Since time immemorial parents have lost children to the far flung reaches of the globe. They left home to serve their country, to preach the Word, to better their own lives or to simply seek adventure.
Today, advances in transportation and modern technology allow families to keep in close touch no matter how far apart they find themselves. Not so in the time of my great grandfather. When five of his seven sons left Scotland at the turn of the twentieth century he knew he would likely never see them again.
My great grandparents, David Angus (1842-1929) and Ann Rankine, had themselves left their families to seek employment elsewhere. David was a shoemaker. They settled in the Glasgow district of Partick a short day’s journey from their home village of Kincardine. Of the nine children born to them in Partick only two were girls, the younger dying in infancy.
By the end of the nineteenth century Glasgow had become a heavy industry and shipbuilding center. The influx of workers into many Scottish cities was so rapid that housing, city planning and provisions for health care couldn’t keep up. This unplanned growth created squalor and over-crowding on a massive scale. Two-thirds of Scots were living in one- or two-roomed houses compared with only 7 per cent in England. Poverty was widespread, wages were low in comparison with other parts of the UK and infant mortality rates were alarmingly high. (1)
Two of David’s sons, David and Ebenezer, escaped this desperate social situation when they immigrated to Australia, David to Melbourne and Ebenezer to Sydney. They both raised families the descendants of which live in Australia today. Both brothers are buried in Australia
Thomas settled in Malaysia as a missionary. He was likely inspired, as were many others at the time, by the legendary African exploits of David Livingston from nearby Blantyre (2). Although the family lived in Kuala Lumpur, Thomas sent his daughters, Kathleen, Joan and Margery, to a missionary boarding school in southern India, the same school I attended years later when my own father worked in East Pakistan. Typically missionaries went on furlough every five years so Thomas may have seen his homeland again.
Andrew did not stray far from home. He lived and died in East Bourne, England and we can presume he returned to Scotland frequently.
My grandfather James (1879-1964) immigrated to Canada and settled in Quebec City. It was many years after his father had died before he was able to return home. He took his Canadian “bride” to Glasgow for their fiftieth wedding anniversary. His only sister Rachel, with whom he had faithfully corresponded over the years, suffered from dementia at the time of their visit and hid from him. A sad ending to their long distance relationship.
The two sons who remained in Scotland, John and William, died in middle age. It was Rachel who cared for their widowed father in the last years of his life. My father and his two brothers spent time with their aunt at her home in Steppes when they were stationed in England during World War II. Their visits were too late for their grandfather.
Today there are more people of Scottish descent living in countries around the world than there are Scots in Scotland. My family is part of this diaspora.
- http://www.educationscotland.gov.uk/Images/MigrationandEmpire1830- 1939_tcm4-571546.doc
Single women, or spinsters as they were once called, did not generally live independently or own a home in the 1800’s. So it was with my second great aunt, Annie Eleanor Kelly of Quebec City.
Until her father William Kelly died in 1902 at the age of eight-two 1. , the census records every ten years list Annie Kelly as living under his roof. 2. Family legend claims that she served as a missionary at one point but I have not found any supporting documentation.
Annie was one of five children born to William Kelly, a coal merchant, and his wife Jane Jamieson. Two brothers and a sister died young. Her remaining sibling Emma Jane married Peter Brodie. Annie’s mother lived until she was seventy-one and I presume it was Annie who cared for her parents during the last years of their lives. 3.
According to his will, William bequeathed to his married daughter Emma the property and house he owned on 1908 Valier Street. To his spinster daughter he bequeathed all his interests in the Quebec Coal Company, all the money in his bank accounts, and all his shares and stock. He also left to her all his household furniture, goods and effects. 4.
One wonders where William thought Annie would put these goods and effects when the house itself went to her sister. He appears to have simply followed the mores of the time. Emma’s husband must deal with the house. There is no evidence that Peter and Emma ever lived there.
The 1911 census finds Annie living with newlyweds Jean Brodie and James Angus, my grandparents. Where she lived from her father’s death to that date is not known. Annie was fifty-seven when she moved in and she stayed there until she died at seventy-four. Jean was the little niece William described in his will as having been taken into the care of her aunt. His sizable bequeath to Annie was “partly in remuneration of her long service in the family and towards me, and to help provide for a little niece she has taken in her care”. 5.
The term “long service” sounds like Annie may have been the family Cinderella.
There has been much speculation as to why Emma gave the care of her youngest daughter over to her sister. It is uncertain if Jean moved into her grandfather’s home to live with her aunt or if her aunt acted as a nanny in the Brodie home. The expression “taken in her care” would suggest the former. There were two other Brodie children, Carrie and Lawton, who appeared to have stayed with their parents.
Or was Emma actually Jean’s mother, despite the names Emma and Peter Brodie on Jean’s baptismal certificate? 6. It is not unheard of for the child of an unwed mother to be raised by a sister. Annie would have been twenty-six when Jean was born. Secretly I like to think she experienced love and romance sometime in her life.
Whatever the reason, clearly the bond between aunt and niece was as strong as any maternal bond.
Undoubtedly, much of the furniture, goods and effects left to Annie by her father were moved into her niece’s home. It may also have been Annie’s money that saved the Angus family when my grandfather’s bookstore went bankrupt during the Depression. As a child, I remember hearing about “Auntie Annie” but I was too young to remember any details. She would have been an integral part of my father’s childhood but my interest in her life came too late for me to ask for more information.
Today I look at some of the beautiful antiques I inherited from my grandmother and ponder their provenance. Might they have been the inheritance of Annie Kelly, spinster aunt?
Research Notes and Sources:
- Burial Record, Mount Herman Cemetery, Quebec City, November 15, 1902 (on file with author)
- Census records up to and including 1901, 1911, 1921, 1931, Library and Archives Canada
- Kelly Family Bible (owned by author)
- Last Will of William Kelly, 6th June, 1901. Louis Leclerc, Notary Public in the city of Quebec (on file with author)
- Baptismal certificate of Jane Jamieson Brodie – on file with author
- For many years baptismal documents were used in lieu of birth certificates in Quebec. One could obtain a passport with a baptismal certificate. I did not obtain a birth certificate until 1992.