When I was finally able to access the 1921 census for Scotland for the first time last year, I was excited to see how much more information was given about the place of employment of each family member – not simply a job description, as had been the case before. Oh, if only such detailed notes had been included in previous decades! A quick phone call to my mother resulted in her filling in the gaps: as I reeled off the list of employers for whom my family had worked, she was unexpectedly reminded of the jobs her parents and their siblings had once had, and the stories they’d told her about their workplaces.
Not only was I able to ascertain that in 1921 my grandfather, Alexander McKay, was still working as a newly-qualified electrician for the firm in which he undertook his apprenticeship (Anderson and Munro), but my grandmother, at 15, was a year into her own apprenticeship as a dressmaker with John Allan Silk Mercers and Drapers on the South Bridge of Edinburgh’s old town, where she worked helping to create bespoke outfits for the wealthier women of Edinburgh. It was here that the teenage Catherine Neilson learnt to do many of the intricate tasks (such as button covers and fastening loops in the pre zipper age) which stood her in good stead when it came to making her own clothes and those of my mother as a girl. This was a skill my mother picked up from my grandmother as a teenager herself, passing on some of what she’d learnt to me a couple of decades years later. Regrettably I never had the patience to take it further, growing up as I did in the new era of fast fashion and the burgeoning trend of visiting charity and vintage shops to search for retro outfits.
Catherine (right) and Christine Neilson in in their own creations
Read more of this post at my new family history blog: A Scottish Family Album.
The Incidental Genealogist, February 2023