What happened to the bairns?

I have noted before how children seem to be looked after by their grandparents – and indeed the censuses show also a good mix of nephews and nieces living in households other than their parents. This may be for expediency, it may be because of poverty or working hours – but it may also be down to illness and death.

Alexander Kelman was born in 1818 in Fordyce, Banffshire. He was the brother of Isabella Kelman (my paternal great great grandmother). Alexander married Jean Hay (over ten years younger) in Marnoch, Banffshire in 1852. They had a total of eight children between 1853 and 1868. The 1861 census shows the family in North St, Aberchirder, Marnoch with two children aged three and one. However, where were the two older children? And where was the family, with four more children, in 1871?

Ann, the second eldest daughter, it seems died in 1861, aged five. The eldest son, James, died in 1867 aged nine. The eldest daughter, Margaret, died in 1869 aged 15. However, also in 1869 Alexander Kelman and Jane Hay died within a month of each other - he just turned 50, she not yet 40. The cause of death was phthisis (tuberculosis). He had it for four months, she for six – and it is probably a safe bet that Margaret died of the disease too.

So what happened to the remaining five orphans aged between one year old and ten after their parents died? Well according to the 1871 census for Marnoch, Alexander’s unmarried brother William took three of the boys in (John, William and Charles) – also in the household is William’s newly-widowed mother, Mary Laurence. Whether William was already living with his mother, or whether she moved in with him after husband William died to help him with his nephews is not known. Also in the household is another Charles Kelman, aged 13, also listed as a nephew, but born Turriff, Aberdeenshire, and niece Mary Watt, aged 15, acting as domestic servant.

Daughter Jane, aged seven, didn’t go with her siblings for some reason; however, she is listed as a niece in the household of Robert Watt and his wife Elspet (sister of Alexander and William Kelman) in Aberchirder, Marnoch. Why Jane Kelman was living with her aunt and uncle and Mary Watt with her aunt and uncle is not clear – maybe they just happened to be in each other’s houses at the time of the census or possibly since the Watt’s daughter Mary was helping out as a servant with the orphans, then Jane was being looked after by Elspet so that she too would still have a daughter - although they all lived nearly next door is a small village.

Alexander’s daughter Mary appears to be missing (so far) from the 1871 census, so whether she died also of TB (though her death before 1871 does not seem to be recorded) or whether she went to live with other family members is not known.

But the point is that in times of dire need, even when sickness abounds in crowded rooms and when money is tight, families rallied round to take care of their own. The ties that bind are strong.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010