Book Review: How to Read Scottish Buildings by Daniel MacCannell.

How to Read Scottish Buildings. By Daniel MacCannell. Published by Birlinn Ltd., West Newington House, 10 Newington Road, Edinburgh EH9 1QS, UK. £9.99. US Distributor: CasemateIPM 1950 Lawrence Road, Havertown PA 19083. $14.99. 2015, reprinted with corrections 2017. 224 pp. Illustrations, index. Softcover.

This is a practical book, sized to fit in one’s pocket or purse, unlike many books on architecture. I wish I’d had it with me on my recent trip to Scotland when I was taking photographs of many buildings because I would have been able to take better photographs of many of the features mentioned in the book. In the meantime, I can use the book to more accurately analyze the photographs I have. This is where researchers will benefit when examining family photographs that include buildings.

This is not a book about the famous buildings: cathedrals, palaces or royal castles, which are only mentioned in passing. It is a guide to the curious, attractive, sometimes even beautiful old Scottish buildings for which there are no plaques, no websites, no costumed guides or colorful pamphlets or ‘ancient monument’ designations. The book “is intended to provide travelers and residents with an impartial, brief, clearly illustrated guide that allows them to place Scottish buildings and groups of buildings with regard to their ages, styles, influences and functions, as well as the messages that their builders, owners and occupants intended to convey” (p.9). In this it succeeds. It will help you determine if you are looking at an outstanding, typical or inferior example of a building feature, a style, or a period building. The book is designed to teach a deductive approach that can be applied equally well to Scottish buildings in any setting, in any region, or originating in any  time period. The author acknowledges that there may be regional variations, and some are touched upon, but the overall principles apply everywhere.  

Mr. MacCannell divides Scottish architecture into six style periods, which are explained and illustrated. The six style periods are: Style before 1540 – Middle Ages into the Renaissance; Style 1540-1660 – Baronial glory days and the overthrow of the church; Style 1660-1750 – de-fortification, symmetry and the emergence of architecture as a profession; Style 1750-1840 – Pan British Neo-Classical style consolidated, amid increasing scale and the first stirrings of ‘retro’; Style 1840-1920 – ‘retro’, diversity, mechanization and unparalleled prosperity; Style after 1920 – ‘retro’ perfected, Art Deco, Brutalism and green architecture.

The following section examines the cross-period issues that may create problems for the observer, but may, with some knowledge and understanding, aid in narrowing down dates, such as: dated stones; arms; marks of quality that transcend periods; symmetry and the notion of ‘Georgian style’; ownership; and how to read a house built in multiple periods.

The next section looks at the individual external features of a building starting at the roof, and working down looking at windows, walls, doors and all their multiple variations. You will understand what to look for and how to distinguish between original and ‘retro’ versions of features after reading this section.

The book concludes with a table, designed for quick onsite estimation of time period. It looks at the observable features and describes what to look for in each period, knowing that some features go across multiple styles. The style periods go across the table and the features described like the buildings start at the top and work down. The table is not a summary of the prior section but contains significant information not mentioned elsewhere.

This is a practical book well worth looking at by anyone interested in Scottish architecture and the everyday buildings in which our ancestors lived. Users will come away with better understanding of how designs changed over time.

Unlock The Past 8th Genealogy Cruise to the Baltic Seaports

Saturday 11 July 2015 to Saturday 25 July 2015 Baltic Cruise
8th Unlock The Past Genealogy cruise from Southampton to the Baltic Seaports 11-25 July 2015.

Unlock The Past Cruise to the Baltic Seaports is scheduled and space is filling up. If you are interested check it out on the UnLock The Past website. I recently gave 24 different lectures, in three cities and I promoted the cruise at those venues.  Since returning I have had further inquiries so I thought it best to post a fresh reminder of where to find information and summarize the trip – some may say a trip of a lifetime – and you get to hear me again 🙂  This is the companies 8th Genealogy Cruise – for 14 nights from Saturday 11 July 2015 to Saturday 25 July sailing from Southampton England to the Baltic Seaports aboard the Celebrity Eclipse, operated by Celebrity Cruises.

The key speakers are Paul Milner (myself, just in case you came here via a search engine and you missed who’s blog you are reading); Cyndi Ingle of Cyndi’s List fame ( from the United States; Carol Baxter, the History Detective, a great history writer from Australia ( ; and Chris Paton from Scotland who writes British GENES, a must-read blog for keeping up-to-date on the news from the genealogy world in the British Isles ( Other confirmed speakers include Rosemary and Eric Kopittke, Helen Smith, and Shauna Hicks from Australia; Daniel Horowitz from Israel; Dr. Janet Few, Caroline Gurney and Jane Taubman from England; and Carol Becker from the United States. The presentations in the program are still being worked out but you can see the outline. No matter your interests it will be a great conference and you will get to hear some of the best speakers in the world and have opportunities to learn from one another.

