Brother and nephew of Eric Andrew Gray. Connected by blood, name and memory.
My father in law, generally not much interested in family history, has mentioned many times over the years an uncle – his father’s younger brother – who died in WWI. He didn’t know where or when, so when I first started doing family history research a few years ago, I undertook to find out what I could about the Big T’s great uncle.
The first barrier was that neither the Big T nor his father was quite sure of the uncle’s first name. My father in law referred to his uncle as ‘Toby’, but suggested that might have been a nickname.
The NZ Dept of Internal Affairs’ Births Deaths & Marriages Online allowed me to search within the parameters I had (my father in law’s father’s name) and make a few assumptions.
Wallace Oliver Gray (the Big T’s granddad) was born in 1893 to Emily Ann and Andrew Gray.
By changing the search terms to surname only + mother’s name, I found four other children born to Emily Ann and Andrew –Eric Andrew, Winifred Olive, Aileen Annie and Ethel Fyllis.
As the only other male child, it seemed that Eric was the most likely candidate to be ‘Uncle Toby’.
Archives New Zealand holds historic military service records and provides an online search facility: Archway. This revealed the following entry:
GRAY, Eric Andrew – WW1 15527 – Army
The service records themselves weren’t available online at that stage, so accessing them involved paying to have them digitized. Although I was fairly sure this was the person, the Big T had the bright idea of first of all looking up the Cenotaph Database held by the Auckland War Memorial Museum, to cross check the information. Excellent move as it turns out.
As you can see, the Cenotaph record was really detailed and incredibly helpful. We knew from the address and biographical information that we had the “right man”. But more importantly we knew in which Regiment he served, when and where he died and where he was buried. And amazingly, at the top of the record was a photograph. The young man (probably aged 20 when it was taken) with the serious expression was one of us; a blood relation to the Big T and our boy-child, and a member of the whanau I’ve been part of for almost thirty years.
Finding Eric Gray’s burial place on the record led the Big T to Google Maps and me to The Commonwealth War Graves Commission (he’s Geography to my History). What we both discovered – almost simultaneously – was that eighty one years after Eric Gray was buried there, we had virtually driven past Martinsart British Cemetery in the Somme Valley while on holiday with the infant boy-child.
There is much more to say about Eric Gray thanks to the meticulous work of archivists and record-keepers in New Zealand and overseas. I’m currently working through his service records – obtained from Archives New Zealand – trying to understand the terminology and abbreviations. But that is another story to be told in time.
Meanwhile, as commemorations of the four years of warfare dubbed “the war to end all wars” take place all over the world, we’re remembering a 22 year old farm labourer who travelled from Hororata in Canterbury NZ, to die in the Somme Valley of France.
Eric Andrew Gray (20 October 1895 – 27 March 1918)
I can’t believe it’s almost a month since I did any real family history research, but I guess that is how it goes.
The elusive Jane Morrison has been much on my mind, and conscious that I’d hit a brick wall at the beginning of her life I decided to take another look at the end.
The last record I had for Jane was the 1901 census, which showed her living at 2 Lawrence Street, Dundee with four adult daughters: Bessie aged 26, a jute weaver; Bella, 25, (actual name Helen, not my 2x great grandmother Isabella) a confectioner; Mary, 20, a jute weaver; Henrietta, 18, also a confectioner; and two boarders – Peter Young, 22, a telegrapher; and Andrew Balsillie, 22, a railway worker. Jane’s age was given as 57, and her marital status as ‘widow’.
I haven’t been able to find Jane in the 1911 census, nor have I found a death record in Scotland for her. Because Scottish statutory marriage records usually show parents’ names and whether they were alive at the time of the marriage, I thought I’d look for Jane’s children’s marriages and see if there were any clues there.
The children’s marriages
I was tempted to just look for the younger daughters’ marriages; those I knew were single in 1901. But in an attempt to be more thorough, I decided to work systematically through all of Jane’s off-spring who survived to adulthood – those she bore to my 3x great grandfather Donald Wallace and the five children of her second marriage to John Balsillie.
The first child to marry was Jane and Donald Wallace’s second daughter, Margaret. Margaret Morrison (b. 20 June 1864) married James Campbell Bennett a journeyman engine fitter of Harmony Row, Govan, on 31 December 1883. Margaret was 19 and a yarn winder. Her older sister Ann was a witness to the marriage.
The second marriage was that of my 2x great grandparents; Isabella Simpson Wallace (b. 2 May 1866) and Stewart Cameron Cruden, on 31 December 1886 at 5 Stewart Street Dundee (the bride’s address). The groom, aged 23 was a Draper’s Collector; Isabella was 20 and a jute weaver.
Next to marry was Ann Morrison (b. 4 September 1862) – Jane and Donald’s eldest child. Her marriage record shows that on 3 January 1888, at the age of 25, she wed Matthew Kelly aged 33, a factory carter of Lawrence Street, Dundee. Ann’s address on the record was Stewart Street, Dundee. The marriage was witnessed by Ann’s younger sister Christina Wallace and someone called George Watson.
