My two best physicists: Haldane and Hawking

I’ve discovered two world-leading physicists in or near my family tree (so far). They were both total surprises. Neither is an ancestor: they are modern contemporaries: F. Duncan Haldane and Stephen Hawking.

I learned of Haldane when internet searching the name of a 3rd cousin in 2017 on the internet, and then about Hawking via a fairly newly discovered 2nd cousin (in 2019) who knew him and had once been at a big Hawking family reunion. Turns out, Hawking was already on a public tree online, one which I’d already tentatively connected to. But I hadn’t even explored down to the leafs, where Hawking was lurking.

Both these physicists are special people, so I’m playing the “N degrees of separation” game to lay out the family tree connection between them via births and marriages. I confess, there are a few ordinary academics and professors (including me) floating around in the middle-class parts of my tree (my father’s side, late 1800s onwards, and in my wife’s tree). Some are blood relatives and some are spouses. The links between these two notable world-leading academics takes me beyond beyond simple labels like cousin or uncle. I’ll describe how they connect to each other through 14 individuals: parents, children husbands and wives.

My paternal grandparents are two links in the chain, but I’m not remotely concerned that this story (and website) wanders quite away from plain old ancestry. Marriages are the most interesting part of a tree for me, because it’s the only aspect of the BMD trio which is voluntary and conscious, and they tell us about social and personal links, not just biology. The in-laws and contemporaries of our ancestors are an interesting pool too, and I also hope the “entangled” chain of connections contributes something a little different to what is otherwise available on both these important people, and provokes some thoughts on how connected they might be.

TL;DR

In 2017 I knew 3rd cousin F. Duncan Haldane had a PhD, but knew no more than that. I vaguely remember being told by a relative that he was a physicist…. but he turned out to be no ordinary one. I found him on Wikipedia, thanks to some biographical information on his page. But why did he have a page for me to find? Because he had won the Nobel Prize in physics the year before (2016)!

My second physicist is a household name: Stephen Hawking. He had died already (2018) when I found this connection. As it happens, his death meant he was not eligible to share the 2020 Nobel for his work on black holes with his former colleague Roger Penrose: he’d already received a ton of accolades, obviously. And, we’ve nearly all heard of him.

So, let’s see how they are related. Here’s the glamour shot that shows how these two world-class physicists can be connected to each other, via two marriages and their Scottish ancestry. My grandparents Elizabeth Bertie Stevenson and George Hill Scobbie provide some of the necessary glue in the middle of the chart. Duncan Haldane and me are blood related via common Laughland+Black ancestors from Stewarton Ayrshire, whose children were born in Newarthill, Lanarkshire. The Stevenson family then provide the link from Scobbie to Hawking. The Stevenson-Hawking common ancestor has descendants on the tree of my grand-mother’s brother, including my Stevenson second cousins.

14 degrees of ancestry and marriage from F. Duncan Haldane (bottom left) to Stephen Hawking (bottom right). My perspective is that (a) Haldane is my 3rd cousin and (b) my great uncle (William David Henderson Stevenson) married Hawking’s great aunt (Mary Morris Walker).

As usual, I’m posting a whole thread in just one blog post. It’s 10,000 words or so, in a dozen sections. That just shows this is really meant as a chapter of something. Feel free to skim, or come back again. Some bits will work a lot better on a laptop or large tablet than on a phone.


1. Finding Duncan

At the bottom edge of my father’s family tree, the one by Elizabeth Mitchell that has inspired me, the most recent entries were in her own and my father’s generation, plus a few children in my own generation, with a scattering of names or dates. There was a note about a Haldane child. Someone called Duncan, born 1951 (with a space left for the unknown day and month), and the detail “MA PhD Cambridge.” (I feel OK to discuss someone born <100 years ago since he is a public figure with more details than this already online.)

I wondered who it was, this leaf.

Well, I thought… someone obtaining a PhD in the 1970s might well be findable online nowadays, if they worked in academia … so one day I idly googled. I think I’d searched maybe 10-15 years ago, but hadn’t got anywhere back then. And I knew he’d not been born in Scotland because I’d already failed to find him on Scotland’s People when I re-researched everyone on Elizabeth’s tree.

Of course, lots of people might be called Dr Duncan Haldane. But when I searched in late 2017 there were many links to just one person. A high profile individual with a Wikipedia page. The introduction said (well, currently says, in 2020) “Frederick Duncan Michael Haldane FRS (born 14 September 1951), known as F. Duncan Haldane, is a British born physicist who is currently the Sherman Fairchild University Professor of Physics at Princeton University, and a Distinguished Visiting Research Chair at Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics. He is a co-recipient of the 2016 Nobel Prize in Physics, along with David J. Thouless and J. Michael Kosterlitz.

“Oooh”, I thought. “Interesting”. But I didn’t think, “it’s him”.

F. Duncan M. Haldane during Nobel press conference in Stockholm, Sweden, December 2016 (photo from Wikipedia, by Bengt Nyman from Vaxholm, Sweden – EM1A0869 )

Unusually perhaps, and luckily for me, the Wikipedia page also contained a section more typical for celebrities than academics, Duncan’s “Personal life”. Its current wording (Jan 2021) reads, in its entirety: “Haldane is a British and Slovenian citizen and United States permanent resident. Haldane and his wife, Odile Belmont, live in Princeton, New Jersey. His father was a doctor in the British Army stationed on Yugoslavia/Austria border and there he met young medicine student Ljudmila Renko, a Slovene, and subsequently married her and moved back to England where Duncan was born. He received Slovenian citizenship at a ceremony at the Slovenian Embassy in Washington, DC on March 22, 2019.

Fair enough.

Then I had a double-take, because there in Wikipedia were the words “doctor“, “British Army“, and wife “Ljudmila” and a central European (implied WW2) context. And on cousin Elizabeth Mitchell‘s paper tree…? I instantly knew these matched the information Elizabeth had recorded for Duncan’s father Dr Eric Paterson: “MBChB“, second wife “Mila (Chechoslovak)“, whose marriage was “at end of 1939-45 war“. All in her beautiful, clear handwriting.

Duncan’s parents were on the Scobbie-Laughland hand-written tree (by Elizabeth Mitchell). CC license 4.0 BY-NC-SA.

So the doors opened, and I could see better how Duncan’s brother and half-siblings fitted too. (I am not going to discuss them, nor his mother and her family.)

This screen of “personal life” information generated one of those tingly adrenaline shocks: a clear hit. In this case, to an online, celebrated, academic superstar, but the thrill was about the unexpectedly unambiguous and sudden nature of the discovery. The tingle has been followed, however, by the continuing pleasure of the gossip: a Nobel Prize for my 3rd cousin! Prestige by association.

I emailed him in 2017, and he replied, courteous and interested: “Yes I am the right Duncan“. The sort of response we love to get.


2. Aside: the Haldane / Halden scientists

It turns out Duncan is interested in his own genealogy (and see also the notes for a link to a large online family tree that includes Odile Belmont, Duncan’s wife). He has carefully researched his own interesting family lineage in a well-evidenced and argued personal history centred on John Halden (1787-1855). As part of his unpublished genealogical research, he has also considered the potential links between his own Haldane ancestors and the family of biologist John Burdon Sanderson Haldane (1892-1964), his sister the novelist Naomi Mitchison (1897-1999), and their physiologist father John Scott Haldane (1860-1936). After all, there is an extensive and impressive network of people connected to the Haldanes/Haldens of Gleneagles, “feudal barons of Gleneagles since the 13th century … nevertheless known for their achievements in other spheres” (Wikipedia).

People like 20th century government minister Richard Burdon Haldane caught my own eye as I spent a happy few hours down a rabbit hole, skimming information about people I’ve never heard of before.

So, Duncan has already explored his potential ancestry in detail. Which scientist called Haldane wouldn’t wonder if they were related to this brilliant family of scientific namesakes?

And since they were not just brilliant, but interesting, and with a connection to the mining industry, I’m going to digress a little more, and paste in (i.e. plagiarise) some of the Wikipedia content that relates to my interests, reminds me of my ancestors, or which I think is particularly fun.

The other Haldane scientists

The celebrated Haldane family were known for their domestic and self-inflicted experiments.

Wikipedia: “With her brother John, [Naomi] … started investigating Mendelian genetics in 1908. They initially used guinea pigs as experimental models, but changed to mice as they were more convenient to handle. Their findings were published as “Reduplication in mice” in 1915. This was in fact the first demonstration of genetic linkage in mammals.” Their father was “famous for intrepid self-experimentation which led to many important discoveries about the human body and the nature of gases.”

