Category: Scotland

480 Quid Pro Quo

I’ve found out today that I’ve received a provisional B2 grade for the latest module I completed at Dundee University – Basic Latin for Archivists and Researchers. Once confirmed, I will have the 60 credits necessary to graduate with a Post Graduate Certificate in Family and Local History. Yay!

After initial reservations about picking that particular module (I would have preferred Ecclesiastical Archives), I found it to be a nice change in format from previous modules. These had continuous assessment Tasks and final Assignments consisting of Report and Essay writing whereas the Basic Latin module was mostly translations with some interpretation questions. Although I can’t say I spent a lot of time remembering how to conjugate verbs or decline nouns, I did pick up the skill of parsing a Latin sentence and picking out the nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, etc. and noting their case/gender/person/tense and gradually being able to put an English translation together. As a (sadly former) programmer I rather enjoyed this method.

I also learned the importance of having of good Latin-English dictionary to hand – and how bad Google Translate is!

Originally I had intended to carry on and study for a Post Graduate Diploma, but my finances dictate that I need to call a halt to my studies. The Basic Latin module was worth 10 credits and cost £480. I note that there has been a slight increase to £485 for the next academic session and a 20 credit module will now cost £970. So, to continue on to the Diploma would have cost £2,910 – money I just don’t have.

I am sad to be leaving the course as I really enjoyed it. All the modules I studied were very interesting and I learned a lot about Skills & Sources for Family and Local History in Scotland, Military History and Heraldry. The virtual learning environment has been improved recently with the introduction of Office 365 and a cloud storage service called Box. The flexibility of the modular approach helped me (as someone still in full-time employment) and I definitely made the right choice over the rival Strathclyde University course.

So, I’ll miss Dundee University but will have fond memories. Unfortunately, I’ll also miss the graduation ceremony in June so I will graduate in absentia. But, at least I’ve learned enough Latin to know what that means!

P.S. I had the following modules in mind if I had been able to continue:

Module Title Credits
Scots Palaeography & Diplomatic 20
Ecclesiastical Archives 10
Understanding Latin in Documents and Archives 10
Educational Archives 10
House History 10

Confessions of a Mature Student

Haven’t posted for a while – that’s because I’ve been busy with my University course.

I’ve started studying for a Masters degree in Family and Local History via distance learning at the University of Dundee.

Module Structure

Each module is split into a number of units. Each unit covers a distinct element of the module and has a task to complete at the end. Some of these tasks are assessed and have to be emailed to the module tutor for marking, but others are not assessed and involve emailing other students or posting onto the module discussion forum. A guideline mark together with helpful comments are sent back from the module tutor for each assessed task.

At the end of the Skills and Sources for Family and Local History in Scotland module there were also two main assignments – an Essay and a Report. These were 2,500 and 2,000 words respectively and had to have proper footnotes and a bibliography. I rather left things to the last minute and rushed both of these, but I was reasonably happy with what I submitted. Time will tell if I did enough to pass…

Too Much On My Plate

At the start of the course I had a problem accessing my email account at Dundee University and this led to me starting the first module a bit late. Also, due to bad planning on my part, the Pharos course on One-Name Studies started at the same time!

I pretty quickly realised I’d bitten off a bit more than I could chew by trying to do 2 courses at the same time and learn a new job (my previous Java Developer role was offshored to India and I’m now retraining as a Database Administrator). I knew the Masters course would be demanding, so adding other stuff on top was really pushing things…

I had to make a decision to drop something and I chose the unmarked module tasks. These are mostly to encourage interaction among the students and are a good idea. But, since they aren’t graded, I thought they could be sacrificed. Luckily the Pharos course was not assessed, but I rather missed out on some of the joint class exercises involved.

As a consequence, I didn’t get as much out of that course as I could have – but it was very good and highly recommended. It too had a discussion forum and there was also a weekly chatroom conversation which was always entertaining with folks chipping in their opinions from all over the globe (well, at least Scotland, England, USA and Australia).

Lessons Learned

This first University module has really opened my eyes into the number of sources available for Scottish family history research. Suddenly there is whole wealth of data that I’m going to have to include in both my one-name study into the RETTIE surname and my own family history.

