Having tackled my Mother’s side of the family, via my Grandparents Ronald & Amelia Lish’s ancestors, it was time to turn to my father’s side.
The person I think of as my Dad, Alexander “Sandy” Cairncross, has a well-documented family tree – they even have their own website. The earliest Cairncross’s go back to 1200 and were at the court of David I, King of Scots (1124-1153). There was a Castle, Glendearg, but it’s in ruins now.
My particular branch of the family didn’t stray far from Montrose, in Scotland, and were fishermen, although you will see my Dad became an engineer in the Merchant Navy, travelled the world and now lives in New Zealand (for the second time).
While Dad was undoubtedly very Scottish and I’d always been very drawn to Scotland, I’d never FELT particularly Scottish, as if I was cheating a bit by drawing on my step-father’s birthright.
Dad met my Mum in rather unusual circumstances, while he was a Chief Engineer on a ship in what is known as the Merchant Navy. But I’m getting ahead of myself here…
Mum had been an up-and-coming dancer and singer in local then national Repertory Theatre and had even made it to the West End. She was in the Yul Brynner version of ‘The King & I’ in which I’m pretty sure she played ‘Little Eva’. She’s also danced in the ‘Dolly Birds’, a forerunner of Pan’s People, who I think danced on Lionel Blair’s show when UK TV first started. He wasn’t very happy when I told him that, when I met him much later in life! I think it made him feel old.
She had some pretty racy tales to tell, one involving my godmother (also a dancer), a lake in the middle of nowhere and Adam Faith!
I always thought her mother, my Nan, had forced her off the stage to marry when she got pregnant with me with my birth father Thomas, but looking at her marriage certificate, that was not the case. They married on 4th July, 1959 and I wasn’t born till late September, 1961.
That’s just the first surprise of this episode of the blog!
After marriage, she worked in Durrington Telephone Exchange (which she hated) and lived on Greenland Road, just down the road from her Mum and Dad. We were to return to Greenland Road later in life, because, unless venturing north to Scotland, or west to Wales (both after meeting Sandy), Mum didn’t stray far from Durrington. I suppose, with her husband Thomas away at sea, she wanted to be near family.
The Imperial War Museum’s website gives a short history which starts with “In wartime, Britain depended on civilian cargo ships to import food and raw materials, as well as to transport soldiers overseas, and keep them supplied. The title ‘Merchant Navy’ was granted by King George V after the First World War to recognise the contribution made by merchant sailors.
Britain’s merchant fleet was the largest in the world during both world wars. In 1939, a third of the world’s merchant ships were British, and there were some 200,000 sailors. Many merchant seamen came from parts of the British Empire, such as India, Hong Kong and west African countries. Women also sometimes served at sea in the Merchant Navy. “
Googling it, the uniforms were as smart as in the Royal Navy and standards and training were assuredly as high. Profits come first and all that! As I sat and thought about it all, I realised that I was half-Scottish, due to my birth father Thomas being just as Scottish as Sandy was. You’ll laugh when we go through this story, but in my defence, he was rarely there and died when I was very young, under 8-9, so over the years I’d largely forgotten about him.
My birth father, Thomas Cochrane McKenzie, was the Navigation Officer, also known as the First Officer or Chief Officer. My mother was on board to recuperate following an illness, as spouses of officers were occasionally allowed to accompany them on trips. There is much more to this story that I have time to go into here but I’ll write it up one day.
Suffice to say, my mother was very glamorous, Thomas was a distant figure, a serial philanderer and presumably rather busy with his duties on board. She told us that she hated spending time in the Officer’s Mess, finding them very stuck up, and over time got to know a load of the ‘below decks’ ratings and spending time down there. She ended up falling in love with Sandy Cairncross, the Chief Engineer.
Two officers on the same ship, on a round-the-world tour of duty. As my daughter, Phoebe would say, ‘That’s awkward.’
I only remember seeing Thomas once, when he came home from the ship. There must have been other occasions but this occasion stands out because he got very cross. Heather and I were squabbling over a chess board and Thomas threw it across the room in irritation. We only visited my birth father’s home in Edinburgh once that I recall, at the age of around 4-5 years, but I remember it was a very small flat in a tenement block with lots of stairs. I met my Grandmother, whose name I don’t recall and Auntie May, who my sister Heather and I both recall vividly due to the wealth of hairy moles on her seriously whiskery face. Grim.
