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Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Genealogy - a fascinating hobby!


Well, I've been re-infected with the family history bug. It all started back in the late 80's, I think. One of my late father's friends passed away. Dad was so depressed, saying things like, "They're all dead!" So Mom went onto the international directory enquiries and asked for a friend of Dad's by name. They offered her twelve or so numbers for that name in the whole of the USA. The first one she dialed was the right one, so she handed the phone to Dad. I can't remember the name of that friend, but it cheered up the old man considerably.

At the same time Mom handed me the "Family Tree", a large paper handwritten one begun in the 30's by cousin, James Picken. At the time I was working in Aberdeen, Scotland, thus popped into the Aberdeenshire and North East Scotland Family History shop to see what they could do for me. My task was to try to find a living relative of my Dad's in the UK. Well, I failed miserably in that goal, but was delighted to meet a charming lady, one Olive Murray, at that shop. She asked what I had so far and became very animated and excited when she saw the name Picken. She rushed off to view some microfiche or other and then turned to me and shook my hand. "What's that about?", I asked. She explained that part of her life's work had been to research the families of the "Covenanters" and had always wished to meet a living descendant from the signatories of the document.

Ashamed to say, I was a little lost. "Don't you know your Scottish history?" she asked. Well I didn't.

Here's a little about the Covenanters...

The Covenanters, Who Were They ? A snapshot view.

The history and the changes that occurred in Scotland - and subsequently in Ireland - through the 17th and early 18th centuries are highly charged by one word: Covenanters. So who were they and why were they so influential?

It is easy to say that they were the Scottish Presbyterians who in 1638 signed the "National Covenant" to uphold the Presbyterian religion, and the "Solemn League and Covenant" of 1643 which was a treaty with the English Parliamentarians. The Covenanter's made a stand for political and religious liberty that led to almost a century of persecution and their widespread migration to Ulster and the American colonies. But their role in history was not as simple as that, as they were the children of the Protestant Reformation in Europe and sought to have the church of theirbelief, according to the Scriptures. Above all, there was but one Head of the Kirk - Jesus Christ, and they refused to accept the King in that role. From this opposition to the king arose all their troubles.

Well I'm not sure who my ancestor was who signed back in 1638, but quite possibly one of the Stewart family ancestors as listed. Check the link if you're interested.

As for now, using and some computer software, collaborating with family members, both my own and my wife's, I now have 786 names. I know there's many an error, as blind acceptance of other people's family trees do lead to some errors. A true genealogist would look up original records.

However, there are a few facts that fascinate.

  1. Great Grandfather, Henry Beam Piper, lost his leg in the war between the states.
  2. Burke's Peerage (google it!) lists some of our ancestors as members of the peerage. See William Murray of Tullibardine, Perthshire. ( That's a fascinating website in its own right! Details of the nobility back as far as the 14th century!
  3. Although I never did find a living relative on my Dad's side, I have, to our surprise, found a living relative on my wife's father's side in England. Not only have I written to him, and await an answer, but my niece, Semra, lives in the same town.
  4. Bought a book which is a biography of H. Beam Piper 1904-1964 who is my 1st cousin once removed. He wrote science fiction, and there's a small but enthusiastic "cult" of followers.
  5. Finally, beware! This hobby can absorb you for weeks and weeks. Those little leaves on which have ancestry hints can take you deeper and deeper into the subject. Trying to decipher photocopies of old handwritten records hurts the eyes. Trying to decide if the German speaking clerk in Pennsylvania decided to change the spelling of names (for which he is famous in genealogical circles) baffles. Trying to track down stories of relatives WILL produce surprises.

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