I also learned a lot about the social, political and economic history of Scotland by seeing the level of detail that some of the records contain. Burgh records in particular were a real eye-opener. See example from Inverness Burgh accounts.

Up Next

The next module – Military History – just started on Monday and, being only a 10 credit course, last two months. I’m really looking forward to it and will be trying to improve my time management skills – hopefully leading to a better grade.

Interestingly, the module tutor is Simon Fowler who has written a number of family history books relating to military records e.g ‘Tracing Your Army Ancestors‘, ‘Tracing Your Naval Ancestors‘, etc. So, he obviously knows his stuff!

The Future

I’ve now decided on the four modules I’m going to study to achieve the 60 credits required for a Postgraduate Certificate. However, I’m not sure at the moment if I really do want to go on and undertake the Diploma afterwards – it’s a lot of work…

Year Module Title Credits
1 Skills and Sources for Family and Local History in Scotland 20
1 Military History 10
2 Heraldry 20
2 Ecclesiastical Archives 10

Graveyard at Innerpeffray Chapel

Today we were again up at Loch Earn and on the way home decided to drop in on Innerpeffray Library to see the oldest lending library in Scotland – only to discover it was closed for the winter! However, an unexpected plus was that there is also a Chapel on the site with a graveyard surrounding it. Here are the photographs I took:

Never Mind The Trossachs, Here’s The Six Pictures!

Last week we had an enjoyable trip up to the beautiful Trossachs, just an hour’s drive from Glasgow. We stopped by Balquidder Parish Church, site of the grave of legendary Scottish outlaw Rob Roy MacGregor.

There is also a nice easy-ish 1 hour walk starting just beside the church which takes you up to Creag an Tuirc (Boar’s Rock) which was the rallying point of Clan MacLaren. From here there are wonderful views of Loch Voil below.

How Popular Is YOUR Surname?

Thanks to my new membership of the Guild of One-Name Studies, I just discovered a couple of (legitimate!) web sites which reveal the popularity of a given surname.

The United States Census Bureau has a downloadable zip file containing all surnames with more than 100 entries in the 2000 Census.
RETTIE ranks =111,119 with 147 people.

Surnames of England and Wales – the ONS list is an extract of an Office of National Statistics database, and contains a list of surnames in use in England, Wales and the Isle of Mann in September 2002.
RETTIE ranks =28,353 with 128 people.

Unfortunately, I’ve yet to find a page providing surname statistics from the Scotland Census…not to mention Canada, Australia, etc. Does anyone have these URL’s?

UPDATE: Found a couple more sites, as a result of the course I’m currently doing:

Behind the Name
Though RETTIE was not found, it does return results for more popular surnames for USA, England and Scotland.

World Family Names
This site gives the frequency of a surname per million of a countries population.
RETTIE returns 6.02 for the UK, 1.83 for Canada, and 0.78 for USA.

Surname Variants or Deviants?

As can be seen from the various sources quoted under History of Land Ownership, there appear to be a number of different spellings of RETTIE used in the past.

The permutations consist of either ‘ea’, ‘ai’ or ‘a’ instead of the initial ‘e’ together with either a single or double ‘t’.


I entered these permutations into ScotlandPeople with the following results:

Total Births

Variant Births 1538-1854 Births 1855-2009 Earliest Latest Mode Parish
RAITIE 24 0 1689 1781 New Deer (6)
RAITTIE 26 10 1675 1817 Monquhitter (18)
RATIE 13 0 1689 1817 Gamrie and Macduff (4)
RATTIE 8 0 1689 1892 Monquhitter (2) & Boyndie (2)
REATIE 19 0 1697 1783 Turriff (6)
REATTIE 4 0 1734 1777 New Deer (3)
RETIE 10 0 1610 1793 Monquhitter (5)
RETTIE 216 951 1610 2009

Example Births

Consider also the following examples listing parents, parish, date of birth and name of child:


William RAITIE & Christian ESLEMENT of New Deer
24 Feb 1751 Anne
31 Mar 1753 Alexander
14 May 1755 Isobel
01 Jun 1757 William
16 Sep 1759 James

William RATIE & Chirsten ESSELMENT of New Deer
01 Nov 1761 Adam


Alexander REATTIE & Christen HEPBURN of New Deer
10 Sep 1765 William

07 Mar 1767 Alexander

Alexander REATIE & Christian HEBREN of New Deer
30 Jan 1774 George
16 Jun 1777 Peter

Alexander RAITIE & Christian HEPBURN of King Edward
14 Aug 1781 Jane

Alexander RETTIE & Christian HEPBURN of King Edward
28 Sep 1785 Adam

Note also the variations in the Mothers’ names!


