About the Author

Bruce Henderson is a computer engineer living in Southern California. With the help of his cousins he is researching the history of the Henderson family of southern Caithness. You can contact him at bruce@sigalarm.com

Finding Adam – Part Two

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Trinity Divinity School, Glasgow, where Adam studied to become a minister of the Free Church

This is a continuation the story of our joint research to find the history of the Reverend Adam C. Henderson. You can read the first part in Finding Adam – Part One.

In the first part of this story, our research went from a few names and a handful of dates into a the outline of a history about my great-grandfather, the Reverend Adam C. Henderson, who was born in Ramscraigs and escaped his humble origins to attended the University of Glasgow, and become a pillar of the Busby and East Kilbride community. Though we were incredibly fortunate to find not only his university records, but what we think is a photograph of Adam at divinity school, there were still so many gaps in his life we hoped to fill.

As is the case for many parts of the UK, the area around Busby (near Glasgow) and East Kilbride enjoys a group of local scholars who work to discover, document and preserve the local history. For the area where Adam was minister, the Giffnock Library is the hub of the Busby Historical Society. The Giffnock holds a significant and growing collection of documents, recordings and photographs of Busby and East kilbride. We contacted them in 2007, and they were happy to help us locate what information they had, which led us to be in contact with John McVicar by mid 2008, who was compiling a book on the history of Busby.

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Busby Free Church, photo courtesy of the Giffnock Library

Thanks to the McVicar’s work, we were able to learn a great deal about Adam’s community; the places, events and environment in which he lived, along with the organizations and associations that he belonged to. Sadly they had no additional photographs of the reverend and his family, but the information they had about his activities was welcome additional detail about a man we knew little about.


A clip from John McVicar’s book on Busby and its history

Though we were adding to our knowledge, it was a nagging problem that we could not locate Adam’s grave. For a man who had played a prominent role in the communities of Busby and East Kilbride, the lack of evidence of his life remained an enduring mystery.

In an attempt to tear through the fog of time, we resolved to locate, by brute force searching if necessary, Adam’s grave and the final disposition of his children and their descendants (if any). By consulting Scotland’s People, we began locating and downloading images for the birth, marriage and death records for every one of Adam’s children. In the process of doing this, we found that sadly there were two babies born to that family that did not survive for long. We were surprised to find that a surprisingly low number of his children actually married, and that for a large family of that size there were very few grandchildren. Most of our searches forward towards the present day dead ended, leaving us with the impression that Adam’s line was not nearly as robust as one might think.

Worse yet, the older members of the family we contacted remembered conflicting information, some of which eventually turned out to be wrong. It was our sincere hope that we could contact some of his descendants in hope that they might be able to help us fill the family history.

As luck would have it, we were eventually sift through immigration, birth and marriage record to determine that two of Adam’s younger children had married and immigrated to Ontario. They died in the 1970s, and were buried in Hamilton, Ontario. Thanks once again to the magic of the internet, I was able to enlist the aid of the local library to uncover the obituaries for them and their wives, which named several of the descendants.

Armed with these names, we worked to find a recent postal address, and then sent a series of introductory letters, asking if they would be willing to re-connect with the family and help us in our research as best they can. Fortunately for us, our relatives seem to be uniformly kind and generous, and we soon incorporated two new cousins into the project. Sadly for us, they were, like us, without much useful information. This lack of passed down history and relics seems to have been universal, and point to some rift in the past that at present we cannot identify.


A portion of my granfather James’ birth certificate, part of the search for the Reverend’s family

Throughout 2008, we searched cemeteries across the Glasgow, Busby and Rutherford area, including walking through looking at headstones. Clearly the brute force method was not yielding results. It could have been that his grave was unmarked, or that weathering had removed any inscription we could read. Early in 2009, I decided to begin “socially engineering” government records keepers in central Scotland to help find his grave. Late in January we got lucky, and we were able to locate his grave in Cathcart Cemetery, Section F, Lair 471, along with his mother, his wife, his mother in law, and two babies that died within the first year, Donald and John. Photographs show that the grave is either unmarked, or the headstone is lying face down in the dirt.

