This website outlines what I know of the ancestors of my children. Most of the information comes from public records — birth, death and marriage registrations (BDMs), and UK census records from 1841 to 1921. There are only a very few other written records, and anything additional to that provided by the records comes from family oral tradition and reference to historical knowledge of the times. Since both sides of this family tree are predominantly Scottish in origin (or were migrants to and from Scotland), most of the information was sourced from ScotlandsPeople, the online database for the National Records of Scotland. English and US records are usually found at Ancestry.com, while German records are chiefly from The Latter Day Saint’s (LDS) FamilySearch website. A number of Lithuanian BDMs were sourced at the the Lietuvos Valstybės Istorijos Archyvas (Lithuanian National History Archives), while Australian records were obtained from state-based government records offices (mainly Queensland).

This story is not, and cannot be, complete; many records simply do not exist, and those that do often contain scribal errors and/or indecipherable text. In the latter case, if we’re lucky, additional research can sometimes unearth the correct information. For instance, an unreadable father’s name on a birth entry might be legible on a sibling’s record, or a poorly scrawled place name revealed by trawling old ordinance survey and historical maps.

Recording the data

The entire dataset for this family study has been recorded in Reunion, a genealogy (family tree) application by LeisterPro www.leisterpro.com) for Apple Macintosh computers and Apple iPads. This software is acknowledged as one of the best available, and it allows not only the entry of names, dates and places, but has extensive facilities for entering customised notes, facts, sources, pictures, and even audio/visual content. The entire archive, excluding living persons, has also been uploaded via a GEDCOM file to Ancestry.com, MyHeritage, and the LDS FamilySearch websites.

When a record has been found, the information is duplicated in a standardised text format within customised Reunion notes, a source reference written, and the specific data entered in the relevant fields within the software. It has always been my habit to transcribe virtually all the information found in a record, including (if available) witnesses, minister, informant, and side notes. Where a document references more than one person (e.g. marriage certificates and census records), the full notes are appended to all the associated family cards.

Where possible, the images of original documents have been downloaded and edited (if needed) in Adobe Photoshop to straighten them, improve the clarity of the text by removing background noise, and cropping out unwanted artefacts. Each image is then annotated with the relevant source information (sometimes also translations) and stored on my hard drive in PNG format (Portable Network Graphics). This lossless format is also best for transparencies, and is recommended by the Australian National Library as the safest and least degradable format for the long-term storage of digital images. All images are backed up both locally and in the Cloud (Dropbox). An ongoing project is to append the document images to the relevant people in both Reunion and the Ancestry.com trees.

In addition to the above, I have created a look-alike facsimile of most records for direct ancestors in spreadsheet form, and mostly grouped these in family couples (one couple per sheet). This serves a number of purposes: (i) it provides a useful translation for records where the handwriting is difficult to interpret; (ii) it creates the opportunity to append explanatory notes, pop-up memos, and corrections; (iii) it presents a visual chronology of a person’s whole life, something that is hard to replicate using traditional pedigree charts; and (iv) it can include supporting information (e.g. a record of known children, age calculators, and extended family records to help explain relationships). These ‘facsimiles’ are created in Apple Numbers, as this software has excellent formatting tools and allows multiple layouts on a single sheet. These spreadsheets can be exported to PDF.

Old parochial records

Broadly speaking, there are two kinds of records: old parish records (OPRs) and statutory records — and the difference can be vast. Before 1855 in the United Kingdom, marriages and births were recorded by the local parish church, and this usually entailed just a few handwritten words in a book, often illegibly scrawled. These parish records can often be woefully inadequate for genealogists. For instance, many churches only kept baptismal records that did not mention the actual birth date, and it is not uncommon for the mother’s maiden name to be left out entirely. In Scotland, women could legally use their maiden names after marriage — so, thankfully, this problem is partially lessened for our Scottish-orientated family.

The old parish records for marriages in the UK almost universally suffer from a particular failure: they rarely mention the bride and groom’s parents’ names. In all our family records, I have only one Scottish OPR that gave a father’s name — but nothing for the other three parents! The OPRs from Lithuania are much better in this regard. The entries for UK births and marriages could be as few as a half-dozen words, and sometimes a few flowery sentences. Here are some examples of birth notices:

July 23 | Allan & Ann McLean had their lawl. daur. Christina baptized

Walter Littlejohn in Backhill of Whitecross had a Son born of his wife Anne Milne on the 9th of February 1818, baptized on the 24th and named John, before Witnesses James Mark in Broadsea, and James Bain in Backhill of Whitecross

… and for marriages:

John McKerrow in this parish and Jean Hodge in parish of Auchinleck gave in their Names for proclamation of Banns on Friday the 2nd day of September & were accordingly proclaimed on the three immediately following Sabbaths and no objections being offered were married on Monday the 12th Day of September 1796.

