In an obituary for Thomas Sim of Fyvie, published in the Banffshire Journal in February 1912, the writer said: “He was a member of a famous Fyvie family, the Sims of Gourdas”. Who was this family? What had they done to make them famous? My research has rediscovered what their contemporaries clearly knew, namely that this was an unusual family whose talents and achievements made them exceptional within their community and whose successes were recognised over a much wider area. The obituary writer put it in these words: “The members of this family had distinct genius and intellectual ability”.
Fyvie was a rural community with no local industry so people worked on the land or in jobs associated with farms and the community. In that respect, the Sim family was typical, but very different in other ways. From notes written about the family we learn that a member of the family helped with the building of the Gordon Tower at Fyvie Castle in 1777. He then took the lease of the farm of Gourdas. The Sims continued to farm at Gourdas until 1903 though in the period 1777-1903 there are records to suggest that they occupied different farms in the area. They were in the farm shown above in the latter part of the 19th century when William Sim and his uncle John were joint tenants.
The fame and the accolades arose from the work of three brothers: Thomas, George and William Sim. They were three of the seven children of George Sim and Elspet Cowieson. Apart from information in standard records, nothing is known about the parents but one must assume that they supported their family to continue their studying and pursuit of their interests. Education in Aberdeenshire was of a high standard, helped by a bequest form which teachers could get financial support to improve their qualifications. While the curriculum lacked breadth and the teaching may have lacked inspiration and imagination, the basics were there as a solid foundation on which to build. The Sims certainly did this, continuing all their life to expanding their knowledge by reading books and journals.
The Sims were a family of the Victorian era. George was born in 1837, the year Queen Victoria came to the throne. The family left Gourdas in 1903, two years after she died. Perhaps the national excitement and confidence of that period were factors in their achievements, added to their own abilities and determination.
Any one of the three brothers would have stood out from most of his contemporaries. Taken together, they formed a special team with each supporting the work of the others, sharing the successes and discussing the problems.
Descendants of the Sim family thought of their ancestors as ‘the Sims of Gourdas’; using that phrase may be how you found this web site. Each family has memories of the brothers and their achievements.
Family history research is never complete: there are still loose ends and questions. These have been allocated a section of their own with links from the main story. Perhaps someone can help to fill the gaps and enhance the story.
This web site contains an outline of their work. A fuller account is in the book ‘The Sims of Gourdas’ published by the Aberdeen and North-East Scotland Family History Society.