Wikipedia adds that Haldane “locked himself in sealed chambers breathing potentially lethal cocktails of gases while recording their effect on his mind and body.” “Haldane visited the scenes of many mining disasters and investigated their causes. When the Germans used poison gas in World War I, Haldane went to the front at the request of Lord Kitchener and attempted to identify the gases being used. One outcome of this was his invention of the first respirator.”

The family seem also to exemplify certain stereotypes: radical politics, polyamory, opportunity and success.

Hopefully Duncan will expand and publish his draft history (2008) of his Paisley family, maybe when he has nothing more important to do. It’s a great read.

Why paste in this stuff rather than describe cousin Duncan’s prize-winning physics? Obviously, because I don’t have the faintest clue what the physics is about. And this is a “history” blog about people born 100 years ago or more. They really were interesting folk!

Haldane’s physics

Oh, alright. For the sake of completeness, I’ll plagiarise one bit more from Wikipedia about my actual relative, though I’m none the wiser for it: “Haldane is known for a wide variety of fundamental contributions to condensed matter physics including the theory of Luttinger liquids, the theory of one-dimensional spin chains, the theory of fractional quantum hall effect, exclusion statistics, entanglement spectra and much more. As of 2011 he is developing a new geometric description of the fractional quantum Hall effect that introduces the “shape” of the “composite boson”, described by a “unimodular” (determinant 1) spatial metric-tensor field as the fundamental collective degree of freedom of Fractional quantum Hall effect (FQHE) states.” I think this means he explores the interesting and useful properties of extreme states of matter, going by press reports. The BBC include is a video clip of Duncan here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-37486373. I do love his message that “You can’t wake up in the morning and say ‘I’m going to discover something big today, because I’ve got a government grant that tells me I’m going to do that.’ … Science goes by people exploring where they want to go… Sometimes they find something good, and sometimes that actually leads to technology… We don’t know where it’s going to go, so it’s really important that people should follow their dream.” The BBC says “Haldane also studied matter that forms threads so thin they can be considered one-dimensional.” Cool.

So…

Quantum entanglement (which Albert Einstein called “spooky action at a distance” a century ago) will provide the theme for this piece. When distant contemporaries in a family tree seem to exhibit properties that are not independent of each other, even when they are distant in space and time, we can ask the highly technical question: “what’s that all about then?” Like, for example, two physicists. Is there an initial state in an ancestry which sets things in motion? Are descendants entangled? What’s the mechanism? Is it genes; culture; family; place; time? How can you tell when a similarity is just a coincidence?


3. Duncan Haldane’s ancestors: Haldane > Paterson > Laughland

OK, back to the game. Here are the first stages that link Haldane and Hawking. (I believe they met, but did not, I think, know of the close connection between their Scottish relatives.)

Step 1 Duncan’s father: Frederick Paterson Haldane (1912-1963) (aka Eric or Ricky)

Duncan’s father Dr Frederick Paterson Haldane (12/05/1912 – 15/9/1963) appears as “Eric” Haldane in my family’s tree. Here he is on GENI (see sources). In 1936 he graduated in medicine from Glasgow and so was a near-contemporary 2nd cousin of both my aunt Ebeth and her brother, my father (Dr James Stevenson Scobbie, “Jim”), both of whom also graduated in medicine from Glasgow (in 1938 and 1942 respectively).

He seems to have been “Ricky” to colleagues, and maybe his own family, judging by his obituary in the Bulletin of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, Volume 8 (1), January 1984, pp. 15-16 [DOI: https://doi.org/10.1192/pb.8.1.15-b]. It says:

Ricky Haldane, for many years Consultant Psychiatrist at the West Middlesex Hospital [Isleworth], died on 15 September 1983 at the age of 71. He qualified MB, ChB in 1936 at the University of Glasgow, having previously been educated at Edinburgh Academy. He passed his DPM (Eng) in 1939 and was elected Foundation Fellow of the Royal College of Psychiatrists in 1971. He had taken a keen interest in the foundation of the College.

Professionally he started his psychiatry as Assistant Physician under Dr R. Strom-Olsen at Runwell Hospital in Essex in 1937, and in 1945 was appointed Deputy Physician Superintendent of Glasgow Royal Mental Hospital, Gartnavel. After a year he joined the army and saw much over-seas service as Specialist Psychiatrist, becoming a temporary Lieutenant Colonel as Officer commanding a Military Psychiatric Hospital and adviser in psychiatry to GHQ Central Mediterranean Forces.

On returning to civilian life after a brief spell at Menston Hospital near Leeds, he was appointed Consultant Psychiatrist at West Middlesex Hospital in August 1948. His main interests lay in the field of psychopathology and psychotherapy, and this was reflected in the way that he built up the unit at the West Middlesex Hospital from an old observation ward into a unit with strong psychotherapy leanings. He played a large part in its conversion to a district general hospital psychiatric unit, now serving a catchment area.

On his retirement in 1977 he was appointed Honorary Consultant Psychiatrist to the West Middlesex University Hospital. He had a keen sense of humour and was deeply involved in all the activities of the hospital, where his kindness and friendliness to all his colleagues were deeply appreciated. He was also unstinting in the care which he gave to his patients.

Ricky Haldane is survived by a wife and two sons, as well by a son and daughter of a previous marriage.

On GENI, his page says he had 5 children – two named males and one named female with his second wife Mila, and two more un-named (as per the obituary) from his first (1935) marriage to Haulwen Morgan, so there is some confusion, error or underspecification around “survived by” in these public postings which I am not going to pursue.

My Logan cousin showed me a lovely (wedding?) photo of Duncan and his wife Odile, with his parents Eric and Mila: I don’t recognise much facial similarity between Eric and other people pictured here, and even less so with Duncan, who looks rather more like his mother. I’ll just post a cropped-out image of Eric.

Frederick Paterson Haldane (1912-1963), Logan family photograph. CC license 4.0 BY-NC-SA.

Step 2 Eric’s mother: Elizabeth Young Laughland Paterson (1883-1962) (aka Bessie)

Eric/Ricky’s mother “Bessie” (Elizabeth Young Laughland Paterson) was born 14 June 1883, and died 3 March 1962 aged 74. She married John Rodger Haldane (b.1882, d.12/02/1967 aged 84), who is on GENI.

“Bessie Haldane” (Elizabeth Young Laughland Paterson, 1883-1962). Image from Scobbie family collection, CC license 4.0 BY-NC-SA.

The couple had three children.

  • The eldest was Jessie Winifred Paterson Haldane (14/02/1911-Oct 2003), known as Winifred, who married her 2nd cousin Rev. Norman Arthur Logan on 10 April 1931 (10/08/1900 d.1985), and had two children.
  • Frederick (aka Eric or Ricky, father of F. Duncan Haldane) was the middle child.
  • The youngest (bending 100 years of privacy) was Ian Rodger Haldane (b.31/07/1922, d.1996 in St. Andrews), who was an educational psychologist: he married Joan “Peggy” Marguerite Treverton (b.1923, d.1993 in St. Andrews) and had two children, one of whom is in Australia and has posted some of their genealogy online: I can name-check them here if they agree.

Aside: knowing the Haldane name

Thanks to the Haldane-Logan cousin marriage just mentioned, I have a 2nd cousin (a child of Winifred and Norman) who is Duncan’s 1st cousin (via this Haldane-Paterson link under discussion), while Duncan himself is my 3rd (via Scobbie-Laughland, see below). The Logan family therefore knew more about Duncan than us Scobbies. When I met my Logan cousin after 2017 (perhaps the eldest living member of my generation within our smallest common clade, and who participated at my parent’s wedding in 1945), they explained how the family had always been proud of the connection, despite (and because of) the esoteric and arcane complexity of Haldane’s research.

Here is part of a lovely picture that includes Winifred and my father (2nd cousins).

James Stevenson Scobbie and Jessie Winifred Paterson Haldane. Part of a Logan family photograph.

Maybe this is the point at which to mention that one of my father’s best friends (and also a GP), was called Dr Douglas Haldane, from Paisley. Now… was this the same Paisley family as the one of the physicist F. Duncan Haldane? It could well be. (Douglas wrote my father’s obituary for the British Medical Journal.) As a small child I often used to visit Douglas and his wife Betty with my parents in their Paisley home – while the adults had dinner, I watched TV. I liked them a lot. They were the main reason the surname Haldane has always been familiar to me: my father’s friend joked he could have been related to us via “the legal cousins”.

