When Paul Sib­bald in­ves­ti­gated his grand­mother’s Shet­land ances­try, he un­cov­ered a pos­si­ble link to a gi­ant of lit­er­a­ture. Matt Ford finds out more

Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine - - CONTENTS -

Paul Sib­bald searched his grand­mother’s Shet­land ances­try and found a pos­si­ble link to a lit­er­ary gi­ant

aving an itin­er­ant child­hood can cre­ate a strange sense of de­tach­ment. “I spent a lot of my child­hood abroad,” says WDYTYA? Mag­a­zi­nee reader Paul Sib­bald. “My father worked for what is now called GCHQ and on the cou­ple of oc­ca­sions we were back in this coun­try we lived in dif­fer­ent places.

“At home we never re­ally talked about fam­ily; it just wasn’t some­thing we did. Even as an adult, when I was based in Lon­don, I never re­ally thought about who my an­ces­tors were.” Paul cer­tainly had no inkling that they were pow­er­ful Scot­tish lords with links to high pol­i­tics – and per­haps even one of that na­tion’s great­est writ­ers.

When he re­tired, he moved to Liverpool to be closer to the city – and foot­ball team – he loved. Al­though he knew that his father had some roots in the area, he had no de­tails. “I used to go to the foot­ball with my father to watch Liverpool FC, but he never took us to see any­thing re­lated to the fam­ily,” says Paul.

“It was only af­ter I moved back here that I re­ally be­gan to dig about, and I found all sorts: the house where my father was born and brought up, all about my grand­fa­ther’s 40-year ca­reer at Lever Brothers, my great grand­fa­ther’s pub, my grand­mother’s fam­ily grave and con­nec­tions to cousins.”

En­joy­ing his new-found fam­ily knowl­edge, Paul turned his at­ten­tion to the few things his mother, Irene, had re­vealed about her side of the fam­ily.

“She had told us that my grand­mother, Ge­or­dina, came from a land-own­ing fam­ily in Shet­land,” says Paul. “She also said that Ge­or­dina’s father, Robert Thomas Charles Scott, was a laird and that we came from the Scott fam­ily, re­lated to the Buc­cleuchs. The first thing I did was dig out a fam­ily tree chart cre­ated by Robert Thomas Charles some time in the early 1900s, given to me by my cousin Stu­art.” Im­me­di­ately, Paul re­alised that he was on to some­thing.

Min­ing a rich seam

The Scotts were a rich and im­por­tant fam­ily and, as such, there was a great deal of ma­te­rial al­ready out there for him to draw on to fill out the tree.

“On ar­, I found The County Fam­i­lies of the Shet­land Is­lands by Fran­cis J Grant, pub­lished in 1893, and in th­ese I came across the Scotts of Scal­loway, of Scot­shall and my own grand­mother’s House of Melby,” he says.

Paul also found Sir Robert Dou­glas’ two vol­umes The Scots Peer­age (1764) and The Baron­age of Scot­land (1798).

“Now I had more Scotts than I knew what to do with!” he says. Les Buckalew’s web­site Bor­der Clan Scott (­der_ scott) also pro­vided 29 gen­er­a­tions of the his­tory of the Scotts’ fam­i­lies.

“Be­cause it was such a fa­mous fam­ily, the in­for­ma­tion was all there,” says Paul.

“I didn’t have a ‘ brick wall’ as such; I was over­whelmed. The chal­lenge was how to work out how my lot fit­ted into it all. In the end I was able to trace my ma­ter­nal an­ces­tors back to the early 12th cen­tury; back to the time of the reigns of David I of Scot­land and Henry I of Eng­land.

“I was aware that th­ese ear­lier gen­er­a­tions should be viewed as, at best, a guide pro­vid­ing clues for fur­ther re­search. But I love the de­tailed work and cross­check­ing; it’s part of my char­ac­ter to be metic­u­lous. I was in fi­nan­cial pub­lish­ing be­fore I re­tired, so I’m used to check­ing facts. At­ten­tion to de­tail doesn’t faze me at all.

