Course details

Researching Scottish Ancestral Crisis (303)

Tutor: Chris Paton

As in our own lives, many of our Scottish ancestors had to overcome great adversity on occasions to simply make it through the day. Illness, death, bigamy, abandonment, accidents, eviction, victimhood, ethnic cleansing, and so much more a dramatic range of experiences across a series of lifetimes. And whenever such crises emerged, somebody was usually close to hand with a quill and ink to bear witness. In so doing, a great documentary legacy was created that can greatly help us to understand the true lives of our forebears, and the struggles that led to who we became today.

Many challenges and hardships were faced across time. There were the laws of the local parish church and the punishments awaiting those who breached kirk discipline, diligently recorded in the kirk session and presbytery papers, but additional courts existed elsewhere in society, from the Crown and the burghs to the local justices of the peace and trade incorporations. Records of the churches and heritors, as well as the post-1845 poor law records, can detail the struggles of those who struggled to avoid poverty, whilst documents such as letters of horning and warrants of poinding, as well as sequestration and cessio bonorum, can detail the persecution and stigma of being a debtor or a bankrupt. In other areas, the court records can also reveal some of the ingenious methods by which people could avoid inheriting the debts of their predecessors.

The darkest moments of the soul, from mental health issues and illness, are revealed in historic asylum and hospital records held in archives across Scotland, whilst cases of murder and suicide can be uncovered in court processes, newspapers and broadsheets. Dramatic moments of rebellion, when our forebears drew a line in the sand against a perceived tyranny or democratic deficit, can be found in contemporary records of the Covenanters, the Jacobites, the Chartists, the Suffragettes, crofters, and those cleared from the land to make way for more profitable sheep, from the forfeiture of lands and prosecutions to the folk songs of many who were forced to emigrate.

This course will reveal the many areas of Scottish ancestral hardship that have been documented over the last few centuries, and explore how to access the relevant records. It follows on from two previous Pharos courses, Scottish Research Online, which explores websites offering some of the more basic records for Scottish research, and Scotland 1750: Beyond the Old Parish Registers, which takes students to more advanced records found offline and online, and which flags up the importance of using catalogues. Although not compulsory, it is recommended that both courses are completed prior to studying Researching Scottish Ancestral Crisis.

Lesson Headings:
  • * Law and Order
  • * Family Events and Relationships
  • * Poverty and Debt
  • * Medical Issues
  • * The State and the People

Each lesson includes lesson notes, activities and forum exercises for students to complete during the week and a one-hour live tutorial (text chat or Zoom) with the tutor and the rest of the class. Times for the tutorials are set at the beginning of each course by the tutor.

See How the Courses Work.

Relevant Countries: Scotland

Course Length: 5 weeks
Start Date: 12 Jun 2023
Cost: £58.00

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