A couple of weeks ago, I met my great-aunt for the first time. I went with my dad and the entire visit was wonderful, not least of all because she is my grandpa’s last surviving sibling. I loved hearing the tales she had to tell over lunch at her favourite local restaurant and was thrilled to be shown family photographs when we went back to her house for afternoon tea. It was an opportunity I certainly didn’t take for granted. Sitting neatly on a side table was this photograph:
Meet Margaret Rae (neé McKechnie) and her family. Margaret is the woman in white, the children are hers and the woman in the other chair is her mother, Christina, my great-great-grandmother. In one photograph are three generations. Amazing. Among other things, the photo lets me see what physical family traits have survived through the generations. You’ll notice Margaret has very rosy cheeks? Yeah, I’ve got those though a little less pronounced as hers. Glasses seem to be a common occurrence on both sides of my family, particularly with the women. I wore glasses for 10 years when I was younger. I was quite pleased to see they were wearing glasses to be honest, because this was in the days before the National Health Service. This means that they not only needed glasses, they could afford to wear glasses. They also have reasonably fair hair. I was very blonde as a child before it grew slightly darker as my teenage years came to an end.
I might have been born several generations later but it would be safe to say that this apple is definitely related to this family tree.
I very quickly realised in my family research that my ancestors did not move very far. I’d like to illustrate my point and introduce my great-great grandfather James Cameron Russell.
James was born to Archibald and Helen Russell in 1861 and grew up around the Gorgie area of Edinburgh. He married Margaret Lennie and had 7 children, including a son named after himself who is my great-grandfather. As it stood on Sunday, that was just about all I knew about James.
For a while I have been attending (albeit quite intermittently) a local church around half a mile from where I live. It should probably be noted that my brain is not good at piecing information together, as you are about to discover. On Sunday just past, I visited said church’s evening service which they hold in their local café. They happened to be serving communion that evening so had out the traditional goblets and plates. It took me a good while to realise what the engraving on the goblet in front of me said. “Tynecastle Parish 1901”. (Tynecastle is in the Gorgie area). In 1901, I was almost certain that my Russell ancestors lived in the area so almost certainly would have been part of Tynecastle’s congregation. I asked somebody how the current church was related to Tynecastle Parish, which I knew did not exist anymore. In the late 1970’s, Tynecastle Parish merged with Cairns Memorial Church along the road, was renamed and continued to meet in the old Cairns Church building. Without even knowing it, this was the very church I had been visiting all this time. The lady I spoke with mentioned there was a book with details about Tynecastle church and that the new church housed the original war memorials from Tynecastle Parish. A quick Google search confirmed that James son is one of the fallen soldiers named in the memorial. The book apparently mentions an elder called James Russell. I’m yet to confirm if it is my James Russell but boy, wouldn’t that be simply amazing if it was! Either way, I was absolutely astounded that I had been in the right place at the right time to be literally faced with goblets my ancestors would have used over 100 years ago.
So you know how I said my ancestors didn’t ever move very far? Just over 100 years later, I live less than one mile away from where my ancestor lived, died and potentially held a prominent place in his church. If ever there was a situation that warranted the phrase ‘mind blown’, this might well be it.
Update: I saw the book that the church’s Elders sign when they are sworn in. There was indeed a James Russell on the very first page but the details didn’t add up so we have ruled him out as my ancestor for the moment. However, James’ grandson also called James Cameron Russell was in the book! That James is my great-uncle, my grandfather’s brother, and he was an Elder at the church for around seven years before he moved away from Edinburgh with his family. What’s that saying, ‘where one door closes another opens’? That is absolutely true, just a few pages on in fact!