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

Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine - - CONTENTS -

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

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