This is the way that a chapter in many a Scots life would have ended and a new one abroad would have begun – travelling on a ship to a new country. Places like America, Australia and New Zealand offered many Scots an escape from poverty, and a fresh start with the promise of new opportunities and the chance to make their fortune.
Elspet Jane Niddrie’s story is not a typical one, even though her new life started with a steamship journey that had been taken by many thousands of people before her. When she sailed for the United States of America in 1912 she was only 4, and left behind her a dying mother and an adult half-sister who was unable to care for her.
As her mother’s illness had progressed it must have become clear to the Parish Council dealing with the case that a more lasting decision needed to be made for Elspet’s future. The natural solution was for the child to be sent to her aunt, Jane Lemmon (née Niddrie) who had emigrated to the USA with her husband in 1904. But first the Council had to get her agreement.
It was probably at this time that Elspet’s photograph was taken so that a copy could be sent to her aunt with the request to adopt her niece. Another copy was stuck into the Register of the Poor, allowing us to put a face to the name in the record of her case.
Looking at her smartly dressed image there is no hint of Elspet’s background or the reasons behind the photograph being taken. It would be easy to assume that she had no cares in the world if the photo were not included within her Poor Relief record.
Whether it was the photograph, Elspet’s circumstances, or the fact that she was family, something persuaded her aunt to agree to the Parish Council’s request. And so this chapter in Elspet’s life ended with the Inspector of the Poor writing in her record
“20 November 1912 Passage paid to Boston USA and sent to Aunt…sailed today on Allan Liner “Numidian””
There is no record of whether Elspet ever returned to Scotland, or whether she ever met her half-sister, Margaret, again. Her mother, Sarah Niddrie (née Lynch) eventually passed away in 1914, followed 16 years later by her half-sister Margaret. Elspet herself appears in the USA Federal census of 1920 with her aunt’s family in Massachusetts, but does not appear there under the name of Niddrie or Lemmon in any later censuses.
We can only hope that her life continued with better fortune than it had begun with.
Everyone at northeastscotlandroots.com is delighted to be able to update this story.
In a remarkable development which illustrates the power of the internet, Jennifer Norcross of Pawcatuck, Connecticut, USA, one of the granddaughters of Elspet Jane Niddrie stumbled across the story of her grandmother while looking for other information. She says, “It was with absolute amazement that I came across the story of Elspet Jane Niddrie, my grandmother, on your website. I’d like to add to the brief details that my sister emailed you last week, including how I stumbled upon your telling of my grandmother’s emigration from Scotland. I hadn’t done any formal family history research in some time, and last weekend, on a whim, I entered her mother’s name into Google, along with her place of death, hoping it might turn up something interesting. Well, it surely did, though not what I was expecting! I am still in shock at finding my grandmother’s name, first in the online version of your publication “Routes to your North-East Roots: Researching Family History in Aberdeen City and Shire,” and then on your website”.
Jennifer goes on to describe what happened to Elspet (or Elsie) after she arrived in America as a young child: “we knew that Elsie had come alone on a boat, and a number of years ago I’d found the passenger list that showed that she was only four during that journey. My aunt says that her mother had told her that a family on board had looked out for her during the trip. I cannot imagine a small child making such a journey alone, but given her family situation in Peterhead, it really was the only way for her to have any kind of future”.
“Her early life in Worcester was not easy, but imagining her hard life in Peterhead, it had to be an improvement. She attended school up through the eighth grade; for a girl from a family that was not well-off, this would have been typical at the time. Eventually, she met my grandfather, Frank Norcross, who was a City of Worcester bus driver. When they married, she moved to Charlton,Massachusetts, where my grandfather’s family lived. They raised four children, David, Nancy, Donald (my father), and Douglas, and had been married for over 50 years when she passed away on December 30, 1983.
Although she left Scotland at such a young age, Elsie maintained a strong sense of identity as a Scot, and we were all raised to be proud of our Scottish heritage. Scottish names are well-represented in the family, including my brother Duncan, my sister Kathryn Norcross Bryan’s daughter Ailsa (who has studied Scottish dance for a number of years), and my cousin Amy Brouwer Gahan’s son Ian, who, along with Ailsa, has got Elsie’s red hair”!
Another remarkable aspect of this story is that prior to Jennifer finding the story of her grandmother on this website, she had never seen a picture of Elsie as a young child.
We feel both humbled and glad to have helped.