A one name study looks at the origins of a surname rather than a person or a family. Here, Alisdair Neish explains how getting involved with the study led to him discovering people from all over the world with the same surname.
Alisdair welcomes information on any Neish-related names to add to the database, and is especially seeking help with Northern Irish branches: McNeice, McNiece, and McNeece.
I learned early that it is not uncommon to grow up not knowing anyone else who shares your surname. My only Uncle and my Dad's last remaining Uncle died when I was around 12. It was 10 years later, the year my Dad died, before I met another Neish. My early research uncovered almost nothing other than the McNab Folklore. 
I realised we were out there as the Neish / McNeish name had a habit of popping up in news items or documentaries, especially after the birth of the internet. I soon contacted lots of individuals who, like me, did not know much beyond their immediate family.
Then I was emailed by John Sudell Neish who is creating a One Name database of every Neish who ever lived. I was able to tell John enough to link into his data and John was able to tell me that we were 6th cousins and was kind enough to provide me with details of my entire family group since our common ancestor of 1715. My research continued though.
Even with a rare name you have to be careful with research. I have seen family trees online where a man is recorded as marrying his mother and a “super” Neish fathering a child when in his nineties. Of course both were wrong. I have proven four “Alexander Neish” babies all born in one tiny farm village in the same year. Care is always needed. So many people became upset at John when he pointed out the sometimes glaring errors in their own research that he has stopped all direct online interaction to concentrate on the Neish list.
I and a few others now do our best, using his data and practice, to fill that online gap. We also collate whatever new information we can learn and pass that back to John for corroboration and inclusion in the master database.
I am happy to help anyone who is looking for Neish information if I can. Of course we are always happy to receive new information too, to add to the list which now stands at 25,000 individuals from all around the world. From farm hands to astronauts!
By the beginning of Scottish parish records there were already five distinct family groups in Scotland. This suggested there was more history to uncover from before the days of parish records.
The name (and its 40+ spellings) is rare enough that no-one had really worked on it since the 19th century. My own research is mainly into the many hundreds of randomly recorded individuals going back to 1200 AD (possibly even older but no firm proof as yet) which suggested a single source and most of my current work lies in trying to prove / disprove our early history. Nothing fitted the highland Clan system. That's a story for another day.
Most Scots clan names refer to an allegiance to a particular group or a strong leader who protected the local population in times of trouble. For example Son of Gregor has given us McGregor. Today many groups claim to be part of Large clans and are considered to be septs of the clan. Some Neish joined up with the McGregors and are accepted by clan societies today as a sept. This does not tell us where they came from. Were the Neish the sons of one man or a group of folks living under the protectorate of that leader?
Recently, following a request, I looked into the Northern Ireland family where the spelling generally altered to McNeice, McNiece, and McNeece. Unfortunately, due to the combination of changing government and a fire in the records office we have big gaps in the history of the family before the 1920’s. Establishing who belongs to which family on a countrywide scale is proving difficult and we would love to hear from anyone who has already looked at, or is currently looking into the Irish family to see if we can help each other.
 A McNab chief headed "the violent feud with the Clan Neish, or MacNeish, who held the lands in the upper part of Strathearn and lived on the lower part of Loch Earn, which they called Neish Island." From http://clan-macnab.com/macnab-history
As Alisdair noted above (and anyone researching Irish ancestry) can attest, Irish genealogy has it's own particular set of challenges for the researcher. In a few weeks, Pat Reynolds (FreeUKGEN's executive director) will be writing about records pertaining to Northern Ireland on our websites, and in the new year we will present a series of guest posts from a specialist in the field of Irish genealogy, to help you overcome those barriers.
Last month, Frank Rogers described some of the work he does as a transcriber for FreeREG. Here, FreeREG transcriber Cathy Jury exemplifies the need for patience and tenacity when working on some of the more difficult parish registers...
Years of transcribing tricky Cornish place names and surnames and a knowledge of Latin (plus digital enhancement and lots of patience) are helping me to extract many details from St Kew’s register, which was repaired and rebound in 1868 following severe fire damage.
The 16th / 17th century handwriting in Latin is difficult to read, forenames are Latinised and surnames and place names have varied and archaic spellings.
An example of the fire damaged register of St. Kew:
I’ve been transcribing for about 6 years now and am concentrating on the older 16th-18th century registers. I think it is in this area that FreeREG offers a real help to its users, because these pages can look like an unintelligible mess to the inexperienced.
These St. Kew records are now finished and all searchable using the FreeREG search tools.Researchers can use them to locate a possible family member in this seemingly illegible register and even discover which Cornish village or farm they lived in.
My volunteering has been rewarding in a number of ways. I enjoy the challenge of the more difficult registers. It’s very satisfying to go back to that entry that has defeated you initially, but becomes clear as you progress through the register. We transcribers also have a very supportive mail group of over 440 other transcribers, who can usually help to solve the most difficult or unusual entries.
Finally of course, we are contributing to an amazing voluntary effort to provide searchable parish records for free and for all.
