The Devil’s In The Detail

Alexander Shand Hadden (pictured to the right) was born at 3:20 p.m. on the 6th of September, 1883 in Cushnie, Auchterless, Aberdeenshire, Scotland. His birth registration, which was one of the first documents I acquired in my family history research, was signed by his parents, John Hadden and Helen Shand, who registered his birth on September 22, 1883 with the Auchterless Assistant Registrar.

As some would describe, my receipt of this document (in pre-Internet days of ‘snail’ mail) gave me just cause to do the genealogy ‘happy dance.’ I knew of Alexander and I had his mother’s name but the document provided me, at long last, with the identity of his father and my great-great grandfather. As time passed and the Internet allowed access to the records of the General Registrar Office for Scotland (, I was able to search for Alexander’s father, John Hadden. In my haste and exuberance, I assumed the search would be easy. I was looking for a John Hadden living in Aberdeenshire and I found one.
The John Hadden that I found was the son of a master baker in Aberdeen. The family appeared to be living quite comfortably and was able to afford a live-in domestic servant. Knowing that Helen Shand had worked as a domestic servant, I surmised that Helen and John must have met when she worked for the master baker and his family. Although the proof and for that matter, the logic, was thin, I pursued further research of this Hadden family. Over time, the connection to this family didn’t feel right. The geography of Alexander’s birth and the residence of the Hadden master baker didn’t seem to make sense and this could not be ignored. In time, I recognized the need to retrace my steps to see what, if anything, I had missed. By re-checking the records, I made my breakthrough.
There on Alexander’s birth registration, clearly stated (although apparently invisible to me during my first review of the document), below his father John Hadden’s name, was his father’s occupation and residence. He was an assistant shopkeeper living at Bainshole, Insch, Aberdeenshire. I quickly checked the 1881 Scottish Census for that area and there he was – John Hadden, assistant shop keeper, the son of Alexander Hadden and Jane Mathieson. At last, I was through what genealogists refer to as a ‘brickwall,’ and all because I had at last paid attention to the details, to all of the information that the birth registration document had provided. Learning that “the devil’s in the detail” subsequently has allowed me to trace back through an additional three generations of my direct Hadden ancestors – something very worthy of a ‘happy dance.’

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