The Adoption Witness: What Did Sandra Merry Really Say About Granddad?

Reader pick: on old Scottish friends of Lanarkshire; James Dickson (1882-1969) and James Merry (1882-1970) – or – on an emigrant’s farewell at the docks of Glasgow – or – who was Sandra Merry.

Sandra Merry was the daughter of Granddad’s old Scottish friend, James Merry. When touring Scotland with Granddad in the 1960s, we two joined those two for luncheon at their Lanarkshire home. The old men quickly went abuzz in reminiscence of remarkable lives – lived elsewhere. Mum invited Sandra to our home in the 1970s, to Vancouver, B.C. where those tales were retold second hand amongst us, for the old friends had passed. No new versions were offered.

Our eldest sibling and his wife enjoyed a lovely visit with an aging Sandra in Scotland, late 1990s. Long after she passed, they attributed to her a largely altered anecdote on Granddad, that newly included herself. Some elements rang possibly true to these ears; some patently not, but as happens with family stories, snippets arrive too late for questions to the source.

Granddad had been reticent to share his past. Both accounts of the anecdote had him waving farewell to dearest friends on the docks of Glasgow, as he bid an emigrant adieu to homeland. They differed widely on when it happened, and among whom. The when of Sandra’s version could change our known history, and begged for consideration.

Retells often differ from the tell and this new version entailed several layers of dispute. One did not flatter our Nana, so an emotional spark drove this inquiry. After all, it had her come second best in a triangle, when we knew her as the love of Granddad’s life. The Merry timeline was developed to check the facts; this aspect of the new version failed.

Click this PDF for anecdote versions and resolution of the Nana matter.


Sandra was born in 1916, in Karachi, Bombay, India of Scots James Merry and Mary McLean. Her parents had married there in 1910. Four Merry, including her brother, James, returned to Lanarkshire in 1933.

Sandra retired as a school teacher in Lanarkshire. Her brother, James William McLean Merry, Sgt. 1365038, 10 OTU Det. was presumed dead 13.10.42, lost at sea of air operations. May we never forget. It is times as these, that the family recorder wished to have listened to tales more attentively, for there were possibly older siblings who stayed behind, or had already left India.

Our dear family friend, the lovely Alexandra Betsey Inglis Merry died in 1999. She enriched our lives just as her father, James Merry, had that of our Granddad, James Dickson.

Click this PDF for the Ancestry of Alexandra Betsey Inglis Merry (1916-1999)


Righting Nana’s wrong by peeking at Merry ancestry was met with a challenge that came with a plum. Sandra was first generation India-born, where she spent her first sixteen years. No records were found for her there. Then, Merry ancestors in Scotland were often confused with Murray.

Once difficult connections were made, the plum plumped, for her grandfather was born in a neighborhood called Carfin, in Holytown, Bothwell Parish. Now, we assumed that Granddad and James Merry had met as lads when their families converged in Hamilton. This Merry tidbit, though, hinted theirs may have been preceded in time and place, by association among grandparents.

In those days, matters of adoption were seldom documented, but held close to the vest of elders – forever. Now, Grandad was likely adopted; of which he, and Mum, seemed unaware. His inferred biological parents met on a farm at the edge of that Carfin neighborhood. She was Janet Cairns, of a well-established family from Cambusnethan. He was from the USA; John Kelly, born around 1859, who was only recorded in Scotland from 1881-1882.  

Merry history was strong in the area for decades surrounding the event. Their maternal ledgers bore names of John’s employers. Other coincidences also suggested the Merry elders were close to the vest and might lead to the identity of the elusive John Kelly. This will be evaluated over time, with future posts on the ancestry of extended family, as suggested under Notes and Sources.

Sources: See attached PDF “Ancestry of Alexandra Betsey Inglis Merry (1916-1999)”

Notes: The search for John Kelly is much fun for a genealogy sleuth because he left so few leads behind.  As a result, it will likely require a DNA rescue. Meanwhile, the challenge of reasoning it through has brought a number of solved heritage profiles for others. This one, for the Merry family, will roll out as a series. The path to discovery ran mostly through their maternal lines. We zoomed into the data on the attached Merry PDF to develop them. Coincidences beyond the Carfin birthing, if proven valid, could help determine his identity. Here is the anticipated first set of posts:

  • Mary Watson Merry (1831-1901)
  • William Watson (1818-1877); Son of Betty Russell
  • Farmers Russell and Williamson: Employers of John Kelly
  • Mary Johnstone Merry: Her sibling group born 1798-1816
  • Alexander Merry and Mary Williamson: US Emigrants 1870

The search for John Kelly began in the data intense Double Genealogy: The Adoption Witness and spilled over into this blog.

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