Bessie’s husband Rodger: John Rodger Haldane (1882-1967)

Duncan’s grandfather Sheriff Rodger Haldane is not a link in the story, but is worth mentioning. He had been familiar name to me for many years, having been referred to by my parents, and because his be-wigged photo was prominent and distinctive in an old family photo album (see below). The brief biographical note in Elizabeth Mitchell’s family tree says “Sheriff Substitute Ayr then Glasgow” which is still about the limit of my knowledge to date. For these reasons I mentioned him to my father-in-law (Glasgow solicitor Dr William Kinnis) many years ago, who knew of Rodger and his family. Sadly I can’t remember what my father-in-law said about the Haldanes or the extent of his own connection: but he did indeed also know who the Haldanes were.

Rodger Haldane’s parents were Thomas Frederick Haldane, chemical manufacturer and Euphemia Bell. They had both died by the time he and Bessie were married.

Bessie’s marriage

When they were married, Rodger was an advocate, aged 27, staying at 18 Nelson St, Glasgow. Bessie was aged 26, staying at Biggarford in Newarthill. The minister was G. Goodfellow and witnesses were Norman A. Black (see the notes) and Jenny Paterson (Bessie’s sister). The chain to Hawking is via Bessie’s mother Jessie Laughland, so I’ll move on to her shortly.

As you can see, Rodger and Bessie were rather a rather a good looking couple. They were married on 21 July 1909 at 149½ Hill Street, Garnethill, Glasgow (indexed on Scotland’s People via “ELIZA Y L PATERSON”) in the United Free Church of Scotland (in which her grandfather Rev David Laughland had been a minister). This address was also where Mary Black (Bessie’s grand-mother) had died 20 years earlier, in 1898 (Mary Black was Rev David Laughland’s wife, see notes). Was Norman A. Black (witness at the marriage of Bessie and Rodger) a relative?

Step 3 Bessie’s mother: Jessie Laughland (1854-1947)

As mentioned briefly above, the father of Haldane’s Scottish grandmother Bessie (Elizabeth Young Laughland Paterson, later Haldane) was William Paterson, b. 20 Feb 1851 (of Knownoble Hill, Shotts), d. 7 May 1934, and I’ve decided to remove a section about the Patersons, and make an independent post about them. I’ll try to focus (!) on Bessie’s mother, Jessie Laughland (“Jenny”), b. 1 Apr 1854, d. 6 Sep 1947, who is the next link in the chain.

Image uploaded by Valerie Grant to GENI.com

The Paterson-Laughland couple (Haldane’s great grandparents) were married on 21 Feb 1878 in Newarthill by the bride’s father, Rev. David Laughland, a United Free minister originally from Stewarton, Ayrshire. The marriage took place in Newarthill, a mining village in South Lanarkshire, in the Laughland family home, the manse in Church Street.

Extract from marriage certificate of Jessie Laughland (23) to William Paterson (27) on 21 February 1878. (c) Crown Copyright

Jessie and William Paterson had six children. As well as Bessie, the five other siblings are described in the post on the Paterson-Laughland connections.

Step 4 Jessie’s parents: Rev David Laughland (1816-1883) and Mary Black (1821-1898)

Rev. David Laughland (pictured below, b. 02/03/1816 d. 10/12/1883) and his wife Mary Black (b. 16/04/1821 d. 03/04/1898) married 06/11/1844 in Stewarton Ayrshire. They are the nearest common ancestors of Haldane and me. As 3rd cousins we share two great great grandparents, though there are 14 others each that we don’t.

Rev David Laughland reproduced from a Logan family photograph, CC license 4.0 BY-NC-SA.

4. Laughland and Scobbie

Step 5 their Laughland/Black daughter: Williamina Black Laughland (1852-1945) (aka “Mina”)

Wiliamina Black Laughland (Scobbie) circa 1889 aged around 37 – cropped from a family photo – Photo in Scobbie family collection, CC license 4.0 BY-NC-SA.

Williamina Black Laughland (my great grandmother) married James Scobbie on 3 July 1878, just a few months after her sister Jessie’s marriage to William Paterson (21 Feb 1878, see above). Each time, the marriage was registered as being officiated by the bride’s father (pictured above) in his Laughland family home (the Newarthill manse) and their sister Maggie Laughland (pictured below) was a witness in both cases. Scobbie was a coal-master, and owned coal mines and brickworks.

“Maggie” (Margaret) Laughland (04/12/1858-?/?/1933), later Mackie (m. 27/11/1883). Not a step in this chain, but a witness to both her sisters’ (and Scobbie & Haldane’s great grand-mothers’) weddings. Photo in Scobbie family collection, CC license 4.0 BY-NC-SA.

But who was the other witness to Jessie’s marriage in 1878, someone called William Stevenson (see the record, above)? There is a remote possibility that he was Rev. William Henderson Stevenson (1853-1888), the missionary whose daughter Bertie would marry Rev David Laughland’s grandson George Hill Scobbie. This couple (my grandparents) form two later step in this chain. I do not dare to make this identification, because “William Stevenson” is not such an unusual name. However, it was in 1878 that the Stevensons went to their mission to Pachamba, India (where their first child was born, in December), and it’s far from impossible that Rev. Stevenson and Rev. Laughland knew each other via the United Free Presbyterian Church. Perhaps they moved in the same circles closely enough to be family friends. This would be a great link to prove! But maybe the witness is just a coincidental namesake.

Step 6 Mina’s son: George Hill Scobbie (1881-1961)

George Hill Scobbie, 1945. Image from Scobbie family collection, CC license 4.0 BY-NC-SA.

My grandfather George Hill Scobbie (1881-1961) was the second child of James Scobbie and Mina Laughland. There’s going to be more on him elsewhere, so let’s move leave him here, just as a photo.


5. Asides on family, friends and locations

The ancestors in common just mentioned that Haldane and I share (David Laughland and Mary Black) were born just over 200 years ago! What does it even mean? Well, it’s a long time in years, but only four generations back.

One generation below these common ancestors, Haldane’s great grandmother Jessie (aka Jenny) Laughland (b April 1st 1854) was the nearest younger sister to my great grandmother Mina (b March 30th 1852). Though born in the 1850s, they were still alive after WW2 (1940s) in Glasgow as very old ladies. Suddenly this doesn’t seem so long ago to me: my parents were married in the 1940s and started their family in that decade; and Duncan Haldane was born in 1951.

The sisters were also friends and holidayed together as adults: see below. Also as noted above, their grandchildren (Duncan’s father and my aunt Ebeth, 2nd cousins) qualified in medicine from Glasgow in the 1930s: and like Duncan’s father, my father (8 years younger) served in the Royal Medical Army Corps in WW2: they knew of each other, but I don’t know if they met. So, while the entirety of my “relationship” to Haldane is pretty distant, it’s made up not just by a sequence of intimate connections and other resonances.

The Haldane-to-Hawking narrative generates echoes of places across time, or mentions people who appear in Noisybrain elsewhere. I’m going to highlight a few points that might prompt future research, or which leap across the families. An extra post touches on Haldane’s older ancestors. These slightly broader connections might hint at how the marriages in the Haldane-Hawking chain came about, or, even more speculatively, suggest that these families connected in one way knew of each other by other means, or merely traveled the same paths, or had other “small world” connections. (See also my discussion on “inheriting privilege“, echoed in a few more comments below.)

Dowanhill, in Glasgow’s “west end”

Haldane’s great grand-mother’s usual residence in the 1940s before her death aged 93 was 9 Crown Road South in Hyndland/Dowanhill. Her son James Paterson (1886-1970) was witness on her death certificate, and his home address was nearby, at 292 Crow Road, which is a tenement in Broomhill, a mile’s walk westwards. (Incidentally, it is also within sight of where I went to pre-school nursery, so he might have heard me girning in the street, if he still lived there in the 1960s.)

(c) Crown Copyright

Also very nearby (though I can’t actually pinpoint exactly which house 9 Crown Road was in 1947 from maps) is an address which will become important below: the Walker family home (6 Queen’s Gate, later renamed to 117 Dowanhill Street). This was where two more steps in the chain grew up; siblings Mary and James Walker (pictured later).

The Walker home (circled), at 117 Dowanhill Street (originally 6 Queen’s Gate), which is a large townhouse on the corner of Dowanside Road (I think). Crown Road South is just to the west. This is an area familiar from my adolescent years.

The Laughland sisters later in life

On Sunday 31st March 1901, my great grandparents James (aged 47) and Mina (aged 49) were at 15 Marine Place, Rothesay, as a holiday I presume. With them were her younger sister Jessie (aged 46, Haldane’s great-grandmother) and Mina’s eldest sister Mary Wilson Laughland (aged 55, unmarried, and “living on own means”). I think it was a holiday because 15 Marine Place was one of several adjacent properties owned by the same person, who is not known to me. The Laughland sisters looked alike, and Jessie and Mina appear next to each other in one of our main photograph albums inherited from those days (and I think this is the only photo I have of Mina as a young woman).

