Robert John Rae: Revisited

In a LittleKnownLeaves first, I am actively revisiting an ancestor I have already learned and blogged about. Fear not, I have very good reason to! This coming week, I am visiting my great-aunt so have been reviewing my tree and searching for any missing clues on Ancestry that I can pass on to her. In particular, I looked at Robert John Rae as he was my great-aunt’s father.

Robert, like his father before him, was a ploughman. When World War in broke out in 1914, he was around 18 years old. His age meant he was required to sign up to the army to aid British war efforts, however his job was one of the few that meant he could apply to stay at home to continue working since farming the land was still necessary to provide food for those who remained at home. Robert, for whatever reason, decided not to apply for exemption and signed up. This was all the information I learned from his daughter, my great-aunt, earlier this year. Having previously searched Ancestry for any war records for him, I accepted that was all I may ever really know. I already knew from the fact that I am here today he came home, married, had a family, and continued in a job he apparently enjoyed. Really, what more could I ask for? I thought I’d have another cheeky look on Ancestry just to double-check what I had and ta-da – a little dancing leaf! (On Ancestry, a little leaf appears beside a relative’s name when Ancestry has a hint for users to review. The hint may be a record or link to another family tree to add to your own tree.) There it was – Robert’s war enlistment record, along with several pages of notes about where he served, furlough granted and other relevant notes regarding his service. It made for some very interesting and some very proud reading.

Robert enlisted in November 1915, a month shy of his 20th birthday and just a week before eldest brother died, as a driver for what appears to be his local artillery regiment. Already it is clear that Robert was facing a difficult time. Just over a year after enlisting, Robert was promoted. He would be promoted twice more during his military service. He was posted within the UK and France and in 1918, the final year of the war, he joined his comrades in Dunkirk for the final push for victory. While in Dunkirk, his younger brother, William, died from wounds sustained during war. With no furlough noted, I can assume he was unable to return home to mourn his brother’s passing with his family. Finally, Robert was in Germany for a short time before being fully demobilised in May 1919, almost 4 years after he first signed up.

Robert John Rae WW1

Robert volunteered to serve. I have to remind myself that he showed incredible bravery and actively volunteered to serve his country. One year after returning home, Robert married my great-grandmother Margaret. Less than a year later, their first child, a son, was born. They named him William, after Robert’s fallen brother. It is only when I see all the little pieces of his life together I realise how amazing Robert must have been. His hard work translated into ploughing medals and multiple military promotions. When rewarded after war with his family, he honoured the brother he lost so close to the end of war. Looking past numbers and records is exactly why I began this blogging project. I want to know my ancestors stories and understanding Robert’s story makes me incredibly proud to be part of his family tree.

Adolf Kuechel: A Grateful Artist

Over the last few years I have heard Adolf mentioned. Today I took the time to ask about him properly and I am so glad I did. It is worth noting here that Adolf is not a relative of mine, however our families share a rather beautiful moment in their stories which I would like to share. Adolf Kuechel was held as a Prisoner of War in Kirkcudbrightshire during WWII. My dad described Adolf’s army service as ‘conscription’, meaning he had no choice but to enrol. Knowing he was not on the ‘good’ side, Adolf decided to stay in Scotland after his release rather than return to his home in Germany. Some time later, his wife and young son joined him as they tried to start afresh in Scotland. To put Adolf’s decision in perspective, my dad described the only two games boys of his generation played: Cowboys and Indians, and Brits versus Gerries. Almost 20 years after the end of the conflict, Dad vividly remembers nobody wanted to be a Gerry (a German), such was the stigma even all those years later. As a German in post-war Britain, Adolf did not find work particularly easily. I mentioned before my grandfather James was a plumber. In a town as small as Castle Douglas, workies stuck together. Although I am unsure of the exact events, I do know that Jim offered a hand of friendship to Adolf by helping him find work. Where Jim was working a job that required a painter and decorator, he would invite Adolf to do the job. Adolf was so grateful for Jim’s kindness and provision that he asked Jim if he could paint him and Doreen a mural to say thank you. The oil mural was painted directly onto the hallway wall and depicted a beautiful lakeside view looking to some mountains in the distance. I don’t know whether he painted a scene from a memory or from his imagination. Either way, it is a beautiful scene and a very unique gift. To our knowledge, Adolf painted murals in only two other houses, both as gifts of gratitude. To this day, the mural remains in tact in Jim and Doreen’s old home. Many years ago, my dad was able to contact his Adolf’s son. He had apparently been unaware of his father’s mural so he and his then-elderly mother made the journey back to Castle Douglas to see the mural and to be reunited with Jim’s widow Doreen, an original recipient of Adolf’s beautiful gift. A few years later, my dad was invited to speak at church as part of their Remembrance Sunday service. In a moment of serendipity, the minister spoke of making peace with our enemies after times of war without knowing that my dad was to follow him by telling Adolf and Jim’s story. While I have seen photos of it, I would like to see Adolf’s mural for myself one day. It’s pretty amazing that it still greets people as they enter that house over 50 years after it was first painted. I believe the mural remains as testament to the amazing story that saw its creation, which in itself is incredibly special.

