The hardest part about writing a historical book is finding your subjects.
Author Di Buchan found the task of identifying which were her relatives a struggle at times, as she researched her latest book, Triumphs, Tribulations & Tragedies: The Low family of saddlers in Otago and Southland
It is the story of three generations of the Low family, who provided saddlery services from Dunedin to Fortrose in 19th-century New Zealand.
It begins with James and Margaret Low, who arrived in Dunedin from West Linton, in Scotland, with their children in 1862 and set up a saddlery in Moray Pl.
She mentions in the book’s introduction that tracking James Low and his family from their arrival had not been an easy task.
“Two factors contributed to this: first, the proliferation throughout Otago and Southland of Low as a surname, which was somewhat exacerbated by the large families his offspring tended to produce; and second, the Scottish tradition of naming children after their grandparents and parents,” she said
An experienced researcher, she used dates, ages and residential locations to verify the person she was researching at any particular time was indeed the person referred to in the recorded information.
Fortunately, the principal characters of the story, John Low, second son of James Sen, and his son Mark, were committed volunteers and active participants in the Balclutha community at a time where almost every activity and event was recorded in the Clutha Leader.
The author’s interest in the Lows started because her mother, Dulcie Low, was the daughter of Mark Low, the last saddler in Balclutha.
He worked from a small saddlery opposite the library in John St.
Mrs Buchan’s mother kept her well informed of the family’s relationship with the Aysons of Warepa.
“My great-grandparents were Elspeth and John Low. Elspeth was daughter of Douglas [then used as a girl’s name] and Peter Ayson who farmed at ‘Corydon’ in Warepa.
“But I wanted to know more about the Low family side, so when I finished an earlier book I started to search for John Low’s ancestry.”
The journey, which she described as “a labour of love”, took her 18 months but the resulting book has been distributed to family around the provinces and is in libraries and schools.
Her next project is to build a new headstone for Elspeth and John Low’s grave in the old Balclutha cemetery, recognising one of the town’s pioneering families.