Thursday, 26 October 2017

Feeling Stuck? Create a Research Plan

When you come to what you think is a dead end, or a "brick wall" in your Scottish research, step back, and take a better look at the documents. Scottish documents contain a wealth of information and can make researching so much easier when you really take a look at what the documents are telling you.

Use a spreadsheet or create a chart with five columns:


  • Make a list of all of the documents you already have so that you don't waste time searching for them again.
  • Think about what you already know from the documents you have.
  • What questions are still unanswered?
  • What do you still need to know?
  • Looking at the documents you have and knowing what you still need to find out, what are the best documents for you to get that might give you the answers you need?
  • Next do some online research to determine where you are likely to find the records that will help you fill in the gaps or chip away at your brick walls (newspapers, land records, church records)
  • Move forward by starting to look through documents you may have missed in the past. If you can’t access the records online and can’t plan a trip, reach out to a local genealogist who can work on your behalf to access the records and the information you need to help break through your stagnation and move your research forward.  

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

The Covenanter Memorial Deerness

The Battle of Bothwell Brig (Bridge) was fought on June 22, 1679. The battle was part of the Covenanter Uprisings. There were about 6000 fighting on the side of the covenanters and 5000 government troops. While most on the side of the covenanters scattered, there are reports that up to 700 men died while another 1200 were captured and marched to Edinburgh. They were to be imprisoned at the Castle but they outnumbered the space available, so were placed in a makeshift prison on the south end of the Kirkyard at Greyfriar’s Kirk. 

Covenanter prison at Greyfriars

This prison was open to the elements and overseen by the notorious George “Bluidy” MacKenzie. Most were beaten, many were starved. Some 150 died from a combination of the abuse, starvation and exposure to the elements. They are buried in a mass grave in the Kirkyard and are honoured by a memorial known as the Martyr’s Memorial.

Some of the prisoners were freed after making submission. The 250 who remained imprisoned in Greyfriars were destined to be transported to Barbados. They were loaded onto the ship “Crown of London” at Leith to be sent to the colonies where they were to be indentured slaves on the plantations. The ship headed north, with it’s first scheduled stop to be Orkney. As is typical of the area in the late fall the winds were gale force and caused the ship to run aground just a few miles from Deerness. The chain of her anchor snapped. While the captain and crew managed to escape, the prisoners were not as lucky, since they had been in the hold. The captain had ordered the hatches battened down to ensure that the slaves were still on the ship when it landed in the colonies. He had planned to make some money by selling them to the plantation owners. One of the crew did manage to hack through the hatches before he left the ship, allowing about 45-50 men to escape. Some of the escaped men were eventually recaptured and later transported to New Jersey.  

The remaining 200 men drowned when the ship went down off the coast of Deerness. Bodies washed ashore for many days and weeks. 

There is a memorial at the edge of the cliff to mark the spot where the covenanter martyrs died tragically. Once again, we pulled up to the car park and found ourselves faced with a well worn footpath. While windy, the winds weren't gale force this time. The walk to the monument and back is 2 kms (a mile and a quarter) and primarily passes through a farmer's field. The monument is visible early on, but never seems to get closer. On the horizon was the sea, and what I thought was mist turned out to be some serious rain on its way to shore. 

apparently tourists aren't a common sight for this cow

Finally, we made it to the monument. The winds had picked up and the drizzle had started. The sky looked ominous, so in the end it was a quick whip round the monument, taking as many photos as time would allow before we had to run for cover. Cover? Oh, the car we had left in the car park! Go, go, go!

The monument itself is quite impressive at some 30 feet tall. One side of the monument holds a stone which reads: 
“Erected by public subscription to the memory of 200 Covenanters who were taken prisoner at Bothwell Bridge, and sentenced to transportation for life, but who perished by shipwreck near this spot on 10th December 1679”

Monday, 23 October 2017

Badbea Clearance Village

As we left Helmsdale and headed to Thurso to catch the ferry to Orkney, we saw the sign for Badbea Clearance Village. Always keen to learn more about the Clearances, and to see the destruction first hand, I made a quick left into the car park. Through the turnstile, we came upon a well beaten path which we began to follow.

Badbea (pronounced Bad-Bay or Badbay) is perched on steep cliffs above the North Sea and is on the east coast of Caithness, just inside the boundary separating Caithness from Sutherland. The village was originally settled by people who had been cleared from their crofts in Berriedale and Ousdale. As the sign post says “Please be careful. The people are gone, but the steep slopes, high cliffs and strong winds remain”. They weren’t kidding.

The plots of land that the crofters were given, were not arable, rubble laden and at a perilous angle to the sea. At one time, there were 80 families recorded as living here but by 1904, most had left. I’m sure thankful doesn’t even come close to expressing their relief at moving to safer ground. The former longhouses have all fallen into ruin but the foundations of many are still quite visible if you know what you are looking for. There are a number of drystone walls outlining former pastures, sheep enclosures and the village itself.

The ground is wet and marshy. There is a natural spring that runs through the former village that once provided drinking water for the villagers but which now only sops the land. The crofters were unable to farm anything more than a few vegetables for their own consumption. The men were encouraged to work as fishermen in the herring industry, with boats leaving Helmsdale and Dunbeath, several miles from the village.

Like any fisherwife, the women of the village not only tended the land while the men were away, they also kept house and raised children and livestock. When the men returned with their catch, the women worked to clean the fish and ready them for sale at local markets. The women of Badbea were in a precarious situation when faced with outside work in that they ran the risk of children and farm animals being swept into the sea by the constant winds. To keep everyone rooted, the children and animals were tethered to one of the many rocks around the village!

Our walk back to the carpark was all the more strenuous as we battled the near gale-force off-shore winds! For most of the walk, we were one step forward, two steps back and had to hunker forward to keep planted on the land. It was an endurance test at best and one I cannot imagine having to live with on a daily basis!

By the end of the 1800s, most people had left the village for a better life. Their mark on the Scottish highlands and the history of the Clearances live on in the ruins of the Badbea Clearance Village.