Tuesday 31 October 2023

A Month of Scottish Gravestones - The Dance of Death


We end the month of Scottish graveyards with a post about a grave slab that has long fascinated me. It is situated not in a graveyard, but outside the crypt in the basement of Rosslyn Chapel. The gravestone depicts the Dance of Death.  

Barely visible on the left side of the slab are the words Omnia mors aequat which translates to “Death equals all things”. Standing on the far left is a crowned skeleton holding a scythe (the large, handled blade). The scythe is a symbol used by ancient grave keepers to maintain the lands between life and the afterlife. It is also a symbol of death. The crowned skeleton is referred to as the King of Terrors (or the King of Death). We would generally refer to him as the Grim Reaper.

Next, we see a naked pauper who is raised up to be the same height as the King who is sitting on his throne. This shows us that death is the great equalizer. Death is coming for us all, regardless of our status in life.

November is National Family Stories month. Join me as I post about how you can discover, write and preserve the stories in your family history. 

Monday 30 October 2023

A Month of Scottish Gravestones - Kirkoswald


This headstone is for William and Margaret Linent. The date at the top reads 1687. The headstone is curiously broken into boxes or compartments, with the faces of Margaret and William at the top, Then we have the millstone on the left below William. It may represent his occupation. It is not clear what the two items to the left of the millstone are. If William was a miller, perhaps the long finger-like object was a rolling pin or the pin of the rind that held the millwheels together. Across the bottom are typical symbols for death: a skull, sod cutter and hourglass. 

Sunday 29 October 2023

A Month of Scottish Gravestones - Deeply Regretted

While Scottish gravestones can be an absolute goldmine of genealogical information and may also give us an insight into the personality of the deceased, there are some words that we certainly would never expect to find today.

One such example is this stone from the Old Kincardine Kirkyard. It has not particularly stood the test of time but the bottom of it reads:

Thus had enclosed the ashes of his Deeply Deplored Relations” 

The use of the phrase deeply deplored today would be taken as him not having a particular fondness for his relations. However in 1813, it would have meant that they were in deep mourning – having deeply deplored his loss. 

And a wonderful example of the deceased being Deeply Regretted (meaning their death was deeply felt) is this gravestone in Old Calton Cemetery in Edinburgh for the Rev'd Thomas Thomson

It reads:

Sacred to the memory of the Rev’d Thomas Thomson

Minister of the Relief Congregation

St James Place, Edinburgh 

After a long illness which was borne 

with Exemplary patience, 

He Departed this Life on the 16th of April


In the 62d of his age 

and 40th of his Ministry,

Deeply Regretted

By all his Friends and in particular by

His congregation

Who in token of their respect 

for the Piety and Worth of his Character

 All of their grateful recollection

 Of his Fidelity and Tenderness as a 


Erected this Monument As a Mournful Tribute of Affection

 to his Virtues.


Also sacred to the memory of 

his widow

Ann Drummond Smith

Born 13th July 1779. Died 8th May 1848.

And their second son

The Rev’d Thomas Drummond Thomson

Born 29th June 1814. Died 25th July 1847

And then the gravestone gives the parameters of the lair:

Size of Ground 8 Feet by 10




Saturday 28 October 2023

A Month of Scottish Gravestones - The Crookit Family 1750

We have looked at this stone before when we talked about symbolism. It shows a mother, father, perhaps mother-in-law along with 10 children. 

The inscription reads: 

Heir lyes the corps of Jennet Ferguson,

 spouse to William Bachop 

who departed this life November 27, 1750

 Aged 50 and one daughter.

Jennet, William and the daughter who have died are all clothed while the living children appear to be naked. And all appear to be boys. The inscription suggests that only the daughter has died, suggesting that the boys were alive at the time of Jennet's death. 

Locally, the headstone was known as the "Crookit Family" given that they all look somewhat deformed. However, it is more likely that the crude workmanship is more the cause of the individuals looking deformed and not that the family actually had a genetic disorder. 

