Sarah and Johnny


Researching your ancestors can be
a fascinating pastime.
More than just a trawl through dusty papers,
and endless hours sitting in front of a computer.
It gets to you.
After many silent years, the voices of the past call out.
And people you never knew, come to visit.

Sarah and Johnny

If you find yourself reading this, there are two good reasons.

One. I was looking for answers to my mystery ...
... and Two. You may well have been investigating your own personal mystery ...
... then we both ended up here.

As we seem to have a common cause, perhaps I should
introduce myself. My name is David Sloan. I think...

At least, that is the name on my birth certificate, and by most standards, that is proof of who I am. And yet, I have reason, good reason to wonder who I might be. If this is confusing, then it is only right. Because my search for the answer to a simple question, caused confusion, doubt and wonderment.
And along the way, joy, sadness, pride, and more than a tear or two.

The question was very simple, indeed.

Why was my paternal grandfather known as Auld Smith?

Or to be precise, Richard Smith.

My father was John Smith Sloan, so obviously the Smith was important. Women change their name with marriage, but men don't. And that was the first of many naive assumptions that I made on my quest. And with a name like Smith - where do you start?

I was lucky. We have the internet. Type in a name, and see what comes up. (the answer to that one is 27 million hits on Google - must refine search!)

Time to be sensible. Ask the family. Because, as we often find, it is far too late to ask Richard Smith. I was a child when he died, and that was forty years ago. So I asked the family. Everyone had a story. Lots of family gossip. Vague legends. And a name.


Riccarton Church

Not a person, but a village. In Ayrshire. Near Kilmarnock. What can the connection be? My father talked of Ayrshire. Maxwellton's braes are bonny - but they are some way from Riccarton.

Back to the internet. Only quarter of a million hits. The odds are improving. It's a pity that most of them appear to be in New Zealand.

What else? Geneology - soon corrected to genealogy. Try anything. Hunt for Sloans. Find lots of them. Web sites full of them. America flushes their toilets with them! (True - one of ours invented the flush valve, and I have personally seen my name in rest rooms all over the United States).

And then a lucky break! (not a Royal Flush, O.K.!!) I found Scotlands People and the General Register Office for Scotland. Wonderful! Births, Marriages, Deaths. All on line, and all available for a small fee. Well, maybe not so wonderful, but I've started this quest and surely I can manage the occasional six quid to look.

Even better! They have a discussion group and you can ask questions. Free! And sometimes, someone comes up with an answer. We were on our way.

It was exciting! Sloans started appearing in Riccarton. Several families. In a village which, one hundred years ago, only had three main streets. Sloan as a name, is not common ( unlike more than a few of my ancestors ) but it started to look like half the Sloans on the planet came from Riccarton.

I did the 1881, 1891, and when it came, the 1901 Census. I looked in the corners. I tracked down the odd Sloan in neighbouring villages. When I stopped to breathe for a moment, I realised that I had bought the results of all three censuses for Riccarton. For all the streets. If someone was in Riccarton on census day, I knew who they were. And who they were related to. And I found Richard. Richard Sloan.

Born 11 September 1884. Mother Sarah Sloan. Illegitimate. No mention of the father. Stopped. Dead in my tracks. Nowhere to go.

And yet the question. Why Richard Smith? This is where the over-enthusiasm for Riccarton census information paid its first dividend. Sarah married Hugh Smith on 30 July 1886.

1901 Census

Perhaps Hugh had finally decided to legitimise his son, and do the decent thing. Or perhaps he was just a decent man who married a young single woman with child.

Whatever way it was, young Richard took his stepfather's name. And Richard Sloan became Richard Smith to the world. It's Scotland, and a name is what you make it.

And on 28 January 1939, John Smith Sloan married my mother, Barbara Chapman Bissett in Kirkcaldy, by Sheriff's Warrant. And all the Smith family of Richard decided to revert back to being Sloans again.

Why? I have no idea! How on earth is genealogical research expected to cope with families that do that sort of thing? It's like playing chess on a board where you can't count the squares, and the pieces come and go when it suits them.

So that was that. Problem solved. Auld Smith was really a Sloan who adopted the name of Smith, but passed on the Sloan name to his children, who promptly reverted to type when they got married. End of story.

Well ...

... not quite!

All genealogists suffer from the same insatiable curiosity. Why else would we spend money shuffling through papers, and stand, like idiots, in the rain, photographing churchyards.

Having solved one problem immediately created another.

Richard Sloan. Born 11 September 1884. Mother Sarah Sloan. Illegitimate!

So! Who was the father? Hugh was a possible, although, if he was, it took him a long time to marry Sarah. Nearly two years, he must have pondered. From the time that it must have been obvious that Richard was a fact of life. And there is no other connection.

Time to do a little more asking around. Look more closely at the censuses. Follow up the leads from certificates. Check informants, witnesses. Find other relatives. Sarah was born in England, according to the census. As were two of her brothers. One entry says Lancashire. Now that muddies the waters somewhat.

Somewhere in England. Try the Free BMD site. There's a Sarah in Tyneside, but that isn't near Lancashire. Can't find her father. And her younger sister turns out to be her half sister. Janet. Also illegitimate. Mother and daughter. I know things were different then, but that surely cannot add up to 'respectable'. Family scandal. My first.

