Family or lineage? (Happy Birthday Great Grandad)

I hadn’t thought about it too much until recently, but I am definitely a family historian rather than a genealogist. While I’m interested in tracing and recording my lineage, I’m much more interested in understanding the lives my ancestors led and the societies that shaped them.

This realisation has come about in part because of a conversation I had with my dad a couple of days ago. It’s a major source of disappointment to him that, to date, none of his grandchildren have his surname. Although I’m not married – so still use the “family” name – my partner and I chose to give our son his surname rather than mine.

uncle toms back garden001

A rare Leslie family photo. My dad is on the left holding my brother. I’m seated on Uncle Tom’s knee. My favourite uncle ever, Tom Leslie was my grandfather David Leslie’s younger brother.

I also have two brothers. One of them changed his middle and surnames years ago so his three children don’t meet with Dad’s approval either. My other brother has recently adopted a child and my father was jubilant because he finally has a grandchild with the “right” name.

My relationship with my dad is prickly at the best of times, and I have to admit to feeling quite pissed off with him. He probably didn’t mean it, but it really sounded like his biological grandkids were somehow second-best because they won’t carry on “the name.” Our conversation reminded me that when I first talked to him after my son’s birth, he was decidedly sulky  over the naming of my baby.

I was wondering if that’s maybe why I haven’t made much of an effort to trace the Leslie branch of my family, so I went back to my family tree and noticed that it is 146 years today since the birth of my great grandfather David Leslie.

David Leslie was born on July 23td 1867 in Auchtermuchty, Fife, to George Leslie and Janet Trail (who sometimes appears in the records as Jessie, and with her surname sometimes shown as Traill or Jrail).

Birth extract: David Leslie (my great grandfather), 23 July 1867)

Birth extract: David Leslie (my great grandfather), 23 July 1867)

David appears to have been the fifth of seven children born to George and Jessie, although it seems that Jessie also bore a daughter, Christina Trail, the year before her marriage to George.

The 1871 census shows the family living in Auchtermuchty, with Jessie as the head of the household.

I found this record a while ago, and had assumed that George must have died. Since then however, I’ve found his death certificate – dated 1902. George also appears alongside Jessie in all the subsequent census records up until his death.

A search on Scotland’s People shows sixteen people called George Leslie in the 1871 census, and given what I know about George, six of these are possible matches. At the moment, I’m not keen to use up credits trying to find him, so until I can get to the library and use Ancestry, his whereabouts on census night will have to remain a mystery.

By the 1881 census, the family had moved to Kirkcaldy. The family consisted of George and Jessie, plus Jessie’s daughter Christina, George jr. William, Elizabeth, Isabella, David, John and Jessie jr. The three younger children were all at school, though it’s likely that my great grandfather would have left at fourteen to go to work. George seems to have spent his working life as a labourer.

By the 1891 census, David was working in one of Kirkcaldy’s potteries as a kilnsman. This is the occupation also shown on the extract of his marriage certificate in 1892, when he married Isabella Gourlay. David’s mother Jessie was one of the witnesses to the marriage, along with Isabella’s brother Thomas Gourlay. I know that Isabella’s father Rankine Gourlay would not have been at the wedding, as he was a patient at the Fife and Kinross Lunatic Asylum at the time.

David and Isabella had six children; my grandfather David being the fourth.

David Leslie sr. died in 1940 when my father was eight years old. My great grandmother Isabella died in February 1961, just months before I was born.

As always, the more information I have about ancestors, the more I want to know. But I can’t say that I am any more interested in the Leslie family than any other branch of my tree. I do want to know why George wasn’t at home on census night 1871, and I’d like to know when he made the move from Elgin to Dundee. I’m curious about whether he had siblings and who his parents were, but I’m not driven by any need to prove some sort of lineage. My research will, I think, always be guided by how interesting I think characters are and how much I can learn about their stories.

I can’t help thinking my dad would probably disapprove of this too.

14 thoughts on “Family or lineage? (Happy Birthday Great Grandad)

  1. Interesting point about historian v genealogist – I thought I fell more into the historian camp as I started out to research the context of my grandfather’s essays more than the person – but of course the person is coming more into focus as I go on. And as for the lineage – I’ve sometimes wondered how he felt about becoming the ‘head’ of the Frank family when his twin died. My dad was always proud of his name, but never expressed any views on me changing mine when I married. Food for thought – thank you! Despite ‘what they say’ I think daughter/dad relationships can be tricky (speaking from experience!)
    Families, eh? I don’t think my 2 brothers follow my blog – never mind my nephew and niece. Sadly we never had kids. My husband and my mum loyally plough through my ramblings, though! 😉
    BTW – like the photo!

  2. Thank you. It’s so lovely that you have your grandfather’s essays. I’ve enjoyed reading your posts and feel I know him a little. I think you are right about father-daughter relationships; I’m the only daughter, and named after my dad’s mother. We are very similar in temperament, but very different in just about every other way.
    My dad is the younger brother, and has two nephews – one of whom has a son, so I’ve wondered sometimes if the “family name” thing isn’t a bit of rivalry with his older brother. It’s certainly caused some friction – especially with my brother who changed his name about twenty years ago. He’s the eldest son and I don’t think my dad’s ever forgiven him.
    I’m sure none of my family apart from my partner read my blog, which is probably as well as I feel a bit more free to discuss how I feel about the research I’m doing.
    Thanks for visiting my blog and taking the time to comment. I very much appreciate the community of bloggers I’m meeting on this journey. 🙂
    PS: It’s one of my favourite photos too; I was incredibly close to my great uncle Tom. He was a widower and had no children, and always made me feel very special. My son is named after him.

