Digging Up Your Roots

Digging Up Your Roots experts and presenters: Dr Bruce Durie, Claire White and Pete Wadley

*PLEASE NOTE* - For information on the current series, please go here. This page only contains information relating to Series 3 of Digging Up Your Roots, broadcast January to February 2009.

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Meet the team - from left to right:

Dr Bruce Durie
Bruce teaches Genealogy Studies at the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, and is the author of several books on local history, genealogy and related subjects.

Claire White
Claire presents the new series of Digging Up Your Roots.

Pete Wadley
Pete works in Reader Services at The National Archives of Scotland.



Programme 8: Genealogy brick walls

In the final programme in this series, Bruce Durie and Pete Wadley advise on dealing with all manner of family history dead ends. We discover why Burgess Tickets were awarded, what the occupation 'dog trainer' means on a census entry and how revising your family history research can yield new insights.

Stories in this week's programme...


Gilbert Kerr serenading an Emperor Penguin, © RSGS


Gilbert Kerr was official piper aboard William Speirs Bruce's Antarctic expedition of 1902-1904, and is perhaps best known from an iconic photograph of him serenading an Emperor penguin (above). Gilbert was a hero in his family's eyes, but descendent Bob Smith can’t pay his respects because he doesn't know where Gilbert is buried. Can Digging Up Your Roots help?

Listener Colin Miller hit a brick wall in tracing the origin of the surname Wybar. Audrey Wyper of the General Register Office of Scotland has been researching the Wyper name for nine years and shares her insights with Colin.

Listener James Price wants to know about the working life of his great grandfather. In the 1840s Daniel Price moved from Bristol to Alloa, then Glasgow, to work in the glass industry. Scottish glass historian Jill Turnbull explains to James what work would have been like for his ancestor.



Programme 7: Love and marriage

This Valentine's weekend, we examine the interplay between affairs of the heart and family history research. Bruce Durie and Duncan Macniven tackle listeners' queries about a possible family legacy that is unclaimed because of a paternity question mark, a marriage that has divided a family, and the legality of marriage without witnesses.



Stories in this week's programme...

John Scott thinks his great great grandmother may have helped change married women's property law. Elizabeth Johnstone-Gordon left the security of a life with her husband and four children to elope with a foreign aristocrat, paying dearly for that decision later in life. Bit it wasn't just her life that changed dramatically - she is thought to have influenced the law itself.

Alan Archibald is linked to perhaps Scotland's most famous lover, Robert Burns. Inspired by a family heirloom, Alan negotiated a bramble of relationships to trace a connection to the Bard. Now he owns a handful of very personal items which once belonged to his distant aunt, Jean Armour.

Robert Fotheringham stumbled upon an illegitimate ancestor in his own family tree whilst working at the National Archives of Scotland. Robert and his colleague, James McCormack, describe the paper trail that is left behind when love goes wrong.

Programme 6: Crime and Punishment

Scottish Witchcraft


A criminal on your family tree might have been a source of shame at the time but, years later, they can have become a rich source of genealogical information. Court and prison records often mean that the descendants of a black sheep can find out more about their family history than can those with law-abiding ancestors.

Stories in this week's programme

Scott Wishart was initially a bit disappointed to find that John Wishart, his 4 x great grandfather, tried at the Old Bailey and transported to Australia, had been convicted of a crime as commonplace as bigamy. Only on delving into court records did he discover the true extent of John's crime, and that he may have been immortalised in fiction by a certain court reporter called Charles Dickens.

Pat Weaver asked Digging Up Your Roots to investigate smuggling - in particular, what her ancestor, a dairy farmer, had been involved in to land him in Ayr prison. Her family always told Pat that farming and smuggling went hand in hand in Ayrshire the early 19th century, so smuggling expert Frances Wilkins joins us to shed some light on this shady trade.

Maurice MacLauchlan has inherited a family story claiming a blood link to one of the last witches burned in Scotland. We asked historian Dr Julian Goodare, one of the authors of the Survey of Scottish Witchcraft, to check the archives for a trace of the story. At the same time, he dispels some of the more common misconceptions about people accused of witchcraft in the past and how they were punished.

Programme 5: Surname

All of us have a surname, but how many of us know how to use it to trace our family ancestry? Bruce Durie and Sheila Duffy tackle listeners' queries, looking at the origin of certain surnames, how and why they might have been changed in generations past, and how DNA testing can help you trace your genetic connection to others of the same name.

Stories in this week's programme

Edward MacDonald of Winnebago, Illinois, contacted Digging Up Your Roots to ask if he's entitled to use a coat of arms, found by a relative on a letter sent from Scotland in the nineteenth century. Reporter Fiona Stalker takes his query to Edinburgh and the heraldic authority for Scotland, the Court of the Lord Lyon. There, Lyon Clerk Elizabeth Roads explains how coats of arms are granted and who might be allowed to bear them.

Leslie Sadleir was always told by her father that their surname came to Britain with William the Conqueror. Realising that she'd grown up with a story based purely on hearsay, she asked Digging Up Your Roots to test the theory. How carefully did William the Conqueror keep a note of his followers? And do a name's French roots imply a link to the eleventh century?

Chris Pomery is an expert in the use of DNA testing in surname studies. Having started just a few years ago with a study of sixty people sharing his name, the largest study of its kind at the time, he's watched the science of surnames blossom over the years, focusing on the Y chromosome handed down through the male line of every family.

Programme 4: Military tales

Those who live through wartime are often keen to forget it, meaning that later generations can be hazy about what their ancestors did for their country. The records, though, can tell amazing stories - so Claire White asks resident genealogist Bruce Durie and Sarah Paterson of London's Imperial War Museum to steer her through the maze of military archives to get to the heart of Scotland's wartime past.

