Ayrshire coal and Hay

My mother-in-law Nessie (Agnes Inglis Erskine, later Kinnis, 1929-2017) came from a small family. Her upbringing was in rural Ayrshire (west central Scotland). Nessie was an only child. Having only a handful of relatives (in Switzerland and Lincolnshire), was part of her identity, at least as expressed to me in the context of family history.

People are related through their historical social networks, just as much as through their trees of blood relatives. The most important of these relationships is, of course, marriage. But other strong connections poke through the genealogical facts below. What follows is not just four generations of Hay men; not just a line of coal miners. I’ve named many non-relatives, fellow coal miners, neighbours, and friends.

My personal example of the “small world” is that, before she was my mother-in-law, Nessie was my primary school teacher for two years in the early 1970s, 45 years ago. (This is all part of my identity, of course.) I was 10 or 11… oh jings, and she was then a decade younger than I am now! So we go back a long way, me and her. And it’s no surprise maybe that my wife was in the same primary school (and all our siblings).

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Out of India

Three siblings, born in North East India in the 1880s. My grandmother and her two brothers. When their father died, the children were brought back to Scotland by their mother. The brothers would return to Raj India as adults and it would shape their lives. But my grandmother? She didn’t have their opportunities, even if she had wanted to, and became a wife and mother in Scotland.

I had almost no information about my great uncles, and they were hard to find. Here, I’m just going to describe what I know about their childhood with my grandmother, and how I found them, as one way to introduce the various Stevenson stories.

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Two (well, three) men called Archibald Taylor – for Armistice Day

My aunt’s family history is convoluted, complex and interesting, the complexity providing a good training in genealogy. Some elements are stark and simple. The death of her mother’s first husband in WW1, the “Great War”, and of their son, her (half) brother in WW2… they were both killed in action. That’s pretty straightforward. You’d think.

It took a while, but now I know who’s who. I still know nothing personal about these men. Nor their lives before or during the wars that killed them. I am not really related to them (my mother’s sister-in-law’s mother’s first husband & son) in any clear way. But the centenary of the armistice in 1918 is a good time for a minding, and for me to mind them in particular. And some others. We are all connected. Me the writer; you the reader; and the dead. I know these soldiers’ bare details, a little general context, and something about what happened to those they left behind, but apart from that… their personalities, hopes and dreams? They are unknown to me.  But here they are.

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Diamond and Gold and “Ruby”

Today, July 3rd, is a day to celebrate a long-lasting marriage. Fifteen years after the 1913 garden photograph on the eve of the Great War, discussed elsewhere, a Golden Wedding was celebrated, and ten years after that, in 1938, a much larger family of descendants and their spouses gathered with a photographer for group and individual shots that are full of formality and charm. The 1938 celebration was for the Diamond Wedding anniversary (60 years) of James Scobbie (1853-1943) and Williamina (“Mina”) Black Laughland (1852-1945), who were natives, neighbours and notable lifelong residents of Newarthill, a coal-mining village in Lanarkshire, Scotland. They were married by Mina’s father 140 years ago today, in 1878. The anniversary was written up in the local papers in 1928, 1938, and 1943 (a so-called “Ruby” anniversary), providing excellent detail of their lifelong relationship.

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The long summer of 1913

This Scottish summertime photograph, helpfully labelled on the back, celebrates the 35th (so-called coral) wedding anniversary of James Scobbie and Mina Laughland on July 3rd 1913, just before WW1. For photos from their diamond wedding celebrations in 1938 just before WW2 along with newspaper biographies, see the post on their diamond, gold and “ruby” anniversaries. A looming war is invisible in photographs like this, if we can resist the temptation to use hindsight to pour meaning into the expressions of the people in these gapless gatherings.

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Ebeth Scobbie (1884-1940)

The girl on our left in this picture is Ebeth, photographed with her siblings and parents in Scotland when she was 12 or 13, around 1896. Here is some of her life story. I collected some of this material in 2016, at the time of the centenary of the tragic day on May 30th 1916 when she was widowed, aged 33, in Smyrna (now ─░zmir on the western Mediterranean coast of Turkey), and now a year later, in the days before posting this blog, I finally located and visited her grave in Morningside, a few minutes walk from my home.

Why was she there? What happened to her? Why am I writing about her?

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