Alfred "Pop" Sinclair was born in Newhall Cottage, Kirkwall, in the Orkney
Islands of Scotland. His mother was 19 and unmarried, and she didn't didn't give the father's name in his birth registration. That Pop was born out of wedlock is certain -
the registration calls him "illegitimate" and his mother gave him her last name: Sinclair. Pop 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 8 years Barbara Sinclair's junior
and from a different social background. This event was an unlikely one and no easy explanation has been found for it.
Pop 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 Pop didn't like his stepfather, 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 7 more children before she died, apparently after complications in giving birth to the last of them, in 1915.
Pop was a member of the 1st Kirkwall company of the Boys Brigade. The family
has a membership card that indicates he was a sergeant and was living at 17 East Road. When he was about, Pop started to work 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
Pop 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, Pop had moved out of his stepfather's house to live with his grandmother Jacobina at 20 Garden St., Kirkwall, which was nearby. 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 Pop to New York 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.
S. S. Cairndhu in Newfoundland, 1919
Pop 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, Pop being one of them, and Portland is where they got off.(1) Pop listed a cousin named J. W. Dunnet of St. Paul, Minnesota, as his contact in this country and his ultimate destination. J. W. was very likely James William Dunnet, son of his great uncle James. Oral history says that he got off the ship 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, 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 Pop's Dunnet family. In Canarsie, Laura Dunnet and her daughters Margaret and Christine lived next door to her son James and his family. His daughter recalled the day that Pop 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 Pop married Laura's daughter Margaret, or "Molly." It may be that Pop didn't intend to stay in Brooklyn long, and had planned to continue to Minnesota. His Canadian-born cousin was probably as much a stranger to him as the Canarsie Dunnets, though, and obviously there was a quick connection between Pop and Molly. He stayed in New York.
Pop'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. Pop is second from left.
(to be completed) The --- Masonic Lodge in Rockville Centre
admitted him on ---. His unhappy boyhood, at least in part, affected him as an adult. Pop 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 in his ---, and that is what he died of.
Pop is buried next to Molly and her sister Christine in Farmingdale, Long Island. Here are some photos taken by Pop.
child of Alfred Edward and Margaret Lois (Dunnet) Sinclair:
Alfred Edward, b. 10 March 1921, father of the author