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Can you help me in finding information on the parents of my great-grandfather, Walter Eliot Young RUTHERFORD? In the 1861 census for Kirkcudbright, it states he was 29 years old and ‘born at sea’. On his death certificate, his father is recorded as a soldier.

Firstly, how does one trace a child born at sea? The birthplace could be due to troop movements perhaps. On subsequent censuses his place of birth is recorded as Inveresk, Edinburgh.

My great-grandparents appear to have obeyed the Scottish convention in child naming.

The name of the first son is unknown, but possibly Walter; the second boy was named Joseph, the first girl Janet and the second girl Euphemia. This makes my paternal great-grandfather’s mother a Euphemia. Unfortunately I can’t find the name of the first boy. He seems to have died early as he doesn’t appear on the census forms.

This is where the confusion starts: on my great-grandfather’s death certificate his parents are recorded as Walter and Isabella BLAIR (it could be a second marriage, of course). To add to the confusion there is a Walter Young RUTHERFORD born to a William and Euphemia in 1928.

I think the only possible answer to this muddle lies in my great-grandfather’s birth certificate, but where do I find that?

Ian Bradley


The Scottish naming system that you refer to dictates that the first son is named after the father’s father, the second son after the mother’s father, and the third son after his father; the first daughter is named after her mother’s mother, the second after her father’s mother, and the third after her mother. Of course this ideal can easily fall apart when the same forenames crop up in both sides of the family. Naming patterns can only be a guide and are frequently inaccurate.

Leaving aside the birth at sea problem for now, I first note that the 1851 to 1881 census returns indicate very different years of birth, from 1824–25 in 1881 to 1831–32 in 1861. Secondly, have you obtained the marriage record of Walter (Eliot) RUTHERFORD and Mary? And have you searched for his birth in Scotland, rather than ‘at sea’, in case he was indeed born in Inveresk? The 1928 ‘birth’ you refer to was in fact a baptism of Walter Young RUTHERFORD, son of William and Euphemia PURVES on 13th January 1828 at Inveresk with Musselburgh. Following from this, have you searched for the marriages of a Walter RUTHERFORD to Isabella BLAIR and William RUTHERFORD and Euphemia PURVES; and then tried to locate them in the census returns? You will need to make use of the official government website

Discovering details of a birth at sea is fraught with difficulties, particularly before 1837 for English and Welsh, and before 1855 for Scottish. For England and Wales, the Births and Deaths Act 1837 made provision for the recording of births and deaths overseas; as did The Registration of Births, Deaths and Marriages Act (Scotland) 1854. But before these dates there are no official records of births at sea.

As Walter’s father was said to have been in the army, you need to look at the various series of records of army births. For the period you require, these are the Regimental Registers of Births from 1761, and the Army Chaplains Returns of Births from 1796. These are held by the General Register Office but indexes to them are available online at and

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