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Doon Valley Miner's book acknowledgement

Posted on January 19, 2016 at 12:15 PM Comments comments (0)

I have recently been acknowledged in the latest book by Ayrshire writer and historian Donald Lees Reid published 1 November 2015 as "The Last Miners of Ayrshire's Doon Valley" http://www.amazon.in/Last-Miners-Ayrshires-Doon-Valley/dp/0956634354 My article concentrated on the Dalmellington ancestry of the Williamson family, some of whom later emigrated to Canada.

Whiskey Women book acknowledgement

Posted on February 13, 2014 at 11:25 AM Comments comments (0)

Whiskey Women – the Untold Story of how women saved Bourbon, Scotch and Irish Whiskey by Wall Street Journal best-selling author Fred Minnick was published by Potomac Books in October 2013 and can be readily purchased on www.Amazon.co.uk. It is a fascinating account of how women have been involved in the distillation of spirits from the early Mesopotamian era, through the Middle Ages, to bootlegging in the US Prohibition era and right up to modern times where women have become distillery owners, board members and master blenders for whisky producers across the world.

However, readers might be taken aback at this blatant promotion of a new publication and wonder what has this got to do with genealogical research. The answer to that can be found tucked away on Page 163 of the book under the heading “Acknowledgments” and reads: “John McGee, the founder of Wheech Scottish Ancestry Services, assisted with my Scotland research, especially with Dalmore and Laphroaig. Fortunately, he is easily bribed with a dram of Islay whisky.” Although Fred is probably right that I am easily bribed with a dram of Islay whisky (my grandmother was born in Lagavulin, Islay and her forebears were generations of maltmen at Lagavulin distillery) there are two more important points to be made regarding this type of research.

Firstly, the author, Fred Minnick, made sure that I was well paid for this research. Writers are usually given fairly tight budgets to work with by their publishers and this was also the same in Minnick’s case. However, a reputable author like Minnick recognises two key aspects – the value of in-depth local research and the onerous time it takes to carry out that research. Although he could trace relevant documentation in Scottish online catalogues, Minnick was unable to fly to Scotland to conduct research on the actual paper documents by himself. It would not have been cost effective and thus he saw the value in setting me a fairly generous budget to do the work for him. This is a key point to bear in mind when agreeing a budget with a client who is remotely cut off from his / her sources of research that you are especially privy to accessing locally. In the end the client will weigh up your cost against what it would cost themselves in terms of time, travel, accommodation, gaining local knowledge and research costs. This could work out in excess of 3 or 4 times what your estimated cost works out as, so never undersell your expertise in genealogical research or feel that you are charging the client too much.

Secondly, it is vital to ensure upfront with an author that you will be fully acknowledged within the book for any research that you have carried out. This is not just for a sense of pride in seeing your name in print and recognising the worth of your research laid out within the narrative. It is also a recognition that the author has truly valued the fruits of your labours. To this end it is important to ensure that all your research is fully and accurately referenced back to the source documents. Like the professional author that he is, Minnick religiously referenced all his passages throughout the book and it was easy for me to say, “Yes, the author has acknowledged me for that!” A book acknowledgment also provides valuable ‘advertising’ for your business on a wider scale as the book may reach new client bases that you may not otherwise have impressed, say, through your own website or local marketing. New business is all about new markets and book acknowledgments can help provide new opportunities to you.

As a bonus Fred Minnick posted me a free copy of his very readable Whiskey Women book from the States at his own expense and signed it in the flyleaf, “John - Thanks for your help in researching Scotland, Fred M”. That is a pretty big over-statement but, hey, I’ll accept that kind of praise. John McGee, ASGRA member.


