Guest Blog from Donald Graham
Donald Graham, pictured left, is a great great grandson of Thomas and Marion Graham nee Wilson who were one of the Scottish migrant shepherd families to come to Exmoor in the 19th century. You can read more about the Scottish Shepherds on this link. Thomas and Marion took on the Badgeworthy Herding for John Knight. Many of their descendants including Donald are still in and around Exmoor, Devon. Below, Donald gives us an introduction into his interest in researching his Scottish grandparents and an account of his visit to Scotland to research their early lives and his search to find contemporary Graham relatives.
In July 2017 I fulfilled my long time ambition to visit Scotland, the homeland of my forebear Scottish descendants who came from Biggar and Crawfordjohn in the border area of Upper Clydesdale Lanarkshire.
I have always taken a keen interest in my Graham family history and during my teenage years remember asking my paternal grandfather who lived with us on the family farm “who were your grandparents who came from Scotland”?
“I never knew my grandparents much” my grandfather would say. He told me they came from Biggar and grandfather Graham was tall with a big bushy beard and spoke with a gruff, broad Scotch accent. My grandfather couldn’t understand what grandfather Graham was saying half the time, and he and his siblings used to be quite scared of him. Grandmother Graham he remembered in contrast was short in height, quieter natured and wore a Scotch plaid around her shoulders.
“Oh, I dare say they were kindly enough, but not a big part of our lives” he told me. Later they moved from Exmoor to Stockleigh English, Mid Devon to live near two of their daughters and never much was saw of them after then. And that was the extent of his memory of his Scottish grandparents and all I ever knew of them for many years following.
My Father had not been born when both his Scottish great grandparents died in the mid 1920’s and he had learnt no more than I had from his Father.
It wasn’t until 2000 that my desire to find out more about my Scottish ancestry was rekindled. By then I knew my Scotts great great grandparents were buried in Stockleigh English churchyard. I made a visit and found their weather beaten gravestone, the monumental inscription partially covered with lichen and difficult to read. There were flowers on the grave that looked as though they had been recently picked and arranged. Indicating to me the memory of the inhabitants was dear to someone, possibly a family relative. I contacted the Vicar and asked if I could put a research enquiry into the following months church magazine which soon generated a response.
It was from another same generation grandson as my grandfather. The difference was, he had known his Scottish grandparents well and had a wealth of fascinating information to tell me. His name was Graham Madge the son of Marion Madge nee Graham, a daughter of Thomas and Marion Graham.
Graham was a retired teacher who had worked in primary schools for many years and had received an MBE for his services to his local community. He had been brought up at Down Farm Nr Stockleigh English with his parents and grandparents. It was a privilege to have known Graham before he passed away in 2002. He was able to tell me the detailed life stories of my great, great grandparents Thomas and Marion Graham. Two second hand memories of his grandfather Graham which he remembered his father telling him about and amused me I will share with you here.
Thomas Graham had a bit of a habit of stressing important things he was saying with great emphasis and sometimes reinforced special points by prodding his addressee in the chest with two fingers. He did this once when talking to the elderly rector of Stockleigh English. Unfortunately he caught the old boy off balance and he fell over!
On another occasion he went into a haberdasher’s shop and asked for a ‘pern’ (pronounced peern with a strong Scots accent). he could not make the shopkeeper understand what he actually wanted. A difficult conversation between the shopkeeper and grandfather Graham pursued with grandfather Graham persisting in trying to make himself understood for several minutes resulting in an inpatient queue of customers waiting to be served. What he actually wanted was a reel of cotton.
Having been enriched with this wealth of information, hearing their stories and making pilgrimages to the often desolate and remote places they had lived out their lives on Exmoor and later in mid Devon, I knew I had to go to Scotland where their lives began.
I planned my visit to Scotland well beforehand. I made notes of the places I needed to visit and checked census returns for addresses where my Graham ancestors lived. I also prepared ‘enquiry cards’ to hand out and pin on notice boards asking for information on Graham families and lines they married into living in Biggar and surrounding parishes during the 19th and 20th centuries. My objective was to find leads of enquiry to contemporary relatives in Scotland.
My first stop was Crawfordjohn on a very wet and foggy Monday morning. I easily found the lovely little chapel which is now the Crawfordjohn Heritage Centre. It so happened the church door was unlocked so I wandered in and met a really lovely local lady who introduced herself as Dee. She explained the church wasn’t open but was happy to let me in to chat and have a look around and dry off! I explained who I was, my interest in coming to Crawfordjohn and the gravestones I was hoping to locate. Dee was fantastic she came out with me to help me locate the gravestones and shown me the name of James Graham on the War memorial.
From Crawfordjohn I made my way to Biggar where I stayed for two days. I had a lot to do, so bags unpacked at the very comfortable and highly recommended Kirkstyle Hotel I was off the Biggar Kirk churchyard and cemetery to look for family Gravestones. I found twenty Graham monumental inscriptions. Some names and families I recognised, others were new and welcomed discoveries. In the cemetery there are five Graham relatives buried since 2000 so my Graham relatives may still be living in the local area or returning to Biggar to be buried.
I visited the very interesting and Upper Clydesdale Museum where the Museum Curator was able to show me documents for Graham family members who had served in the Great and Second World Wars. She also produced six 19 century studio portrait photographs of various unknown Graham family from a folder marked ‘from a Graham family album’. I was delighted to have been able to have copies of these.
The remainder of my two days were spent locating the streets, roads and some of the houses where my Graham families had lived at the times of the 19th century and 1911 censuses. All this was done in between a few refreshment visits to the local Crown and Elphinstone pubs in Biggar High Street. In both very welcoming hostelries I met some friendly and helpful locals who offered to take some of my enquiry cards and ask around about Graham’s in the area.
It was a great visit and I feel I shall be returning in the future. I’m forever optimistic and hopeful some more family research leads will follow. Never wanting to miss an opportunity to appeal for family relatives I pin my last enquiry card here!
Searching for Graham descendants in Biggar and the Border areas of Upper Clydesdale, Lanarkshire Scotland
Are you descended from a Graham family who lived in Biggar or the border areas of Upper Clydesdale Lanarkshire, Scotland in the 19th and 20th centuries?
If you are I would very much like to hear from you.
Other surnames who married into the Graham family and I would like to hear from are: Anderson, Burton, Black, Campbell, Dickson, Dunn, Good, Geddes, Johnston(e), Maxwell, McLellan, McKinley, Nimmo, Proudfoot, Steele, Shields, Smith, Stobbo, Shiene, Wilson, Watson, Walker.
Contact: Donald Steele Wilson Graham
Tel: 01643 702170
Address: St. Louis Cottage, 38, Bampton Street, Minehead,Somerset TA24 5TT