Now I’m getting older, some of my moles are showing the same tendency and in loving memory of Auntie May, I’ve determined – no matter how shortsighted I get – not to let them get out of hand. I have a tiny great nephew now, Finn, and I don’t want to see the recoil when they say ‘Give your Great Aunt Nicola a kiss!’ if I can avoid it!
It took ages to track any information down about Thomas Clark Cochrane McKenzie, he really was a man of mystery. He didn’t appear on any Census, there’s no birth record and if it wasn’t for their Marriage Certificate, which I held in my hands, I wouldn’t have known his father’s name or occupation. Mum did have one photo of him but that was long gone. I remember he looked a bit like Steve, which is weird.
The ‘Clark’ middle name was new to me – the photo I’d seen was enscribed ‘Thomas Cochrane McKenzie’, but if I thought this extra name would make my birth father or his father easier to track down, but I was to be proved wrong. I have to say at this point the Ben Line were very helpful. I wrote to them and as I was able to give them lots of detail, they eventually sent me his service record, which was on four index cards. This provided some of his later addresses and more details about how and where he died.
Thomas’ father William Matthew McKenzie was a Miller according to the Marriage Certificate, but he didn’t appear on any Census records either. In fact, I only stumbled across him when one of his brothers showed up. I don’t even remember how I came across his brother, but suddenly, there was William Matthew McKenzie large as life, listed as a brother. It must have been a Census.
The McKenzie Clan
William Matthew McKenzie was born in 1907, in Larkhall, Lanarkshire, Scotland. His father, William McKenzie Snr was a labourer, born 1863 in Moray, Scotland. His mother Agnes (nee Marshall) was listed in the Census as ‘a housewife’. After the death of his mother in 1923, when William Matthew was 16, either the family moved to 3A Cannon Street, in Edinburgh in 1925, or William went solo and then he joined the Merchant Marine in 1925 as far as I can tell.
Then, on 4th March 1927, after just one year at sea, William Matthew married Mary Burnie Waugh, a chocolate packer, in Lady Glenorchy’s Parish Church, St Giles, Edinburgh. William is listed as 20 years old which confirms this is the right William, even though no mention of a middle name of Matthew.
Mary had been born in 1909 and there’s a World War I Enlistment Record for her father, William Waugh, aged 36, where Mary is listed with the correct date of birth. But I’ve been unable to pinpoint her exact date of death, as Mary McKenzies were fairly common in Scotland! There is a cremation record for a Mary BS McKenzie in Edinburgh in 1955 but I’ve been too mean to pay to see the cremation record so far.
If she didn’t die in 1955, there’s a Mary B W McKenzie listed in the 1966 Census as living at 217A Dalkeith Road, Edinburgh. The initials make me think this is her.
It turns out that the men on the ships of both the Royal and the Merchant Navy were not counted in the census unless they were on shore on the day of the census. That would explain the lack of Census records for both William M. and Thomas as adults. But not Mary Burnie Waugh McKenzie and the young Thomas. He should have been included in at least one as they are done every ten years.
This is the kind of rabbit hole you can end up in, on Ancestry. I didn’t want to assume Mary is Thomas’ mother as the William McKenzie she married did not list a middle name and he was listed as a Railway Labourer at 20, but perhaps he joined the Merchant Navy afterwards.
There is also a family tree on Ancestry that lists the couple as having one child William, no mention of a Thomas. So I’m contacting the owner of that tree to see if she’s heard of a Thomas.
Here’s a picture of Lady Glenorchy’s Parish Church by Stephen Dickson.
If Mary Burnie is Thomas’ mother, he wasn’t born until April 1937, which is 10 years later. This seems a long time to wait for a baby, until you remember William was in the Navy and away for long periods of time. Perhaps fertile periods didn’t coincide with shore leave!
Why are there no birth records for Thomas Clark Cochrane McKenzie? Was he illegitimate? Why wasn’t he registered and how could he join the Merchant Marine without a Birth Certificate? Why is there only a William listed in another family tree on Ancestry as being the child of William and Mary?
So many questions.
Eventually, I had to leave Mary Burnie McKenzie and resolve to come back and look at Elizabeth Inglis later. The name Burnie was niggling away at me though, could I have heard it as a child? Grannie Burnie?
In the end, cruel as it sounds, Thomas’ mother is a bit irrelevant, as once past this hiccup, the McKenzie line rolled back in time, unfolding across one magical afternoon in Brighton, just before Christmas 2021.
Just to recap, Thomas’ dad was William Matthew McKenzie, his grandfather was William McKenzie, born 1863 and married to Agnes Marshall.
