Ancestral tales: a theosophist, a thief and an Indian Princess

My father had three uncles and an aunt on his father’s side and they were an important part of his formative years. I met them all as a young child, and my father told me many stories about them. In particular, I remember Aunt Boodie, the wife of his uncle Robert, as an eccentric old lady. She continued to send birthday and Christmas presents to me and my sister until we were in our teens, but they were things suitable for very young children. My father certainly thought she was very eccentric, particularly because she was a theosophist.

So in the internet age, I used the power of the internet to research her background, and to contact people who knew about some of her ancestors. And what stories I discovered. A famous poet who committed suicide, a bank robber, and an Indian princess among other things. If I had been researching in the pre-internet days (as recently as early 1990s), there is no way I would ever have discovered some of these stories or contacted descendents with some knowledge of them. Continue reading

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Books by Colin Mathers

A comprehensive list of publications relating to my professional work is available at www.colinmathers.com

Colin Mathers. Shall I try Australia? A history of the Mathers family in Ireland, Scotland and Australia from the 17th to the 21st century. Lulu.com, Australia, 2010 (148 pages).

DSCN4793My great-grandfather, James Mathers, was born in Armagh, Ireland, in 1852 and moved to Scotland in the 1860s where he married Margaret Melrose. They migrated to Australia with their six surviving children in 1897. This book documents the history of the family in Australia, and traces the Mathers and Melrose ancestors in Ireland and Scotland back to the 1700s and earlier. The previous generation, born around the 1820s, were almost all illiterate labourers and coalminers. The subsequent history of the Mathers family encapsulates the dramatic changes in the educational, cultural and economic opportunities brought by the Industrial Revolution in Britain.

This edition of the book was available only to Mathers family members, and a second edition is planned. The second edition will include substantial additions and new information, not least because it has recently been discovered that James Mathers had an older sister, who migrated to Australia earlier, and whose existence was unknown to his descendents. Continue reading

Origin of the name Mathers

The names Mather and Mathers are not uncommon in Ireland and are thought to derive from two separate sources. The name MATHER (also MATHUR) originated in Yorkshire, England, as an occupational surname originally denoting a mower (from the Old English: Maedere ‘mower, reaper’)1. The earliest recorded instance of this surname dates from 1249 in Nottingham. This name is fairly common in England and Ireland, though in Ulster for instance it has become MATHERS. Mather is the more numerous in the other provinces and it is on record in Dublin since the first half of the seventeenth century. By the end of that century it was well established in Co. Armaugh2 where my Scottish Mathers ancestors migrated in the 1700s. Mathers has to some extent been changed to Mathews in Co. Down.

However, the Scottish name Mathers, of separate origin, was also brought to Ireland by Scottish migrants. Scotland, during the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries, was ravaged by religious conflict and many Scots migrated to Australia and Ireland. Families migrated from Scotland to Ireland with promises of cheap Irish land, and many settled in Armagh, including my Scottish ancestors (probably around the mid-1700s). There is always much debate about the pronunciation of the surname Mathers, by other people. It is accepted by all members of the Scottish Mathers that Mathers is pronounced as if there was a Y in it, MA(Y)THERS.

1. Reaney PH. A Dictionary of English Surnames. Oxford: Oxford University Press; 1997.

2. Edward MacLysaght. The Surnames of Ireland. Dublin: Irish Academic Press; 1980.

The villages of Mathers – Easter 2014

East Mathers, West Mathers and Milton of Mathers are villages just north of St Cyrus and the Kaim of Mathers (see previous post https://mountainsrivers.com/2014/05/11/a-visit-to-the-mathers-ancestral-castle-in-scotland/). St Cyrus is about 60 km north east of Dundee in Angus and about 50 km south of Aberdeen. St Cyrus lies between the mouths of the South and North Esk Rivers, and developed at a natural harbour that traded in skins, hides and cured salmon in medieval times. It is about 50 km south of Aberdeen. The cliffs and dunes provide a nationally important habitat for flowering plants and insects, and a breeding ground for tern and have been declared a National Nature Reserve.

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A visit to the Mathers ancestral castle in Scotland

According to some researchers, the Scottish name Mathers originates from a place name on the east coast of Scotland, a place name associated with the Clan Barclay. The Barclay lairds of Mathers took the title “laird of Mathers” or equivalently “Second of Mathers” etc, and some Mathers claim that this is the origin of the Mathers surname, and by implication, that the Mathers descend from the early Barclays of Mathers. There are certainly quite a number of people called Mathers who lived in this area in the nineteenth century, but its more than likely that they took their name from the place rather than by descent from the Barclays. But I won’t let that stop me from claiming a cannibal laird as an ancestor – see my earlier post https://mountainsrivers.com/2014/01/20/my-cannibal-ancestors/

Heading towards the village of East Mathers on the east coast of Scotland

Heading towards the village of East Mathers on the east coast of Scotland

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Two brand new uncles, a new aunt, and a flock of cousins in a pear tree

What did I give Mum for Christmas 2013? Two brand new uncles, a new aunt, and a flock of cousins in a pear tree!

Mum never knew her maternal grandfather as he disappeared from the scene after the birth of his last child in 1905, and the family has never known what happened to him. He was an American born in Boston and in the early 2000s I hired a researcher in Boston who found almost no information except some indication that his mother existed and was a widow in Boston around 1905.

Last Christmas while visiting Mum and my sister, I decided to spend a little time searching the web yet again for some clues about him. And I was stunned to discover a marriage certificate for him in Sydney to another woman and then to discover he had a daughter and two sons who in turn had children, my Mum’s new cousins.  And they seemed to have lived in the same suburb of Sydney as my Mum’s parents. So my grandmother may easily have bumped into her half-brothers and sisters in the shops. What’s more, he described himself as a bachelor on his second marriage certificate, so he was almost certainly a bigamist. My sister found this quite entertaining http://irenewaters19.com/2014/01/18/weekly-photo-challenge-families/.

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