Monday 27 April 2015

Another Successful Genealogy Tour to Scotland Comes to an End

What a busy 10 days we have had! Although Friday was officially a "day off" from research, almost all of the participants did research. Some at ScotlandsPeople Centre, some in the Historical Reading Room upstairs (the National Archives). Others spent the day at the National Library of Scotland. Some in the Special Collections department, others pouring through the Manuscripts. 

Sunday, all of the research facilities were closed, forcing the participants to take a break and enjoy the beauty and history of this magnificent city. A day of R&R and sightseeing was much enjoyed and allowed people to re-charge their energies. 

In all, the participants have had six days of research as well as a day at the annual conference of the Scottish Association of Family History Societies. 

Eight participants have taken personalised ancestral tours with Ian Walker of Borders Journeys

Seven participants are staying for a week or two longer to enjoy some of the history and scenery beyond the Central Belt. And all of them are looking forward to their next trip to Scotland!

Sunday 26 April 2015

Mort Safes, Mort Houses and Watch Towers

Mum was a nurse in Edinburgh before emigrating to Canada. I grew up listening to stories of body snatchers, anatomists and the most infamous, Burke and Hare. As such, I find the signs of this rich past in Edinburgh's cemeteries to be quite fascinating. And, perhaps, oddly comforting, in that mum wasn't just making it all up to terrify the hell out of me.

The Anatomy Act granted permission to the anatomy department of the University of Edinburgh's Medical School to be allowed to use the bodies of criminals who had been hanged or otherwise executed for the purposes of learning about anatomy. It also allowed for the homeless who had no one claim their bodies, and who then became the property of the Council, to be given over to the anatomy department.

To prevent their loved ones from being disinterred, family members of the poorer of the city's populace would take turns sitting vigil at the graveside of their dearly departed for three to five days, thinking that after this length of time, the bodies would be of no value to the grave-robbers.

The more well-heeled would pay for mortsafes to keep their loved ones safely in the ground. These two are at Greyfriar's Cemetery in Edinburgh's Old Town:

Some cemeteries such as St Cuthbert's and New Calton have watch towers, where someone would sit guard through the night, which is when the bodysnatchers would be busy plying their trade. 

Another oddity in some of the older cemeteries in Scotland are Mort Houses. These buildings housed bodies when the ground was frozen until such a time as the grounds could be worked and the graves dug. 

Saturday 25 April 2015

The Canongate

The Canongate is an oft forgotten part of the Royal Mile, yet it is incredibly rich in history. The Canongate was its own burgh from the time of King David in 1143 until it was incorporated into the City of Edinburgh in 1856. In its heyday, the Canongate was a rather suppressed and depressed part of the city.

The Canongate received its name from the Cannons of nearby Holyrood Abbey. The Palace of Holyrood House is now part of the Canongate area, but until well after the Reformation, the Palace was its own Royalty, separate from the Canongate. 

 Holyrood Palace

Holyrood Abbey

Along the road, near the gate to the Palace, is Queen Mary's Bathhouse:

Following the Reformation, a new Kirk took over worship for the citizens of the Canongate. This continues to be the Kirk attended by the royal family when they are in residence at Holyrood Palace. 

 Canongate Kirk

Across from the Kirk is the Edinburgh Museum, housed in what was once Huntly House. The museum is free and loaded with historic gems. Well worth a visit. 

 Replica of the National Covenant

Some of the signatories to the National Covenant

 Badges carried by members of various clubs and societies in Edinburgh

 Greyfriar's Bobby's collar, paid for by the Lord Provost, William Chambers. 
Bobby now belongs to the City
Bobby's bowl and water cup

Continuing up toward the Castle, one comes across Panmure Close:

And the site of the original Lady Haig's Poppy Factory:

Further up the "Mile" is the End of the World Pub, so named as it was at the actual gate to the walled city of Edinburgh and the citizens of Edinburgh believed that the wall was, to all intents and purposes, the end of their world. 

