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More Aberdeenshire Records

Tomorrow, Friday 1st August, more records from our Aberdeenshire collection will go online. These records complete the Aberdeenshire dataset of more than 200 burial grounds and cemeteries. Among them there are approximately 250,000 individual burials or names and a total of around 600,000 separate records dating back to 1615.  

Dunnottar Castle

This new release includes the beautiful coastal parishes of St Cyrus and Dunnottar. Dunnottar is notable for its castle, perched dramatically on a rocky headland overlooking the North Sea.  The castle and parish have an amazing history as the site of royal visits, Jacobite rebellion  . . . and the wedding of my 3x great grandparents, James Jolly and Margaret Henderson in January 1832. As well as the records for the county of Aberdeenshire, the Deceased Online database holds half of Aberdeen City's records - the other half are coming soon. Neighbouring councils, Angus and Moray are also working with Deceased Online. All of Angus council's burial and cremation records are available while Moray Council records will be added later this year.   Also, we have a substantial dataset of nearly 350,000 burials for Edinburgh plus the SMI collection.  In total, we have some 650 Scottish burial sites either online or soon to be online. 

This latest release includes the burial record of John Brown (1826-1883), ghillie and later personal servant to Queen Victoria. Brown was brought back to popular attention when he was played by Billy Connolly in a 1997 fictionalized film version of his life.

Queen Victoria on 'Fyvie' with John Brown at Balmoral, by George Washington Wilson, 1863; medium: carte de visite; from the collection of the National Galleries of Scotland
John Brown was born in Crathie, Aberdeenshire in 1826, the son of a tenant farmer on the estate of Colonel Farquharson. He was employed as a ghillie, or outdoor servant, first in Crathie and then at nearby Balmoral Castle, which Victoria and Albert began visiting in 1848. After the death of Albert in 1861, the Queen became notably attached to her servant. She particularly appreciated Brown's loyalty. On 29 February 1872, the Queen presented Brown with the Victoria Devoted Service Medal for "presence of mind and devotion" in recognition of his defending her from an attack by Arthur O'Connor at Buckingham Palace earlier that month.

Sketches of John Brown by the young Queen Victoria
In Leaves from the Journal of Our Life in the Highlands (1868), Victoria wrote of her servant, "His attention, care, and faithfulness cannot be exceeded, and the state of my health, which of late years has been sorely tried and weakened, renders such qualifications most valuable, and, indeed, most needful in a constant attendant upon all occasions. . . He has all the independence and elevated feelings peculiar to the Highland race, and is singularly straightforward, simple-minded, kind-hearted, and disinterested: always ready to oblige; and of a discretion rarely to be met with."

Members of Victoria's court questioned the relationship, with rumours spreading that a morganatic marriage had taken place and that they had even conceived a child. Still today, it is not known how close the two were. When the Queen died in 1901, she was buried with a lock of John Brown's hair, his photograph, his letters and a ring belonging to his mother.

When Brown died in 1883 at the age of just 56, the Queen was distraught. The Times of 29 March 1883 reported that Brown died "in the Clarence Tower at Windsor Castle, after a short but painful illness resulting from an attack of erysipolas in the face, partly induced, it is believed by the recent severity of the weather."

Entry for John Brown in the burial register of Crathie, Aberdeenshire

Although John Brown died at Windsor Castle, his body was returned to his native Aberdeenshire to be laid to rest. An article in The Times of 4 April 1883 noted, "The body, with the mourners, was conveyed by the 5.35pm train to Waterloo, where a special engine was provided to take it on to Euston Station, to meet the down train to Scotland. It is to be taken to Bhaille-na-Coille, the residence of the brother of the deceased, and will be interred at Crathie tomorrow. The outer coffin is of polished oak with brass fittings, and bears the following inscription:-"John Brown. Born December 8 1826. Died March 27, 1883." He is buried in the kirkyard of Crathie, near the banks of the river Dee, across the water from the Balmoral estate.
Statue of John Brown in the grounds of Balmoral

Not long after the funeral, Victoria commissioned a life-size statue of John Brown that still stands in the grounds of Balmoral. The inscription on the statue indicates her true feelings for her late servant and friend:

Friend more than servant.
Loyal. Truthful. Brave.
Selfless than Duty, even to the grave.

Did your ancestors have royal connections? We would be interested in learning about any ancestors you have found in the Deceased Online collections who worked for a member of the royal family, or otherwise associated with them. Perhaps your ancestor knew John Brown! Either, we love to hear from you on our Facebook and Twitter pages or in the Comments Box below.


  1. Perhaps you could help. I enjoyed your piece on John Brown and have wondered if there is a connection through my own ancestry to his mother. My third great grandmother was also a Leys and I understand his mother's maiden name was the same. (I've seen her grave beside his in Crathie Kirk yard). I understand there were several Leys in this area of Aberdeenshire but have not been able to go back beyond her parents John Leys and Janet McDougall married circa 1798. Any help would be wonderful. Janet McDougall Leys emigrated to Canada with the majority of her children in the 1840's and her daughter my link to the Leys, left for Canada with her husband John Stewart. They were in Corgarff Strathdon until the 1851 census. Her father John Leys died in 1829 according to family records but I've not been able to find a grave or any other Aberdeenshire record for this.

  2. Thank you for your comment, Tamaral.

    John Brown's mother was indeed named Margaret Leys. She is believed to have been born in 1799. There is an interesting blog post with a photograph believed to be of Margaret online at

    In order to confirm a connection between your family and that of John Brown, you would need to trace your Leys family and Margaret's Leys family in some detail. Don't forget to record information on all the siblings in the families. Although John Leys is believed to have died in 1829, you may find a sibling died later. Scottish death certificates record the names of the parents of the deceased, and so would be useful for you to check.

    You can find early birth records, as well as the later death records, online at

    Good luck in your search!



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