The ordinary persons story of Scottish life from 1890 to 1960

Scottish Heritage Family History Large

My interest in my ancestors unknown to me started when I was a school child some 60 years ago. As the son of a farmer in Aberdeenshire in Scotland I was very much part of the farm work force, even after I left home and started to work in my own career.


As the youngest of three children we were rostered to help my father “sort the nowt” look after the cattle on a Sunday. If it was your turn to sort the nowt on a Sunday then you also went to the church with our mum and dad. After the cattle were all looked after during the winter months when they were tied up in the byre from October to May there was a period of one hour before we got ready to go to the kirk. During that hour my grandfather and another old neighbour and my father would sit in the farm kitchen and blether mostly about the past. I was fascinated with these stories which were so far removed from the real time, but I felt connected in some way to them. However it was not till thirty years later that the impact of sitting listening to these three men speaking on a Sunday began to have greater meaning and importance for me.

The Ordinary people of Scotland

As an academic by profession by this time I decided to research the life of my ancestors the rural ordinary people around my farm in the district of Kintore some 12 miles north of Aberdeen. This task was motivated through cultural pride in my ancestors’ achievements. However I was beginning to doubt my capabilities as a researcher because I could find very little information about this social class and vital people within society. Where was the ordinary persons story recorded? After further focused research I discovered that indeed there was very few documents which recorded the life of the ordinary rural person. Of the material I did find 95% was recorded in English which was not the language of my ancestors.

Doric dialect of Aberdeenshire

So their story was told by an outsider who did not record the material in the language that represented them. We all spoke the Scots language and the Doric dialect of the North East of Scotland. So my conclusion at this time was that a whole sector of Scottish society was seen as insignificant to even write about. Their language was also disregarded and seen as having little contribution to make by all the past traditional people who recorded such lifestyles be they professional or lay writers. This for me was an insult to my ancestors the ordinary people of the rural community. It highlighted that if any social group is to be remembered it is up to that social group to take on that task themselves. It was and is still obvious if we don’t do it no other social group will write our story for us. My ancestors and your ancestors the ordinary people made and still make an extraordinary contribution to society the world over. Their story, yours and mine, had to be told was my mission then and now.

Its our Heritage
So, what happened next. I decided to start doing the traditional thing as a researcher that was to gather information. We Carneys as farmers of Drumnaheath Farm Kintore Aberdeenshire

had farmed there for over three hundred years. When I started speaking about the past to our immediate farming neighbours many of their families had also farmed there for hundreds of years. My approach was just to go and blether to them about their past and the memories of their parents and grandparents stories they were told. This was such a rich source of forgotten memories that I was so impressed about how they courted their girlfriend/boyfriend, what school life was like,

Educational Resources Large
1930 s school room.

what their role was as a rural child, and the things about their past that they considered important. It was clear that my ancestors and your ancestors, the ordinary people had a significant story to tell but nobody in the past had asked them for and recorded their story. At this point I did the traditional thing by writing a manuscript for a book. During my discussions with the ordinary people they would show me artefacts, locations, old photos etc that they had about the past so I ended up with hundreds of photos I took capturing these items which represented our authentic rural past. All these were integrated within the manuscript. The manuscript was made publish ready and after reading and re reading it to accomplish this I realised that I had only been scratching the surface.

Capture the past on film

So in absolute ignorance of video production I decided to hire a video camera for a couple of weekends and capture their story. That couple of weekends filming has turned into 32 years of filming. Today I have an archive of over 600 hours of unique and authentic footage about my cultural past all filmed here in Aberdeenshire. It soon became clear that my archive did not just capture a past rural Aberdeenshire, but it reflected life pan Scotland and further afield. The famous Scottish saying of “we are aa Jock Tamsons bairns” is so true the world over. Ordinary people go through the same evolution and social progression all over the world. That process worldwide for the ordinary person has and is under recorded.
So, if you feel your story needs telling just go ahead and tell it.


Dr Don Carney