Back to asking my relatives. And out of the cupboard and on to midfield comes another family legend.

"Your great granddad was a famous footballer. Called Goodall. That's why your cousins have Goodall as a middle name". I didn't know that! Somebody mildly famous in the family. Better look him up. Might be a bit of a story there. People remember football players. It's a fan thing.

Back to Google - and Goodall.

Johnny Goodall - Capped for England

Wow! Only word for it. Johnny Goodall. Capped for England. In football and cricket. In the top 100 list of all time great English footballers. Played for Preston North End. The Invincibles. Unbeaten in the inaugural year of the English Football Association. The Best!

Played for Derby. First ever league player-manager for Watford. One of the guiding lights of early English football. Taught the English how to play the Scottish way. A connection. Vague as can be. But a connection.

If I can't find Richard Sloan's real father, this guy will do! The story goes on and on. I'm a little bit stunned. The pet fox he took for walks. His brother Archie who played for Ireland, and toured the world in a strong-man act, and who may have been the first documented ticket tout!

It's like a Boy's Own Comic. I read this stuff as a kid, but it was fiction. This was all down in black and white - with photographs.

Time to be sensible. This is a lovely fantasy, but I must find hard evidence to prove the connection.

John Goodall was born in Westminster, London on 19 June 1863. Sarah Sloan was born in England, in 1864. So the ages match. Always good for a romance. Lancashire was mentioned on one of Sarah's documents. And Preston is in Lancashire. Could this be the connection?

Tried Free BMD. Tried 1837online. Found a few Sarah Sloans but could not get a sensible family fit for Sarah and her brothers. And I needed a bit more convincing before I started speculating on English birth certificates.

The famous genealogical 'brick wall' seemed higher than ever. And we can't just pick ancestors because we fancy them. Lots of people have done that - Bonnie Prince Charlie must have been a real gadabout. Rebellion lost due to exhaustion of principal player. Only explanation for his huge family tree.

That was when I found the first treasure chest in my historical search. A few years ago, Watford Football Club published a big, glossy book. All about their own famous players. The Golden Boys. With Johnny Goodall prominently featured. His career in football. His early life, playing for Kilmarnock Burns...

Quick! Check the census for Kilmarnock. Tricky. Johnny's father had died by then, and his mother had remarried. But there they were. Johnny (born England), Archie (born Ireland) and a sister (born Scotland). Join the Army - travel the world!

Johnny Goodall played football in Kilmarnock, often for different clubs, several times a week. And Sarah lived just down the road in Riccarton. You can walk it easily. I have tried it.

So now we have the two of them in the same place (to within a mile) at the same time. And the same age. Now it is a possibility.


According to the 1901 English Census, Johnny Goodall married Sarah and lived in Glossop, in Cheshire. They had several children. Johnny played for Preston, then Derby. And when his career flagged a little, they moved to Watford, where he finished his football days as player/manager and finally groundsman.

Vicarage Road, Watford

Big salaries had no part in football in those days, and in his final years, Johnny had to dig an allotment and grow his own vegetables to help feed his family.

Johnny Goodall died on 20 May 1942. He is buried in Watford North Cemetery. There is no marker. No gravestone. But thanks to The Golden Boys, I know the plot number and I can visit him if I wish. I only live an hour away.


Sarah was a strong woman. She worked in the mill, and after marrying Hugh, she went on to have another eight children. I found out later that she was the Sarah from Tyneside. I did finally send for a Birth Certificate. Born in Wallsend, in a Tyne shipyard, she moved back to Riccarton, and stayed there with her mother.

MacDuff Castle, overlooking East Wemyss Cemetery

When the Fife pits called out for miners, the Smith family moved to Fife. Richard joined the Army. Fought in the Boer War and survived losing a leg in the First World War. Auld Smith was also an Invincible.

Sarah died on 30 July 1921, at Denbeath, in Fife. She is buried in East Wemyss Cemetery, right next to MacDuff Castle. Five hundred miles away from Johnny, in Watford.


I called this story 'Sarah and Johnny'.

I could have called it 'Sarah and Johnny were Lovers'.

But I have absolutely no firm, undeniable proof that they ever were.

Johnny married Sarah, but it was Sarah Rawcliffe from Poulton Le Fylde in Lancashire, and not Sarah from Hadrian's Wall on the banks of the Tyne.

Did Johnny run down to England to be a great footballer, or just to avoid being a father? Did he leave one Sarah to marry another on the rebound?

When he was finally laid to rest, unmarked and forgotten by the fickle crowd, did he have the name Sarah on his lips?

And if so, which Sarah?

This last is all idle speculation. The final proof may never come. But Johnny Goodall will have one, last, rememberer.

David Sloan, Smith or may be Goodall.

This story grew from Dave Sloan's desire to find his ancestors.
In particular, to find the answer to the 'Smith' mystery.

It was originally posted on the Scotland's People Discussion Group forum.
When this forum closed, Dave (and a few like minds) set up another forum to carry on the task ...
TalkingScot (still in existence).
From TalkingScot grew 'tachras'.

And here we are!

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Original story © Dave Sloan 2005
Layout, editing and additional material © Dave Sloan 2016
'tachras' and 'Winding Yarn' © Dave Sloan 2005, 2012, 2016

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