The Royal Naval Patrol Service Memorial commemorates the 2385 servicemen and women from the RNPS who lost their lives 1939-46 and who have no known grave. Most of these, like my great grand uncle Stewart Cruden, died at sea.
Stewart Cruden is also remembered on the Kirkcaldy War Memorial.
Growing up, I often heard my mother talk about her great uncle “Sanky” who had died “in the war.” The bare bones of the story were that he drowned while serving on the Arctic Convoys, but like most family stories, it sat at the back of my mind, unexamined and half-forgotten.
When I first began researching my family history, mum sent me the photo above of her Uncle Sanky – whose real name was Stewart Cameron Cruden. My mum doesn’t know when or where the photo was taken, or who the other people were, but that image of a confident young man walking nonchalantly towards the photographer somehow made him real to me and it became important to understand more about his life and death.
Flying child. No-one catches like Dad.
Wordless Wednesdays are written in response to a Geneabloggers’ prompt.
Here are other Wordless Wednesdays’ you might like:
Against the wall in Dysart Cemetery, is the grave of my great grandparents David Ramsay and Mary Fisher, along with their daughter Jean. They are the only Ramsay relatives I could find in Dysart, and although the grave wasn’t overgrown, it doesn’t look as though it’s regularly tended.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the family, probably because I don’t know very much about them. My great grandparents died before I was born, and even my grandad died when I was eleven. I have no memories of meeting any of his siblings, though my mum assures me I did.
Looking at the photos of the Ramsays my mum gave me, they mostly looked happy – especially my great grandfather.
I really like the simplicity of my great grandparents’ headstone – and particularly the line “worthy of remembrance.”
I don’t think you could really say anything better about someone.
Saw these and thought of you.
In my working life, I’m a writer and researcher – and since 2011 – an archivist. As part of a project by the Rotary Clubs of 9910 District, Auckland, to preserve their history, I was employed to establish and run their archive. I got the gig as a final year Masters of Information Studies student and am enormously grateful to the forward-thinking, resourceful and energetic team of Rotarians who instigated and help drive this project. Although still in it’s infancy, this archive will enable future researchers – including family historians – to know more about the work of Rotary, and the men and women who have been members.
So I hope you’ll forgive what might look like a bit of self-congratulation here, because this post is a truly heart-felt thank you to the thousands of archivists – professional and volunteer – whose work in preserving records of the past is essentially what makes family history research possible.
In the last few weeks I’ve spent time in two government archives – the National Archives at Kew, London and the Fife Council Archive Centre in Markinch, Fife. In some ways, they could hardly be more different. The National Archives are housed in a stunning new building with a cafe, restaurant and shop, and receives many hundreds – if not thousands – of visitors per week. On top of that, thousands more searches are carried out of its online records through the catalogue Discovery.
By contrast, the Fife Archive is located in the basement of a 1960s office building on the edge of Markinch. There is no cafe, shop or enticing artwork on display. But that’s where the difference ends really. Both archives are staffed efficiently and effectively by professionals who seem utterly dedicated to the preservation and sharing of Britain’s documentary past.
At the National Archives I learned more about the fate of my great grand uncle Stewart Cruden who died in 1942 aboard the Shera, a converted whaling boat in the Arctic Convoys of World War II. The sinking of that ship was the subject of an official enquiry and I was able to read the files relating to that enquiry, including the testimony of the three men who survived. While my uncle wasn’t mentioned by name, I feel I know a little more about his death and can share this with my mother, who knew her uncle, remembers the telegram arriving with word of his death, and has lived for 70 years not really knowing the circumstances in which he was lost.
At the Fife Council Archives I read the patient notes of my great, great grandfather Rankine Gourlay when he was a patient in the Fife and Kinross Lunatic Asylum. I learned a great deal about his history, physical health and mental condition. Heartbreakingly, I read the final note, from October 14 1891 which says:
“It was thought advisable to send him to the poorhouse and so today he was discharged.”
Rankine Goulay spent his last 12 years in the Kirkcaldy Combination Poorhouse, dying in July 1903.
While at the Fife Archive, I also searched the Minute Books of the Dysart School Board, looking for information about my great grandmother, Anne Nicholson, who was a teacher. That search proved fruitless, as the books for the years I wanted are not in the collection.
And this is the researcher’s on-going problem; records that we know were made but that have not survived to be seen, read, searched now.
Even in the relatively short time I’ve been researching my family I have experienced this repeatedly. My great grandfather’s war records – probably destroyed along with so many others in the Blitz; the same great grandfather’s time in Edenhall Hospital. Records from that institution have been transferred to the Lothian Health Services Archive in Edinburgh, but not records for the “right” time period for me. And probably most frustratingly, the School Board records which would almost certainly have included the resignation and possible re-appointment of my great grandmother who had a child out of wedlock while teaching and would have had to resign, but was back teaching when she married four years later.
It’s easy to feel frustrated by these omissions, but instead I feel enormously grateful for the records that have been preserved. I am thankful for the foresight and often bloody-minded perseverance of those people who have recognised the value of historical records and fought to preserve them – often in the face of indifference and hostility. This is less the case for official government records than for those of companies, voluntary and community organisations and families, but it is precisely those records which give us a deeper understanding of our ancestors. The details of someone’s funeral from an undertaker’s account book or a newspaper clipping from a church scrapbook – these are snippets that help us understand who our ancestors really were – to flesh out and clothe the skeletons that BDM and census returns give us.
And it is for those small gems of human history that I thank archivists everywhere.
For as many generations as I’ve been able to trace back, branches of my family have lived and died in Dysart. Many are buried in Dysart Cemetery – including my paternal grandparents, two sets of great-grandparents, some great, great grandparents, various great uncles and aunts, and my older brother who was stillborn.
It’s a relatively new cemetery – nineteenth century – and is still in use. I been there twice recently, specifically to visit the graves of relatives I knew were there but found myself wandering between the rows of graves “just in case.” My searching was rewarded and although the headstones didn’t tell me much I didn’t already know, I’m really pleased to know that so many members of my family are all together in one place.
Daft, yeah. But it still makes me happy.