Monday, September 03, 2018


When we went to Register House the other day, I decided to investigate something that had puzzled me for some years. Why did my lovely Granny show no interest in her half-sister? and was Granny's step-mother really, as my mother once said, "a terrible woman"? 

These are my great-grandparents: my mother's mother's parents. Her name was Isabella Currie; his was Alexander Watt. After their marriage they lived in Glasgow. They're a handsome pair, I think. 

And these people are - left to right - my great-grandfather Alexander Watt's unmarried sister Jessie, his son Alexander and his daughter Isabella - my lovely granny.

(Family history would be easier to research if people hadn't so often given their children the same names as themselves. However, my father did lots of research and compiled a family tree, so this helps greatly.)

Now, my granny's life in the early days was very sad, because her mother died at the age of 35, when Granny was only five. I think I've blogged about this before. There were two other children: Agnes, who was three when her mother died, and Alexander, who was 6. As we thought, and as confirmed by the death certificates, Isabella (the mother) died of tuberculosis, as did Granny's sister Agnes, who died at 13. Granny said that her little sister had always been ill and she seemed to know very little about her, so presumably Agnes had been kept apart from the other children in case they too were infected by this terrible disease. What a dreadful life little Agnes must have led.

After Isabella (the mother) died, Alexander (the father)'s sister Jessie came to live with them and bring up the children. But in 1913, when Granny was 18 and her brother 19 or 20, their father remarried. His new wife was called Annie Hepburn. I found their marriage certificate. It said that she was a spinster, maiden name Hepburn, and her parents were Mr and Mrs Hepburn. So far, so ordinary.

We did know, though, that after the marriage the stepmother, Annie Hepburn, refused to have my grandmother and her brother in the house. Granny came to Edinburgh and got a job as a sewing maid, and Alexander - I'm not sure whether he joined the army at that point, but the war broke out not long afterwards, and then he did.

Now, the remarriage was in November 1913 and in June 1914 a child was born: Anne. Yes, indeed, a bit quick, but these things happen. But my mother once hinted darkly that Anne wasn't actually my great-grandfather's child and that he had married Annie because she was expecting another man's baby. This did seem a bit like a lurid novel, but when I looked at the daughter Anne's birth certificate, she was registered not as Watt (my great-grandfather's surname) but as Anne Cleland Hepburn, and the father was named as Matthew Cleland Hepburn, with the date of his marriage to Annie as 1889. This was 14 years before Annie married my great-grandfather and she was 17 at the time.

I then found the marriage certificate of Annie and Matthew, on which Annie was once more down as a spinster, maiden name Paterson, and her parents named as Mr and Mrs Paterson. Hmm. But she said her maiden name was Hepburn in the later marriage certificate.

I strongly suspect that Annie was still married to Matthew Hepburn at the time she "married" my great-grandfather. She was a domestic servant and I can't think that she would have been able to obtain a divorce very easily. And I found Matthew Hepburn's death certificate. He lived for many years afterwards and his death was registered by his son. (Was this also Annie's son, I wonder?)

Despite all this, the child, Anne, was brought up as Anne Watt - my great-grandfather's name. She married under that name and when my great-grandfather died in 1949, she registered the death, calling herself his daughter.

It's all a bit odd - why would Annie not register her daughter's birth as her new husband's child? She already falsified other details and presumably she wanted the child brought up by her new husband rather than the biological father.

Anyway, sadly Granny's brother Alexander was gassed during the war and died in 1919 from the effects, so Granny was now effectively without family. She was such a loving person and very family-orientated - though she had only one child, my mother, and two grandchildren, my brother and myself. This is why, when I found she had a half-sister, I was amazed that she wasn't really in touch with her. But this probably explains it. Presumably it was known that Anne wasn't really my great-grandfather's child. Did Granny and her brother try to dissuade my great-grandfather from taking on this child? Was that the reason that their step-mother wouldn't have them in the house?

It's too late to ask how much anyone really knew. Interesting, though.


  1. Fascinating stuff! Too bad all our grannies and great grannies didn't have blogs. It would have made all this digging into the past so much easier....

  2. These stories are why I love genealogy! I've found a few skeletons in my own family's closet, and one in my husband's family. There were certainly some interesting goings on in those "good old days." :)

  3. Have you checked to see if Matthew Hepburn had died or was still alive after the marriage in 1913?

  4. Anonymous2:05 pm

    Curiouser and curiouser!

  5. Yes, I should have said that I found Matthew Cleland's death certificate. I think he died in the 50s or something - long after the birth of his (?) daughter. His son registered his death.

  6. Isn't that interesting - I agree, you just want to know all the ins and outs and whys of it! So frustrating that it is completely lost to time, although a good reminder that there are probably interesting stories going on at the moment that I should pay attention to :)

  7. And yes, I am free for lunch on Saturday and would love to demonstrate half square triangles! The secret is not to care too much about perfection, the eye always smooths over the bumps when it's finished.

    I am starting to get surprised that I can't email myself places, I can email everything else.

  8. the pleasures of the hunt....You're doing so well! But I think we'll never be completely satisfied until they perfect time travel!


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