A little while ago we stumbled over two uncatalogued scrapbooks which had been donated to the library and dated from World War One.
They were compiled by a Thomson Family living at Glengyle Terrace in Edinburgh and give a remarkable insight into Edinburgh’s WW1 home front. This was all we knew about the family’s donation.
The scrapbooks are jam-packed with all kinds of ephemera – newspaper cuttings, leaflets, photographs, tokens. There are also personal articles, such as letters and a ration book, which give clues to the family who made them. Many of the letters are sent to a Thomas Thomson. At first, we assumed that Thomas must have been primary school age to have been interested in maintaining the scrapbooks for the duration of the long war, but the 1911 census confirmed he would only have been 3 years old at the outbreak. We deduced that Thomas’ mother and father must have collated the scrapbooks on his behalf.
But who were the Thomson family? And what happened to Thomas? Thomas’ father was an investment secretary and actuary married to Barbara who was born in South Africa. (This explained why so many articles and news clippings in the scrapbook related to South Africa.) With the help of family historian and volunteer John, we tried various searches to try and find out if young Thomas ever had any descendants. We found out that Thomas had married Jean in 1938 but we couldn’t find a birth record for any offspring. John doggedly searched passenger lists online and amazingly found records for a Thomas Thomson, colonial administrative officer of the right age travelling with his wife and a young son to Nyasaland (now Malawi) in the 1950s. But the wife wasn’t Jean. We couldn’t be sure we’d found our man.
The only way to piece the puzzle together was to pay a visit to the ScotlandsPeople Centre on Princes Street. Here we were able to view full records of entries we’d found only as indexed versions online. Over the course of a morning, everything started to fall into place. Thomas Thomson had married three times, first to Jean, then to Margaret and finally to Kathleen. However, we still couldn’t find a birth or marriage certificate for Thomas’s son, Master ‘D’ who had appeared in the passenger lists. We found Thomas’ death certificate, giving his residence in the borders, but there was no mention of any descendents. ‘D’ had disappeared.
It seemed as though we’d hit a dead end. After months of searching and having come this far, there was nothing more we could do. Except well, we could try one of those google search things…
…and bingo, buried a couple of webpages down was a link to a discussion forum. And within it – an email address for a D Thomson, who spoke about his late father’s connection to the Borders. However, it was a Dutch email address. Could it possibly be the person we were looking for?
Within hours of sending an email, we received a phone call from Dave Thomson in the Netherlands! Understandably more than a little surprised, Dave was also curious about the scrapbooks and the family history trail that had led us to him. He had been completely unaware of the family scrapbooks lying on the shelves of Central Library in Edinburgh. We’re indebted to Dave for kindly giving us permission to publish volume 1 and volume 2 of the WW1 scrapbooks on Capital Collections so that this remarkable piece of social history is now available to all.
Do you have a story lurking in the family closet? Go online and find all the local and family history resources that Your Library has to help. And if you discover something worth talking about, why not share it on Edinburgh Collected?
Dave and John are due to meet in the Netherlands later this month. Inspired by our scrapbook mystery, further family history investigation is on the agenda…