Helen McCrae 1875 – 1944: my grandmother

Helen Strachan nee McCrae 1933
Photograph of Helen Strachan nee McCrae taken in 1933

Helen McCrae – also Ellen and Nellie – was born on 10 August 1875 at 4 Dean Lane, Kilmarnock, the sixth child of John McCrae, a coal miner, and Mary Ann McInairney. In the 1881 census, Ellen McCrae is age 5, at school and with her parents at 40 Mill Lane, Kilmarnock and by 1891 Ellen McCrae age 16 is working at a mill. The family were at 7 High Church Lane, Kilmarnock by then and father John is still a coal miner.

In 1895 Helen was a witness to her brother’s wedding to Anne McCubbin and has signed herself as Nellie McCrae. Later that year she gave birth to her eldest son Joseph, and married coal miner Henry Strachan in March 1896. They went on to have 11 children, one of whom died in childhood.

The family moved to Lanarkshire in about 1907 and went first to Tollcross, but by 1911 were living in Cambuslang, home to Helen for the rest of her life (apart from several journeys to Canada). Henry Strachan worked at the Gilbertfield Colliery and they lived in Gilbertfield Buildings at Halfway, but were at Overton Street, Halfway when Henry died in 1918, at the age of 45, of pneumonia arterioclerosis.

Married life must have been hard work for Helen, bringing up ten children in two roomed miners’ housing with outside toilets, communal clothes washing facilities and no bathroom. From what my father said of her, she was strict but motherly, and was very close to one her sisters. She also owned a lovely bone-handled carving knife, which for some reason my father acquired, and I now have.

When Henry died, Helen was left with ten children, the youngest five not having reached working age and the very youngest, my father, being three days short of his second birthday. None of the older five children were married, although all were working. Son Joseph married in December 1918, daughter Mary married in 1919, and in 1921 sons John and Henry married whilst daughter Jeanie went to Canada.

Then began a decade filled with sailing back and forth to Canada, which has been rather confusing to piece together from passenger lists. But Helen, along with youngest son Robert, went to Canada in September 1923 returning to Scotland in May 1924. They both went to Canada again in 1928, this time taking with them daughter Amelia. Helen and Robert returned to Scotland in March 1929 but Amelia was to stay in Canada. By this time son Joseph and his family had also migrated to Canada, as had daughter Helen and her husband John Aitken and their children, although the Aitken family returned to Scotland. Helen and son Robert made a final trip to Canada in April 1930, returning in October 1931.

Helen Strachan with son Robert Strachan 1942
Helen Strachan nee McCrae at the beginning of WW2 with my father, her youngest son Robert Strachan

During the later 1930s, Helen helped to bring up her son’s Henry’s children and was living at 46 Park Street, Cambuslang. She was living at 4 Clydeford Road, however, when she died. Her death occurred very suddenly on 26 June 1944: she was at the Royal Cancer Hospital, Glasgow visiting a patient when she had a cerebral haemorrhage. She was buried at the Strachan family lair at Westburn Cemetery.

5 responses to “Helen McCrae 1875 – 1944: my grandmother

  1. Betty Strachan Aylestock

    Thank you Judy! It is nice to read of things that I didn’t know about my Great-Grandmother and the family.

  2. Thanks Judy, an excellent article. I have the same picture of our Grandmother and a similar one of our Grandfather. Do you have that one as well? Cousin Colin.

    • Hi Colin

      You have a picture of our grandfather? I’ve never seen it and am now incredibly excited that I can see what he looked like at last. Can you send me a scan of it?

      Hope everyone is well in Canada. The UK is having a lovely summer but thankfully the heat wave is over.

      Regards, Judy


  3. Judy, that picture is on it’s way as soon as I can figure out how to do it. May have to call on my grandkids to coach me through the process. Colin.

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