This cruise will offer over 100 topics offered in 50 sessions; special interest groups; Research Help Zone times offering one-on-one and small group opportunities with the experts; opportunities to purchase Unlock The Past and author publications; with visits to some of the world’s great cities along the way. There is also an additional signup bonus for those singing up by November 10 – see website for details. Please also note that much of the cabin block assigned for this conference is selling out fast, so if you are interested make contact soon.

From Southampton the cruise will sail to: Zeebrugge (Brussels) Belgium; Warnemunde, Germany; Muuga (Tallinn) Estonia; St. Petersburg, Russia; Helsinki, Finland; Stockholm, Sweden; Copenhagen, Denmark; and returning to Southampton.

To book the cruise or for more information check out Unlock The Past site at . If the schedule for this genealogy cruise does not meet your need, check out the upcoming Unlock The Past cruises sailing across the Atlantic; a European river cruise; or around Australia and New Zealand. There is certainly lots to choose from, and all are well organized conferences.

Come Join Us.

Book Review: A Tour of the English Lakes with Thomas Gray and Joseph Farrington RA by John R. Murray

Thomas Gray - Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard
A Tour of the English Lakes with Thomas Gray & Joseph Farrington RA by John R. Murray

A Tour of the English Lakes with Thomas Gray & Joseph Farrington RA. By John R. Murray. Published by Frances Lincoln Ltd, 4 Torriano Mews, Torriano Avenue, London NW5 2RZ, England. 2011. 159 pp. Illustrations. Hardcover. £25 or $45. 

Thomas Gray has almost been forgotten except perhaps for this Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard. Yet, his journal is regarded by many as the first example of modern travel writing. His journal covers a number of journeys, but in 1769 he traveled through the English Lakes, now known at the Lake District. The journey reported here is a transcription of the journal but also an account from four letters to a friend Dr. Thomas Wharton, which was needed to fill in a gap in the journey. The journey took fifteen days, and covers 17 pages of the book. It is an excellent portrayal of travel in this time period and is relatively easy to picture if you are familiar with the area. The book includes sample pages from the manuscript showing tight clear writing and detailed sketches.

     A few years later, the artist Joseph Farrington made a similar tour following in Gray’s footsteps, painting what he saw along the way. These paintings included water colors and ink-and-wash (sepia) sketches. A number of these plus engravings of these scenes were published in 1789 and 1816. For this volume those paintings relating closely to Gray’s journey have been selected to create a visual tour of the Lakes. They are arranged by locality showing different scenes around the Lakes: Ullswater (6); Derwentwater (9); Bassenthwaite (1); Thirlmere (2); Grasmere and Rydal Water (5); Windermere (6); plus some supplemental drawings. The location of each viewpoint is indicated on maps reproduced from Peter Crosthwaite’s Maps of the Lake District, originally published in 1794. For each of the localities chosen there is usually a two page spread showing the watercolor, engraving and a modern photograph from as near to the painters viewpoint as possible, plus explanatory text or a descriptive quote that accompanied the 1816 publication of the images. Many of the photographs are spot on with little changed in the scene, though a number of the photographs needed to be taken from slightly higher elevations because of modern tree growth.

     For anyone with ancestors in the Lake District who wants to get a feel for what the countryside was like before the roads developed, or the tourists arrived, or for ancestors who made the tour to the Lakes, then this beautifully illustrated book will help put them into context. The book also provides a good bibliography on the early history; the artists, writers and tourists who traveled in the area.

Unlock the Past Genealogy Cruise – Inside History article

Cruising into Genealogy
Cruising into Genealogy article from Australia’s Inside History vol. 17 p. 64-67

Inside History – Unlock the Past Genealogy Cruise

Unlock the Past’s 2014 genealogy cruise is being highlighted in Australia’s Inside History magazine. The current issue, number 17, is previewed online at and includes a 4 page article (pages 64-67) about the upcoming 9 day cruise, 4-13  February 2014 from Sydney to Melbourne, Adelaide, Hobart and back to Sydney. The article presents interviews with four of the upcoming speakers Noeline Kyle, Neil Smith, Thomas MacEntee, Chris Paton and it looks like a great event.

If you like the preview of the current edition of Inside History you can see a full edition at

Unlock the Past has additional long and short cruises planned for 2014 and 2015. If you want to check out more details have a look at

As the keynote speaker on this year’s cruise I can tell you that this is a great way to travel, see new places, have a genealogy conference with great speakers and make lots of new friends. Because the atmosphere is relaxed you have the opportunity over meals or drinks to sit and talk and discuss genealogy to your heart’s content. The cruise also provides your non-genealogy spouse or family members with lots of alternative activities and shows.