‘The first recollections I have are of playing up and down the road, with a stick, with a knob or crook at the end, and trying to drive along a round pebble, in imitation of the golfers. It must certainly have needed some accuracy.’
Idly flipping through the pages of a golf collectables book at Gloucester antiques centre recently, I paused and looked again. There in black and white was the signature of my great-great-uncle George Sargent. I had never met him and until my sister began a family tree a few years ago many of our ancestors and stories had been an unspoken mystery.
The book states that George’s signature was worth $350 in 2004. Further down the list, keen golfer Frank Sinatra’s signature is listed at $100 less.
Using census, birth, marriage and death, and marriage records we had discovered that George was born at Brockham, Surrey in 1882, was a professional golfer, and had won the US Open in 1909. But what had lead him to America? Why is my sports loving father so disparaging about ‘glof’ as he terms the game, and why did I read about George introducing the use of motion pictures to study the golf swing when there appeared to be no obvious proof that he had done so?
In 1886 George Jonathan Sargent was an inventive, playful four year old living with his mother Amelia, father William, Alfred his five year old brother, and baby sister Rose Edith, my paternal great grandmother.
The family moved to Epsom soon after Rose was born and George began imitating the golfers at the nearby Epson Down Golf Club, seeking out little round stones and straight sticks with a crook at the end just the right size to practice with.
George often popped onto the course and soon became a caddy, carrying clubs, fetching stray balls and carrying out various duties. His father William worked hard, long hours as a maltster to support the family. The pressure on George to earn more money in a stable job must have increased when brother William was born in 1894.
Golf was George’s passion, his life, and we can only imagine the family conversations that I suspect lead to the families disparaging ingrained view of golf as a profession.
George was hardworking, willing to learn and had obviously made an impression at the club. Thomas McWatt took the enthusiastic youngster under his wing, and before his twelfth birthday George had begun a six year apprenticeship as a golf club maker with the professional golfer.
By the age of sixteen George was flourishing at the game and McWatt, along with famed golfer Harry Vardon, encouraged him to a quite exceptional standard and he later proudly declared that ‘I could hold my own with any scratch man’.
Harry Vardon took George to Canton golf club up in Yorkshire where he developed his game, learned how to teach golf and how to manage and design golf courses.
He then moved back to Esher, Surrey to be coached by Sir Edgar Vincent. His first game as a pro was at Muirfield in Scotland. By the end of the first round he was in fifth place. It created quite the buzz and Harry Vardon later commented that everyone was walking round asking ‘Who the blazes is this Sargent?’.
Great things were predicted for the young prodigy. After moving to Dewsbury in Yorkshire and winning several prizes, George competed in the prestigious ‘Open Championship’ at St Andrews, finishing in an astonishing fourth place.
By 1905 George felt he had outgrown the UK pro circuit and moved to the Royal Ottawa Golf Club in Quebec, Canada, leaving behind his pregnant mother and unmarried pregnant sister.
George and Beatrice on their wedding day 1907. Courtesy of Carol Hitchcock granddaughter of the couple.
In 1907 George returned to England to marry Beatrice Marguerite Pearce in Battersea and she joined him in Ottawa later that summer.
A fruitful few years followed and George became a pro in New England at the course he had helped design - Hyde Manor Hotel in Vermont.
In 1908 their first son, Alfred, was born in Quebec and in 1909 George left Beatrice in Liverpool as he sailed for New York on The Mauritania.
George put his time to good use practising, but fared very badly at the US Championship at Myopia. Feeling he could do nothing right he tore up his card in disgust; ‘When I cooled off and saw how bad almost everyone else was I realized my mistake, and promptly made up my mind I had torn up my last card.’
He put in weeks more practice in preparation for the US Open Championship and a few days at Garden City. Then something happened, ‘I commenced to develop a feeling I was going to win; that feeling never left me, and even when I started the first round 6555, which was enough to dishearten anyone, I never lost confidence.’ He determined to improve during the afternoon, started badly, improved then spent the rest of the match playing a tightly nudged game with MacNamara. On the ninth hole he heard clapping and someone said ‘You are level with MacNamara’ and a friend advised he kept cool. George felt no excitement ‘I might have been made of wood for all the feeling I had, there was just one determined object in my head to win.’
And by George did he win! He heard a great ovation from the Gallery and realised he had done the unthinkable.
He later modestly thanked his ‘brother pro’s’ for their generous congratulations, ‘I had come amongst them almost an entire stranger, and I thank them all for my kind reception.’
George proudly wrote ‘Golf Champion’ as his profession on the 1910 USA census. He played in another fifteen US Opens finishing six times in the top ten, and won both the 1912 Canadian Open and 1918 Minnesota State Open. Other achievements beckoned aside from championships, as the family dotted around America popping across the border to Canada and back to England intermittently with a steadily growing family.
George moved to the Chevy Chase Country club as head pro for seven years, then to Minneapolis, Ohio and Columbus, constantly re-designing and refining the courses he played on.
George was a member of the Professional Golfers Association Of America from its beginnings and in 1921 was honoured to become the 3rd president, a post he held for five years.