Stories in this week's programme:

Michael Dominiak contacted Digging Up Your Roots to ask how his Polish father, a former prisoner of the Russians, made the tortuous journey during World War Two from north of the Arctic Circle to Iran, and from there to Glasgow. Former gulag internee Joe Tarnowski, who's lived in Scotland since the war, shares his memories of a similar journey and explains why he rarely spoke about what he had been through once the fighting was over.

Anne-Mary Wharton believes an ancestor of hers was a standard bearer at the battle of Culloden. She even has sword hilts from the period to back up the story. But how do you set about digging up your roots when they're buried so far back in time?

Glen Cruickshank's grandfather David never talked much about his time in France in World War One - nor about his two years spent in disguise. Still a teenager, he sought shelter with a local family who risked their lives to help him and dressed him as a woman to save him from the Germans. John Anderson, who uncovered the full story, describes the courage this must have taken on the part of David's rescuers.

Also on the show

How to trace your ancestors war record
Where to track down records overseas
How to find out why your ancestor won a medal
And the art of wartime camouflage


Programme 3: The Sea

Scotland’s links with the sea take many forms:  in fishing, in wartime action, in naval service and in trading.  Claire White is joined by resident genealogist Bruce Durie and guest expert Len Paterson to navigate their way through the many maritime records available to the family historian.

Stories in this week's programme:

Christine Fisher Kay was researching her husband's heritage in the Scottish fishing industry when she came across an unexpected tale of wartime heroism. Trawlers like those operated by the Nutten family were regularly used as minesweepers, and Christine set out to find out how big a role they played in defending Scotland's coastline from the enemy.

But how do you begin to trace your maritime roots?  Reporter Fiona Stalker goes with Bruce Durie to the newly-opened Scotlands People Centre in Edinburgh to investigate her own family's naval history.

Campbell Slimon found unexpected links with Iceland on his family tree – an ancestor of his is, in fact, still something of a hero there for opening up trade links with Scotland. Olavur Dyrmundsson of the Farmers' Association of Iceland joins Claire from Reykjavik to celebrate the maritime links between the two countries.

And what's the story behind the hanging of the crew of the Worcester at Leith in 1705? Jeered by a mob of thousands, the unfortunate mariners were purely victims of political circumstances, as Dr Eric Graham, author of 'Seawolves - Pirates and the Scots' explains.

Fiona Stalker's Grandmother and Great Grandfather.

Fiona Stalker's Grandmother and Great Grandfather.


Programme 2: Occupations

What our ancestors did for a living can tell us huge amounts about their daily lives and what the society of their day was like. Claire White is joined by resident genealogist Bruce Durie and this week's guest expert, Val Wilson.

Stories in this week's programme:

Tom Rodger is proud of his roots in Scottish social history. Descended from Sandy Rodger, one-time weaver, poet and radical journalist, he is by association linked to James 'Purlie' Wilson, a fellow weaver who fought for social justice, was executed for treason and is still revered by the trade union movement in Scotland.

Marjorie Dybeck has a precious reminder of the importance of her ancestor, Thomas Cleghorn: a silver tea service presented to him in the late eighteenth century by a grateful city of Edinburgh. But what exactly did he do as a Baillie and Inspector General of Imports and Exports? And how did he help Edinburgh establish itself as 'the Athens of the North'? Tony Lewis, curator of Scottish History at Glasgow Museums, visits Cleghorn's old haunts and provides a few answers.

Jane Neal's family query revolves round printing. Her ancestor, who earned his living as a stationer, turns out to have been part of a five hundred year printing heritage in Scotland. A visit to the Robert Smail's printing works helps piece together quite how important the trade was to Edinburgh, in particular, and even to our language as a whole, while Helen Williams, programme manager, 500 Years of Printing in Scotland, puts the trade into a wider perspective.

Programme 1: Migration

Migration, both into and away from Scotland, has been integral to the shaping of our nation. Family research carried out in Scotland more often than not leads the genealogist to records overseas, while many a family tree around the world has its roots firmly embedded in Scottish soil.

In this, the first programme in the new series, Claire White and resident genealogist Bruce Durie are joined by guest family history expert Dr Billy Kenefick. Together they hear tales of how Scotland has been shaped by a population in constant flux.

Stories in this week's programme
John Millar was born and brought up in Scotland, but his father is a hero in Lithuania. He was one of thousands of 'book carriers' who, defying the threat of death or exile to Siberia, helped keep the Lithuanian language alive after it was banned by the Russians in the late nineteenth century. Eventually fleeing to Leith, John's father was arbitrarily renamed by a Customs officer and joined a growing Lithuanian population in Lanarkshire.

In 2006, Coatbridge, ten miles from Glasgow, was voted 'the least Scottish town in Scotland', having as it does the highest percentage of Irish names in the country. Michael Reilly, the man behind the Coatbridge Irish Genealogy Project, explains when and why Coatbridge became the focus for Irish settlement in Scotland.

Photograph of Coatbridge courtesy of Coatbridge Irish Genealogy Project

Janet Moxley's missionary ancestor chose a hard path for himself and his family. Sent in the early nineteenth century by the Church of Scotland to preach to the Cossacks, he was expelled from Russia and faced a mammoth journey back to Scotland, along with his wife and young children. Historian Professor Paul Dukes is on hand to answer Janet's questions about the Russia - and the hardships - they would have encountered.

Overseas listener Susan McLean has found political roots on her family tree - none other than those of Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond. She explains the link between her branch of the family and his, and puzzles over exactly how her ancestor ended up in New Zealand.

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