Augt. 10 | Robert Brown, Weaver, and Janet Millar both in Beith

As you can see, these offer lean pickings for the genealogist, and this often leaves a record ‘unreliable’, even if the time and place and names look right. The researcher must consider that, in earlier times, a locality in a rural area could have several people with identical names and of the same age, as most families relentlessly recycled parents’ and grandparents’ names as part of a naming tradition that lingers on till the present day: and, back then, families were invariably very large, so everyone had aunts/uncles and cousins with identical names!

However, the Lithuanian Catholic parish records are an exception to the above. These are very detailed with only two drawbacks: (i) many were destroyed by war, particularly during WW2; and (ii) they are written in Polish, Russian or Latin, and must be translated by an expert. Here’s an example of an 1886 Lithuanian marriage record (with both Julian and Gregorian calendar dates):

This marriage occurred in Vladislavov on 16th/28th of September 1886, at 11 am. In presence of witnesses, residents of Lauckaimis village, Juozapas Grigaitis, 46 years old plot-holder, and Juozapas Dekeras, 25 years old son of a farmer, the religious marriage was concluded between Pranciškus Simanavičius, 23 years old, born in Kataučizna village and resides in Slibinai village, illegitimate son of already deceased Ona Simanavičiūtė, and Petronėlė Melnikaitytė, 21 year old, born in Sakalupėnai palivarkas and resides in Lauckaimis village, daughter of plot-holders from Lauckaimis village Simonas and Ona née Vidrinskaitė Melnikaitis. Three banns were called before the marriage in Vladislavov church—on 17th/29th of August, 24th of August/4th of September, 31st of August/12th of September. The new-weds announced that no marriage agreement between them was concluded. The religious marriage ceremony was conducted by the priest Saliamonas Goliakas.

A world of difference, you would agree! Of course, from 1855, Scottish and English statutory records were offering similar detail, but only occasional parish records before this time provided anything but threadbare information.

However, as sparse as the parish birth and marriage records seem to be, they were positively bountiful when compared to OPR deaths. Before 1855, it was rare to record deaths in Scotland or England. A few parishes kept brief burial lists, most of which have not survived, and some recorded fees for the hire of mortcloths to drape over coffins (and, thereby, a death is ‘implied’). For our family, I have found only a small handful OPR burial entries in Scotland and England. This one for 1840 in the Parish of Neilson, Renfrewshire, was brief indeed:

March 10 | Thomas Barr Mossneuck aged

… and this one from 1792 in Old Cumnock, Ayrshire, was only marginally better:

March 25 | James Ferguson in the village  |     | 2 | 6.3

In neither case is there a cause of death, a mention of the widow, or an age given — even where the the sexton wrote “aged”!  The figures with the second example probably represent the cost of the funeral: 2/6¾d (two shillings, sixpence and three farthings). A notable exception to the above were the records for Robyn’s Hardman and Frankland families who, throughout the 19th century, lived next door to St Leonards Church in Middleton, Lancashire — most of the baptism, marriage and burial records for these families was well kept, and has survived. Elsewhere, death was not news in those days. Contrast the above, however, with this translation of an 1896 death in Lithuania:

This death occurred in Vladislavov on 9th/21st of June, 1896 at 3 pm. Personally appeared Jonas Benokraitis, 31 year old, and Pranciškus Vosylius, 32 years old, both plot-holders from Lauckaimis village, and stated that on 8th/20th of June at 10 pm in Lauckaimis village Pranciškus Šugžda, one week old son of residents of Lauckaimis village plot-holder Jonas and his legal wife Petronėlė née Melnikaitytė Šugžda, passed away. This decree was announced to the audience and signed for illiterates by the priest Goliakas.

Statutory records

From 1855, civil registration replaced the previous Established Church (Church of Scotland or England) parish system in the UK. From this time, much more information was recorded. Interestingly, the 1855 death certificate included more particulars than from 1856 onwards; for instance, it recorded a deceased person’s children (living and dead), burial details, and place of birth. By 1860, some of this had disappeared because of the difficulty of maintaining the records, but they continued to record: name, age, sex and occupation of the deceased; when and where the person died (and time); father’s name and occupation; mother’s maiden name; whether the parents were deceased; cause of death and medical attendant; and the informant’s name and relationship to the deceased.

