1. My great uncle Thomas Gourlay Leslie. My paternal grandfather’s younger brother was a widower without children. He was kind and funny and always willing to create adventures for me. He owned a Messerschmidt “bubble” car and lived near a canal in which we went fishing. Even after we moved to New Zealand, he remained an important part of my life, writing witty, newsy letters which often contained money. They always smelled of his cigarettes, and even now, the whiff of tobacco on paper or clothing reminds me of him. I’d love to be able to invite him to dinner and introduce him to my son who is named after him. I’d hope that he would be proud of the person I’ve become.
2.Susan Forbes, my great great grandmother. I’m named after my grandmother Susan Forbes Nicholson Elder, who was in turn named after her grandmother, Susan Forbes. I’ve managed to learn quite a lot about my 2x great grandmother, and she seems like a strong, hard-working entrepreneurial woman. She bore at least eight children – three of whom died in the first weeks of their lives – and raised her daughter Anne’s illegitimate son. She died in 1912, aged 72, leaving a comprehensive and slightly mysterious Will. I’d love to meet her and find out who the men she named as Trustees of her Will were, and why she appointed them. I’ve long suspected that one of them was the father of her daughter’s child.
3. My great grandmother Catherine Black. I’ve written quite a lot about my formidable great gran and although I have strong memories of her, I would love to have her to dinner and be able to ask her all the questions I have now that I would never have thought of, or been able to ask when I was a child. She was a very resourceful woman, with an incredible sweet tooth so I’d ask her to bring dessert.
4. My great, great grandmother Isabella Simpson Wallace. Born in rural Perthshire in 1866, her father died when she was only six, and she had to move to Dundee with her mother and siblings. Her mother remarried and bore several more children. I don’t know if Isabella had a good relationship with her step-father, but several of her children bear his surname as a middle name, so I like to think so. She married my great, great grandfather Stewart Camerson Cruden in 1886 and seemed to spend the rest of her life on the move. The family had multiple addresses in Fife, and at one stage emigrated to the United States where they lived in New Jersey for about 10 years. Isabella experienced several tragedies, in addition to the death of her father. She seems to have suffered several stillbirths; her youngest daughter died, aged 20, of eclampsia and her younger son, Stewart drowned in the Barents Sea while serving on the Arctic Convoys. From the photos I’ve seen of her, she seems like quite a dour woman (maybe not surprising), but I’d love to meet her. I think as well as being interesting in herself, she could also have answers to lots of questions about that branch of my family.
5. Elizabeth Robertson, a 3x great grandmother. Elizabeth was born in 1798 in Dallas, Morayshire. At the age of 24 she bore a son, out of wedlock to John Leslie. That son, George Leslie, was my 2x great grandfather. I know quite a lot about George’s marriage and later life, but his early life is a mystery. I’ve also been spectacularly unsuccessful at finding John Leslie, and thereby tracing my surname back beyond the early 19th century. But apart from wanting to know about Elizabeth’s relationship with her son and his father, I would also like me meet her. It appears that she never married, lived most of her life in Elgin, and died aged 83 in the Poorhouse.
6. Thomas Boswell Bisset – 3 x great grandfather and man of mystery. Thomas Bisset seems to have been born Thomas Gordon, in Wemyss, Fife in 1831. He was the illegitimate son of Elizabeth Grieve and John Gordon. Like George Leslie, Thomas’s early life is a complete mystery to me. From his marriage to Helen Simpson in 1851, he becomes a little more visible and towards the end of his life the recorded evidence of his existence mounts up. But it is confusing; not least because his birth, marriage and death records all contain different names for his father. And where does Boswell come from? My family seems to have adhered quite strictly to the Scottish naming pattern, and I can’t find a Boswell connection anywhere. Apart from all that, Thomas fathered at least 13 children, and I can’t help thinking of him as a bit of an old goat with a twinkle in his eye – and hopefully a few good stories to tell.
7. Alexander Gerrard; a 4x great grandfather about whom I know little except that he was a handloom weaver from Abbotshall, Fife. I suspect that I may not ever get to know much about this man from official records. Like many of my working class ancestors, he has left little trace in the archival record. It would be fascinating to meet a man who lived his entire life in a small area of Scotland that I know well, though I doubt we’d recognise much of what the other was talking about.
8. Susanna Fowls is a 4x great grandmother, and the first Susanna I’ve found from whom the rest of us are descended. She was born in 1786 in Portmoak, Kinross and in 1806 married John Forbes in Abbotshall. I like the idea of having the Susan’s well-represented at the dinner table, and hopefully she can tell me who she was named after – allowing me to delve further into the eighteenth century.
9. David Skinner Ramsay, a 3x great grandfather who seems to have been one of few ancestors who could be described as having been affluent. He’s described in the 1851 census as a Master Miller. Although he’d been born in Dysart, Fife, the family seemed to live in Abernethy, Perthshire for many years, where the household included a couple of servants. He died in his 50s, in what looks like reduced circumstances. His sons seem to have become coal miners, so I’d like to be able to ask him about the turns his life took.
10. Jane Morrison Cruden. My great grandfather Alexander Cruden had an older sister called Jane (or Jean). She was born in 1887 in Dundee and appears in the 1891 and 1901 census records alongside her parents and siblings. After that she disappears from the Scottish census records. My mum, who was very close to her grandad and his family, had never heard of an older sister. She could tell me a great deal about great grandad’s other siblings, but Jean was a mystery. The only traces I’ve found of Jean Cruden are a record of a marriage to Cecil Leach, in Middlesborough in 1924, and the birth of a daughter – Jean Morrison Leach in Middlesborough in 1926. I’d like to invite Jean to dinner, partly to find out why she left home and apparently didn’t return, and partly because I’m also inviting her sister-in-law and grandmother, and it might be nice to have a family reunion within a family reunion. Or not!