Tag Archives: genealogy talks

British Institute, Salt Lake City, UTAH, 21-25 Sept. An interview with Bruce Durie

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Dr Bruce Durie has enjoyed two successful careers in different fields.  He began his professional life as a biochemist/ pharmacologist. In 1977 he was awarded the IBRO/ UNESCO Fellowship as ‘Scotland’s most promising young neuroscientist.”

In the 90s, he moved into family history, and later completed a doctorate in History and Education.  He set up and ran (until 2011) the post-graduate programme in Genealogical Studies at the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, Scotland.  Now an Honorary Fellow of Strathclyde, where he is developing a full-time Masters degree in Genealogical Studies, he also teaches Genealogy, Documents and Heraldry courses for the University of Edinburgh, Scotland.

In 2015 he was awarded the prestigious Fulbright Scottish Studies Scholar Award, for 2016.

 

FF: Bruce, before we start, I did a little reading in preparation for this interview.  I never knew that you were a neuro-scientist.

BD: Oh, that was a long time ago, when I had a brain.

FF: I had to smile, because it made me think of the old joke, you don’t have to be a brain-surgeon…

BD: (laughs) … but it helps! Yes, I won a prize as “Scotland’s most promising neuro-scientist”, and I spent three years in psychiatry, this side of the table!  Where did it all go wrong, eh? (laughter).

Actually there’s an interesting point in there.  I don’t have any  evidence for this (laughs), but a number of us have speculated that biologists are disproportionately represented in Professional genealogy, it’s a desire to taxonomise,[1] and genealogists are comfortable with ambiguity, qualities that you don’t find in mathematicians, physicists, engineers and so on.

FF: So, how long have you been a genealogist, and when did you get started in genealogy?

BD: 20-odd years professionally, almost my whole life as an amateur.

FF: Tell me about the early years?

BD: I started when I was five years old.  Do you remember, when we were kids, somebody would always give our parents a baby book for every child. It had an envelope where you could put the child’s first tooth, a lock of hair, and all of that.  Inside the front cover of mine was a tree and no one had filled it in. So I went round pestering everybody in the family for dates, and places and names. Interestingly, one part of the family thought this was hilarious, but the other side went “ohhh, you don’t want to be looking into that son, you never know what you might find.”  Exactly the two responses that we find to genealogy out in the wide-world, today.

What I discovered was, that nobody knew much, beyond my grandparents talking about their parents, and maybe their grandparents.  There wasn’t very great detail – they just didn’t know names, dates and places . They said “We come from Devon”, or “We’ve always been in Fife”  – that kind of thing, and some of it was conjectural. The best part of it though, was that my maternal grandfather, who didn’t want to talk much about his family, began to tell me stories that his grandfather had told him about the Crimean War [1853-56].  If you think about it, grandparents who were born about 1900 were brought up by parents who were Victorians and would have had Victorian values, and if you’re a Scottish Presbyterian, quite a lot of those come down to you anyway (laughs).

 

FF: You say ‘twenty-odd years’ as a professional genealogist: how odd have those years been?

BD: Well, being a professional genealogist is always odd, it’s continuously odd. You need to be able to deal with constant change.  Do you remember back in the days when there was no training, and no real way of genealogists getting together? [Professional genealogists] used to pick up clients almost by chance.

I was fortunate, in that I was spending a lot of time in America, which I still do, and almost everyone said the same thing which was “we’re descended from Robert the Bruce, Mary Queen of Scots, William Wallace, etcetera. And I used to say “would you like me to find out how accurate that is for you.”  So for the first ten years of my professional career, all my clients were overseas.

FF: And did you ever find anyone who was descended from one of the Bruces or William Wallace?

BD: (laughs) Everybody is descended from William Wallace, Mary Queen of Scots, or Robert the Bruce by some line or other.  But there’s nobody called Stuart descended from Mary Queen of Scots, there’s nobody by the name of Bruce descended from Robert the Bruce, because those died out in the male line.  So to those who say, I can get my genealogy back to Charlemagne, I always say, “sure you can, but can you document it?