The Queer Folk o' the Shaws

Posted on September 21, 2013 at 10:30 AM Comments comments (1)

My maternal grandparents lived most of their married life in a south side district of Glasgow called Pollokshaws and my grandmother used to say that she was ‘one o’ the queer folk o’ the Shaws’. When I quizzed her about this she told me that the queer folk were originally Flemish weavers who had been brought over to Pollokshaws by the landowners, the Maxwells of Pollok, because of their exceptional weaving skills. Over time the appendage of ‘queer folk’ was applied to any native of Pollokshaws village; however, it was usually as a derogatory term and was not appreciated by the villagers. However, trying to prove the Flemish connection has been difficult and it appears to be a legend that has been passed more orally than being recorded on paper. The earliest record of the queer folk dates back to a broadsheet ballad called The Queer Folk of the Shaws by Glasgow writer James Fisher (born 1818). Published in 1850 the song tells the tale of a young Glasgow lad who attends the Pollokshaws races. Before he sets off his mother has some words of warning.


My mither tichtly coonsell’d me before I gaed oot,

To tak’ gude care and mind my e’e wi’ what I was aboot;

Said she, “Ye may be trod to death beneath the horses’ paws;

An’ mind ye, lad, the sayin’s true – there’s queer folk i’ the Shaws”


Fisher was obviously alluding to something that was well-known about Shaws folk before his own time and it was recorded that ex-Provost Cameron of Pollokshaws ‘recollects the saying, “the queer folk o’ the Shaws” as common in the Gorbals in the year 1832’. Although the origins of the appendage seem lost in the mists of time the reasons for it appear to be reasonably consistent, if somewhat distorted over time. Robert Watson postulates two theories on the queer folk in his ‘History of Pollokshaws’ as follows.


The saying “The Queer Folk o’ the Shaws” is one which is undoubtedly current throughout Glasgow and far beyond the confines of this country during the generations of time past but is virtually unknown to the present Glaswegians….But it is said that even in the distant sub-continent of India a native ascribed the eccentricity of a certain Scotsman to the fact that he came from the Shaws and everybody knew that Queer Folk dwelled in the Shaws….Its origin is a little obscured in the mists of antiquity but it is likely that its source can be traced to one of two groups or both. After the Revocation of Nantes in 1685 denied them religious freedom, the French Protestants or Huguenots fled for safety and some came to the then rural village of Pollokshaws. They were mostly weavers and tanners. When the local Scots saw their different clothes and heard their strange tongue, they called their friends in areas such as Govan and Cathcart….and said, “Come and see the Queer Folk o’ the Shaws!” The other alternative could be the Dutch Flemish weavers who came into the Shaws about 1850 on request for skilled workers to work in Arbuckle Mill in Coustonholm Road, near Shawlands, and lived in steep cobble-stoned Coustonhill Street….The Dutch weavers came complete with wooden clogs or sabots which were left beside their machines, useful because the [shop] floor was often swimming in water. For the same reasons as the earlier Huguenots they would be regarded as queer.


In a similar vein the following was written in ‘A Brief History of Pollokshaws’ by Jack Gibson.


How the expression came about is not known for certain, but a possibility is that the description was first applied to a group of French speaking weavers of the Protestant faith, probably from Flanders, who settled in Pollokshaws during the 18th century seeking work and freedom of worship. Because of their foreign tongue no doubt these people would appear odd, not only to the parochially minded inhabitants of the village, but also to others in the neighbouring towns and villages who in due course came to apply the description to all the people of the Shaws.


A third reference appears in the unlikely setting of an antipodean pamphlet, which was celebrating the anniversary of the arrival of Pollokshaws Secessionists in 1863 at Pollok Landing, Awhitu, New Zealand and which recorded the following.


At the time of the St Bartholemew’s Massacre in France in the reign of Henry VIII, a number of Flemish weavers came to settle in Pollokshaws and came to be known as “the queer folk”….as far back as 1724 an event known as the Pollokshaws Races took place. The theme of the meeting was spread by a popular ballad [of 1850] known as “The Queer Folk of the Shaws”, where a Glasgow mother warns her simple minded son of the hazards of a day at the Pollokshaws Races.