Two Laughland sisters, Mina (1852-1945) and Jessie (1854-1949), great grandmothers of James Scobbie (me, the author) and Duncan Haldane, the subject of this blog, respectively. Image from Scobbie family collection, CC license 4.0 BY-NC-SA.
A crop from a photo with Mina Laughland standing back left (wearing glasses). Sitting in front. I think, is Jessie Laughland on the left. Or is that her in the middle? Image from Scobbie family collection, CC license 4.0 BY-NC-SA.

Originally I thought the group photo above was taken on the same day as one definitely taken at my great-grandparents’ golden wedding party, on 3 July 1938 (taken by Brinkley, Glasgow). I was looking at the clothes – they seemed the same. But now I am sure the one above must be about 10 years earlier. Mina (1852-1945) is standing. Sitting in front appear to be two or three Laughland sisters. Whatever the exact date, Jessie Laughland (1854-1948, Haldane’s great grandmother) is also in it. She is either on the left or in the middle. If the photo was from the early 30s or late 20s, the others could be Mary Wilson Laughland (1845-1937) and Maggie Laughland (1858-1933). These four women look alike, so it could be them. I guess this wealthy family wore the same (or similar) clothes at special events, 10 years apart.

There definitely was a 1928 party, with a large indoors photo (taken by W Nicol Smith, Glasgow) where the old folk look similar. My father is in it, aged 8. If the photo above was taken in 1928 (it is one of a small set that are not dated), then Mina and Jessie would have been 76 and 74 respectively. If the other two are Maggie (front centre?) and Mary (front right?), they’d have been 70 and 83 respectively.

Duncan Haldane’s earlier ancestry

Haldane’s great grandfather William Paterson was a farmer in 1880, and reportedly an insurance agent. In William’s marriage certificate (21 Feburary 1878 to Jessie Laughland, aka Jenny, 1854-1947), he was described as a landed proprietor like his father had been before him, and both his parents are named (of course). William was also described as a coal master (in his daughter Jessie Steele Paterson’s death certificate in 1955).

I was going to add a section about the Paterson side of Haldane’s tree, but it turned into a rabbit hole with no bottom… I’ll need to post some selected aspects separately. All I need to say here is report a new discovery: the Patersons and the Laughlands intermarried not once, but twice. I’m also making a placeholder post listing all the Laughland siblings of Mina and Jessie and their children.

Privilege

We’ve seen a 19th century land-owner, a minister, and an entrepreneur or two. We’re about to see children of a Scottish UF Church medical missionary. These were ancestors of men who were able to undertake professional careers (and daughters who were able to marry such men) and of men and women who could go to university in the early or mid 20th century. The reformed Scottish Kirk, the British Empire, inherited wealth, education, child-rearing, and “good works” were common background aspects of many of such Edwardian and post-war middle-class Scottish lives. In this post we’ve not seen the other people who lacked such opportunities, or whose labour enabled the lifestyles of others. Nor can we see the heartaches and hardships these people experienced (the few I have named, and the many I have not). I am sure that the acquisition, maintenance and inheritance of privilege was key to the goals of these middle class families (though not, I think, being ends in themselves), and we have seen plenty of what they did with their privilege above and below. Many of them seem to have been talented and hard-working. Plenty of material for political and philosophical argument, depending on what questions you ask. Here I’m just asking what were the family links between Haldane and Hawking (while pointing out how slight they are, yet also the similarities, back when).


6. Fulcrum: Stevenson

It’s time to introduce my Stevenson grandmother and her brother. If someone else were writing this, this would just be one more link in the chain, but she’s my close ancestor. Also, objectively, the Stevensons are blood relations to neither Haldane nor Hawking. So, I’ll make the Stevenson siblings my tipping point. What came before led from Haldane; what comes after this section will more rapidly take us to Hawking.

Step 6 led to my grandfather, George. Let’s pick up the chain from him.

Step 7 George’s wife: Elizabeth Bertie Stevenson (1883-1949)

George married Bertie on 6 April 1909 at the Alexandra Hotel in the centre of Glasgow. They lived in Uddingston for a while, SE of Glasgow, then in Bearsden to the NW of Glasgow for the rest of their lives. Bertie died on Boxing Day (26 December) 1949. My siblings and as many of the near family as are available still have a large family gathering and boozy buffet “feast” every Boxing Day, though we have forgotten the connection to Bertie. We just chat and laugh: she doesn’t get a mention!

Elizabeth Bertie Stevenson and her mother Mary McKellar Black. Image from Scobbie family collection, CC license 4.0 BY-NC-SA.

Bertie and George had four daughters and a son (my father) between 1910 and 1920. Those siblings will be all described elsewhere in Noisybrain, e.g. the girls in their hockey teams or a centenary post about my father (still to appear, late as usual). See the Storyshelf (site plan) for a guide.

Step 8 Bertie’s parents

I’ve mentioned Rev. William Henderson Stevenson (1853-1888) the missionary, above. His wife was Mary McKellar Black (1846-1919), pictured above. There is or will be a lot more about them on Noisybrain elsewhere.

Step 9 their son: William David Henderson Stevenson (1879-1945)

Bertie Stevenson had two brothers, both of whom qualified as medical doctors from Glasgow University in 1903, then worked in India. Both of them were also married, and the resulting children were my father’s “Stevenson cousins”. One of those cousins, Audrey, was a medical doctor. She was 3 months younger than my father, and I remember him talking about her. Her elder brother Bill was a psychiatrist.

The three Stevensons are described as children in Out of India, when they returned to Scotland following the death of their missionary father. (I plan a few articles about him – see the Storyshelf under Stevenson.) I’ll just mention that the third sibling, Jack Black Stevenson, and his first wife Marianne Simpson are the subjects of other parts of Noisybrain. It’s thanks to Audrey’s family that I found out about Hawking, and they have many other interesting stories, in the present as well as in the past: but they are theirs to tell. Meantime – thanks to them for their input.

Lt-Col. William David Henderson Stevenson (1879-1945), was a medical doctor and administrator who was born in India and went back to live and work there in a mainly military career. He published research into immunology, and had a very distinguished career.

I can’t not mention that many of the Stevenson brothers’ descendants seem to reflect the “tradition” of having medical and/or academic careers. From my perspective, it’s interesting to see this recurring pattern, if pattern it is as something in itself, as as relevant to the issue of privilege I brought up. So many people in this blog seem socially similar, cut from similar cloth. I sense recurrent clinical, religious and academic careers, and I guess my point is that there seems to be less of a role for the middle class professions of law, finance and business. I wonder if that’s a valid observation. Whatever: the Stevensons (like the Patersons, Scobbies, Laughlands and Haldanes) led diverging lives as the 20th century played out (confounded by the increasing numbers of people involved!). Even so, you’ll note parallels as we move finally to Stephen Hawking’s Scottish ancestry.


7. From Stevenson to Walker

Step 10 William’s wife: Mary Morris Stevenson (1885-?)

WALKERMARY MOPRRISF1885654/ 461Rutherglen

Mary Morris Walker was born 5 November 1885: it took me a while to find her in the free index on Scotland’s People due to this mis-transcription. She was born in a cottage on Ruskin Terrace, Rutherglen, south east of Glasgow in industrial Lanarkshire (current postcode G73 1BG), which is strangely un-named on google maps… a quick search misdirects you to posh Kelvinside instead). I can’t read the precise address on her birth certificate, but there are Ruskin Terrace cottages still in place giving a good idea of the accommodation. In 1885, the few streets of houses here were surrounded by flat fields, Rutherglen Castle grounds, a paper mill, a pottery, a tubeworks, and railways. (See this map.)

In 2016 the cottages faced a disused industrial wastesite, but following redevelopment, it is now home to a modern ironmongery-style warehouse (ironically) in Rutherglen Links Business Park between the sewage works on the Clyde and the M8 Motorway.

Ruskin Terrace, Google Streetview (2016). See https://scotlis.ros.gov.uk/map-search/261874/662058 Scottish Land registry for house prices.

Mary Morris Walker married my great-uncle on 7 September 1911 at Dowanhill UF Church (as photographed below). He was 32, she was 26. The three generations of their descendants are my cousins and blood relations via their Stevenson ancestry, and (unlike me) are the blood relations of Hawking, due to their shared Walker ancestry.