Update: last month I visited Castle Douglas so went with my dad to the Rae’s old home. The current homeowners graciously invited me in to admire the mural. No records could ever have told me of its existence or the story behind how it came to be. That in itself is a pretty amazing gift for my family’s story and for that, I am incredibly grateful.

Adolf's gift to the Rae's

Adolf’s gift to the Rae’s

Jim and Doreen: A Diamond Duo

Sixty years ago today, this photograph was taken:
Jim and Doreen's wedding photoApril 1st 1955 was the day Miss Doreen Brown became Mrs James Rae. She was very proud to be Mrs Rae. Even when she re-married after being widowed, she made it clear that she would always be my Granny Rae. Neither Jim or Doreen survived to see their diamond anniversary but today I am remembering it.

This sparked a fun conversation with the family I work for today about first dates. Mrs Boss described how she lured Mr Boss to their first date by pretending she had an extra ticket to a show (the ticket was intended for him all along). My uncle just knew he was going to marry my aunt and decided he just couldn’t wait to ask her: they were engaged less than two weeks after their first date. They’ve been married for over twenty years now. As for Jim and Doreen, they met at a dance in the early 1950’s. I knew Doreen to always be honest and straight talking so I imagine that she made it clear she liked Jim. Jim was a gentleman but presumably less forward than his future wife, since he got his friend to walk Doreen home at the end of the night. It clearly didn’t matter who walked her home; from then on, Doreen was Jim’s girl.

I look forward to the day I am able to tell my children and grandchildren about this handsome pair. Today I simply wish this legendary couple a happy Diamond Anniversary.

20. Leslie Weddell: A Lifelong Search

After hitting a genealogical brick wall some time ago, I threw some names and place names at Google and stumbled upon some of Leslie’s writing. On two separate sites, he recounted tales of his childhood. I cannot underestimate the tears shed when I read of Leslie’s heartbreak. His story could arguably be told from various people’s point of view. Since I read it in Leslie’s own words, I decided that I would try to share his side of the story.

As it stands, I still know very few details about Leslie. Daddy Weddell’s eldest son John married Jean and they had three children; Jeannette, Leslie and Cyril. The family lived at a farm a few miles from Edinburgh. It seems Leslie enjoyed his childhood. He tells of the adventures he and Cyril had together, from wartime tales to the day they got their beloved family dog, Jed. Everything was happy until a couple arrived at their farm one Sunday. Leslie did not know who they were but it was obvious from his parents’ reactions that something was wrong. As children, they were not told much of what they argued about or why the argument had left their mother so upset. It wasn’t until the following day that Leslie was to learn. The boys were taken to the local courts where the couple were also waiting. After much discussion and tears, Cyril was sent with the couple and Leslie states he never saw Cyril again. Before I found Leslie’s writing, I hadn’t found details of either his or Cyril’s birth and his biographical account explained why.

