Researching in Fife on my first visit

I had the pleasure of meeting Lee Ann Bourcier on her first visit to FIFE to research her ancestors, she then wrote a story of her visit which I thought would benefit and aid others researching their ancestors from FIFE, Lee Ann has so kindly agreed for me to publish her letter in full, I hope you will enjoy. I’m sure Lee Ann would like you to contact her with any questions about her visit.
My Trip to FIFE

I’m told you might like to hear about my wonderful and successful (and too short!) trip to Fife, mainly for researching my family. I hope it might help some of you as you plan your research trip there — I really, really recommend that you go if you can. You’ll discover that the Fife of your roots is a total treasure of a place! And if you’re like me, you’ll never want to leave. But here I am back in Oregon, USA, after my two week trip, planned to coincide with the Fife Family History Fair, which was just excellent: organized and informative. Good lectures around the theme of “Upstairs/Downstairs” otherwise known as the upper class and the working class. My family was the latter, and the details I learned about the lifestyles of servants and farm labourers were quite interesting. But the best thing about the Fair for me was the exhibit hall, where there were family history society groups from all over Scotland selling helpful research books and pamphlets. And it was there that I got to meet the fabulous and helpful Manson brothers, Tommy and Donald, and the source of great Fife research publications, Andrew J. Campbell. If you can manage to meet them when you are in Fife, you will be lucky, indeed. All of them are extremely kind, knowledgeable, and helpful folks. I stayed in touch with Donald throughout my trip, and he was a great help to me, both with promising research leads and even with actually joining me to do some of my searching through old records, not to mention driving in front of me to lead me onto the roads I wanted. Was I ever lucky to connect with these fine human beings!
Research I did while in Fife:

1. Cemetery Office search through original cemetery records from most parishes in NE Fife, located at the Fife Council offices in Cupar. This resource proved extremely beneficial to me in searching for information about my McDonald ancestors in Fife. I found that most of my 19th century McDonalds are buried in the old cemetery at Falkland, many of them buried 3-4 to one grave, all at different depths. A few buried in the Kingskettle churchyard cemetery. None with headstones. We were just too poor. But there are graveyard maps at the cemetery office, so I was able to find approximately where the graves were in the cemeteries and visit them which was very meaningful for me.
(By the way, while I was at the cemetery records office, who should pop in but Tommy and Donald Manson, helping another Fife researcher from the States, Bill McLean!)
In those cemetery records I found ancestors I hadn’t previously known about (2 stillborn babies born in the 2 years prior to my grandfather William Melville McDonald’s birth in 1884 – he was apparently lucky to have lived!), learned about the untimely deaths of some I had known about (from scarlet fever at age 3 weeks, for example), and saw the cause of death for many of them, ranging from “water on the head” (hydrocephaly?) to old age to “breaking apart” which I took to mean, essentially, old age. (Does anyone on the list know if it refers to a more specific diagnosis that was used in the 19th century?)
1826 Map of FIFE

2. 1826 map of Fife – Donald Manson recommended I buy this beautiful map at the Cupar Library, and I’m so glad I did. It has a great amount of detail on it, including farm names which proved very useful in my research. (Donald suggested that I have it laminated since I will be using it often. Unfortunately, my little village in Oregon has no laminating machines nearby that can laminate such a big map – about 3 feet high.)
Libraries with Genealogical records in FIFE

3. Libraries with genealogical records – Fife was such a treasure in that there were libraries everywhere that had genealogical records. At Cupar and Kirkcaldy (and I think at Methil too), the libraries had full collections of microfilms of OPRs for Fife as well as microfilms of all the old census records. As leads would develop for me, I could pop into a library and quickly access the records I needed! (Sure is not like that for me in Oregon, where I have to travel 25 miles to my nearest LDS Family History Library, order the films I’m eager to look at, then wait and wait for them to come in.) The Kirkcaldy Library had vast resources that I only used once, but should have spent much more time using. Donald Manson joined me at the end of my time there and pointed out a very useful series of bound books listing tax records for the county. Names of landowners and tenants were all listed for each property/farm/house, and I discovered that my great-grandfather, Charles McDonald, had improved his status by the end of his life from farm labourer to a tenant of a farm! At the Methil Library, the genealogy section houses all the books and records of the Fife Family History Society, so I stopped there too.
Demperston and Linndifferon Farms

