Category Archives: Scotland

Searching for Experiment Farm: Tricks and Hidden Histories

Seven years ago I wrote about my ancestor-in-law Donald Dewar who had been a gamekeeper in Kilmartin parish of Argyll, Scotland:  #52Ancestors #34 Donald Dewar, the man from Experiment  The post has received comments over the years, including a couple last year about the farm and draining the land.

Obviously 2020 didn’t give us the opportunity to head back to Argyll, but as I’ve had annual leave to use up we decided to book a last-minute break and finally got back there for the first time in 4 years this weekend.  I spent the day before we went adding the necessary facts to one of my essential yellow ‘The Family Record’ books from Aberdeen & North-East Scotland Family History Society (I think they’re maybe on a different edition now) which I could easily have handy in case I needed to check years and places.  I also took Allan Begg’s Deserted Settlements of Kilmartin Parish book which is a mine of otherwise-lost specialist local information.  It was a lucky choice of weekend as the weather for most of the time there was glorious, the best I’ve ever experienced there. 

After studying books and maps we decided to visit the flat area of land which appeared to be the prime suspect in terms of location and grid lines. So we took a minor detour on the road from Crinan to Kilmartin to get a look at what was currently there: a (later) farm, some very flat fields and a big sky.  It was a working farm so I didn’t get too close and intrusive.

Kilmartin Church with Donald Dewar’s gravestone in foreground

We were staying at the Kilmartin Hotel and wandered round Kilmartin Churchyard with its old and ancient stones, directly over the road, soon after we arrived.  However the sun was so bright on the Saturday evening that we needed to go back on the Sunday morning to make reading inscriptions easier.  I also took photos of a couple of other stones specifically mentioning Experiment to see if I can see the names on the census records next to the Dewars’ entries, perhaps. 

On a tourist note, we crammed in as much as we could into 48 hours, all of which I would recommend visiting if you’re in the area:

  • Kilmartin Glen Neolithic site, a valley of cairns, standing stones and stone circles,
  • Crinan where the Canal opens up to the west coast
  • Duntrune Castle Gardens and the ‘Port of Tears’[1] beach next to it, where local Ardifuar emigrants, towards the end of the 18th century, bound for the New World (because of landlord policies) would leave the parish to join the bigger ship at Crinan.
  • Tayvallich, where Donald McCalman, a different ancestor, taught in the 19th century and which is now village with a big yachting community,
  • Tayinish National Nature Reserve and
  • Keills Chapel  with its carved cross and gravestones and the jetties round the corner where the drovers landed the cattle from Jura.
Photo of Nether Largie Stones, Kilmartin Glen, Argyll
Nether Largie Stones, Kilmartin Glen, Argyll

So back to the family history…

When we got back home I remembered a web page I discovered randomly through an academic’s tweet: the News Literacy Project site: Eight tips to Google like a pro.  I followed the tips in this and was able to accurately narrow down the search results relating to Experiment.  I already knew that Donald Dewar had not only worked on Experiment Farm but had been a game keeper on the tiny Island Macaskin (Eilean MhicAsgain) in Loch Craignis. The sources turned up in the search results gave further information about the farm, about how lime kilns were found not only in Experiment but had been built on the island, and how Island Macaskin tenants had to ferry lime annually to Malcolm, their local Laird, at Duntrune [2]. Another result gave background info to the construction from c1796 of Experiment following the arrival of James Gow from Perthshire[3].

One aspect of the story of the local area I hadn’t anticipated were search engine results referring to how Neil Malcolm’s estate and works had been funded by plantations in Jamaica[4] I also discovered that an Experiment Farm Cottage exists in NSW, Australia.  It turned out to be unrelated; however a few clicks later I found reference to a Poltalach south-east of Adelaide, South Australia, in the Hundred of Malcolm.

This tied in with a reference I found in a Highland Clearances: The Ballad of Arichonan blog post[5] about clearances by Neil Malcolm 3rd in 1848 in the village of Arichonan (north of Tayvallich, just south of Crinan and Experiment).  This lead to riots, and later to trials at Inverary after months of imprisonment in Inverary Jail.  That blog refers to Malcolm’s offer of deporting people to Australia, which ties in with the South Australia reference above and the ‘Port of Tears’ deportation reference for Ardifuar next to Duntrune.  None of our Dewars of Kilmartin or McCalmans of Tayvallich are listed as being involved but I’m entirely sure that both families would have been following developments avidly.

So Arichonan is now on the list of places to visit next time we’re in Argyll.

Maybe I’m a bit creaky with my internet searching techniques, but perhaps I’m not the only one.  So I hope that the suggestions on the News Literacy Project site: Eight tips to Google like a pro leads to as many discoveries of ancestors’ context and stories for you as it has for me.