Friday 27 October 2023

A Month of Scottish Gravestones - St Cuthbert's


St Cuthbert’s has long held a fascination for me. I remember my first time on a hop on hop off bus and seeing the watch tower looming. I had heard stories about the body snatchers and this was proof that the stories were true.

The graveyard is at the west end of Princes’ Street Gardens and has been known as the kirk below the castle.

According to oral tradition, the great missionary, Cuthbert, preached from this spot in the 7th century and established the very first church here.


Thursday 26 October 2023

A Month of Scottish Gravestones - Old Calton Cemetery, Edinburgh

 At one time, Calton was its own separate village at the east end of what is now Princes Street, and at the base of Calton Hill. In 1718, the Society of the Incorporated Trades of Calton bought a half acre of ground for use as a burial ground for the village. A century later, a new road was to be built which would run through the centre of the cemetery. It was decided that a new cemetery should be built where bodies from part of the cemetery affected by the road could be relocated. 

Like many of the cemeteries in Edinburgh, Old Calton is the final resting place for many of the city’s important citizens.

Wednesday 25 October 2023

A Month of Scottish Gravestones - New Calton Cemetery Edinburgh


New Calton Cemetery was founded in 1817 as both an overspill and replacement to Old Calton Burial Ground, which lies half a mile to the west. More importantly as a place to reinter the graves that were being disturbed with the building of Waterloo Place. The cemetery didn’t open to the public until 1820, three years after the founding. It took this length of time to reinter the bodies that had been moved from the Old Calton Cemetery.

Like St Cuthbert's, New Calton has a watch tower. 

The cemetery is on a slope and gives wonderful views of Holyrood Palace and Arthur’s Seat. It is also holds the burial place of the Stevenson family, engineers and ancestors of Robert Louis Stevenson.


Tuesday 24 October 2023

A Month of Scottish Gravestones - Canongate Kirkyard


The Canongate was once a separate parish from Edinburgh. The new Canongate Kirk was founded in 1688 and completed in 1691. Being the closest church to Holyrood Palace, the church now serves as the ‘Royal Kirk’.  Because of the boundaries at one point, Edinburgh Castle was included as part of the Canongate. As a result, there is an area within the kirkyard where soldiers from soldiers who served at the Castle are buried.

As well, Clarinda is buried within as is poet Robert Ferguson. In fact there is a statue to Ferguson outside of the kirk yard. 

Monday 23 October 2023

A Month of Scottish Gravestones - Edinburgh Graveyards

Edinburgh's Old Town is my very favourite place to wander. It is so full of history. With Edinburgh having been the seat of royalty, so much of Scotland's history played out on the Royal Mile and the closes that run from it. 

As well as wandering the streets and visiting the museums, I love to visit the graveyards that are in the Old Town. This week we will look at five of the Old Town cemeteries that are within an easy walk of one another.

First up is Greyfriar's Kirkyard. The kirkyard sits on the site of a former Franciscan friary. Franciscans wear grey cloaks, thus the name Greyfriar's. In 1562, it was recognized that the kirkyard at St Giles was full to overflowing, Mary, Queen of Scots granted the land that once housed the friary to be used as a graveyard. The church came after the cemetery, being established in 1620. It has seen continuous worship since and has been the witness to some of Scotland’s history, including the reading of the National Coventant, subsequently being a prison for covenanters, and perhaps best known for the story of wee Bobby, the watchman’s loyal dug.  

Some major players in Scottish history are buried within the kirkyard including:

George Heriot who was a jeweler and who left his fortune to form a boys school. The school stands next to the kirkyard.

George MacKenzie, King’s Advocate and ruthless jailor

Architect William Adam

Publisher, Printer and Bookseller William Creech

Robert Sibbald, Royal Physician and founder of the College of Physicians

Sunday 22 October 2023

A Month of Scottish Gravestones - Queen of the Gypsies

Corlinda Lee was the daughter of Charles Lee and Union Chilcott.  The Lees were a very prominent Gypsy family. In 1856, at the age of 25, Corlinda married George Smith. Like the Lees, the Smiths were also a very important Gypsy family. The marriage of Corlinda and George merged two very important gypsy dynasties, making the couple the King and Queen of the Gypsies. 