4. Visited two farms where my ancestors were labourers, Demperston and Linndifferon, thanks to the help of the farmhouse B&B farmer, Mr. McGregor, I stayed with who helped me figure out what the farm names really were. In fact, in the case of Demperston just outside of Auchtermuchty, I hadn’t even known it was a farm at all when I came. I just had my grandfather’s oral history typed up with the information that Grandpa had been living at Deckerson once. Mr. McGregor took one look at that and informed me that Grandpa must have meant Demperston Farm, and then he told me how to find it so I could visit, which I did. Couldn’t find anyone to talk to, but took some photos of the oldest buildings there, trying to imagine Grandpa there as a boy in 1889 when he had a horrible accident with a runaway team of horses going over him, leaving him too lame to attend school for a year.
At the second farm, I had amazing good fortune. Two long-time workers at Linndifferon were eating their lunch and were very happy to talk to me about the farm. When they looked over some of my 19th century photos of family, Mr. Waugh suddenly exclaimed, “I know exactly where this photo was taken. Let me show you!” Sure enough, he showed me the old line of stone farm worker’s housing, helped me match up the stonework to find the exact spot where the photo had been taken, and I got one of the same place today!
I was so amazed. Never in my wildest dreams had I ever thought I would find the actual spot where one of my old photos was taken! Then the current residents of the house (about four of these old “but ‘n bens” or “kitchen and THE room” dwellings had been joined into one modern living unit for a family) asked me in, showed me where all the old fireplaces were buried under modern walls, and how thick the walls between each “but ‘n ben” had been — and at the end of a most gracious visit, took my address and said they’d send me the old, old key to their door when they changed the lock, as they were about to do. I was just continually amazed at the warmth and friendliness and generosity of the Fifers I met!
Letham schoolhouse

5. Letham schoolhouse – Those Linndifferon farm workers also identified the location of an old photo I have of my grandpa with all his schoolmates and teachers! So I went there and got another “taken at the same spot photo.” Later I thought the kids currently at the school might be interested in seeing that old photo of kids at their school. So I stopped by and the head teacher, Mrs. Gibb, interrupted her lesson, gathered kids around, and turned my visit into an impromptu history and geography lesson. She and the kids were great to be with, and it was another highlight of my trip.
Tea and Biscuits with a 92 year old stranger

6. Talking to people – One thing I’d highly recommend in your research is being friendly and open to people you meet and learning all you can from them. Without exception, people were gracious and friendly and very willing to answer my questions. One 92-year-old woman invited me, a total stranger, into her home and served me biscuits and tea as we talked for nearly two hours. (Something like this would RARELY happen in the States where so many of us – especially elderly women living alone – are suspicious of strangers.) As you can see from what I’ve related so far, I really learned a lot of useful things just talking to folks and listening to their stories. One lead proved especially useful. See #7.
Farms in the North of Fife

7. Book on farms in the north of Fife – I had to go to another farm to talk to folks there who lead me to an elderly man in Cupar who has written a book which I bought from him about the farms in northern Fife: Lairds and Farmers in North Fife by Robert W. MacLeod. It is an excellent source of information about the ownership history and parish location of farms in that part of Fife. He was going to do two more to cover all of Fife, but said the first book wore him out, so he won’t be doing the other two. Oh darn! He has very few books left from the first printing, and I told him to contact Donald Manson to get the word out about his book to the Fife Family History Society. In the meantime, if anyone would like me to look up a farm for you, I will be happy to do so. The general area covered is “mainly concentrated in the area north of a line Newburgh-Cupar-St. Andrews. I don’t want to violate Mr. MacLeod’s copyright though, so I’ll just tell you if your farm is in there and then you can contact him to buy a copy. His address is Robert W. MacLeod, “Dunvegan”, Cupar, Fife, KY15 5AJ, Scotland.
St Andrews University Library

8. St. Andrews University Library, special collections – Old manuscripts and documents are housed in a special section of the library. And I was allowed access to them just by registering. Staff brings what you’ve requested to a reading room for you to look at there. The collection is indexed, even by surname. Nothing specifically relevant to my farm working McDonalds and Melville’s, but I did find the architectural plans for remodelling the Markinch parish church in 1884, the year my grandpa was born and the church where he was baptized. I got copies made to bring home for my father and brother who are fascinated by such things. For me, I just loved seeing what the church had looked like when Grandpa was baptized.
Old Parish Churches

9. Old parish churches – I visited every old parish church that I knew my ancestors had once attended. Most of them were closed, but I did get to go inside 2 of them, one of them (Freuchie) for Sunday services. Again, it was very meaningful for me to make these visits and imagine my ancestors attending services there.
Well, now that I’ve told you way more than you probably wanted to know,
I’d better close. Needless to say, it was a fabulous trip
and I highly recommend other folks with Fife connections to visit there too.

(Many thanks Lee Ann Bourcier, Yachats, Oregon, USA)
Although this was a few years ago that Lee Ann visited her story still stands today, thanks again Lee Ann.
Be aware since this story was written Fife Council has decided to charge for lookups in their offices.

2 comments

  1. I am looking for the history of Mayfield Farm Cupar Fife.
    Having built near the farm and a old part of a building is beside our home would like to know what it was.
    Can you help.

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