Stick in

“Stick in”, a phrase I associate with James Slater, Pa as we called him, my maternal grandfather. Born in poverty, he crossed the globe, returned to Orkney, bought and grew his own farm, working hard and innovatively. (It should also be said that I write from the perspective of the first child of his favourite  |  more…

Nice moniker

Helen McCaulay Ritch. That name stands out among my ancestors; it has a nice ring to it. Helen was a great-great-grandmother on my father’s side, wife of Ralph Nicolson. She was born in Rackwick, Hoy, Orkney on 10 March 1815, the second known daughter of Thomas Ritch and Ann Mckay. I came across Helen fairly  |  more…

Of smuggling and press-gangs

“A considerable degree of acuteness and shrewdness is observed among the population”, wrote the Rev Peter Jolly in 1840, describing his flock in the parish of Canisbay, Caithness. Walter Ross, my x 3 grandfather, had lately been one of them. Walter – in outline He was born on 17 August 1786, the son of Hugh  |  more…

A winter’s tale

Grandma, as I remember her, was a quiet, elderly woman. I guess life had worn her out though some of the stories of her youth describe a woman of spirit and drive – qualities that are reflected in photographs. Jessie Sclater (1887-1970), my grandma, was the third child and oldest daughter of James S Sclater  |  more…

There’s more to tinned fruit than meets the eye

“He was a charming man”, said Agnes Ross to her grand-daughter. Who was she taking about? None other than Al Capone! So how did Agnes (1891-1983 née MacKenzie), an island girl from Stornoway, Lewis, come to meet the famous gangster? The link is her husband, Andrew Ross, first cousin of my grandfather, John. Andrew Ross  |  more…