“For ex­am­ple, on Ances­try, one per­son puts some­thing on their tree, and then ev­ery­one copies them. Sud­denly you have 10 peo­ple claim­ing that a par­tic­u­lar in­di­vid­ual was born on a par­tic­u­lar date, or what­ever. Then when you come across a doc­u­ment that con­tra­dicts the group, it’s quite dif­fi­cult to un­pick where the truth lies. But it is ab­so­lutely es­sen­tial to do so.”

As he worked through the data he had gath­ered, Paul was able to es­tab­lish links to some fas­ci­nat­ing char­ac­ters, par­tic­u­larly Sir John Scot, Lord Scot­starvit (1585–1670) – his 8 or 9x great grand­fa­ther, de­pend­ing on which line that you fol­low.

“He was Di­rec­tor of Chancery, Lord of Ses­sion and Privy Coun­cil­lor to James VI of Scot­land and Charles I of Eng­land and Scot­land,” says Paul. “He con­tin­ued at the cen­tre of na­tional life un­til the es­tab­lish­ment of the Com­mon­wealth in 1649 and the sub­se­quent rule of Oliver Cromwell.

“I’m cur­rently watch­ing the BBC se­ries Wolf Hall and think­ing to my­self: ‘This is the same kind of thing as Sir John was do­ing’. He wasn’t in as pow­er­ful a po­si­tion as Thomas Cromwell, of course, but he was im­mersed in the court, and very in­volved in political in­trigue and in­fight­ing. Sir James Bal­four de­scribed Scot­starvit’s pub­lic char­ac­ter: ‘He was a busy man in foul weather, whose cove­tous­ness far ex­ceeded his hon­esty’.

“He was said to have sug­gested chang­ing feu­dal tenures in Scot­land to Charles I

I was able to trace my ma­ter­nal kin back to the 12th cen­tury and the reign of David I of Scot­land

to in­crease royal rev­enues and free the gen­try from dom­i­na­tion by the no­bil­ity and was in­flu­en­tial in the pol­icy of re­mov­ing nobles from the or­di­nary lord of ses­sion. There’s so much more to find out; I’m sure I’ve only just scratched the sur­face with him.”

But hav­ing no­table an­ces­tors cer­tainly didn’t make ev­ery­thing straight­for­ward for Paul, and un­tan­gling com­plex in­ter­mar­riages was a chal­lenge. For ex­am­ple, his 6x great grand­fa­ther John Scott (1700-1765) was laird of the is­lands of Foula and Vaila, and the lands of Melby, Nor­bie, Footabrough and oth­ers in Shet­land.

His sis­ter, Bar­bara, mar­ried Hec­tor Scott of Scot­shall in 1725. Their grand­daugh­ter, El­iz­a­beth mar­ried her se­cond cousin, the grand­son of John, also John Scott, in 1780. In the mean­time, John’s third wife, Mary, pro­duced a daugh­ter, Cle­mentina, who mar­ried her first cousin once re­moved, an­other John Scott – of Scal­loway, grand­son of Hec­tor Scott and Bar­bara Scott, in 1782.

In 1806, the son of John and El­iz­a­beth, John Scott (b1782), mar­ried his cousin, Mary Scott. John and Mary had a son, Robert Thomas Charles Scott who is Paul’s great great grand­fa­ther.

“My co­nun­drum is this,” says Paul. “Bar­bara is both my 6x great grand­mother and 6x great grand aunt; Cle­mentina is both my 6x great grand aunt and 4x great grand­mother; Bar­bara’s brother John Scott of Melby is both my 5x and 6x great grand­fa­ther. I would be in­ter­ested to know if my un­der­stand­ing of this is cor­rect and if so, what the cor­rect sin­gle ge­nealog­i­cal re­la­tion­ship is.”

De­spite all the con­fu­sion, Paul’s 4x great grand­fa­ther John Scott (b1760) pro­vided a link to great lit­er­a­ture when, on 7 Au­gust 1814, Sir Wal­ter Scott joined him for din­ner.

