History under the hammer & a 15-minute challenge


16 July 2020
Susie Douglas of Borders Ancestry takes on a 15-minute research challenge after finding an intriguing hand-coloured map in a Northumberland saleroom.

As the current issue of Family Tree magazine features an interesting article on maps (here) and where to find them, it seems particularly fitting to find an item for sale at Railtons Northumberland Saleroom on 18 & 19 July that is also cartographical in nature. Lot No.160, which is a 19th-century hand-coloured map of part of Guyzance Township focusing on Brainshaugh Farm, fits the bill perfectly. 

A closer look at its distinguishing features, also applicable to many other maps, enable it to be dated more precisely. The handwritten schedule on the map is reminiscent of the ‘Parish Books’ that accompanied the old ‘County Series’ which were drawn at a scale of 25 inches to a mile. Before 1879 acreages and land use/cropping were recorded in a separate book, so if your ancestors were farmers, the Parish Books may provide some insight into the land and type of farming they practiced. After the mid-1880s the books were scrapped, and acreages printed on the 25 inch, later 1:2500 maps instead. 

Map schedule

15-minute challenge

Not satisfied with this analysis, a challenge to discover as much about the history of Brainshaugh and its people in just 15 minutes, produced some surprising results.

Using a range of sources widely available online the time frame encompassed some 800 years and; established an ancient monument dating from 1147 together with an historic house dating back to the late 16th century, included 2 separate references to the plague, identified three main families amongst 22 Wills and Administrations spanning more than 300 years, found evidence of inward movement from other areas in the census, established the tenant and other occupants of the farm on two separate occasions, produced:

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  • a snapshot of trades in the parish in 1915
  • found evidence of losses to WW1
  • ‘Brainshaugh’ mentioned 47 times in parish records with 44 marriages, 2 death duty entries and one notice of a Death at Sea in WW2 and a tragic accident in 1945

Out of time and with many other sources such as newspapers, poll books and tithe information to name but a few still unchecked, this was not a bad haul for just 15 minutes! A simple auction lot with an estimate of £80 - £120 revealed a wealth of information with no doubt much more to come with further digging. It just goes to show how salerooms are priceless contributors to ‘public history’ and by no means to be overlooked as repositories of historical sources. 

Join the conversation

What have you discovered using maps and where did you find them? We would love to hear your stories. Join in the conversation on Family Tree's Facebook and Twitter pages.

Useful link

National Library of Scotland. The Ordnance Survey Books of Reference (‘Area Books’, or ‘Parish Area Books’) published between 1855-1882 to accompany the Ordnance Survey’s 25 inch to the mile maps. Free download available here.

Susie Douglas M Litt QG is the owner of Borders Ancestry, where she offers qualified, experienced, and professionally accredited family and local history research service for the UK, specialising in the​ Scottish Borders, Northumberland and Durham. Find out more here.


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