During his time at Chevy Chase he was also busy designing, manufacturing and promoting his own range of golf clubs.
A well groomed mustachioed George stares from the posters; ‘Hit Hard and Look Spiteful, is what you have to do with most clubs, Smile and Take it Easy, is all you need with the Champion Clubs.’
During the 1920s George was confident enough with his teaching to give golf lessons on the radio and this seemingly batty idea may have led him to his next innovation.
C Francis Jenkins with one of his moving image inventions. Image: Wikipedia
Sometime before 1930 he had met C Francis Jenkins, a pioneer in motion picture apparatus as well as the development of television. Several years before, George had begun studying the golf swing with an incredibly focused eye, using stereoscope photography to analyse the science of stance, grip and angle.
We can only imagine his excitement at discovering that Jenkins had developed a movie camera that took an incredible 3200 shots a second. At the time an ordinary camera took only 16. George explained to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune that he and Francis could take ‘3200 pictures a second on 200 feet of film’ slowing ‘a golf swing down from something like one second to four minutes’. This is an achievement that OB Keebler described in the paper of 1930 as ‘the most important development, I suppose, in all the history of golf, so far as the teaching of this complex and baffling game is concerned.'
George chose his three subjects expertly, Harry Vardon his mentor and old style golfer, Bobby Jones a newer buck on the block, and Miss Joyce Wethered ‘the greatest feminine golfer who ever lived’.
Bobby Jones age 14, Miss Joyce Wethered in 1953, Harry Vardon. Images: Wikipedia
There were only four of these amazing cameras in the world and the film was produced by the PGAA; it must have cost a fortune considering the amount of film used. Around the same time George, ever the innovator, was experimenting on apparatus to ‘weigh’ a golf swing and by 1939 he had developed a cobbled-together machine that did just that. Along with analysis of champions' heights and weights, he calculated that the optimum swing for a win was 22° between the golfer's body and the golf club, all clearly demonstrated in Popular Science magazine.
Having pieced together George’s articles and quotes, I now have the proof of his early innovation using motion pictures to analyse golf techniques. The film that he worked on showing his three chosen subjects can be found onYoutube:
George and Beatrice had 10 surviving children; several went on to be golf pros, teachers and course designers.
George helped shape the future of golf through his application of innovative, practical scientific inventions. Perhaps it is because of his self-effacing, collaborative nature that much of his story has remained undocumented until now?
Heather Tweed is an artist, writer and educator. She has spent five years scouring dusty manuscripts and unopened tomes, bringing to life a remarkable characters from the past.
Free UK Genealogy couldn't have made over 400 Million records available without our wonderful volunteers who give their time and energy so generously to make our websites what they are.
Here, volunteer transcriber Frank Rogers tells us about his experiences volunteering with FreeREG.
Frank Rogers (c)
Original Parish Registers are difficult and time consuming for genealogists to access in their search for items of interest to them. FreeREG has been set up to address this problem by transcribing them onto a web site to allow free access to the data and provide search facilities.
Volunteers are required to do this transcribing from images of the parish register for Baptisms, Marriages and Burials. The original registers are usually held in an Archive centre, with only the current registers in the Parish.
These images are made available to transcribers to work on in their home, so they can do this in their own time. Most use a special free program to enter the data on their computer. Email is used to transfer the images and data files, and communicate with their coordinator and other transcribers, who may be anywhere in the world.
Over 40 million register entries have already been transcribed, but there is still plenty to do. We welcome new volunteers who can help us with both transcribing, and sourcing more records to transcribe.
There are interesting challenges, like trying to decipher the poor handwriting of some priests, and learning the meaning of Latin words used at a time when this was still used in documents. Most registers include details of Parish or Abode of the individuals, and this provides interest, particularly when the place mentioned is known to the transcriber. Sometimes the place name mentioned is no longer in use. For example, I came across several references to a farm in the parish next to my home village, and even asking locals who might know has not yet produced an answer as to where it was. On other occasions there are records of a larger number of deaths than usual, particularly of children or a whole family, and one asks themselves "Why?". Sometimes the text 'smallpox' or similar is added to the entry as an explanation. The deaths of a mother and child at about the same time also highlights another tragedy more common in years gone by. One also learns about the Gregorian calendar in use before 1752, the change in the date of New Year’s Day, and the missing 25 days that year!
There are email groups for transcribers to communicate with each other. These are often used to ask other transcribers for their opinion on difficult register entries. Help and support is also readily available on the Members section of the FreeREG web site, and from your coordinator.
I also convert donated registers already in computer readable format to FreeREG format.
To do this I use the facilities in Microsoft Office Excel to write what they call Macros to process the information as required, making corrections as necessary. The Macros are written in the Visual Basic programming language which enables me effectively to write a program which can do virtually anything with the data.
Over 3 weeks in May I was able to add over 74,000 records to FreeREG from 8 parishes in Kent and I am now working on another batch of donated registers that will add about another 15,000 records.
As a retired computer programmer this is a task I enjoy, and I hope to help other counties that may need this conversion doing.