Crowdfunding kickstarts family mystery book

Katie Carmichael with her book about her great-grandfather Thomas from Taynuilt.

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The life story of a 1920s Taynuilt ship steward who left his family to make his fortune in New York is about to be made into a graphic novel.

Thomas Carmichael’s great-granddaughter Katie Carmichael has just launched a  Kickstarter campaign so she can share the century-long family mystery that surrounds his life and ended in murder – or was is an accident?

Thomas Carmichael worked for David MacBrayne on highland mail steamers and was based at Oban Pier and Glenshellach Terrace until he emigrated to work for the United Fruit Company.

Thomas Carmichael and his bride Mary.

Thanks to Scotland’s People and other family history databases, Katie was able to piece together the sketchy information about Thomas to reveal details of his life and his death in Depression-era New York, a time when many Scots were emigrating in the hope of new lives and work.

Katie, from Alloa, said: ‘Thomas grew up in Glasgow and worked in Oban on RMS Plover, but shortly after he married Mary from Taynuilt his work as a ship steward kept him at sea far more than he was ever on land. All the information our family had about him since then was his name and a story that he’d been murdered on the docks in New York.’

The book called My Great Grandfather, the Alien, is a fully illustrated scrapbook-style graphic novel, which includes illustrations created from the archival documents that helped Katie join the dots about her ancestor, bringing his strange story to life.

‘It would mean the world to me to raise enough from the Kickstarter campaign to bring the book to print. Ultimately, I want to capture and preserve this fascinating piece of local social history for generations to come by telling Thomas’s story in a graphic novel,’ said Katie.

Researcher and genealogist Mary Evans, who contributes to the BBC show Who Do You Think You Are?, said: ‘Family stories passed down the generations are a wonderful way of putting flesh on the bones of our family history but they can become embellished along the way as gaps are seemingly filled and facts enhanced.

‘Katie has set out to find documentary evidence for the intriguing story of her great-grandfather, Thomas Carmichael, and the result is this fascinating and beautifully illustrated book. From the rural Highlands and Islands of Scotland to the cosmopolitan areas of New York, his life is mapped out in detail. And there is still a chance to use the imagination: was it accident or murder?’

The Kickstarter campaign for My Great Grandfather, the Alien can be found at: tiny.cc/MGGTA