Newspaper clipping of the Stevenson+Walker wedding in the west end of Glasgow, 1911. The source of the photo is unknown.

Mary’s family home at the time of her wedding was extremely different to the one in which she was born. From around 1900-1914 the Walker family home was, as mentioned above, 6 Queen’s Gate, (later renamed to 117 Dowanhill Street), a stone’s throw from where Jessie/Jenny Laughland died in 1947. Maybe the families attended the same Dowanhill church.

Google streetview image of the grand terraced villa at 6 Queen’s Gate, on the west of the street: the Walker family home, nowadays about ten times the value of the house in which the family was living when she was born in 1885.

The address of the magnificently-uniformed Captain Stevenson (who would presumably usually be living in Bombay) was given on his marriage certificate as 37 Lawrence Street, Partick. It’s a couple of minutes south of Mary’s home, on a street crossing Dowanhill Street just to the south of the park which appears at the bottom edge of the map above.

Dowanhill Park, Glasgow, 1905, looking north-east. Dowanhill Street runs northwards from the right of the image towards the left, with tenements on its east side. One block north of the park was the Walker home, and one block south was Lawrence Street. Image source unknown.

These streets, in which my great uncle married Stephen Hawking’s great aunt in 1911, just between Hyndland and Byres Road, near Glasgow University, are a location very familiar to me. Even the church is familiar, if I’ve identified it correctly. I think the church was one with a dramatic 60 metre spire, which became the Cottier Theatre in the 1980s, named I think for its amazing stained glass. It’s a location my wife and I took my mother (and our kids) to, for brunch, without realising the connection. So, with friends and family, I have walked these streets almost half-way between this marriage and now, as I write, but no ghosts whispered to us, or now. We were wrapped up in each other, just as it should be.

Stained Glass by Daniel Cottier, in the Dowanhill Church. Photo © Gerald Blaikie from http://www.gerryblaikie.com/westend/dowanhill.htm and reproduced with permission.

The abstract circular patterns in the window make me think of the orbits of electrons in a crystal. Maybe also of stars, planets and moons. But they are very un-treelike.


8. The Walkers

Step 11 Mary’s parents: Archibald Walker (1854-1913) and Janet Audrey Margaret Morris (~1854-1923)

Archibald and Janet married on 8 November 1876.

(c) crown copyright

The free LDS transcription of the 1881 census in Glasgow captures them and their two eldest children. It indicates that both Janet and Archibald were born near Falkirk, in Bothkennar. There are too many Walkers for a quick, free search of older census returns to produce free and useful results, but it is possible to say a little more about them, and Bothkennar. Mary was not born yet, but her brother James was one year old. He’ll be step 12 in the chain.

Dwelling: 43 Belgrave StArchibaldWALKERHeadM26MIron MerchantBothkennor, Stirling, Scotland
Dwelling: 43 Belgrave StJanetWALKERWifeM26FBothkennor, Stirling, Scotland
Dwelling: 43 Belgrave StIsabella Mc G.WALKERDaur3FGlasgow, Lanark, Scotland
Dwelling: 43 Belgrave StJamesWALKERSon1MGlasgow, Lanark, Scotland
FHL Film 0203661 GRO Ref Volume 644-9 EnumDist 36 Page 32 Reference Number : 611091 Census Place : Barony, Lanark, Scotland

The former parish of Bothkennar includes the interestingly-named village of Skinflats, a popular toponym. John Reid of the Scottish Place-Name Society (SPNS) writes: “In 1841 the parish minister commented, ‘There is no village in the parish’. Skinflats was described in 1861 as, ‘Two rows of colliers houses, partly slated and partly tiled. It contains two public houses and one smithy. The parish school is situated near the north end of the village‘”). This former parish lay between the River Carron and the Firth of Forth – and already by the 1850s had become an area synonymous with iron-working and industry and weaponry. It was a central area in the industrial revolution, e.g. thanks to the Carron Iron Works: “By 1814, the Carron Company was the largest iron works in Europe, employing over 2,000 workers, and it attracted many innovators.” These opportunities and the personal abilities of Archibald Walker (and his family) meant he became very wealthy.

Archibald Walker (1854-1913) and Janet Audrey Margaret Morris (~1854-1923) ae pictured below in painted portraits (image taken from GENI.com wthout permission, where they had been uploaded by someone unknown, probably Mary Hawking).

Mary Morris Walker’s siblings: census lists (1881-1911)

There’s an annoyingly large number of people called Walker – but the family can be found in the free index for the (2 April) 1911 census as follows, just before Mary’s wedding discussed above. Note that her parents Janet and Archibald are cited as being the same age. While I was checking the likelihood of this being the right family I added a column estimating year of birth. I’ve Mary (and James) in bold. but here, note that Mary is called Marion in the 1911 census, maybe a pet name rather than a full formal one? (I can’t spot her in the birth index unambiguously: either Mary or Marion.) James was not resident on census day.

ARCHIBALDM561855
JANETF561855
MARTHA MCT EF291882
JOHN MM271884
MARIONF261885
JANET MF231888
MARGARET MF211890
ref 646/3 18/ 7 – – Index for WALKER family in Partick census area, 1911.

The 1901 census free index shows the family in the same location (I think), 10 years younger, with a typo or mistranscripion for both Janets.

ARCHIBALDM46646/3 22/ 441855
JEANOTF46646/3 22/ 441855
ISABELLAF23646/3 22/ 441868
JAMESM21646/3 22/ 441880
MARTHA M EF19646/3 22/ 441882
JOHN MM17646/3 22/ 441884
MARY MF15646/3 22/ 441886
JEANET MF13646/3 22/ 451888
MARGARET MF11646/3 22/ 451890
1901 Kelvin census, over two pages

The 1891 census shows most of the family in one location in the Kelvin district, with Archibald at a different location in the same district. This time Janet is apparently older than Archibald, but it’s them.

JANETF36644/9 16/ 71885
ARCHIBALDM35644/9 113/ 111886
ISABELLAF13644/9 16/ 71868
JAMESM11644/9 16/ 71880
MARTHA MCEF9644/9 16/ 71882
JOHN MM7644/9 16/ 71884
MARY MF5644/9 16/ 71886
JANET MF3644/9 16/ 71888
MARGARET MF1644/9 16/ 71890
Index for WALKER family in Kelvin census area, 1891

Finally, I have seen a private family tree from some descendants of the Walkers via the Stevensons. Though it has incomplete names and dates, it triangulates. You can see from the section of the tree I reproduce below that there’s a good match with the census.

A portion of a hand-written tree, courtesy of a descendant of Mary Morris and William Stevenson. CC license 4.0 BY-NC-SA.

To conclude, the Walker siblings were as follows, with some years confirmed from Scotland’s People’s birth index that match pretty well with the estimates based on the census information. More specific dates are from the family tree above or from GENI.com, but are not confirmed. There is more on GENI.com, but there are some conflicts and debates, so I’ll not get distracted with trying to solve those here. It’s an interesting and big tree, it seems, but other people are more interested, informed and involved than me, so I will defer to them, and I amn’t going to be spending £s on this for now.

  • Isabella (“Belle”) McGregor (1878?-12/1/1944)
  • James (18/11/1879-14/9/1940)
  • Martha McIntyre Ewing (~1882-1937 or 18/06/1961)
  • John Morris (1883-30/10/1941) (m. 14/03/1912 to Sybil Norman McKay, 1988-19/06/1936)
  • Mary (“Marion”?) Morris (1885-4/80/1945)
  • Janet Morris (1887-?) (m.16/06/1913 Kenneth Moir Sloan, ~1877-1934)
  • Margaret Morris (1889- ?)

9. Aside: Walker & Ewing, Morris & McGregor

As mentioned above, Archibald and Janet married on 8 November 1876. The marriage certificate shown above states that his parents were James Walker (labourer) and Martha Ewing, and that he was 21 (iron merchant and clerk). Her parents were John Morris, carting contractor and Isabella McGregor, and she was 22. This matches the census records above. Her usual residence at the time of the marriage was Lang(?) Cottage, Dalry Farm, Edinburgh. His was at Garngad Hill, Glasgow. So, both had moved away from home.

His death record (12/11/1913, age 59) says he was an “ironmaster (retired)” and died at his Queen’s Gate home, of diabetes. His parents were again stated to be James Walker and Martha Ewing, both deceased, though James is described as a mechanical engineer. The witness was his son James. Was he really 59? That would suggest he was born in 1854, and makes him, for once, older than his wife.