  3. Of, families! I don’t think there’s one that doesn’t have friction going on somewhere at some time.

    My father only had daughters, one of which (me) hasn’t had children, but he never said anything about not carrying on the family name. It’s a shame he died before I got the family history bug as he’d have loved reading it.

    I do have several family members who read my blog and am always conscious of it. Fortunately so far no-one’s raised any objections to my telling the truth. I wouldn’t be comfortable editing the past in order to avoid someone alive today getting the huff.

    • Thanks Judy. I know what you mean about wanting to be truthful. I would hate to censor my writing to avoid offending relatives.

  4. Another fascinating post and most interesting comments from your readers also Su.
    Like you, it’s the stories that I love and am determined to pass onto my descendants … however have also found the genealogy research helps inform as well. e.g. once I knew my Grandmother had been abandoned by her husband, died young and in a Workhouse probably because of a lack of medical treatment and was buried in a Paupers grave in Yorkshire, England I began to understand, and accept, many of dad’s most irritating behaviours/ obsessions. Interestingly her father, an Ogilvie, was born/ lived in Elgin and moved to Leeds, Yorkshire at about the same time as your George. I’ve been thinking to check what was happening in that part of Scotland, at that time, which might explain it….

    Shame about these issues with your dad Su but families can be SO complex… e.g. since mum died my only siblings (3 brothers) and I have becomes estranged (also a niece and nephew) and don’t expect any change in the near future 😦 Is actually what motivated me to begin blogging the family stories because they’re on the record for family to read, even if their parents are p—-ed off with me. So, it’s important for me to be honest with what I put on- line but there are some matters re: living people which I choose not to publish… and always try to keep in mind how the way in which I write about the lives of other Ancestors may impact upon their close living rellies… Always a balancing act, eh? However I have passed on/ written down these types of stories for my own dear/trusted children who will treat them with respect.

    What makes me happiest about blogging is correcting the family myths with verifiable evidence… and exonerating those Ancestors whom have been wrongfully judged. This doesn’t make some family happy at all and they try to “shoot the messenger” i.e. me… because they prefer to hang onto the lies which often justifies some appalling behaviour on their part, based on the myths/ falsehoods passed down from vicious mouths. So be it…

    Love your posts… apologies for the big “rave on”… 😀

    • Hi Catherine. No apologies; thanks for reading my blog and I appreciate you taking the time to comment.
      You are so right about families; for years my mum and her sisters seemed to be permanently at war, with endlessly shifting alliances that I could never keep up with. My grandmother tended to stoke the fires a bit, and it was all quite stressful.

      I also know a bit about my dad’s childhood – and it helps to explain quite a lot. Like you, I’m walking the tightrope between disclosure of truth and respect for others. It’s difficult, but as you say, knowing about the past really helps to explain much that goes on in the present.

      It’s quite distressing to find ancestors whose lives were blighted and cut short by poverty and neglect. One of my 2x great grandfathers died in the Poorhouse, having already spent time in a Lunatic Asylum. Things like that seem so long ago, yet his daughter died just before I was born, so it wasn’t so far in the past.

      It’s extraordinary how pervasive family myths can be; and you’re right about “shooting the messenger”! But like you, I find blogging a really joyous, and quite liberating experience. I love the feedback I get, the new information and ideas this lovely online community shares, and I love reading others’ family stories. I think the generations coming along may not appreciate what we’re doing now, but one day will be glad of our efforts (and our passion).

      Thanks again.

      • It’s wonderful that someone as young as you Su is so passionate about unravelling the myths and recording the stories. You’re about the age of my children and they are SO appreciative and glad I’m doing it… and it’s such a surprise to discover those of my nieces/ nephews who are loving learning about their Ancestors too. There are those who don’t care… but often the next generation will.
        I do have to be careful though because once you get me started I’ll “rabbit on” forever about who married who and who skittered across the seas etc etc etc… I know it’s time to stop when my loved ones eyes begin to glass over… ha ha ha 🙂
        Keep keeping on and cheerio for now…

        • Thanks Catherine. I had to laugh when you mentioned about eyes glazing over – I’ve experienced that a few times now too. I think there is definitely an age past which people get interested in family history. When I started researching and was so full of excitement about every discovery, I’d tell everyone and it seemed to me that people under 40 glazed over, while those over seemed to “get it” and often shared stories of their own. Now I’m a bit more careful not to bowl people over with my enthusiasm, but I do still get a real buzz out of finding kindred spirits. I guess that’s where blogging comes in too.
          Good luck with all your researches – I’m looking forward to reading more of your family stories.

    • Yes; my brother had a Leslie tartan kilt when he was little, and we used to have a silver coat of arms mounted on the wall. Come to think of it; my father probably still has it hanging somewhere!

      I used to dislike the motto when I was younger; I think I probably wanted something that talked about honour or valour or something. It’s grown on me as I’ve got older and I think of it more in terms of persistence and loyalty.

      Thanks for stopping and for your comments – much appreciated.

      • You’re welcome. I wonder how related our brances of the family are. Someone on my father’s side did the genealogy back to the time of William the Conqueror.

  5. Wouldn’t it be cool if the families were related? I’ve recently been in touch with two distant cousins – descended from the same ancestor – who found me via my blog.

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