The evening was de­scribed in the writer’s di­ary: “They are very clan­nish, marry much among them­selves and are proud of their de­scent. Two young ladies, daugh­ters of Mrs Scott’s dined with us – they were both Mrs Scotts, hav­ing mar­ried brothers – the hus­band of one was lost in the un­for­tu­nate Doris. They were pleas­ant in­tel­li­gent women and ex­ceed­ingly oblig­ing. Old Mr Scott seems a good coun­try gen­tle­man... At Scal­loway my cu­rios­ity was grat­i­fied by an ac­count of the sword dance now al­most lost but still prac­tised in the Is­land of Papa be­long­ing to Mr Scott... One of my three Mrs Scotts read­ily promised to pro­cure me the lines, the rhymes and the form of the dance. I re­gret much that young Mr Scott was ab­sent dur­ing this visit, he is de­scribed as a reader and an en­thu­si­ast in po­etry.”

It is be­lieved that John Scott’s daugh­ters – the ‘Mrs Scotts’ Sir Wal­ter Scott writes of – Cather­ine and Mary, were the in­spi­ra­tion for the char­ac­ters Minna and Brenda Troil in his novel, The Pirate, which is pri­mar­ily set in Shet­land and also in­cludes an ac­count of a sword dance.

“Sir Wal­ter Scott was from the house of Har­den,” says Paul. “Sir Wal­ter him­self col­lected a lot of the ma­te­rial on the Scotts of Har­den and Sin­ton and de­ter­mined the an­ces­tor of their house to be John Scot, son of Sir Michael Scot of Rankil­burn and Murthock­ston.

“I be­lieve that this John’s brother was my

18x great grand­fa­ther, Sir Robert Scot. As I’ve said be­fore, th­ese early gen­er­a­tions should be treated with cau­tion, but if cor­rect, it would make Sir Wal­ter Scott a very dis­tant rel­a­tive, my 18th cousin, once re­moved.” Imag­in­ing the lives of his noble Scot­tish an­ces­tors cer­tainly in­trigues Paul. But he is just as in­ter­ested in the or­di­nary peo­ple that sur­rounded them, and found read­ing The Napier Royal Com­mis­sion In­quiry into the con­di­tions of the Crofters and Cot­tars in the High­lands and Is­lands of Scot­land (1884) par­tic­u­larly fas­ci­nat­ing.

“It’s a fan­tas­tic doc­u­ment,” he says. “I have no idea if my an­ces­tors were good or bad land­lords, but th­ese peo­ple had a very tough life. There are no trees on Shet­land and ev­ery inch of it is ham­mered by gales and storms.

“Read­ing through the re­port was in a way the most re­veal­ing as­pect of my re­search for me, be­cause it goes into so much de­tail.

“It’s laid out in a kind of ques­tion-an­dan­swer style and goes through what peo­ple have for break­fast, what they earn, what their re­la­tion­ships with their land­lords and the land­lord’s agents were like. You can spend ages just read­ing through the tes­ti­mony.”

And ‘spend­ing ages’ is ex­actly what Paul is plan­ning to do in the years to come: “This is my win­ter pro­ject now. Fam­ily his­tory is a long process and I’m only new to the game.

“I think I am go­ing to stop work­ing on my mother’s side for a while, go back to my father’s, and then come back to her again with fresh eyes some time in the fu­ture. Al­though, hav­ing done some re­search it seems that a lot of my father’s rel­a­tives also seem to have come from Scot­land.

“Grow­ing up I didn’t re­ally iden­tify with any bit of the coun­try. But now I find out that Scot­land is ac­tu­ally where I’m from, which is strange be­cause I’ve never re­ally been there!

“Now I have got the time, the next step is to phys­i­cally go to some of th­ese places and walk around the grave­yards. I have got all that to come, which should be very in­ter­est­ing!”

A for­mal stu­dio por­trait shot of the Scott fam­ily taken in 1910

Paul’s back­ground in fi­nan­cial pub­lish­ing stands him in good stead as he takes on metic­u­lous

fam­ily his­tory re­search in his re­tire­ment


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