Archive for February, 2009

Let me tell you a story.

Last week, when visiting my parents, my mum said she was looking for her collection of Robert Burns poetry (it was Burns Day), and she came across her aunt Wilhelmina’s “Burns Birthday Record”. Here it is
Burns Birthday Book

I’ve never seen a book like this before. You can see it was owned by my great aunt. Here’s her name and the date she got the book
Burns Birthday Book

25th February 1907. Wilhelmina Rosie was my mum’s father’s sister. Here she is with my gran and grandpa and their first born (my mum). This is taken in Orkney in front of Evie Primary School where Aunt Mina was schoolmistress all her working life.

mum, gran and grandpa and great aunt mina

I started to browse through her Burns Birthday Record
Burns Birthday Book
entries in the Burns Birthday Book

You’ll see that the idea of the book is to enter someone’s name at the date of their birthday, opposite the little quote from Burns. The first thing that struck me was the surnames. There are lots of names here I’ve never come across in all my life. Apparently that’s because many of the names were typically Orcadian but I’m still a little surprised. My grandfather was, for example, Orcadian but moved south to Stirling. Did a lot of these families never move out of Orkney?

entries in the Burns Birthday Book

The next thing I noticed was that they weren’t all written by the same person. Maybe she wrote most of them herself but sometimes her friends would write in their own names? I browsed the entire book, wondering about all these people and their strange names. Several had the same surname so there were clearly a few families represented. Then I came across this entry in December.

entries in the Burns Birthday Book

This entry stands right out.

It’s the only entry in the whole book which gives the person’s full date of birth and the date they died. And it’s the only entry with a quote from the Bible added. Here’s why. George Folsetter was Wilhelmina’s love. They were engaged to be married but he fell from his horse, aged 26, and died. She never married. You’ll see the date of George’s death was 1903, but Aunt Wilhelmina only got her book in 1907.

Look up the quote from Numbers Chapter 18. I had trouble finding it. I assumed that in her day, she’d have a “King James” version of the Bible but in fact the quote comes from the “Revised Standard Version” which was only published for the first time in 1901, six years before she got her Birthday book. I’m not terribly clear why she picked this particular verse, but the chapter as a whole is about tithes and giving the first of the best of all you have to God.

I heard Eddie Reader, in an introduction to Burns’ song, “Ae Fond Kiss”, that the Nancy for whom he wrote the song, lived to her 80s and every year wrote in her diary on December 14th “This day I’ll never forget for this was the last day I saw Robert”

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts