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Somme 100 – Private Victor Sclater 7th Seaforths

Private William Victor Linklater Sclater, S/12854, 6th Platoon, B Company, 7th Battalion Seaforth Highlanders, died at the Somme 100 years ago today, 12 October 1916. A name and a number among many who fell that day. He has no known grave, only his name on the Thiepval Memorial. To his family, he was a much loved son and brother.


Picture of Victor Sclater, died at the Somme 100 years ago

Victor, as he was known, was born at Kebro, Orphir, Orkney, on 1 December 1894. He was the fourth son and seventh child of James S Sclater, farmer, and his wife, Jessie Linklater. James owned Kebro but also rented the farm of Groundwater, a mile or so down the valley, overlooking the Kirbister Loch. The older offspring farmed and lived there. Among the hard work, they had a lot of fun! The 1911 census shows the 16 year old Victor at Groundwater with five older siblings including my grandmother, Jessie, aged 24. She never got over the loss of her brother.


Victor was conscripted in spring 1916 (probably May) and trained at Cromarty before going to France.

Picture of Robert Miller, Barbara Sclater, Victor Sclater

Robert Miller (also Orphir), Barbara Sclater, Victor Sclater

In his letters from Cromarty he spoke of a visit home, they would see him, he said, “come swinging over Jennyval in my kilt”. (Jennyval is a hill above Kebro.) Due to disease in the camp, that visit never happened. By 12 September 1916 he was in France.

His last letter home, to his sister Barbara, was written on 1 October 1916. He noted that “the weather is still fine and warm but it is getting cold in the mornings”.  He had been on a bathing parade that day which involved a three mile walk.

“It did not look very like Sunday as we were going along the road for some of them were ploughing and a crowd of women were taking up potatoes. They were digging them up with spades and they have a steam-mill that goes from house to house threshing the crop and it was working away also.”

In this strange world, where even the quiet of Sunday had gone, perhaps the familiar sights of farm life brought something to which he could relate.

Extract from letter of 1 October 1916

From Victor’s last letter


The diary of the 7th Battalion Seaforths for 12 October 1916 makes harrowing reading. They were at  Eaucourt l’Abbaye attempting to take the Butte de Warlencourt. Things went very badly. There were hundreds of casualties in the 7th battalion alone with the trenches so full of bodies and wounded men that movement was very difficult. A family friend, who survived the war, offered to help the wounded Victor but he replied “I think I’ll just lie here for a while”. Possibly he knew he would never see home again.

Victor was one of ten Orcadians from the 7th Seaforths who died that day at the Somme 100 years ago; two others died of their wounds within days (see Orcadian casualities in the Battle of the Somme)(pdf). His name is on the war memorial in Orphir, Orkney. Gone but never forgotten by his family.

Ancestry shaky leaves… shaky foundations?

Ancestry shaky leavesIf you have a family tree on Ancestry or use Family Tree Maker, you will have seen the Ancestry shaky leaves. These are hints that there are records or other family trees on Ancestry that could be relevant to your ancestor. But are they helpful? Can you trust them?

Last week, I did a rare check and, to my surprise, found two very useful hints.

One hint referred me to a tree that included my great great grandmother’s sister, Margaret, her husband and daughter. An elderly relative had said that Margaret immigrated to America; this tree said Canada. But birth and marriage dates and places matched, the daughter’s fairly unusual middle name, Leask, was included and a son born after the family left Scotland had a distinctive family name, William Moncrieff. After checking some facts,  I’ve been in contact with the owner of theAncestrey shaky leaves tree hints tree and am satisfied that we both have the same people. (Of the eight trees in the hint, this was the only match worth investigating.)

Another hint, also from a public tree, took me down a much more surprising route: a x3 great grandfather, born 1800 or earlier, whom I have hardly researched, turned up dead in Australia, as did his daughter, whose name and birth date I knew. Initially, I was very sceptical, the best way to be with these public tree hints, especially as he was also said to have married again. His name, Thomas Sinclair, is not unusual and it is very easy to link the wrong people when you find a name in marriage records. The tree included some Scottish census links which I followed up: both made sense and one probably explains why Thomas’s daughter, my x2 great grandmother, got married where she did. After checking out some online baptism and marriage indexes, the likelihood that this is the right man increased. I now have a tasklist including: check the original baptism, marriage and census records at ScotlandsPeople and National Records of Scotland (some are not from the established Church of Scotland); order a copy of the Australian death registration. Once I have seen those, I hope I will be able to confirm that this is my Thomas Sinclair.

In general, treat Ancestry shaky leaves that lead to other member trees with extreme caution. You need to investigate further, check the original records, not just transcripts or indexes, and verify the information for yourself. Don’t take someone else’s word for it or you could be building shaky foundations for your own tree and adding to the many error-filled trees on Ancestry. This type of hint is not a substitute for your own research. I’m really pleased with my two links from last week but they make sense because I’ve already built a solid foundation.

Shaky leaves and actual records

Once you click on the person, you find out just how many hints  there are. Ancestry shaky leaves hintFor Alexander there were three in total, one for member trees and two for records. Shaky leaves linking to actual records on Ancestry are potentially much more accurate, very accurate sometimes but they are only as good as the information you already have in your tree. If that information is wrong, the hints will also be wrong. For Alexander there were two census hints, 1891 and 1881 (below), both spot on.Census hint




If I didn’t already know his birth date or his parents’ names this hint could be very useful but I’d then need to check the original birth and census records at ScotlandsPeople. (Some of the original records are on Ancestry so you can investigate straightaway.) The sibling’s name could also help with identification through other records.  Sometimes, it will be very obvious that a record is not relevant, for example if you know for sure that your Alexander Slater was born in Orkney, Scotland in August 1881 but the hint is about a John Harris born in Tredegar, Wales in 1881 then it is unlikely to be the same person.

It’s important to understand too that by no means all of Ancestry’s many record sets/databases are included in the hints. You will have to search them yourself. Ancestry has a good video explaining how to use hints (some comments, on censuses for example, refer to American records rather than UK).

Ancestry shaky leaves – use them carefully, do your own research and they can be a real asset. But check throughly before you attach them to your tree, don’t allow the thrill of discovery to carry you away!


Hogmanay – and a Happy New Year

I’m writing this on Hogmanay, 31 December. Hogmanay has always been a celebration in Scotland, much more so than Christmas in the past. My grandmother, born in 1887, was at school on Christmas Day at least once. My mother, who is now 90, would hang up a stocking on Hogmanay when she and her cousins stayed at her aunts’ farm. We always had a special dinner on New Year’s Day, something which really surprises my English husband.

First footing is/was a very important part of Hogmanay/New Year, calling on friends and family, maybe with a wee dram. A tall, dark, handsome first foot was considered good luck. As a child, I was always first in through the door at our neighbours, ahead of my rather fairer sister. As well as the drams, shortbread and currant bun, also known as black bun, were part of the overall jollifications.

New Year 2016 with fireworksThe Scots Language  Centre has some great information on Hogmanay and New Year. You’ll find the words for Auld Lang Syne and A guid new year to ane an aa there.

Best wishes for a happy and healthy 2016 – and every success with family history!

If you are in the Stirling area, I’m looking at running some family history classes in 2016. Do get in touch if you are interested.

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