© Text and photos copyright Lynne Black 6 August 2021
First published: https://starryblackness.wordpress.com/2021/08/06/searching-tricks-and-hidden-histories/


[1] Allan Begg’s Deserted Settlements of Kilmartin Parish

[2] Prehistoric Monumentality in the Kilmartin Glen, Mid Argyll by Duncan Houston Abernethy.  University of Glasgow Masters thesis.  September 2000, pp17-21

[3] Kilmartin Graveyard Dalriada Project, Desk Based Assessment, May 2009

[4] Country houses and the British Empire, 1700–1930. Stephanie Barczewski. Manchester University Press, 1 Feb 2017. P78.

[5] Highland Clearances: The Ballad of Arichonan.  ImagineAlba website, accessed 3 August 2021 https://www.imaginealba.com/single-post/the-anatomy-of-a-highland-clearance-the-ballad-of-arichonan

Worldwide Geneaology Collaboration post: Walter Hindmarsh

Kirk Yetholm, photo by Andrew Bowden https://www.flickr.com/photos/bods/

Kirk Yetholm, photo by Andrew Bowden https://www.flickr.com/photos/bods/

At the end of 2014 I signed up to do half a dozen posts across 2015 as part of the Worldwide Genealogy Collaboration.  My first post has just gone online today and it’s available here:

Walter Hindmarsh – using enlightened Scottish records for an Englishman

I hope you enjoy it.

Lynne, 21 February 2015

Smart resource for finding Southern Scottish ancestors (and visitors)

I’m developing a couple of blog posts about a few people who lived and worked at various times both sides of the English/Scottish border.

I’ve used the Scotland’s People website for a few years, but I used a different site today for the first time when a search engine flagged it up:  Maxwell Ancestry.  I’d been vaguely aware of it as the Maxwells are quite active in Scottish genealogy, but I’d not used it before.

I think this would be really useful if you have discovered someone, eg from England, visiting southern Scotland and need to access a census record; scans of the actual forms do not display in Ancestry and aren’t even suggested to me in my FindMyPast search returns.

One feature I loved was for a census record I found: there were links to both modern and ancient maps – brilliant for my work today as it identified the village school which the schoolteacher I was researching may have worked.

It looks like they have other specialist sources which I’ll have a browse of, but I really like what I’ve seen so far and the site is really clean and fresh looking.  No one website has every record, but I would definitely recommend having a look at this one for southern-Scotland and English border country families.

Lynne Black, 25 January 2015

#52Ancestors #35 Hugh Forbes and Isabella Simpson – tugboats and Grandpa Simpson        

52ancestorsHugh came from rural beginnings in Alness, Ross-shire, where he was baptised in April 1831. He was the third of six children and grew up speaking both Gaelic and English.

Isabella, the fourth of the eight children of gardener Douglas Simpson and Elizabeth Wilson; she was christened on 30 October 1836 in Greenock.  Like her husband, she also grew up speaking both Gaelic and English.  By the time she was 14 Isabella was working in a cotton mill.

I suspect that Hugh moved away from Alness for work, although perhaps he just didn’t want to work on the land. If that was the case he certainly achieved that goal as he became an engineer and later worked on tug-boats.

They married on New Years Eve 1857 (so they could celebrate then get a day off the next day!?)

I have a lot of Isabellas in my family and had wondered where the name came from.  I was at Who Do You Think You Are Live yesterday and in a leaflet I bought I found out that it’s a variant on Elizabeth.  So there you go, things you learn!  And instantly I see the connection when their first child, a daughter, was named Elizabeth, born in 1858.

Together they went on to have 8 more children, with the birth of William in 1867 curious – the only child not to be born in Greenock – a census entry states he was born in Ireland.  Why? For his father’s work? Friends of the family?  I’m not aware of any Irish connection for Hugh, so maybe Isabella has Irish roots (via Glasgow where her parents lived).  I can’t see him on Scotland’s People and a quick search on Ancestry’s Irish pages (all Family Search records) doesn’t give me enough info to confirm.

There may have been a family ruction in 1863 – their first son was born and registered Hugh Forbes by his grandfather Douglas Simpson, Isabella’s father.  In the margin there is a reference to a corrected entry – it seems Grandpa Simpson had made a mistake and Hugh had been changed to John!  However eight years later they did have a son called Hugh, his name unchanged.

By 1871 Isabella’s widowed mother Elizabeth had moved in with them but passed away the following year.