FF: One of the projects that you’re most closely associated with, is the Masters in Genealogy in Strathclyde University.

BD: I suppose people first started to notice me about ten years ago when I started the first post-graduate professional Masters level course, in the University of Strathclyde.

FF: Why and how did you decide to set it up as a post-graduate-level course?

BD: Well let me answer the how of your question first.

I went looking for a training scheme or a qualification and I couldn’t find any. I was doing something else in Strathclyde at the time, and the Project came to an end. I was talking to one of the senior people in Strathclyde who said “what are we going to do with you then?” And I said, “well do you know there is no University teaching proper genealogy in the whole world”.  And he said “gosh I was watching that on the telly last night.  Looks fascinating.  Off you go then.”  So if he’d been watching the football, none of this would have happened.  (laughter).

We started with £5,000 and six months to get it right.  We were always going to have a Masters course, but we staged it.  We put up a post-grad certificate, and the next year a post-graduate diploma, and two years after that a Masters.  Originally they were actual physical classes in a classroom, but we developed online classes alongside.  And eventually after four years we did away with the physical classes, and it was all done online.  It immediately proved a massive success.

As for the reason we set it up as a Master’s course?  Well, no undergraduate department would touch it. No one else could see the point, until I was introduced to a fabulous person in the Centre for Life Long Learning, and she said “this is excellent, let’s do it and embarrass them all.”  (Laughter) It’s much easier to get a post-graduate course on the books than an undergraduate one.  The other question people ask me is why is it an M.Sc. and not an M.A., and of course in Scotland and I think in Trinity [College Dublin] as well, an M.A. is an undergraduate degree.

FF: Exactly. Everyone has the right to apply for their M.A. within twelve months of graduating.

BD: Don’t you have to eat three dinners at high table or something?

FF: That’s no great hardship, especially when there’s good wine at the table. (laughter).

 

FF: So, tell me, what do you enjoy most about being a professional genealogist?

BD: The ability to dig into a whole range of primary source documents that most people don’t know exist.  One of the things that disturbs me about watching undergraduate history students being taught, is that they hardly ever get to primary sources.  Genealogists deal with nothing but primary sources, all the time. It’s an incredible buzz,  especially if you’re digging into un-indexed records which nobody’s looked at for hundreds of years, until you blow the dust off.

There’s so much stuff locked up in archival boxes in various places that nobody ever gets to.  The real killer for me was getting all the Retours – that’s the missing piece of the puzzle in Scottish genealogy, tracing where did all the land go.

FF:Can you explain what a Retour is.

BD: Sure. Up until 1868 in Scotland, a will or testament could only deal with moveable estate:  cash, crops, furniture, knives and forks, pictures and so on.  Immoveable estate was handled by a completely different process, formally called the Retours of Services of Heirs. They’re not available anywhere, easily, and yet there are entire genealogies locked up in there, that don’t appear in birth/ marriage/ death records.  And they go from 1544 up to 1860s, when the system was changed.

[Bruce prepared the Retours Abbreviations for publication in three volumes] *They’re like telephone directories, each one over 800 pages in tiny print.  You could stun a burglar with them, they’re huge. [laughter]

* www.brucedurie.co.uk/books

FF:So is that your area of specialization?

BD: Other people would say Teaching, writing, broadcasting, because that’s where they would tend to bump into me.  What I like most is palaeography, getting into the old curly writing, and making sense of it.  I must have a freak brain, because I find it very easy to read almost anything. (laughs).

But also I’m a major fan of Heraldry, often discounted as the ‘floral border’ around genealogy. But again, there are entire pedigrees bound up in coats of arms.

And because I’m specialised in that I advise people getting coats of arms legally registered in Scotland, re-matriculating old coats of arms, getting clans and families to find the right chief, and all those things.

FF:Indeed. Did you see the story this week, of what is supposedly a portrait of Shakespeare, his identity supposedly revealed in the little heraldic device underneath?

BD: First off, although Shakespeare did get  arms for his father in 1596, it’s a far cry from what’s in the picture. I’ve seen the picture and to me it looks like a classical man holding a plant! It could be anybody. I think someone has found a good way to get a bit of publicity out of this.