The free index information for Janet says she died ten years later, in 1923 aged 68, which again puts her birth year as 1855. Given the 1881 census mention above of Bothkennar, I checked the Old Parish Record index, which clarifies Archibald’s date of baptism/birth as 13 August 1854, and names some of his siblings. More seem to have been born after 1855 (see below), when the statuary records began (explaining their absence from the OPR records I suppose). The index also lists the marriage / banns details for James and Martha dated 25/04/1846, making it a little less likely that additional siblings were born before 1847.

WALKERJAMESJAMES WALKER/MARTHA EWING FR520 (FR520)M24/03/1847473/30 124
WALKERROBERTJAMES WALKER/MARTHA EWING FR523 (FR523)M19/11/1848473/30 130
WALKERJOHNJAMES WALKER/MARTHA EWING FR528 (FR528)M24/11/1850473/30 140
WALKERELIZABETH MCINTJAMES WALKER/MARTHA EWING FR530 (FR530)F17/08/1852473/30 144
WALKERARCHIBALDJAMES WALKER/MARTHA EWING FR534 (FR534)M13/08/1854473/30 152
OPR index of Bothkennar Parish with references for the Walker siblings and dates of birth / baptism

As for John Morris and Isabella McGregor (Janet Audrey Margaret Morris’s parents): the OPR suggests they were married in St. Ninians (just south of Stirling) on 10/04/1842. They are mentioned in a bunch of records, so it seems the following can safely be listed as Janet’s elder siblings.

MORRISHELENJOHN MORRIS/ISABELLA MACGREGOR FR534 (FR534)F00/08/1842473/30 152
MORRISISABELLAJOHN MORRIS/ISABELLA MCGREGOR FR516 (FR516)F10/05/1845473/30 116
MORRISANNJOHN MORRIS/ISABELLA MCGREGOR FR525 (FR525)F27/05/1849473/30 134
MORRISWILLIAMJOHN MORRIS/ISABELLA MCGREGOR FR531 (FR531)M08/03/1851473/30 146
MORRISDUNCANJOHN MORRIS/ISABELLA MCGREGOR FR531 (FR531)M25/11/1852473/30 146
MORRISJANETJOHN MORRIS/ISABELLA MACGREGOR FR534 (FR534)F29/10/1854473/30 152
OPR index of Bothkennar Parish with references for the Morris siblings and dates of birth / baptism

More distant ancestors are listed online, e.g. at familypedia – https://familypedia.wikia.org/wiki/Margaret_MacGregor_(1807) for example, but I’ll not be checking them for accuracy.

Isobel Hawking’s own ancestry story

So, I have provided enough dry context for the following story, attributed to Eileen Isobel Hawking (Stephen Hawking’s mother) as a first hand family memory of her own grandparents, on Geni.com.

Archibald “was a McGregor (although surname Walker) and came from the trossachs. There were six brothers and one sister in the family. Archie was the financial genius, but James was a man of ideas. On his son James’ birth certificate he is described as a commercial traveler, but went into business with his brother James and they built up a flourishing iron-working business in Anniesland, where Archie built a series of “closes” for his workforce, each bearing the name of one of his own daughters. The two brothers married two sisters and had parallel families to whom they gave the same names. After they quarreled the two families never spoke again.” (GENI.com, accessed 22 July 2021.)

Two brothers who marry two sisters, make a fortune, and fall out?! Buildings named after daughters? There’s something meaty about human (or animal) nature in this family story that no theory of physics can ever illuminate! And look at two of the words: “genius” and “ideas“. Those qualities, in the context where a person could make a financial fortune and pass on the benefits of their success to their children and grandchildren, consolidating them with marriage and education… those are the words that catch my eye. And of course, the words point ahead to Stephen Hawking (though he himself may have thought it just coincidental, like his auspicous birth date… see below).

But Isabel’s story’s first sentence (permit me to be snarky and expose my own prejudices) annoys me! I’ll claim this reflects a fairly typical romanticisation of Scottish roots by someone who has emigrated and/or been privately educated and/or gone to Oxbridge: the mention of a clan and a rural location smack of shortbread and tartan. I suspect this also reflects a roots story told by her grandparents about their own origins. But I’m being unfair: plenty of people romanticise their roots in a single sentence. Probably it’s exactly what I would have said, before deconstructing at least the simpler myths via this website.

I’ll risk repeating myself: I imagine Isobel’s Walker grandparents as North British, Victorian, (Free) presbyterian, entrepreneurial and true believers in education, wealth, empire and opportunity. Just as I imagine my father’s own grandparents. They were probably peas from the same pod, as well as being contemporaries making similar transitions from mining village via education and ownership in heavy industry to upper middle class luxury.


10. Walker + Hawking

Step 11 took us backwards to Mary Morris Walker’s parents, Archibald Walker and Janet Morris. Now it’s time to come forward in time again.

Step 12 their son: Dr James Walker (1879-1940)

James was born on 18 November 1879, and died on 14 September 1940 according to GENI.com. The birthplace is reportedly 43 Belgrave St., Glasgow, but there may be a typo there, it should be easy to resolve. He died in London and is buried in Golders Green (so says FindaGrave.com).

Dr James Walker as a young man, from GENI.com, (c) Mary Hawking, posted by Mary Hawking in 2008

I might have found James’s MB graduation record (1901), assuming he graduated in medicine from Glasgow University. The graduating James Walker was recorded with a birthdate of 17 Nov 1879, and so fits… almost perfectly. I’ve emailed the Alumni office, to see what they make of it. His Stevenson brothers-in-law both graduated in medicine from Glasgow in 1903, so they may have been classmates (see here), though it would be several more years before they would become in-laws. James seems to have been one of nine medics who graduated with a Commendation (out of 82), according to The Scotsman newspaper report of 24 July 1901 (p9). But there were 50 James Walker births in Scotland in 1879 (15 of them in Glasgow) so I am not rushing to pay-to-view to check the birth date.

Agnes Stevenson Law

James married Agnes “Nancy” Stevenson Law (1888-1968) on 27 October 1910 (incorrectly said to be the 22nd, on Familypedia and GENi.com) in the Claremont United Free Church in Glasgow. This was almost a year before his sister Mary. Both were married in the west of Glasgow near to his parents’ home, in Hillhead. James was living in Port Glasgow at the time (Belhaven House). He was a medical doctor (yes, another one, “Physician and Surgeon”), aged 30. Nancy’s “Stevenson” middle name is probably just (another) coincidence and has nothing to do with her brother-in-law, but I’ve been unable to resist another £1.50 to check her parents’ names, and the date. Her address was Birkenshaw in Langbank (a village on the south bank of the Clyde estuary, east of Port Glasgow), and she was aged 22. Her father was Andrew Law, flour merchant, and her mother was Agnes Stevenson. According to Mary Hawking’s work on GENi, Agnes Stevenson’s parents (Robert Stevenson and Isabella Hislop) sold their house “Leachfield” and emigrated to South Africa in 1881, bu Agnes and Andrew were already married, and stayed in Scotland.

(c) Crown Copyright

James and Nancy had a big family – somewhere between seven and nine children. One daughter, Isobel, is the important one, because she was Stephen Hawking’s mother. I think she was the third-born. The other children are partly listed on GENI.com, or on other sites online. They are also on the hand written tree above (I’m just going to not list the family: some were born less than 100 years ago, but also the information online etc. is a bit self-contradictory.)

Step 13 James’s daughter: Eileen Isabel Walker (1915-2013)

People seem to disagree about what Stephen Hawking’s mother’s name actually is! She is called Isobel Eileen on her page on GENi, on Wikipedia and Findagrave.com (in July 2021). At hawking.org.uk in Stephen’s biography pages she is named as Eileen Isobel. However her birth on Scotland’s People is indexed as Eileen Isabel, though she seems to have been known as “Isobel” in her lifetime. In Scotland between 1855 and 1915, the “a” spelling appears twice as often in the birth index, then the “o” spelling became more common for the next 60 years. I guess “Isobel” is more common in England.

WALKEREILEEN ISABELF1915501/ 356Old or West Kilpatrick
index to the birth certificate

Some secondary sources say (e.g. Findagrave in July 2021) that she was born on 8 November 1915 and died on 6 April 2013. The family moved to Devon when she was 12-years-old (circa 1927). She earned her way into Oxford University in the 1930s to study economics, politics and philosophy. 

So, because of the name variation, I decided just to check the birth certificate. Right enough, her name at birth was recorded as “Eileen Isabel”, and she was born on March 3rd 1915 (not 8th November). Her father was recorded as James Walker, physician (presently Captain, Royal Army Medical Corps) and her mother as Agnes Stevenson Law, who had been married on the 27th October 1910 in Glasgow, matching the marriage certificate imaged above, and contradicting the GENi date.

