Thursday, 29 December 2016

My Donegal ancestor had a rude possession...!

With my wife and kids over in Ireland for a few days, I've taken the oportunity to have a short break of my own and to do the one thing that working genealogists rarely get a chance to do - some of my own family history research.

A recent connection formed via Ancestry DNA ( has allowed to me to make progress on one of my ancestral lines from Donegal, the Holmes family from Raphoe. Over the last two days I have made all sorts of discoveries, including the fact that my four times great grandfather fought with the Duke of Wellington in the Peninsula Wars (and quite possibly two brothers). Of course, being Irish, it isn't the great and the good that impresses me, it is the weird, the wacky, the bizarre and the craic, and my Holmes lot haven't failed to live up to that!

One of my favourite things is language, and its evolution across time, and in doing some research using FindmyPast (, I made a fairly shocking discovery - in 1888, my three times great grandfather, John Holmes, was the very proud owner of errrr...  a fully licensed 'slut'.

With apologies to the delicate of breath here - allow me to explain! It turns out that according to a dog license register on FindmyPast, John had obtained a license for a dog, and under the column for the dog's sex, were two options - 'dog' and 'slut'. Naturally, I had to look it up. From Wikipedia: "In the nineteenth century, the word was used as a euphemism in place of "bitch" in the sense of a female dog."

Not exactly the most politically correct use of language, but certainly a very real and contemporary one. Have you ever come across something in a record that has made you do a double take?!


For details on my genealogy guide books, including A Beginner's Guide to British and Irish Genealogy, A Decade of Irish Centenaries: Researching Ireland 1912-1923Discover Scottish Church Records (2nd edition), Discover Irish Land Records and Down and Out in Scotland: Researching Ancestral Crisis, please visit

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