My granny was evacuated during World War II and stayed with relatives in North Ayrshire for some of that time. I learnt this as a child, but didn’t understand then that it meant Granny must have had Scottish blood in her. It feels obvious now, but back then our family connections with Scotland had lapsed as there were no close living relatives to visit.
The last generation to actually have been born in Scotland were Granny’s great-grandparents, Annie and James, who moved from Edinburgh to Manchester and Liverpool. James was a bookseller in Edinburgh and a Bible canvasser in Manchester. I learnt these things as an adult when I started looking into family histories, scouring websites for clues and verifiable family facts. Was the family rumour of a connection with George Meikle Kemp, architect of Edinburgh’s Scott Monument, based on any truth?
Kemp was proving illusive; he had died by falling in a canal one night aged 48. We are not connected with his four children but there is little by way of verifiable ancestry further back.
The story got more complicated; James and Annie did not settle in England. For a time, in fact, the family lived in Singapore, where Annie died in 1900 in the Straits hotel. The Singapore she knew is long gone, but her children and grandchildren went on to live and work around the world.
Although this Singapore link was not permanent, it was certainly colourful. Annie’s son, my great-great-grandfather James, spent time growing up there with the Sultan of Johor. He later worked as an electrical engineer with trams in Brazil and lit the Mersey tunnel.
The more I looked for answers, the more questions formed. Who were these people? How would they have regarded themselves? Where did they consider home to be?
I did stumble across an Australian newspaper source from 1928 which included an extra detail I did not know about Annie. Something I did not expect.
She was born in Orkney!
This was a lovely surprise. It means that I am a wee bit Orcadian (one sixteenth Scottish if you include Annie’s husband James). This certainly justifies celebrating Scottish holidays in my experience, when considering the degree of Irish heritage much of America claims in mid March.
Annie’s maiden name Baikie was common in Orkney, but also leads to a suspicion there might be a link with famous Scottish explorer, linguist and Bible translator William Balfour Baikie. That would be another fascinating connection to make, if it can be proven. He was also surgeon, naturalist (he had a genus of beans named after him), planner and sometime commander. There is even a memorial to him at the Cathedral of St Magnus in Kirkwall. The research on Baikie can wait for now, but is certainly a line to consider.
I may not live in Scotland today but these links and histories have piqued my interest in learning more. The BBC made an interesting programme about Orkney as the Ancient Capital of Britain (for British viewers currently available here). The innovation, spirituality and wanderlust that runs in my blood may go back a lot further than I ever could have realised.
Orkney Satellite Map image: Copernicus Sentinel-2, ESA – https://scihub.copernicus.eu/dhus/#/home,
CC BY-SA 3.0 igo, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=78126591