Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Postcards #28 - Sarah mystery solved

This postcard was sent "To A Scot Abroad From A Scot At Home."  It was sent October 6, 1911 and arrived at the Fraser Avenue Post Office in Vancouver October 18.


I am slightly disturbed by the breath blowing out of this man's mouth (not sure why), and the seeds that remind me of the dreaded dandelion, but other than that, it's a nice sentiment.  This postcard, possibly due to it's texture or light colour, is particularly dirty compared to most of the others in the collection.

The rampant lion is a common motif in heraldry and is a primary part of the Royal Coat of Arms of Scotland.  Can someone tell me if this particular form of lion with thistle leaves and berries is seen elsewhere?

Four postcards previously (#10 - Madeira, #13 - Seaforth Highlanders, #18 - the MacLean Memorial, and #24 - the Burning of the Clavie) , I've talked about the author of this postcard.  Her name is Sarah and she was from Burghead, on the coast just to the northwest of Elgin.  Up until now, I wasn't entirely sure who Sarah was, but in this postcard is the last piece that puts this puzzle together:  "D.J. Thanks very much for nice P.C. Glad to hear you are getting on well.  I had quite given up hopes of hearing from you again but when I did it was with a vengeance.  We are all quite well just now.  Maggie is at home for a few weeks just now.  Poor Anna had to come home owing to bad health.  She is pitiful right now Jack.  you would hardly know her.  I don't think she will ever get better.  Yes there is great word of the "Kilties" just now.  They are to camp in the Brock next year.  We will miss you seeing the C.B. Tartans are to be there.  Kindest regards.  Sarah."


The 1901 census shows us that Sarah Sandeson, the daughter of William and Isabella Sandeson, had a sister named Maggie, and one named Annie.  So our mystery is solved.  We have a name and a family, but I'm still not sure what relationship the families had with each other - likely friends, possibly relatives.  I'll have to look a little further into that.

She mentions the "Kilties," which the "Free Dictionary" (quoting Random House) defines as "a person who wears a kilt, esp. a member of a regiment in which the kilt is worn as part of the dress uniform."  From the context it sounds like military men were congregating there for camp. This is the second time she mentions the C.B. Tartans.  Jack was a member of the 4th Cameron Highlanders, and I suspect that this is what she is referring to.

The "Brock" is noted in "Notes on Burghead" (p.45):  "In a summer evening, with a smooth sea and a gentle breeze playing on the waters, no more pleasant seat can be had than on the top of the 'Brock Bailies' (by which name the high ground above the harbour is designated), and the outlook on the clear blue sea, with the mountains of Boss, Sutherland, and Caithness in the distance, and the magnificent entrance to the bay of Cromarty, lighted up with the rays of the setting sun."  If there is anyone out there familiar with Burghead, perhaps you could confirm where that area is/was.

More personally, she is expressing her fear that she was not going to hear from Jack anymore.  And the indication is that he is busy and losing touch with his Scottish friends.  Something that was liable to happen, and all too common with people who moved so far away, I'm sure.


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Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Postcards #27 - Seaforth Cottage, Garmouth


So the other day I posted a "Photograph" of Jack McCurrach's sister (Nellie), her husband (John Moir Smith), and their 3 children.

They are photographed in front of "Seaforth Cottage," Garmouth, Moray, Scotland:


Well, it turns out this was actually a "Real Photo" postcard (I just needed to turn it over ... darn it!).  Real photo postcards were ones that were taken of people and printed onto postcard paper - they were introduced in 1902 by Kodak, and people could take their own postcard pictures:


Unfortunately, it was never written on or post-marked, so it provides us with no clues about the family, but these types of postcards were certainly interesting in themselves.  It tells some about communication at the time - the fact that photographs were available to people for such purposes - and that this family had enough money to use the service.  They (or a friend) may have had their own Kodak camera for this purpose, or they may have paid for the service of a professional.  I would assume that this is one of many they sent to friends and families.

Today I was looking through Google Streetview at Garmouth to see if I could find the house.  I tried a couple of days ago to no avail, but today I found reference to the house possibly being on High Street, so I took a really close look.  And, by golly, I found it - and it was confirmed by someone on the Garmouth and Kingston Village Hall Facebook site.  Thank you so much to that person who is now trying to hook me up with someone who can give me some more information about the house (sorry, I don't know your name!).


It has been added to on one side and the front (and maybe the back, can't tell with this picture), but it IS the same building.