These three references appear to perpetuate the legend that the ‘queer folk’ were of French / Dutch Flemish origin, which suggests that the oral tradition has been handed down widely but due to the varying time periods no-one is sure when these Flemish weavers actually came to Pollokshaws. However, examination of the 1841 census for the village of Pollokshaws does not show a preponderance of names which might be classed as of Flemish origin. There is the odd Fleming family, but they are actually Irish immigrants. The only name that stands out is the surname Tassie. Appearing in Scotland as Tassie, according to Black, it is probably a nickname from the diminutive of the French taisson or ‘badger’. Spelling variations of this family name include Tasse, Taisse, Tasset and Tassiè. First found in the county of Hainault in Belgium where the name became noted for its many branches in the region, each house acquiring a status and influence which was envied by the princes of the region. The following is extracted from ‘Pollokshaws: a Village and Burgh’.


A shammy-mill [chamois] was started in 17th century by the Tassie family who were skinners and glovers on the right bank of the Cart at Shawbridge. Of the natives of Pollokshaws who have risen to distinction the foremost place is occupied by James Tassie, who achieved great fame in the fine arts. Tassie belonged to an old Pollokshaws family, whose name leads to the supposition that they came to this country as refugees….Settling in Pollokshaws they established themselves as tanners, skinners and glovers on the banks of the Cart, close to where the Shaw Bridge now is….James Tassie, skinner, is assessed twelve shillings….in the Poll Tax Rolls for “Eastwood parochine” in the year 1695….The grandson of this James Tassie….was born….”at Pollok-Shawes” on July 15, 1735….Tassie in 1766 went to London, where….his genius brought him success and ever widening fame. His cast of antique gems attained a remarkable vogue….He also devoted much of his skill to modelling cameos and intaglios….Tassie died in London on June 1, 1799….There is no representative of the Tassie family in Pollokshaws today. With the death of Mr. James Tassie, banker, and some time Provost of the Burgh, the line became extinct in the district.


Tassie Street in Shawlands is named after the ex-Provost James Tassie of Pollokshaws Burgh. It appears that any record of the Tassie line being one of the original Flemish immigrants, who became ‘the queer folk o’ the Shaws’, is now lost in time. A thorough search of the extensive Maxwells of Pollok archives at the Mitchell Library, North Street, Glasgow produced nothing concrete to indicate a strong connection between the Maxwells’ industries at Pollokshaws and Flemish immigrants. Research into the Pollokshaws history archive at Pollokshaws Library, Shawbridge Street, Glasgow revealed the articles listed above, which indicated the various references to the oral legends. It seems that nowadays only the original oral legends of the Flemish in Pollokshaws remain.


The Art of Genealogy update

Posted on May 12, 2013 at 10:20 AM Comments comments (9)

In my January blog I talked about commissioning a painting based on the family legend that my grandfather John McGee talked about when an artist came to Springside near Dreghorn in Ayrshire. The artist chose my grandfather to represent the wee boy having thistles pulled from his foot by an old man. This was the brand image for Isdale & McCallum's Paisley soap manufacturers, the Thistle Soap Company. If the painting was done it would have been about 1899-1900; however, the brand image can be dated back to a statue commissioned for the 1881 Glasgow Exhibition at Kelvingrove. The model for the wee boy was well documented on that occasion as Alexander Stirling Cross. Alexander S Cross later emigrated to New Zealand and was a merchant seaman. He joined up during WW1 and unfortunately lost his life in that conflict. Totally co-incidentally, my wife's great-grandfather was also called Alexander Cross, no relation to A S Cross, but his son Sgt John Alexander Cross MM died in WW2. I have now received my commissioned artwork called "Ye Maunna tramp on the Scotch thristle, laddie!" and it is a magnificent rendition by local artist Gordon Wilson of Fetch & Frame, Milngavie. Although, it is based on the perceived original painting I have incorporated my own subtle hidden messages. The modern version has the old man represented by my grandfather and myself as the wee boy; my grandfather is acting as my 'guardian angel' in this respect. Although the landscape is an eclectic impressionist modern take on an Ayrshire landscape by Gordon Wilson, it is based on photographs taken at Springside looking towards the dark silhouette of Arran. Arran is known as the "Sleeping Warrior" and again this represents my dead grandfather who fought as Corporal John McGhee (Army mis-spelling) 1st Battalion Gordon Highlanders. In a sense it could also represent Alexander Stirling Cross, who indeed fell for his country. I asked Gordon Wilson to add poppies and thistles in the foreground; again this represents the fallen soldiers of WW1, the Scottish combatants and Scotland as a nation in general. Check out Gordon's work at www.gordonwilsonart.com


