McCulloch Clan: Fish Tales

#52Ancestors 52 Weeks: Week 1 Ancestors I would most like to meet.

In November 2018, Alex and I discovered a treasure trove of photos, memorabilia and family history documents in a shoe box – it was tucked away in a cupboard in the shed – kept in the dark until now. The past lives of the McCulloch Clan are now in my line of sight as I sleuth the Scottish genealogy sites on the Internet. There are several stories to be told – sparked from the discovery of the ‘shoe box memories’ – from the families of the Alexanders McCullochs who lived in Bothkennar and Falkirk in Scotland.

Let’s begin with Great Grandfather, Alexander McCulloch, coalminer of Bothkennar, who was born on 5th November in 1853. He was the son of David McCulloch and Mary Marshall, both of Bothkennar. This Alexander married Jane Hodge Laird on the 14th of June 1875 and together they had eight children; Margaret, David, Mary, Jane, Davina, James, Jessie, and Alexander. They lived at Bothkennar, in Stirlingshire near the small coal mining village of Skinflats.

The name Alexander is prevalent in the McCulloch paternal ancestry as you will see from this family tree below. We have traced this line back to 10 times great grandparents, from Kilmarnock, Perth in Scotland. This area had seen the Jacobite Uprisings between 1689 and 1745. The McCulloch clan moved from Kinross County to Stirlingshire and lived in Grangemouth, Bothkennar and Falkirk, the focal points for our story today.

Archibald McCulloch born 1695 married Agnes Watt.

John McCulloch born 1720 married Margaret Bole born 1720.

Robert McCulloch born 1746 married Jean McClanachan born 1750.

David McCulloch born 1786 married Agnes McKie born 1782.

Alexander McCulloch 1807 -1875 married Mary Leitch Chalmers 1814 -1899. 

David McCulloch 1830 -1895 married Mary Marshall 1832 -1920. 

Alexander McCulloch 1853 – 1920 married Jane Hodge Laird 1856 – 1900. 

Alexander McCulloch 1892 – 1918 married Helen Wright Fish 1892 – 1953.

Alexander (Cully) McCulloch 1914 – 1990 married Annie Robertson 1924 – 1995.

Alexander (Pa) McCulloch born 1945 married Carole May (Nanna) Allery born 1945.

Craig Alexander McCulloch married Daria Irodenko.

The heroes of today’s story are Alexander McCulloch born in 1892, who served as a Private in the Argyll and Southern Highlanders during WW1, and his wife Helen Wright Fish born in 1892 who gave birth to eight children to three different partners.

Helen Fish was the daughter of George Fish and Mary Cowie Wright and spent her early childhood in Bellsdyke, Airth, with her four sisters and one brother. 

Her first child, Mary Wood Fish, was born out of wedlock in 1912. There may be a clue to the father’s name in the inclusion of Wood as a middle name for Mary. Unfortunately, there is no evidence to prove this in our research so far. Suffice it to say that Mary was lucky enough to have a step-father, or two when her mother Helen remarried.

Helen first married Alexander McCulloch (a coalminer) on the 27th of June 1913 at The Manse, Bothkennar, a now heritage-listed building at the back of the Bothkennar Kirk on Bothkennar road, in the shire of Carron and Bothkennar.

Bothkennar is remarkable insofar as all of the lands there lie on the alluvial plain known as the Carselands. The coastal tract between the River Carron on the south and the Pow Burn on the north was anciently called ‘The Carse of Bothkennar’ and belonged to the Crown Lands known as the Lordship of Bothkennar. 

Alex remembers travelling back to this area with his father (Cully) many years ago and passing by the Carron House, the Big House, as it was known. He remembers trying to harvest pears from the orchard within the walled gardens by throwing sticks at the branches to dislodge the fruit.


The old harbour at Carronshore

(Further research from Falkirk Herald 2022)

The McCulloch Family

Helen and Alexander gave birth to Alexander (Cully) who was born in April 1914 at The Bield, Bothkennar. Cully never knew his father as he was enlisted as a soldier in the Argyll and Southern Highlanders in 1914 and died in 1918.