Back To The North Of Scotland
William Snr’s dad was William Brandon McKenzie (b. 1837) who married Helen Hislop. His father William McKenzie (b. 1810) lived in Urquart, Elgin and married Christine Ramsey. The next generation back stuck with tradition and this William (b. 1773) married Margaret Rhind (b. 1788).
This is where we depart from the McKenzies but not the Williams, because Margaret’s father was William Rhind (b. 1751) and her mother was Rebekah Falconer.
Again, my spidey senses started twitching, as when you come across a surname like Falconer, you are getting close to someone who may have been a Falconer to a nobleman or even to Royalty, as people tended to be named after their professions.
Rebekah’s father, John Falconer (b. 1727) although of interesting ancestry if you far enough back, married Marjory Kaenock, another intriguing name (spelled many different ways).
Her father Thomas Kynock (b. 1702) married Margaret Sinclair, whose parents were Mary Duffus Sutherland (b. 1682) and the very grandly titled Sir James Thomas 7th of Mey & 4th Baronet Sinclair.
I was getting excited now. I had to get up and make tea.
There was a castle!
Here it is, the Castle of Mey, Caithness (Barrogill Castle). And what a very fine Scottish-looking castle it is.
In 1952, HM Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother saw what was then known as Barrogill Castle while staying with Commander and Lady Doris Vyner at the House of the Northern Gate on Dunnet Head, a short distance to the west. Despite its poor condition, Her Majesty purchased the castle that year and set about renovating and restoring both the castle and its gardens and parklands, which extended to about 30 acres. She also restored the castle’s original name changing Barrogill Castle back to The Castle of Mey.
Sir James Thomas’ father was the 3rd Baronet of Mey, Sir James Richard (b. 1655), who married Dame Margaret, Lady Duffus Mackenzie (so there was more Mackenzie blood that far back!).
I was excited to google them and find a picture of Dame Margaret, who was a Lady in her own right, before she married the 3rd Baronet. Her parents were Lord Kenneth & Lady Isabella MacKenzie, the 4th Earl of Seaforth.
A longstanding view of the Mackenzies’ history has often highlighted the demise of a once powerful Clan while also reflecting a popular misconception of the Highlands in general as something of a benighted backwater.
Although the Mackenzies’ roots were indeed essentially Celtic when traced in the direct male line, being effectively an offshoot of the ancient Scottish royal family, early intermarriages ensured that they remained part of a highly cosmopolitan network of kinship, both Gaelic and Norman, that ruled Britain and France in the Middle Ages. After a complex series of changing loyalties, which did not always follow the interests of the Crown, a subsequent strong allegiance to the House of Stuart was established under the leadership of the Clan’s 15th-century chief, Alexander “the Upright”, from whom most Mackenzies living today are descended. This secured the family’s impressive ascendancy as one of the most powerful clans in the Highlands as well as in Scotland as a whole.
The Seaforths created the MacKenzie tartan and commanded an imposing force of men. To the right you’ll see what looks like a 14-year-old but is actually William Dubh Mackenzie, the 5th Earl and 2nd Jacobite Marquis of Seaforth.
The formation of regiments, most notably the Seaforth Highlanders, the building of great canals and railways in Britain, the surveying of the oceans and of India, and the exploration of Canada are among the remarkable achievements of this innovative family, whose ties of kinship have long persisted across oceans and hemispheres and indeed continue to do so to this day.”
This was getting silly now, I was torn between finding out about each of these people and just rolling with it, because Ancestry was feeding me parents and grandparents thick and fast now.
I decided to keep going with the male line and come back to follow the other threads later. I was also finding Coats Of Arms galore so my Tree was starting to look very colourful.
Sir James Richard Sinclair, 3rd Baronet of Mey was born to Alexander Sutherland (b. 1620) and Dame Margaret Stewart (b. 1629), the Countess of Queensbury.
James Richard’s father was James Thomas Stewart 4th Earl of Moray, 9th Earl of Argyll, Duke of Richmond & Lennox (b. 25 June 1608) and he married the rather nicely named Margaretha. They had many children.
James Thomas’ father was Lord James Stewart (b. 1581), 3rd Earl of Moray, Doune, Strathearn, and Abernathy and he married Anne Gordon followed by Elizabeth Stewart.
James Stewart’s father was another James Stewart, (b. 1568) entitled the ‘Bonnie Earl Of Moray and he was the 2nd Earl Of Moray and Lord Dune. He also married an Elizabeth.
