Beginnings

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks Challenge: Week 1

PROMPT: Who inspired your first search? Who is at the beginning of one of your ancestral lines? Who are you beginning to research this year? 

Anna Young Williamson

The genesis of my interest in researching my family tree was my daughter who would invariably ask me prior to every St. Patrick’s Day, “So we are Irish, right?” My response was always the same, “Well, yes. I know we are part Irish, part Scottish, and part English.”

I got tired of hearing myself give this vague half-answer and, shortly after that holiday in 2012, I created a family tree on Ancestry.com and began asking pertinent questions of living relatives.

Technically speaking, she inspired my first search. But she is obviously a descendant, not an ancestor. So I will instead profile an ancestor who was certainly one of the first I began to research: my great-grandaunt, Anna Young “Toosie” Williamson.

Anna Young “Toosie” Williamson was the youngest daughter of David Wilson “Dave” Williamson (1846-1908) and Ann M. Young (1851-1934). She was also the last of their children to be born in Scotland. A sixth child was born, according to family lore “on the boat,” but his birth certificate indicates that her younger brother–my great-grandfather Dave Williamson (1888-1974)–was born in Crawford County, Kansas.

Anna Young Williamson’s Birth Certificate

Anna Williamson was born on December 30, 1885 in Hamilton–a large town in South Lanarkshire in the central Lowlands of Scotland.

Both Anna’s father and his brother William were miners in Scotland. Presumably, word reached the Williamson families in Scotland that mining companies in Southeast Kansas were hiring. Documents indicate that William was the first to immigrate to America. He departed Scotland and arrived in the New World in May of 1886. Anna and her extended Williamson family came to Kansas in August of the following year.

The families settled in Cherokee County, Kansas, where Anna’s father, uncle, and many of her brothers and cousins worked in mines in Scammon, Mineral, Chicopee, Pittsburg, and other mining towns.

The Williamson Family shortly after their arrival in America. Ann is the child to her mother’s right.

There could have been any number of reasons for the family to have chosen to come to America, but one factor, at least for the second family group, could well have been the fact that Udston Colliery–located in Hamilton and very likely William and David’s employer–was the location of a terrible disaster about a year after William left Scotland. On May 28, 1887, seventy-three miners died in a firedamp explosion. This is said to have been Scotland’s second worst coal mining disaster.

Unfortunately, both Anna’s uncle William and one of his sons–Anna’s cousin–James Grierson Williamson–each died in separate mining accidents in Kansas.

The Pittsburg Daily Headlight – Pittsburg, Kansas – 01 Sep 1893
The Cherokee Sentinel – Cherokee, Kansas – 09 Feb 1900. The accident described did prove fatal: James died about six weeks later.

Anna never married. She lived out her life in Crawford County. At one time, she served as a servant, exchanging housekeeping for room and board.

Anna “Toosie” Williamson and the author ca. 1967

She made frequent trips back to see family in Scotland. On one of her visits, she brought back a kilt, sporran, blouse and velvet jacket, and tam in my size. I think you can see the look of pride on my face dressed in my new Scottish regalia.

The author’s daughter in the same traditional Scottish clothing.

My daughter also had an occasion to wear the ensemble when she and I shared a bit of our ethnic history for her pre-school class’s series of International Days. We had great fun helping the class make shortbread, using the Williamson family recipe. And my amateurish attempts to play the bagpipes brought peals of giggles from the young audience.

I was fortunate enough to have known my great-grandaunt, but she passed away a few years after this photo of her was taken.

Anna Williamson and her love of her homeland inform my research every day, and she was certainly the inspiration for a recent video I made featuring Gaelic music.