Learning From My Mistakes – Robert Armstrong Rae 1879-1952

My great grandfather, Robert Armstrong Rae was born on 26 December 1879 in the picturesque village of Dalserf in Lanarkshire. He was my father’s paternal grandfather.

The first record I found for Robert was his marriage record which showed his parents as Thomas Rae and Ann Symington. Through further research it appeared that Robert was the youngest of eleven children who were born between 1850 and 1879 with the closest sibling being his sister Mary who was born in 1877.

His marriage record showed that on 28 April 1899 Robert married Margaret McGarrity in Craigneuk, Lanarkshire. Robert was a coalminer and Maggie (as she is recorded) was a boltworker. The couple went on to have 9 children

  • Sarah Born 1899
  • John Born 1901
  • Archibald Smith Born 1903
  • Grace Born 1906
  • Robert Armstrong Born 1907
  • James Born 1910
  • Mary Born 1912
  • Annie Born 1919
  • Andrew Born 1925

Archibald Smith Rae was my grandfather.

And that was pretty much where I left that research and moved on to another branch of my family. This was at the very beginning of my interest in family history and I was happy that, as my findings matched up with other Ancestry trees, I was on the right track.

One discovery I had made that was quite interesting was that his sister Grace, who was born in 1861, had married and left Scotland for Australia. She was Grace Halliday Rae and was named after her paternal grandmother.

Later, on reviewing the family, I realised I had information missing from Robert’s story. His birth record was obviously important as was the 1881 census. Surprisingly, when I found the 1881 census, I discovered that Robert was living with Thomas and Ann but was recorded as their grandson. His birth record gives his surname as Ray which is why I missed it first time. When I checked the record I got a bit of a surprise. His mother is listed as Grace Rae and his father as Robert Armstrong. So it was my great, great granny who went to Australia!

The name Armstrong was passed on to one of his son’s as a middle name and it is also the middle name of my own father but I had no idea why. I don’t know if my dad knew but he died a long time ago so I will never know. Attached to the birth record is a Record of Corrected Entries which gives even more surprising information. Robert’s mother, Grace (my great, great grandmother whom I had assumed was a great aunt) took Robert Armstrong to court to prove paternity. I hope to see the original documents from that hearing sometime soon.

Finding out that Robert was raised by his grandparents made me wonder what exactly he was told about his birth and his place in the family. For a long time I assumed that he was unaware that Ann and Thomas were not his biological parents. He listed them as his parents on his marriage record but when I discovered his death record I found that his mother is given as Grace Rae, farm servant. There is no father listed. It is not uncommon for an illegitimate child to provide false details of parents on a marriage record in order to hide their status.

I know that Grace went on to marry and have children and eventually leave Scotland (and Robert) for a new life in Australia. I had nothing to go on for Robert Armstrong other than a name and a location as to where he had been living in 1881 but it took a lot of time, some luck and a DNA test to find out his identity.

Much later, when I was tracking down burial records, I stumbled on the burial details of a baby, Thomas Rae. I discovered that he was the illegitimate child of my great grandparents, Robert and Margaret. Finding an illegitimate child is not unusual in my family tree but discovering that they gave the child away really made me feel sad. It seemed like history repeating itself. It is sad too that their circumstances obviously forced them to make such a decision when they went on to marry and have a life together.

My great grandfather is buried at Airbles Cemetery in Motherwell.

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An Unwanted Child- Thomas Rae 1898- 1898

My great grandparents, Robert Armstrong Rae and Margaret McGarrity had their first child just two months after their marriage in April 1899. They were the parents of my paternal grandfather and their marriage took place at their home in Craigneuk, Lanarkshire. The bride would have been quite obviously pregnant and this may have caused some disapproval among family and friends. Births so soon after a wedding are not uncommon in my family tree so no big surprise. What did surprise me was a record I found in the cemetery records for Globe Cemetery in Motherwell

I visited North Lanarkshire Heritage Centre to try and locate the graves of the Rae family ancestors. On the list was 6 month old Thomas Rae who was buried in August 1898. His parents are recorded as Robert Rae and Margaret McGarrity. So, Sarah was not their first child? Next I checked the death records to find the cause of death. While the address from the cemetery records matches the death record, the parents do not. The parents on this document are Archibald Smith Rae and Sarah Rae whose maiden name was also Rae. Archibald registered and was present at the death.

I then checked the birth records which show Thomas Rae born 28 February 1898 and the parents are Robert Rae and Margaret McGarrity.

From other research I’ve done I know that Archibald Smith Rae is, in fact, Archibald Smith. He was married to Robert’s sister, Sarah (except she wasn’t actually his sister but he thought she was – a story for another time). Thomas wouldn’t be the first illegitimate relative that the couple cared for and I can only assume this is what happened here. Margaret and Robert gave their child away and he was to be raised as Thomas Smith.

I don’t understand why false details were given to register the death while the real parents are recorded in the cemetery records. It was illegal to knowingly provide false information when registering births, deaths and marriages so why would Archibald risk that? Margaret and Robert went on to have a big family and they named my grandfather Archibald Smith Rae after the man who helped them when they needed it most.