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Background on the McPherson's

WE swiped the name! It wasn't legally ours until 1937

James William Dewhurst became William James McPherson
James Sidney Dewhurst became Sidney James McPherson

Here are "the boys" in London, ~1900

HOW this all happened is still a mystery, so far, but one we are fast at work unraveling...

I am the eldest of my generation. Among my earliest memories are the times when I sat on the floor, at the foot of the big overstuffed chair in Grama's living room tracing the needlepoint pattern on Grama's little footstool. I knew she had made it. I was determined to figure out how she had made that pattern come out so perfectly. I wanted to know how to do it. I tried asking the grownups but they "shushed" me. They were having "important talks."

Looking back, I realize that though I wasn't aware of it, I was really listening to their conversations, taking in quite a bit of what they said unconsciously. By the time I was in my twenties, I knew my position as eldest grandchild carried a special privilege and a special burden. As I watched my brother and my cousins grow up, and I tried to share my memories of stories heard or told to me with them, it became clear they did not know many of the stories at all.

I could not let the stories die, I knew there was something very special about these stories. So, I decided to be the gatherer of the stories and to get the stories written down as best I could. I began to interview older family members. Each had a different perspective, thus the story is still a combination of fact and opinion.

It has been a wonderful adventure so far. As I speak to each person I often hear the same stories told in different voices, with different emphases and different slants. Sometimes it takes me awhile to figure out that they are telling the same story. It is clear to me however, that there are certain "marker" stories and events in the life of this family that affected every single member in some profound way.

I had heard at a fairly young age that the family name had once been Dewhurst. For many years that was enough information and figuring out how I was related to whom was enough. Then I heard one relative surmise that because my great grandfather had decided to leave England quickly, he had "bought" the McPherson name from a Scottish man for the man's own tickets, work permit and entry papers into the New Country in exchange for our family land near Edinburgh, Scotland. I heard another story about an inner family rift over disappointment that my great grandfather had left all the family furniture and personal possessions behind plus let go of a two hundred year lease on a London flat when he left - especially involving a story about an ivory and onyx chess set that my deceased uncles had sent from Africa (where they died in the Boer War) and some sentimental personal effects that had belonged to my great grandmother. This had been an especially painful loss as my great grandmother, Ellen, had died soon after the birth of my grandfather and her effects were apparently the only possible connection her daughters had to her memory. She was very beloved and much missed. If there are any pictures of her, I am unaware of them. One daughter, the eldest, Nellie, remained in London. It is a dream for me that one day I might locate her descendants to see if they can fill in more of the story.... 

I came away feeling mostly confused about the intricacies of all this talk. I was happy to just grow up knowing I had family that cared about me. I was satisfied with these explanations for many years. I knew the name had been legally changing the 1930's and that was enough for me. In the early 70's my cousin did some research and gathered both a written family account from one cousin including names, then did her own research and acquired actual birth certificates.

Now, recently the advent of the Internet has me taking another look. Quite by chance "surfing" one day, I learned that there had been a ship which sailed between the Old Country and the New Country only for a brief period of time which happened to be exactly the time frame that my Great Grandfather made his move called "McPherson." Now I began to wonder if we got our name from a boat....  

Suddenly, the truth of the circumstances surrounding the emigration of my family to this country has taken on new interest.  I knew my great grandfather had suffered terrifically losing between 1880 and 1903 first an infant daughter, then his wife after 20 years of marriage when he was 43 years old.  This left him to raise 7 children between the ages of 0-19 alone. Further devastated by the loss of his two sons in Africa in the Boer War, he wholeheartedly disagreed with British Military policies which, at the time, did not include a "Sole Surviving Son Exemption" to protect the survival of a family line. At this point, my grandfather was the last male left in this line. My great grandfather was determined that his last son not be sacrificed in any other war. Add to this that one of his daughters became "in trouble" in the New Country without a man to marry her and my great grandfather apparently decided to "bail" and leave his old life behind - thus his hasty planning and precipitous emigration and the resultant family rift.

From this point, the story is clouded in mystery that we are trying to unravel. We know my grandfather did end up in the military somehow (he had a service tattoo on his forearm) but the story goes that he took a boat around Cape Horn, jumped ship in San Francisco and went AWOL with his assumed name, thus escaping a likely death. We are trying to find the records supporting all this and the truth.

As for me, I am still proud of my family. How could I resent choices which obviously gave me a life and lives to my brother and my cousins and to their own children and mine? I intend to gratefully expose the family skeletons!  

I will keep you posted!

UPDATE: New research based upon the surname McPherson has given us yet one more new theory! If you go to the Clan McPherson  website and scroll to the bottom, you will see a list of the Septs of the Clan including the name Pearson... It just so happens that the scallywag who created all the family hooha, my great grandfather, James William Dewhurst, had a mother named Mary Pearson. Think about it, as her son, he was "son of a Pearson" or McPherson! Guess, what, we're legit! Why does it not surprise me that it is through his mother that the legitimacy of our line originates! In our family, you would "get" that joke! Conclusion... it took a while to figure out how, but we really are truly McPhersons.....  Next we will pursue the genealogy of Mary Pearson whose father's name was shown as Thomas, a shoemaker, on her wedding certificate! Maybe her family had the land in Edinburgh.....

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  P.S. for McPherson researchers... sorry I cannot help you to connect to my paternal line, but I can tell you that our line has been "Officially adopted" by the McPherson Clan at the Scottish Highland Games ~ I was told that anyone with a story like ours "deserves to be a McPherson and welcome!"