I grew up in a large messy family of aunts uncles and cousins, and while I only had one sibling, I had a whole scad of cousins and we always seemed to be visiting one another.
What I didn’t have was grandparents. By the time I came on the scene they were dead, and while that seemed to be different from most of my schoolfriends, I had plenty of substitutes in the form of uncles and aunties. No one seemed to have quite as many as I did.
I thought I more or less knew who was related to who and how, but after my mother died – about ten years ago now – I realised that I didn’t know as much about her side of the family as I thought.
Well, it was obviously too late to ask her, so I signed up for the Scottish goverment’s genealogy service and started to trace hers side of the family.
Well, I didn’t get very far.
While the index was online, the records themselves weren’t, meaning that when you found a document, such as a birth extract, you had to request it and then wait three or four weeks for it to arrive in the mail.
Also, useful supplementary documents such as Post Office and trade directories were not online, or even sporadically so.
So I gave up – it was a busy period of my life – and kind of forgot about it until a few months ago the Genealogy service emailed me to say that my account (and prepaid search credits) was about to expire due to lack of use.
Well I had quite a few credits outstanding and the cost of extending the life of my account was only a few pounds – I had to buy some extra credits to carry forward my existing credits – so I used some of the hundred pounds or so I still have in a UK bank account to extend my account.
And that was that until yesterday.
Yesterday was one of these stupidly hot days we often get around Christmastime, so I stayed inside in the air conditioning and played with genealogy, something that was a lot simpler than last time as in the intervening few years they’ve scanned all the registers, and useful supporting documents like port office and trade directories are mostly online.
I already had a copy of my mother’s birth certificate so I knew the names of her parents and that her father was a manager with the co-operative society in Dundee.
A little playing with the genealogy service’s search engine and I had a copy of her parents’ marriage record – Scotland doesn’t issue birth death or marriage certificates as such, details are recorded in registers and when you need a copy for official purposes they provide you with a scanned copy of the entry on official paper that they call an ‘extract’, something that has always caused complications with Australian officialdom – when I became a citizen it seemed like every single person in the DIMIA office needed to have this explained to them.
Anyway, back to the story.
Their marriage record told me a number of things I didn’t know:
- It was my grandfather’s second marriage – he was described as a 38 year old widower on the register entry. The obvious questions are
- Who was his first wife?
- Were there any children?
- My grandmother was quite old to get married for these times – 30 years old – and her profession was described as a biscuit taster – or possibly tester – annoyingly the scan is not the best and the penmanship is not up to the usual standards of early twentieth century Scottish officialdom – but either way it sounds like a fun job.
- My greatgrandfather on my grandfather’s side was described as a retired bootmaker – and he obviously had his own shop as he was listed in the 1910 trade directory.
- On the other side, my grandmother’s father was Robert Littlejohn, a tailor, who possibly worked for someone else as he doesn’t appear in the trade directory.
Well this explained two things – when I was little I remember being taken to see some people whose surname was Littlejohn – who were some sort of relations of my mother’s. I would guess that they were cousins, and that possibly my grandmother, Lydia, had at least one brother.
The other thing is that I remember my mother telling me once that she remembered her father sitting crosslegged sewing up clothes because he was a qualified tailor. It’s possible I’ve got confused and it was her grandfather she remembered sitting cross legged.
That’s about as far as I’ve got with Lydia’s family.
I also managed to find my greatgrandfather’s father’s death record.
He’d died a few months before my grandfather married for the second time and they all lived in 6 North Wellington St in Dundee. Interestingly the name of the person reporting the death to the registrar was a daughter, a Miss A. Mathieson, who was present at the death, suggesting that my grandfather had at least one other sibling.
The other discovery was that his wife, Clementina, had died in 1889, nearly thirty years earlier. There’s no evidence of him having remarried.
I’ve no knowledge of who Miss A. Mathieson was -in my head I call her Annie – as I’ve been able to find that my greatgrandfather’s mother was Annie Laidlaw Bush, and families tend to reuse names.
Given the habit of families in the North east of Scotland to give the first born child the maiden name of its mother as a middle name, I’d guess that ALB’s mother was a Laidlaw.
My greatgrandfather’s full name was James Bush Mathieson, which keeps to the tradition and Clementina’s maiden name was Proctor, which was also my mother’s middle name.
I’ve been able to trace that her father, Andrew Proctor, was a weaver, and that her mother’s maiden name was Anderson. This takes us back to Clementina being born in 1846 or 47.
James Bush Mathieson was born around the same time and his father is listed as a stonebreaker, which sounds like a pretty physical occupation.
While I can probably trace James Bush’s and Clementina’s birth records, and possibly another generation or so back we’ve reached the time when there were only church records, not all of which have survived, which adds a further complication.
However, I think my next task is to trace both Annie’s and my grandfather’s birth records, and also my grandfather’s first marriage. This should be a little more straightforward, as if my grandfather was 38 in 1917, it probably means he was born around 1879, when James B and Clementina were in their early thirties, and well after 1855 when the government took over responsibility for birth death and marriage records from the Church.
Keeping track of all of this is absurdly complicated with lots of scribbles and crossings out, so I’ve decided to do it properly from the start, using the Gramps Genealogy package to keep track of all these complicated relationships and inconsistencies.
Certainly, the complexities so far make you realise just how messy people’s lives are (and were) …
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