Category: Family History

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

Naval Gazing

Given that 2014 is the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War, I’ve set myself the task of finding out what part my ancestors may have played.

I’ve previously posted about my two Great-Grandfathers on my Dad’s side: George RETTIE and Hugh IRVING. I know Hugh was in the Scots Guards and died in Belgium and that George was in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve for the duration of the war (and after!) ending up in Dover. Now I’ve turned my attention to my Mum’s side of the family…

Skeleton Crew

Launching my MacFamilyTree database, I was immediately struck by how bare the entries were on my Mum’s side of the family – with only Birth, Death and Marriage data. Then, looking at the folder where I store the certificate images, I realised it’d been over 2 years since I’d looked at my Mum’s tree. This would have been the time when I first started my genealogy adventure with evening classes at Strathclyde University. Maybe we hadn’t got to Census records at that point in the course? Since that time I’ve been wrapped up in my RETTIE One-Name Study, so it’s fair to say this side of the family has been badly neglected.

Walking The Plank

My Mum’s maternal Grandfather was William Boyd BURNS. William was born on 14 Feb 1878 in Grangemouth, Stirlingshire, Scotland and was the son of John BURNS and Rachel BOYD.1 John worked as a Ship’s Carpenter from the 1881 Census through to his death in 1922.2,3

Ancestor Chart for William Boyd BURNS

Ancestor Chart for William Boyd BURNS

Continuing the maritime theme, I found that William was a Marine Engineer in the 1911 Census and that his young family lived at Wallace Street in Grangemouth.4 He had married Elizabeth Jackson HENDERSON on 10 Nov 19025 and Elizabeth’s Father, James, had been a Ship’s Master, Fish Merchant, Ship Sail Maker and Master Mariner in his long career.

Excerpt from census of the household of William BURNS, ScotlandsPeople, 1911 Census 481/B2 009/00 001.

Excerpt from census of the household of William BURNS, ScotlandsPeople, 1911 Census 481/B2 009/00 001.

Grangemouth is the town on the River Forth where I was brought up, and its busy port was the main source of employment until the petrochemical industry arrived in the 20th Century.6 (My Dad was a Research Chemist at Imperial Chemical Industries’ Dyes Division).

Full Speed Ahead

I then found William’s Medal Card at The National Archives and also further documents within the Merchant Navy records on FindMyPast.

The National Archives, BT 351/1/18523, Medal Card of William Boyd BURNS.

The National Archives, BT 351/1/18523, Medal Card of William Boyd BURNS.

Navy Seamen 1835-1941, BT348, Card type CR2, Discharge no. 851937.

FindMyPast, Merchant Navy Seamen 1835-1941, BT348, Card type CR2, Discharge no. 851937.

FindMyPast, Merchant Navy Seamen 1835-1941, BT350, Card type CR10, Identity certificate no. 120812.

FindMyPast, Merchant Navy Seamen 1835-1941, BT350, Card type CR10, Identity certificate no. 120812.

FindMyPast, Merchant Navy Seamen 1835-1941, BT350, Card type CR10, Identity certificate no. 120812.

FindMyPast, Merchant Navy Seamen 1835-1941, BT350, Card type CR10, Identity certificate no. 120812.

The 1878 year of birth and Wallace Street, Grangemouth address tied up with the Census and his Birth record. Extra detail provided was that he was a Chief and/or 1st Engineer (I think equivalent to a Sub-Lieutenant in the Royal Navy); he was aboard the SS Boorara out of Glasgow; he was awarded the Mercantile Marine Ribbon and British Medal Ribbon on 10 April 1921 and the Mercantile Marine Medal (awarded to those who served at sea for at least six months, and on at least one voyage through a danger zone) and British Medal (automatically awarded to all recipients of the Mercantile Marine Medal) on 17 April 1923; and there was even a picture of him!

Shot Across the Bow

The SS Boorara didn’t look much like a Scottish name. Sure enough it turned out to be an Australian ship, but it was also an ex-German ship – the SS Pfalz. And, to my amazement, it seems that this ship was fired on by an Australian land battery in the first shot of the First World War by forces of the British Empire!7

BOORARA X PFALZ, Allan C. Green collection of glass negatives, State Library of Victoria.

BOORARA X PFALZ, Allan C. Green collection of glass negatives, State Library of Victoria.

Carrying out further research on the SS Boorara, I found that it had been attacked twice by German U-Boats.8

This brought back a family story which I vaguely recollect from childhood. I remember my maternal Grandfather (who was also in the Merchant Navy) telling some story about the war involving a U-Boat but I’d thought HE was involved and that it was the SECOND World War. Perhaps this is the real story?

Sangster & Henderson’s have secured from the recent Sale of Ship Salvage Goods steamer, ex s.s. Boorara, which was torpedoed bound for Melbourne, part of the Drapery cargo, which amounted to over £20,000. The Goods are slightly damaged by Water.9

The ship was evidently repaired as she sailed on future voyages to Australia as well as places such as Antwerp and Hamburg after the war.10,11,12

I also found that the SS Boorara was moored at the former Prince’s Dock on the Clyde here in Glasgow,13 on the other side of the river from the Riverside Museum (European Museum of the Year 2013) – just a couple of miles from where I now live.

