Fala and the Roosevelts: a mysterious connection

Having just started as the archives trainee for Midlothian Council Archives, I am lucky enough to have spent most of the first few weeks of my traineeship exploring the archives varied holdings. I have found a myriad of amazing things but none as surprising as a signed letter from Eleanor Roosevelt!


The letter was hidden amongst other correspondence in a file in our Fala and Soutra Collection. This collection was donated to us by Jean Blades (née Waterston), a keen local historian and the Fala, Soutra and District History and Heritage Society, an organisation Mrs Blades helped to establish. I was intrigued by how a letter from the first lady ended up in a local history collection about a small parish in Midlothian Scotland.

The letter was sent to Revered Daniel Blades, husband of Jean and minister for Fala and Soutra Parish by a G.C. Hunter. Hunter and Blades were corresponding about local families and the history of the Fala parish. Mr Hunter writes, “you probably read in the newspapers regarding Fala, the dog which for many years was the companion of the late president Roosevelt. I wrote to Mrs Roosevelt asking why her late husband called his dog Fala and I enclose her original reply date 22nd April.”

President Franklin D. Roosevelt with Fala

I had never heard of Fala, the faithful canine companion of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, but Fala was a favourite of the press and the public. He was called the most photographed dog in the world and stories about him and his antics often made it into the press. It was even alleged during the 1944 Presidential campaign that President Roosevelt once left Fala behind on a presidential trip and sent by a Navy ship to collect him, at the expense of the American tax payers. President Roosevelt responded to these accusations in humorous speech:

“These Republican leaders have not been content with attacks on me, or my wife, or on my sons. No, not content with that, they now include my little dog, Fala. Well, of course, I don’t resent attacks, and my family doesn’t resent attacks, but Fala does resent them.”

Eleanor and Fala

Fala outlived his beloved owner, passing away on April 7th 1952 only a few weeks before Eleanor penned her response to Hunter. It is likely that Fala’s death prompted Hunters curiosity about why the President seemed to have named his dog of after a small Midlothian town. Mrs Roosevelt’s reply is short but friendly. She explains that Fala’s full name was Murray of Fala Hill and he was named for an ancestor of her husband.

Hunter voices surprise that President Roosevelt had Scottish ancestors, but the President must have been proud of his Scottish connection to use the name for his beloved dog. Roosevelt’s great- great- great-grandfather on his mother’s side was James Murray, a Scot from Selkirkshire who moved to America in 1735; other sources claim Fala was named for an ancestor who was an outlaw. This could be John Murray of Fala Hill, from the Borders ballad ‘The Outlaw Murray’. Fala Hill sits just outside Midlothian in the Scottish borders, not that far from the parish of Fala and Soutra but also not far from Selkirkshire.  It is possible that James Murray was an ancestor of John Murray the Outlaw as they were from a similar part of Scotland, though Murray is a common Scottish surname. Perhaps President Roosevelt’s imagination was captured by the ballad of Outlaw Murrays daring deeds.

Roosevelt seems to have shared Revered Blades’ and G.C. Hunter’s interest in family history. Their shared passion resulted in this strange connection between a small local history collection and the President of the United States of America.

Rogues an Auld Reekie: Lothian & Borders Police Archive

Laptop – check; repository keys – check; pencil – check; warm socks – check.

Following a successful application to the National Cataloguing Grant Programme, over the next 12 months the records of the Edinburgh and Lothian & Borders Police Forces (all 62 linear metres) held by Edinburgh City Archives will be boxlisted, catalogued and re-housed. A couple of weeks into the project, which has so far been spent going through accession files and reading up on 200 years of police history (this will be an ongoing task!), boxlisting has now begun in earnest. My home for the next few months will be mainly at the temperature controlled Records Store – hence the warm socks.