The couple, he learned, were Mr and Mrs Addis. Poor and living in a cramped home with 6 children including 2 baby boys, the state decided that the couple simply could not provide for all of their children. Having gotten to know the family, John and Jean were appointed to be foster parents to the babies, Leslie and Cyril, until the Addis family were able to provide for them again. Clearly several years passed and I presume the two families lost touch after the Weddell’s moved to their farmhouse. Otherwise Leslie would perhaps have known who the Addis’ were. For whatever reason, the court that day decided that the fairest conclusion was to split the boys so each family got to keep one son each. Leslie was not given a chance to say goodbye to his brother that day, nor to see him afterwards. I cannot imagine the struggle he must have gone through as he tried to adjust to life without his little brother. He says that even Jed the dog was devastated, sleeping where Cyril once slept and waiting at the window for his lost friend. Leslie writes about trying to find Cyril and the Addis family over the years but they moved quickly afterwards and he was unable to ever find them.

Another family member, another adoption, another lost boy. It is very hard to read about adoptions, especially from the child’s perspective. Leslie was a young boy but he fully deserved to know what was going on. At the very least, he deserved the chance to say goodbye to his brother and the opportunity to see him again after that day. I would love to find Leslie but I just don’t know where to start looking. I don’t even know if he is still alive. Regardless, I will continue to search for Cyril on his behalf. If nothing else, they deserve closure. Even if I am unable to tell Leslie or indeed Cyril, I want to find the end to their story.

19. William Robertson: Little Boy Lost

In every family tree, I believe themes can begin to appear. Many a time it is with names being passed from one generation to the next, sometimes it is jobs, perhaps an involvement in the armed forces. All of these are true for my tree. My tree is full of James Russell’s who were named after their fathers and John Brown’s after their grandfathers. Heck, half of Daddy Weddell’s children named their own children after their siblings, leaving me with an entire generation of Frederick’s, John’s and George’s. Just for the record, I absolutely appreciate the sentiment behind naming your child after a parent or your sibling, but for a genealogist it can be very confusing determining between different children when their parents share the same name, especially when there’s 20 of them!

One theme that my tree has is adoption. I know that one of Daddy Weddell’s sons adopted 2 young brothers into his family. I will tell their story another time. Going the opposite way, there is Samuel Carruthers, who we have met already, and 2 children on the Weddell line. One whose story shook me was William Robertson.

William’s mother was Agnes, my granny’s older sister. She was married with 4 children when her husband went into action during WWII. My granny, a young girl at the time, recalls that Agnes wasn’t always happy, perhaps struggling with her husbands absence. While her husband was away, she met and fell for a Greek soldier who was based nearby. Granny remembers the soldier fondly. He was a nice man who treated Agnes and her family well. By the time the soldier was due to return to Greece, she was pregnant. He begged her to go with him but she couldn’t go. She was still married and besides, she had 4 other children to consider. Unable to stay, the Greek soldier returned home. I don’t know at what point Agnes’s husband returned but he was understandably furious when he learned of William’s existence. Agnes had given him her married surname with the hope that her husband would agree to raise him or allow him to be raised as one of his own but it was not to be. He demanded the child was gone. When William was around a year old, he was taken from the house for the last time. My granny, a very young girl, vividly remembers the day. Agnes was utterly distraught, crying for her son. Although Agnes and her husband did have another daughter after that, her lost son was never forgotten.

When I learned about William, I found myself having a moral struggle. On one hand, I can understand her husband’s anger and upset. Even if the boy had his name, he wasn’t his child. On the other hand, Agnes faced an impossible decision. While I can’t condone her behaviour in her husband’s absence, I cannot imagine the struggle she must have gone through. How was she to choose? At the side of his birth record entry is the correction that I hoped I’d never see: adopted. Of all the things somebody wants to find in their family, discovering a person who was not allowed to stay in the family is not one of them.

Dear William, I sincerely hope that you went on to live a happy, healthy life with a family that adored you just as much as your mother did. Your mother really did try to make the best of her situation but her love wasn’t enough to keep you with her and your siblings. As heartbroken as I am learning your story, your mother’s heartbreak must’ve been immeasurably more. Please know that even though you became part of another family, you are still very much part of our family tree. Love, your cousin.

