Saturday, August 27, 2011

A Voice from the Past

Recently I was lucky enough to find a notebook containing family history notes and a partial narrative written by my mother (Cathrine Gibson Gadsden, nee Hamilton). This had remained hidden among other less interesting documents since her death some years ago. There's no doubt that the writings were intended for me. Reading the pages, which are closely-clovered with her beautiful script, it was as if we were having a chat - and a very informative chat it was, too. My mother lists all her father's siblings (born in Stevenston, Ayrshire, Scotland), mentioning who they married (accompanied by a pithy description if the spouse wasn't all he/she might have been), and what offspring they produced. In conjunction with her 'bible' (her address book), I'm now able to work out who the descendants are and where they might be found - spread from Scotland to England, some in South Africa, others in Canada and US.

I've learnt that an unmarried great-aunt, far from being the guid Scots home-body I'd imagined, was manageress of her department at Rattrays, a huge wholesale company in Glasgow. It was a surprise to find that my Hamilton great grandmother had given birth to 17 children - according to the Census she had only 13 'born alive', and of these 'reared' 12. Still, a full household. I'd never realised that, before he emigrated to South Africa, one of the great-uncles had been in the Merchant Navy during World War I: another avenue to explore. Great Gran apparently used to buy from the mobile fishmonger a 'two-eyed steak '- i.e. herring - and would make 'Tatties with their jackets on' for lunch.

Facts and accurate dates are essential ingredients for any family narrative, but when they come with a pinch of fond memory the flavour is so much sweeter.

Cathrine Gibson Hamilton aged 21

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