Anita Knight

What do you know about the reasons for emigration from Scotland?

Not much other than the reasons behind my own ancestors’ departures – and even some of those remain a mystery.

If you live overseas yourself, where do you live and can you say a few words about your personal Scottish diaspora story?

I live in Maryland in the US, born and raised here, but my mother’s parents were both born outside of the US. I’m very much a product of immigrants, and I find the reasons my ancestors came to the United States very interesting.

I visited Scotland for part of two weeks in the summer of 1999, travelling by train, and spent most of my time in Edinburgh and Glasgow. It’s difficult to rationally justify how at home I felt, but it definitely ‘fit’ in a way that England and Ireland (which I also visited in that trip) did not. In the near decade and a half since, I’ve learned much much more about my ancestry, and now my bucket list includes a trip to the less urban parts of the Borders; my family is from Hawick and Galashiels and Bo’ness (among others), and I would dearly love to see whether these places feel as eerily familiar as well.

Have any of your ancestors or members of your family emigrated? If so, where to? And do you know anything about their story overseas?

My mother’s mother Helen Bain Gray was born in Hawick in the Borders in December of 1920 and emigrated to Canada via the UK’s Overseas Settlement Committee in March of 1922. She traveled with her mother (Helen McGregor Seth Bain Gray) to meet up with her father (my great-grandfather) John Gray. He had emigrated to Canada initially as a railway worker before WWI, returned to Scotland for a time and married, then returned to Canada in 1921. I can’t imagine what it must have been like for my great-grandmother to make that ocean crossing (arriving St John, New Brunswick) and then the train ride across to Alberta with a toddler!

My great-grandfather’s brother Thomas Gray had settled in Gadsby, near Stettler, Alberta in 1906. Thomas had served in the 1st Roxburghshire and Selkirk (The Border) Rifle Volunteers before his emigration, and enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force in 1915. He was killed near Lens, France in 1917. It’s possible that John returned to Alberta in 1921 to settle Thomas’ estate, but that’s just a guess.

In any case, my grandmother and her parents weren’t in Alberta for long after her arrival; in October of 1922 they crossed into the US via Portal, North Dakota – a fact I found in my grandmother’s US naturalization papers (she became a citizen here in 1944.) Her brother was born in Pennsylvania in 1923, followed by two sisters born in Maryland in 1925 and 1933. By 1935 the family of six had landed in Annapolis and put down roots – almost literally: my great-grandfather worked as a gardener for a time, and we still grow iris bulbs split from those that they had in their yard. My great-grandmother worked as a seamstress, a skill she handed down to both my grandmother and mother.

My grandmother met and married my grandfather (the son of Greek and Slovak immigrants) in 1941, when both worked at the US Naval Academy. That my grandmother’s Scottish heritage was important to her is evident in the fact that there are pictures of my mother in a kilt as a toddler… and when I was very young, she sewed one for me as well! While I don’t believe my grandmother ever went back to Scotland, she did take that same train ride across Canada again as a vacation.

One other interesting item I’ve discovered even farther back in my genealogical research: my 3rd great grandmother was actually born in the US. Her parents emigrated together, along with her mother’s sisters, from Dundee to New York City in 1842. Mary Jane Jarvis was born in 1844, but by 1851 her mother Helen, her brother William (also born in the US), and she are back in Scotland, living with her new stepfather Charles Douglas in Linlithgow. What happened to her father, David Jarvis, is a mystery I’ve not yet solved. Her aunts both married here and remained in the US; I have distant cousins in the West of the US (Oregon and Nebraska) that descend from those women.

What do you think is the legacy of the Scots abroad?

Seems I’m always reading about some innovation or another made by a Scot (past or present), but on a very personal level, I like to believe that I have inherited several traits from the strong Scottish ancestors that preceded me – my general practicality, a talent with arts and crafts, and an interest in travel, to name a few in particular. There’s no doubt whatsoever that my grandmother’s deep love for her family has left a legacy that I hope I’m passing on as well.

That, and I burn quite easily. Surely the Scots have a worldwide legacy in sunscreen sales as well. ;)

Ending with something light-hearted: what did you think when first looking at the image called ‘Piper Kerr and Emperor penguin’?

They’d wear those kilts anywhere, wouldn’t they? :) Brrr!

One thought on “Anita Knight

  1. Love your family’s story, especially that of your 3rd great grandmother – fascinating. Your experiences when travelling home (i.e. feeling that you fit in) is something I’ve heard many times. Even some of the earliest ‘roots tourists’ to Scotland that I have investigated – they made their journey in the late 19th century – wrote accounts like that in letters to their family or their personal diaries.

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