Hugh and Isabella lived on together until 1909 when Hugh died.  The cause of death is intriguing: concussion cerebri(?) – I’ll have to find out if it’s a medical term or a blow to the head.  He’d retired by then so wouldn’t have been at work.  Isabella herself died 15 years later in 1924, in Greenock.

© Text copyright Lynne Black 30 August 2014
First published:

https://starryblackness.wordpress.com/2014/08/30/hugh-forbes-isabella-simpson/

#52Ancestors #31: John Turner, teaching with care and fidelity

John was born to John Turner and Ann McArthur on 20 May 1796, in Dunann, Knapdale; his future bride Lilly was born in 1807 in nearby Glassary parish.

52 ancestors logoJohn and Lilly married on 7 July 1827 in North Knapdale.  They had eight children altogether, but three died in infancy.

John was a parochial schoolmaster and a registrar.  Archibald Currie’s little book on North Knapdale “A description of the antiquities & scenery of the parish of North Knapdale, Argyleshire” , written in 1830, mentions him:

“At Bellanach there is one of the established schools of the parish, taught by Mr Turner with great success; in which the children, at the usual annual examinations, have acquitted themselves so well in their respective studies of Latin, arithmetic, English, and Gaelic, as to do much honour to the care and fidelity of their teacher.  It is much to be regretted that such a useful class of men as the parochial schoolmasters of Scotland are in many instances still much neglected; particularly in such parishes as this, where the legal salary is divided, and where the teachers pay rent both for their schools and dwelling-houses.  In such cases, where the salary is only about £17 sterling, yearly, a deduction therefrom of nearly £5 annually of rent, much diminishes the penurious allowance granted them by law.  I am convinced, were the state of the schoolmasters in this parish properly represented to the liberal and enlightened proprietors, that they would immediately order that no rent should be in future exacted from persons whose services are so valuable to the community where they reside.”

Their children were Anne, Bella, Mary, Niel Stewart, Margaret, John, Lillias, and Dugald, all born in North Knapdale.  Sadley Anne, Bella and Lillias died young.

Map extract of Kilmahumaig burial ground, near Crinnan, copyright NLS

Map extract of Kilmahumaig burial ground, near Crinnan, © NLS

Ann Turner (nee McArthur)'s grave in Kilmahumaig, near Crinnan, Argyll

Ann Turner (nee McArthur)’s grave in Kilmahumaig, near Crinan, Argyll

John and Lilly buried their three lost daughters with John’s mother Ann McArthur in Kilmahumaig burial ground, near Crinan.

In 1837 Pigot’s Directory lists him as Parochial Schoolmaster at Bellanoch, but in the valuation Roll of 1858/59 he had been replaced by his son Neil Stewart Turner who continued to teach there until 1874, finishing soon after the new North Knapdale School Board took over education in the parish.

In 1871 they were living on a farm in Kilmichael and had a Glaswegian timber merchant called Samual Cameron lodging with them. By April 1881 they had moved in with their daughter Margaret in Auchentenval.

John died six months later, in October 1881, in Tayvallich of old age.  His death was recorded by his grandson Donald McCalman.  I’ve not yet tracked down Lilly after the death of her husband.

Next steps for me are to discover what happened to Lilly, and where John and Lilly are buried.  And to track down a copy of Mr Currie’s book!

© Text copyright Lynne Black 7 August 2014
First published: https://starryblackness.wordpress.com/2014/08/07/john-turner

#52Ancestors #30 Margaret Turner – on the record in 19th century Argyll

Tayvallich from Kintallen, Argyll

Tayvallich from Kintallen, Argyll

Margaret Turner would never have had the opportunity to go off the grid.

Born in 1836 in the small village of Bellanoch, in North Knapdale parish, Argyll, Scotland, she was the lawful daughter (ie born in wedlock) of John Turner and his wife Lillias (nee Stewart). John was a teacher in Bellanoch and I have recently discovered that he was also a registrar.

Later, by the 1841 census, her father was teaching and living in Tayvallich, North Knapdale.  In 1859, aged 22, she married Donald McCalman, also a teacher. Perhaps she come across him as her father’s new colleague.  Actually I suspect it would have been a small enough place for everyone to know everyone else’s business, whether they worked together or not.

Signature of Margaret Turner

Signature of Margaret Turner

Nine months later Margaret Jnr, their honeymoon baby, arrived.  She was followed fairly regularly by Lily Ann, John, Donald Jnr, Mary, Catherine, Stuart, Isabella and Annie, born 1876.

Donald was also a local Registrar.  After he died in 1880 the role was passed to Donald Jnr.  Donald Jnr had the pleasure of recording his sisters marriages: Lily Ann’s to William Govan in 1883 and Isabella’s to James Ferguson in 1900.

