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?