The Time Thief

Why are so many amateur genealogists retired?  Simple answer:  genealogy is time-consuming.  Don’t get me wrong, the detective work is fun, but after the initial rush when historical records just seem to fall in your lap, things really slow down and every new fact is hard-won, often involving many hours of research to locate and confirm.  For those who, like me, are still at work, weeks may pass between data points discovered.

So I find time wherever I can.  Sometimes I have twenty minutes at lunch, sometimes an hour in the evening, and like anything else, the context switch is expensive.  Computer scientists are familiar with this concept, the price (in time) paid to have a processor swap in and out of execution threads.  It works the same with people:  multitasking is expensive because of the time lost getting back up to speed on something after a context switch.  Everything is so much more efficient if one can just focus on it for several hours at a time, but those hours are necessarily taken at the expense of something else.

There is another aspect to time here, however.  Perhaps like many with this interest, I planned to research my roots “someday,” and it was only when I was laid up for a week with an injury that I felt “someday” had arrived and I began in earnest.  There is a cost to this delay:  those with direct memories of facts and events of interest are now getting on in years and may not be around later to tell what they know.  My father is now 90 years old, and his memory is not what it was even just a few years ago.  Names, dates, and places become confused, and everything must be carefully cross-checked.  He is also interested in seeing the results of my work, seeing his own links to ancestors — who knows, perhaps some famous ones? — and said to me pretty directly “You’d better hurry; I may not have much time, you know.”

So, I do feel a certain sense of urgency, and I am refocusing my research to fill in life details for more recent ancestors.  I know my father would like to know more about those a few generations back — his father never told him much about his grandfather — but his own story is so interesting that I want to make sure I get it right.  The stories of those more ancient will still be there waiting to speak to me.  Time is on their side; it is only the living who must steal it when they can.

What’s in a name?

My name is Matthew Robert Campbell Fraser (but you can call me Matt).

I’ve long assumed that my middle names came from my father, Robert William Campbell Fraser, but the original source for the name Campbell was always a mystery to me until very recently.  For that matter, I didn’t know where William came from, and I don’t think I gave much thought to the origins of Robert, or even Matthew.  My mother once told me, when I was still a child, that she and my father nearly named me Christopher; as my father is fond of calling himself “Robin” instead of “Robert”, the temptation to call me “Christopher Robin” would probably have been too much, so perhaps I should be grateful for small mercies.

Back to the Campbell mystery, however.  As children we’re often told all sorts of apocryphal tales about our family histories.  I took it as an article of faith, based on these tales, that long ago in Scotland the Fraser and Campbell clans had fiercely feuded with each other, and so I wondered how that name should show up in mine.

Photo of Clan Fraser's gravestone located on t...
Image via Wikipedia

However, this story does not appear to be true.  While the Campbells certainly feuded a lot, I haven’t seen much historical evidence of it being with the Frasers, with one perhaps notable exception:  the clans were on opposing sides in 1746 at the Battle of Culloden, during the Jacobite Risings, and I can see how this may have led to some hard feelings.  Still in the past couple hundred years there are many instances of intermarriage between the clans, and today just as there are Campbell Frasers like me, there are also Fraser Campbells out there.  So, the feud story isn’t true.

In fact, it’s those intermarriages that finally explain the origin of the name.  A Campbell is indeed among my ancestors:  Grace Campbell, who in 1835 married Alexander Fraser in Kirkmichael, Perthshire, Scotland.  Grace and Alexander are my great-great-grandparents, and their names show up again among their descendants.  Their second son was — wait for it — Robert Campbell Fraser.

So, Campbell mystery solved, and now we know where Robert came from.  Was I named for my father or my great-grandfather?  Both, really, as my father was certainly named for his grandfather.

So what about William?  Where does my father obtain this middle name?  Here the tradition of naming for grandparents holds; once again, he was named for a grandfather, this time on his mother’s side:  William Henry Statter, an Englishman, whose daughter married the son of Robert Campbell Fraser.

Among Frasers there are some names that appear very frequently.  Hugh, Simon, Alexander, Robert, John:  these are all very popular first names for male Frasers.  So, how did I become a Matthew (besides avoiding a Milne reference that would have dogged me for life)?  I have a sister named Deborah, so I’ve theorized that my parents went through a phase of using Biblical names, but they didn’t stick exclusively to that.  It’s a mystery still.

I suppose I could just ask them.

A migration from Scotland, to New Zealand, to America


Welcome to the new blog and site for Clan Fraser in Seattle and our family history, stretching back to New Zealand, Scotland, and England (and maybe a little sideways into Australia, as we may discover).  I’m just getting started, both with publishing this blog, and with research into my own genealogical roots as I explore back in time.  Stay with me, and I hope you enjoy the result.