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.

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.

 

100 Years On: Their Name Liveth

Exactly 100 years ago, Britain declared its involvement in World War I. Today across Britain and many other parts of the world, people’s attention is being drawn to the anniversary. Not to celebrate, far from it. We are reminded that our ancestors fought on our behalf 100 years ago, millions of them losing their lives in the process, to protect their country.

I lived the first 27 years of my life thinking that nobody in my family had any military involvement, whether it was part of one of the World Wars or otherwise. The more ancestors I meet, the more soldiers come out of the woodwork. On my maternal side of the tree, there is a whole line of military men that nobody knew about. Breaking from my normal format, today I want to remember those who served, fought and died in The Great War. I decided after I discovered my first family soldier that any soldier I found in the future should be researched and remembered properly, whether they were a direct ancestor or not. I feel an odd connection to them. I did not know these men personally, yet I feel a duty to ensure their bravery is not forgotten.

 

Pte Alexander Lennie Russell

Died 10th October 1915. I have not managed to find records for his service as yet, suggesting that they were possibly among those lost in a fire in WWII. What I do know is that Alexander was James’ (below) elder brother. Alexander was killed in action in France.

James Cameron Russell

James lived with his wife in Edinburgh when war broke out. I am lucky that his records have survived so I was able to find some personal information on him, including his profession, his address and notes of a tattoo he had on his arm. James signed up for the Royal Army Medical Corps. Not long after enlisting, his infant son died. Six months later, James’ brother Alexander was killed in action. I cannot imagine going through such a huge period of personal loss and then still going out to fight. Wherever he served, he survived and thank goodness he did. As his direct ancestor, I simply wouldn’t be here if he hadn’t come home safely.

Pte John Brown

John was married with children when the war began. He had to leave his family behind as he fought in France, where he ultimately lost his life. There is some confusion as to where he is buried, however I do know that his name is listed on a  memorial plaque in a war cemetery in France.

Pte William McCoskry Rae

Died 14th December 1918 of war wounds. I’ve written about William before as I hold a special place for him. I don’t know when he was injured, therefore how long he suffered before succumbing to his injuries. I don’t even know if he fought abroad or fought at home. I do know that William died in a Military Hospital in England where he was presumable being cared for.

Robert John Rae

The more I learn about Robert, the more pride I feel for him. We already know that Robert survived the war as he went on to marry, have several children (including my grandfather) and become a well-loved member of the community. What I didn’t realise until his daughter recently told me was that he had also fought in the war. Being a ploughman, Robert’s job was deemed important enough for him to be allowed to stay to continue work, should he wish to apply for exemption. Robert did not want to work it would seem as he did not apply for exemption, opting to enlist instead. Here was a man with the opportunity to work the land so he could provide food for his nation and he chose to protect his nation instead. In his country’s moment of real need, he stood forward to be counted. Robert returned home and lived a long and happy life with his family, which is nothing less than any soldier deserves.

 

The quote that is being repeated over and over today is by Sir Edward Grey, who was the Foreign Secretary at the time. When Britain confirmed their involvement in the War, he said “The lamps are going out all over Europe; we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime.” For three of my five soldiers that was sadly true. I read this article today and felt more determined than ever that my soldiers would not be forgotten. So I join in with many others in remembrance. My home is dark, no lamp is lit. The only light is  a single candle flame that burns for all those who fought, all who died, all who endured, all who saw sights and felt fear like no person ever should in order to protect their country, and especially for my brave soldiers. One hundred years on and their names indeed liveth.

12. James Cameron Russell: A Very Local Ancestor

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!

9. Margaret Barclay: Feisty and Fearless

My great-grandfather John Weddell married three times. His third wife, Margaret Barclay, is my great-grandmother and a direct ancestor.

Margaret Barclay was the eldest child of John Barclay and Annie Russell. At the time of her birth, her parents were not married making her and the 3 brothers that came after her illegitimate. John and Annie did not marry before then as she had not divorced her previous husband. His death in 1912, however, allowed them to legally marry which they did in the December. Just 9 months later, their youngest son John completed their family.

