Weekly Photo Challenge: escape – some faces from the Scottish diaspora

Two little boys - born one day apart - who share the same great, great grandparents. One branch of the family in Australia, one in New Zealand, united for a summer barbecue in Victoria, Australia.

Cruden decendents. Two little boys – born one day apart – who share the same great, great grandparents – Alexander Cruden and Catherine Black. One branch of the family in Australia, one in New Zealand, united for a summer barbecue.

This week’s Daily Post Photo Challenge Word is escape, and for family historians it’s hard not to think about escape in terms of those ancestors who left their homelands for opportunities in other parts of the world.

I’m a Scot; and if any nation could be said to have populated the whole world, it’s us.

We’ve migrated to every part of the globe, and in particular those countries that have been part of the British Empire (I’m including the United States here). According to Education Scotland:

In 19th-century Scotland, emigration was the result of both force and persuasion. Until about 1855, a number of the emigrants from the Highlands were actually forced to leave the land because of evictions. In the Lowlands, the decision to move abroad was nearly always the outcome of the desire to improve one’s living standards. Whatever the reason, Scotland lost between 10% and 47% of the natural population increase every decade.

The scale of the loss was only greater in two other European countries: Ireland and Norway. However, even these countries were dwarfed by emigration from Scotland in the years 1904–1913, and again in 1921–1930, when those leaving (550,000) actually exceeded the entire natural increase and constituted one-fifth of the total working population.

As Lowland Scots, my ancestors’ departure from Scotland was not a result of the brutality of the Clearances, but of the slow deathly grasp of unemployment and low wages. They were coalminers, kilnsmen, weavers, labourers,  and – as in my dad’s case – skilled tradesmen – who wanted a better future for their families than they could have in the mines, potteries and mills of Fife.

For me migration is a personal experience. I was born in Edinburgh but grew up in New Zealand. My parents saw emigration to New Zealand as an escape to a place where they could own their own home, send their children to university, and –  for my father, who was a local swimming champion – an escape from the cold, grimy harbour in Kirkcaldy to the warmer (and frankly much cleaner) waters of the Hauraki Gulf.

Growing up, I knew I had relatives in Zimbabwe, Australia and Canada, and I knew where they fitted in to the family tree. Recently however, I’ve discovered more migrants; members of both parents’ families who went to the United States in the 1920s and 1930s. While some are still just names on passenger registers, others are more familiar to me.

The more I research my family, the more I want to know about the lives my ancestors led. Migrants are a group for whom I have a special interest and admiration. So here’s my personal family roll-call from the Scottish diaspora; past and present. I hope to be able to tell more of their stories in the future.

First summer in Auckland. I remember going with my mum to Marks & Spencer to buy the swimming costume just before we left the UK.

My first summer in Auckland. I remember going to Marks & Spencer to buy the swimming costume.

Leslie: Ron, Elizabeth, Susan, Craig. Auckland, New Zealand 1967. Only my dad and I still live in NZ.

My uncle, David Ramsay and his wife Elizabeth.

My uncle, David Ramsay and his wife Elizabeth.

Ramsay: David, Elizabeth, Janice and Elaine. Zimbabwe (while it was Rhodesia) 1957? My mother’s brother and family. After many years living under the Mugabe regime, my aunt, uncle and cousins now live in the UK with their families.


john ramsay

My great uncle, John Ramsay

Ramsay: John and Isabella. I don’t yet know when my maternal grandfather’s brother John emigrated to Canada. I do know that he married Isabella McDade at the Pathhead Church Manse in Dysart in 1919. I also know that his daughter May used to visit us with her Australian husband on their way from Canada to Australia to see his family. When I was quite young – around five maybe – I also remember Uncle John and Auntie Belle coming back to Kirkcaldy for a visit.

William Elder as a small boy. The only photograph I have of him.

William Elder as a small boy. The only photograph I have of him.

Elder: William and Molly. New South Wales, Australia. I remember meeting my paternal grandmother’s baby brother and his wife at Sydney airport whilst we were en route to New Zealand. I don’t know when they went to Australia, or even what Molly’s full name was. I know that they had no children and lived in Newcastle, NSW.

Nicholson: Andrew and Jean. Michigan. USA. My paternal grandmother’s older half-brother Andrew was illegitimate and raised by his grandmother. He married Jean Smith in Dysart in 1918. I don’t know when they emigrated to the United States, but by the 1940 census they were living in Dearborn. They seem to have had no children, and my great great uncle died in 1973.

Cruden: Stewart and Isabella. Bayonne City, New Jersey 1924? I know from the 1930 US census, that my great, great grandparents lived for a time in New Jersey. I have found passenger records for Isabella, which show that she travelled to New York from Southampton aboard the ship Ohio in December 1924. I also know she returned to the UK in October 1932. I have not yet found passenger records for my great, great grandfather, but they seem to have travelled both ways separately.

Strolling ... Stewart Cruden and his mother with an unknown (to me) couple

Strolling … Stewart Cruden and his mother with an unknown (to me) couple. I don’t know when, or where this photo was taken.

In 1925, their youngest son, Stewart Cameron Cruden also travelled to the US and is shown in the 1930 census as living with his parents in Bayonne City. I have not found a passenger record for his return to the UK, but I know he did return, because he died in 1942 aboard a minesweeper in the Barents Sea – part of the Arctic Convoys that supplied the Soviet Union during the Second World War.

