26 February 2011

Dougall Part 8: Heart of Midlothan

In my previous Dougall post, I mentioned that my perspective toward the family origins had changed. Instead of conjuring a vague Highland past for good old John (fl.1750s) and his antecedents, my horizons contracted closer to home—home being Edinburghshire, latterly known as Midlothian. And the town of Edinburgh embodied the heart of Midlothian.

It’s quite apparent that, although my Dougall family history is now in print, the flow of research and information doesn’t necessarily stop. Therefore the blog is the means to serve up sequels, or postscripts. And probably won’t stop me from some idle speculation ...
Postcard, undated, West Calder Family History Society

John Dougall’s main activity was at West Calder village, located about fifteen miles west of Edinburgh. His “activity” as we know it consists merely of three recorded baptisms in the 1750s for his children. Genealogical convention says the distance a man could walk from his home or birthplace in half a day, or sometimes a whole day, is the usual radius in which ordinary eighteenth century folk connected with employment, for marriage, and where they found or established family ties. Fifteen miles sounds reasonable to me for a healthy young man.

Why hadn’t I been thinking that—instead of fleeing from the dire aftermath of Culloden—John might simply have walked away from the religious and political turmoil of 1740s Edinburgh? Would it have been “simple” to do that? A few earlier Dougalls are recorded in the Edinburgh parish of St Cuthbert with no known connections at this time. And there to this day below the famous castle sits St Cuthbert’s—the “West Kirk” of Edinburgh—on the Lothian Road! The National Archives of Scotland has hundreds of items relating to this historic church (CH2/718) including intermittent parishioner lists and examination rolls ... just waiting for a future Dougall family researcher to explore :-)
St. Cuthbert's, Edinburgh, photograph by Jonathon Oldenbuck,  2008.
Probably born in the 17-teens, John Dougall could have been witness to some violent events. Edinburgh citizens were known for public demonstrations. Angry mobs sometimes took to torching and lynching. The year 1732 saw St Cuthbert’s itself a magnet for rioting; dissent over the appointment of a new minister led to police retaliation and far-reaching consequences. In 1742 the kirk beadle was a target in the “body snatcher riots.”[1] Not only that, Rev. Neil McVicar of St Cuthbert’s, a Gaelic-speaking Highlander, supported the government cause during the Jacobite Rebellions. McNeil was vocal in his opposition when Prince Charles Edward Stuart and his army occupied the city for a short while in 1745, and “... there was no public worship in the city itself during this time and many people sought refuge in the countryside.” (emphasis added)[2]

Sir Walter Scott monument, photograph CDM 2010.
But what about the Heart of Midlothian? Sir Walter saw it as the hated Tolbooth prison and tax (toll) collection office, a large brooding edifice situated in the centre of the old town. It’s not clear to me whether Scott coined the phrase or adopted it from an older usage (his book is densely packed and ripe with colloquial Scots dialect). Recent archaeological evidence shows that a vestige of the old building can be dated to 1386. The Tolbooth had once been a council and parliamentary chamber, but is remembered in notoriety as the scene of hangings, often without benefit of trial, and other atrocities. Scott’s popular novel revolves around the riots and injustices of the 1730s. Demolished in 1817, the building’s former entrance is marked by the mosaic heart inset on the Royal Mile at St Giles Cathedral.

The whole Heart of Midlothian notion does not raise quite the same ancient tribal thrills in me as a Highland warrior does. Yet, Edinburgh possesses its own unique excitement as the post-mediaeval town of teetering tenements, outspoken populace, and occasionally nefarious mysteries. I am heartened by the wonderful job the folks at Scottish Monumental Inscriptions are doing with West Lothian and Edinburgh cemeteries. There’s at least one Dougall stone in Calton Old Cemetery, Edinburgh. To be continued, bien entendu.
St. Giles Cathedral, photograph, probably by JCH Balmain, 1885, Yerbury Collection.

 [1] “The Bodysnatcher Riots of 1742,” Edinburgh’s Dark Side  ( : accessed 28 January 2011).
[2] “St Cuthbert’s History,” Welcome to St Cuthbert’s Parish Church, Lothian Road, Edinburgh (  : accessed 28 December 2010).

23 February 2011

(Almost) Wordless Wednesday

Torontoist, 12 November 2010

15 February 2011

Don't Forget to Write

Lately I see more and more discussion about writing the family history. Positively cheering! We all love the research process. We love the building of relationships and charts. We don’t love so much the citing our sources part. From the comments I see, some of us find it even harder to put it all together into written form.

Recently, Kerry of Clue Wagon opened up a nice little discussion. The little discussion took on a life of its own right into the comments. She began with genealogical software: the choices available, then why and how we use them. Kerry decided she’d put too much reliance on and expectation of software as an end product. Her post concluded that source citations and writing the history are OUR job, not that of a software program.

What is the ultimate software product? A “genealogy report”? —an automated, mechanical (boring) so-called family history? Software is just a tool, a storage tool at that. Good for data entry, but often cumbersome for real writing. In my opinion, only a word-processing program can liberate your creativity.

