Searching for cross-Border roots, and discovering a family wiped out by tuberculosis

My great-grandfather Michael Kerr’s origins were a bit of a mystery to me for a long time. Because he was born in England, but married in Scotland, I didn’t have a reliable birth place for him, and Scottish census returns just said “England”. He married my great-granny Elizabeth Scott in 1904 in Yetholm, Roxburghshire, and their Scottish marriage certificate named his parents as Andrew Kerr and Jessie Young, as did his death certificate. But where did the family live?

Fortunately I was able to quiz my great-uncle Andrew, Michael’s son, and he gave me some clues. He’d remembered the word “Netherby”, and thought his father was born near Longtown in Cumbria. With that I was able to trace the marriage of Michael’s parents, in 1866 at Longtown. Subsequent research proved that both were Scottish: Andrew, a gardener originally from Kirkliston, West Lothian, and Jessie the Canonbie-born daughter of a shepherd who, with his wife, moved there from Roxburghshire.

I was able to trace the Kerr family in 1871, when Andrew was gardener living at the Lodge at Netherby, just inside the Border. By 1881 both Andrew and Jessie had died, and Michael and his siblings were living with his Young aunts and uncle in Dumfriesshire. And they were brought up in Langholm. But what had happened?

The family grave at Kirkandrews-on-Esk church provided more clues. This is a church near Netherby, just across the Border in England. To get to it you have to drive across a field full of cows! We discovered the Kerr gravestone there, and noted down the inscription as best as possible, although much was unreadable:

ANDREW KERR

WHO DIED AT NETHERBY LODGE

____

____

ALSO ROBERT ____ SON WHO DIED

OCTR 20th 1877 AGED 3 YEARS

ALSO ANDREW THEIR SON WHO DIED

AT BRUNTFAULD 2nd DECEMBER

1879 AGED 23 MONTHS

ALSO JESSIE KERR HIS BELOVED

WIFE WHO DIED 6th APRIL 1880

AGED 42 YEARS

Clearly lots of members of the family had died in a short period. But why?

Recently I bought the death certificates for the children and parents. And almost all died of tuberculosis. It must have spread throughout the family, starting from the father, and wiped them out. It is lucky that Michael and two of his siblings, Adam and Margaret, survived. Of these, Margaret married, and the last trace I have of her with her family is near Redruth, Cornwall, in 1911. I don’t know what happened to Adam, I can’t trace him after 1891, when he was a “Footman Domestic Servant” at a big house in Staffordshire. He may have emigrated.

When I last visited Uncle Andrew, as a teenager, he had a big album of old family photos, but there were no names recorded, and by then he was somewhat confused and couldn’t remember who anyone was. I wonder if the album passed down to his son, and then to the son’s widow. It could show members of this family, and the wider family tree, though we would be unable to identify anyone.

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About vivdunstan

Academic historian, genealogist, former computer scientist, and Doctor Who fan.
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