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Tracing Your Cross-Border Family History

One of the main traps which people fall into when researching their family history is to refine a search too much, and then wonder why they can't find people on birth indexes or census returns. There are so many records on some of the big genealogy sites such as Ancestry or FindMyPast that it's easy to see why people do this, or the results returned could be in the thousands for the more common surnames. But if like me you have ancestors who lived in a border region, it's very important to cast your net just a little wider.

Scottish Borders Genealogy

My own paternal ancestry comes from the Scottish Borders region, south of Edinburgh, north of Newcastle. This is a wild, rural area with small market towns and lots of moorland and agriculture. My ancestors on that side were mainly employed as estate workers, gamekeepers, farmers and similar, and although they moved around a bit, were based in Roxburghshire for centuries. The main town in Roxburghshire - a historic county which does not exist any more - is Kelso, a town which is just four miles from the border with England. And this is why it's so important to search a little further in the records when you have border relatives.

Genealogy Hints for Border Family History

There are a few general hints when dealing with families which lived within a few miles of a border between regions or countries, whether the borders in question are Wales and England, Ireland and Northern Ireland, or Belgium and the Netherlands.

  1. Know your geography - get the maps out. Look up the town or village where you have identified your relatives as living, and see what other places are nearby. The National Library of Scotland has a fantastic map site where you can browse historic maps from all over the UK, and further afield.

  2. Know your history - boundaries change over time, especially when you are talking about counties and local government. Roxburghshire ceased to officially exist in 1975 when it became part of the Scottish Borders council area, but when you are dealing with older records, Roxburghshire will still be the term used.

  3. Fuzzy searching - although it's tempting to hit the "exact matches only" button, it's worth allowing any database to look at neighbouring counties when searching for an ancestor on a census or baptism register. Their nearest church may have been across a border into another administrative area.

  4. Whole country census search - when searching census records for families you know or suspect lived in a border region between Scotland and England or England and Wales, don't opt to just search the Wales or Scotland census. People can and do move around and may have been just across the border at the time of the census.

Finding people on the census or other records can be difficult. Some people just can't be found, however hard you search. Getting another pair or eyes over your research can help, and that's where Glasgow Genealogy comes in. If you've hit a brick wall and need a bit of help to explore other records, or want someone to research your family in any part of the world, get in touch. I'd be delighted to help.


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