Category Archives: Crime

My long-lost Scottish grandfather

Before O was born I got sucked into researching my family, thanks to my mother, who used to spend her weekends researching our Norwegian ancestors at the LDS library near her home in Connecticut. Since my mother’s side of the family was covered, I thought it would be interesting to find out more about my father’s family. When I was in my early teens, my paternal grandmother shared many stories about her childhood, replete with servants and one nanny whom she adored. She had some framed photographs of my great-grandmother, a beautiful blonde-haired society girl named Lulu. One of the photos was of Lulu’s enormous wedding party, dressed in their Edwardian finery. It was definitely not a budget affair.

While certainly not poor when I knew her, my grandmother wasn’t living with servants like she did as a child, so once I asked what happened to all the money. The distant look in her face faded away and she said, “My father lost it all.” She seemed annoyed by my question, so I dropped it. Knowing that my grandmother was born in 1918, I assumed the family fortune disappeared in the Market Crash of 1929. Further questioning on my part was fruitless. No one in the family wanted to talk about my grandmother’s father; my own father knew very little and, in fact, had never met him. All he could offer was that his grandfather had died “downstate.” My father is a Vermonter, so anything south of him is “downstate,” including Brattleboro, the Everglades, and South America.

I got a few more clues from my great aunt and great uncle in the late 1990s. My great-grandfather’s name was John “Jack” Forrest and he’d worked as an executive for Remington Typewriter. That was enough to get me started. I eventually found out his full name was John Prescott Forrest, and he was the youngest child of a prominent Canadian minister and scholar, the Reverend John Forrest. Rev. Forrest was president of Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where he served until shortly before his death in 1920. His wife, Annie Prescott Duff, had come from an equally prominent Canadian family; her father, William Duff, was a Scottish-born Presbyterian minister like her husband.

The only thing I knew about Reverend Forrest’s parentage was that his father, Alexander Forrest, was an M.D./surgeon and Scottish immigrant. Back in the late 1990s and early 00s, I spent hours scouring microfiche and computer screens at the New England Historic Genealogical Society searching for info on Dr. Forrest, but to no avail. The older members of my family were interested in my research and gave me as many clues as they could, but eventually I had to put the research aside and focus on other projects — one being the birth of my son in 2001. Since then, my great aunt and great uncle passed away, taking with them any last clues. Or so I thought …

Fast forward to last week. Every now and then I type my gr-gr-grandfather’s name into Google to see what pops up. I was surprised when one of the top hits was a blog that had mentioned his name. My mouth just about dropped open when I started reading the blog and figured out that one of my cousins, C–, had gotten into genealogy and done an enormous amount of research on the family. I quickly added a comment to one of the blog posts and within minutes he e-mailed me.

If you’re at all interested in the Forrest family of Halifax, Nova Scotia, I urge you to check out C–‘s well-researched blog — I don’t want to repeat what he’s written there. Today I just want to talk about my gr-gr-gr-grandfather Alexander Forrest, the Scottish surgeon.

Dr. Alexander Forrest, 1870, courtesy of CThomas

Dr. Alexander Forrest, 1870, courtesy of CThomas

Some months ago I blogged about a movie called Burke and Hare starring Simon Pegg, a film based on the true story of two Irish graverobbers who murdered and sold their victims’ bodies to the medical school at the University of Edinburgh. (Cadavers were hard for doctors to obtain, so they often relied on unscrupulous sorts to get them the bodies they needed for dissection and study.) I speculated that Dr. Forrest was probably studying medicine in Scotland about the time of the West Port murders, although I suspected he studied in Glasgow. C’s research confirmed that Dr. Forrest studied medicine at the University of Glasgow from 1823 to 1825. However, he then went on to study at the University of Edinburgh in 1826, and obtained  his medical license from the Royal College of Surgeons in Edinburgh in December of 1827, the same year Burke and Hare started selling bodies to the University. Yikes, I was closer than I thought!

Dr. Forrest opened a private practice soon after graduation, and also served in the Royal Navy, before marrying my gr-gr-gr-grandmother Barbara Ross McKenzie (a Highlander!) and leaving Scotland for Nova Scotia around 1832.

It’s fascinating to learn that my ancestors played parts in history. Now I have a (tenuous!) family connection to an unsavory crime that led to the 1832 Anatomy Act in Britain, which provided legal access to human cadavers for medical study. I have family who fought in the Revolutionary War, others who were chased out of Boston for being British sympathizers, a gr-gr-grandfather shot and killed by Irish nationalists, a cousin who was the American ambassador to Germany shortly before Hitler grabbed power (letters reveal he was not impressed with Adolf), and a gr-grandfather who was friends with Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen.

The stuff you find out just by digging around! I’m so happy to learn more about my Scottish ancestry, since I already know quite a bit about my British, Irish, and Scandinavian family. How about your family? Any historic connections or wild factoids?


Muddling through

What is there to say about the last few days? I have remained fairly strong and avoided the news as much as I can. It’s not that I can’t face what happened in Newtown, but more that the media coverage bothers me, the need for some of these outlets to report on a development first, even if that development is based on hearsay and ends up being completely wrong. So right now my thoughts and prayers are with the families in Connecticut who have suffered unbearable losses one can hardly comprehend. My watching or listening to the news doesn’t change anything.

