Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Andrew Cairns

My original intention with this blog was to mix my interest in photography with some local history - and from time to time throw in some genealogy stuff (remember my first post?).  Of late I've been more into photography than anything else (as you know, right?).  Posts on the genealogy front have been a bit sparse, apart from a couple of old shots of mother, so let's put that right.

My mother's dad - my Grandpa - had a brother, Andy Cairns.  Unfortunately I don't have any photographs of him at all, which is a shame.  Andy joined the Royal Irish Rifles in 1916, lying about his age (he was 16 at the time, said he was 19) and was discharged due to a dodgy ankle in 1918 (Army records state that he hurt his ankle falling out of a tree some years before enlisting - my guess is he was probably after apples).  His reasons for joining the army we will never know, but bearing in mind this was 1916 in Ireland, my guess is that 3 decent meals a day had something to do with it.  His dodgy ankle notwithstanding, on his Army discharge papers it states that 'He answered his country's call' and with his £20 discharge money he went to Philadelphia.  There he met and married a certain Selina M Henry, whom my mother was named after.   We all thought Selina Henry was American, but after a bit of digging around it transpired she too originated from Northern Ireland.

Selina Henry

My grandpa's brother and his new wife Selina had a child, Andrew, who was born in 1925 in Philadelphia.  Tragically Selina died when Andrew was just 5 years old, and his father brought him back to grow up in here in Ireland - my mother can remember him being around when she was young.  Young Andrew joined up with the US Army on Christmas Eve of 1943, when he had just turned 18 - a good looking young lad he was to, as you can see:

Andrew Cairns, US Soldier
On this photograph he has written 'With Love to Aunt Marion' - Marion would have been my grandmother, also known as Minnie (or just Grandma to me).  Here is Andy in the prime of his life...

Somewhere in Europe during WWII

Andrew survived the war and returned to Philadelphia, enrolling in college to study photography (!), but was killed in a car crash in 1950, when he was 25.   Sad not just for the loss of his life, but for the fact that his partner Dorothy was at the time pregnant with their daughter, who was born never knowing her father.  Times must have been very hard for them, for Dorothy applied for an State pension, based on Andrew's war service.  This application was rejected by the State of Pennsylvania on the grounds that Andrew had enlisted from Northern Ireland (even though he had been born in Pennsylvania and was living there at the time of his death).

And that, we thought, was that.  Andrew's father had lost contact with the family after WWII, his partner Dorothy wrote for a while but as the older generation in Ireland died out the links were lost.

It is truly amazing what you can find on the Internet these days, with a little perseverance.  There is a website called and people from all over the world upload photographs of headstones to it.  Some people spend their days wandering around graveyards, taking photographs of headstones that look interesting to them.  Through this website I stumbled upon Andrew's headstone in Greenmount Veteran's Cemetery, Philadelphia:

Headstone with Andrew Cairns, his mother and her parents, Philadelphia
Alongside Andrew we see his mother's name (Selina M Cairns) and her parents, Robert and Elizabeth Henry, originally from Belfast.  This was an amazing (and extremely lucky) find and my mother was quite emotional when I showed it to her.  Both mother and son died very young - Selina when she was 24 and her son Andrew when he was 25.  My mother got a lot of comfort knowing that Andrew's resting place was beside his mum.

I should perhaps add that through this connection on my family tree (on I have met a very lovely person from the West Coast of America who is descended from the Henry line.  We have corresponded very frequently - and it turns out there are lots of Selinas in her family tree.  The 'original' Selina (i.e., the oldest one we can trace) was Selina McCaughey/McCaghey, born in Co Antrim in 1829, died 1939 in Bangor, Northern Ireland.  Sometimes it seems like a very small world.

No comments:

Post a Comment