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The section of Cathcart cemetery where Adam and his family are buried

Many questions remained, one of the biggest was how could a clever boy from a humble background afford the costly tuition at the University of Glasgow, let alone the cost of living in Glasgow in the 1860s while attending school. We had uncovered as much as we could find in Lanarkshire as we could think to look for, the next step in finding Adam was to visit Caithness, and see what could be found.

Luck would strike again when a few days before my expedition to Caithness, the records of the Busby Free Church turned up in a long forgotten storage location at another Busby church, and we were very kindly invited to review it. There were the church minutes from Adam’s tenure as moderator


Section of the church minutes from the Busby Free Church.

Traveling to Caithness is not trivial, as the best way to reach it is a long drive up the treacherous A9 motor-way north from Inverness. We had contacted the Dunbeath Heritage Centre, and the staff encouraged me to visit to research my family. Words are insufficient to describe the level of emotion as I crested the Ord of Caithness near that ruins of Badbea, and descended the Berriedale Braes. There, perched high above the hairpin turns was the old Berriedale graveyard, where I knew Adam’s father and brother were buried.


The graves of our ancestors overlooking Berriedale and the Ord of Caithness

The hillsides were dotted with ruined and abandoned stone houses, one of which I knew had to have been Donald’s house, where Adam was born and raised. To me, this was a land of legend – yet at the same time only separated from any of us by the will to go there and see it for ourselves.

The Dunbeath Centre was more than I could have hoped for, and the staff were incredibly helpful. Not only did they know of the family, but they had taken the time to catalog and record the family tree on a very long chart, which they generously copied for me to take home. They also identified where to find the graves of many of my Henderson ancestors and kin. The remainder of the trip focused on photographing the area, many of which are now part of this site.

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The Dunbeath Heritage Centre – a true Scottish treasure

Though we have made tremendous progress from that first search, there is much that we are looking for but may never find. The mystery remains of why so little was passed down from Adam’s family to the present day, and what became of photos, letters or other things from that day. One fact brought to light from our research regards Adam’s mother, Ann Cunningham Henderson. When Donald died in 1892, Ann moved to south to Lanarkshire and lived with Adam and his family for the rest of her years. By working with Sally, it has become clear that people in Caithness were very enthusiastic about having their photos taken. In fact there were several places, including Wick and Thurso, where there were portrait studios. In addition these photographers would sell a portrait sitting during “Market Days” which would happen twice a year (spring and fall) in Dunbeath. Therefore it is possible that photographs of Donald and Ann were taken when they were quite old. The question comes up then, what happened to them and could they have survived the present age? (more on this in a bit). Ann passed away in 1900, 9 years before Adam’s death and 21 years before Jane’s death. From what I have been able to gather chatting with some folk historians in Dunbeath, it was the custom (and sorry if this is universal to Scotland) that people of that time would keep a “Kist”, a trunk, box or chest that held “bonnie things”. When Ann moved to Busby to live with Adam, the chances are very high that her Kist (if she had one) would have come with her. Whatever Ann may have taken to Busby would probably represent the pinnacle of what we might be able to recover from a family history standpoint, if any has survived to this day.

As a hint that some of what we seek is not so much lost as it is misplaced, a strange photograph came to light in September of 2009. During a visit to my Aunt Moira, she brought out old photo albums and we looked through them. As we were flipping throughout the book, a tiny photograph fell out from behind a larger black and white photograph. In it were four people, sitting in front of what we now know was the reverend’s house on Derby Crescent in Kelvin Grove, Glasgow. One is clearly my grandfather James as a young man. Seated with him is a young lady, whom my Aunt identified as my grandmother, along with an older man and an older woman.


Is this Reverend Adam C. Henderson, his wife Jane and my Grandfather James? We hope to find enough evidence in the future to determine this beyond doubt.

The older man bears a significant resemblance to the young fellow from the 1871 Trinity group photo, while the older lady shares some resemblance to my grandfather. Is it Reverend Adam and his wife Jane? We have no concrete proof until we have a photograph that we know is of him, but it hints that perhaps in a box in an attic somewhere in Scotland or in Canada hides some of what we seek. With time and persistence, we will continue the search as our labor of love.

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