A Little Reflection

I am constantly reminded that when researching something, anything at all, it is always worth pausing every once in a while to check your notes, review your work and take a breath. So here I am, taking a breath.

I have always considered my family to be quite small. Well, that at least this generation of relatives is small. What would perhaps be a more accurate description is my family isn’t always very close. Being relationally or geographically far away has always made me feel that I have a small family. By comparison, my friend sees every member of her family at least weekly and always has done. As a result, her family is close in both senses so she always feel surrounded by family. I started this whole project (is it a project?) knowing what I thought was a handful of people. My dad, my mum, his brother, her 3 siblings, their spouses, their kids, my grannies, each of my granny’s brothers…that was kind of it. I knew few stories, I knew little of the generations before me, I knew not where my own roots lay. While I still haven’t decided where my roots are geographically, I definitely feel more rooted in my family, more connected. My looking at the family tree has sparked lots of conversations, stirred many memories and reminded me that I am very much part of my family tree. My little leaf matters no more and no less than every other leaf on the ever-growing tree.

In my family research, I have met ancestors past and relatives living. I recently made contact with another great-granddaughter of Daddy Weddell. Even in the few emails we have exchanged, I can see that we could fill in some gaps for each other’s family stories. I have seen photographs I never knew of and had previously not imagined would actually exist. I have learned of various struggles. I have met more soldiers than I thought existed in my family. I have discovered a few musicians. That made me pretty pleased! Neither of my parents are particularly musical, neither play any instruments or anything, so to find a few musicians made me feel like I had company. Apparently when Doreen gave me a little keyboard as a gift, I would work out how to play tunes properly, unlike most children who are happy to just bash keys in any random order. That desire to play led to lessons which led to a lifelong skill I couldn’t be more grateful to have. My great-grandmother was also a pianist but couldn’t read music. She just sat down and played. I really love that.

In the last 20 months or so, I have added around 350 new names to my family tree. I have found their birth, marriage and death records, I have seen their lives in snapshots on every census. I have found war records and learned what those brave men looked like. I have learned of all of their fates and cried. I have learned that nobody moved far from their parents! On both side of my tree, children seemed to stay within a mile or so of their parents. On mum’s side, Daddy Weddell’s grown children stayed in the same square and raised their own families alongside their younger siblings. In the last 150 years, the current generation is the furthest geographically that my family have been from each other. I suppose that’s also a sign of the times. These days, travel is easy, universities are everywhere and technology allows people to stay in constant contact. For me, the most exciting find is the photographs. I can follow each line back some way and learn where I get my physical features. All have fair hair (nobody’s hair can be described as darker than mousy brown with exception of my mum), the Rae’s in particular have very rosy cheeks, nobody seemed to be very tall so that would all explain why with all the good will and vegetables in the world, I was never going to be big and strong when I grew up. I’m 5’3 (ish) with mousy blond hair and rosy cheeks which seem to deceive all bar tenders into thinking that I’m under 21 years of age.

In this pause for breath, I can appreciate all the new leaves on my tree, but I can appreciate my own little leaf. I have followed my own path, as many before me have, and am pretty happy with where it has led me so far. Each leaf tells a different story and I have my own story. Some leaves tell stories of loss, some of bravery, some of adoption, some of family heartbreak but they all tell the story of my family. It would so easy to be overwhelmed with the amount of people in my tree and say “I’m just a tiny leaf here, what do I matter?” but I am certain that I matter. I am a tiny leaf but so is everybody else. My leaves make up my tree and I am proud to be a part of mine.

18. Agnes Katrine Hardie: A Brilliant Baker

You may remember I wrote recently about a family reunion for Carruthers family. Everybody who attended is a descendant of Samuel Carruthers and his wife, Agnes.

Agnes was born in Canonbie in 1888 to David Hardie and Margaret Linton. Her maiden name of Hardie is still present in today’s generations of the family, both in first names and middle names. Censuses suggest that she was the eldest of four sisters. I know that at some point she lived in England, although I’m not sure if she went alone or with her family. I only know she was there because she met and married Samuel there. I can only assume she was closest with her youngest sister as she named her first daughter, my great-grandmother Henrietta, after her. Samuel and Agnes moved their family back to Kirkcudbrightshire about 1921 where they remained until each of their deaths.

