Surnames per place derived from baptisms

Melrose parish registers, like Scottish parish registers in general, include addresses within the parish when children were baptised. This can be used to work out exactly where ancestors lived, but it’s also possible to trace which surnames were resident in specific areas, in an era long before the 19th century census returns.

Based on this principle I’ve started analysing surnames recorded for families bringing children to be baptised in Melrose in specific decades. The surnames recorded are those of the fathers, and only noted where an address inside the parish is given. So far I’ve analysed the baptisms for 1700-1709, 1750-1759 and 1800-1809.

The results are sorted by place name within the parish, and list the surnames associated with each place, at least as far as the baptism evidence goes. As I say on the relevant page

They aren’t complete lists of surnames in these places, being restricted to parents (usually fathers) having children baptised in the period. But it is hoped that gathering this information is useful, showing changing surname patterns over time, at least in part, as well as changing place names occupied in the parish.

For more details see the appropriate page in my Melrose one-place study website.

Index of ~9000 court participants at Melrose, 1657-1676

I have just put online a detailed index of almost 9000 participants in Melrose regality court between 1657 and 1676. I studied this local court’s records for my MPhil dissertation, and built a database from them. In the process I recorded details of people participating in the court: pursuers who went to court with complaints, defenders who disputed their claims, and other mentioned people, mostly people local to the regality. The regality included all of Melrose parish, and stretched north almost to Lauder, west almost to Galashiels, east almost to Earlston, southeast to Lessudden (St Boswells), and south nearly to Bowden. The population of the regality then was probably about 2500, but many people appeared before the court multiple times, disputing things with neighbours, business contacts, or relatives. The court included some criminal cases, but was primarily a civil court, for disputes between individuals.

There is also a person index in the regality court transcript books, but this online index is more detailed, including information where recorded about occupations, addresses, and any relatives. Due to its length and size the index is split into three sections. Fields in the table are standardised version of name, name as recorded, occupation/designation, address, any additional notes (often relatives are mentioned), the case ID as used in my database, and type of reference i.e. whether pursuer, defender, or another mention. Entries in the table are sorted by standardised version of name then case ID. The case ID can be used to look up the full case details, and details of how to do this, including links to digitised versions of the court transcript books, are given in my web pages.

These court records are a wonderful resource, giving a valuable glimpse into late 17th century life in Melrose and surrounding areas. Unfortunately they largely predate detailed useful parish registers, so it may not be possible to reliably link up later families to these earlier ones. But they are still well worth studying, and hopefully this new detailed person index will provide a new way of accessing them.

To see the new person index see here.

1831 census of Melrose book – a really good resource

Census returns that genealogists use focus on the 1841 onwards period. Before then it was not a requirement for census enumerators to compile a list of names, and although some were compiled, usually to help the enumerators count the local population, they were normally thrown away after the basic numbers had been worked out and recorded. But a few survive, and one of these is the 1831 census for Melrose parish. The original records are among the kirk session records for Melrose.

Graham and Emma Maxwell have transcribed and indexed this 1831 Melrose census, and published it in book form. It’s an A4 format book, with 29 pages of main content as well as an index of names at the back. Note it also includes Lindean (part of Galashiels parish).

An important thing to realise is that it isn’t a list of all names in the parish, but rather a list of heads of households, along with other information about their households. So for example it tells you whether the individual families are involved in trade or agriculture, how many males and females there are, how many males above 20 years involved in what work areas, numbers of male and female servants, and numbers of children under 10. This information is presented in the book in tabular form which works well.

So, for example, picking an example from my extended Usher family tree, this 1831 census reveals that Thomas Usher hawker in Newstead had 3 males and 2 females in his household, the 3 males above 20 years, and no servants. Or for another example, my 6xg-uncle John Blaikie skinner in Darlingshaugh had 2 males and 3 females in his household, 1 of the males (him) involved in manufacturing, and another in trade. At this time John Blaikie was not married (he would marry in 1833) and his children were still to be born. By contrast Mr Wilson at Lindean had 11 people in his household: 3 males, 8 females, including 5 female servants, and 2 children under 10 years of age.

Such examples are useful, but more so if you can link up the somewhat sparse details with more known information about families, for example children recorded in baptism registers etc. And because the census lists the families by place you can quickly get an indication of population spread, occupational patterns, and distribution of different trades, which makes the book of potential interest to other historians than genealogists alone.