I don’t know much about Margaret before her own married life. I don’t even know how long she had known my great-grandfather before she married him. Almost exactly one year after the death of his second wife, John and Margaret married. John was 50 years old by this time and Margaret was 23 years old. After that, Margaret assumed the role of mother to those of John’s children who hadn’t already flown the nest. John and Margaret had four children of their own, losing one just a few days after he was born. Margaret named him Dennis, after one of her brothers. After her husband’s death in 1937, Margaret continued to raise their large brood. Some of the older children, from my understanding, still visited their siblings and their step-mother. Some only lived a few down down so some of the young aunts and uncles grew up at the same time as their young nieces and nephews.

I wrote last time about my Granny Rae and her amazing relationship with her brother. Margaret had a similar relationship with her youngest brother Johnny. The stories I have heard about them all describe their relationship as a strong bond, somewhat protective of each other. The photos I have seen certainly show them looking like they genuinely enjoyed each other’s company.

I must say that Margaret is not what I expected. For whatever reason, I expected some sweet housewife type with an apron permanently tied around her waist. My granny was quick to set me straight. Margaret, I learned, was a very small woman. Very slim and barely 4’10” tall. She was certainly lovely but boy, could she be feisty! Granny  told two brilliant stories which I’d like to share. George, one of John’s eldest sons, was a soldier and stayed with Margaret and his younger siblings when he was on leave. He liked to joke around and often teased Margaret, playfully of course. One day he was pinching her waist while she was cooking. Despite warnings, he continued until little Margaret snapped. She grabbed the nearest implement, a broom, and chased George around the house with it. When she didn’t know where he’d disappeared to she realised he had taken refuge under the big bed. She turned the broom around and prodded under the bed firmly with the broom handle. The soldier hiding under the bed yelped as the broom jabbed him hard and cried for mercy. Margaret continued until her anger had gone and George had learned his lesson.

The other story my granny told with great delight happened during the war. An enemy plane had bombed an area nearby and the vibrations of the bomb hitting the ground had shattered one of the windows in the house. Being active wartime, the chances of it being repaired were small due to materials and workers being prioritised for war, so the window was covered in newspapers and sheets as a temporary measure. Some time later, the window was eventually replaced to Margaret’s delight. Her delight was short-lived as the very same day another enemy plane flew very close to their home and dropped another bomb. The newly-fitted window shattered instantly. Margaret was furious. My granny, a young girl, followed her mother from their house to Holyrood Park (a short distance away) as Margaret marched towards the planes. The German soldiers were climbing out of their landed plane and Margaret marched straight towards them. Not phased by the guns the German soldiers were carrying, she began beating the soldiers with her trusty broom. “You broke my window! Again! It’s just been put in!” (I am under no illusion that slightly more colourful language may have been used but I was told the PG version.) Margaret, consumed with rage against the men who broke her new window, continued to beat the soldiers with the broom as they tried to cower away from her. Apparently, by the time local soldiers (or police, my granny didn’t know which) arrived to arrest the German soldiers, they surrendered quite freely as they sought an escape from thi tiny woman with her broom.

It amuses me greatly that both of these stories show the strength of this tiny woman. Both stories involve soldiers who wronged her and literally felt the consequences. In later life, Margaret rarely ventured outside her house. I recently showed my mum a picture of Margaret in her own garden. My mum was surprised such a picture even existed as she couldn’t remember a time when Margaret would have left her front door.

Margaret died in 1982 in Edinburgh. I would have loved to have known her. She sounds like a great character. I certainly don’t know of anybody else who could put the fear into grown military men!

2. Alexander Lennie: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier…

In the last 7 days, the Lennie line of my tree has appeared and expanded quite nicely. One of 3 Alexander Lennie’s in my lineage, this Alexander is my great-great-great-grandfather (the other 2 Alexander’s being his father and one of his sons).