(c) Crown Copyright

According to Stephen Hawking’s wikipedia page “Hawking’s mother was born into a family of doctors in Glasgow, Scotland”. But that’s all you get about Hawking’s maternal family… so I hope we all agree there is more of interest than that!

Eileen Isabel (or Isobel) Hawking (nee Walker) from GENI.com, (c) Mary Hawking, posted by Mary Hawking in 2008.

In her 2005 book “Stephen Hawking: a Biography“, Kristine Larsen adds a wee bittie more, not quite matching with what is listed above: “Isobel Hawking was born in Glasgow, Scotland, the second of seven children born to a middle-class family doctor and his wife.”

More interestingly: “Her family took on the financial burden of sending Isobel to Oxford University in the 1930s, a move made all the more remarkable by the fact that women did not routinely attend college in those days and Oxford had only started admitting women a decade before.” She studied economics, politics and philosophy, and after graduation had a number of disappointing jobs that did not utilise her clear talents and qualifications. However, as a secretary in a medical research institute, Isobel met and married Dr Frank Hawking, a shy medical researcher.

The biographies tend to emphasise the paternal Hawking family. This farming family had suffered bankruptcy, but Frank’s grandmother provided an income by establishing a school in the family home. Resilient!

Stephen was the first of four children. One of his siblings, Mary, was a medical doctor like her father Frank Hawking and her maternal grandfather James Walker.

Stephen Hawking, 1942, with Isobel – copyright photo (c) from hawking.org.uk

Step 14 Isobel’s son: Stephen William Hawking (1942-2018)

Finally, we’ve made it, to Stephen Hawking. He was born on 8 January 1942, and died on 14 March 2018.

Hawking has written a short autobiography which has been well reused online, called “My Brief History” (2013). It has a page on his father’s family (bankrupted farmers), which I will not bother to repeat. He has somewhat less (only a paragraph) on his mother’s family, which I will quote below, to draw more attention to it.

Hawking’s autobiography downplays any serious significance attaching to his date of birth. Astrology is out, at least as an explanation of his scientific talents. So where did it comes from? Unfortunately, Hawking doesn’t speculate on any ancestral precursors for his interests (or intellect). It’s mainly attributed to his own nuclear family’s eccentric home life and his own unusually bookish childhood. As for more remote echoes of his more remote ancestors? I suspect that if there are causes to be found in previous generations, they are as likely to be found in his lesser-mentioned maternal family with its Victorian iron-mongering every bit as much as his paternal family and their school.


11. End: who is the most remarkable person in my tree?

Is either Haldane of Hawking the most remarkable person in my tree? Maybe, maybe not… I’ve uncovered a number of famous or remarkable people who could make the most of the opportunities open to them. Many just survived. At the moment, perhaps Number 1 in a celebrity chart would be David Livingstone, the explorer… but these two are right up there.

They are definitely my best two physicists.

Do I need to say which of the two is the better? Nope. Mrs Doyle from the world’s second-best comedy programme of all time, Father Ted, might blurt out that one of them is only the second-best physicist. But I’m smart enough to avoid that awkward faux-pas, and so I’ll conclude by saying that they are both “second-equal”.


Afterword: 3rd cousins vs. strangers

My connection by blood/DNA to my famous and talented 3rd cousin Duncan Haldane is hardly an exclusive, linear relationship, nor close, and it says nothing much about “us”. When it comes to Duncan and me, there is no “us”, as it’s put in romcom dialogue… neither in a human way, and not really even the soft statistical way implied by my mention of quantum entanglement (whatever it is) as a theme.

Yes, we are 3rd cousins, and I’ll enjoy the gossipy reveal on occasion, but if each one of the Laughlands’ 26 grandchildren had two children, and each of those had two, that in turn would be 104 common relations in our generation, a fair chunk of whom would be 3rd cousins of each other (others being siblings, 1st and 2nd cousins, in our generation in this clade). How many? I don’t know, but each of us could easily have over a hundred. I already know of scores of Mina’s descendants, many of them being potential 3rd cousin candidates. As well as the Laughlands, Duncan has three other great-great grandparent couples with their own descendants for him to find other 3rd cousins among. Me; likewise. Those trees and families come from very different European backgrounds: I am half Celtic and he is half Slavic. So the west of Scotland Laughland tree above is just a minor overlap between two giant networks, and even in the Laughland tree, him and me are just two people among I guess a hundred and more.

No wonder that while there is a 90% chance that two random 3rd cousins will show up with shared DNA on current autosomal testing, the average amount “shared” in terms of family genealogy will only be 0.87%. So, I don’t think that on genetic grounds, there’s all that much to get excited about. Shared locations, experiences, history and context are as important as shared genes. Shared attitudes, interests and personality traits are probably most important of all in feeling and being connected to people. All of us have been children, and many have experienced either comfortable safety or precariousness and fear. Blood is not thicker than water when we come to get to these non-nuclear levels of “relatedness”. All family trees contain war and and full of death and disease, as well as love and births. These and other experiences are common human ones.

I do feel a familial connection with this specific academic with a doctor as a father, and some other distant cousins, but I suspect it may be at best tribal rather than personal. It may even be just a universal human connection, and would be none the worse for that. Some characteristics felt to be “shared” with another individual have probably evolved independently, or are better explained by similarities in the way individuals have been nurtured in our culture. It’s not our genes. Nevertheless, there is a palpable connectedness of family, place, and history in the path between Haldane and Hawking, where almost every individual is an echo of every other. The physicists are not just two individuals, but they are indeed linked, as shown above, in a network of connections and mutual influences that’s not random. So maybe a “familial connection” is really there. The 14 degrees of ancestral and matrimonial separation between them seem more real than the five degrees of separation between each of us and some other random person on the planet. A random person like Tom Cruise, say, whose $33m dollar holiday yacht is currently in Leith, just down the road. However many degrees of separation there are between me and him, or however few, I’m not going to feel a familial connection.

So, no, I don’t expect a random pair of 3rd cousins to feel related, either through social relationships or due to a snippet of shared DNA. But they might appear somewhat fankled (as we call entanglement in Scotland) if their lives have just a few additional similarities. And such social similarities (including mutual relations), are pretty commonplace in most places in the world, in the 21st century. Most people do not have very diverse sets of ancestral experiences to choose from, in Scotland specifically in recent centuries. Many people around the world have more complex backgrounds to draw on, and those numbers increase with every generation. Such diversity is a good thing, and it can foster a sense of being and belonging that is more universal. More human. More people feel “like me” and there are fewer strangers. On the other hand it’s not beige: when our families are diverse, we can enjoy the dissimilarity in backgrounds that can exist between even the closest of relatives.

I’m beginning to encounter a number of very distantly related people within my not very diverse family, and the odd little echo (probably random) of personality, occupation or experience exaggerates the romantic sense of familial closeness. (Most are interested in genealogy, so there’s a common interest to start with.) When people appear to live “in the same wee world”, it is easy to romanticise.

And what does family really matter, anyway? It’s just as important to feel connections with genuine strangers on the other side of the world or around the corner, assuming we can find out anything about them. If they are doing fine, we can be friends, or leave them alone. And if they are going through hell, maybe the sense of a connection will prompt us to do something useful. When I wrote “there is no us” I meant something very specific. In fact when we come to the negative effects of the human species on the world, and how that affects individuals just like us, we’re all in this together, all the billions of us.


SOURCES / NOTES

Duncan Haldane’s father was added to GENi by another genealogist, Gordon Meiklem Thomson (b1947). They are related via a Patersons and Roberton marriage. Gordon added a lot on the Patersons (last active in 2018) to GENi. I’ll post a bit more on Paterson and Roberton and the people born and living at Knownoblehill, a location that features a bit here. Gordon is my 2x great uncle William Paterson’s 2x great nephew. Click the link to see how we are related (see here). Gordon, like me, is a 3rd cousin to Duncan Haldane (cf here for another nice GENi diagram), just to show off how useful it is.

I don’t understand the big deal about quantum physics, nor really why as a topic it is considered so awfully interesting. I particularly don’t trust the simplified explanations which I think I understand. I measure speech for a living, and being familiar with social science, it’s a commonplace truth that observation or measurement of a behaviour changes that behaviour. If quantum entanglement were like a situation in which my measurement of one person, here, today, affected the behaviour of an unconnected different person somewhere else on a different occasion… yes, that’d be spooky and inexplicable. But is it like that? Wikipedia tells me it’s when “any measurement of a particle’s properties results in an irreversible wave function collapse of that particle and changes the original quantum state. With entangled particles, such measurements affect the entangled system as a whole.” Hmm. The spookiness just seems to reflect the current lack of understanding by the professionals in the field of how everything works, of what property can permeate an entangled system to (apparently) alter the “original” state. Anyway, please forgive my ignorance, any physicists who chance on this blog!

