10 September 2014

Family Mysteries: - A voyage across the seas

My gt, gt grandfather
Robert Speirs LINDSAY
In the late 1880’s my paternal great, great grandparents made a voyage from Scotland to the United States, and then back again the following year. They were unmarried at the time they left and married when they returned, but that in itself is nothing unusual. What is unusual however, is the fact that they were both from very poor families, so how or why they made this voyage is a complete mystery to me.

My great, great grandfather Robert Speirs LINDSAY was born on the 25th of September 1868 at Tollcross, Shettleston, Lanarkshire, Scotland. He was one of the youngest of a family of at least twelve children of Andrew and Elizabeth (nee SPEIRS) LINDSAY. 

Robert LINDSAY's parents, my 3x great grandparents
Andrew & Elizabeth (nee SPEIRS) LINDSAY
His wife Janet CLOSE was born about 1868 in County Down, Ireland. Exactly where or when I have been unable to ascertain yet. She was one of at least eight children of James and Agnes (nee WILKINSON) CLOSE who emigrated to Scotland from Ireland between 1873 and 1878 when Janet was aged between five and ten years old. Both the LINDSAY and CLOSE families lived in very close proximity to each other in Bothwell, Lanarkshire where the men of the families all worked as coal miners. In fact in 1891 the families were actually next door neighbours in Bellshill, so they would obviously have known each other well.

I first became aware of this mystery voyage when I located Robert LINDSAY and his wife Janet (nee CLOSE) on the 1891 Scottish census. Robert (aged 22) was recorded as a coal miner, living at Bellshill in Lanarkshire. What was notable about the census entry for his family was that his eldest son Andrew (age 1), was recorded as having been born in Bleurfield*, America while their second son, James (4 mths), was recorded as being born in Lanarkshire, Scotland. 

The 1891 census of Scotland showing Robert and Janet LINDSAY and their two sons

The subsequent purchase of the birth record for the second son James Close LINDSAY (born 15th November 1890) recorded that his parents were married on the 25th of October 1888 in Clearfield Co, Pennsylvania, America. So that was now two references to America. I obviously needed to look into this a bit further.

A quick search on Ancestry.com turned up a marriage record for a Robert LINDSAY (age 20) and a Jannett CLOSS (age 21) on the same date as mentioned above (25th of October 1888) at Clearfield County, Pennsylvania. This was definitely my couple, but what on earth were they doing in America? This marriage record also revealed that Robert was a miner working and living at the Morrisdale Mines. Another search soon found the baptism of their first son Andrew LINDSAY, born on the 6th of August 1889 and baptised “in the church” at Morrisdale on the 12th of January 1890.

On the 8th of February 1890 the ship 'Anchoria' arrived in Glasgow, Scotland, having sailed from New York. On board were 'John' LINDSAY and his wife Janet and their 6 month old son Andrew. Despite being recorded as 'John' and not Robert, I believe this is probably my family returning to Scotland as no other record for them returning home can be found.
When exactly Robert and Janet went to America I haven’t yet ascertained. I have found a record on Ancestry.com for a Robert LINDSAY, coalminer, leaving Glasgow on board 'State of Nebraska', arriving in New York on the 18th of July 1888. Whether or not this is my Robert I am not sure. And if it is, where then is Janet?

But the most important question, ......... why they went to America, is still the big mystery I hope to solve. There are so many questions I want answers to.
  • Where did they get the money from to make the voyage? 
  • Did their families know they had gone or did they run away together? 
  • Did they go together or did Robert go first and then send money for Janet to come too? 
  • Was Robert enticed over there by American coal mining companies seeking employees?
  • Why did they choose to return to Scotland and not stay permanently in America, a land of so many opportunities?

So many questions, ….… so many answers I may never find, but I will keep searching.


Footnote: Robert and Janet (nee CLOSE) LINDSAY went on to have four children together: Andrew (b.1889), James Close (b.1890), Elizabeth Speirs (b.1892) and Robert (b.1894).  Sadly Janet died from pneumonia in May 1896, aged just 28 years. Robert remarried in October 1899 to a widow, Bridget FOX (nee MURPHY), who had two young sons of her own. 

Robert and Janet’s two youngest children, Elizabeth Speirs (my great grandmother) and Robert were aged just 3 years old and 20 months old when their mother Janet died. They were brought up from then on by their paternal grandparents, Andrew and Elizabeth (nee SPEIRS) LINDSAY. The two eldest sons, Andrew and James (6 and 5 years old), also went to live with their grandparents initially, but later returned to live with their father and his new wife. They were still living with their father in 1901 aged 11 and 10 years old, but are later shown on the 1911 census aged in their early twenties living back with their very elderly grandparents in Green St, Bothwell.

The LINDSAY Family; date unknown but thought to be taken immediately after WW1.
Back: Elizabeth (nee McPHERSON, wife of Andrew LINDSAY), Bridget (FOX, nee MURPHY, 2nd wife of Robert Speirs
LINDSAY), Bessie RENSHAW (Elizabeth Speirs, nee LINDSAY, my great grandmother), Robert Speirs LINDSAY
(my gt, gt grandfather), Nellie (Helen, nee BLACK, wife of James Close LINDSAY), James Close LINDSAY.
Front: Thomas & Patrick FOX (Bridget's sons, not sure which one is which), Andrew LINDSAY, Robert LINDSAY

Note: * The “Bleurfield” recorded on the 1891 census is obviously a transcription error made by the enumerator and should read “Clearfield”. All subsequent census and birth entries record the name as “Clearfield”.

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