Driving to Aberdeen from Edinburgh was a 2 and half hour trip. The scenery was beautiful though and time passed quickly. The rolling hills outside of the city gradually became more mountainous. The fields of verdant green pastures with many of the hills dotted with grazing sheep. As we had seen previously, gorse bushes and rape seed fields were everywhere; the vibrant gold yellows of both were stark bursts of color against the green and the brown of tilled fields. Many miles would pass between farm houses and settlements, this is truly a country with many miles of untouched space.
Mom was excited to be going but a little anxious as to what we would find or not find. We both fell asleep for the last 45 minutes of the ride and when Paul said we were entering the city, my eyes popped open. The weather has been beautiful for the last 3 days and today was no exception. So with a brilliant blue sky as a background and in a clear, rain washed sunshine, the buildings and church spires stood out in a 3-D relief. From inside the car, it looked like a postcard.
Our first stop was to 18 Fraser Place, the birthplace of my grandmother, Martha Irene Mauchan. We were disappointed to find that the actual building was no longer standing. What we did find however was 22 Fraser Place which looked to be old enough to be from 1906, the year of her birth.
Paul and I went into an old pub on the corner of Fraser & George streets and inquired but the few people in the pub were enjoying their ale and while friendly, didn’t have any helpful information. We went back outside and took pictures at #22 since this appeared to be as close as we were going to get to the location we were looking for.
The small, outbuilding in the backyard may have been a community wash house and I imagined my grandmother’s mother, bringing her wash down on her assigned day to do the family’s laundry. There would have been a family of 5 at this point and since wash would have been scrubbed on a washboard and dried in the attic or back yard depending on the weather, wash day must have been hard work.
Satisfied that we had seen all that we could in this area, we headed off for St. Nicholas’s church, the church we believed our family would have worshiped at in the early 1900’s. There are many churches in Aberdeen and we were taking a chance that this would be the right one.
Paul dropped Mom and I off and we walked through the cemetery leading up to the church. There wasn’t any place to park the car so Paul said he would keep circling around the area until we returned. Many of the old gravestones dating back to the 1800’s were askew or tipped over, giving the place an authentic and un-manicured air. There were people sitting down eating lunch or hanging out, it was a peaceful old place and I would love to have spent some time reading the gravestones and the history of those buried there had we the time.
Once inside the church, we explained to the three very nice, older people waiting to greet visitors and answer questions what we were looking for but despite their best intentions, they did not have the information we needed. We did however, get a tour of the old church which was hundreds of years old. As had happened the other day, our erstwhile tour guide was enthusiastic about explaining every detail, nook and cranny and I was hard-pressed to be polite about speeding things along. I tired not to let too much of my “New York” attitude show as I hustled Mom out the door.
They had given us one excellent piece of advice however when they suggested that we visit St. Nichols House, their City Hall, to look up burial records that might point us on the right path.
Paul picked us up out on the street and we drove to Nicholas House. He dropped off us off in front and I asked him to meet us inside and bring the wheelchair we had brought with us after he parked the car down the road a bit. We hadn’t had to use it until today as most of our walking had been short distances but I knew Mom was getting tired getting in and out of the car. (Our car was a SUV with a very high step up and she literally was pulling herself up and in each time we left and returned to the car.)
We signed in at the Visitors Desk and were directed to the 4th Floor to the Burials Department. On the way up in the elevator, another gentleman was riding with us also going to the 4th floor. He noted this and said, “I bet you are looking for me”. When I told him we needed the Burials Department, he smiled and said “follow me”. He turned out to be the best information source of the day.
Ian Burnett is a 30 year veteran of the Burials Department and he knew his stuff. Once I told him what we were looking for and showed him the paperwork we had, he proceeded to pull out two very large register books with handwritten records dating back to the time period we needed, early 1900’s. Within seconds, just as fast as a computer, he produced the page showing the cemetery plot that my great, great grandfather, Alexander Mauchan had purchased in June of 1901 after his wife Jane Grey Mauchan had died.