  • Barring one entry from Fife, all other entries are from Aberdeenshire and Banffshire in North-East Scotland. This strongly suggests the surnames are just alternative spellings of the same original family name.
  • RETTIE is by far the most popular spelling, both in Old Parish Registers and Statutory Registers.
  • RETTIE is the only spelling which survives into the 20th Century, with all others apart from RAITTIE terminating upon the adoption of Statutory Registers in 1855.

This suggests that RETTIE is the de facto correct spelling.

The Guild of One Name Studies differentiates between a surname variant and a surname deviant.
A variant is:

a name spelling used by officials on a consistent and persistent basis over a period of years.

None of the alternative spellings of RETTIE meet this rule.

A deviant, however, is defined as:

any other spelling recorded, including cases where the spelling occurs in official records, but only randomly and inconsistently.

Given the above examples, it appears that the alternative spellings are indeed used inconsistently.


The surname RETTIE has no variants, only deviants due to transcription errors and mis-spelling.

Cousins-german and ‘Dressmakers’

No, I haven’t discovered relatives in Germany – though I have been to Dusseldorf, Frankfurt, Berlin, Dresden and Munich!

german (1)
“of the same parents or grandparents,” c.1300, from Old French germain “closely related” (12c.), from Latin germanus “full, own (of brothers and sisters); one’s own brother; genuine, real”.
Your cousin-german (also first cousin) is the son or daughter of an uncle or aunt.
Online Etymology Dictionary

I’ve just been researching my Great-Great Aunt Susan RETTIE, sister of Adam, John, James, William (who died in infancy), and George (my Great-Grandfather).

She was born on 13 Jul 1864 in Turriff, Aberdeenshire and she is on the 1881 Census as a jute mill worker living with her parents Adam RETTIE and Harriet MIDDLETON (remember that surname).

I have so far been unable to locate her on the 1891 Census, but she then marries George MITCHELL, coal carter, on 23 Oct 1896.

1896 Marriage of George MITCHELL and Susan RETTIE

1896 Marriage of George MITCHELL and Susan RETTIE, Aberdeen, ScotlandsPeople (SR Marriages 168/02 0346)

But what’s this? Under her name it says:

Fish Curers' Worker

I then noticed that a) George was 8 years younger than her, b) they were living together at the same address (83 Rosemount Viaduct, Aberdeen) and c) George’s mother is Susan MITCHELL nee MIDDLETON. So, Susan MITCHELL was Harriet’s sister who is Susan’s Mum which makes George and Susan first cousins!

Hourglass Chart of Susan RETTIE

Hmmm, and now I find the family in the 1901 Census living at 51 Queen Street, Aberdeen with a son called George but also two young single women boarders listed as ‘Dress Makers’. Seems a bit odd to me and I have heard that this was a euphemism used to describe prostitutes.

1901 Census of the Household of George MITCHELL

1901 Census of the Household of George MITCHELL, St Nicholas, Aberdeen, FindMyPast (RG13, Piece 168, Folio 28, Page 17)

By 1911 the couple have had another son, Walter, and they are living in ‘Ironfield’ in the parish of Old Machar, Aberdeen with 2 servants. George is a Dairyman and has a Cart Boy to help him and there is also an elderly Domestic Servant.

1911 Census of the Household of George MITCHELL

1911 Census of the Household of George MITCHELL, Old Machar, Aberdeen, ScotlandsPeople (1911 Census 228/0B 001/00 015)

The next residence on the census form is ‘Findlay Farm’ and if you look at Google Maps you can see a Findlay Farm Cottage just south of Ironfield House. Both of them are to the east of Ellon Road as it trails away to the north of the city.

