N is for newspapers
Strictly speaking, there is a difference between genealogy and family history. Genealogy is the study of ancestry, of biological relationships. Family history on the other hand is about people, and their stories. One of the best sources for family history stories is historical newspapers.
The first newspaper is generally considered to be the Relation aller Fürnemmen und gedenckwürdigen Historien produced in Strasbourg in 1605. It was another 55 years before the appearance of the first Scottish newspaper, the Mercurius Caledonius, although it only ran for 12 issues before closing in 1661. Newspaper production really took off in Scotland in the 18th century with the first appearance of the Edinburgh Courant in February 1705. Newspapers have continued in Scotland since then.
The oldest daily newspaper in Scotland still in print is the Press and Journal, originally published as a weekly newspaper under the name of the Aberdeen Journal in 1748. The name is perhaps slightly misleading, as it always covered national and international news, albeit with a strong local element. While newspapers may sometimes be useful for genealogy, they are often much more useful for family history.
In the Aberdeen Journal of 21 July 1800 is the following short, but horrific, story:
We hear from Buchan, that on Sunday the 29th ult. Margaret Keith, in Auchtydonald, was barbarously murdered. She was seen that morning with a man to whom she was supposed with child, who decoyed her to the river Ugie, and threw her in. she was scrambling to the other side, when the villain went across by a small bridge a little higher up, and ere she could reach the brink, he knocked her on the head by repeated blows of a bludgeon, when she sunk and perished. The murderer immediately absconded.
The next issue of the Journal contained the following, to modern readers rather bizarre, poem, entitled "On the melancholy death of Margaret Keith, a widow in Auchtydonald in the parish of Longside, who was barbarously murdered on Sunday, 29th June, 1800"
O’er scenes of woe, where common griefs prevail
Newspapers not infrequently published poems from their readers, although this particular example is longer and a little more morbid than most. But as well as news, newspapers carried adverts to cover their costs. The next issue of the Aberdeen Journal carried the following:
A Reward Offered
Clearly the advert had the desired effect, because 4 weeks later, we can read the following:
Three weeks later, the Journal reports - disappointingly briefly - on the trial before the Circuit Court
The next issue is even more sparing with regards to the verdict:
The same issue also includes an appeal for the three orphan children of the victim, Margaret Keith.
It having been suggested, that a small fund should be established for the future support of the THREE ORPHAN CHILDREN of the late Margaret Keith, in Auchtydonald, who was recently found murdered in the Water of Ugie – the smallest sum, for this purpose, will be thankfully received at Mr Ewen’s, Castlestreet.
We have some more details of the case, courtesy of James Bruce in his Black Kalendar of Aberdeen published in 1840:
Of course not all newspaper stories will be so dramatic, or tragic. The same issue of the Aberdeen Journal that carried the long reader's poem about this terrible murder, also contained the following snippet:
Marriage – At Fintray the 21st cur. Ann Ferguson, after a courtship of ten days, presented herself before the Altar of Hymen, and gave her hand to Robert Porter. The age of this venerable and happy pair amounts to about 150 years. So large was the company who honoured them with their presence, that it was judged expedient for the clergyman to perform the ceremony in the Grand Temple of Nature. That the scene of festivity might not be too soon interrupted by Sunday, the marriage was solemnized on Monday afternoon. In the evening there was an elegant ball, attended by many Ladies of the first rank in that corner of the country. From one family were present no fewer than 30 persons. An assembly so numerous, so chearful, and so elegant, has not been remembered at Fintray for 50 years past.
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