I would strongly recommend that anyone with Melrose connections from this time period buys a copy of this book. If you want to check first to see if your ancestors are likely to be recorded in this census Graham and Emma have provided an online index of surnames.

Bible presented to Catherine Dodds in 1919

Here is a blog post about my family’s long-standing tradition of being church officers (beadles) for Melrose parish, and the bible that was presented to my great-granddad’s sister after she acted as church officer while he was away fighting in World War One.

Viv's Ancestry Blog

In my maternal side of the family, through the Dodds side, there is a long tradition of ancestors being beadles or church officers for Melrose parish. The earliest was Alexander Dodds (1816-1877), the first of the family to settle in Melrose. He was succeeded by his son Alexander Burnett Dodds (1836-1895). After that I think his eldest son Alexander Dodds (1866-1935) was beadle for a while – we have a photo with lots of Doddses in it which seems to show an older man of this generation holding the abbey keys. And then his younger brother John Dodds (1877-1945) was beadle for many years, and later John’s son Thomas Cavers Hall Dodds (1910-1981), my granddad.

But when John Dodds was away at war in World War One, having enlisted with the King’s Own Scottish Borderers, his eldest sister Catherine Mary Helen Dodds (1868-1929) acted as beadle. We know this because…

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List of 402 masters/apprentices at Melrose 1743-1804

I’ve just put online a list of 201 pairs (402 names) of masters and apprentices in Melrose parish, mostly from the late 18th century. See the list page for information about these records. The list is chronological, allowing changing trade patterns over time to be studied. For example these records reveal that Melrose had a clockmaker in the 1770s.

Transcribing 17th century poem about corrupt court official and conventicle hunter

Just blogged about a 17th century poem I’m transcribing about a corrupt court official and conventicle hunter in 1680s Melrose.

Viv's Academic Blog

Before I discovered the joys of book history and researching historic reading habits, which I studied for a PhD, I did a part-time taught postgraduate Masters (an MPhil) in Cultural and Urban Histories 1650-1850. This was taught at Dundee University, mainly by Professor Charles McKean, ably supported by other members of staff, and was superb. The closing part of the Masters saw students do a dissertation on a topic of their choice. And I chose to study the local court records of Melrose in Roxburghshire between 1657 and 1706. These had been transcribed and published, and so were easy to work with. I built up a very large database of cases, pursuers and defenders. There were thousands of cases heard at the Melrose court in the period, and huge numbers of the (small) local population involved with the court. It was a very unusual type of local court, dating from…

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Unearthing a stone relic near Melrose in 1864

Another newspaper report re the ancestors, this time concerning a possibly pre-Reformation church arch unearthed near Melrose, suspected to be from either Melrose Abbey or Newstead.

Viv's Ancestry Blog

Southern Reporter, 1864 February 4


On Monday afternoon, while Mr Alex. Dodds, Abbey Gate, was superintending the draining operations which are now going on upon the fair-ground at Bowden Moor, he discovered a piece of carved sandstone which had been thrown up by the workmen, and which he has now in his possession. It has evidently been the groin of an arch, with the carving in wonderful preservation, and probably belonged either to the Abbey of Melrose, or the one of Red Abbeystead at Newstead. From the situation in which it was found, it is supposed that it may have been embedded in the soil since the era of the Reformation, or even an earlier date.

Again this involved my great-great-great grandfather Alexander Dodds (1816-1877), church officer or beadle for Melrose, as well as burgh officer and baron officer.

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Ancestors recording meteorological observations in 19th century

I found out tonight that two of my direct ancestors – a father and son – recorded weather conditions in 19th century Melrose. Here’s the blog post which I wrote about it on my own dedicated ancestry/genealogy blog.

Viv's Ancestry Blog

Thanks to the British Newspaper Archive digitising many decades of Southern Reporter issues, I’ve just found lots of references to ancestors in the Borders. And they include some very unexpected ones, like those described in this blog post, where two generations of Dodds ancestors at Abbey Gate in Melrose were recording the weather conditions, with the results printed in the newspaper.

The first references come from meteorological observations made by Alexander Dodds (1816-1877). As well as being church officer, or beadle, for Melrose parish, he was burgh officer and baron officer, and took a wage directly from the Duke of Buccleuch. His weather observations were reported as below:

Southern Reporter, 1873 January 9


The following return of the rainfall for the past year, compared with that of the previous year, is furnished by Mr Alexander Dodds, Abbey Gate. The elevation of Melrose above the sea level is…

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