Phew, let’s take a breather.
And appreciate the Bonnie Earl. Perhaps the nose is a bit too long for him to be considered ‘bonnie’ nowadays but I’m sure a few titles made up for it.
Let me tell you, it was a real headache trying to untangle all these Earls and Ladies. For a start, the boys all seemed to adopt a different name when they inherited the Earldom and they were often intermarrying with families of very similar names. Only the birthdates kept them apart and as long as the dates made sense, I felt sure I was on the right track.
That, and of course, the fact that gentry’s births, marriages and deaths were well recorded so Ancestry was doing a good job of combing the records and filling in the blanks. I was cross-checking with Google, but I found you can not always trust Wikipedia and some of the online blogs were worse!
Sir James Stewart, 1st Earl of Moray, was born in 1540 and married Margaret Campbell. He might sound a bit plain, after the fancy titles of the other, previous Earls, but James’ father was James V, King of Scotland, (b. 1512 • Linlithgow Palace, Linlithgow, West Lothian, Scotland). His mother was Margaret Erskine.
Now we are on a roll with the Royals. James V’s father was James IV (Stewart) King of Scotland (b. 1473) and he married Margaret Tudor, Queen Of Scotland (b. 1489)
James IV’s father was James III (b. 1451) and he married Margaret of Denmark. James III’s father was James II (you getting the hang of this yet?) and he was born in 1430 and married Mary of Guelders.
James II’s father was James 1st (b. 1394) and he married Joan Beaufort.
There are pictures of all these people. I looked in their eyes and thought, you are related to me. More tea was required. I felt just like Josh Widdicombe who was a working-class comedian, who found out his line went back to Edward the Confessor and beyond.
It all felt a bit surreal. I was all on my own, nobody to tell and anyway, I wanted to be sure that I’d done it right, before I said anything.
Could it get any better than this? Although the Stewarts were not thought to be the best kings, several royal great-grandads and grand-ma’s would do, surely?
Fortified with tea, I started again.
I’ve got quite a good grip on history, at least Tudor history but we were way past that.
James Stewart, James I of Scotland, had parents I hadn’t heard of. His father was John Stewart (b.1337). John became Robert III, King of Scotland. He married Annabella Drummond (b. 1350).
John (aka Robert III)’s parents were Robert II, King of Scotland (b. 1371 and he married Elizabeth Mure around 1348, legitimising his four sons and five daughters. His subsequent marriage to Euphemia de Ross in 1355 produced two more sons. Robert was a virile man.
Robert’s parents were Walter Stewart b. 1296) 6th High Steward of Scotland and Marjorie Bruce (b. 1300)
Now, hold on! You can’t mean…
Yes, you’ve guessed it, Marjorie was the only daughter of Robert De Bruce (b. 1274) and his first wife, Isabella of Mar. Sadly Isabella died before Robert became King Of Scotland.
(This was all happening about 200 years after David I, King of Scotland, who included among his Lords, one of my Cairncross ancestors by marriage).
At this point, Ancestry informed me that Robert The Bruce is my 22nd Great Grandfather.
“Robert the Bruce is a fitting name for the king that fought for Scotland’s independence, even if it’s a coincidence that stems from his family name “a Briuis” or “de Brus.”
Robert the Bruce was crowned King of Scots in 1306 and led Scotland to victory in the First War of Scottish Independence against the English. The king who won Scotland’s independence—it’s no wonder he lives on in legend as a national hero.”
I sat back and googled Robert The Bruce only to find he looked nothing like Mel Gibson. I’d never seen Braveheart but assumed it was about Robert de Bruce.
Nope, it was about the legendary thirteenth century Scottish hero named William Wallace.
“Wallace rallies the Scottish against the English monarch and Edward I after he suffers a personal tragedy by English soldiers. Wallace gathers a group of amateur warriors that is stronger than any English army.”
Grrrr, I wanted to know more about Robert de Bruce. I knew he’s lived in a cave at some point and by watching a spider spin a web, he learned that you should never, never give up on your dreams.
In my further Googling, I found out Robert de Bruce WAS the real Braveheart. From the website Ranker.com
We all know that historical movies can be inaccurate. Sometimes, they get historical figures completely wrong – for example, Pocahontas was a child when she met John Smith, and so was Isabella of France when William Wallace was alive. Still, most historical movies don’t make executions less gory as was the case with William Wallace’s execution in Braveheart, and they don’t make real historical figures less intense. But Braveheart is guilty of both.
