ancestral chart mother index home

go to Margaret Dunnet's page

Alfred "Pop" Sinclair was born in Newhall Cottage, Kirkwall, in Orkney, Scotland. His mother was 19 and unmarried, and she didn't didn't give the father's name in his birth registration. That Alfred was born out of wedlock is certain - the registration calls him "illegitimate" and his mother gave him her last name: Sinclair. Alfred was baptized by Rev. John Rutherford at St. Magnus Cathedral on 28 April 1901. When he was 7, his mother married William Garden, the son of prominent Orkney merchant Robert Garden. William was eight years Barbara Sinclair's junior and from a different social background. Based on when their first child was born and that she was born relatively far away on the mainland in Caithness, it appears they didn't want it known that she was conceived before they were married.
     Alfred was very reluctant to talk about his years in Scotland and his family there. I was told by my grandmother and her sister Christine that he didn't like his stepfather, who was an angry alcoholic, and it can be assumed that as he grew up, he was affected by the stigma of not knowing who his father was. His mother had seven more children before she died, apparently after complications in giving birth to the last of them, in 1915.
     Alfred was a member of the 1st Kirkwall company of the Boys Brigade. The family has a membership card that shows he was a sergeant and was living at 17 East Road.

17 East Road, Kirkwall

Alfred worked for R. Garden, Ltd., the grocery and provisions company of his step-family. Eventually he drove a delivery truck for them and learned how to do auto repairs. There are three recommendations that Pop brought with him to the United States that shed light on this:

Kirkwall, July 28th, 1917

Memo. from David Meason, engineer, blacksmith and agricultural implement agent.

I have known the bearer Mr. Alfred Sinclair since boyhood. For the past four years he has been employed driving heavy motor wagons. He is a careful & efficient driver and keeps his cars in first rate condition and he has an absolutely clean record. I have much pleasure in recommending him to anyone requiring his services.

Kirkwall, 28th July, 1917

Memo from Kirkwall Cycle and Motor Depot

It is with pleasure I certify that the bearer Mr. Alfred E. Sinclair presently employed by Messrs. R. Garden Ltd, Kirkwall, has been to my personal knowledge a most reliable and careful motor driver and from my own observation can vouch he is well qualified and able to do roadside repair. Mr. Sinclair has been employed driving heavy motor lorries for a number of years.

W. R. Tullock

Alfred behind the wheel of an R. Garden delivery lorry in Kirkwall

Perhaps in 1915, shortly after he turned 18, but certainly by November of 1916, Alfred had moved out of his stepfather's house to live with his grandmother Jacobina (Dunnet) Sinclair at 20 Garden Street, Kirkwall, which was nearby and owned by the Garden family. He was granted a temporary exemption from service in World War I to January of 1917, no reason given. His recommendations from July of 1917 may have been in anticipation of his joining the army. There is an army license of his dated August of 1917, allowing him to drive for war service, and that he did. He drove an ambulance in the Royal Army Service Corps that accompanied the 59th Regiment. The 59th fought in the major battles at Ypres and Cambrai. He was transferred to reserve status on 23 March 1919. His activities and whereabouts for the next 8 months isn't known, but he was issued a passport at the Foreign Office in London the following November and he boarded a freight ship soon after, never to return.
     The ship that brought Alfred to the United States was the Cairndhu. He made a photographic record of the trip, taking pictures of passing ships, the crew and various scenes in Newfoundland when the ship stopped, so the captions in his photo album say, to be repainted.

Alfred in crew garb aboard Cairndhu. He labelled the photo "Sailor Bill."

Cairndhu was a cargo vessel, and it may be that the only American port of call for that trip was Portland, Maine. The U. S. Customs office there accounted for two men who were passengers on the ship, Alfred being one of them, and Portland is where they got off.Alfred named a cousin J. W. Dunnet of St. Paul, Minnesota, as his contact in this country and his ultimate destination. This was required by customs to avoid vagrancy and since he went to New York City, he probably never intended to go to Minnesota. J. W. was very likely James William Dunnet, son of his great uncle James. Oral history says that he got off the ship in New York and avoided Ellis Island, then opened a phone book and found the Dunnet family in Canarsie, Brooklyn. He actually didn't need to go through customs in New York, having done so in Portland, but the rest of the story is plausible. Sinclair was too common a name, but the Dunnets of Canarsie were the only ones in the New York City area at the time. They were not closely related to Alfred's Dunnet family. In Canarsie, Laura Dunnet and her daughters Margaret and Christine lived next door to her son James and his family. James's daughter recalled the day that Alfred arrived at their house to live. He wasn't there long. The 1920 US census lists him next door at Laura's house. The enumeration took place just before Alfred married Laura's daughter Margaret, or "Molly."
     Alfred's occupation is called "grocery" in the 1920 census (he may have made deliveries as he did in Scotland), but after he married and the family settled in Rockville Centre on Long Island, he worked at the Ace Auto Parts store in nearby Freeport. He was an avid fisherman, boater and photographer.

Ace Auto Parts store, Freeport. Alfred is second from left.

Alfred joined the Masonic Lodge in Rockville Centre. He was very active in the Boy Scouts and helped start a troup. His unhappy boyhood, at least in part, affected him as an adult. He was known as a very kind and sweet man, but also depressed and alcoholic. He also smoked, and after having treatments for (lung cancer?), the radiation created new cancer cells, and that is what he died of. Alfred is buried next to Molly and her sister Christine in Farmingdale, Long Island. Here are some photos taken by him.

child of Alfred Edward Sinclair and Margaret Lois Dunnet:

Alfred Edward, b. 10 March 1921

all text and photographs © 1998-2023 by Doug Sinclair unless where otherwise noted