Six word Saturday: picturing the past

Cottage in Auchtermuchty; right location I think for some Leslie ancestors.

Cottage in Auchtermuchty; right location I think for some Leslie ancestors.

Auchtermuchty ancestors. Same house; new downpipe.

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Tombstone Tuesday: the first family headstone photograph

Leslie family headstone

Headstone of my paternal grandparents and older brother.

This is the only photo of a family headstone I have.

I haven’t yet begun scouring graveyards – mainly because I’m in New Zealand and pretty much all my family is buried in Scotland.

The big T, the boy-child and I did take a detour on a family holiday a few years ago to check out the cemetery at Hororata near Christchurch. We weren’t so much searching for the big T’s family, as idly wondering whether any of his ancestors were buried there. Without really knowing what we were looking for, I’m still not sure whether we found anything relevant. We certainly didn’t think to photograph any of the headstones, although we did take this photo of the church, which I quite like.

St. John's Church, Hororata, Canterbury, NZ

St. John’s Church, Hororata, Canterbury, NZ.

I have a particular fondness for monumental masonry, particularly from the nineteenth century where  those who could afford it managed to combine some truly elegant sculpture with some amazing euphemisms for death.

I’m looking forward to learning more about my ancestors from the memorial inscriptions their loved ones gave them; and hopefully will come back from the UK in a few weeks with some more photos to add to my tree.

On ancestry in the making

On ancestry in the making

I’ve been posting about “family history in the making” and then I read Helen Tovey’s blog post on “becoming an ancestor”. It’s made me think about how important it is to document the present (and recent past).

Today is a particularly appropriate day for such thoughts as it’s my son’s 15th birthday. He is my only child, so his birthday is not just a celebration of his life, but of his father and I becoming a family rather than a couple.

I sometimes wonder if our pleasure in that doesn’t almost outweigh the boy-child’s enjoyment of presents, cake and devoted parental attention for the day. And that got me thinking about his day.

Naming Day, Thomas Alexander Gray.

The boy-child with proud parents and god-parents.

We’re not religious, so a christening was out of the question, but when he was born, I remember thinking that it was important to celebrate the significance of his life to us in some way. It took a while to organise (10 months), but on 17 January, 1999 we held a naming ceremony for our baby boy. Continue reading

Weekly photo challenge: another kiss

My younger brother Derek Leslie and his wife Nya Fogden on their wedding day, July 2006.

My younger brother Derek Leslie and his wife Nya Fogden on their wedding day, July 2006.

Carrying on yesterday’s theme; another kiss that contributes to my family history in the making. My youngest brother Derek, married Nya Fogden on 8 July, 2006 at the St Stephen’s Club, London.

On chasing ghosts

Increasingly in my research, I’m stumbling across ancestors I didn’t know existed – a great uncle born out of wedlock, children who appear on one census only to disappear by the next. In these cases I’ve been looking at records (like the census returns) and found “extra” names. But yesterday something different happened. I went looking for someone purely on the basis that they should exist.

Let me explain. I was tidying up some details relating to my paternal grandfather, David Leslie, who was born in 1899. I knew that his parents had married in 1892, and that my great uncle Rankine was born in 1895. I knew too there had been a daughter, Mary, in 1897.

My grandfather, David Leslie

My grandfather, David Leslie

Me, age 5, with my great uncle Tom Leslie; the coolest, most fun uncle and greatly loved.

I’ve done enough research into my largely working class family to know that during the nineteenth and early twentieth century, where couples had children at all, they tended to start coming very early in the marriage (within weeks in many cases). I also know that mostly my family observed Scottish naming conventions, whereby one’s parents’ names are given to offspring – and done so in a particular order, with the first-born son usually named after the paternal grandfather.

On that basis, it seemed odd to me that my great-grandfather David Leslie and his wife Isabella Gourlay should have been married three years before having a child, and that their apparently first-born son was named Rankine – a Gourlay family name.

One of the first things I realised when I started using Scotland’s People is that the most efficient way to trace ancestors’ siblings is though census records. Unless you know someone’s Christian name, it’s difficult (not to mention expensive) to find birth records based only on a surname and a rough date range, especially as women might easily have been bearing children across a 20 or more year period as some of my ancestors were. I knew from the 1901 and 1911 censuses the names of the Leslie children, so it seemed that if there had been a child (or children) before Rankine, it was likely that they had died. And sadly, that’s the case.

Because I was searching  a very limited time period (1892-1895) and knew that the Leslie’s lived at the same address in Abbotshall in Fife for many years, it was possible – and economically viable – to look for a child who may not even have existed. I was fortunate; I only got five hits, including George Leslie. As George was my Leslie great, great grandfather’s name, I paid my five credits and found that I had the right child.

I’ve worked as a researcher for most of my life and pride myself on professional detachment. Sod that! This is family I’m talking about and researching them is an unbelievably emotional journey. So my excitement at “a find” and my pride in being clever enough to think to go looking were tempered by the certainty that my next search would be for a child’s death certificate. So …

George Leslie 1893-1901

First-born child of David and Isabella, big brother of Rankine, Mary and my granddad David (and who would, if he’d lived, also been brother to Thomas and William). Died 2 February 1901, aged seven, of meningitis.

I’m still processing this. Part of me is trying to be practical and remember that child mortality was higher in those days and that families probably expected to lose a child, but the other part of me is a mother and I think I’ll go and give my son a hug.