Until this year’s family reunion, I had seen a grand total of one photograph of Agnes. This one, in fact:

Rae 4 generations

It’s not often you get the opportunity to have four generations of the same family in one place. I have no idea who took this picture but I’m incredibly glad they did. My dad, the goofy kid in the front, remembered this picture being taken and is proud to have it in his possession. His mother Doreen sits on the left, Doreen’s mother Henrietta is on the right and sat in the armchair is Henrietta’s mother Agnes. At the reunion, my granny’s cousin produced a very old photo album. When I say old, I mean OLD. The album had a label stating its’ owner as William Linton (Agnes’ uncle) and he compiled the album 12th September 1883. And this original album survived and is still in our family! I was delighted to see more pictures of Agnes but also see Samuel for the first time.

Agnes and Hardie Carruthers

Another gem I discovered was that Agnes was a keen baker. It had occurred to me recently that I knew of no family recipes. You know that way when some people cook or bake they add an extra ingredient or know of little tips or baking hints because that’s the way their granny used to do it? Well, I didn’t have that. I asked if anybody knew of any family recipes or even favourite foods. “I’m sure there’s something written somewhere. I’ll have a look and get back to you.” Bless her socks, my granny’s cousin not only looked, she sent me original recipe cards from Agnes’ recipe box. Knowing how into the genealogy process I am, she knew I’d appreciate seeing the original copies. The handwriting is beautiful and I was indeed thrilled to have them. I have copied them and am sending them back to her, as I like the idea of keeping the cards altogether. My friend helped me bake some of the recipes last week. The everyday cake was more loaf-like than I had expected though certainly was delicious, but my favourite was her shortbread recipe. I had no idea that three ingredients could make something so tasty! I will proudly use her recipe from now on.

17. Archibald Russell: A Kind Comic

Born in 1927, Archibald Russell was the youngest child of James Cameron Russell and Jane Bell Johnston. Remember I said my family just don’t move very far? Archie grew up in the Gorgie area of Edinburgh – less than a mile from where I live now – until he married Irene Weddell in 1953. The newlyweds moved to the Fountainbridge area – about 500 yards from where I live now. Archie and Irene had four children in all, including my mum. Archie died in 1988 after a period of ill health.

I was still a toddler when Archie died but I remember his smile. His comfy armchair sat in the corner of the living room and when my cousin and I visited he would pull it away from the wall slightly so we could run in circles around it. The pictures that were displayed around the house of Archie all showed him with his trademark smile and wild curls. I easily identified him in his childhood pictures by his unruly ginger curls, especially against his brother’s neatly flattened hair. Past those pictures, I felt I really didn’t know Archie at all so I recently began to ask people what he was like.

I learned that Archie was too young to serve in World War II but was among of the first to be called for service after the war had ended. Another military background that I knew nothing about. He served in many places abroad, including France and Egypt. Archie became very close friends with many of his fellow comrades and my granny was able to show me many, many photos of his time with them, both at home and while serving abroad. While serving in Ismailia, he adopted a stray dog that had found itself in their base. He took care of it and loved it so much that he planned to somehow bring it home with him at the end of his tour. His superior officer had other ideas and shot the poor thing while Archie was off base one day. He was heartbroken when he learned of his companion’s fate.

Archie's dog

I asked my aunt what she could tell me about her dad and she told me that he used to cause great embarrassment, mostly with his fashion choices. This made me laugh a lot, but then I wasn’t his daughter so I suppose it would. Apparently he wore his kilt all the time. Like, all the time. Around the house, to work on his daughter’s car, all the time. (The kilt, by the way, is still worn by my cousin on special occasions which I’m sure Archie would be pleased about.) When he wasn’t wearing the kilt, he wore gardening trousers. I imagine they were ill-fitting only because she also said he tied them at the waist with string. Said trousers would be worn to do the shopping, therefore causing his children further public embarrassment. She also mentioned a furry winter hat, like the kind you often see in Russia, which begs the question: what did he wear the hat with – the kilt or the gardening trousers?!

