Nicknames in 17th century Melrose

In my research in the 17th century regality court records of Melrose I found that nicknames were often used at Melrose to distinguish between people with the same name. These could take different forms e.g.

place names: Eister, Wester, Wynd, Pooll, Townheid, Wall, Peele, Nook, Croce

descriptive: Blind, Blak William, Mikle William, Ranter, Litle, Great, Stoupie, the Bender, Fair, Laird, Tutor, Page, Long, Back Sid, the Preist

genealogical: Jeanes John, Williams John, Hellens John, Long Andro’s sone

Often nicknames seem to have passed from parent to child, especially the place name ones. This can make it harder to rely on them for identification. In addition nicknames changed over time, including how they were recorded. For example two neighbours in dispute at the Melrose court were both John Bowar, both portioners of Eildon. One was ‘Eister’ and the other ‘Wester’ but by 1665 it looks likely that one had died with references now only to John Bowar.

I love these nicknames. They add such character to the people and stories, and are rarely recorded in traditional Scottish genealogical records. Unsurprisingly they seem to have been particularly commonly used for some of the more oft occurring surnames, probably needed to tell people apart in the record.

Similar nicknames have also been found elsewhere in Scotland, including at nearby Earlston around the same time (fortunately – and rather unusually – recorded in many parish register entries), and Arbroath in Angus.

New academic article about Melrose’s 17th century court

I’m pleased to say that the article based on my postgraduate Masters research into Melrose’s court is now newly published. It’s in the Journal of Scottish Historical Studies, and is currently the featured article, so can be read and downloaded freely by anyone without subscription. Enjoy! I had much fun doing this. I completed this research long ago, before doing my separate history PhD. It’s been a delight to revisit the work, and consider what else I can do with it.

17th century court officer Andrew Kennedy

For a second year running I’m taking part in the Society for One-Place Studies A to Z blogging challenge. We were each assigned a letter at random, and asked to write about someone whose name – surname or forename – begins with that letter. I got K and settled on 17th century court officer / sort of policeman Andrew Kennedy who pops up frequently in the Melrose regality court records. Enjoy the new blog post.

17th century court clerk Thomas Wilkieson

I’m a member of the Society for One-Place Studies, which supports people doing one-place studies like mine. This year I took part in their annual A to Z blogging challenge. My blog post, which is now live on their site, is for letter W, and about one of my favourite people from 17th century Melrose, regality court clerk Thomas Wilkieson. I hope to write more mini biographies of some of the fascinating characters I’ve encountered in the rich Melrose court records. More soon, hopefully! Meanwhile enjoy the new blog post.

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.

Studying Melrose hearth tax records for 1694

I’ve just put online my notes from the Melrose parish hearth tax records of 1694. I analysed these records in 2002, as part of my taught Masters postgraduate degree. I was using them to estimate the population of people in Melrose parish then, including a village-by-village breakdown.

Looking through the list of names a couple jumped out at me based on my extensive research into the local regality court records of preceding decades. The long-serving court clerk was still listed in the hearth tax, as was the Gattonside man sued in 1673 after an accused murderer he had acted as surety for escaped on horseback from Melrose jail.

I must study these tax records more closely, to see what other names I recognise from the huge numbers of people who were involved with the court. But this is an interesting start.