A Very Scottish Family

I began researching my family history over 20 years ago, but it was only quite recently that I began writing a narrative of what I’ve discovered to date.  I have notes and fragments of research scattered all over the place, odd chapters I’ve written in a notebook, old photographs, my mother’s travel diaries and the basic facts recorded in a family history database. Oh, yes, and my Ancestry DNA results, a recent addition which shows that despite having been born in England I am more Scottish than the average Scot, something that my family tree also demonstrates.

I’ve just published the ebook on Amazon, along with a paperback which contains the same text with some photographs and a few charts. Although it is anecdotal in style, I’ve added some notes on research sources at the end in case they may be of use to anyone else.

[edit 19th April 2021]

Of course, I knew that as soon as I had published the above-mentioned book new information would turn up which would either contradict or enhance the facts I had quoted. So I wasn’t entirely surprised to discover a couple of things in a Find My Past newspaper search.

First of all, I found that, unlike other newspapers, the Daily Mirror had produced an edition during October 1908 that gave an extremely detailed account of the Women’s Freedom League protest at Westminster in which my great-aunt Jenny McCallum (see below) had taken part. For each part of the demonstration, the women who took part were identified by name and I saw that my great-aunt had been one of the women who climbed on to the statue outside the Houses of Parliament and started to give speeches from on top of it to the assembled throng. I was pleased to see she had thrown herself whole-heartedly into it like this! I suppose she felt if she had gone to the trouble of giving up her job and travelling from Dunfermline to London, she might as well make the most of it.

The second thing I discovered while searching again in the newspapers was that my grandfather, Thomas Morrison, whom we had thought to have served in the Great War but we couldn’t find any evidence of it, had an obituary in a newspaper I hadn’t looked at before, which contained the information that he had served as a paymaster in the army ‘in Scotland and later in France’. There was also a mention of his prowess at football in the ‘Black Watch’ team, which at first I thought might be a clue to his regiment in the army, but which I now believe to have been a local Campsie team of the time. I may be able to find out more by following up on these leads, but as many of the Great War records were destroyed during the Blitz, it’s possible I won’t.

I shall be adding some of the photographs and charts from it to this page when time permits, along with extra photographs. You’ll find a large part of the introduction to the book and a couple of short character studies below the cover image.

Chapter 1 Baby Boomers

L to R: Sheila, aged just under 1, in the garden at Brighton, Sheila and Ian in Brighton, Ian on Wormit beach (Tay Bridge in background), Alpine Villa

L to R below: Stained glass landing window at Alpine Villa, my mother and our Border Terrier puppy, about 1970, the Tay Bridge

Chapter 2 The Wartime Generation

L to R: my mother with her brothers and sisters (Chris is the smallest), my mother with big bow and her siblings and cousins,, and my father in his (much-hated) kilt.

L to R below: my mother playing golf, my mother in South Africa with her cousin Robert McCallum and his wife.

A Very Scottish Family cover
A Very Scottish Family – the book cover, showing my father and brother and me at the Pass of Killiecrankie

There is nothing particularly famous or special about my family. I haven’t (yet) been able to link it to William the Conqueror, Charlemagne or Attila the Hun. Occasionally family members have featured in minor newspaper stories, but mostly they seem to have led quiet, unremarkable lives, worked in jobs that were typical for the time, and kept out of prison and the workhouse, although they do seem to have had slightly more than their share of lunatics.

I’ve had to go back to 1800 to find an ancestor who wasn’t born in Scotland, and some of the families involved evidently stayed in the same area for hundreds of years. However their births and deaths cover more or less the whole of Scotland, from Helmsdale in Sutherland to Port William in Kirkcudbrightshire, and from Kilmartin in Argyll to Elie in Fife. This makes it easier in many ways to trace basic family records, since most of them are to be found on the Scotland’s People website.

However in some cases I’ve found it more productive either to look at records in a different form or to visit the places where people lived. For instance, looking at census records online you generally only see what you search for, whereas if you look at them on microfilm you see who lived next-door, and how many families with similar names lived nearby. If you go to a place such as Kilmartin, you see the carved rocks and many stone monuments and wonder if your stone-mason great-grandfather was descended from the people who made them. And of course there is nothing quite like having coffee and a scone in your great-great-grandmother’s kitchen, which has been turned into a tea-room!

