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Thursday 14 June 2012

F is for Fun, Frustration and Foolish False Trails

Having just finished a quick sprint through one A-Z challenge from Ros at http://genwestuk.blogspot.com/, I could not resist participating in a further series from Aona at

My focus here is on what we experience on our family history journey.

 F is for:

Fun:  Given my blog title, I hope I can convey  what enjoyment  can be achieved from a wonderful, life-long and all consuming hobby - in researching, writing and networking on my family history journey.  

Frustration: a fact of life of all hobbies I suspect -  in not breaking through my major brick wall to find the name of my grandmother's mother;  In not finding the piece of evidence that would confirm the name of my great great grandfather;  in coming to what I think is too early a halt on a particular line;  in hearing that a relation has thrown out some precious family photographs. 

Still by this time I am so caught up in the ancestral chase, I just move sideways and start investigating brothers, sisters and distant marital lines.   

Fooled by False Trails can abound in family history and for many years when researching my husband's Donaldson family, I made serious wrong assumptions.

I traced the family easily through census returns and old parish records to the marriage of Samuel Donaldson and Ann Howieson in South Leith, Midlothian, Scotland in 1759. 
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Marriage entry for Samuel Donaldson in the Old Parish Records for South Leith , Midlothian, 1759

Then I reached the proverbial brick wall in trying to prove Samuel's parentage.

In the Old Parish Records, there was a Samuel Donaldson born in 1729 in Kirkbean, Kirkcudbrightshire on the south west coast of Scotland. This very much appealed to me - the date was about right, the coastal location on the banks of the Solway Firth in south west Scotland  fitted with Samuel's later life as a merchant in a seaport and Kirkbean had an interesting history as the birthplace of John Paul Jones, found of the American navy. On the basis of following ancestral roots, we even had an enjoyable  short break exploring the area which was only about 70 miles from where we lived.

It was only many years later when I was writing  the Donaldson family history, that I stopped suddenly and thought - I have absolutely no proof that the Samuel Donaldson, born Kirkbean was the same person as the Samuel Donaldson who married 30 years later in Leith and was my husband's G.G.G.G.G. Grandfather.

I had another look at the ScotlandsPeople website (http://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk/) and there were only 3 entries for a Samuel Donaldson born in Scotland in the relevant period:
1729 - Samuel son of John and Jean
1725 - Samuel, son of James and Jean
1752 - Samuel, son of John and Janet

The traditional naming pattern can sometime be a clue to identifying the "right" person. However Samuel's firstborn son was named David (probably after his maternal grandfather), though second son was John. None of his five sons was called James, and none of his three daughters named Jean or Janet.

Given that it was not compulsory to register births, marriages and deaths, perhaps there is simply no record of Samuel's birth and no evidence to confirm the names of his parents.

So years of assumption and work on the background history of Kirkbean came to nothing, though we did enjoy our holiday there. And the lesson - don't jump to conclusions that can see you following a Foolish False Trail!


  1. I especially share your frustration at family members who through out family photographs and other information!

  2. Fun, frustration and foolish trails, I think most genealogists know all three :-)

  3. Very wise advice not to jump to conclusions and quite possible that it wasn't registered. I have the same dilemma. As to frustration over stumbling blocks and walls we can all identify! Excellent advice to go sideways and try to get in the door that way. Great post Susan.

  4. I am glad there is more "fun" than "frustration". However sometimes we need to follow "false trails" to discount people from our future research. I wonder if our ancestors knew each other? My Scott family came from Leith South, Midlothian.


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