Genealogy, Scotland

Regular and Irregular Marriages in Scotland

My dad always said that my grandmother, Elspeth Orrock McHugh, was warm and generous and ready to do anything for the family. I was not surprised to find out that she hosted her sister’s wedding in her home in Dundee, Scotland on November 1, 1901.1 They would have just moved into this home2 and it would have been quite an event in her already busy life.

Elspeth had three young daughters, Anne and Elsie, aged three and two, 3 and Sarah Jane who was just 3 months old.4 Imagine hosting a wedding with three children under the age of three. Then again, the extended family would have been there to help.

Elspeth’s sister, Jemima Kinnear Orrock and Duncan McMillan Bissett had a regular marriage even though it took place in a private home. The certificate of marriage states that it was performed in accordance with the rites of the Church of Scotland and after banns were read,5 sometimes referred to as “crying the banns” or “crying the siller.”6 Banns or proclamations of marriage were read in the church three weeks in a row in case there was an impediment to the marriage.7 It is clear from the information on the marriage registration that this marriage was religious and therefore regular. This is just one of the ways that couples could legally marry in nineteenth century Scotland. In England, marriage was a religious sacrament whereas in Scotland it was a legal contract.8

Scotland’s distinctive marriage laws were based on mutual consent, rather than religious ceremony.9   Even so, the most common type of marriage took place in accordance with the rites of the Church of Scotland. The Marriage Act of 1836 also allowed priests and ministers of other churches and religious groups to perform marriage ceremonies.10 Marriages in accordance with the rites of other religions were also considered regular marriages.

Unlike England, Scotland did not allow civil marriages until an Act of Parliament in 1939.11

Interesting enough, Scotland also allowed other distinctive marriage arrangements, termed irregular marriages, that were considered legally binding and, as noted above, based on mutual consent.

A couple could simply pronounce themselves married in front of witnesses. They could also just pronounce themselves married, but it was more common to have witnesses in case they needed to prove it at some point.12

A promise of marriage, followed by a sexual relationship was also considered a binding legal marriage. Although this had to be backed up by some sort of proof, often by a written promise of marriage.13

And there was also the marriage by ‘habit and repute’ whereby the couple simply presented themselves in public as man and wife. 14

Even though the Church of Scotland frowned upon irregular marriages, it was preferable to ‘living in sin.’ Therefore these irregular marriages were tolerated. Their children were considered legitimate and were entitled to inherit property.15

Any irregular marriage could be registered if the couple presented themselves before the sheriff or magistrate. They usually had to pay a fine. Even though Scotland was tolerant of irregular marriages, they were not common in the 19th century. Most citizens preferred to be married either in church or in accordance with the rites of the church in a private home.16

 

  1. Scotland’s People web site, Statutory registers Marriages, marriage registration of Jemima Kinnear Orrock and Duncan McMillan Bisett, November 1, 1901, accessed July 31, 2018.
  2. The 1901 census, taken on the night of March 31/April 1, 1901 gives the family’s address as Milbank Road. The registration of Sarah Jane McHugh to Elpeth and Thomas McHugh on August 10, 1901 gives the Fleuchar Street address, the same as the address at which Jemima and Duncan were married. Therefore they would have had to have moved between March and August 1901. See references 3 and 4 below.
  3. Scotland’s People web site, 1901 Census, National Records of Scotland, entry for Thomas McHugh, accessed April 6, 2018.
  4. Scotland’s People web site, Statutory registers Births, birth of Sarah Jane McHugh, August 10, 1901, accessed December 1, 2017.
  5. Scotland’s People web site, Statutory registers Marriages, marriage registration of Jemima Kinnear Orrock and Duncan McMillan Bisett, November 1, 1901, accessed July 31, 2018.
  6. Rampant Scotland web site, Did you know? – Marriage customs in Scotland, http://www.rampantscotland.com/know/blknow_marriage.htm, accessed August 19, 2018.
  7. National Records of Scotland web site, Old Parish Registers – Marriages and Proclamation of Banns, https://www.nrscotland.gov.uk/research/guides/birth-death-and-marriage-records/old-parish-registers/marriages-and-proclamation-of-banns, accessed August 22, 2018.
  8. University of Glasgow web site, School of Social and Political Sciences, Scottish Ways of Birth and Death, Marriages, https://www.gla.ac.uk/schools/socialpolitical/research/economicsocialhistory/historymedicine/scottishwayofbirthanddeath/marriage, accessed August 20, 2018.
  9. Ibid.
  10. Ibid.
  11. Ibid.
  12. Ibid.
  13. Ibid.
  14. Ibid.
  15. Ibid.
  16. Ibid.
Genealogy, Scotland

The Paternity Suit

Illegitimate. This word describes my grandmother. Elspeth Mill Bowie Orrock was born on January 3, 1875. My great-grandmother, Ann Linn Orrock was unmarried and she registered the birth of her daughter and signed the register with her mark.

When my father passed away, I found an extract of the Register of Corrected Entries for the District of Arbroath in the County of Forfar, Scotland among his documents. 1 This was the 1990s and I was astounded that my father never mentioned that his grandmother was unmarried at the time of his mother’s birth and that she remained unmarried.

I remember discussing it at the supper table and my two school-age children shrugged their shoulders and said, “Who cares if they weren’t married.” Exactly. Who cares? One hundred and fifty years later, no one in the family cares whether Elspeth’s parents were married or not. But in 1875, it would have been a serious offense.

