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.

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.