I was at the start of my genealogy journey to uncover my Nana Jean’s ancestors. Not a lot was known about my Nana’s family and I was too little when she was alive to ask her questions about her life. Our family knew that Nana was born in 1893 in Bathgate, Scotland and was the second eldest of 16 children, although I didn’t know how many siblings there were at the time. One thing my family remembers was my Nana always said she was a descendant of Mary Queen of Scots, whether that is true or not I am yet to discover.
I didn’t know what to expect during this genealogy journey but I was keen to find out…..
I located Nana’s birth date, 9 September 1893, on her grave record at the Springvale Botanical Cemetery and her parent’s names, Andrew Fleming and Rachel Brown, from her record of death. So, with my Nana’s birth date and the names of her parents in hand I headed to Scotland, in cyber world, to find out who my Nana’s family were.
My initial search began when I entered Nana’s name and her parent’s names into a family tree I started on Ancestry.com. These details triggered a range of hints of information available on both my Nana and her parents. Ancestry took me to the 1901 Scotland Census (you can learn more about the census here) for the household of Andrew and Rachel Fleming and their six children (Rachel aged 9, Jane aged 7, Andrew aged 5, Christina aged 3, Mary aged 1, and Elizabeth aged one month). No Jean! Maybe it was the wrong Fleming family?
Searches through other census records for 1901 and West Lothian did not uncover another Fleming family headed by Andrew and Rachel Fleming.
My next port of call was ScotlandsPeople (find out more on ScotlandsPeople in future posts) for a registration of birth for my Nana Jean. The initial search using year of birth and Nana’s name found no records and an advanced search revealed no records. How was this possible?
Searching the Fleming line for more information I found a photograph that identified possible ancestors of Andrew Fleming, so I contacted the owner of that family tree on Ancestry.com. I asked about the photograph and the people in it, to see if they were possibly my Nana’s ancestors. After some initial emails I learnt about naming traditions in Scotland and the use of alternative given names. I was told that those named Jean were also called Jane, just to add to the confusion!
This was to be my first genealogy lesson and here lay my first challenge in finding both Nana’s birth certificate and her family through the Scotland Census!
Back to the census record I found from 1901. I noted that one of the children in the Fleming household was a daughter, Jane aged 7 years, born about 1894…..maybe this was my Nana Jean?
I headed back to ScotlandsPeople, searching, for Jane Fleming, born about 1893 in Bathgate, West Lothian, Scotland and there she was born Jane. Her registration of birth recorded her birth as 10 September 1983, to Andrew Fleming and Rachel Fleming “Mrs Brown” (you will learn more about Scottish name conventions in a future post). I noted that her birth date recorded on her registration of birth was different to the date on her cemetery record – one day out.
Lessons you can take from this research:
- A given name for an ancestor used in their lifetime is not necessarily the name given to them at birth – look for alternative names and spelling;
- Years of birth recorded on non-vital records such as registrations of birth and death, may not be accurate, such as Nana’s cemetery record – always source the vital record to verify;
- Census records only record the approximate year of birth and age and may not be accurate – vital records are important to verify this information; and
- Names recorded and the spelling of the same, may not be accurate, as often in the 1800 and 1900’s phonetic spelling was used or sometimes the person the census recorder asked did not know the details of all family members.
Records to check for you Scottish ancestors used for this post:
- ScotlandsPeople found at https://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk
- Ancestry.com – 1901 Scotland Census (also found in ScotlandsPeople)
- Cemetery records, if you know where they died or were buried, otherwise Find A Grave is a great source
Southern Metropolitan Cemeteries Trust, accessed on 23 November 2019 at https://smct.org.au/deceased-search/284032
Death Certificate for Jean Downes, Registration No. 14030/1987, The Victorian Registry of Births, Deaths, and Marriages, Victoria, Australia. Certified copy in possession of author.
1901 Scotland Census, Bathgate Township, West Lothian, Scotland, ED. 4, p. 3, line, 19, Roll. CSSCT1901_354, Registration No. 662/1. Certified copy in possession of author.
Index of Death, Downes J, 1987, BDM Victoria, Reg #14030. Certified copy in possession of author.