 

FF:Can you give us a genealogy tip or method that you always recommend to people?

BD: Yes, and this is not only for overseas people, but in Scotland too.  You cannot do Scottish genealogy from Ancestry, or Family Search or any of the commercial sites.  Can’t do it.  The reason is, the records are only available on [the website] Scotland’s People and related sites.  Scotland won’t hand them over, we make too much money out of it, which is quite right!  It drives the commercial providers absolutely crazy.

But hardly anybody knows these great sites exist, or how to use them.  So it’s a mission of mine to go out there and say: it’s all here, you can get it, and it’s not difficult.

 

FF:Tell us about your role as Track leader for Scotland, in the British Institute?

BD: I want to show people there’s so much more to documents than just a name and a date.  People often take just take the bare bones of a document, but in fact there’s a great more in there. Censuses are one of my particular interests, because there’s so much social and economic information buried in a census. There’s a column recording the number of rooms with windows in a house, and of course that’s a wonderful thing, because it tells you so much about living conditions.  One of the exercises I do, is to take people from an 1861 Census, through all the [published] censuses, and up to the present day with a Google Maps aerial shot, and there’s the house, and  you can see exactly the number of rooms it has.

Then helping people navigate in the LDS Library, and showing them a few “secret places.”

 

FF: What can people expect to take away with them, if they attend your course?

BD: It’s going to focus on how to find people, how to find places, and how to find inheritance records – and that’s a particularly interesting one.

FF: Do you have any good stories from inheritance records?

BD: Yes, quite a lot of the work that comes in to me, starts with a story that the house and land should have come down to my side of the family, but it went to the other lot, can we get it back?  I always, always say to them from the beginning, there’s nothing and never was, just trust me on that one, but I’m happy to spend your money, finding out, and proving it to you.  (laughs)

The best story I know was similar to the caseof  Jarndyce vs Jarndyce , where the side of the family that *did*inherit the money, spent most of it fending off legal battles from the other side, so that by the time they got to the end of it, and it was clear that [title] was right, there was nothing left. And the only real property had been vested in one of the daughters, who was to stay in it as a life-renter until she married or died.  She decided not to do the first, and didn’t do the second for a very long time.  She outlived even some of her grand nieces and nephews, so at the end of it, there was absolutely nothing.

 

FF: Are there any peculiarities about land law in Scotland?

BD: Yes, Scotland was a feudal country until 2004, nobody owned land, it was all owned by the crown, and then there was a chain of heritable possession beneath that.  So until recently, it was possible to trace land possession through this chain because every time land was sold or passed on after a death, there’s a piece of paper that tells us this, and this is where the Retours come from, and incredibly recondite system that generates a piece of paper every time the land changes hands, for 300 years. It made searching an absolute joy, because all changes had to be registered.

 

FF: So, any parting words.

BD: Seek and ye shall find.  Seek badly and ye shall find rubbish, false connections, unsupported assertions and outright fabrications.


[1] To define groups of biological organisms on the basis of shared characteristics and giving names to those groups.

Latest Eneclann Newsletter: 9th of May 2014

Eneclann Newsletter

In this issue:

Twentyx20 Lunchtime Talks.

Irish Lives Rememebred.

Irish Census Records Covering 1821-1851

UCC Summer School

New Digital Downloads at Eneclann

Military History Archive Records.

Research Tip of the Week.

 


 

 

Dear Eneclann customer,

The Return of The Twentyx20 Lunch Time Talks

This August at the National Library of Ireland, Eneclann and Ancestor Network will host a feast for family history fans! It’s the return of theTwentyx20 lunch-time talks.We have assembled a veritable smorgasbord of experts to unlock the richness of Irish family history.

Each talk is a short introduction to a key area, source or research method in Irish family history.  The Q&A session will give you direct access to the experts, to take the mystery out of family history.

Talks start after 1 p.m. every weekday in August.

Click here to see the full list of our speakers.

