September 9, 2019
A question that came up for me recently was why did my 4th great grandfather John Campbell Colquhoun leave his relatives and hometown in Paisley, Renfrewshire to immigrate to Australia in 1857?
Coincidentally a few days later I was listening to a podcast episode about the Highland Clearances, and the academic speaking on the podcast mentioned the Great Highland Famine in the 1840’s and 50’s, where potato crops failed because of blight. Though Paisley is part of the Lowlands, not the Highlands, John would certainly have felt the effects of the famine, especially since John did not come from a wealthy family. With money being short and the potential for a food shortage in the years to come, John had three options: stay where he was and hope for the best, move to an industrial city like Glasgow or Edinburgh where work was likely to be short, or to immigrate to a like Australia, Canada or America while he was still young and while the countries were still welcoming immigrants.
A few years after arriving in Australia, John met my 4th great grandmother Barbara Ellen Cowan, they had a happy marriage and 15 children together. John died aged 94 in Wonthaggi, Victoria.
I think it is so important when researching your family tree is to ask yourself why did your ancestors immigrate to where they did, was it because of poverty? Religion? Political or civil unrest? Persecution? Disease? Starvation? The prospect of wealth from mining? A job offer?
Answering these questions with research can provide a whole new insight into your ancestor’s personal opinions, political stance, smarts, interests and work ethic, for example, if your relatives immigrated at the time of a gold rush, you can be fairly sure that that was their reason for leaving the homeland.
Or if they did immigrate during a gold rush but didn’t go to the gold fields, they could have already been hired by another boss, maybe a family member or friend who immigrated earlier, or perhaps they had a specialty profession such as a doctor or lawyer, like another grandfather of mine, who left Cornwall with his wife and children bound for Launceston as an already hired farm overseer.
Keep your eyes peeled for announcements or “Worker Wanted” notices in old newspapers that may give a clue as to who your
family worked for.
All the best and happy researching!
Arundel Castle, former home of Adeliza of Louvain, the fair maid of Brabant
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