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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