Also interesting, after only knowing that this man was "Regimental Sergeant Major Smith" (my Great Uncle Jim, who was in England in WWII, and met the little girl in the picture who was then about 20 - and he may have met his aunt and uncle, although I don't know that for sure), I now know that his name was John Moir Smith.  He was indeed a Regimental Sergeant Major with the Seaforth Highlanders, which he joined in 1888 (when he was 20).  From "The Morayshire Roll of Honour" (1922), we find out that he: "served in France and Germany; awarded Distinguished Conduct Medal, Queen Victoria's Sudan Medal, North West Frontier Medal, Long Service and Good Conduct Medal, and Khedive's Medal for Atbara, Chevalier de l'Ordre de Leopole II, Croix de Guerre, and Meritorious Service Medal."  From this list, I have learned that he served in the Sudan, India, and the Congo.  And since the book is about the men and women who took part in the Great War, he also served in WWI - that's what "served in France and Germany" means, I'm thinking.  

So by the time he got married to Helen Jane McCurrach in 1911 (14 years his junior), he had lived an adventuresome life as a soldier on other continents, and then served again after they were married.  No wonder my Great Uncle Jim (Jack's son) was so impressed by R.S.M. Smith and remembered him by his rank rather than his first name.  

Nellie was the third child of Jack's parents John and Susannah, and was given to an aunt and uncle to raise.  She certainly ended up in "better circumstances" than her parents had been in.  

When my uncle Jim met his 20-year-old cousin, she apparently said:  "I dinna kin when ya from, but I know you're a McCurrach."



Sunday, September 7, 2014

Postcards #26 - The Big Cedar Tree in Stanley Park

So now we have our first postcard actually FROM Vancouver.  I'm far more familiar with Vancouver - having lived there for 7 years while going to university, so I'll hopefully be able to give a little more information than I could for Scottish locations.

This postcard features "The Big Cedar Tree" - it is also known as "The Hollow Tree" - in Stanley Park, and is being conserved because of it's history.  It is most likely the most photographed tree in Vancouver's history.  It was a common spot for people to stop and get their picture taken.  Google it and you'll find all sorts of people posing for their pictures - from buggies to cars - standing or sitting -  it was a popular place to go.


Stanley Park is a large, urban park located to the west of Vancouver's downtown.  It houses an aquarium, playing fields, forest, a great hike and bike trail, the terminus of the famous Lion's Gate Bridge, restaurants, racoons, evil geese, and myriad other attractions (as well as homeless people and drug dealers, but let's not sully the picture).  I have spent many happy hours in that park.

Here are some shots I took around 1994/95 when I still used a film camera and often rode my bike around the park (they hang on my office wall - I've always liked them):




Now the back of the postcard is addressed to "Miss N. Steele / Feugh Lodge / Banchory / Kincardineshire / Scotland" and the postmark, which is barely visible, shows it was sent sometime in 1911.  The text reads:  "Dear N.  This is Vancouver's famous tree.  I'll show it to you bye and bye.  I am wiping off arrears just now.  There are some people I have not answered since December.  Shameful isn't it.  Im sending Mrs. W. one too.  Love from J.M."

This is the first time we see "Love" written on any of the postcards.  Postcards were a public way of sending messages.  They were not normally written to express emotions - letters enclosed in envelopes were a better way of doing that.  So Jack must have really been missing Nellie by this point.

An interesting thing about this postcard is that it is from The Valentine & Sons Printing company based in Montreal and Toronto and was printed in Great Britain.  So it went all the way from Great Britain to Vancouver just to be sent back again.

Oddly enough, Valentine & Sons started in Dundee, Scotland.  It printed it's first postcards in 1898 and it's first Canadian postcards in 1906.



Thursday, September 4, 2014

Postcards #25 - Jack's family history

Okay, so this one is not based on a postcard.  Frankly, I didn't want one of the postcards to be associated with what is turning out to be a pretty depressing story.  So instead, I thought I would share a picture that was in with the postcards:


My Uncle Jim (actually my mother's uncle, my Great-Uncle) told me that this was his aunt - his father's sister, Nellie - and her husband, "Regimental Sergeant Major Smith" (John Moir Smith, 13 years her senior, and a member of the Seaforth Highlanders) along with their children.  It was taken in front of Seaforth Cottage in Garmouth.

What was interesting was that I never did find Nellie (Helen) in the census records, so I was wondering if my Uncle Jim was a little confused.  But he was pretty certain about it.

