Starting a WW1 project for Melrose

For my two one-place studies, Coldingham and Melrose, I’ve decided to start a project researching soldiers from World War I that I can trace. This is quite difficult to do, because the soldier records are in many cases incomplete, many lost due to World War II bombing. But it’s also hard for both parishes because of the high populations. It’s unlikely, for example, for me to be able to draw up a list of all men of the right age range, and look for all of them in the records, one by one. Rather I will use resources like Ancestry to try to find soldiers who were recorded as living in the right places.

Both parishes have war memorials, and the lives and deaths of the men recorded on them have previously been researched by others (see “Melrose War Memorials” book available from the Borders Family History Society). I do not plan to replicate this work about the soldiers who died during the conflict. Instead I’m looking for all soldiers that I can find, living or dead, in the surviving army records, particularly those I can search from home online.

I will be preparing a list of the men I find for Melrose, and putting it in the one-place study website. This will be a slow ongoing process, and more information will be added as I find it. I will be using as my model for this list Alex Coles’s list of WW1 soldiers traced for Wing in Buckinghamshire, though I will probably aim, where possible, to put more information online in my basic list. And I would aim to keep copies of relevant records that I trace, including any detailed soldier service records, so they can be passed on to any descendants or other relatives of the soldiers who get in touch.

I would also welcome information from modern descendants who have known relatives from each place who served during WW1. Feel free to contact me about this on email at


Photograph of a large group of Melrose children in 1909

I collect old postcards of Melrose, and particularly like the photographic ones that show major events in the town in the past, such as this one.

I’ve just got hold of another one, showing a large group of children at Melrose on 25th March 1909. They are described as the principals and chorus of Kinderspiel “The Gipsies”.

I wonder if anyone can spot their relatives in there. My grandfather wasn’t born until the following year, but he had older cousins, on both sides of his family, who could be there. Click on the picture to see a larger version of it.

Melrose choir in 1909

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…

View original post 99 more words