Susan MITCHELL nee RETTIE died aged 68 on 6 Feb 1933 at 344 King Street, Aberdeen.

Died in the Poor House

The death certificate for Adam Rettie (my Great-Great Uncle) states that he died in the Aberdeen East Poor House in 1905.

The 1901 Census shows him living with his family of wife Isabella and their 3 daughters and 2 sons at 3 Causey Place in the parish of St Nicholas in Aberdeen.  Adam himself was born in the landward parish of Monquhitter, whereas the rest of the family were all born within Aberdeen itself.

His death certificate reveals the family had recently moved to 206 Gallowgate.  Judging by the name, this was not the best end of town!  I can only imagine that things got bad for him as a result of the relentless Industrial Revolution, given that his occupation was Cattle Drover.  (The death certificate also gives his age as 42, when in fact he was only 39).

The East (or St Nicholas) Poor House was sold off in 1908 as a Roman Catholic school when the new Old Mill Poor House was built.  Unfortunately the buildings were later demolished, as it would have been a humbling experience to visit the site.

I must admit that I had thought that poorhouses had only existed in Victorian times and did not realise that they existed well into the 20th Century.  It was also interesting to learn that in Scotland they were called poorhouses whereas in the rest of the UK they were called workhouses.

The 1911 Census shows the family still living in Gallowgate and that Adam’s son (also Adam) followed in his father’s footsteps and became a Cattleman.  Let’s hope he had a better end…

Origin of the surname RETTIE

“RETTIE: Of local origin from the old lands Reattie or Raittie in the parish of Innerboyndie, Banffshire.”
Source: “The Surnames of Scotland – Their Origin, Meaning & History” by G.F. Black, New York Public Library 1946.

The excellent Maps of Scotland facility from the National Library of Scotland shows various place names throughout the years such as Little Rettie, Muckle (Big) Rettie, Moor of Rettie, Mill of Rettie, Rettie Cottage and Rettie Farm.  Rettie Cottage, Banff, Aberdeenshire AB45 2AA is still viewable today via Google Maps.

In Britain, hereditary surnames were adopted in the 13th and 14th centuries.  This means the surname Rettie dates from medieval times.  Willmus Rettie is an example of this.

The question is: why was the land named Rettie?

About 10 years ago, we were on holiday driving to Holland from France and we passed the Belgian town of Retie.  This put the idea in my head that maybe some Flemish knight from Retie in the service of William The Bastard was eventually rewarded with land in Scotland (similar to Walter the Steward).

Alternatively, is the name of Gaelic origin?  “Reithe” is “ram” in Gaelic which may (or may not!) be pronounced like Rettie.  However, the farmland of Rettie seems more suited to wheat farming rather than sheep farming.  The “Hairst O’ Rettie” bothy ballad seems to vindicate this (also Mill of Rettie).

So, for the time being, I like to think the Flemish connection is more viable…

Willmus Rettie

The earliest written record of the surname RETTIE is the election of Willmus Rettie to the Common Council of the Burgh of Aberdeen in 1474:

“Curia gilde burgi de Abirdene tenta per pre positum et fratres gilde quinto die mensis Novembris anno millesimo quadringentesi mo septuagentesimo quarto.
[At a Guild Court of the Burgh of Aberdeen held by the Provost and Guild Brethren 5th November 1474.]

Quo die subscripti electi fuerunt in communes consiliarios hujus burgi pro anno sequente.
[Which day the Underwritten were chosen to be Common Councellors of this Burgh for the year ensuing.]

Commune consilium.
[Common Council.]

Andreas Alanson
Thomas de Camera
Alex Meignies
Gilbertus Vaus
Johes de Marr
Thomas de Culane
Ricardus de Kyntor
Willmus Vokel
Johes de Knollis
Edwardiis Lowson
Robertus Culane
Willmus Rettie
David Colyson
Johes Glemalvyn
Alex Blyndschel “

Source: ‘CONSTITUTION of the Burghs of Scotland; FROM THEIR CHARTERS’
Published by John Wylie & Co, Glasgow, 1818
p. 133