So this past week I was in touch with one of my mother's cousins and got a list of the children in my Great-Grandfather's family (himself included).  And there were 12 listed.  I've only come across the evidence for 5 of them, so again I was wondering if someone was confused.  But they weren't.

My Great-Great-Grandmother, Susannah McCurrach and her husband John, had 12 children.  The third born, Helen Jane (the woman in the photo), was given to an aunt and uncle (Alexander and Ann McIntosh).  The 7th through 12th children (Elspet, James, Robert, George, Susanna and Margaret) all died after Susannah was 35.

I did mention in the last post that one of the children died of Tubercular Peritonitis and one of Marasmus (malnutrition).  I had the order mixed up, though.  Those were the first (at 5 months) and third (at 7 weeks) children to die (not the first and second).  The second, James, died at 3 months from "(Supposed) Marasmus from Birth."  Not sure what that "supposed" means.  Did they not believe the parents?

The fourth child to die was George McCurrach, who died of Gastric Catarrh at the age of 2 months.  The fifth, Susannah, from Gastro-intestinal Catarrh at the age of 7 weeks, and the last, Margaret, from Marasmus at the age of 4 months.  All of those afflictions can be traced back to malnutrition.  Also remember that my great-grandfather, Jack, was only 5' 1 1/2" tall - probably also due to malnutrition, since his children were all average heights.

Several things have been going through my mind this week:  were they all malnourished?  Was Susannah (the mother) malnourished?  Did they just not have the money to feed more mouths?  Did they allow the children to die in order to feed their other children?  Could Susannah just not handle having any more children and let them starve?  How does a mother bury 6 children in the course of 10 years?  (Or, hopefully not, knowing the anxiety and depression that runs in our family, could Susannah just not handle any more?  It may have simply been infanticide.  But I can't make that call.  I can't make that assumption.  Not without proof.)  Why didn't they give more of the children away?  What changed?  This certainly is a situation where it raises more questions than it answers.

Other things have also been going through my mind.  I have nothing on the face of the Earth to EVER complain about.  I have it so good I can't even imagine living like these people appear to have done.  I used to think that in gardening and canning and such that I was following in my ancestors' footsteps.  But at least for a while, it seems they couldn't even afford to have any land to grow food on.  Food must have been so hard for them to come by.

So more questions abound and I'm not sure I will ever be able to answer them.  But I'll try.


Sunday, August 31, 2014

Postcards #24 - Burning of the Clavie

I think I filed this one out of order as it is sent to Jack in Nairn - seems it might have been February, 1910.  It was sent from Sarah in Burghead.  We've seen other postcards from her:  one sent from Burghead but a postcard showing Madeira, Spain; one showing the colours of the Seaforth Highlanders; and one showing the Maclean Memoiral in Burghead.



This card, though, shows one of Burghead's unique celebrations.  It is the continuation of a New Year's Eve ceremony - it takes place on January 11th - the eve of the new year on the Julian calendar - after the Gregorian calendar was adopted, the people of Burghead decided they would celebrate twice (I'm sure it involved a great deal of alcohol). A barrel is split (they may, by the look of it, now have a permanent clavie that staves are put into), put on a pole, filled with tar, and lit on fire - the clavie.  It is then carried around the town to a pile of other split barrels where the clavie is placed.  When it falls apart, the fire spreads to the other barrel.  People collect pieces of the burning wood to start their New Years fires.  Charcoal from the clavie is put up the chimney to keep out bad spirits.  I am sure there is a much longer story steeped in further tradition and belief, but this is the best I'm going to do at the moment.  It sounds like a fun time.


Here's the back of the card:



"How are you always getting on.  Still as busy as ever I suppose.  I intended sending a P.C. long ago but we have had such a lot to think about lately that it quite escaped my memory. Are the "Kilties" still flourishing in Nairn.  They are multiplying here.  Their ball was last week.  How do you like this view of our clavie.  It is Alicm (?) Franks masterpiece at present.  Hope you are all well at Nairn.  S.S."

The initials narrow down further who Sarah might have been.  If you remember, in the Seaforth Highlander's postcard post, there were three Sarah's who were about the right age to be friends with Jack:  Sarah Robertson, Sarah Sandeson, and Sarah Stewart.  So now we are narrowed down to 2.

I'm not sure who A. Franks was - and not sure if he/she painted the picture or was in charge of making the clavie.  Anyone have any ideas?

