Grandmother: Janet Walker Robertson (Imrie)

#52 Ancestors 52 Weeks Week 5: Oops

The research for Janet Walker Robertson has taken some twists and turns and reached a brick wall. These are the details as I now know them.

Oops number 1 – a frequent occurrence

Janet’s birth to Mary McIntyre in 1887 was illegitimate as she was not then married to her father John Imrie. The birth certificate was quite clear though that her father was present and named as the father; followed up by a Registry Entry Correction (REC) to prove it.

John and Mary were almost the same age, John was born in 1867 and Mary was born in 1868. They were both in their early twenties when they did marry in 1889.

Mary gave Janet the middle name of Walker after her own mother’s maiden name. We can see evidence of that in the above marriage certificate. We can also get further details about the parents of both John and Mary and their occupations. This has revealed the previous generation to add to the Robertson family tree. Grandparents William and Mary Imrie (nee Rofs) and Andrew and Janet McIntyre (nee Walker).

Janet married James Robertson in Falkirk on the 2nd of October 1908. They had a large family of five daughters and three sons. I knew just a few of them; the siblings who emigrated to Australia along with my husband and his parents in the 1950s.

Oops Number 2 – and this is a really big one!

The crux of this story – the death of Janet Walker Robertson – is still shrouded in some mystery. The first clue to the cause of death was determined from her death certificate; Burns to 43% of her body surface – 9 days; and hypostatic pneumonia – 2 days. The family story tells of an accidental fire in which Janet suffered horrific burns. She was hospitalised at the Bangour Village Hospital in Broxburn, some 17 miles from Falkirk. The hospital was once a Mental Asylum, later became a hospital for the war wounded soldiers of WW2 and is now no longer operating.

I wonder if this hospital had specialist teams and facilities to cater for burns victims in the 1960s; perhaps built up over time since the war years. 

Janet must have been in a lot of pain because she was burned so badly and then got pneumonia because her lungs were damaged. I can only imagine that she had inhaled smoke and that that caused hypostatic pneumonia.


I noticed on her death certificate that the informant was John Robertson; her son. Perhaps he did not know the first name of his maternal grandmother, as this was blank on the certificate. However, it did include the married surname Imrie and the maiden name Walker. My further research reveals Janet’s mother to be Mary Patterson McIntyre. Janet’s grandmother was Janet Walker.

The children of Janet and John Robertson continue to use the surname Walker as a middle name for their children. The middle name of Cunningham for James C Robertson has continued down to my husband, Alexander C McCulloch.

Asking for Help

I wanted to find out more and used most of the following techniques in searching for the cause of the fire, incident, or coronary inquiry: I asked the artificial intelligence tool Chat GPT to prepare a research process to discover details about an accidental death in Scotland in 1963, such as that of Janet Walker Robertson (nee Imrie), who died in Bangour Hospital from burns and hypostatic pneumonia.

Below is the response and a possible research process I could follow:

  1. Review the death certificate: The death certificate is the primary document that will provide basic information about the individual who died, including their name, age, cause of death, and place of death. In this case, the death certificate confirmed that Janet Walker Robertson (nee Imrie) died in Bangour Hospital from burns and hypostatic pneumonia in 1963.
  2. Search historical newspapers: Historical newspapers can provide detailed information about the circumstances surrounding a death, as well as biographical information about the individual. I searched for articles about the incident in newspapers from the time period and looked for any additional details about the case, such as the location and circumstances of the accident. 
  3. Interview any surviving family members or witnesses: If there are any surviving family members or witnesses who were present at the time of the accident, they may be able to provide additional information about the incident, including the cause of the accident and the events leading up to the death. I wish I had been able to ask my mother-in-law, but I did not know her in 1963. Alex remembers his mother receiving a telegram notifying her of Janet’s death.
  4. Search hospital and medical records: If the individual died in a hospital, the hospital may have records of the individual’s treatment, including medical reports and notes from doctors and nurses. These records could provide additional information about the individual’s injuries and cause of death. I was unable to discover any hospital records as the hospital is no longer operating.
  5. Search police records: If the death was the result of an accident, the police may have investigated the incident and had a report on file. These records could provide additional information about the circumstances of the accident and any potential criminal responsibility. I have had no luck in finding any police records of an incident of fire in Falkirk. I think I will need to deepen my research.
  6. Check any legal records. If the death led to a court case, like an inquest or a criminal trial, there may be court records with more information about what happened. This may prove a useful lead, and I aim to search the Scottish inquest records.
  7. Consult any insurance records: if the accident was related to any type of insurance the individual may have had, there could be records that would provide more information about the event.

Note: Chat GPT remarked: “It’s worth noting that some of the records may not be available or may be difficult to access due to the age of the event and different regulations. When doing research, it’s also important to think about moral and legal issues, such as privacy and data protection.”

Get help from experienced Scottish genealogists

Glasgow and West Scotland Family History Society

There was one more avenue I could take, and that was to ask for help from an experienced Scottish genealogist. 

It just so happened that I had located an online event that might just do the trick. I registered to attend a virtual Family History Fair, held online via Zoom, and run by the West Surrey FHS. In the Zoom session, several breakout rooms were available where visitors could ask their questions of representatives from various Family History Societies. I opted into the Glasgow and West Scotland FHS breakout room and was amazed at the personal assistance I received from, Murray, a senior and experienced genealogist from that region. 

Several new research gems were noted, and I could then go forward once more to break down this brick wall. The lesson for me here is an important one! Reach out for help wherever you can find it.

Genealogy Addicts UK & Worldwide Research Group

One more avenue for getting help, I reminded myself, is to ask for assistance in a social media group. I chose the Genealogy Addicts because of their frequent posts and friendly helpers. I am awaiting further results from their answers.

The brick wall is still there, and I will now wait for further opportunities to research this ancestor. The next step is to ask for help in one or more of my Genealogy social media groups.


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