The Art of Genealogy

Posted on January 2, 2013 at 8:20 PM Comments comments (2)

In researching my own McGee family history my Uncle Duncan related a family legend passed down by my grandfather, also John McGee. My grandfather was born in the hamlet of Springside in the parish of Dreghorn in Ayrshire in 1893. My grandfather told Duncan that when he was a wee boy an artist came to Springside and he required an old man and a wee boy to pose for a painting that he had been commissioned to do. My grandfather maintains that he was chosen as the wee boy and the painting was called "Ye Maunna Tramp on the Scotch Thristle Laddie!" (Translation: you must not stand upon the Scottish thistle my good young fellow!) I have tried for years to find a trace of this painting, but to no avail. It was probably commissioned by the Paisley based Thistle soap company Isdale & McCallum Ltd, possibly to hang in their boardroom, or more likely as an advertising poster to promote their soap brand. The image of the old man pulling the thistle from the small boy's foot actually pre-dates my grandfather's birth. In fact, it was the brand image for the Thistle Soap Company and they commissioned a large statue of the man and boy for the 1881 Glasgow Exhibition at Kelvingrove. A few years ago it stood in Eglinton Park, Irvine (co-incidentally, near to my grandfather's birthplace) until it was vandalised. Porcelain models of the statue, which used to be placed in Victorian shop windows, still appear infrequently in auction sales today. However, my search for the missing painting continues to this day. I have decided to commission a local Glasgow artist to do a modern retake on the "Scotch Thristle" painting, which will be completed by this summer. If any eagle-eyed reader comes across the original painting please let me know.

Frank Sinatra and the Coll Girl

Posted on December 7, 2012 at 3:40 PM Comments comments (0)

I have just finished a recent commission for a US client and his Scottish ancestry traced back to the remote isle of Tiree in the Western Isles. I have not been to Tiree but it reminded me of the time that my wife and I went for a week's holiday on the adjacent isle of Coll in the late 1980s. At that time the island had only one hotel and one bed & breakfast and the nearest policeman was stationed on Tiree! We were on the Caledonian MacBrayne ferry from Oban to Coll and we got talking to this lovely old white-haired Highland lady. She started to tell us her life's history which had taken her all over the world. She told us that she actually had been born on the isle of Coll and when she was asked later in life what she did for a living she winked and told us, "I just told them I was a Coll girl!" During her married years she and her husband were employed by a wealthy Highland laird, Lord So and So, but whose name escapes me. Her husband was his Lordship's chef and she was the housemaid. His Lordship had a huge yacht and during the summer he would take his crew and house staff on his cruises around the world but in particular the Mediterranean. He entertained the rich and famous at that time and on one particular cruise he had on board Ol' Blue Eyes himself - Mr Frank Sinatra. At one particular port of call on the French Riviera, Frankie boy was disembarking and his Lordship had ordered the Captain, crew, the chef and the Coll girl to stand at the gangplank to wish Mr Sinatra a fond farewell. As Sinatra was passing the Coll girl he slipped a mere sixpence tip into her palm. In a dour Scots response she handed back the miserable coin stating, "No thanks, Mr Sinatra, ye'll need it long before ah do!"