On a different note, I've found out more family information.  I've been in touch with my mother's cousin (one of Jack's grand-daughters).  She is quite interested in genealogy and had some information that I did not yet have.  A relative of ours in Scotland had researched Jack's family - his brothers and sisters.  The list had 12 children noted.  Since I had only ever seen 5 children named in the censuses, I assumed that relative had done something wrong or been confused.  But when I found the original of the 1911 census, I found out that he was right:


The column headers in the last 3 columns read:  "Duration of Marriage," "Children born Alive," and "Children Still Living."  According to the relatives letter and the census material I've seen, the first 6 children lived.  The last 6 children died.  I'll have to do some more serious research to find out what the situation was for each of the children (or my Mom's cousin will).  I'm curious about what happened.  Also, I see from this relative's research that there was an older daughter named Helen Jane McCurrach who was called Nell or Nellie.  I assume she got married and stayed in Scotland.  Again, more research required.  

But I can't help but weep for Susanna and John McCurrach losing 6 of their 12 children.  Lordy.  

The child mortality rate in 1900 in Britain was about 14%.  This family's was 50%.  I did look up the first of the children to die, and she died of Tuberculous Peritonitis.  The next in line died of "Supposed Marasmus from birth" - malnutrition.  Meaning that Susanna didn't have enough to eat, either.  To think that they didn't have enough to feed their children or themselves.  Maybe that's why Jack was only 5' 1 1/2" tall.    

... And my heart breaks.  





View next postcard post.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Postcards #23 - The Scott Memorial

On August 30, 1910, someone named John sent Jack, in Vancouver, a postcard from Edinburgh.  The text reads:  "Thanks for the P.C. which I duly received.  Glad to hear you like your new surroundings, and hope you will soon get into their way of working in Vancouver.  I am spending a short holiday in Edinburgh with Dave, and am enjoying myself first-rate in spite of wet weather.  Write ma a letter soon.  Kindest regards, John."


The comparatively excellent grammar, sentence structure, etc. in this postcard make me think that perhaps this man worked with Jack at some point.  Jack was a compositor - he set type for printing.  He was listed as "printer" when he travelled to Canada, and had worked for the County Press, Nairn, for 8 years at that time.  I will be trying to research the County Press, but it seems that it might take some effort - a search of the term in several locations has turned up almost nothing - if anyone has any tips on finding it, please let me know.  Not everything is online yet.

So I don't know who John or Dave are (and given their exceedingly common first names, I probably never will), but the text tells us something.  It indicates that there is some culture shock.  That Jack has expressed some concern about how he fits in and how people in Vancouver do things.  I suspect he might be finding it hard to get a job - and I say this because the Vancouver city directory of 1911 list both of Jack's brothers and their jobs, but not Jack - although we know he was there because he came with his younger brother.  Of course, he may have just been missed in the survey for the directory, because in the 1912 version, he is listed as working for G.A. Roedde (the owner of a printing company) and his brother, William, is missing.  John and his older brother, Alexander, are both living at 434 29th Avenue E in Vancouver at this time (near Fraser Avenue, which was mentioned in the last post).

The front of this postcard is of the Scott Memorial in Edinburgh:


Now known as the Scott Monument, this edifice was erected in the memory of Sir Walter Scott, a famous 18th and 19th century author.  Okay, so most of you probably know who Sir Walter Scott is - I really didn't.  I knew the name.  In looking him up, I find out he was a pretty big deal.  He was the first English-language author to become internationally renowned within his lifetime.  He wrote Rob Roy and Ivanhoe (as well as a lot of other great works).  I'm fairly embarrassed, as the descendant of proud Scottish stock, to not really know who this man was.  I do know Robert Burns, though.

After Scott died in 1832, a competition was held to design a monument to him.  George Meikle Kemp won the honour of designing it.  The statue at the base of the monument was designed by Sire John Robert Steell (I wonder if there is a distant family relation to Nellie Steele).  The monument was completed in 1844.

At a total cost of 2.36 million pounds, the memorial was restored in the early 1990s.

I like the fact that there are palm tress in the picture.


Thursday, August 21, 2014

Postcards #22 - Feugh Lodge and John Poynter Miller

I've already talked about Feugh Lodge in a previous post.  This was the home where my great-grandmother, Nellie, worked as a housemaid from 1910 until 1912.  There are a couple of postcards in my collection that show the Feugh River that runs beside the house.  One is written on, one has a brief note (I'm skipping forward a bit here in the chronological order of the postcards - humour me).