Compass Reading

I’ll be making my second visit to the WDYTYA? Live event in London next month and I have booked an ‘Ask The Expert’ session as part of my Ancestry VIP Pass. I now intend to use this to find out more about researching Merchant Navy records. This should hopefully help me locate more details regarding my Great-Grandfather’s maritime career.


1. 1878 Birth of William Boyd BURNS in Grangemouth, 14 Feb 1878, ScotlandsPeople (SR Births 481/0B 0022)
2. 1881 Census of John BURNS in the Household of Ellen SINCLAIR, 1881, FindMyPast (1881 Census RG11/481B/2/5)
3. 1922 Death of John BURNS in Grangemouth, 1 Feb 1922, ScotlandsPeople (SR Deaths GROS 481/B2 0028)
4. 1911 Census of the Household of William Boyd BURNS in Grangemouth, 1911, ScotlandsPeople (1911 Census 481/B2 009/00 001)
5. 1902 Marriage of William Boyd BURNS & Elizabeth Jackson HENDERSON, Grangemouth, Stirlingshire, Scotland, ScotlandsPeople (Statutory Marriages 481/B2 0031)
6. Falkirk Local History Society, Grangemouth
7. “AUSTRALIA’S FIRST SHOT”, Leader, 8 Aug 1914.
8. Australian War Memorial, Collection Item H02290.
9. “All Roads Lead To Sangster & Henderson’s Great Salvage Sale”, Aberdeen Journal, 23 Jan 1919.
10. “BOORARA, for Australia, left Clyde, 17th” in Shipping News, Edinburgh Evening News, 20 Nov 1920.
11. “Boorara, fm Antwerp and Liverpool, at Adelaide, June 6.” in Shipping News, Dundee Courier, 8 June 1922.
12. “Alexandra Dock, SAILED: Boorara, s, Hamburg, general” in Hull Shipping Intelligence, Hull Daily Mail, 26 May 1924.
13. Aberdeen University, Detail from Ships Database.

War of Attrition

Gosh! I haven’t posted for almost a year now…

Part of this is because I’ve been engrossed in my One-Name Study of the RETTIE surname and it can very quickly become all-consuming. I’m at the stage of being able to link the family trees of people currently living in Scotland with distant cousins living in the USA and Canada. Twitter has been a great help with establishing contact and also for quick-fire questions to establish the correct line. I’ve found WikiTree useful for publishing the findings as it lets people see the details in a $FREE environment and is also somewhere where they too can contribute.

Last April I finished the Military Archives module I’d been studying on my post-graduate course in Local and Family History at University of Dundee.

It was tough and a real hard slog. At one point I felt like surrendering and waving the white flag. I took ill at the end of January 2013 and was off work for three weeks. I fell behind with the course material and the submission of tasks for some of the module units. I had to play catch-up once I got better, and I managed to submit the Report assignment by the due date, but ended up late with the Essay. You get docked a grade for each day you are late with your assignment, although mitigating circumstances may be taken into account. The Essay and Report are each 35% of the overall module mark, with the remaining 30% being derived from the various unit tasks. Thankfully, I scraped through with an overall C1. So, having already passed the Skills and Sources for Family and Local History in Scotland module, this means I’m half-way there to obtaining my Post-Graduate Certificate.

The module tutor was Simon Fowler, author of Tracing Your First World War Ancestors, and it was the first time this particular module has been offered. In addition to the online Discussion Board, there were also a couple of Skype sessions where issues could be raised with Simon more interactively.

I thought the module material was very good and I learned a lot, not just about the archives themselves. Topics ranged from the Board of Ordnance to the Militia to World War One and Two and covered the Navy and Air Force as well as the Army. Another important aspect was the Home Front and the vital role that women played, including the various Voluntary Aid Detachments.

Joseph Lee, 'A captive at Carlsruhe : and other German prison camps', John Lane, London, 1920.

Joseph Lee, ‘A captive at Carlsruhe : and other German prison camps’, John Lane, London, 1920.

One of the sources I discovered whilst researching the Report topic was the works of Joseph Lee from Dundee. I had never heard of him until now and yet contemporary reviews rated his war poetry alongside Owen, Brookes and Sasoon. His book Capitive in Carlsruhe of his experiences as a prisoner of war is fabulous, aided by the fact that he was an accomplished artist and drew pen portraits of his fellow inmates – French, Italian, Serbian, and Portuguese. When the camp guards mutinied and overthrew the commandant during the German Revolution, he even made it to Berlin, where he witnessed Erich Leibnecht and Rosa Luxemburg of the Spartacist Movement.

I’d thoroughly recommend this module to anyone considering the Masters course.

As an indirect result of the course, I now have my Great-Grandfather George RETTIE‘s service record from his time in the Royal Navy Reserve.

The National Archives, Registry of Shipping and Seamen: Royal Naval Reserve Ratings' Records of Service, BT 377/7/110328.