I’ve found I like finding out what people did for a living, almost as much as I like knowing where they lived. The son of a tailor, Alexander initially followed in his father’s footsteps before joining the army shortly after he married Jane Turnbull. My mum and I both found this amusing, mostly because neither of us can sew a stitch while here are 2 generations listing it as their occupation. For a while, I lost track of Alexander – couldn’t find any census records, birth records for his children, nothing. Thankfully, Ancestry offered an 1871 census which would answer a few questions. It would appear that his wife stayed with him throughout his military service, producing 5 children over a 20 year period. By 1871, they had lived in Scotland, overseas, back to Edinburgh for a very short time and are found living with Alexander’s Regiment in Aldershot, England. How do I know they lived abroad? Two of his sons are listed as British Citizens born in an area of what now belongs to Pakistan. Well, that’s unexpected! Alexander’s elder two sons are listed as ‘musician’ and ‘drummer’ which pleased me greatly (I’ve played various musical instruments since a young age). From my limited understanding, being part of the army band earned a soldier a little extra money per week. Although the sons are not listed as soldiers, I do wonder if they earned valuable money for the family by playing in the army band.

The family is back in Edinburgh come 1881. Alexander is back being a tailor, his daughter (my great-great-grandmother) is still a scholar, and his 2 younger sons are listed as a tinsmith and an apprentice bookbinder. So within one family I have a tinker, a tailor and a soldier… no sign of any spies. Unless ‘bookbinder’ is just a really simple cover story.

1. John Weddell: Daddy Extraordinaire

As I sat with my granny around a month ago, I sat with a notepad and pencil at the ready, and told her to tell me about her parents. She grinned. “You’re going to like this” she promised. I wanted to find a rascal, someone of local importance, someone with a great story just waiting to be told. Enter Mr John Weddell, known to most as either Daddy Weddell or Gentleman John, for he was always smartly dressed.

John Weddell was born and bred in Edinburgh. By 19, he was married with a son on the way. The marriage didn’t last and just a few years later, a divorce was granted. I’m told this was rare for the early 1900’s. He met his future second wife and they had a son together, who sadly died in infancy. The couple were able to marry now John’s divorce was final and grew their family by adding 15 more children to their household over the next 25 years. After his second wife died, he met and married Margaret Barclay, my great-grandmother. They added some more children to the brood. My granny is the very youngest of 20 children in all (2 died in infancy). I couldn’t believe it! I thought she was the youngest of 3!

The other note my granny gave me was to do with football. Her dad was involved in football, she was sure she had been told years ago. She remembered her mum washing a big load of dark football strips in their bath regularly too. After a fair few emails later and with some much-appreciated help from some local football historians, I think we have uncovered the link. He was involved in the first women’s football team in Edinburgh, who also represented Scotland before there was an official team. Edinburgh Ladies FC played plenty of games and did reasonably well, so I’m led to believe, even raising money for local disabled ex-servicemen in a charity match against Dick, Kerr who were the most famous women’s football team of the time. I struggled to find information by myself but one historian managed to source me some newspaper clippings and a couple of team photos. Thanks to one of my granny’s nephews posting a picture of John on a local history website, I was able to identify one of the men standing proudly with the team as my great-grandfather. As none of the photos have names attached and the newspaper clippings don’t reference any one person in particular, I am yet to find out exactly what John’s role was with the club.There may not be a huge amount of information publicly available on the subject but to know that he was involved in something pretty unique like that gives me a story I am proud to tell and delighted in sharing with my granny.

Having so many children gives me an unprecedented timeline of his life. Something that stood out clear as day to me was John’s timeline of work. His job does change a few times but the point is he always had a job. He was able to provide for all of his children. He also registered all of his children himself. I’m not sure whether the rules are the same everywhere else but in Scotland if a child was born out of wedlock, the father’s name could not be listed on the birth record unless he was there to confirm the child was his. By signing his name to all of his children, legitimate or illegitimate, he tells me he chose to take responsibility. Family was clearly important to him. Many of his children went on to marry and set up their married lives in the same square as their father and siblings still lived. I sort of love that.

John died in 1937, aged 63. His youngest child, my granny, was just 4 years old. His third wife, Margaret, continued to raise the remaining children, treating them all fully as her own. This speaks volumes to me about her character too.

I’ve been researching my dad’s side of the family tree for a year now and, while I love and cherish them all, I can quite honestly say that I have never met a character quite like John Weddell! Charming, responsible, sociable, hard working, family man. I may never come across as long a branch in my family tree again (20 children is slightly above average, after all!) but I love all the information and stories researching his full life has given me. I didn’t even know his name when I started out. Now I feel like I know him very well indeed and I smile whenever I think of the cheeky chap I have come to know.