A rather more humanistic approach I toyed with as a metaphor when writing this (again, from a position of ignorance), was to refer to Carl Jung’s term “collective unconscious”. Should I save that up for a blog in which I discover I am distantly related to him or Sigmund Freud or even H.P. Lovecraft, or some other pair that could be linked with a theme like that? More seriously, maybe I’ll use it when I collect all people in the family with medical or clinical careers or qualifications together. But it is a concept that seems to address explain recurrent human tendencies, but not specific synchronicities or even family traits. It’s not a theory-of-mind that explains why two people think of each other at the same time, for example, as often portrayed (which can be experienced as spooky action at a distance). Also, Freud’s “collective consciousness” is probably a better explanation for shared but unconnected aspects of a family tree: I suspect it’s similar to what I call cultural and social factors above.

The Laughland family are being researched in detail (and often updated on GENI) by another distant relative, a 5th cousin of mine, Annette Marie Collins, who has uncovered a number of notable living relatives. She has done a great deal of original work on the Laughlands, adding sources to GENi as she goes. We have two of David Laughland’s grandparents as noted here.

As noted, “my” Haldanes descend from a Laughland-Paterson marriage. Elsewhere I will draw on all this work, plus Elizabeth Mitchell’s… and there will be one or two small things that I’m able to contribute, having made contact with another 3rd cousin in that part of the family. The photo of Duncan’s grandfather John Rodger Haldane as an older man was uploaded by Valerie Grant. I’ll try to add her family to a Paterson/Laughland post too.

James Scobbie and Mina Laughland were married for over 65 years, were wealthy, and the extended family have retained lovely family photographs and some of their possessions, spread around. They were childhood neighbours in Church St, Newarthill, and lived in the village for all their long lives in a house called Beechworth, earning celebration notes in the local papers, as described here. There’s a great deal in Noisybrain about them. They are pictured elsewhere with their surviving four children (and in-laws) in 1913 (probably the 3rd of July), and in that post I list all their grandchildren (in three families: Scobbie, Logan and Newton).

Odile Belmont has her own genealogical ancestry online at GENEANET, as one of 20000 people in the extended family of creator Hubert Cottin – see https://gw.geneanet.org/hubertcottin?lang=en&n=belmont&oc=0&p=odile – she seems to be the 10th born of 11 Belmont siblings, her family being based in Grenoble, France.

The Walker address change is confirmed by http://www.glasgowwestaddress.co.uk/Queens_Gate/6_Queens_Gate.htm). The Walkers were the first occupants, listed by GlasgowWestAddress as “Walker, A. (of J. & A. Walker, iron, steel & machinery merchants, Great Western Road Station, N.B. office, Strathcona Drive)”, from 1900-1914.

Norman A. Black, a witness at the marriage of Bessie Paterson and Rodger Haldane at 149½ Hill Street in 1909 shares a surname with Bessie’s grandmother, Mary McKellar Black (mentioned in the text), whose death was registered at the same address in 1898. Were Norman and Bessie first cousins or related in some way? The parents of Norman Annandale Black (b 23 Dec 1898) were William Black b. ~1866 (a mercantile clerk in 1880 and cashier for the East India Co. in 1901) and Jane Valentine. They were married on 12 Aug in the Congregational Church 1880. William Black’s parents were Robert Black, an ironmoulder (journeyman) and Esther Lennan ~1833-1886 (Milton, Glasgow)- and the OPR index dates their marriage to 20/06/1852. Her mother’s surname was Reid. Something to investigate later.

Haldane, Douglas A. “James Stevenson Scobbie.” BMJ: British Medical Journal, vol. 311, no. 7018, 1995, pp. 1499–1499. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/29729726.

Thinking about the 3rd cousins… Many people experience a double-take when they find out that Elizabeth Windsor and her husband Philip Mountbatten were 3rd cousins. That’s the Queen and Prince Philip. Both had Queen Victoria and Prince Albert as great great grandparents. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wedding_of_Princess_Elizabeth_and_Philip_Mountbatten

Wikipedia’s article on this topic cites estimates that, around the world today, maybe 10% of all marriages are between 1st or 2nd cousins. The recombination of harmful genetic mutations can be devastating for the children born to some of these closely-related couples. Different legal, cultural and religious traditions vary widely on how people approach the topic. So instead of getting distracted by something genuinely important, it’s time to raise the issue and run away from it. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cousin_marriage

For Dowanhill Church and the pre-raphaelite designer Daniel Cottier – see https://www.victorianweb.org/art/architecture/churches/55.html – The architect William Leiper also created the famous Templeton’s Carpet Factory in Glasgow (https://de.zxc.wiki/wiki/Templeton_Carpet_Factory) or http://www.scottisharchitects.org.uk/building_full.php?id=200700

John Reid’s discussion of Skinflats was found thanks to the internet archive WaybackMachine capture of http://www.spns.org.uk/CtStirling.html

Stephen Hawking has a biography page online, https://www.myheritage.com/research/record-10182-1528662/stephen-hawking-in-biographical-summaries-of-notable-people

I’ve not done any real research here on the Hawkings, other than be told of the family relationships by other members of these families, via email, or indirectly from information online, e.g. particularly information added by Mary Hawking at Geni.com. Well, I did download a couple of records, just to check dates and names, as noted. When indices are free, they are irresistible, but they do often just make me want to see more! I don’t think there’s been a “Who Do You Think You Are?” for Hawking… if there has, can someone PLEASE tell me so I can link to it? But I don’t think his maternal line has had much attention before. There’s a 2018 article I’ve now seen, in the Daily Record – which also calls her “Isobel Eileen”. https://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/scottish-news/stephen-hawkings-scottish-mum-isobel-12184420

I see Robin Forlonge Patterson, who is a prolific genealogist and webster, has done some work on the Walker-MacGregor angle on GENi, as well as Mary Hawking. He is a grandson of Prof Rev James McGregor, a noted presbyterian who emigrated to New Zealand in 1881 – he had been living in Harmony House (nowadays a listed building), Eden Lane (nowadays a cul-de-sac that fails to connect with Canaan Lane at its south end, near the north end of Woodburn Terrace), in Morningside Edinburgh.

About Agnes Stevenson Law, the following is on GENi: “She was very musically talented, and her father got her the best teachers to be found locally (Glasgow), but refused to allow her to go to Germany to study – a woman’s place was in her own home until she got married and got a new home. Her husband, James, grandly refused to allow her father to settle any money on her when they got married in 1911: he was a GP in Port Glasgow at the time.” (source Eileen Isobel Hawking)” – and I added a correction, “Edited: marriage registration indicates they got married on 27th October 1910.” It is often the case that musical and mathematical talent are connected – perhaps she was an ancestor who contributed more than the normal amount of talent, down the line.

The Father Ted images are (c) Channel4 or (c) All 4 https://www.channel4.com/4viewers/ts-and-cs (I can’t work it out) and the “second-best” joke I pinched is specifically from https://www.channel4.com/programmes/father-ted/on-demand/23630-001A Christmassy Ted“, which we in my wee family agree is the fecking funniest programme, ever. EVER. Of all time. EVER.

Albert Einstein was in Glasgow in 1933. “Lost Glasgow” posted on their facebook page on 14 March 2018:
With the loss of Professor Stephen Hawking, let’s travel through time and space to remember the time the world’s greatest theoretical physicist – Albert Einstein – visited Glasgow. It’s the 22nd of June, 1933, and Einstein was in town to accept an honorary doctorate from Glasgow University. Incidentally, today, March 14, was Albert Einstein’s birthday. Now, smart as he was, Albert was still a smoker. In this picture, with his host, Professor of Surgery Archie Young, they’d been ‘pit oot the hoose’ – at 5 Park Gardens – to send up their smoke signals outdoors.” followed by a good gag … “You can almost hear Mrs Young, saying: “I don’t care how clever he is, the pair of you are not sitting, puffing away in my ‘good’ room.” At that, Prof Young probably posed the age old question: “If smoking’s so bad for you, how come it cures fish?

Picture: Herald and Times Group, Text quoted from a Lost Glasgow post that I also got the photo from.

My original personal images and my text are protected under an international Creative Commons 4.0 BY-NC-SA license issued by me, James M Scobbie. See the home page. If you know, do please let me know about other images which aren’t credited, so I can acknowledge their source.

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