Intrigued by her great grandfather’s second marriage when his first wife was still very much alive, Jean Dixon unearthed a scandalous and long-buried family secret, she tells Claire Vaughan
Jean Dixon unearthed a scandalous and long-buried family secret when researching her great grandfather
What was stopping you progressing your research?
It took a while for me to realise that although my grandfather and his three siblings were brought up in an orphanage, both his parents were still alive. The censuses weren’t indexed in those days and were held locally so if you didn’t know where someone had lived it would be very difficult to find them. Also, I live in the North-east and didn’t have a computer, so access to Scottish records was difficult.
How had you tried to solve it previously?
I knew the Robertsons had lived in the Canongate area of Edinburgh and found them on the 1861 and 1871 censuses when I visited the Edinburgh Record Office with my son. But I had no idea how to find out if there had been a divorce.
I decided to post a request on the Who Do You Think Your Are? Magazine Forum. The first reply told me that divorces in Edinburgh are held by the National Records of Scotland. The second informed me that my great grandmother Eliza had remarried in 1903 to Alexander McKenzie. I got a copy of this record from ScotlandsPeople and was surprised that Eliza described herself as a widow. Were they both bigamists?
What was your ‘eureka moment’?
This came when I contacted the National Records of Scotland who confirmed they had a record of a summons for divorce on 8 December 1893 in Edinburgh by a James Walker Robertson against Eliza Bather or Robertson. I went on to have a lot more ‘eureka moments’.
How did it solve the problem?
The bigamy problem was solved with James and Eliza’s divorce in 1893, but why did Eliza consider herself a widow and James a bachelor? The answer was in the divorce papers. They stated that James was entitled to live single or to marry any free woman as if he had never been married to the defendant.
Another forum member found a story in the Edinburgh Evening News of 21 December 1893, announcing ‘Edinburgh Engine-Driver Divorces his Wife’. It said that the divorce was granted on the grounds of infidelity.
It also solved the mystery as to why my grandfather, his brother and two sisters were admitted to the Aberlour Orphanage. James had them taken away from their mother because of her infidelity, but had no one he could entrust them to.
How did you feel when you discovered the solution?
Elated and I couldn’t sleep! My mind was buzzing with questions. When the divorce papers arrived, I tore the envelope open and sat and devoured every word. I realised how