Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Little House on the Prairie?

When I started researching my family history around 1980, when 'hi-tech' meant microfilm and file cards, I followed the path that is still recommended for those starting out. I began with the most important person - me! I knew when I was born, where I lived, where I went to school. I knew who my parents were, when they married and when they were born. I was even fortunate enough to have known all four of my grandparents. What I was missing was the reason my Hadden grandparents left Scotland and, as I ask on many cold January mornings waiting for a train to take me to work, why did they choose Canada when many locations with warmer climates were available?

It was explained to me that my great-great-grandmother, Helen Shand, had "re-married" to a man named Gammie and had moved to Saskatchewan in the early 1900's, leaving her grown son Alexander Shand Hadden in Scotland. Gammie, as the story went, eventually went off and fought in World War 1. Tragically not long after his arrival back home following the war, he was said to have died of pneumonia. Helen needing help with the Saskatchewan homestead was able to re-connect with Alexander after seeing his name published as a survivor of a World War 1 shipwreck. Alexander answered his mother's call and the Haddens came to Canada.

Well, that's close to the truth. Alexander Shand Hadden was born in September 1883, in Auchterless, Aberdeenshire, the son of John Hadden and Helen Shand. Alexander's birth registration clearly records that his parents were not married and that he was "illegitimate." While some might suggest that the Scots were obsessed with the issue of legitimacy, it is clear that it was seen, along with education levels and causes and numbers of deaths, as measures pointing to the health of the nation. In his first annual report published in 1861, Scottish Registrar General, W. P. Dundas, points out the less educated seemed quicker to jump into potentially poor marriages than the higher educated like those in Aberdeenshire. Dundas also points out though that for the higher educated "unfortunately, the moral training had not been carried so far as to enable them to master their natural passions."

In 1890, Helen did marry Andrew Gammie and according to census records, Alexander lived with them before venturing out on his own. In 1907, Helen and Andrew left Scotland with their three sons and two daughters to claim the free homestead lands being offered in Saskatchewan. Unfortunately, two of their sons, Peter and James Gammie went off to war, both enlisting on the same day in 1916 but only Peter returned. James died on 28 September 1918 of wounds sustained in battle. He left his homestead property in Aneroid, Saskatchewan to his mother and it was that piece of land that Helen beckoned her son Alexander to help maintain. In August 1923, Alexander left the Port of Glasgow accompanied by his middle son Andrew aboard the "Marloch" bound for Canada. In November of the same year, Alexander's wife, Jessie Gaull Hadden and his sons Alec, John and daughter Edith made the same voyage aboard the "Metagama."

Next time - Scottish Cowboys?

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