'MYSTERIES MOTIVES AND A LAWLESS PAST'
My interest in the history of the Law family was always important to me. It started as a straightforward task but has turned into a lifetimes’ fascination of ancestors who were brave enough to leave their old country and settle in a ‘New World’, thousands of miles away. Where did they live? Why did they leave? Where did they go!
If you would like to learn more, the following story will explain the many routes and resources I used and how to overcome some of the problems such as Name Changing I encountered along the way.
Please share any comments or an interesting story from your family history -
Who am I?
My journey began in 1979 when I left NZ in search of my roots, particularly my Scottish Grandfather (GF), James Myles Knox Law who came to NZ in the 1920’s. He left Scotland in search of the new world but now it was my turn to find the old world! Not only did I find more information about him but discovered stories of his father and fore fathers. I had always thought I was a ‘Law’ but as I ventured further back into the family history I became Lawless! Was my ancestral surname Law or Knox or something else?
Proving paternity – UK ancestry Find out how
To remain longer in the UK on a NZ passport, I chose to establish the lineage back to my GF from Scotland on my father’s side of the family and needed original copies of certificates to prove my line of descent to the Home Office. I had gathered all the documents required but could not find a crucial piece of evidence, my GF’s birth certificate! There was no James Myles Knox Law anywhere it seemed! I could not prove ‘Law’ Paternity but would not give up hope -
My First Steps in Research
NZ death certificate - I knew he died in Dunedin in 1951, age 56yrs. He suffered cardiac failure but had chronic bronchitis, emphysema and asthma for years which led to his early death and was typical of those whose occupations were coalminers. The Death certificate also stated he was born in Hill of Beath, Kingdom of Fife, Scotland and had been in NZ for approximately 30yrs. These were vital clues as to where to start looking for more birth information and for dates of his emigration to the UK.
The General Register Office for Scotland in Edinburgh was a place I turned to for help, they are now part of ScotlandsPeople and access to birth, death, marriage, parish and census records are available either on site or remotely. Back in the 1980’s, I couldn’t easily travel to Edinburgh or have use of the internet, so I had to write and telephone to persue my search. After what seemed an age, one day a letter arrived from New Register House, Edinburgh saying that a match of dates and places in the Parish of Beath had been found but the surname was Knox, not Law? James Myles Knox, born 11 Sept. 1894, 49 Hill of Beath, Parish of Beath, Fife.
How I Tried to Solve the Name Change Mystery
I first listed some of the reasons why people might have changed name and hoped to uncover more on their motives -
Debter or other financial reasons
Deserter from war
Illegitimate child or parent of
Biggimist (already married)
Did not like name, stopped using!
Rejection of a parent, Preferred to align with another family lineage Surname
A fresh start, to hide something
Lack of facts – I needed more evidence as to why James Myles Knox and his family changed name so I set about re-examining what information I had and resolved to seek out the Truth!
Talking more to Immediate Family
After the revelation my GF was a born a Knox, I went back to the family and started asking more questions.
My father had no idea, neither did his brothers and sisters but my mother thought a very elderly Aunt Maggie on my father’s side may know more – she did!
Surname change to Knox - Theory One - my GGF changed his name as he was brought up by the ‘Knox family.’
His mother died when only @21yrs, she had x3 children including my GGF and they went to live with a lady called Mrs Knox. (she may have been the housekeeper?) My GGF took the name of Knox, got married under the name of Knox and his children i.e. my GF were born ‘Knox’. Years later my GGF added Law on to Knox but never changed the childrens’ birth certificates.
This plausible theory substantiating my GF’s birth certificate in the name of Knox could be correct and would allow Paternity to be granted. I submitted all Certificates to the Home Office and waited with fingers crossed! Could I stay or would I go… In 1981, I was ‘Given Leave to Enter the UK for an Indefinite Period’ – I could stay!
I visited Kirkcaldy, Hill of Beath, Fife to see the land of my fore fathers and due to the bleakness of this area could only feel compassion for those who had worked in the coal mines. To contemplate sea journeys to the other side of the world for a ‘new’ life was a measure of how desperate and determined they were to change.
Back in New Zealand and Living Relatives from Wider Family –
For years, on each successive trip to NZ, every 12-18 months, I asked ‘Law’ family members to try and recall anything relevant they could think of. A minor breakthrough came when looking at old family photos as it seemed my grandfather had brothers and sisters in NZ I never knew about, so he didn’t arrive on his own?
Another breakthrough came when my mother remembered a cousin of my father still lived in Dunedin and invited him to her 80th birthday party. This was wonderful as he had very valuable information and recommended I speak to his eldest sister, now 94yrs, as she may have been on the ship that arrived from Scotland! My Mum convinced me she would not know anything so I resisted calling her for some time but it is such an important lesson to learn that you must contact the oldest living relatives.
Thinking laterally is useful, people hardly ever live in isolation and it is easy to forget there may be ‘other’ family members who could have valuable clues in the search.
Surname change to Knox - Theory Two - Oldest Living Relative, telephone interview
Be prepared to listen carefully and have your questions ready! It would have been easier to be face to face as when referring to dates/places/people it can get very confusing. I also arranged to call back at a convenient time to recheck the information and discuss other questions that arose during the first conversation.
Mystery regarding ‘Knox’ –
She thought my GGGF John Law and his wife Janet Jameison had an illegitmate son, Thomas. Perhaps the surname Knox was then used by John, his son Thomas my GGF and the next generation i.e James my GF.
I was told the whole family from Kirkcaldy, Scotland, emigrated to NZ and there were approx. 13 family members (x2 died in infancy). The oldest living relative was 2 years old at the time and the ship they came on was the ‘Pakeha’ which arrived at Port Chalmers, Dunedin in 1922.
Other information from another family member and the shipping records confirmed the ship actually arrived from Liverpool in February 1923. This was a good lesson in ‘double checking’ information from family against the facts i.e. the shipping records. The family also lived in a stone cottage, in Gladstone Road, Dunedin just round the corner from where my mother lived! The oldest living relative was actually the daughter of my grandfather’s brother, John, who married Elizabeth Mitchell MacKay before he left Scotland with the rest of the family.