Book Review: Down and Out in Scotland researching ancestral crisis by Chris Paton

Down and Out in Scotland: Researching Ancestral Crisis by Chris Paton

Down and Out in Scotland researching ancestral crisis. By Chris Paton. Published by UnlockThePast Publications, PO Box 119, St Agnes SA 5097, Australia. . AUS $16.50. Available as an UnlockThePast e-book, AUS $7.95. Available in Canada from Global Genealogy  CAN $18.50; in the US from Maias Books $18.50 and in the UK from My History  ₤7.  2015. 56 pp. Illustrations, Index. Softcover.

Chris Paton’s experience as a diversified Scottish genealogical researcher comes through in this book about the down and out in Scotland. Many of our Scottish ancestors at one time or another fell on hard times, at which point society may have worked for them or against them depending upon the situation. In most cases someone was there to record the event and its consequences. It is the recording of these events that can break down the brick walls, or at minimum provide social context for how an ancestor was living or dying. Not every possible situation is addressed in the book, but many are and they will stimulate you to thinking about what else may survive.

In each of the six parts to the book the goal is to highlight some of the areas where records may have been generated. Part one examines family events and relationships focusing on: illegitimacy; foundlings, orphans and adoption; marriage, bigamy and divorce; homosexuality; and death. Part two looks at law and order outlining the many jurisdictions involved and where their records may be found, which includes: the Kirk; the Crown; franchise and burgh courts; criminal prosecution; murder; additional courts; police and prison records; transportation; and execution. Part three explores poverty, for which in Scotland there were distinctions between the ‘deserving poor’ and the ‘undeserving poor’, showing how they are different under the Old and New Poor laws and the records they created. Part four addresses debt, an issue for which it was easy for any of our ancestors to succumb no matter what levels of society, and this section especially seems to have its own vocabulary and sources, all worth exploring. Part five looks at medical problems, examining in particular: hospital records; asylums; suicide; and accidents. The final section entitled them and us, explores the periods in Scottish history when the aspirations of the people did not match those of the state or its many agencies, invariably generating hardship. The periods covered include: the Covenanters and the Killing Time; the Jacobite Rebellions; the expulsion of the Gael (Highland Clearances); and the struggle to vote. The book concludes with a brief bibliography and an index.

This is definitely not a book to begin your Scottish research with. It assumes you have done your basic research and you want to go further, into more depth, and explore the troubled lives of your Scottish ancestors. It will help you understand how Scottish society worked, what records were created, may have survived, and may have been indexed and how to access transcripts or the originals. There is much in this volume that I have not seen in other Scottish guide or reference books, so is highly recommended for those wanting new avenues to explore.

Chris Paton will be speaking with me on the upcoming July 2015 UnlockThePast Cruise to the Baltic seaports.

Here are links to some of Chris Paton’s other books that I have reviewed on this blog.

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