Here's the one with the message:


It is obviously a coloured photograph of the Feugh River while flooding.  I don't think I'd want to be near it when it did this.  But Nellie was as you can see from her note:  "Feugh Lodge 24/10/11 Thank you so much Jack for the nice views I received this morning.  They are lovely.  This is what the feugh is like today.  Nellie"  She was working here by August, 1910, so she had been here for over a year when she sent this postcard.


This one is also postmarked twice - like the postcard of the football game.  This one is postmarked Banchory, Kincardineshire (the community closest to Feugh Lodge) and then postmarked Fraser Avenue, BC.  The Vancouver-Fraser Avenue Post Office was established December 1, 1910 - not even a year before this postcard was received by Jack.  You'll note that he was picking his mail up there - and it was obviously coming over by ship and rail.  There is no Fraser Avenue in Vancouver anymore.  In 1948 it was renamed Fraser Street.  You may also note that postage to Canada is two half penny stamps - as opposed to just one within Scotland.


This card, part of the same series by William Duncan, a photographer from Banchory, was a view of the river when it wasn't in flood.  It must be interesting to live near this river.  On the back is a note from Nellie reading: "This is a bridge, about a ten minutes walk from the House.  Nellie"  I assume this one was written shortly after she moved there, but since it was mailed in an envelope or handed to it's recipient in person, we won't know exactly when it was sent in her two years living and working here.

Aside from the postcards and the information they contain, I've written this post now to fill you in on the owners of Feugh Lodge where Nellie, my great-grandmother, worked and earned money to help establish her new life in Vancouver.  Over the last couple of days I've been able to research them a bit and it's quite interesting (let me tell you, if your family was wealthy, there's a lot more to research and it's MUCH easier!).

John Poynter Miller was the owner of Feugh Lodge and my great-grandmother's employer.  He owned the lodge and at the time the 1911 census was taken, was the head of a household made up of his wife, 4 female servants, and a chauffeur.  He was obviously wealthy and, in turn, considered important.

First off, let's talk about finding his name.  Here is the census record with his name noted:



Okay, you tell me, what is that middle name written in there?  At first I thought it was Doyscher. Doyscher is actually a last name (I'm thinking German?), so I thought that was a possibility.  But no luck finding him anywhere.  So I took a closer look at the census.  On the other page his occupation was stated:
 

"Chemical Manufacturer" - so I searched for that: "John Miller Chemical Manufacturer."

Well, that cracked the door open a bit.  I found his father, John Miller senior (1816-1894), who had founded a chemical manufacturing business in Aberdeen with his brother, George.  It was called John Miller & Co. and it was housed at the Sandilands Chemical Works in Aberdeen (which was also established by the company).  They made chemicals - sulphuric acid, sulphate of ammonia, etc.  They also were tar distillers, oil and paraffin wax refiners, and manufacturers of artificial manures (apparently before they were called fertilizers).  They were in on chemical fertilizers from the beginning - something that went hand in hand with gas manufacturing for WWI.

The 1871 census shows the family living at 14 Crown Street in Aberdeen:



Miller's son, John Poynter Miller was a partner in the firm after 1871, which would have made him 7 as he was born in 1864 (they sold the company in 1928).  As of the 1891 census, J.P. Miller was then living with his parents at 10 Queen's Terrace in Aberdeen (a little nicer than the last one, but that one wasn't bad, either, really, was it?):


He seems to have lived there until after they died, and still lived in their home in 1901 with a lot of other people.  By 1909, he had moved out of the house and on July 3, at the age of 44, married Edith Margaret Cochran (from a wealthy family as well) in London.  They apparently moved to Feugh Lodge after getting married and had hired their housemaid, Nellie, by August, 1910.  (Poynter, really?  Well, after finding it, I can match the letters on the census form, but it really doesn't look like Poynter, does it?).

One last thing - there was always a story in our family that Nellie stayed later in Scotland than she intended because her sister was pregnant and died giving birth.  Nellie, having been a children's nurse, had helped care for the baby before going to Canada after she was adopted out (her name apparently being Peggy Black).  I could find no evidence of her ever being a nurse.  I thought maybe it had been some confusion over the years.  But today, at the University of Alberta Library, I was able to access a page from the London Standard.  A birth announcement came out on August 15, 1911:  "MILLER - On the 10th Aug, at Fengh (sic) Lodge, Banchory, Kincardineshire, the wife of John Poynter Miller, of a daughter."

So she had been caring for their child at Feugh Lodge and had very recent knowledge of newborns when her sister died.  Family story confirmed.