The Search Begins!


Isabella WylieOne of the stories in my family tells how great-grandmother Isabella gave birth to her youngest child while her husband was away at sea; her husband died later that year and may never have seen the baby - my grandmother. Great-grandfather Allan Wylie was Scottish. He was a ship's engineer, who moved from Glasgow to Liverpool and I'd always assumed his death came in a shipwreck in the cold, grey waters of the Irish Sea. Then I spoke with cousin Bill who was sure he'd died either off Aden or in the Suez Canal. Travelling through Egypt is much more exotic than steaming up and down Liverpool Bay so, inspired by visions of sunshine and pyramids, Eileen and I began our search for the true story of the life and early death of Allan Wylie, engineer.

Because they were Scottish, we started by searching the ScotlandsPeople website where we found that Allan had been born in Greenock, Renfrewshire in 1833 to Claud and Janet Wylie. We sent for Claud's death certificate which gave us Janet's maiden name, Carmichael, helping confirm that we were following the right Wylie family - Carmichael was Allan's middle name.

Census records tell us that the family moved to Glasgow before Allan was seven but had returned to Greenock, a ship building town on the Clyde, by the time he became an apprentice engineer in his teens. Judging by his later career, he must have successfully completed his apprenticeship then moved back to Glasgow where, according to ScotlandsPeople, he married Isabella Coventry Robertson at the age of 25 or 26, a few days after the birth of their first child, John Robertson Tannahill Wylie. Within two years, the new family had moved to Liverpool where Allan earned his living as an "engine worker". We can't find Allan's death certificate but on FindMyPast we found the list of Deaths of Seamen at Sea, presumably taken from the General Register Office's Marine Registers. Allan had died of apoplexy, 2 November 1872, at the age of 40 on SS Bertha, Lloyd's number 65274.

Next: Tracking SS Bertha