On December 28 1893, Christina Wallace (b. 23 December 1871) married James Ramsay at Logie Hall, Scott Street, Dundee. James was aged 30 and a farmyard skinner of 114 Lochie Rd, Dundee. Christina was 22, and an Assistant Housekeeper of 5 Stewart St, Dundee. Christina’s stepsister Helen Balsillie was a witness, as was William Ramsay.
Mary Jane Bett Balsillie (b. 30 October 1877) married Peter K Young, 25 July 1902 at 25 Milnbank Road, Dundee. He was 23 and a lithographer/printer. She was 24 and a jute weaver. The witnesses were Nellie (Helen) Balsillie and David Young. Peter Young was of course, one of the boarders recorded as living in the Balsillie household on the 1901 census.
Henrietta Balsillie (b. 28 April 1882) married William Aird on 9 November 1904 at 25 Milnbank Road, Dundee. Both were 22. William was an electrician and Henrietta a confectioner. Bessie Balsillie was one of the witnesses. Jane Morrison was shown on the marriage record as being alive at the time.
That leaves Betsy Esplin Balsillie (b. 15 April 1874), Helen Walker Balsillie (b. 25 January 1876) and John Balsillie (b. 18 October 1879) for whom I have not found Scottish marriage records.
Henrietta Balsillie in Detroit
A descendent of Henrietta Balsillie and William Aird got in touch recently and sent me his family tree details. This showed that Henrietta and William’s third child, Mina, was born on 29 November 1907 in Detroit, Wayne County, Michigan, USA.
Given that I hadn’t found a Scottish death record for Jane Morrison, I had been wondering if she might have left Scotland. My family (particularly the maternal side, which includes the Cruden branch) seems to have quite a history of migration, so I was quite confident that I would pick up Jane’s trail somewhere outside of Scotland. The evidence that at least one of her daughters had immigrated by 1907 led me to look for Jane in the United States.
On Ancestry.com, I found a Mrs Jane Balsillie aged 62, travelling to New York as a second class passenger aboard the Columbia in April 1906. With here were three younger women also called Balsillie: Bessie aged 28; Nellie, aged 21; and Jane aged 18. Given that I hadn’t found marriage records for Betsy (Bessie) or Helen (Nellie) Balsillie in Scotland, I assumed that Jane was travelling with her daughters – although Betsy would actually have been 32 and Helen 30. The younger Jane is a mystery though. Aged 18 in 1906 means she would have been born around 1888. I have found no record of Jane Morrison bearing any children after Henrietta in 1882, and no child called Jane Balsillie appears in the 1891 or 1901 census returns.
I am wondering if this person was Mary Jane Bett Balsillie, but as she had married Peter Young in 1902, and would have been aged about 28 in 1906 – perhaps not.
I decided to put that mystery aside and see if I could find other evidence that might suggest I had the correct Jane Morrison – and what happened to her.
I found a second travel record for Jane Balsllie – this time returning alone to the UK in June 1908 aboard the Furnessia. I also found a third record for travel back to the US in April 1909, aboard the Lusitania.
This final record was the New York, Passenger Arrival Lists (Ellis Island) for 23 April, 1909. Jane’s age was given as 65 and her Scottish place of residence as Dundee.
I’m not sure how confident I can be of these records. In the 1906 passenger manifest, three out of four of the names “fit” although the ages aren’t quite right. The 1908 passenger manifest contains very little information, beyond the name, age and nationality, while in the final record the age and place of residence in Scotland match.
I doubt there is any way of knowing for sure if these records relate to my relatives. However, as Jane Morrison/Balsillie, Helen Balsillie and Betsy Balsillie all disappear from Scottish records after Henrietta’s marriage in 1904, and I need a working hypothesis to move forward; I have chosen to proceed on the basis that the travel records I found are for my relatives and that after 1906, I should look for these women in the United States.
Because I knew Henrietta’s child Mina was born in Detroit, I assumed that Jane and her unmarried daughters followed Henrietta and her husband to the United States. However, travel records for the Airds show that they arrived at Ellis Island in May 1907, a year after Jane’s first entry to the US.
I am much more confident of the Aird travel records because they show Henrietta (a fairly uncommon name), William and two children arriving on the 13 May 1907 aboard the Caledonia. The children’s ages and names (Jeannie M. and William L.R.) match the Aird family tree I’d been given – William Lawrence Robertson Aird was born in 1905 and Jean Morrison Aird in 1906.
Where to next?
I’m not sure whether it is ageist or sexist – or both – to assume that Jane, a sixty-something widow, would have followed younger family members in migrating rather than being the one who led the way. Either way, it seems that my next set of research questions will centre around:
Where in the United States various family members might have settled
What happened in their lives?
What happened to John Balsillie jr?
Who is mysterious younger Jane who travelled to the US in 1906? Is it Mary Jane Bett Balsillie? Was she widowed? Did she leave her husband?
Did any of Jane’s older children from her marriage to Donald Wallace also emigrate? I know that Isabella and her husband Stewart Cruden lived in New Jersey during the 1920s-30s. What about the others?
Watch this space!