Ian told us that the price paid of 4 pounds, 14 shillings (about $8) was an exorbitant amount of money for the time and suggested that Alexander, a stereotyper, must have been a very wealthy man indeed. We also discovered that in addition to Jane, and later Alexander himself (who was buried there in 1910), there are 4 other people in this plot.
• Margaret Mauchan – died November 11, 1916. She lived at 34 Rose St., and was the widow of Samuel Rose. We believe she was Alexander’s sister.
• Margaret Cruckshank – died October 21, 1944. She was the second wife of Arthur Mauchan (my grandmother’s father) who we believe returned to Scotland from Canada after his death in 1925. She was the step-mother my grandmother often told stories about. She lived at 72 Skene Rd.
• Ernest MacAngus – died December 23, 1943 and Hilda MacAngus, his wife, died June 14, 1990. We believe that Hilda was a descendant of Alexander Mauchan, perhaps his great niece.
Looking through the Aberdeen phone book provided by Ian, we were disappointed to discover no one with the last name of Mauchan remaining in Aberdeen. Mom and I had both been hoping that we would discover a long, lost relative. I had secret visions of bringing Mom to the house of such a person and being invited in for tea while we introduced ourselves and shared our common histories. But it was not to be and both Mom and I were a little saddened by this.
After we had exhausted all of our options for information gathering, we thanked Ian for his help. He asked for my contact information and said if he ever came across the name Mauchan, which is apparently very uncommon, he would contact me. I was delighted by his offer and we exchanged email addresses.
We met Paul downstairs who was patiently waiting for us and went for lunch around the corner. I was glad we had the wheelchair at this point since Mom was relieved to use it.
After lunch, we proceeded to St. Peter’s cemetery to look for plot T 46A, the family burial plot. Ian had shown us a cemetery map and we knew approximately were to find it. We were happy to learn it was just inside the cemetery gates so no long distance walking would be required. Paul maneuvered the big SUV inside the old cemetery gates, which were meant for horse drawn carriages and much smaller cars and thankfully, the side view mirrors remained intact.
Mom and I got out quickly and walked to the area we expected to find the headstone. Once there, it took a few minutes to realize that the small, chevron shaped stone leaning against another was what we were looking for. The lettering was badly worn away and it was difficult to make out the writing until Mom reached down and started vigorously brushing the dirt off to make the letters appear clearer. We then poured water over the stone and the words jumped out in stark relief. We were able to read:
“The Burial Ground of the late Alexander Mauchan”.
We had found it! We were surprised that there was no further information on the stone; no dates or other names. The stone itself had slipped off of its wire support and was half covered by overgrown grass which I yanked out by the roots to make some attempt at beautification. On the other side of this stone, a much newer stone was erected for Ernest and Hilda MacAngus whose deaths had come much later in the cemetery. We surmised that their own children had erected the stone. Possibly, with further research, I may be able to track them down.
I suggested to Mom that we should have brought some flowers to lay by the grave and when I saw the disappointment clearly written on her face, I asked Paul to drive us down the street to buy flowers and to drive us back again so we could leave them as a token of our respect and shared ancestry. As Mom placed the flowers in an urn that happened to be near by, I felt a sense of completion that we had done what we had come to do. I asked Mom how she felt and she told me that it was “sad that no one was around to take care of the site” but she was happy that we had been able to do something for them all. As we walked away, she said “Goodbye grandfather, someone still does care.”
From the cemetery, we drove to 5 other addresses that we had from information that had been researched for us by our tour guide. In every instance, the houses were no longer standing. Some areas however, still had older buildings located next to the places we looked so we were able to get a glimpse of a street that may have been walked on or the corner mailbox that may have been used by our family.
We are now driving back to Edinburgh. Mom is asleep in the car as I type this. I know she is exhausted but she is happy that we were able to use our time in Aberdeen to discover as much as possible for now. I have promised her I will look into stereotypers in the late 1800 and early 1900’s, the profession of Alexander Mauchan that had allowed him to buy the expensive burial site. Perhaps we can uncover a little more information that will help shed light on his family and their way of life.