By his Grand Daughter, Helen van Pletzen neé Begg, with research by Scott van Pletzen-Rands
28 June 1878 – 13 April 1934
I never knew my paternal grandfather as he died in 1934, the year before I was born. He was born into a coal mining family. All his working life he was a coal miner and died suffering from the miner’s disease, silicosis, caused from coal dust in the lungs.
My father said Grandpa kept going to work even when he was ill as he was so loyal to his job. From what I heard of him, from those who knew him, he was a much loved man. His widow, Granny Begg, was very stern and unbending with her strict Baptist belief, but I think Grandpa Begg was a much softer person. I say this as I heard someone saying once that if Granny had died first the children would have been fighting over who could have him staying with them. Grandpa and Granny joined the Baptist Church together as a young couple and were true to the Church all their lives. They had four children, Samuel, Thomas (my father), James and Mary. Sam and Tam left the Church when they could choose for themselves, but Uncle James went on to become a Baptist Church minister and Aunty Mary continued attending Church even although Uncle Robert, her husband did not go. She sang in the Church choir.
When I asked my father about Grandpa Begg’s parents he said I should let sleeping dogs lie. It turns out that Grandpa Begg was born to a single mother, Annie Stevenson Begg. The birth took place at her home, 46 Kames Road, Muirkirk, Ayrshire, Scotland. The father is named on the birth certificate as Samuel Hall. In those days there was great shame attached to unwed mothers and Annie must have found it all very difficult. Her family stood behind her and she was not alone.
In Scott’s research he found out that Annie filed a claim with the Sheriff’s Court to prove paternity. The claim said that the father was Samuel Hall, an engineman, living at New Terrace in Muirkirk. We don’t know if Samuel ever paid towards his son’s upbringing. Grandpa Begg stayed with his maternal grandparents in their home.
Scott could not find Samuel Hall in subsequent census records. Not being satisfied until he could find out why, he then searched the deaths and found that Samuel Hall, aged 23, died in Muirkirk in 1880 from Phthisis. He lived at 134 New Terrace, Muirkirk.
So, Samuel hall, who is my Great Grandfather, had an unusually short life. If Annie had married him she would have been a very young widow. Grandpa Begg was only two years old when Samuel Hall died. I wonder if his father ever held him.
Annie could not give Grandpa Begg his father’s surname but she gave him his first name, Samuel, which makes me think that she must have loved Samuel Hall. Just think, if they had married our family surname would have been Hall.
When Grandpa Begg was five years old Annie married a John Anderson. They had two daughters, Annie and Thomasina known as Ina. These two girls would be Grandpa Begg’s half sisters. This is what Uncle James, my father’s brother, wrote to me when I asked him some questions. “Grandmother Annie Begg married a man called John Anderson and they lived in the old rows at Burnfoot. They had a daughter called Ina who died in our home at Connel Park after giving birth to a child. The boy was adopted by some friends of Aunt Ina and I have no further knowledge of him.”
From all this I realise that Grandpa Begg and his mother lived not too far from each other and must have visited often. Annie must have been very proud of her four grandchildren. I find it strange that Ina did not have her baby in her parents’ home. One would think that Annie would have been very supportive having gone through the same thing herself. I wonder if it was her husband, John Anderson who disapproved. Or, maybe it just happened that Ina was visiting Grandpa Begg’s family when the baby started coming and they coped. There would be no hospital nearby and how could she have got home? There were no buses then. What a shock for everyone that Ina died giving birth. How old was she? Her little baby boy would have been my father’s cousin but he will have grown up with his adopted parents’ surname.
It seems Grandpa Begg stayed on with his grandparents when Annie married as he was with them, or his uncles, in subsequent census records. They must have loved this unexpected little boy and Grandpa Begg would have plenty of males in the home to set him standards. His Grandfather Begg and his uncles were also miners and it stands to reason that he would follow in their footsteps. There would be little else for him to choose.
He grew up to be a good man and must have been well loved. I know so little abour him and my father never talked about him much. He must have played keyboard as he had his own organ. Daddy inherited this organ. It was supposed to go to Uncle Sam as he was the first born, but Uncle Sam already had a piano and did not want the organ. Both Uncle Sam and daddy could play and I wonder, did Grandpa Begg teach them or did they have lessons? I doubt if the family could afford music lessons. Then, I wonder, who taught Grandpa Begg to play? Maybe his own grandfather and did he inherit the organ from him? My theory is that they could play by ear. I know my father could and, I’m sure Grandpa Begg could, too. It was a lovely organ which was pumped with the feet as one played. When it arrived at Riggfoot Farm the ornate top of the organ was sawn off and discarded. Often, at Riggfoot, we had sing-songs around the organ with my father playing and I’m sure this must have been the case with Grandpa Begg in his home. I expect he played mostly hymns as the Baptist Church in our little village was very strict and members did not go to picture houses or dances.
Whenever Granny Begg talked of Grandpa she referred to him as “The Father” so reverently. I think he was a strict, but loving, father and taught his children well. I know he loved his family and was so proud when Betty, Uncle Sam’s daughter and Margaret, my sister were born in 1931. Then my sister, Jean was born in 1932. He lived to see three of his grandchildren born. Eventually there were six, all girls and even although he produced three sons there were no grandsons to continue the Begg line.
How amazed Grandpa Begg would have been to know how his posterity would be scattered all around the world. Such fine young men and women have followed behind him and he would be so pleased with what each one of you has become.
Grandpa Begg is buried in the beautiful Afton Cemetery in New Cumnock and Granny put up a lovely headstone. Granny’s body now lies in the same grave with him.
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