Archie liked going to the pub with the boys but at home he drank whisky. It must have been good whisky as he kept it in a crystal decanter. I quite like my whisky too but mine stays in the bottle! Anyway, this whisky was certainly not for sharing. When his own brother came to visit he would hide the good whisky and put cheap stuff in the decanter. Who knows if his brother enjoyed whisky enough to know the difference, but I kind of love the sentiment! It would be like hiding the really good biscuits when you had visitors round and serving plain digestives instead. Here, that’s not a bad idea…

I really wish I could have known Archie for longer. He sounds like a cheeky chap with a wicked sense of humour, and I would have loved to have enjoyed a whisky with him. The good whisky, mind you.


16. Samuel Harding Carruthers: The Common Link

A few years ago, my paternal line lost several much loved members within a short space of time. My granny’s cousin stated at the third funeral that the family had seen more of each other that year than they had in some time but was heartbroken that it had taken a tragedy to get us all together. That in mind, she arranged the first annual get-together for that line of the family, a tradition which will be continued this weekend. The common ancestor for this particular line of ancestry is Samuel Carruthers.

Samuel was born in Aspatria, Cumberland in 1885 to Jane Carruthers. The next document Samuel can be found on is the 1891 England census where Samuel is listed as ‘adopted son’, age 5, and living with an Isaac and Mary McVittie and their 10 year old daughter in another Cumberland village. Samuel married Scottish-born Agnes Hardie in 1909 and the pair began to grow their family starting with my great-grandmother Henrietta. Three more children joined the family before they moved over the border to an area near Gretna, where one more was born. I’m not sure why they moved but I do know that Samuel worked in a munitions factory in the township where they lived during WWI. That period aside, Samuel spent his life as a gamekeeper. Samuel died in 1950 aged 65. His youngest son Hardie, my great-great uncle is 92 years old and will be joining the traditional annual Carruthers gathering this weekend.

While I know bits and pieces and Samuel, I still feel that I don’t really know him at all. Even his birth isn’t exactly clear. No father is listed on his birth certificate, however I am convinced that his middle name of Harding was his mother’s way of getting his father’s name in their somewhere. Next up is that census. I’m pleased to see that Samuel is living in a household but I want to know where Jane is. English birth records don’t tend to give away much information so I don’t know where to start looking for Jane. How old was she when Samuel was born? What happened to her after Samuel was born? Did Samuel always live with the McVittie’s? Was he officially adopted or was it more of an informal arrangement? I sort of wonder if I will ever know but that will not stop me from trying to find out.

15. John Brown: The Picture of a Family Man

Yes, another John Brown. This John Brown is the father of the last one I wrote about and by no means the last John Brown that features in my family tree. Just for reference, there were five John Brown’s in my tree at last count.

This John Brown was born in 1852 to Thomas Brown and Marion Denniston. I think he was the eldest son of what would eventually be 12 children. John married Jessie Kirkpatrick in 1876 with their first son Andrew (my great-great grandfather) arriving just a few months later. For most of his working life, John worked for the Railway Company as a porter.

John Brown and family

Jessie and John (front centre) with their children Back L-R: Walter, John, Andrew, David, Thomas, James Front L-R: Mary, Marion, Jenny Margaret

I feel very lucky that I have a photograph of John and his family. I’m not sure exactly when the picture was taken but I can guess at maybe just before World War I, given the apparent ages of the children. Perhaps it was taken because of World War I given that at least two of the sons went to war. Either way, I am incredibly pleased that this picture not only exists but that copies have reached as far as my generation of the family. I was recently in touch with Thomas’ granddaughter and she also had a copy of this picture. Ah, the wonders of modern photography and technology! Nowadays we take photos with such ease and with very little printing cost. Back then I’m sure it would have cost the family a fair sum to have their photograph taken at a professional studio. I already know what happened to Andrew, young John and Thomas (thanks to his granddaughter) and I would quite like to find out what became of the rest of the children. Whatever John’s reasons for having this photograph taken, it gives us future generations a rare gift: seeing an entire family in one picture.