Yesterday I thought I would spend a few free hours tracking my elusive gg-grandmother Elizabeth Aitken (Hislop) Miller through the 1851-1871 census collection for Edinburgh, Scotland.
Lo and behold, the reason I couldn’t find her in 1871, the year leading up to her marriage to George Miller, my gg-grandfather, was because she was listed in the census as “Bessie” Hislop! This is the one and only time I have ever encountered her nickname (which clearly must have been important enough to give to a census-taker).
Bessie! Suddenly my gg-grandmother has become a “real” person to me–a young person, too! My grandmother recalled Elizabeth, who was her grandmother, as a (stereo)typical dour Scot; Grandma once told me that she’d “never seen that woman smile, probably because she had seven children.” But there’s something lighthearted and fresh about the nickname “Bessie,” and it speaks to a time in Elizabeth’s life that my grandmother of course never knew: before Elizabeth’s marriage, before the births of her children, before the immigration to Canada and to Niagara Falls, New York.
I wonder if Elizabeth’s husband George called her Bessie? They were married in June 1872 and their first child, John, was born in December of the same year. The census that reveals her nickname was taken only a year before. I’m a hopeless romantic and I admit I want to believe George called her by her nickname.
Huh. Bessie. One little detail in a 137-year old census. Let’s see where this delightful new tidbit of information takes me…