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.

On This Day: Marriage of David Williamson and Anna Young

David Williamson and Anna Young were married on September 26, 1872, in Perthshire, Scotland

David and Anna Young Williamson were my great great grandparents.

Scotland as it would have looked at the time of my great great grandparents’ births.
Map of Scotland – Tallis, John & Frederick (fl. ca. 1846-1850); drawn & engraved by J. Rapkin

David Williamson was born June 27, 1846, in Crawford, Lanarkshire, Scotland. He was one of seven children. He and at least one of his brothers were coal miners. His brother William Williamson, who attended University of Edinburgh, reportedly managed a coal mine for Queen Victoria!

Anna M. Young was born April 11, 1851, in Cargill, Perthshire, Scotland. She was one of eleven children. She married David Williamson in Perthshire.

Post card of mining site – Galena, Cherokee County, Kansas (ca. 1890-1910)

The couple and their five children immigrated to Crawford County, Kansas, in 1887. Their sixth child, my great grandfather, was born shortly after the family’s arrival. David’s brother William immigrated at about the same time. The two brothers worked in the mines of Southeast Kansas.


Anna Young Williamson, surrounded by her children and family dog. Photo taken shortly after the birth of my great grandfather in 1888. He is the toddler, clutching his mother’s skirt.
The Pittsburg Headlight – Pittsburg, Kansas – 12 May 1892

Family lore has it that David had some issues with alcohol (and perhaps owned a saloon at one time?) Local newspaper accounts of the time paint a picture of an immigrant who had money troubles and who ran afoul of the law, serving time in Girard, Kansas, as well as in Leavenworth. It appears he abandoned his home and family on several occasions.

His oldest son appears to have been involved with his father in a scheme of cashing out their business, skipping town, and leaving their creditors in the lurch.

The Leavenworth Times – Leavenworth, Kansas – 22 Jan 1898

At some point, David ended up living with this son and his family in Witt, Montgomery County, Illinois.

The Pittsburg Daily Headlight – Pittsburg, Kansas – 1 Sep 1893

Besides David’s own misfortunes, the brother that had journeyed with him from Scotland to America—William—was tragically killed in a mining accident in Scammon, Cherokee County, Kansas, seven years after the brothers’ arrival in America.

David Williamson died in Illinois in 1908 at the age of sixty-two.

Anna Young Williamson passed away in 1934 at the age of eighth-three.

Whatever unhappiness Anna experienced in her married life, she seems to have been blessed with loving and devoted children who, along with their own children and grandchildren, spent many happy moments with Anna.

Four Generations: Anna Young Williamson, her daughter, Jean Williamson Oliver, her granddaughter Anna Oliver Russell, and her great grandson William Oliver “Bill” Russell

David and Anna Young Williamson are buried in Olivet Cemetery in Pittsburg, Kansas.