Just look at how Braveheart portrays Robert the Bruce, King of Scotland. In real life, Robert the Bruce and William Wallace were allies, openly fighting together – but in the movie, Robert the Bruce betrays Wallace. That couldn’t be more wrong. Robert the Bruce was so committed to Scottish independence that he offed his rival in church to crown himself King.
In fact, Robert the Bruce is the true Braveheart. He fought for Scottish independence even when it cost him his family and nearly his life. In order to win back his wife and daughter, King Robert chopped a man in half. And you’ll never believe how he got the nickname Braveheart. Needless to say, Braveheart ‘sequels’ about Robert the Bruce were long overdue. “
And the best was yet to come.
“According to a 14th-century Scottish chronicler named John Barbour, Robert the Bruce always regretted that he never went on crusade. On his deathbed in 1329, Robert asked one of his knights to take his heart on the crusade so that it could fight against God’s enemies. The knight, Sir James Douglas, carried Robert’s heart in a silver case, riding to Spain where war raged against the Moors.
In the heat of combat, Douglas was killed in a surprise attack – but before riding into battle, he reportedly threw the urn containing Robert the Bruce’s heart at the Muslims, shouting “Lead on brave heart, I’ll follow thee!”
The heart was returned to Scotland after the battle, where it was later interred at Melrose Abbey in Scotland.”
I loved that.
So What Does All This Mean?
Quietly digesting all this new information over the next few days, I realised firstly that there was a rich seam of Christmas Presents for the kids. The McKenzie tartan was rather splendid – blue and green with a thin red line – and so I purchased a few choice items for stocking fillers. Mugs and scarves, I restrained from buying kilts and heraldic pins.
Then I realised that I was starting to feel differently. As well as realising why I’ve always been drawn to ginger men!
I’d taken a bit of a kicking emotionally during lockdown. I absolutely cannot bear unfairness or injustice of any kind. Things that are illogical drive me mad, so you can imagine how I was struggling with all the nonsense rules being inflicted on us. Being made to walk a certain way in pubs or stand 2 metres apart. None of this had any roots in science, they were just making it up and people were going along with it!
Not to mention people dying in hospitals of ineffectual treatments while governments banned doctors from using what worked, and nurses made tiktok videos. Grandparents dying alone, in nursing homes, not being allowed to see or hold their loved ones. Australians and Canadians being unable to leave their country, or move from state to state, while losing their jobs if they didn’t get jab after jab after jab.
My own brother Alex had died in hard lockdown in Sydney just that month and even if his 3rd experimental jab didn’t kill him, the sheer isolation would have for sure. His mental health was seriously shaky, to say the least.
Deep down, I was scared, really scared, about the way the world was going.
The thought of forced jab mandates was terrifying, the thought of the world – our world – being dictated to by a bunch of unelected billionaires and politicians (with Eugenicists in their immediate family) was terrifying. The thought of the supply chains breaking and the huge inflation and the food shortages to come was terrifying. I knew about the consequences of lockdowns and money printing since around April 2020 as more clever people than I, had pieced it all together already. While we were expecting a war of some kind, as a massive diversion, nobody foresaw the suicidal sanctions on Russia and the subsequent energy crisis these actions would precipitate.
Most of all, the knowledge of what the experimental jabs were doing to people was terrifying. Mass media were censoring all of that and I was running the risk of losing my social media accounts because I couldn’t help sharing the stuff I learned, in the hope of making a difference to just one life.
Outside my head, everyone was looking forward to Christmas and the end of lockdown, while inside my head Armageddon was coming.
What Would Robert The Bruce Say?
Now, this is weird, I know, but when I realised that I had the actual blood of Robert The Bruce running through my veins, I started to feel immediately braver!
When I imagined what the legendary Scottish hero would say to his 22nd Great Granddaughter on hearing her woes, I knew it would not be ‘There, there, yes, it’s awful dear!’.
No, he would be disgusted at what a wimp I was being.
I was, after all, a grown-ass woman of 60, overweight but healthy, living in a luxury flat in Brighton with many, many skills and resources that most people have not.
What on earth was I feeling miserable about?
At least I didn’t have to physically fight any battles (yet), my family were not locked up as political prisoners and I didn’t have an infant daughter to worry about.
My two were all grown up and – as they kept telling me – willing and able to take the consequences of any stupid decisions they make.
I resolved, there and then, to start living my life again as a brave woman would.
As the 22nd Great Grandaughter of Robert The Bruce should.
Till next time!