Years ago, I started researching my family tree and managed to find out a lot of interesting information, but way back in 1995 - 2000 I didn't have access to all of the information that the internet can now supply.
At the end of school term some visitors from Michigan appeared on the school doorstep. They were in the area researching their roots and were sure that their ancestor had been a pupil at my school in the 1850s. We managed to make a direct link mainly through the existence of two needlework samplers; one hanging in a dining-room in Michigan and one in my office in Argyll, both stitched by students at the school all those years ago.
My interest in family history had been kindled again, so I've been spending some time once more looking into my own family tree and as I find out more about the lives of my ancestors I'm also building up a stock of information that will be useful to my writing. I hadn't thought before that my two interests would be mutually beneficial.
I would like to share one woman's life with you. My great grandmother, Sarah Kilpatrick, on my mother's paternal side of the family, was an amazing woman. I never met her as she died in 1920 at the age of forty nine. My mother doesn't have any memory of her either, being born after her death. My grandpa was only sixteen when he lost his mother, so as an old man, his memories of his mother were very vague and he could never tell me much about her. He had even forgotten that her mother's maiden name was Burgess. A life so easily forgotten, but a spirit that has somehow managed to survive through the years, forming a strong bond with her great granddaughter.
Sarah Kilpatrick was born on the 10th June 1870 in Crosshouse, a small village just to the north of Kilmarnock. Her parents were William and Agnes Kilpatrick and at that time, she was the youngest of six children. Her father, like many others in Ayrshire, was a coal miner, who had moved to Scotland from Ireland. They lived in Thornton Row a series of miner's cottages in Crosshouse in her early life.
A contemporary description of these small, overcrowded homes gives an idea of her living conditions.
This row consists of 27 houses, 14 single apartments and 13 two apartments. The single apartment houses seem to be built of brick, and the two apartment houses of stone. All the houses are whitewashed.Co-op cart, Crosshouse
The single apartment houses measure approximately 15 feet by 12 feet, and the two apartment houses - kitchen 10 feet by 10 feet and room 12 feet by 10 feet. The rent of the single apartment is 1s 3d per week, and the two apartments 1s 10d per week.
The floors are of brick tiles, which are very uneven. The floors underneath the beds are earthen. There are four closets for the row with doors, and these, along with three ashpits, are placed at the front of the houses.
There are no washing-houses and no coalhouses, but the tenants have made attempts in many cases to provide themselves with washing accommodation by building at their own expense washing boilers, but no houses have been built over them. They have also in some cases built themselves coalhouses.
The two apartment houses appear to have suffered a considerable subsidence, and the floors are much below the level of the road. The houses are very damp, and during wet weather the rain comes into them sometimes, we were informed, inches deep. The roadway is unpaved and in a shamefully dirty condition. The 'muck' in some places is inches deep. The houses are owned by Messrs. A. Finnie & Sons, and inhabited by their workpeople.
'worked in water much of the time and the first thing they would do on returning home would be to take off their boots and put them in front of the fire to dry out. They were often still damp when they put them on next morning to go back to work. The ironstone itself was grey, not red, as some seem to think. It had high potassium content that leeched out into the ever-present water that would turn a reddish brown and stain both clothing and miner. Although most miners ended their days with ‘bad feet’ no doubt the potassium-water mix pickled and hardened their feet.'
The other sibling in the house was thirteen year old Agnes, still at school. The elder, unmarried brothers had obviously taken on the responsibility of looking after their younger sisters after the death of their parents. This explains why sarah was sent into farm service at such an early age. My heart breaks, but this must have been common for so many at that time.
The life of a young girl sent to do farm service in the 1880s was very bleak. Getting up time was around four in the morning and farm servants worked until around seven at night – a long working day. This had reduced to about ten hours a day by the 1880s. Female servants lived in the farmhouse, usually in a tiny attic room, although on smaller farms the 'deem' or servant girl, often slept in the kitchen.
Sarah married Andrew Campbell in 1889 at the age of 19. He was a coal miner and had move to Kilmaurs, Ayrshire from Fife. They went on to have twelve children together, my grandpa Matthew, being second youngest. Sarah had two other children who did not survive infancy. Sarah had pregnancies for over twenty years of her life up to her early forties.
1891 finds the young family at 10, Low Sourlie, near Irvine, in the north of Ayrshire. He had moved his family in next door to his parents, John and Margaret Campbell and his brother Matthew who was 22 years old at the time and also a miner. The eldest of their children, Agnes, had just been born. Sourlie was a pit near Irvine, now a woodland, and there were 2 miners rows, High Sourlie and Low Sourlie within a hundred yards of one-another and opposite sides of the road.
The next census entry is for 1901 and the family had moved again, this time to Stevenston, a village outside of Ivine and lived at 22, Auchenharvie Cottages.
Although the property was still poor, the contemporary description is better than that of Thornton row where Sarah was born in 1870.
'There are 35 houses in this row built, with one exception, in blocks of two houses each. They are, in the case of 15 of the houses, of two apartments each; of the other 20 they are of three apartments each, but this is only because the room has been divided into two, and they occupy practically the same floor space as the other 15 two apartment houses. The kitchen measures 13 feet by 12 feet, and the room 12 feet by 9 feet.
Each house has its own washing house, attached to the back of the main building, and its own dry-closet, and every house has a coalhouse. The floors of the outhouses are paved with brick, but those we saw were very badly broken. Several of the houses have brick floors, but most of them have wooden ones. The houses are all built of brick. There is a brick pavement in front of the house, but in some places it is so badly broken that water lies in the holes in a sort of puddle. The rent is 11s per month. 
The syvor is very sluggish and, owing to its sluggishness, filthy. So far as we could discover there was only one cesspool for the whole row, which is over 200 yards long. The sweepings from the syvor appear to be dumped down on the side of the road in front of the houses, about 20 feet from the doors. The road into this row is in a dirty condition, and we heard it described as a 'puddle trench'.
In Stevenston in 1901, Andrew is an underground fireman, one of the most dangerous jobs, going underground before any of the miners to check for gas or other dangers. He was now head of a family of 8, living in two rooms.
By 1911, the family had moved to Gilmour Street in the centre of Kilmarnock, a town bustling with industry. Andrew was still a coal miner and more exactly a hewer, which was a man who cuts coal, removing it from the coal face. His was normally one of the most dangerous jobs in coal mines because in addition to the usual dangers, coal would fall fom the face and sometimes the roof would fall in. Hewing was hard work, and mining culture records the strength and bravery of the hewer.
In 1911, Sarah's oldest son, John was a shop assistant in a grocers, while his brother, William, 16, was a drawer at the mine, pulling carts of coal to the pit surface.
The final piece of information that I have at the moment about Sarah is that after attending a wedding on 1st May 1920, she fell ill at 28 Gilmour Street, Kilmarnock, and died suddenly of a cerebral haemorrhage, aged 49, a life full of service to others, constant childbirth and endurance.
Andrew survived until the grand old age of 90 and died in 1954. My great aunt Cathie looked after him in his final years and described him as a bad tempered old man. Probably made of coal dust through and through.
I'll try and glean some other little snippets of Sarah's life and maybe a photo from my mother but at least I can say that her spirit has not been forgotten and that hopefully I have inherited some of her strength.
She might very well appear in a story in the near future.