Take a look at Unlock the Past’s offerings as it may open new doors and adventures for you

James Milner: Convict in Van Dieman’s Land – putting him on the ground

Near Copping
Looking south towards the land of George Frederick Brock Esq, on which resided convict James Milner – Carlton Parish, Tasmania. Yes, those are burned trees on the top of the hill from recent fires in the area

James Milner was sent as a convict in March 1831 aboard the transport ship “Argyle” to Van Diemen’s Land, now Tasmania. I learned about this cousin from Roy Milner a fellow Milner researcher in England. I had verified the details about James Milner using the wonderful convict database at the Archives of Tasmania website.  James was also located in the 1842 census as the head of the household, working as a servant on the land of Fred Brock Esq., located 6 miles from Carlton, in Carlton Parish.

While on my lecture tour in Australia, I learned a lot about the life of convicts and their place in society by reading and visiting a number of prisons. Given the census information I had, I wanted to see if I could physically put James Milner on the ground somewhere in Tasmania. The first stop was the map collection at the Tasmania State library in Hobart where I hit pay dirt. With the help of staff, I located a map of Carlton Parish naming land owners. George Frederick Brock received a land grant of 2560 acres. This has to be Fred Brock, Esq. of the census. More research is needed on this person as he must be significant somehow, especially when one realizes that the largest land grant in Tasmania was 3,000 acres given to the governor, near Richmond. The Brock land abuts the small community of Copping on the modern road from Hobart to the penal settlement at Port Arthur.

This property in many respects was in an ideal location as we had planned on visiting Port Arthur. We had seen advertisements for the Copping Colonial and Convict Museum so we drove to Copping. The name of the museum was a big misnomer and the owner had no information on even the major landowners in the area. We retraced our steps a little along the road until we found a farm track taking us up onto the top of the hill that would give us a great overview, looking South onto the Brock land (see picture). There was no one home at the farm, but I did take a bunch of photographs of the surrounding countryside.

Fred Brock Esq.
Looking west along main road from Port Arthur to Hobart, just west of Copping. Near land of George Frederick Brock Esq

The census was taken January 3, 1842 at the height of the summer. I was there March 7, thus a little later in the Australian summer. The grass I saw was probably drier and browner, the creek was drier, but the rolling hills, with patches of woodland would have been just as beautiful. Google Earth shows that there are some vineyards or orchards over the crest of the hills to the south but they are not visible from the house where I stood.  There was only one private road, heavily posted with keep out signs, and with lots of truck traffic that appeared to go a little further south onto the property, which had been identified as the municipal tip.  We did not take the private road.

I have James Milner on the ground in Carlton Parish, Tasmania. Now I need to find out more about George Frederick Brock, Esq. for whom he appears to be working. Ah! The joys of family research, always leading to more questions.

Migration Museum, Adelaide – Puts part of my own life story in perspective

My recent visit to the Migration Museum in Adelaide helped me put part of my own life story in perspective.

From its founding to 1982 Australia has been encouraging and often subsidizing emigrants from the British Isles, especially those with desirable job skills. In 1974 I was a beneficiary of one of these schemes. The Australian government had a program where British college students could be interviewed and apply for summer jobs in Australia. The government would find jobs for the students and then subsidize the flight to Australia.

I did things a little differently. I found my own job in Australia. I then went for an interview, explained that I had found myself a job in my field, and asked if they would subsidize the flight to Australia. They were more than happy to. I thus became one of approximately 100 students who went to Australia for the English summer. I spent two months working underground on a copper and gold mine, working for Peko Mines in Tennant Creek, in the middle of the Northern Territories. I then spent a month touring around Australia learning about this large country.

Visiting the Migration Museum made me appreciate that my journey to Australia, supported by the government, was one way in which they were still encouraging young adults with needed skills to immigrate to Australia.

Migration Museum, Adelaide – A place worth visiting

Entrance to Adelaide Migration Museum

Adelaide’s free Migration Museum — A great place for family historians to visit.

The museum reflects the diverse cultures of South Australia, displaying objects that have a story to tell. The early galleries present the history of early migration into South Australia, highlighting the differences with the other colonies, especially no convicts.  At the same time the museum puts the movement towards a white Australia into a national context. The white Australia policy became official in 1901 after the formation of the Commonwealth of Australia. Britain was unhappy with the white Australia policy because it was a system that denied equality to people within the Empire. To avoid a blatantly racist policy the Australian government introduced a dictation test, adopted from one in use in Natal, whereby a person could be asked to write down or translate a list of 50 words in any European language. The test was used primarily to keep out Asians, but also many Europeans, because any language could be chosen for the test.  Displays pointed out that no one taking the test after 1909 passed, and it remained in use until 1958. Things are very different in Australia now, but it does help to explain the high preponderance of British Isles connections among Australian families. The museum also has displays on the many different ethnic groups that have come to Australia since the ending of its “white policy” rules.

I also enjoyed an exhibit covering John McDouall Stuart’s journeys into the Australian outback in the 1850s and 1860s, when he attempted to find a route from coast to coast. The hardships experienced in the central desert from lack of water, food and sometimes hostile aborigines created a number of failures. He did succeed in 1862 and upon returning to Adelaide he was welcomed as a hero.

Family historians will enjoy visiting this small Adelaide museum dedicated to migration.