16 July 2014

Thank you Grandma

My late paternal grandmother Elizabeth Speirs ENGLISH (Lizzie, nee RENSHAW) is probably the main reason why I first became interested in my family history. 

As a child growing up in Southland, New Zealand I was very fortunate to live right next door to my grandparent’s house (they were Lizzie and Bob English but from here on I will refer to them as Grandma and Grandad). I was their oldest granddaughter, and one of only four grandchildren, so I guess you could say they probably spoilt me quite a bit. I didn’t mind though and their place was my second home. I spent many, many happy hours with them and I loved to listen to Grandma tell me stories about her childhood and her ‘old country’.

Grandma and Grandad both came out to New Zealand from Scotland as children, Grandad in 1914 as a one year old and Grandma in 1926 as a 13 year old. Grandma came from the small coal mining village of Bothwellhaugh in south east Lanarkshire, where her father and many other family members worked underground. Sadly for her she was unable to visit her old hometown when she went back to Scotland for a visit in 1974 as the entire village of Bothwellhaugh and the surrounding area had been flooded in the late 1960’s when the Strathclyde Loch was created.

Grandad’s family came out to New Zealand from Wigtownshire but unfortunately he never knew much about his family background. He couldn’t even tell me the names of his grandparents or any aunts and uncles that were left behind in Scotland. It seems that for some reason no contact was kept between his parents and any family that may have remained in Scotland. 

My very first memory of actually wanting to know more about my family history came when I was about 10 years old. Grandma and I had been discussing baby photos so I went home and collected my baby album to take over to their place to show them. As is usual in many baby albums or baby books, the first page had a graphic of a family tree that you filled in the names of the parents, grandparents and great grandparents. Mum had recorded my paternal great grandmother (Bob’s mother) as Helen McCarthy. Grandad took one look at it and said “Mum’s name wasn’t McCarthy, it was McCallie”.  And from that moment on I just wanted to find out as much as I could about my family history and those who came before me.

In the last ten years or so it has become so much easier to research overseas from the comfort of your own home. So many more records are being digitised and placed online for anyone with an internet connection to access from anywhere in the world. Scotland would have to be one of the easiest countries of all to obtain records from as many of the old birth, marriage and death records can be found online at www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk

Both Grandma’s and Grandad’s maternal sides have been relatively easy to piece together using these old records and I have managed to amass quite large families for them both. Their paternal sides however are proving to be brick walls at the moment. Grandad’s father (William ENGLISH, born in 1877) has remained very elusive with no trace of him or his family in any records so far. And Grandma’s father (Herbert RENSHAW, born in 1885) has a Scots-Irish background with little to no progress made on that branch either. But I will keep looking and searching for them and hopefully one day I will make the breakthrough that I have been seeking for so long.

Grandma and Grandad on their golden wedding anniversary, 26th February 1988

Grandad died in 1996 and Grandma in late 2000. Since then I have discovered so much more about their families, in fact Grandad’s maternal McCallie side is huge (thanks to his great grandfather who had 18 children, but that’s another story for another day). I only wish that they were both still alive today so I could share with them what I have found. Probably the thing I would most liked to have shared with Grandma was to show her a video that I located the year after she died. “Bothwellhaugh, the Drowned Village” was a 30 minute documentary made by the BBC that featured old home movies shot in the village in the early 1960's. I wish so much that she had been alive to have watched this movie and to have seen her old home one final time. Grandma loved her family and she loved Scotland so much and I know for certain that she would have been absolutely thrilled with my research and what I have found.

So thank you Grandma for giving me this love of family and of our history, for filling my heart with a passion for Scotland and all things Scottish, and especially for instilling in me the desire to want to know more and to pass the stories on.


Footnote: Oct 2016 - I have just found that the link for the video of "Bothwellhaugh, the Drowned Village" no longer works and the video has been removed from YouTube. However, I have found another film that shows images of Bothwellhaugh (Lost Village of Bothwellhaugh), still quite good to watch but unfortunately not as good as the original film. 

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