When I add detail to this page I will include links to family history sites I’ve found useful. So if you are interested in Scottish family history please re-visit the page.


River Helmsdale, Sutherland

And now for two stories about outliers in my family history: the first of these, Jenny McCallum, was the oldest in a typical Victorian family of 11, who gave up her job in a textile mill in Dunfermline to travel to London and invade the Houses of Parliament.

‘You were in it as deep as the others.’


My great-aunt Jenny McCallum, my grandmother’s sister, joined a group of around 14 members of the Women’s Freedom League at a demonstration at Westminster in 1908 during which some of the party tricked their way into the House of Commons during a debate and two of them chained themselves to the grille at the front of the Visitors’ Gallery and shouted ‘votes for women’ slogans, which were a bit wordier than they would probably be nowadays, while others climbed on benches just outside and others clambered on to an equestrian statue in the courtyard. They were all arrested and in court the following day were each fined £5. They refused to pay the fine and were sent to prison instead, apart from a younger member of the group, the daughter of one of the others, who was told not to do it again, at least until she was 21!

I discovered this much in a report in The Times which was filed with the prison record at the National Archives in London. There was also a small paragraph in the local Dunfermline newspaper at the time, and quite a lot more in a report for the 50th anniversary of women first getting the vote in 1968. The story also made its way into several books not long after that.

More recently, I was asked for an interview by BBC Scotland to mark the 100th anniversary of the Representation of the People Act of 1918. If they still have it on their website you can see it here: A suffragette in the family.

Just beforehand I thought I had better refresh my memory about what had happened that day, and as part of that I took out a subscription to a family history website (Find My Past) where there was access to the British Newspaper Archive. I found quite a few more newspaper articles about the demonstration. These varied quite a bit in the amount of detail they gave and also in the variations on Jenny’s name they used, but at last I came to one where my great-aunt’s words in court were actually quoted. It wasn’t exactly great oratory but it gave me a sense of connection to someone I had never met that none of the other reports did.

‘Why did they give me a ticket [to the House of Commons] if it was not to admit me?’ she asked the magistrate. He replied, ‘You were as deep in it as the others’, to which she said, ‘Perhaps more so.’

A House Called Hyderabad

I am only just starting to find out about another ‘outlier’, one of my great-grandfather’s brothers James Young, who was from a farming family on the Angus / Perthshire borders but who had a rather different career from almost everyone else in the family, as an engineer who built canals in various parts of India during a career of several decades working for the India Office.

My first inkling that he might be different was when I noticed him in the 1891 census for a parish in the north of Fife. By that time his father (my great-great-grandfather, also James Young) had moved much of the family across the Tay to a farm near Leuchars, although my great-grandfather John Young was farming near Meigle at that point. Whereas all the other adult males in the family were farmers (and had been for generations), his occupation was given as ‘Civil Engineer Pub Wks Dep India’, which was something of a surprise.

I followed up on this recently when the India Office records became available to search, and I found he had worked on canal projects from 1868 onwards. By 1901 he was living at Crieff Hydro with one of his unmarried nieces. Oddly enough, this was what led me to discover the House Called Hyderabad.

Once I had read all the newspaper articles I could find about my great-aunt and her exploits, which continued after the war with involvement in the Rosyth Rent Strike of 1919, I turned my attention to other members of the family. I was searching for ”Thomas Morrison’ which confusingly was not just my father’s name but also my grandfather’s and great-grandfather’s, when I came across a couple of mentions of my father as a pall-bearer at funerals. The first funeral was that of his mother in Meigle, Perthshire in 1938, and the other pall-bearers were mostly her brothers, also from the Young family  The other was for a ‘Miss Young’ whose address was given as ‘Hyderabad, Meigle.’ Of course, you can’t always be certain of things in family history, but in this case I am as certain as I can be that this house must have been named by my engineer great-great-uncle to commemorate his time in India. Now, of course, the hunt is on to discover whether the house is still there, and if I can get hold of a picture of it with which to illustrate this story!