An Illegitimate Child – James Calderhead 1855-1893

When my great great grandfather was born in 1855 civil registration had just started in Scotland. The register changed over the years but having a standard form rather than relying on Church records usually means better information for the genealogist. However, if the mother is not married to the father of the child and no father’s name is provided then you really have hit a bit of a brick wall.

This is the case with my great, great grandfather James Calderhead. The two blank spaces in the form above are where the father’s details should be. James was the maternal grandfather of my paternal grandmother.

His mother Jane was a housemaid. In the 1851 census she was residing at home and not with the family she worked for. There are no clues as to James’s father. He was named after his grandfather. Possibly through a DNA match I might one day find a link.

In 1859 Jane married Clayton Rennie who was originally from Cambuslang. How they met and how he felt about her having an illegitimate child I will never know. I believe that Jane remained with her family after James was born and it is pleasing to know that she would have had support. At the time of the 1861 census Jane and James are recorded with her parents, James and Jane. Jane is, however, just a visitor in the house at 49 Marshall Street in Wishaw and not a permanent resident. I don’t know where she was living at that time. Clayton is not with her and I have yet to find him on the census for that year. Jane and Clayton had had a daughter, Jane who was 10 months old. James is not recorded as a visitor. It may be that this was just missed off the record or that he remained with his grandparents while his mother started her new life with her husband.

By the time of the 1871 census Jane and Clayton had four children together. James was living with them. His grandfather had died in 1864 and his grandmother was now living with her daughter, Marion and her family.

Jane and Clayton’s family continued to grow and they went on to have six children. Meantime James found work as a coal miner. He met a young house keeper by the name of Margaret Dalziel and on 10 October 1873 they were married.

They were so young! You can see from the marriage record that they were married in the home address. Between 1874 and 1889 they had six children.

  • Clayton Rennie Calderhead (born 1874)
  • Mary Lockie Calderhead (born 1876)
  • David Dalziel Calderhead (born 1880)
  • Jane Calderhead (born 1882)
  • Marion Dalziel Calderhead (born 1884)
  • Margaret Dalziel Calderhead (born 1889)

Mary is my great grandmother.

I think it is significant that they chose to name their eldest son after Clayton Rennie. It suggests to me that he was very much a father figure in James’s life. Clayton Rennie is quite an interesting man and while not an ancestor of mine he played a huge role in my ancestor’s life and will definitely feature in a post in the future. Sadly, the child after whom he was named died in 1882 at just 8 years old.

Times were hard for the family and James did not keep good health. In the summer of 1886 he was unable to work due to bronchitis and was forced to seek help from the parish. He made two applications for relief in August and September of 1886.

In the 1891 census the family are recorded as residing at 59 Scott’s Row in Berryhill. James is not working and I can’t imagine how the family were getting by. Possibly through family support. Margaret may have been doing some kind of work but this is not recorded and she would be limited with young children to take care of. James is still in his 30s at this point but he did not have much longer to go.

James Calderhead died on 14 December 1893 at the age of 38. His death record is heart breaking. Even there his illegitimacy is mentioned. He was a pauper. But the cause of death is something I hadn’t previously come across – softening of the brain. I have found different definitions of theirs but it could have been the result of a stroke or haemorrhage. Whatever the case, it doesn’t sound very pleasant.

It breaks my heart to think of Margaret having watched her husband’s decline and now to be left destitute with young children to take care of. Having run out of options she was forced to enter the poorhouse.

There are times when I find researching my family history really hard and this is one of those times. I am grateful to them for finding the strength to keep going. I am only here thanks to them.