Reflections From The Big Brown Recliner

Taking a brief time out to reflect on my recent research, and what I have learned.  Today’s topic – Scottish research.

Location, Location, Location

You live in one location, but there are many descriptions we associate with home.  Street. City. Township. County. State. Country. Continent. Planet. Location names are clunky, and don’t make for a great read when peppered throughout a paragraph like bird droppings. However, locations are extremely important to genealogical research.  I’m trying to be mindful with my bird droppings as I write.

What’s This Parish You Speak of?

Like the states, Scotland is layered in territories, and the boundaries have changed many times during the last century or two.  Redistricting at local and national levels.  New names replace old names.  It’s hard to keep track of it all.  The information below is a general overview of territories in the 18th/19th century, and how I relate them to our territories here in the states.

Counties – Scotland was broken down into counties, also referred to as “shires” at one time.  They are a lot like our counties here in the states.  The names of some counties have changed over time, as well as their boundaries.  Counties are broken down into smaller territories.

Parishes had origins with the Church of Scotland. I like to think that parishes are similar to our townships – smaller districts within a county.  Of course, there are exceptions.  At one time, parishes could extend over county lines.  Of course, there were changes to parish boundaries too.  Many of the early records (marriage, birth, and deaths) were kept by the Church, and are found in the old parish records.  Parish records are instrumental to Scottish genealogical research.

Villages/Towns – Each parish had several villages and towns within it.  Towns could span over multiple parishes – just like here in the states.

Records Trump Indexes

While tidying up things for my last post, and downloading lots of birth records, I found the birth record for Ann Thomson (oldest daughter of John Thomson and Mary Miller).  Ann’s birth was recorded in Shotts parish.  Nothing unusual about that.  All of the kids were born in Shotts.  Wait.  This record notes that her birth took place at home in Newarthill  – which is located in the parish of Bothwell. What!?!?!   She was born in Bothwell?  Ahhhh, but she was baptized at church in Shotts parish – so her birth is recorded under Shotts’ records.  Considerations:

  1. I never would have known this tidbit had I not looked beyond the birth record index. Viewing the actual record is best.  It cost $1.83 to get the record on Scotland’s People.  Totally worth it.
  2. I now know for a fact that Ann’s father, John Thomson, worked at Omoa Iron Works well before 1841 (the first set of good census records available online). The birth records for his remaining children confirm this.  Not all birth records note the place of father’s employment.  This was a nice bonus!
  3. When I’m trying to figure out what happened to Ann’s Grandparents, Thomas and Elizabeth Thomson, I have one more place to look – Bothwell.
  4. When I go to look for Ann’s other grandparent, James and Ann Miller, I have one more place to start – Bothwell.

The parish birth records usually note both the birth and the baptism dates.  I also ran into an issue when reviewing birth records for my first post.  Some of the records for the children of Thomas and Elizabeth Thomson had the baptism date indexed as the birth date.  The actual records cleared everything up.

Another thing I noticed when looking at birth records – baptisms were usually performed about a month after birth.  When I looked at the birth records for Thomas & Elizabeth Thomson’s twin boys, they were baptized the very next day.  Having twins is risky today – imagine having twins in 1797.  With the boys being baptized almost immediately, I think a little more about their birth.  I wonder if they survived.

Some people like to spend money on shoes.  I like to shop for birth records online and contemplate life.


It’s beneficial to look at a map when researching – preferably one of the same time period.  Our Thomsons moved around a bit in the 19th century.  When I look at the map, I can see that they didn’t stray too far from one general area.  They lived in an area where four parishes met.  That’s four sets of parish records worth researching:

  1. I knew they lived in two of the four parishes.  Due to Ann’s birth record, I now know they lived in three  (Shotts, Bothwell and later, Cambusnethan).
  2. I also know the fourth parish, Dalziel, is a place I need to keep on my radar.
  3. I know that the Omoa Iron Works, where John Thomson worked, straddled two parishes (Bothwell and Shotts). I don’t know for a fact that he worked at Omoa when Ann was born in Newarthill.  It’s possible – they were less than 2 miles apart.  If he lived and worked in Newarthill as a spry 19 year old in 1813, the same year he married and the year his first daughter was born, what other Thomsons were living here?

More questions and clues to finding out more about the fate of Thomas Thomson………

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