Old Postcards etc. research

Posted on November 20, 2012 at 5:45 PM Comments comments (0)

Recently I came across a World War 1 Field Service postcard dated July 1915 sent from a soldier surnamed Smith in France to his young son also surnamed Smith living in Parkhead, Glasgow, Ecosse. I have an interest in old postcards for myself but I also saw this as a challenge to my genealogical skills. Would it be possible to reunite this almost 100 year old card with a living Smith relative. Using the name and address I was able to establish that the family were recorded at that address in the 1915 Valuation Rolls for Glasgow., which confirmed Smith as a soldier. I also tracked the family down to a Glasgow address in the 1911 census and from that detail I found a birth certificate for the soldier's son named on the postcard. I then tracked the life of the son through his marriage, birth of his own children and ultimately his death. He only had one surviving son and again I tracked his life, marriage, birth of his children. It culminated in the death of the soldier's grandson's wife only 4 years ago. From that it did not take me long to discover that Smith's grandson, named after him, was still alive and living in Scotland. On contacting him the grandson was delighted to regain possession of his grandfather's old postcard. The postcard was purchased from http://www.oldpostcardsetc.co.uk/ also at https://www.facebook.com/OldPostcards and I found them very helpful and they provided a fast and efficient service.

Researching McCallum and Wallace

Posted on October 21, 2012 at 12:35 PM Comments comments (0)

This week's research will concentrate on two main Scottish ancestry lines, the first being McCallum. This one is going to be quite tricky as it is trying to prove a family legend that the McCallum in question spent some time doing his schooling on the Isle of Skye. It appears that if this is true then it must have happened outwith the Scottish censuses of 1881 and 1891 as they firmly place the boy in the infamous Gorbals ('No Mean City') in Glasgow. The plan is to research school records held at the Glasgow City Archive at the Mitchell Library and pan out from there if any info can be found on young McCallum.

The second one on Wallace is equally tricky as it is an illegitimacy case where the father of repute has not been named on the birth certificate. The Kirk Session records for West Lothian held digitally at the National Records for Scotland (NRS) in Edinburgh threw up some interesting tidbits, including a possible 'ante-nuptial fornication', which could have involved young Wallace's mother, but it was not definite enough to identify a father of repute. The plan of attack is to research the Lanarkshire and West Lothian Poor Law records as these can provide a wealth of family history data. This could involve a trip to Livingston to the West Lothian Archive.

Researching Stewart & Thomson

Posted on September 5, 2012 at 3:25 PM Comments comments (0)

This week's key lines of research were spent on the surnames Stewart and Thomson. The Stewart line, a noble Scottish clan, was a bit fruitless and I found myself stuck at a very modern 1890! As far as I could determine neither the Stewart parents nor the son appeared to be born in Scotland and also unlikely to be from England. I could be log-jammed here but there is still one opening line of research. The Stewart son served in a Scottish regiment during WW2, so obtaining his British Army service records may reveal more on his birthplace. Please be aware that WW2 service records can only be obtained by a next of kin from MoD Historical Search Archives, Kentigern House, Argyle Street, Glasgow, G4 using a Subject Access Request Form (SAR). If you want more details on SAR contact me at [email protected]. If you want to know more of the history associated with the Stewart dynasty in the south-west of Glasgow check out my website http://corkerhillhistory.webs.com?

The Thomson line was much more amenable to research and led back from Glasgow, through Ayrshire to Royal Deeside. It revealed a William Thomson who was a renowned salmon and trout fisher on Deeside and who once produced a net for the then King Edward VII to use for trout fishing on Loch Muick when he was staying at Balmoral. William Thomson's nephew was a John Thomson, who picked up the moniker in WW1 of Joak Tamson. Of course, his children were obviously known as Joak Tamson's Bairns. Although, as any good Scot will know, we are all Joak Tamson's Bairns! John Thomson served in WW1 in the renowned Cameronians aka the Scottish Rifles. My own great-grandfather George Caie Clark enlisted in WW1 and served in the Scottish Rifles and I have a great photo of him taken in Edinburgh with his company. George lied about his age as many young lads did to fight against the Germans. I worked out that George was almost 60 when he was demobbed. I think the Army must have twigged, because he was transferred to the Royal Defence Regiment and spent the war guarding the Ardeer Nobel Works at Stevenson in Ayrshire!