Birth certificates from 1855 usually recorded the father’s name and occupation, mother’s maiden name, the place of birth, sex of the child, and named the informant (not always a parent). Marriage certificates were better, recording: where and when the marriage took place; the rites used (i.e. what church, if any); the bride and groom’s names, places of residence, and occupations; fathers’ names and occupations; mothers’ maiden names; whether the parents were deceased; the name of any minister presiding; and the names of two witnesses.

Census records

Although some form of population census had been taken every 10 years in the UK from 1801, only the ones from 1841 onward are of interest to researchers, and these are only accessible up to 1921 because, in the United Kingdom, they cannot be released to the public for 100 years after the date they are taken. Sadly, Australian census records are destroyed at some time after census date, and are never released to the public. This means that important information is lost to us. In the USA, federal census records are available for our family for 1920, 1930, 1940 and 1950, but are only relevant to a small number of our McKay and Šugžda relatives.

The census records in the UK generally added more details at each event. The 1841 census is quite sparse, giving only a general location, person’s name, age, occupation (if any), and noted whether the person was born in that county or not. It could also record whether someone was born in England or Ireland, or were ‘Foreign’. One of the worst features of the 1841 census was the way enumerators rounded down the ages of persons 15 years and over to the nearest five years; hence, a given age of 28 would be recorded as 25, one of 53 as 50, and so on. If a person lied about their age, this, combined with the rounding down, could severely distort the actual age. However, enumerators did not always adhere to the ‘rounding down’, so another layer of uncertainty was introduced. Generally speaking, it is wise not to put much store on adult ages from the 1841 census.

By 1851, however, an improved census included: a better record of the location; better grouping of household members; the ‘head’ of the household and other occupant’s relationship to that person; the given age of each person (people still lied, of course); whether occupants were married, single or widowed; each person’s occupation (if any); and the parish and county of birth of the dwellers. There was also a column to record whether the person was ‘blind’ and/or ‘deaf-and-dumb’.

Generally, the census form remained the same through to 1901 with just minor additions. In 1861, columns were added for the number of children in a household attending school, and to record how many rooms had one or more windows. Alarmingly, in 1871, the ‘blind and deaf’ column was expanded to include ‘imbeciles or idiots’ and ‘lunatics’, and the 1891 census recorded whether a person was an ‘employer’, was ‘employed’, or ‘working on own account’. The 1901 form compressed the information for employers, workers and the self-employed into a single column, but added a new column to enquire if the person was ‘working from home’. This year also asked whether the person spoke only ‘Gaelic’, or ‘Gaelic and English’ (our family have none recorded, but those who came from Mull and Islay would have been native speakers of Gaelic), and added ‘feeble-minded’ to the ‘imbecile’ column. My goodness.

The first significant change to the data being collected came in 1911 when the record became a two-page spread. In addition to most of the previous information, married women were asked for the ‘duration’ of their marriage, the number of ‘children born alive’, and the number of children ‘still living’. A column was added to record a worker’s ‘industry or service’, and another to record the person’s ‘nationality if born in a foreign country’. You could still, however, be a blind, deaf and dumb lunatic, or a feeble-minded idiot. I tremble to think what my parents might have said about me! The 1921 census was quite similar to the previous one, but asked if dependant children’s parents were alive or dead (WW1 would have inspired this, no doubt), the name of the company a person worked for, and a check-box to record the number of dependant children in the household.

File organisation

Our family ‘record’ is not just a single data base but, rather, a very large collection of several document types. The main data base, of course, is the Reunion family file — but there are also original certificates, downloaded copies of hundreds of birth, death, marriage and census entries, military and police service records, photographs, and reproductions of diaries, letters and memoirs. There are also spreadsheet facsimiles of many records (organised into family ‘couples’), along with supporting indexes and lists of sources.

All of the above is supported by a series of purpose-drawn maps to record the locations of most places found in the family record — some of these are nation-wide maps; others are detailed maps of specific counties, towns or parishes. Additionally, there are reproductions of articles of historical note, as well as tracts on topics like language and genealogy. Most of these can be found on this website.

All original documents and photographs have been scanned and stored on hard drive (with local and Cloud back-ups) and, along with the downloaded records from the national/state BDM registries, are assembled in a series of folders that reflect our four main family groups: Craig/Brown, McKay/Šugžda, Schroder/Edwards and Galt/Ferguson.