George was, in fact, head of 10 different gypsy families. He was also a bit of an entrepreneur and decided to use the country’s intrigue about gypsies to the benefit of his families. He and the families toured Great Britain, holding “shows” where the public could pay to see inside the caravans, or have their fortunes read. One such customer was none other than Queen Victoria, who is purported to have had her fortune read by Corlinda herself. Of course, this set about a frenzy for all of the socialites to want to follow suit, much to George’s benefit. 

Corlinda died while in Glasgow and is buried at the Glasgow Necropolis. Corlinda was 68 years old at the time of her death. George had a gravestone erected in her honour. At one time, the stone had a bronze relief in the likeness of Corlinda, but as with many bronze insets, it has been lost to time (likely stolen). However, a faint silhouette still remains. One of the fascinating things about her tombstone is the number of coins that have been left by people who have come to pay their respects.  


Saturday 21 October 2023

A Month of Scottish Gravestones - Clarinda


Agnes McLehose (Nancy) had been married and had borne 4 children, one of whom died in infancy. Shortly before the birth of her fourth child, young Nancy (as she was known) left her husband due to his cruelty and she moved back into the home of her father, surgeon Andrew Craig. After her father’s death, Nancy moved from Glasgow to Edinburgh where she lived in a flat on Pottersrow. Nancy had heard that Robert Burns was coming to Edinburgh in 1797 and she made sure that she was invited to attend. 

Burns was enchanted by Nancy and happily accepted her invitation to visit her home. However, he before he could visit, he fell from a coach. During his recovery, he began writing with Agnes. The two wrote back and forth, somewhat clandestinely. He called her Clarinda and she referred to him as Sylvander.  

Forty letters, written during his convalescence express a romantic longing and inspired Burns' poem, 'Ae fond kiss' 

"Clarinda" is buried in the kirkyard of Canongate Kirk in Edinburgh and there is a display of the letter writing in an exhibit in the Burns Museum in Alloway. As well, there is a silhouette of “Clarinda” in the museum as well.

Friday 20 October 2023

A Month of Scottish Gravestones - David Hume


As I entered the Old Calton Cemetery, I saw in the corner a rather overbearing structure that I took to be the guard tower. After wandering around the cemetery, I made my way over to the structure only to realize it wasn’t a guard tower at all, but was, instead a tomb or mausoleum. The interred is Philosopher, essayist and one of the founders of the Scottish Enlightenment, David Hume. 

Hume was born in Edinburgh but primarily raised in Berwickshire. Hume’s father died when Hume was just 2, leaving his mother to raise three children. Seeing how precocious young David was, his mother, Catherine, sent him off the Edinburgh University with his older brother. He was 10 or 12 at the time. While at University, young David studied Greek, Latin, and History. David was not a fan of university, believing that the professors could not teach him anything that he couldn’t learn through reading books. He did not graduate. 

During his life, Hume served as Tutor, Librarian at the Advocates Library, and Private Secretary to the Ambassador to France.  As a well-known philosopher, his aim was to found the 'Science of Man' - the study of human nature by scientific means. 

Hume died of intestinal cancer in 1776. He has requested that his tomb be a simple roman tomb with only his name and dates of birth and death inscribed. He wanted the “rest left to posterity.” Hume’s tomb stands on the southwest corner of the Old Calton Cemetery. It was built by architect Robert Adam.




Thursday 19 October 2023

A Month of Scottish Gravestones - George Buchanan


George Buchanan was a scholar of Latin. He taught in both France and Spain and while in Spain, was imprisoned by the Inquisition. He spent two years of his incarceration translating the Psalms of David into Latin. 

Buchanan was the first to apply the term 'Celtic' to his native Gaelic culture. In 1561, he returned to Scotland where he tutored Mary, Queen of Scots. However, following the murder of Mary's husband, Lord Darnley, Buchanan denounced her.