It was a quiet weekend around here, needless to say … lots of snuggling with O, and a nice visit with my brother, who came up from Staten Island, where he was doing relief work, to finish up his classes here in Boston before he leaves for three months in Arizona where he’ll be learning how to leap from puddlejumpers and put our fires. Yeah, he’s a stud. His visit coincided with our buying some “new” dining room furniture on Saturday, so he was kind enough to let us borrow his truck (and muscles) to get it all inside. Big reveal TK after I finish organizing.

Then yesterday O and I went for a walk in the snowy woods to collect greenery for swags and garland. We ended up finding the best winter greenery in our own backyard — Norway spruce and holly!

Today I’ve been mulling how much cellophane tape one family needs:

Cellophane tape attack!


Last week, after some fits and starts, I earnestly dug into my big project for the winter, an aran sweater:


Candide aran

I’m hoping that the knitting of this cardigan will give me an injection of self-confidence. I’ve been feeling very talent-less for the past year, even though I’ve done lots of knitting and completed some lovely projects. This sweater tests my abilities, I can assure you. But even I can see the improvement on this back panel. My knitting just past the ribbing is uneven in places, but as I gained confidence in following the pattern, my stitches have evened out. (Of course, I know that with blocking, the knitting will look 1000x better.)

Other things I’ve learned:

  • How to knit without a cable needle. Oh. My! Learning this skill will save me hours of time knitting this sweater. I was spending up to 30 minutes on some of the more complicated rows — now I can finish a row in about 10 minutes, and my time improves with each knitting session. Cable knitting is a lot more enjoyable, for sure!
  • Notetaking is not for sissies. I learned this the hard way. I had to rip back a few times before I got it through my thick skull that some projects need thoughtful planning. Once I worked out some of the trouble spots on paper, it wasn’t such a trial following a confusing pattern.
  • I really, really love charted patterns. This pattern is not charted. But it’s pretty so I shall persevere.

How has your weekend been?


British media law baffles me

Several weeks ago I mentioned my interest in the Jeremy Forrest case, the British schoolteacher who ran off to France with a 15-year-old student he was tutoring. The student was returned home to her family in England, and a few days later, Forrest was extradited to the UK.

The story disappeared.

I searched the papers online to find out what happened next. Surely The Sun would run with a salacious headline, or at the very least, the Daily Mail’s gossip pages would rehash the saga of Forrest’s abandoned wife. But there was nothing. It was as if the duo had never run off.

Then yesterday, I spotted a short piece in the Guardian that reported a British court had lifted a ban from the defendant being named in the press, thanks to a challenge from  ten media organizations, including the Guardian and the BBC. Still, there’s been very little on the case, except that there’s no longer a ban. Great, but what’s next? A court date? Probation? Prison time?

Here in the U.S. it would be highly unusual — if not unheard of — for a media organization to be banned from naming a defendant in a court case, especially in a case that has already drawn media attention. The exception I can think of would be if the defendant were under age 18, and even then, it would be extremely rare.

So I ask my British readers: why the ban? I also notice that British newspapers often turn off commenting features on online stories involving a crime “for legal restrictions.” Any insight?

Criminal or besotted?

Normally I avoid news stories about older men seducing young girls — pedophilia stories give me nightmares — but the recent case of British math teacher Jeremy Forrest, 30, who ran off to France with his 15-year-old student Megan Stammers nabbed my attention. Not because of the creepiness of it all, but because it highlights the gulf between Anglo and Gallic sensibilities.

The British focus on the fact that a teacher ran off with a student, a child in the eyes of the law (I believe the age of consent in the UK is 16). Stammers was cast as the victim, Forrest the manipulative kidnapper. Some papers reported that he’d seduced female students in the past. The case has British police urging David Cameron to continue cross-border arrest and investigation work with the EU, as Forrest was charged on an EU arrest warrant. With that kind of cooperation gone, what will happen when the next British schoolchild is ferried off by a creepy pedophile?

The French, on the other hand, took a laissez faire stand. The age of consent in France is 15. What could be more romantic than a pretty girl running off with her musician boyfriend to the south of France? So there’s 15 years between them … love is blind, they say. He had a wife? Eh, so what? Men will be men. They just didn’t see why the British were making such a fuss.

In the end, Forrest was arrested by the French police and he’s about to be extradited to Britain, but again, his attorney on the Continent  exhibited that classic Gallic attitude: “Jeremy Forrest is in no pervert. This is a story only about love and passion … I believe it will never end. His only crime is to have fallen in love with a 15-year-old, without any recourse to violence or manipulation.” Ah, so this is why Woody Allen loves Paris. It wasn’t the baguettes.

American newspapers that reported on this story took a similar stance as the British, not surprising given our Puritanical background and our hardline position on underage sex, especially when it involves a teacher and a student. We just aren’t very tolerant of that, unless the teacher is a female and the students are 16- and 17-year-old boys — then the attitude seems to be “those lucky lads.”

What do you say? Do you take the Anglo/American position that Jeremy Forrest violated the law or the French position that he was simply following his heart?