Monday, November 13, 2017

Don't fiddle with my family tree!

 Looking into one’s family background has become a favourite pastime in the 21st century. The Internet is full of companies trying to make money out of collating and indexing public documents, with more or much less skill, but, worse, it is also full of would-be ‘family historians’, the kind who work on the principle ‘if it doesn’t fit, take something approximating the missing link and just carry on’. Of course, it doesn’t work. It merely fills the web with false ‘information’. I’ve bumped into this type of amateur ‘genealogy’ over and over again in the course of my researches into my theatrical and musical folk, the Victorian Vocalists, but I didn’t think to find such a thing happening to my own family.

Cousin Alan, brother John and I have intermittently, over the years, peeped into the tale of my mother’s family. But I was really far more interested in father’s side, with its secretive Austrian, Hungarian and Jewish elements, and I didn’t spend much effort on combing Perthshire and Aberdeenshire looking amongst the myriad Andersons, Morrisons and Welshes. But today I dipped a little, I picked up some good bits, and then stumbled upon this wretched semi-fictional ‘family tree’ … The page is labelled ‘facts’. I think that should be changed forthwith!

Maggie Anderson in the 1890s
Well, here goes. I’ll start with grandma. Grandma, as I posted on my blog eight years ago, was born Margaret McGregor Anderson at Rattray, Scotland on 28 May 1885, the second child of the family of a mechanic in a flax and jute mill. The first-born, at Rattray in 1883, was brother Alexander, and there was to be a younger sister, Ann[ie], born 26 November 1887.

Maggie (as Margaret was known) had for parents one Alexander Anderson and his wife, Annie née Morrison, who were married in Dundee 28 August 1882. My mother remembered granny Annie as a rather grand lady in black, but she didn’t have any memory of her grandfather. Which made me wonder if he emigrated when granny Annie did, if he were dead, or if he were off among the jute and flax factories of China and India. I know that someone in the family had been, because I inherited from grandma and grandad a Chinese/Indian gong, a pair of nodding mandarin figures and some charming vases, which mother disposed of to an eager young ‘dealer’ when I was living in Europe. Oh, I soon discovered that the second option was right. He was indeed well and truly dead by the time the aged Annie left her home in Blairgowrie and followed her children to the Antipodes.

The Morrison family has not been difficult to sort out. Rattray Parish Churchyard, and the records of Ballintuin, Kirkmichael, Aberdeen, Dyce and surrounding spots yield up the whole family, in direct male line, way back into the 17th century. To wit:
Alexander John ?Milibue Morrison (b Black Isle 1658; d Dyce 1721) ‘of the Black Bull Tavern, Dyce’ m Elizabeth ?Sompton (b Elgin 1664; d Dyce 1724)
Their son Alistair James Morrison (Dyce 1690-1730) m Leslie Hatton (1698-1792)
Their son John Albert Mackaskill Morrison (Aberdeen 1725-1796) m Marion Leslie Armstrong (1724- Aberdeen 1768)
Their son William Mackaskill Morrison (Glasgow 1750-1835 ‘farm worker and tiler’) m Lilian Robertson (1757-1791)
Their son Andrew Morrison (Perth 1791-1851) m Anne Ferguson (b Kirkmichael 1801; d Ballintuim 2 November 1868)
Their son Alexander (b Merklands estate, Kirkmichael 21 August 1827; d September 1874) m Rattray 4 March 1856 Margaret Howe McGregor (b Rattray 1832; d Clarke Place, Old Rattray 28 March 1908.

Kirkmichael, where the Morrisons came from

Alexander and Margaret are commemorated on a stone in Rattray Churchyard along with her parents, two of her sisters and two of their children, one of whom was Donald Morrison, a weaving master at Seebpore Jute Mills, Calcutta, who died out East, aged 40. Maybe it was he who was responsible for the gong?

Great-grandmother Annie née Morrison
Annie (b Ballintuim Kirkmichael 27 April 1863 d 187 Carrington Rd, New Plymouth 26 March 1949) seems to have been the fifth child of maybe nine (including twins), and the eldest of three (?) daughters – Annie, Maggie and (apparently) Agnes. My mother was named for an Agnes (I gather in hope of a legacy!). She hated the name, or the ?great-aunt, and always called herself ‘Nancy’. I love the name and, having no children, instead named my lovely racehorse ‘Agnes’.

Oh, by the way, my ‘grand’ great-grandmother, to my mother’s surprise, was listed in the census as a dressmaker. Sister Maggie was a domestic servant.

Annie Anderson and her three children lived here in the 1890s.
So that is the Morrisons sorted out very briefly but for these purposes adequately. I haven’t followed up all the side branches and the brothers and sisters of the direct line. Maybe one day.

Now, more difficultly, the Andersons. Alexander Anderson the flax-mill mechanic can be seen living at Maclagan’s Land, Rattray ‘aged 25’ in the 1881 census, with his sister Catherine (29, housekeeper), and brothers Andrew (18, lapper), James (16, lapper), and Thomas (13). All listed as having been born … in France. The jute business again? So we have a dead end. The more so in that none of the siblings seem to appear in any further censi. In 1891 and 1901 Annie is there with her three children – and there were no more after Annie jr – but her husband is somewhere else. Japan? India? France? Dead?
Am I 100 percent sure that this is our Alexander Anderson? The name is quite a common one. But all the evidence points to him. 1881 ‘flax mill mechanic’ in Rattray, 1882 married ‘flax mill mechanic’ in Dundee to a girl from Ballintuin … 1883, 1885 and 1887 children born in Rattray … and then off to the Far East to buy his little daughter a gong, some nodding men and touristy vases? … I reckon that’s pretty possible. But I don’t know for sure. All I know is that when schoolteacher Maggie, aged 28 ‘of Roselea, Blairgowrie’, was church married (following a handfast marriage in Dundee the previous year) at Rattray on 2 July 1913, her father was already ‘deceased’. Uncle James was her witness. Yes, I have the marriage certificate.
At some stage, our Andersons left Scotland for New Zealand. I haven’t looked too deeply into that. It seems that brother Alexander was the first to arrive and for some reason chose to settle in New Plymouth. So, when Maggie and her new husband, tailor Edwin Welsh, chose to quit Scotland – apparently because she had been threatened and stalked by a rejected suitor -- it was to New Plymouth and family they headed. But mother’s twin sisters, Margaret and Edwina, were born in 1914 in … Dunedin. However, at some date unrecorded, Edwin and Maggie decided that they didn’t like their new home, and so they climbed back on a ship and headed back to Scotland. Only to decide, once they had crossed the world, that they had made a mistake. So they turned round and sailed south once more. Mother, their third and last child, was born in Mt Albert, Auckland on 18 April 1922.

The Blairgowrie flood of 1910. We boys grew up with this postcard among our playthings.
Phew. That’s enough for one sitting. Jute mills and lappers. I had better tackle grandad next… But another day!

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