For more information and for event updates keep on eye on ourWebsite blog and also ourFacebook page as we will be updating these regularly with all the information you will need to know on all our wonderful speakers or you can email us atmarketing@eneclann.ie


Irish Lives remembered.

This monthsIrish Lives Remembered Online Magazine is now out! featuring a three page spread byEneclann Research Expert and Director Fiona Fitzsimons on “The Carlow origins of Carol Ann Duffy, British poet Laureate”, on pages 14&15, Also In this months issue you can read all about The National Archives of Ireland,FindmypastandFamilySearch and the release of pre 1901-Census Records, including many more wonderful articles from the world of Genealogy.


Surviving Irish Census Records Covering 1821-1851 go online for the first time.

New and online for the first time ever inFindmypast’s 100 in 100 campaign, surviving Irish census records.

Listen toEneclann Director Brian Donovan, explain the importance of these new online records, and why he is excited about their publication

Click the image below to head over to ourFacebook page and view all the images from The Launch of the Pre-1901 Online Census records in The National Archives of Ireland where Jimmy Deenihan, TD, Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Frances McGee, Acting Director of the National Archives of Ireland and our very own Brian Donovan were all there along with many more to launch these exciting new records.


Hilary McDonagh and The Genealogy Summer School.

Ancestral Connections 2014 is an International Genealogy summer school developed by Lorna Moloney at ACE – University College Cork, it offers a programme of outstanding quality for those interested in tracing their Irish roots.

All aspects of subjects are covered by a series of presentations and ‘hands on’ workshops given by a selection of Ireland’s leading genealogical lecturers and experts,

This week we caught up with Hilary McDonagh Director ofIrish Ancestry who will be giving a number of interesting talks at the Summer school and asked him to give us a little idea of what he is all about.

Hilary McDonagh will be giving a talk on-Friday the 4th of July: 2pm-2.45pm:
Sons & Children- Genealogy of Irish Childhood.

Have a lookhereat the line up for this amazing summer school.

 


Latest Downloads available at Eneclann

We now have 14 new download releases available on our website
14 new download conversions available, for as little as €1.25, including:
  • Several Parish Register Society publications of registers from Dublin city dating from 1619 (parishes of St. Catharine, St. John, St. Marie, St. Luke, St. Werburgh and St. Nicholas Without)
  • Bram Stoker’s first book
  • Topographical books about Galway, Mayo, Roscommon, etc
  • Local and national histories of Irelan
  • Directories.
You can view and purchase all of our 14 latest download releases over on our website

justclick here to have a look and purchase.


Military History Archive Records.

In this Months edition ofHistory Ireland Magazine, Eneclann’s own Fiona Fitzsimons takes a closer look at the records of the Military History Archive. “If you have a rebel in the family, or a Volunteer ancestor active during the Irish Revolutionary period 1913-1923, this is where you look.” These archives have further information for anyone with family in the Defence Forces since the foundation of the State. “History Ireland” is in all good newsagents and selected bookshops and available to buy now.


Research Tip of the week

Let him be. He learnt the lesson of the land” – Bull McCabe.

Irish people’s obsession with land and property, so beautifully encapsulated by John B. Keane’s play The Field and latterly in the film adaptation, is well known. It’s an obsession that any family history researcher would do well to embrace.

When I first came to genealogy I knew my historical research skills would stand me in good stead, but I failed to appreciate the importance geography plays in the pursuit of ones ancestors.

If you’re unfortunate enough to have an ancestor with a name as common as Mary Murphy, it is often geography that will help you select the records relating to your ancestor and avoid the doppelgangers. The majority of the record sources used by family historians have a geographic element to them and using these, as a means of narrowing your searches, is an essential part of research.

Knowing your civil, parish and townland boundaries can make all the difference in identifying the correct record, not to mention saving time by looking in the wrong place. Don’t forget to check both sides of a boundary if you believe your ancestors lived near one. Equally don’t get too focussed on one location either, remember people did move about.

So while the Bull McCabe may have had a different lesson in mind, the lesson for this researcher was that knowing your geography can make you a better historian.

By:Stephen Peirce.


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Best wishes, The Eneclann Team

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