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.


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.

Andrew Rae 1838-1873

My 4th great uncle, Andrew Rae was born on 12 March 1838 in Sanquhar, Dumfriesshire. He was the 6th of 10 children of my 4th great grandparents, James Rae and Grace or Grizel Halliday.

From the birth records of his siblings I can see that the family moved around between Dumfriesshire, Lanarkshire and Ayrshire. It was in Old Cumnock, Ayrshire Andrew married Margaret Whitfield Rae (hopefully no relation) on 7 December 1860. Andrew was a coal miner and Margaret was a dairymaid. Between 1862 and 1872 the couple had 7 children

  • James – Born 1862
  • Mary – Born 1863
  • George – Born 1864
  • Hebron – Born 1868
  • Agnes – Born 1870
  • Andrew – Born 1872

In 1873 Andrew was still working down the mines. In May of that year while working in Pit No 1 at Lanemark Coal Company in New Cumnock. During his shift he suffered a fall injuring his leg. The injury was so severe that the leg had to be amputated. I am not an expert in medical procedures of that time so can only imagine it being quite a horrific experience.

News is such an injury must have come as a horrible shock to Margaret. As well as her obvious concern for her husband she must surely have panicked at the thought that Andrew would not be able to continue work down the mines and thus provide for the family.

Worse was to come, however, as Andrew developed septicaemia and nine days after his accident he died. He was 35 years old.

He left behind a widow and children aged between 3 and 13 years old. I still have to discover what happened to them.

Grizel Rae 1852-1858 & Robert Rae 1854-1857

Grizel Rae was the eldest child of my 3 x great grandparents, Thomas Rae and Ann Symington. Robert was their second child. I only discovered their existence when I stumbled upon their death records. They were born and died between censuses so I would not find them there. They were both born before the start of civil registration so I’m struggling even to find their birth dates.

They were born in Ayrshire or I assume so as their parents were married in Dalmellington in 1851. Robert was just three years old when he died on 16 April 1857. The cause of death was chincough which is another name for whooping cough.

The following year Thomas and Ann lost six year old Grizel who drowned at Garlaff in Ayrshire. I have tried to find further information on her death but have so far been unsuccessful. I had hoped to find a newspaper article.

Robert is buried in Patna Churchyard whereas Grizel is in Cumnock showing that the family must have moved some time between their deaths. Their sister Ann was born in April 1858 in Old Cumnock.

Thomas and Ann had eight children (that I know of) and it’s sad that none of the surviving children knew or had any memory of Grizel and Robert. Ann and Thomas must have been affected by the loss. Robert’s death from illness is tragic but perhaps Grizel died as the result of an avoidable accident for which they may have felt responsible.

Archibald Smith Rae 1903-1952

Archibald and Margaret

My paternal grandfather, Archibald Smith Rae, was born on 4 September 1903 in Craigneuk, Lanarkshire, Scotland.  He was the third child of Robert Armstrong Rae, a coal minerand Margaret McGarrity. Robert and Margaret had six children between 1899 and 1925.

  • Sarah Born 1899
  • John born 1901
  • Archibald Smith Born 1903
  • Robert Armstrong Born 1907
  • James Born 1910
  • Andrew Born 1925

After leaving school, Archibald followed in his father’s footsteps and became a coal miner.  He met Margaret Dalziel Dickson, a confectionery worker and the couple were married on 25 June 1926 at Wishaw Manse.  Margaret would have been noticeably pregnant at the time as their son, Robert Armstrong Rae, was born on 2 September 1926.  Robert was my father.

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For a short period of time, presumably for work reasons, the family moved to Partick in Glasgow and lived in a flat in Sandy Road.  It was in Partick that daughter, Mary Calderhead Rae was born in 1931.  She was always known as ‘May’.

Archibald Smith Rae died on January 26 1952.  He collapsed and died at his workplace, Lanakshire Steelworks in Motherwell.  The cause of death was coronary thrombosis.  He was just 48 years old. He is buried in Cambusnethan Cemetery.

Archibald and Margaret headstone

That is all I know of my grandfather.  I don’t know how he spent his free time.  I don’t even know what people called him.  I am assuming he was ‘Archie’.  He died long before I was born and I don’t recall my father ever talking about him.  If he did, it was at a time when I wasn’t interested in family history and with my father and Aunt May also dead for many years there is no one left to ask.  I have so many questions.

It is important for anyone making a start on their family tree to ask grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles about their family memories. Find out what documents and photographs still exist within the family.  Knowing the relevant facts and dates is important but it would be nice to know the stories in order to really know the person.





James Rae 1804-1872

James Rae was my 3rd great grandfather and I don’t have a huge amount of detail on his life.  When it comes to tracing my family tree I’m very easily sidetracked. This seems to happen whenever I start looking at James.  But for now he has my full attention. I’ll start with his death on 5 March 1872 when he was 68 years old.  I’m starting here because his death record is the best source of information that I have. It tells me that he was illegitimate and that his mother was Isabella Wishart.  That being the case, why does he have the surname Rae? I don’t have a birth record but census records show that he was born in Penpont, Dumfriesshire.  I have never been there but I’ve seen pictures and it looks like a lovely little village. The first real record I have for him is the 1841 census.  By then he was married to Grace Halliday and they had seven children.

  • Robert (born 1827)
  • Isabella (born 1832)
  • Thomas (born 1834)
  • Hebron (born 1835)
  • Andrew (born 1838)
  • Grace (bon 1840)
  • John (born 1841)

Could their first child have been named after James’ father?  Grace’s father was Charles so they may not have stuck with family naming traditions.  Both mothers’ names were used however. Their eighth child, William was born in 1845.  James was working as a coal miner and the family were living in Carluke, Lanarkshire in a coal miners cottage. By 1851 they were in the Parish of Dalmellington in Ayrshire and James was still working in the mines. Robert, Andrew and young Grace were also recorded as coal miners.  A 14 year old girl!  Isabella had married and she, her husband, Andrew Brown and their son, William were also living in the house.

In 1861 John and William were the only two of the children living at home and both had followed their father’s footsteps into mining. Isabella and Andrew had gone but their two sons William and Andrew were living with James and Grace.

Ten years later both sons are still with James and Grace and by now the two grandsons were old enough for mining. Inevitable I should imagine. That is all I have so far on James.  He died of ‘senile decay’.  Worn out by years down the pits. I want to know the start of the story so I’ll have to keep digging.  I want to know about Isabella and why James didn’t have her name.  Was he in fact born in Penpont or maybe in Ireland as one census states?


Moving away from Scottish records I have found a birth record for a James Rae whose mother was Isabella Wishard. The year was 1804 which fits. He was not, however, born in Penpont but in Arthuret, Cumberland which is across the border in England! The father of this child is Benjamin Rae. Arthuret is not that far from Penpont so this could be right but I can’t say 100%. There is no other Benjamin in the Rae line. It’s possible he didn’t know his father. I’m still trying to find out about James from birth to the 1841 census. And now I need to know more about Benjamin Rae.