The markings of the gate to the old wall

Friday 24 April 2015

Historic Edinburgh Tours - Greyfriar's Graveyard

On Wednesday night, we went on an optional evening tour with Historic Edinburgh Tours. These guys are fantastic and really make history come alive. We learned about graveyards, Edinburgh's past and Scotland's history. 


If you are in Edinburgh and looking for something a little less "touristy" to do I highly recommend a tour with Historic Edinburgh Tours. You won't be disappointed. The tour of the graveyard is not a ghost tour. It is an historical tour and really gives insight into the lives and times of the people who are buried in the graveyard. 

Thursday 23 April 2015

Deacon Brodie

William Brodie was a well respected Edinburgh businessman. He was deacon of a trades guild. He was a carpenter and a politician. As a cabinet maker, one of William's tasks was to install door locks. He used this to his sinister advantage. William had a bit of a gambling problem. To support this habit, he turned to criminal activity by night. He was a burglar who used his locksmithing skills to enter the homes of the gentry with whom he rubbed shoulders by day. 

Brodie was the basis for RL Stevenson's "Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde"

William was eventually caught and tried. He was hanged at the gallows outside the Edinburgh Tollgate Prison. 

He is buried at the Church of Ease.

Two Days of Research at the NLS

We have spent two very productive days at the NLS. Yesterday we were at the Maps building on Causewayside. It was fascinating to be able to see maps of the places where our ancestors lived and to be able to see what their communities looked like. The staff are incredibly enthusiastic which made the day. 

Today we were at the George IV Building. After a fantastic talk, we were able to take to the collections and shelves, newspapers and microfilms to see what we could uncover about our ancestors. 

The weather has been nothing short of glorious, so the walk to and from the George IV building has been warm and refreshing. Apparently it is snowing back in Ontario. 

Two Days of Research at the ScotlandsPeople Centre

We have had two really productive days at the ScotlandsPeople Centre. In addition to the Old Parish Registers (OPRs), Statutory Records (BMD) and Census Records, tour participants were able to view Kirk Session records and to pull books that are held in the library of the ScotlandsPeople Centre. 

Gaps were filled in, myths dispelled, questions answered and new information discovered. The best part for most participants was getting confirmation of the research that they had started in North America. 

Participants were also able to do research in the Historical Reading Room at the NRS and this was where many of the stories were fleshed out. 

We are looking forward to the rest of the week and the information we are able to uncover as we continue our Genealogy Research Tour in Scotland.

Wednesday 22 April 2015

William Chambers, Lord Provost of Edinburgh 1865-1869

William Chambers was a publisher in Edinburgh. He also served as Lord Provost of Edinburgh from 1865-1869. During his tenure, he was responsible for the restoration of St Giles Cathedral.

In 1867, a city regulation ordered that all unlicensed dogs be rounded up and destroyed. During this time, the wee dog that had been a loyal companion to John Gray, a local policeman, and who became a beloved stray of the city after the death of his master. 

The citizens were in an uproar that wee Bobby might meet his demise because he was unlicensed. William Chambers stepped in and saved the wee dog by purchasing his licence. 

Tuesday 21 April 2015

Five and Dime Tour to Grassmarket

Following Sunday evening's Meet and Greet for this year's tour participants, I offered to take those who wanted on a brief tour of what will be their neighbourhood for the next 10 days. I would show them where to get coffee (Starbucks), groceries (Sainsburys) an ATM (Bank of Scotland) and where to find a post office and laundromat. 

The first part of the tour revisited the walk down to Victoria Terrace. But from there, we went down Victoria Street to the Bow Well, the Grassmarket Gallows, the Last Drop and Maggie Dickson's. Most of the group left there in search of a meal. 

The rest of us wandered back up Candlemaker Row to George IV Bridge and back to Bobby's statue. 

We then went along Lauriston Place to see the magnificence of the very imposing entrance to Heriot School. 

We wandered past Heriot's to the Vennel where we were able to watch the sun set on the resplendent Edinburgh Castle. 

It was time for a wee dram (or pint) to warm us up before retiring for the night.