Tuesday 31 December 2013


Much has been made of the revival of the custom called handfasting, perhaps too much. It is often repeated that this handfasting is for a year and a day. However, historically, handfasting tended to take place in outer regions where a minister might not be readily available.

In this circumstance, handfasting was used as a means of temporary betrothal until a minister could make his way to the area to perform the actual religious ceremony.  

The literary source for the "year and a day" originally comes from Sir Walter Scott. A year and a day was the period that a couple were to have been married in order for a spouse to have any claim of inheritable property in the event of the death of the other spouse.  

If, prior to the year and a day, either party chose to leave the "marriage", the relationship was considered null as was any future claim to inheritance. Any children who had been brought forth prior to the annulment were still considered lawful offspring of both parents. Further, neither partner could be prevented from seeking marriage to another person once the handfasting was dissolved. 

In a handfasting ceremony, the hands of both the bride and the groom are joined just as we see in modern marriage ceremonies today. The person officiating at the ceremony would then wrap the clasped hands in the end of his stole to symbolize the trinity of marriage; man and woman joined by God. This symbolic binding together in marriage later evolved into a the practice of wrapping the clasped hands with a cord or an embroidered cloth.  

The couple were then considered to be officially bound together and could live as man and wife. Once the minister made his way to the parish or area where the couple resided, then an official church ceremony would take place, sealing the marriage.

Happy Hogmanay!

Hogmanay is the Scottish celebration of the New Year. For nearly 400 years, Christmas in Scotlandwas not celebrated. The reason for this stems from the Protestant Reformation. The Church of Scotland, which is Presbyterian, felt that Christmas was by and large a Catholic celebration and as such was frowned upon. To all intents and purposes, Christmas was a regular day. People went to work and carried on about their business in everyday fashion. However, New Years Day was a public holiday and New Years Eve was, and still is, a major celebration. One church recorded, “It is ordinary among some Plebians in the South of Scotland, to go about from door to door upon New Year`s Eve, crying Hagmane." ~Scotch Presbyterian Eloquence, 1693.

The history behind both the celebration of and the name Hogmanay is up for debate. However, many feel that the celebration is carried on from Norse traditions which celebrated the arrival of the Winter Solstice. The fact that this coincides with New Years Eve came about with the adoption of the Gregorian calendar in the fall of 1752.

Hogmanay is steeped in tradition and ritual. Many Scots will take the time during the day on December 31 to clean the house and pay off all debts prior to the “ringing of the bells” at midnight. This ritual was known as redding (getting ready for the New Year). The reason for this was to clear out the remnants of the old year and welcome in a young, New Year with a clean slate. 

A few branches of the Rowan tree would be put above the door to bring luck. Inside was mistletoe to prevent illness to those who lived within. Pieces of holly placed around the house were thought to keep out mischievous fairies. And finally, pieces of hazel were gathered and placed around the home to protect the house and all who lived in it. Then all the doors of the home would be opened to bring in fresh air. Once this final piece of the ritual was completed, the house was then considered to be ready for the New Year.

Immediately after midnight, it is traditional to sing "For Auld Lang Syne", in a circle of friends whose linked arms are crossed over one another as the clock strikes midnight for New Year's Day: 

"Should auld acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot and auld lang syne
For auld lang syne, my dear, for auld lang syne,
We'll take a cup o kindness yet, for auld lang syne."
Which translates to:

“Should old acquaintances be forgotten
And never be remembered?
Should old acquaintances be forgotten
and days long ago”.

Perhaps the most important and revered Hogmanay custom is the practice of 'first-footing' which dates back to the Viking days. This involves the first person to cross the threshold once the New Year bells have been rung. Superstition states that the “first footer” should be a tall male with dark hair. The darker the man's complexion the better, since no one wanted a Viking (raider) turning up on their doorstep - that could only mean trouble! A dark complected man represented luck for the rest of the year. In addition, the first-footer needs to enter the home carrying salt, coal, a coin, shortbread, whisky, and black bun. These gifts represent goodness and abundance for the New Year. The Coal for heat/warmth, the coin for financial prosperity, salt for flavour, shortbread for food and whiskey for good cheer. These gifts are then to be shared with the other guests so that the wishes for a good and prosperous year can then be spread around.

The gift of black bun (a rich fruit cake) harks back to the 1800s with the celebration of a winter festival called Up Helly Aa. Although Up Helly Aa is a festival of fire, and is still of prime importance in Shetland, the tradition of the fruit cake stems from the custom that the person getting the piece of fruit cake containing either a pea or a bean would then become the king or queen of the Up Helly Aa festivities.

Many of the current traditions still taking place in Scotlandto this day are centered around fire, and are a throw back to the fire festivals. In addition to Shetland’s Up Helly Aa, Edinburgh hosts a fire torch procession through the town from St Giles Cathedral on the Royal Mile, through the town and on up to Calton Hill. And in Stonehaven there is the fireball-swinging where giant fireballs made from rags doused in paraffin, swung on poles are paraded through the town's streets. These fire festivals date back to pre-Christian customs linked to the Winter Solstice and the fireballs signify the power of the sun to purify the world by consuming evil spirits.

The traditions live on even today. The gifts are still presented by the first footers, although not necessarily to the extent that they once were. But most of all, the new year is rung in with a good old-fashioned Scots welcome and hospitality. And each and every one is wished
“A guid New Year to ane an` a` and mony may ye see!”

Thursday 26 December 2013

FREE Access to

Also as part of Start Your Family History Week, is offering free access to records until Dec 29, 2013.

30 Free Credits From FindMyPast

Today is the start of Family History Week. And to kick the week off, FindMyPast is offering 30 free pay-as-you-go credits. 

You will need to register for an account, or sign into an already existing one, Next, click "subscribe" at the top right of the screen. On the subscription page, there is a yellow bar on the left side of the screen. Here, about the middle, you will see a box where you can enter a promo code. Enter XMAS13 and hit "apply"

The offer of the free credits is available until midnight January 2.

Enjoy the finds!

Thursday 19 December 2013

Index of Doctors in Scotland During WWI

The College of Physicians have made available the transcriptions of reports submitted by doctors at the outbreak of WWI. All doctors were required to register with the  Scottish Medical Service Emergency Committee. Those registration records have been transcribed and the transcriptions can be viewed at:

The information provided:

Name of practitioner
Address of practitioner

Rank in Army if applicable

Sometimes there will be a reason why the physician was unfit to practice in the army and other times there will be a listing of his qualifications.