21 & 22. Campbell and James Wotherspoon: More Missing Twins

Another pair of missing babies. Some ancestral patterns are cruel and totally heartbreaking.

My great-aunt Ethel was very young when she met Robert Wotherspoon. Aged 18, she and Robert welcomed their first child together, a little girl. Over the next few years, they got married and welcomed another daughter, although I’m not sure whether wedding or baby came first. Many years later, I n 1964, Ethel and Robert prepared for the arrival of more little feet into their family, this time twins. At around 6 months pregnant, Ethel went into labour and Campbell and James were born in July 1964 in Dumfries. My great-aunt, Ethel’s sister, told me the boys weighed just 1lb 2oz and 1lb 10oz at birth. With today’s medicine, the boys may have had a fair chance at surviving their first few weeks of life with the wonderful medical care that modern neonatal specialists are able to provide. Back then, babies born so prematurely had it much harder and the boys chances were very slim. Robert, aware of his sons’ likely fate, chose not to visit his sons’ in their hospital cots. He decided that he did not want to learn and remember their tiny faces if they were not going to survive. James died just a day old. Campbell followed him a week later, aged 8 days. Prematurity was listed as a factor in both of their deaths, their little lungs just not developed enough to survive outside of their mother’s body on their own.

Now adults, the boys’ eldest sister is particularly keen to find them. Ethel, my great-aunt suggested, had arranged for her sons to be buried together in the same coffin, which I though was heartbreaking but also incredibly fitting for them. That said, she also suggested that nobody attended a funeral. As such, nobody living know where the boys final resting place was, not even their sisters.

History repeats itself sometimes, in this case just one generation later. While it pains me to visit gravesides, I feel blessed every time I do because I have something to physically visit. The headstones are a stark reminder of the loved ones I’ve lost but they also mark where my loved ones chose to finally rest. I hope to help in the search for these two tiny boys to allow their sisters to grieve properly for them and hopefully offer them some closure and some connection to their lost little brothers.


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

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.

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.

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.

14. Robert John Rae: A Prize-winning Ploughman

Today was a truly privileged day which was all about getting to know my great-grandfather, Robert John Rae.

Robert was the fourth child of Robert Rae and his wife, Margaret McCoskry. Robert grew up in Castle Douglas and attended nearby Kelton Church with his family. He married another faithful church-goer, Margaret McKechnie, in 1920. Robert followed in his father’s footsteps and became a ploughman. He was such a good ploughman that he won many medals in ploughing competitions. No, I had no idea that such competitions existed either, but Robert apparently excelled in them and my great-aunt has his medals to prove it. Robert and Margaret had nine children in all, including my grandpa James and the little twins who sadly died in infancy. Robert worked for around 18 years on the Threave Estate, which was owned by Major Gordon and later by National Trust Scotland.

This morning a very kind lady opened up Kelton Church for me and helped me look through their baptism and birth records, the communion book and the marriage banns proclamations book to find him and his family. It thrills the amateur genealogist in me that I was able to see original records with my family’s names in them. I was able to see that Robert, Margaret and several of their children regularly attended church and took part in communion. After lunch, my mum and I were treated to a private tour of the beautiful house on the Threave Gardens estate where Robert worked. As a ploughman, he would almost certainly never have been allowed into the main house. Perhaps in the servants rooms downstairs but upstairs among all the fine furniture and well-groomed rich folk? Goodness, no! However, I was given special permission to take an original ledger book off display and look through it to find Robert’s name along with his wages and allowances. We were then taken to the cottage where the family stayed throughout his career at the estate. While we were unable to go inside (the estate still owns it but it is occupied by another family), I loved seeing the cottage. Its’ walls are painted crisp white, it has glorious views across the estate and nearby farms, and it is placed right beside the land that Robert would have worked on, come rain or shine.

Robert died very suddenly in 1958 after falling ill while cutting hedges on the estate. Two regional newspapers described his death as “a sad occurrence” with one adding that Robert was “a well-known figure in the district”. By all accounts, it appears that Robert was a loved and loyal member of the local community.

There is still plenty that I don’t know about Robert so while I still search for more stories, by immersing myself in his surroundings today I feel like I know him a little better than I did this morning.

13. Margaret Porter McKechnie: A Rosy Rae

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.

10 & 11. Agnes and Margaret Rae: The Missing Twins

I feel as though I am cheating by writing about two people in one post but I am struggling to see how I could write about these two girls any other way since they share a story.

Born in 1923, Agnes and Margaret were the third and fourth children of Robert and Margaret Rae, making them my grandfather’s sisters. Agnes died just 16 days later, with her death certificate listing her cause of death as premature birth. According to my great-aunt, her mother said she’d gone into labour only 6 months into her pregnancy. Margaret survived a little longer before she died aged 4 months of ‘marasmus’. Marasmus is the term given for severe undernourishment, which really upset me. However, knowing that the twins were premature and thinking about the medical care available for premature babies back then, it makes sense. I believe it would now be called failure to thrive.

The mystery with the twins is where they are buried. With their parents still living when they died, they couldn’t go in their plot. The only person we can think they might be with is their grandfather James McCoskry. I have a list of all the memorial inscriptions in the cemetery we think he is buried in but there is no stone for him. It is possible he doesn’t have a stone.

My dad and I went to visit my great-aunt yesterday to see if she could shed any light. She was certain that Agnes, Margaret and James were buried together but she couldn’t understand why there wasn’t a stone. We would now like to see if their church would hold the lair records so we could find them. I might be in for a long and complicated search but I would like to give them all closure.