52 ancestors logoAfter Donald Snr’s death Margaret stayed close by to Tayvallich School, working as a crofter and receiving an annuity from her husband’s work.  She was described on the 1905 Valuation Roll as a farmer who had to pay an annual rent of £12 [2005 equivalent rate is £688].  By 1911 she was living with her daughter.  Her Registrar son Donald Jnr had sadly died in January 1911 so the 2 April 1911 census identifies Margaret’s daughter Mary as the Registrar.  Nice one Mary, a bit of responsibility for a woman in the early 20th century, but a huge shock having to take over the reins just before a census whilst still in mourning.

Grave of Donald McCalman, Margaret Turner & Donald McCalman, Inverlussa Church, Archnamara, Argyll

Grave of Donald McCalman, Margaret Turner & Donald McCalman, Inverlussa Church, Archnamara, Argyll

I’ll have to wait until the 1921 census is available online before I know more about Margaret’s twilight years, but she lived to the good old age of 88, dying in a nursing home in Rothesay on the Island of Bute.

She did, however, return to Argyll when she was buried with her husband in the church in Inverlussa in Achnamara, across the loch from Tayvallich.

By the time of her death, her life had been formally recorded by her father, husband, son and daughter.

© Text copyright Lynne Black 5 August 2014
First published:
https://starryblackness.wordpress.com/2014/08/05/margaret-turner/

#52Ancestors #29 Donald McCalman, Schoolmaster and Registrar

Tayvallich from Kintallen, Argyll

Tayvallich from Kintallen, Argyll

Donald McCalman was born in Kilmore, Argyll, in 1820, the first year of the reign of King George IV and the same year Florence Nightingale was born.  He was the son of a farmer called John McCalman and his wife Margaret Campbell.

I’m still to track down Donald on the 1841 census but by 1851 he was a schoolmaster, lodging in North Knapdale, at a place I can’t quite make out in the Registrar’s handwriting – Barnagad, maybe.  The following entry was for a family in Achnamara so I’ll check the old maps on the National Library of Scotland and see if I see anything nearby.

52 ancestors logoSo why wasn’t he listed in the 1841 census? Perhaps a someone’s scrawl has been mid-transcribed, or the census recorder misheard Donald’s surname.  Or maybe he was away studying before becoming a teacher?  One to find out…

Donald did not marry Margaret Turner, my great-great-great-grandmother-in-law, until the age of 39 in 1859, but they went on to live together for 21 years and have 9 children: Margaret, Lily Ann, John, Donald, Mary, Catherine, Stuart, Isabella and Annie.  Maybe he married late, or maybe there is a whole previous family of children out there to discover!

He was again recorded as a schoolteacher in 1861, living in Tayvallich, North Knapdale [my photo is old and doesn’t do justice to its beauty], but when they’d married in 1859 he’d been recorded as being a Registrar.  I’m curious as to how this came about – was it a government or Kirk decision that Schoolteachers carry out this role, or did he apply for this?  Something else for the To Do List!

Finding this info can be done online with Scotland’s People, an amazing Scottish Government resource which actually provides scans of the certificates and register entries – what a treat!  Sometimes I see my pay-as-you-go credits counting down really fast – I can go through them like a hot knife through butter when I’m on a roll – but it’s such good value for money for the information it provides!  I think when I come to research some branches of my Scottish family with more common names I’ll need to go back through to the General Register Office for Scotland at New Register House, Edinburgh and spend a day searching.  It would be a fee for a day rather than pay-per-view so I can get a lot done, but for Donald, whose name is handily uncommon, pay-as-you-go works well, and I can just sit and work through the biographical details for his children.

Inverlussa Church, Achnamara, Lochgilphead, Argyll, c Google 2014

Inverlussa Church, Achnamara, Lochgilphead, Argyll, © Google 2014

Donald died in November 1880 of a nasty-sounding inflammation of the knee, only four years after their youngest child was born.  He was buried in Inverlussa Church, curiously enough across the Loch from Tayvallich – not a handy journey for church on a Sunday.  Possibly to do with religious denominations – this query list is getting longer and longer!

Their second son Donald later took on the role of Registrar and was carrying out this role in 1891 census; in the 1881 census Donald Jnr was recorded as having been a farm servant – an unusual career change!

© Text copyright Lynne Black 27 July 2014
First published https://starryblackness.wordpress.com/2014/07/27/donald-mccalman/

#52Ancestors #27 Stuart McCalman, from the Highlands to the Clyde

Stuart McCalman, born in March 1873, (my great-grandfather-in-law) grew up in Tayvallach, in one of my favourite areas of Scotland.  He was the youngest son of crofter and local schoolmaster Donald McCalman and his wife Margaret Turner, one of their 9 children (2 brothers, 6 sisters).