In 1566 Buchanan was appointed Principal of St Leonard's College, St Andrews and the following year, he was appointed as the first lay moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. 

In 1570, Buchanan became tutor to the young James VI and was entrusted with giving the young king a protestant education, which was intended to turn him against his mother. Buchanan was also appointed as Keeper of the Privy Seal of Scotland. 

Late in his life, he published two of his most influential works: The Powers of the Crown in Scotland and A History of Scottish Matters. Buchanan died in September 1582 and is buried in Greyfriar’s Kirkyard.

Wednesday 18 October 2023

A Month of Scottish Gravestones - Genealogical Gold

Scottish gravestones can often be a genealogist's goldmine. Many of them contain generations of information or, in the case of a fairly prominent person in the community, they might have a eulogy of sorts carved onto them. 

Here are just a few examples of what can be found when wandering through old kirkyards or cemeteries in Scotland:

What genealogical information have you been able to uncover by reading the gravestones in Scottish cemeteries?

Tuesday 17 October 2023

A Month of Scottish Gravestones - Cathedral Churches

In the Catholic faith, a Cathedral is a church that seats a Bishop. The Church of Scotland is Presbyterian and therefore has no Bishops. However, any church that was a cathedral prior to the reformation is likely still known as a Cathedral, even though it is not a Catholic church. Here are a few examples:

St Giles Cathedral, Edinburgh

St Giles was first built in 1124 by King David I. It has a very rich history, having been John Knox's parish church during the Reformation. In 1385, the church suffered a fire but was soon rebuilt. St Giles stands proudly on the Royal Mile (High Street) and is the main protestant church of Scotland in the capital. The church has been the home of Sunday worship for 900 years. It is also home to the esteemed Thistle Chapel, home to the most noble Order of the Thistle, a largely chivalrous group, with membership being bestowed by the monarch. Inside there are 16 stalls, one for each member of the Order of the Thistle. Each stall is identified by an heraldic coat of arms of the member who is to be seated within. 

Glasgow Cathedral, Glasgow

Known as Glasgow Cathedral, Glasgow High Kirk, St Kentigerns, or St Mungos, the site was a place of worship from about 550.The current church was built Glasgow Cathedral was built in the late 1200s, and managed to survive destruction during the reformation 1560 and is
 Scotland’s largest place of worship. 

The tomb of St Mungo, dating from the 7th century, lies in the lower hall of the church. 

St Andrew's Cathedral, St Andrews, Fife

St Rule’s Church was likely built around 1130 and is considered to be the first place of worship in Scotland for the newly arrived Augustinian canons. The cathedral was begun in 1160 and work continued over the next 150 years. When the cathedral was finally dedicated in 1318 – in the presence of Robert the Bruce – it was by far the largest church in Scotland. The church fell into ruin after the Reformation. Even in ruin, it is spectacular. 

Dornoch Cathedral, Dornoch

From 1222, Gilbert de Moravia, first Bishop of Dornoch, a relation of the Earls of Moray, built Dornoch Cathedral at his own expense. In 1570, it was set on fire and Gilbert's tomb was desecrated during a clan feud between the Murrays of Dornoch, and the Mackays of Strathnaver. 

There is a sarcophogus which holds the remains of Sir Gilbert

The Cathedral has since been restored. It has seen two of its ministers become moderators of the Church of Scotland

St Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall, Orkney

St Magnus was built in 1137 by the Norse Earl, Rongnvold Kolsson. He was instructed by his father to build a grand "minster" and dedicate it to his uncle, the Earl Magnus. 

The Orkney Isles were under control of the Norse until they were taken over by King James III of Scotland in 1468. The reformers failed to damage this Cathedral in the 1560s, so it was converted to a Church of Scotland soon after. 

The remains of Rongnvold and those of St Magnus are interred in two separate pillars within the church. 

Also within the church is a carving in memory of Dr John Rae. He is buried in the kirkyard.