The National Archives, Registry of Shipping and Seamen: Royal Naval Reserve Ratings’ Records of Service, BT 377/7/110328.

From the long list of ship names it first appeared he had seen lots of action, however upon close investigation they all turned out to be shore stations – even HMS Victory II.

The National Archives, Registry of Shipping and Seamen: Royal Naval Reserve Ratings' Records of Service, BT 377/7/110328.

The National Archives, Registry of Shipping and Seamen: Royal Naval Reserve Ratings’ Records of Service, BT 377/7/110328.

Having volunteered in Aberdeen before the Royal Proclamation declaring War on Germany, his service ended five years later after being discharged at Dover.

Six months later there is a note to say that Mrs RETTIE has written claiming desertion and demanding payment of his war pension. Perhaps George was a little too demob happy and was enjoying a drink or two with this mates!

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

Old Family Photographs

What a great treasure old family photographs are!

Thankfully my Dad is still around to help me identify his Grandparents in the first photograph below, though when you look closely it seems obvious that the young girl on the right in the first one and the silver-haired woman on the right in the third one is one and the same person – my Great Aunt Muriel.

Also noticeable is the ‘RETTIE nose’ shared by my Great Grandfather and his son – and also my Dad and me too!

My Great Grandfather George RETTIE with his wife Elizabeth Findlay SMITH and their youngest child Muriel circa 1932

George RETTIE and his wife Charlotte Leeder IRVING

My Grandfather George RETTIE (seated) and his wife Charlotte Leeder IRVING (also seated), on their Wedding Day in 1929

From left to right: My Grandmother Charlotte Leeder IRVING, her husband George RETTIE, and his youngest sister Muriel RETTIE, at their 50th Wedding Anniversary in 1979

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.

Splitting In Two

One of the things I’ve learned on my Introduction to One-Name Studies course is that you should separate your One-Name Study from your own family history.

So, I’ve now moved all the relevant pages from this blog across to a new one at

From now on this site will be purely for blogging about Genealogy in general and finding my own ancestors.

Drowned in the Tennessee River

Thanks to WorldVitalRecords from MyHeritage, I may have just found a RETTIE who served with the 12th Ohio Cavalry during the American Civil War.

Mustered In

Louis RETTIE was (allegedly) 18 when he enlisted on 1 Sep 1863 in Company E of the 12th Ohio Cavalry.1,4 This company was recruited from the Highland, Mahoning and Summit counties of Ohio.2 The 12th Ohio Cavalry was organized at Camp Taylor in Cleveland, Ohio and mustered in on 24 Nov 1863 for a three year period of service under the command of Colonel Robert W. Ratliff.2,3 The regiment was involved in the Battles of Cynthiana and Saltville I and II.3 (As an aside, there’s an interesting article here on the Saltville Massacre).

Mustered Out

Sadly, having outlived the end of the war, the young Private RETTIE drowned a few months afterwards on 1 Sep 1865 in the Tennessee River at Pen Hook Ferry, Tennessee.1,4 Perhaps the rider and his horse were swept away by the current whilst attempting to ford the river? Or perhaps the ferry itself got into difficulties?

Around the time of this tragic incident, the regiment was attached to Cavalry Brigade, District East Tennessee from Jul 1865 to Nov 1865 and it saw duty in middle Tennessee, eastern Tennessee, and North Carolina.2,3 The 12th Ohio Cavalry mustered out of service on 14 Nov 1865 at Nashville, Tennessee.2,3


Q. Was his name really Louis RETTIE?1 An alternative source says it is Lewis RETTY!4 Clearly one or both of the transcribers has it wrong.

Q. Was the location of his death really Pen Hook Ferry?1 Again we have a transcription issue, with the alternative source saying Pin-hook Ferry.4

Q. Where exactly is Pen Hook/Pin-hook Ferry? There is a Pen Hook Road near Monterey in Tennessee, but it’s a long way from the river. However, I can find ‘Pin Hook Road’, ‘East Pin Hook Road’ and ‘South Pin Hook Road’ about 14 miles due West of Sparta, TN – the last of which leads down to the Tennessee River…

Q. Where was Louis born and who were his parents? I’m currently looking through the 1850 census rolls for the 3 counties where Company E was recruited from…


  1. The Roster Commission, Official Roster of the Soldiers of the State of Ohio in the War of the Rebellion, 1861-1866, vol. 11 (Akron, Ohio: The Werner Printing & Lithographing Company, 1891), p. 600, This source says ‘Louis RETTIE‘ drowned at ‘Pen Hook Ferry’.
  2. Larry Stevens, “12th Ohio Cavalry,” Ohio in the Civil War, January 11, 2012,
  3. Wikipedia contributors, “12th Ohio Cavalry,” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia (Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., July 17, 2012),
  4. F.H. Mason, The Twelfth Ohio Cavalry: A Record of Its Organization and Services in the War of the Rebellion, Together with a  Complete Roster of the Regiment. (Cleveland, Ohio: Nevins Steam Printing House, 1871), p. 18, This source says ‘Lewis RETTY‘ drowned at ‘Pin-hook Ferry’.

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.