Tayvallich from Kintallen, Argyll

Tayvallich from Kintallen, Argyll

Tayvallich is in North Knapdale, Argyll, in the west of Scotland. It sits on the Loch a’ Bhealaich, an inlet on Loch Sween.  Stuart spoke both Gaelic and English.

He married Christina McVicar aged 28 in December 1902, in Kames, Lochgair where Christina had grown up and where he’d been working as a ploughman.

The two of them moved through to Greenock where Stuart worked, again as a ploughman, on Fancy Farm until 1914 when the Land Army took it over.  Later he worked as a carter for Greenock Council. At lunchtime he would take home his horse and cart, and ‘park’ the horse with its nosebag outside the house while he popped inside for his own lunch. Their house had a smart black phone, but it was for incoming calls only for Stuart’s work, as it was really an extension of his work phone.  No escape!

52 ancestors logoStuart and Christina had 9 sons and 2 daughters.  In their later life, when discussing matters in front of their grandchildren, they would switch to Gaelic to prevent the children listening in!

Stuart died in 1951 in Greenock Infirmary.

© Text and photo copyright Lynne Black 2 July 2014

Undiscovered country, re-discovered family – one year on

Photo of hands reaching outOne year back at my genealogy work and I’ve discovered over 1470 people across Scotland and England – the equivalent of a small village! The majority long-dead, but I’m in touch with newly-discovered distant family in England, Canada and Australia (step-third-cousins by marriage – who said modern families were complicated!?). All really nice people and interested in keeping in touch and sharing discoveries.

I’ve also met my cousin in Plymouth for the first time, and met his father again after several decades. We’ve talked for hours about all sorts of things, and I’ve seen glimpses of  early 20th century life and heard stories of my grandparents which I’d never heard before.

I’ve encountered colourful characters yet many ancestors still elude me.  I’ve discovered multiple marriages, missing fathers, long lives, sticky ends and people with long, hard, working days in Argyll, Devon and latterly in Yorkshire.

Photo of gravestones

Alva Old Kirkyard, November 2013

I’ve started working to clean and restore graves in the Historic Kirkyards of Clackmannanshire project with Ochils Landscape Partnership. I’m not always very comfortable reading handwriting so gravestones are (mostly) much more my thing. I’d like to do one of these transcribing projects but I wouldn’t have the confidence in my accuracy. Yet.

I’ve got back to my writing after several years and started blogging so that is an unexpected bonus.

So thanks to one email kick-starting it all from the OLP, and an enthusiastic and knowledgeable teacher (thanks Elma!) I’ve had a fascinating and rewarding year.

Next I want to find out more about military history, to learn more about resources and my family in Yorkshire and Devon. I’ve applied to do a military history course in February, fingers crossed I get a place.

It’s a hundred years from the merging of three of the local areas in Plymouth, my family’s patch.  Although I won’t be able to get down to Plymouth History Festival in May there may be some publications or new record sets available perhaps.

It’s also Homecoming Scotland 2014 so maybe there will be events to look out locally and in Argyll.

Finally it’s the 100th anniversary of the start of the first world war. Although I find this a bit grim – couldn’t we celebrate in 2018 instead? – there may be the opportunity to find out about my ancestors’ service in the Army and the Navy.

So here’s to the undiscovered country, and the re-discovered family!  May 2014 be just as interesting as 2013.

NHS Forth Valley Archives at Stirling University

Stirling District Asylum Register

Stirling District Asylum Register

Earlier this year I went to a seminar at the University of Stirling to discover their archive collections.  By chance documents, including some huge ledgers, from Stirling District Asylum (later known as Bellsdyke Hospital), were on display.

I found these fascinating and very moving; the matter-of-fact references to lunatics and imbecility 125 years ago were breathtaking from a 21st century perspective.  Of course there are the deaf&dumb/blind/lunatic/imbecile columns in census returns which have still not lost their impact but this contained names – Mary Campbell, the Lock-keeper’s daughter at the Crinnan Canal,  George Anderson the policeman’s son from Golspie in Sutherlandshire.

Also on display were documents and images from the Royal Scottish National Institution Archives, children being schooled and cared for by nurses in immaculate white aprons and caps.  in one of the photos the children are looking at a line of dust along the centre of a gleaming ward – perhaps the staff had been teaching them useful domestic skills.

There’s more information about these records on the University of Stirling Archives blog.  Looking back and writing about it this evening has made we want to go back and look at the collection again, to have a glimpse of early mental health care.