The Presbyterian Church of Scotland (Kirk) formed parish councils that held Kirk Sessions, addressing matters of everyday life, such as “church non-attendance, sexual matters, bastardy and illegitimacy.”2 The Church elders dealt with the moral behaviour of their parishioners and “adulterers, fornicators, drunkards, slanderers and Sabbath breakers were all brought before the Kirk Session to answer for their behaviour and to do penance for their crimes. In the case of an illegitimate birth, the father’s name might be recorded along with the penance committed by both parents.”3

In the case of my grandmother, her mother registered the birth and gave her the father’s name as a middle name. Even though the name is recorded as Bowie, I assume that it is a mistake given that her mother could not read or write and did not know that the registrar had written Bowie instead of Boggie.4

The register of birth was corrected six years later when my great-grandmother decided to sue the father of her child in a paternity suit. On February 17, 1881, the Sheriff Court of Forfarshire found that Elspeth Orrock was the “illegitimate child of the said Ann Orrock and Henry Boggie.”5

The year of the court case, 1881, was also a census year. Ann was still living at the same address that she lived at when she gave birth to Elspeth six years earlier. She was also still living with her mother and her three siblings. Also present were both of Ann’s daughters, Elspeth and her sister, Jemima, eight months old.6  Jemima’s birth registration states that she was also illegitimate.7

The paternity suit that Ann instituted against Henry Boggie would have been a civil court action heard by the Sheriff Court under “Actions of Affiliation and Aliment.”8 I will probably never know why Ann took Henry to court but it is safe to assume that she was looking for an alimentary pension for her child. Was Henry a deadbeat father for six years? Maybe. Then again, maybe he stopped paying once Jemima was born. Or Ann simply needed more money, now that she had two children to care for by herself. It is impossible to know.

About fifteen years ago, I wrote to the Sheriff Court and asked them if they had a transcript of the court proceedings. Unfortunately, they had destroyed all transcripts after 1860 if there were nothing remarkable in the proceedings.

 

  1. Extract from the register of Corrected Entries for the District of Arbroath in the County of Forfar, dated July 29, 1947, in the writer’s possession.
  2. GenGuide web site, “Kirk/Church Sessions Scotland,” https://www.genguide.co.uk/source/kirkchurch-sessions-scotland/116/, accessed March 25, 2018.
  3. Scotland’s People web site, “Register of Corrected Entries,” https://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk/guides/registering-illegitimate-births, accessed March 25, 2018.
  4. This is a deduction because on other official documentation, my grandmother’s name is Elspeth Mill Boggie Orrock and Boggie was her father’s name.
  5. Extract from the register of Corrected Entries for the District of Arbroath in the County of Forfar, dated July 29, 1947, in the writer’s possession.
  6. National Records of Scotland, “1881 Census,” Scotland’s People web site, Civil Parish of St. Vigeans, District of Arbroath, entry for Elspeth Orrock, accessed January 12, 2018.
  7. National Records of Scotland, “Statutory Registers Births,” Scotland’s People web site, entry for Jemima Kinnear Orrock, born July 25, 1880, District of Arbroath, County of Forfar, accessed January 12, 2018.
  8. Scottish Indexes web site, “Finding Paternity Cases in Sheriff Court Records,” http://www.scottishindexes.co.uk/learningcourt.aspx, accessed March 25, 2018.
Great Britain

The Wyndies of Arbroath

My grandmother, Elspeth Mill Boggie Orrock was born in 1875 at 32 East Mill Wynd in Arbroath, Scotland.  She was born in the “Wyndies” of Arbroath, specifically built by the spinning mills and factories to house the handloom weavers that flocked to Arbroath from the surrounding rural parishes. “By 1875, there were 134 spinning mills and factories, factories operating 1,400 power looms and producing 450,000 yards of cloth annually.”1 Flax, jute and sail cloth were woven in these mills. Almost 5,000 people were employed in the textile industry in Arbroath at that time and about a third of them were women. 2 Sure enough, between 1851 and 1911, all of the censuses list members of my family as mill workers, jute weavers, flax dressers and doffers, and yarn bleachers.

Marcol, a member of The Shoppie, a forum for life in Arbroath, posted this picture of the Wyndies on June 8, 2014.3

Marcol Wyndies

The work days in the mills would have been long, starting at 6:00 a.m. and ending at 7:30 p.m., with a half hour break for breakfast and a half hour break for dinner.  They worked six days a week and Sunday was their day of rest. The mills were kept clean and were well ventilated.  In addition, it was not unusual for the owner of the mill to provide free evening school for children working in the mills.4

By the early 1900s, Arbroath and neighbouring Dundee had suffered a serious decline in the textile industry and more significantly, the jute industry.  Jute was imported from India, however, the mill owners realized that it would significantly lower the cost of production to open mills in India to prepare the jute and import the finished product to Scotland.5 Once mills were established in India, the production of the mills in Arbroath and Dundee declined significantly.

The growth of the textile industry in Arbroath in the 1800s provided an impetus for my grandmother’s family to move into the city so that they could find steady work in the mills and provide for their family.  The decline of steady work in the textile industry in the early 1900s was the reason why my grandmother, with her husband, who had always worked in the mills, and their seven children, decided to move to Canada in 1912.

 1 http://archive.angus.gov.uk/history/features/2004-08-oldarbroath.htm

2 http://www.scottish-places.info/towns/townhistory385.html

3 http://www.theshoppie.com/arbroath/forum/topic.asp?TOPIC_ID=4108&whichpage=4

4 Factories Inquiry Commission submitted to Parliament, 1833, pages 21 to 23

5 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Dundee