Unlisted items

Unlisted items

The accession files have already provided a tantalising glimpse of what the collection contains: Watching Force Reports (winter is coming, after all ;-)); Police War Duties; Rogues Gallery; Police Amateur Dramatic Photographs; Hackney Carriage Registers; Pedlars Certificates; Charge Books and Conviction Registers; Casualty Records, to list but a few.

The collection covers the evolution of the Police Force from the time of the Edinburgh Police Act in 1805 through the introduction of finger printing in 1905, police boxes in 1933, unit beat policing in 1967 and several amalgamations, to the Force that we would recognise today. The records document the varying functions of the police along with the ever increasing role of technology and the adoption of more sophisticated modes of transport and communication, all in the name of crime prevention and detection.
Casualty Records

Casualty Records

Once catalogued and accessible, the records will not only provide a fantastic resource for those interested in the history of policing in Edinburgh and Scotland, but will also offer a wonderful insight into the progress and shifting concerns of our communities over time.

The project itself will undoubtedly throw up interesting archival issues surrounding appraisal, arrangement and access. Follow us on Facebook and here on Lothian Lives for project updates and discussions and to find out what exciting records are uncovered.


Black History Month 2016

Louis Black, 19th Century African Scot

Louis Black, 19th Century African Scot

“Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.” (President Barack Obama)

The penultimate film screening and discussion by our Film Appreciation Club (FAC@JGC) will be held on Thursday, October 27th, 2016 in the Star Room. Our theme this time commemorates Black History Month. Black History Month is celebrated in October every year. It focuses on the history of Asian, African and African Caribbean peoples. Since October 1987, when it was inaugurated in the United Kingdom, many communities and organisations have celebrated Black History Month, with events such as lectures, conferences, concerts, and specialist activities in the community, schools and libraries.

In Scotland, Black History Month provides us with an opportunity to promote knowledge of Black history, culture and heritage, and to disseminate information on positive Black contributions to Scottish society. It celebrates this contribution and helps us to learn about and value the role that Black and Minority Ethnic people have played in shaping Scotland’s history.  Black History Month also provides us with the opportunity to discover hidden stories, question assumptions and debate the importance of history and how it shapes our future.

Andrew Watson, Scotland's first black international footballer (sitting in the middle).

Andrew Watson, Scotland’s first black international footballer (sitting in the middle).

The Scots played a leading role in the slave trade and by 1817 it was estimated that one third of all enslaved people in Jamaica were held by these Scots. This role in slavery led to more documented Black population in Scotland, as slave owners brought their slaves back to serve as household servants. Some of the population was from the earlier history of the Moors presence in the United Kingdom, mostly in Scotland and Ireland. In some cases, the enslaved people were officially freed. According to the 2011 UK Census people self described as African, Caribbean, Black or any other Black background make up around one percentage of Scotland’s population, as compared to three percentage of the overall UK population. A report in 2000 also suggested that Black people in Scotland had difficulties in feeling a sense of Scottish identity, whilst there has also been criticism that Black people are not well represented in Scottish society generally.

The film we are screening is a very famous one, adapted from a prize-winning epistolary novel. It tells the story of a young African American girl and the problems African American women faced during the early 20th century. Discussion on the film will include issues such as domestic violence, incest, paedophilia, poverty, racism, and sexism. We will also briefly discuss film literary adaptations.

The grave stone of an unfortunate American sailor who drowned after the sinking of the Tuscania, in 1918.

The grave stone of an unfortunate American sailor who drowned after the sinking of the Tuscania, in 1918.

Licensing and copyright restrictions prevents my blog from announcing the film title on the JGC website and social media. The selected film, however, has been made known through promotional posters and the FAC 2016 brochure which are available at the John Gray Centre itself, libraries and museums across East Lothian and several other public venues. So do come and join us for an evening of visual pleasures and vibrant conversation. Screenings are open to non-members of the club for a donation of £3 towards costs. And do look out for my final film blog this year on our forthcoming memory and remembrance themed film, as well as for information on other Christmas and end-of-year activities scheduled at the John Gray Centre on our website.

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