Rule #1 – Never Assume Anything

…because it makes an ass out of u and me!

France and Flanders

A decade or so ago, whilst preparing to visit my Great-Grandfather Hugh IRVING’s grave in Belgium, I remember searching for RETTIE on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission‘s excellent web site, and wondering if any of the casualties could be related to me.

Recently I had another look and went through the 16 entries for World War I, examining the Additional Information which can list next of kin and/or address. Knowing that my family hails from the North-East of Scotland, I examined the 6 members of the Gordon Highlanders first as most likely candidates to have a family connection. Nothing jumped out and then I turned to the other regiments. There was a John RETTIE in the King’s Own Scottish Borderers listed on the Arras Memorial:

Son of James and Janet Carruthers, of Carlisle Place, Ecclefechan, Dumfriesshire.

I discounted this immediately as a) he was from the South-West of Scotland and b) his parents weren’t even called RETTIE! He couldn’t possibly be related to me.


Nipper In Stone Yard

In my last couple of blog posts, I recounted the transatlantic adventures of my Great-Great Uncle James RETTIE and the sad death of my Great-Great Uncle Adam RETTIE in the Poor House. Next I decided to find out more about their brother John.

Sons of Adam RETTIE and Harriet MIDDLETON

My starting point was the 1881 Census record of the household of my Great-Great-Grandfather Adam RETTIE and his wife Harriet MIDDLETON. John was listed as:

Nipper In Stone Yard, age 13, born about 1868 in Methlic Aberdeenshire.

10 years later he is listed as a “Stonecutter”, still living with his parents. However, he is nowhere to be found on the 1901 Census. Had he emigrated like his brother James?

Shotgun Wedding?

Then I found a marriage for a John RETTIE in Glasgow for 30 Mar 1896. Hmmm, could it be him? He was around the right age, but what had taken him to Glasgow from Aberdeen?

The marriage certificate confirmed it was him, listing his occupation as “Mason” and giving his parents as “Adam Rettie (deceased)” and “Harriet Rettie M.S. Middleton”. However, what was this in the second last column?

1896 Marriage of John RETTIE and Janet WALLACE

1896 Marriage of John RETTIE and Janet WALLACE, Glasgow, ScotlandsPeople (SR Marriages 644/03 0160)

Warrant of Sheriff Substitute of Lanarkshire dated 30th March 1896

So, it was an Irregular marriage via a Sheriff’s Warrant – what did this mean?

I then checked to see if they had any children and a record came up for a John RETTIE born in Kilsyth on 19 May 1896:

1896 Birth of John RETTIE

1896 Birth of John RETTIE, Kilsyth, Stirlingshire, ScotlandsPeople (SR Births 483/00 0160)

Ah, so Janet was already 7 month’s pregnant at the date of their marriage and would have shown – perhaps why a Church Minister would have nothing to do with them and they had to apply for a Sheriff’s Warrant to get married? (A re-inspection of the marriage cerificate also highlighted that they were living together before the marriage).


Whilst looking for “John RETTIE” in the 1901 Census, I had turned off the age filter and had noticed a record for the parish of Hoddom in Dumfriesshire and it listed a John RETTIE and an Adam RETTIE living with a family named CARRUTHERS. Eh? Had these boys been adopted?

1901 Census of Household of James CARRUTHERS

1901 Census of Household of James CARRUTHERS, Hoddom, Dumfriesshire, ScotlandsPeople (Census 1901 829/00 002/00 021)

Viewing the original image showed them listed as “Step Sons” of the householder James CARRUTHERS. Where was their Dad? Had he and Janet divorced so soon after their marriage?

I found the birth certificate of Adam RETTIE for 2 Nov 1898 – and was dismayed to see to word in brackets after the father’s Occupation:

1898 Birth of Adam Rettie

1898 Birth of Adam Rettie, Buittle, Kirkcudbrightshire, ScotlandsPeople (SR Births 859/00 0021)

I then searched for death records for “John RETTIE” between May 1896 and Nov 1898 and found the following entry for 16 Jul 1898:

1898 Death of John RETTIE

1898 Death of John RETTIE, Edinburgh, Scotlands People (SR Deaths 685/05 0725)

My Great-Great Uncle John had died (from Peritonitis) when his first son John was just 2 years old and, worse, 4 months before his second son was born. How sad. Neither child would grow up remembering their father.

Double Tragedy

Then it struck me: the John RETTIE I had previously seen listed on the CWGC site as having died in France during World War I and my Great-Great Uncle’s son John was one and the same person!

So, poor Janet – she loses her first husband John (aged 30) and then her eldest son John (aged 20).

The next time I’m in France I will endeavour to visit the Arras Memorial to pay my respects to my newly discovered first cousin twice removed.

John RETTIE Descendant Chart



  1. Pingback: Brothers in Arms: Earned in Blood « One Step Forward, Two Steps Back
  2. Pingback: Cousins-german and ‘Dressmakers’ « One Step Forward, Two Steps Back
  3. Margaret Frood

    I’ve been fascinated to read the posts you’ve created links to, moved by your descriptions, and particularly admire the exemplary way you’ve flagged up each step of your research and of your thinking in “Rule #1: Never assume anything”.

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