52 Weeks To Better Genealogy – Challenge #29 – Practice Reading Handwriting

This week’s challenge is to “Practice reading handwriting. Deciphering the penmanship of our ancestors is an exercise in patience, but this is a great skill to have in your genealogy tool box”.

This challenge couldn’t have come at a better time.

Late last year, I obtained some Scottish Precognition Trial Papers for my ancestor Dennis McCormack who was convicted of assault in 1834 and in 1838 was sentenced to 7 years transportation to NSW again for assault.  I have managed to transcribe the trial papers from the 1834 trial, though there were a number of words I haven’t been able to work out and was half way through the papers from the second trial in 1838 but stopped half way through and I’ve telling myself to finish but something always comes up.

Both sets of papers have statements from the victim/s, witnesses, doctors, and police and from Dennis himself.  All statements have been written by different persons, such as the police constables and doctors. The statements from each of the witness and victims were not written in their own hand, as they could not read or write, except in the case of one witness. So there is different handwriting to decipher.

The papers for 1834 are interesting in themselves, as the victim ‘Helen Cooper’ declares in a separate statement declares that she was unmarried but had lived with Dennis as his wife and that she had ‘borne him three children’ and had ‘lived with him for 7 years’.  Not knowing much about early Scottish history, it seems they were together from an young age, as from the descriptions Dennis was ‘about 20’. Helen’s age is not shown in the documents. I do think Dennis was actually born in Ireland as his convict record shows that he had a shamrock tattoo.

Summary from the 1834 papers is below:

AD 14/34/53 – July 1834:

  • On the 20th July 1834, Dennis attacked Helen Cooper and Eliza Burnet.  Eliza Burnet was living in the house of Helen Cooper.  He attacked Eliza with a stick to the head about 2 times and Helen with a stick to the head 4 times and cut her head with a knife
  • That Helen Cooper was about 22 years of age
  • Dennis McCormick was aged about 20 years of age (though later records indicate that he was more likely 22)
  • That Helen had lived with Dennis as his ‘wife’ for seven years and they had 3 children.  This would make them around 14/15 when they began their relationship. No details of the children are recorded in the papers  I have since done a search of the http://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk/ for the possible births/baptisms of these three children have not been able to find any record of them.
  • A Marion Iver aged between 9 & 10 was also living in the house.  Her statement indicates that no one else was in the house.
  • Dennis had been intoxicated and outraged when he attacked both women.
  • Dennis was sentenced to 18 months at Bridewell Greenock.

It’s now time to go back and finish transcribing the 1838 papers and then take another look at the 1834 papers to work out the words I couldn’t previously decipher.


  1. Welcome to the Geneabloggers family. Hope you find the association fruitful; I sure do. I have found it most stimulating, especially some of the Daily Themes.

    May you keep sharing your ancestor stories!

    Dr. Bill 😉
    Author of “Back to the Homeplace”
    and “13 Ways to Tell Your Ancestor Stories”

  2. I am also descended from Dennis and received a copy of his 1838 trial this morning. He stated that he was 22 years old which would have made him only 18 years of age when he was previously convicted?! His daughter, Catherine, was my gg grandmother but her name was stated as Kathleen Jane Ann on my great grandmother’s marriage certificate, which threw me off for a while.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: