useful.

However, I don’t believe you can be absolutely sure of any single fact unless it’s verified from more than one source. Sometimes names are entered wrongly, especially in the earliest records. The person writing down the information, e.g. a church warden, wrote down what he heard. That doesn’t mean that the recording person was illiterate, it was more that the record was almost a phonetic one. In the 1700s for example, a person entering into a marriage might know their name but not how it was spelled by their parent. Jardine is my married name and when researching my husband’s genealogy, I found various spellings of Jardine on official documentation. There’s Jardin; Jarden; Jordan; Du Jardin, and a few more besides.

Sometimes a birth was registered by a father who was well into the celebrating/ inebriated phase and a middle name was wrongly added. How the name Neerie can morph into Nairn is a bit of a mystery, but it did happen in my maternal side. And with ancestry, I find that one mystery solved leads to many more to be solved!

As with all historical research, ancestry is all about checking and then doing more checking! I adore it though it’s a terrible time-suck and it can eat into my writing time! But what great ideas can come from it. Try reading The Silver Sampler Series and guess which themes are prompts from family history research.

This title is available to read on #KindleUnlimited.

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Nancy Jardine

Nancy writes historical and contemporary fiction. 1st Century Roman Britain is the setting of her Celtic Fervour Series. Victorian and Edwardian history has sneaked into two of her ancestry-based contemporary mysteries, and her current Silver Sampler Series is set in Victorian Scotland.

Her novels have achieved Finalist status in UK book competitions (People's Book Prize; Scottish Association of Writers) and have received prestigious Online Book Awards.

Published with Ocelot Press, writing memberships include – Historical Novel Society; Romantic Novelists Association; Scottish Association of Writers; Federation of Writers Scotland; Alliance of Independent Authors.

Connect with Nancy:

Website • Facebook • Bluesky • Instagram • Twitter


  1. Thank you for featuring Novice Threads (and me) on the blog today. It's lovely to make a visit and I think you can see from the above post that I adore researching - family or otherwise!

    1. Thank you for your visit, Nancy. Such an informative post. The detail about the baby twins is heartbreaking. Such records really bring the dangers women faced home.

      I also enjoy going down the family research rabbit hole, and I don't tend to emerge until the middle of the night! :-)