Tag Archives: History

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.

Research Tip of The Week!

The search for a birth certificate online.

I have recently been researching a family that lived on Inishbofin, not the island off the Galway coast but a smaller one off the coast of Donegal. I had located the family in the 1901 and 1911 Census and was now interested in finding a birth certificate for one member of the family. I knew the person of interest was born in ca. 1877 and I know his parents’ names. I could find two civil birth registrations in 1877 for the same name registered in Dunfanaghy district on the Findmypast website, so which one is correct?  There is sometimes a way to narrow down options when you have more than one certificate to call up at the General Register Office. The FamilySearch website under its record section ‘Ireland Births and Baptisms, 1620-1881’ details many civil births registered after 1864 giving not only the volume and page number and location of birth but also the parents’ names.  When I used this facility I was able to eliminate one of the entries I had found on Findmypast as the parents’ names were incorrect. So that’s four euro saved!

By, Expert Researcher

Helen Moss,tom-cruise

 

RTE: Road to the Rising Event

 

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Will you be on the“Road To The Rising” this Easter Monday ?

Eneclann are delighted to be a part of this very exciting and action packed event on Easter Monday, 6th of April in the General Post Office on Dublin’s O’Connell Street.Step into history and experience sights and sounds of the capital in 1915.

This wonderful family event is completely free and will be running from 11am to 6pm on Dublin’s O’Connell street and is set to come alive with street theater,music and vintage attractions as RTE recreates the atmosphere of Ireland before the Easter rising.

You will find Eneclann in the GPO in the parcels office along with our partners findmypast and also Timeline Research and The National Library of Ireland. We will all be on hand on day to help you trace your Irish roots and discover your past.

Bring all the family and join RTE and Eneclann on “The Road to the Rising”

See you there!

ROAD TO RISING

31st of January 2014,Latest Eneclann Newsletter

In the latest edition of Eneclann’s newsletter we fill you in on some recent events in Irish genealogy. The new series of Expert Workshops for Continuous Professional Development returns in 2015; Learn the truth behind George Clooney’s Irish Roots as told by Eneclann’s own Fiona Fitzsimons interviewed recently on Midlands Radio ; We share a lovely testimonial from Ray Judge who commissioned our expert researchers to work their magic on his family history; Listen to the latest podcast from Lorna Moloney’s Genealogy Radio Show; and of course our readers’ “favourite bit” – the Research tip of the week; Enjoy :)

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The Expert Workshops Return

The Expert Workshops for CPD return in 2015. This year, Fiona Fitzsimons of Eneclann is joined by John Hamrock of Ancestor Network, to develop a new and diverse range of workshops for professional family historians and independent scholars. In February, our first speaker is,Catriona Crowe speaking on the National Archive’s publication plans in 2015,Our second workshop takes place on Valentine’s Day.  Mary Chaill will give a special presentation on IT for professional genealogists in the National Library of Ireland. Read all you need to know about these talks here.

 

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RootsTech 2015

There’s less than 2 weeks to,RootsTech 2015 conference in Salt Lake City, Utah, February 12-14, 2015. The Eneclann contingent are looking forward to Roots Tech.  Come and meet Brian Donovan, Paul Manzor and Laura Carroll, at Stand 1342.  And ask them about some of,the exciting new projects we’re working onnewsletter bar

George Clooney hits the headlines again!

Will Faulkner recently interviewed Fiona Fitzsimons on,Midlands103′sToday Show and asked her some hard questions about George Clooney’s Irish ancestry.
Listen to what Fiona had to say about the evidence, and the story it tells us. If you’re partial to Mr. Clooney, read all about his Irish Family History,here.newsletter bar

              Testimonials

We have so many wonderful clients here at,Eneclann.  Good feedback from you, really makes our day, and makes the researchers’ job all the more worthwhile.  Here’s a testimonial email we received from a,recent client, If you would like to read some amazing stories from previous clients of ours you can view them all on our,website.newsletter bar

The Genealogy Radio Show

Tune in to the most recent episode’s of Lorna Moloney’s,Genealogy Radio Show”, broadcast on Community Radio Corca Baiscinn,Listen to  Episode 1- Series 2 Trade Directories,‘Your Ancestors did What? and  Episode 2, Series 2,Marriage and Burial customs, Folklore in practice – Sean O’Duillnewsletter bar

Research Tip of the week

“The research tip this week is by Helen Moss, Eneclann’s senior researcher.
Helen is one of the most able family-history researchers in Ireland, and heads up the Eneclann research team, read her,Tip of the week here.newsletter bar

World War I Roadshow

 

Trinity College Road ShowTrinity College Dublin in partnership withRTÉ Radio One and the National Library of Ireland is hosting a Family History Collections Day of World War One memorabilia this Saturday, July 12th where members of the public are invited to bring in family items, letters and mementos related to the war for authentication and archiving by a team of experts,

Paul Manzor fromEneclann and Aoife O’ Connor from findmypast  will be there to provide research advice and guide you through the records of ancestors that served in World War 1

findmypast will provide free access throughout the day to all their World War 1 records.
Don’t forget to pop over to both our stands and say hello!

It looks like it’s going to be one very eventful day.  For more information and a full time-table of the day, click on the image.

see you there :)