Cruden: Alexander and Elizabeth, Australia. My great uncle Sandy Cruden was one of my maternal grandmother’s younger brothers. He married in 1942 and emigrated to Australia sometime after that. I know the couple had two children, Alexander and Elizabeth. Alexander’s daughter Caroline is the mother of the little boy seated in the photo above. The other little boy is my son.

Bookless: Elizabeth (nee Cruden) and Andrew. New York, USA 1922. Elizabeth Cruden was my great, great aunt and the third daughter of Stewart and Isabella Cruden. She and her husband travelled to New York with their young daughter Isabella. The 1930 US census show the couple living in New Rochelle, Westchester, New York with their two children – Isabella and J. Stewart (born in New Jersey).

Bryce:  Isabella (nee Cruden) and James. Isabella Cruden was the fourth daughter of Stewart and Isabella Cruden. She married James Bryce in Fife in 1923. I don’t know when the family emigrated to the US. I only know that they did because I have seen passenger records for them which show that the family travelled to the United States in 1935; James, Isabella and their children Margaret and Wallace Bryce. The record shows the children’s nationality as American, so I am assuming that this record shows their return to America after a trip to the UK.

14 thoughts on “Weekly Photo Challenge: escape – some faces from the Scottish diaspora

  1. Perfect Escape rendition to my mind. Although not Scottish my ancestors had the wanderlust gene as well – Irish potato famine and Manchester overflow some straight to NZ, some via Australia. Lots to the US of A.
    I have just discovered that Grandfather’s brother was involved in the Blackball mining strike in 1908 from which began the Labour Party in NZ. He shared a call with no less than Seddon!
    All very interesting and thanks for that little window on you.

    • Thanks so much. Thinking about my own family’s migration is interesting at the moment when “immigrants” are so much in the news. I’m impressed by your great uncle! I keep finding dour Presbyterian Tories who joined the Masons and the Orange Order. I’d so like someone in my family to have had a social conscience and been a bit left wing. These days Blackball is mostly famous for the salami made there. 🙂

      • Salami indeed, what ever next? Just to burst your bubble a little I think my own grandfather (his brother) was a mine manager AND a mason! I always thought the photo of him, handsome and svelte was a high ranking military uniform but I understand the Masons do it better 😦 shame.
        Still he’s the reason I’ve been able to live the last 30 years back in the UK.

        • :-). Love it. And we have to appreciate the ancestors who unlock the magic immigration box!

          I’m not knocking the Masons; I think most of the males in my family have been members and my father did look quite dashing in his regalia. Actually, when we were teenagers my brothers and I were a bit embarrassed by his get-up and if friends were around when he was getting ready for a meeting we used to tell them that he was moonlighting as a wine waiter!

  2. My Scottish ancestors did their bit, too, to populate USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, and I still have relatives in all those places though I’m not in touch with all of them. Where they went seems to depend on when they went: USA was most popular in the mid to late 1800s, when there must have been a recruitment drive to get miners to go there, with Canada in second place, and then Canada and New Zealand were most popular in the 1920s and 30s. Australia became the most popular destination in the 1950s and 60s. Also, my Ayrshire coal mining ancestors were far more inclined to migrate than my Aberdeenshire farming/crofting ancestors.

    In contrast, my Barnsley, Yorkshire ancestors rarely moved away from home territory, and those who did simply went a few miles north, to Leeds and Wakefield. Very occasionally someone moved to Lancashire, and the very rare person made it all the way to London!

    • Hi Judy. Thanks for that; I haven’t got enough detail on my family tree to do much analysis, so I’m grateful for your insights. What I have noticed is that the Cruden family and descendents is definitely the most travelled. And interestingly, while a lot of my ancestors have been Fifers for centuries, the Crudens aren’t. I’ve found records for them in Dundee and further back in rural Perthshire, so I’m working on the basis that their move to Fife was probably about following the jobs generated by heavy industry, and going abroad was just an extension of that. Thanks again, I’m enjoying reading about your ancestors and seeing the parallels with my own.

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  4. Researching can be rewarding, but at times so frustrating. You get so close to the whole story and poof – the connection is dropped and you lose years in between.

  5. So true! I spent yesterday afternoon at the public library on their computers (free Ancestry access), my iPad and a notebook. After three hours pretty much all I had was a sore back, a headache, RSI and a notebook full of “leads” that probably won’t lead anywhere. 🙂

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  7. I find your Scottish Diaspora fascinating – because it is so vastly different from my family. My daughters are descendants of two families who arrived here on the Mayflower. My Guion ancestors came in the 1600’s as persecuted French Huguenots. My Aunt still owns the house that my Grandfather and Grandmother bought in 1922 and I was raised in. Obviously, my ancestors also include many who came here much more recently, but very few live outside the US, and that’s a choice they made after they were born and raised here. What a challenge it must be, but what an exciting adventure also. I look forward to reading more of your posts.

    • Wow. What amazing ancestry. It must be quite wonderful for your daughters to know they are descended from Mayflower pilgrims. What I’m finding is that some branches of my family are much more “emigration-prone” than others. I have found families in my tree that have lived in the same small town in Fife for at least 250 years. In fact, it’s the town my parents both grew up in, and where we lived before emigrating. I’m really looking forward to tracing ancestors back further so I can understand the migration patterns better.
      Thanks for your comments, and for visiting my blog.

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