Random Moment of Delight: an unexpected snippet of information about a shadowy great grandfather

A notice from The Edinburgh Gazette, January 25, 1910 relating to my great grandfather, Thomas Elder. Source Edinburgh Gazette archives.

A notice from The Edinburgh Gazette, January 25, 1910 relating to my great grandfather, Thomas Elder. Source Edinburgh Gazette.

I guess it’s the nature of family history that it’s much easier to find out about some ancestors than others. It’s not only that before statutory records, all information is a bit patchy, but that some people lived and died leaving little or no trace in the documentary record. The converse of course, is that when we do find some record of an ancestor’s life,  it affirms their existence and makes them that little bit more real.

My great grandfather, Thomas Elder has always seemed one of those will o’ the wisp ancestors about whom I knew little and wondered much.

The bones of his life are laid out in the BDM and census records. He was born on 23 February 1874 – exactly ninety years before my brother’s birth. He was the fifth of eleven children born to William Elder and Elizabeth Penman. The family lived in Dysart, Fife and somehow managed to avoid having any member of the family working in the mines. By the age of 17 Thomas was employed as an Ironmonger’s Assistant. At the age of 24 he married Annie Nicholson, four years his senior and already the mother of a three year old, illegitimate son who lived with his grandmother but was – certainly in later years – part of his half-siblings’ lives and not hidden away.

Thomas and Annie had three children together, my grandmother Susan, great aunt Elizabeth (Bessie) and great uncle William.

The 1905 valuation roll shows the family living in a house owned by Annie’s mother.

By the 1901 census Thomas has become an ironmonger and the manager of the business. In the 1911 census he is described as a “traveller, hardware”, and when his daughter – my grandmother – marries in 1923, his occupation is given as “storekeeper.”

Thomas Elder died on 12 February 1929, aged only 54, of colon cancer.

A cousin of my father’s – Aunt Bessie’s daughter – says she heard that “Papa” Elder was gassed in WWI and his health suffered greatly afterwards. I have tried to find his service records, but without success. I have little to go on; Thomas Elder is not an uncommon name and I have no idea which regiment he may have served in. Not only that, but his records may not have survived the Blitz (during which over 50% of WWI service records were destroyed).

So to my random moment of delight: earlier today, on a whim, I typed “Thomas Elder Ironmonger Kirkcaldy” into Google and found the newspaper clipping above. I now know that sometime after 1901, when Thomas was an employee (albeit a manager) and 1910, my great grandfather was for a few years a partner in the firm of A. Beveridge, Son & Company. Now I can search the company name and and the other partners.

The question is of course, why did Thomas ‘retire’ from the business at the age of only 36?

Random Moments of Delight is a blogging prompt from my friend Meghan at Firebonnet. You can find out more about it here.

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14 thoughts on “Random Moment of Delight: an unexpected snippet of information about a shadowy great grandfather

  1. I know just what you mean about that moment of delight. I’ve had two this week, and I am still smiling about both—found a new great-uncle on one branch and a new great-great-aunt on another! So I share your joy.

  2. You are quite the pursuer! Good for you… and I certainly hope you will find the answer to your WWI question and his being gassed. Frankly, it was not frequent one would survive after a couple of breaths…

  3. Truly delightful. It is strange how these connections suddenly appear after years of fruitless searching. I am interested to hear that WW1 records were lost in the Blitz. I am always amazed that so many records do survive.

    • Thank you. Apparently over 50% of WWI service records were destroyed when the Min of Defence was bombed during the Blitz. For me it’s been a total contrast with NZ service records. Here’s I’ve had 100% success rate getting them, but in the UK it’s been 100% failure (although that is also because I have less information to go on with the UK ancestors and more chance of finding the wrong person).

    • Thanks; I’m realising that I need to focus my energy on solving some puzzles (or recognising they can’t be solved), rather than discovering more.

  4. How exciting! Another clue! It’s kind of like a puzzle… Do you have all of this on a chart of some kind? A book? This is a great RMoD, thanks for posting it (I’ll move the other one back to the day it belongs on)!

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