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The bygone inhabitants of Speyside and Bedfordshire were sadly lacking in imagination when it came to naming their children. The first son was usually named after his father, the rest being selected from a very limited pool of Alexander, James, John and George with the occasional Donald, William or Robert thrown in for good measure. The girls were no better mostly being Elsie, Elspet, Mary, Ann, Margaret with one or two others. This makes life difficult for genealogical research, it not being usual to have two totally unrelated families with the same surname, parents with the same names and each with a brood of kids of similar ages and names from the same limited pool.


One thing that can easily catch you out is when two children in the same family have the same name. Yes you really do find families with two Johns or two Elsies, and when looking at a family group it does look strange., until you look a bit harder and then you find that however many old family photos you have, none will show the two similarly named people at the same time. This is for the simple reason that they were never alive at the same time. In those days people lived hard and generally short lives. Childhood mortality was sky high, families were large and as we saw previously, there was a limited supply of acceptable names. So when Wee Hamish pops his clogs age two Mum & Dad would have been fairly resigned, so many died that they tried not to get too fond of them until they were 5. They may have been resigned about losing their child but not so resigned about losing the name. They had wanted a son called Hamish after a parent or Grandparent and it was sort of expected that Hamish who farms at wherever, would have his eldest son called Hamish. So easy solution, once Hamish 1 has been popped into the ground and Mummy has coughed out another boy, they would call him Hamish after his Father. and to remember his dead brother.

Just to make life even harder, particularly in Scotland, some names are clearly seen as interchangeable variants on the same name, so Elizabeth Cameron on her birth certificate, may be Elspet Cameron when she marries and Elsie on her death certificate, with all being correct.  Spelling was not a strong point so the same person's name can vary quite a bit.

Whilst education has always been valued in Scotland, a substantial proportion of the "Peasant" population seem to have been functionally illiterate. This is demonstrated on the earlier census returns where some of the more fanciful spellings look to be an attempt to spell a name as it sounds. On at least one return, Chapelton in Deshar became Chapellytownin Decher.  A sub-prime level of literacy frequently went with a very hazy idea of their own age. Joe Bloggs may be 31 in one census but 43 in the next one ten years later. The errors seem to be equal in both directions so does not seem to be people massaging the numbers to deliberately appear younger or older.

When it came to official documents, these were clearly dealt with by the better educated part of the population and where a document is dated, the date can normally be relied on to be correct. Or at least to correctly reproduce the information given by the person it refers to. This does however fall down a bit when a document refers to a third person.


Generally there are no real issues over dates, certainly not until the further reaches of the tree are reached. However anything before 1752 needs to be treated with care. It was in 1752 that UK, North America and many other states made the change from the Julian calendar introduced by the Romans, to the Gregorian calendar, this was profound change. Firstly the legal end of the year was changed from March 25th to December 31st. Due to a sub-prime way of calculating leap years, after 1500 years a discrepancy of 11 days had built up. This was corrected for in September 1752, when the calendar skipped from August 31st to September 11th overnight. At the time this caused rioting in many towns as people demanded that the Government should give back the 11 days that had been stolen. People did not agree that the Government had the right to just shorten their lives by 11 days.

Were they what ? yes they were, as pig-shit in fact!!

Another rumour has fairly recently done the rounds of the credulous & the stupid, this being the so called "fact" that the CIA has secretly taken 8 years out of our current calendar but that this is top secret classified data.  I guess this is about as true as Donald Trump having had the presidency stolen from him.

Whilst the 11 skipped days in 1752 should have zero impact on the dates in records, I understand that some presumably less intelligent clergy were persuaded to restore peoples 11 days on some certificates which would then be incorrect by 22 days. Quite how one could spot this looking at the records 250 years later I am not quite sure.

Leaving the calendar switch aside, so far as I have personally seen, when there is a date on any sort of official document, it will be correct.


It would seem that at least amongst the peasant farmer population, numeracy was not their strong point. Certainly up to the 20th Century a substantial proportion of the population only had a vague idea of when they were born or how old they were. This is most obvious in the census returns when Wee Hamish who gives his Date of Birth as about 1862,  may for the 1881 census say he was 17 then in the 1891 census be sure that he was 31. Basically he had no idea.  So discrepancies between expected ages and declared ages are extremely common and should not be seen as making a record incorrect.

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