Helen gave birth to her second daughter Jane Hodge Laird McCulloch in 1916 at the Island Farm Cottages in Bothkennar. We can only assume that Alexander had been home on leave at some time in 1915, or that Jane was the daughter of another man. Although Alexander is listed as the father, he was serving in the 7th Battalion of the Argyll and Southern Highlanders in 1916. The witness is listed as James Hunter, Uncle.

Helen had four more daughters between 1918 and 1924, two of whom survived to live a full life, and two who died as infants, Christina just two days old and Jemima just 5 minutes old. Their death certificates tell a sad tale for these two twins, born at Island cottage, Bothkennar on 18th March 1923.

Helen’s surviving four daughters were Jane, Nellie, Georgie, and Peggie. Jane Hodge Laird was named after her paternal grandmother, and the other three retained a middle name of Fish for her maternal grandmother. They were also the daughters of her second husband John McKenzie Steel whom she married in 1921. Her first husband Alexander McCulloch was killed in action during WW1 in France. We have his death details recorded from the Scottish Military Research Group Commemorations.

Rank: Private
Service No: 279215
Date of Death: 03/10/1918
Regiment/Service: Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders 1st/8th Bn.

Surname: McCULLOCH
Forename: Alexander
Rank: Pte
Service number: 279215
Date of death: 3 October 1918
Theatre of death: F&F
Cause of death: Killed in action
Other detail: 1/8th Bn. 

I would like to have met Alexander, his story is a short but brave one. A much shorter life span for Alexander who also lived in Skinflats. He was born on 4 July 1892 and was baptised on 9 August 1892 in the Bothkennar Parish Church. He died very close to the end of WW1.

He was a Coal Miner in the early 1900’s, following in the footsteps of his ancestors before him, and married Helen Wright Fish at the Bothkennar Parish Church on 27 June 1913. Together they had three children: Mary, Alexander (Cully) and Jane. 

He joined the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders as a rifleman and was sent to Ypres, France for the last battles of Paschendaele. 

He was shot and died on 3 October 1918 and was buried at Philosophe British Cemetery in Mazingarbe. His rank was Private and his Service No. was 279215 in the 1st/8th Battalion. The above image is from the returned wallet showing the bullet entry, that damaged this photo.

His own father, Alexander, was a soldier in the Royal Engineers and was awarded the British War Medal and Victory Medal for his war efforts. In the WW1 Service Medal and Award Rolls, 1914-1920 he is listed as a Driver, number 64356.

Among the artifacts in the McCulloch clan photo album are photos from Private Alexander McCulloch’s effects that were retrieved from his body and sent home to his family. The photos and the pay book that were in his breast pocket were pierced by the bullet that killed grandfather Alexander on that awful day in the fields of Ypres.

The Steel Family

Helen married John McKenzie Steel at Bothkennar on the 4th of July 1921, however, we noticed that their daughter Helen (Nellie) Fish Steel was born in 1918, whilst Alexander was still at the front in France. This was not uncommon during wartime when many lonely wives were left at home. Helen and John Steel were married when the other four daughters came along.

Peggie’s real name was Margaret, but most often called Peggie (a derivation of Margaret). Georgie’s real name was Georgina. It took a while to find their birth records as we had to search for Margaret and Georgina Steel.

Interestingly, there was a correction noted for Georgina and you can see that change of name in the second of the registers for her birth below.

Georgina’s birth certificate was amended to include her mother’s maiden name as her middle name. Further perpetuation of the name of Fish.

I would have liked to meet Helen Wright Fish McCulloch and to hear from her own lips her feelings and thoughts about her life. I may not have been bold enough to ask who the father of her first child Mary was. I could imagine her heartbreak at losing her first husband Alexander in 1918, her twin daughters in 1923, and her second husband John McKenzie Steel in 1936. However, I could ask her about what it was like to live on The Island in Bothkennar and how she felt when attending the weddings of children; her daughter Mary in the 1930s; her daughters in the 1940s, and her son Alexander in 1944.

The McCulloch Family Tree is now a growing one located at FindMyPast where you can see over 630 ancestors in that line.

More about the McCulloch Clan in the weeks to come.

PS I followed my own advice in the first seven live casts posted in my YouTube Channel playlist to create this first story of the year. As I am keen to increase my followers this year, please visit the link above and subscribe so that you will be notified of new Preserving Family History tips.

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