I hear you, those who think they have trouble writing. Maybe the mere fact of accumulating hundreds or thousands of names in your software database is what subconsciously scares the crap out of you! Feeling comfortable with writing comes with practice, practice, practice. You don’t have to write the whole family history at once. One paragraph at a time, one ancestral biography at a time.

The comments on Clue Wagon came back full circle to software preferences. Meanwhile, I particularly liked these observations, not necessarily in chronological order:

Kerry: We spend so much time and energy on being slaves to making the software fit, and we could be spending it writing or doing research.

Kerry: I'm actually finding that I sort of like doing it in Word [ed.: substitute your favourite word-processing program] ... I thought it would be awful, but it's actually kind of freeing. Who knew?

Kerry: You want the story to flow and be compelling, and no software can do that for you. I think that's one thing genealogy blogging helps you see more clearly...the need for plain old writing.

Harold: ... some of the best genealogists in the world don't use a database at all. ... There is just no substitute for a well-written, documented story of a family.

Lynn: No database can write your family history, organize it yes, but far too often we do nothing but organize and organize and never get to the writing.

Yes, some of us spurn the software for no particular reason. Building an acceptable genealogy format from scratch is a learning experience of great self-satisfaction. We savour the challenge of consistent source citations (more practice, practice, practice)—forced to think about the source it represents, its quality as evidence, and whether the germane elements are captured. And oh, the gratification of a well-constructed sentence or paragraph!

[I know, ... weird, eh? Secret pleasures. It doesn’t mean I get it right all of the time or even some of the time. But the product is all mine.]

To me, a big component of networking is encouraging, urging, people to turn those piles of research notes and database charts into writing a unique family history.

Thanks, Kerry! I hereby declare that no payment exchanged hands to promote her blog :-)

© 2011 Brenda Dougall Merriman

06 February 2011

DIY Publishing

Print-on-demand with online publishing is ideally suited for genealogists and family historians who anticipate a relatively small print run, i.e. limited distribution among family members. Not to forget donating some copies to appropriately relevant genealogical societies. Undoubtedly some will still prefer to work with a local printer who can provide a similar and perhaps more personalized service. I haven’t tried it so I can’t speak to the advantages of that choice. 

A number of companies are providing online publishing for all manner of personal and “vanity” books, from wedding memories and travel journals to first novels or blog collections. You pay for the initial printing and receive the minimal amount of author’s print copies (or more). Thereafter, interested parties can order directly from the company for a reasonable price. We are talking print copies, not a download-able digital book.  

Some of the more familiar companies are Lulu, Blurb, and NoWaste (look ‘em up). They have discovered the genealogy market. The only reason I am even posting this blog is because I am hopelessly low-tech and wanted the easiest way to get my assembled histories into print with the least amount of aggravation, anxiety, and desperation. After all, it took a lot of discipline to say to self: Stop careening around in endless research and do something tangible with it NOW!

I repeat, hopelessly low-tech, and this is not to be construed as a comparison of various offerings or quality. This is merely my kindergarten experience for enlightening any friends who happen to be equally low-tech. 

So I chose UniBook. They offer a choice of finished sizes and the cost and pricing are reasonable. Most of all, the process was the easiest to follow. It’s a good idea to print out the instructions and read them about 34 times. Then you won’t make some of the mistakes I did. Like totally omitting the cover photograph for book number one (read the step by step instructions carefully). Weep. Maybe I can re-do it before the relatives twig.

Basically you prepare your manuscript as camera-ready copy in your choice of popular size. All text and headings should be done in a somewhat standard font (they tell you what works; read the instructions again) because some fancy ones will turn out awful-looking. The manuscript includes all the photographs you want to insert. Unlike me, you will probably not spend weeks agonizing over sizing, re-sizing, and placing them. You will know how to fix the blank gaps they sometimes cause on a page with copious footnotes (and I certainly hope you are footnoting or endnoting to make it all worthwhile). Consider thoughtfully how you want the first page to look, and where your page numbering will begin.

Then you PDF the whole works (luckily, I know how to do that). You can choose hard cover or from a variety of soft cover bindings. The fun part is designing your cover and creating a word-restricted summarized blurb and bio for the back cover, plus meta tags so someone out there somewhere, a perfect stranger, will stumble on your book on the Web and might even buy it.

I am very pleased with the appearance, the paper quality, the binding, and the photo reproduction. Can’t think of any drawbacks except not reading the instructions often enough—they are quite visual and straightforward. At this point, my two family histories represent a fair amount of satisfying work. The next will be even more satisfying because surely I won’t miss anything in the instructions (don’t call me Shirley). 
Family response is underwhelming but not unexpected. Then again, maybe I should think beyond Facebook as a way to tell the world. Being the PR person for your own book is a big responsibility, possibly another new learning curve. Wonder if anyone will notice the misplaced research blooper in the Dougall book. That reminds me, getting someone to review your manuscript is a seriously excellent move.

UniBook is not paying me in any way to flog their services. Apparently they are saner and more professional than that.