American actor traces Scottish ancestor in 'spine tingling' discovery

A late-night online trawl of a Scottish art collection delivered a ‘spine tingling’ result for an American actor searching for his roots.

Actor James Rawlings (left), his father, also James (centre) and the portrait of artist MB Watt  (right) that made the breakthrough family connection for the American.
Actor James Rawlings (left), his father, also James (centre) and the portrait of artist MB Watt (right) that made the breakthrough family connection for the American.

James Rawlings of Louisiana has spent years researching his family history but hit a wall when trying to advance his Scottish family line.

But the late-night discovery of a portrait in the online collection of Hamilton’s Low Parks Museum gave him the breakthrough he needed with the man staring back at him completely taking the actor aback, given the resemblance the subject had to his own father.

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Mr Rawlings said: “My father died young as did his father before him and as a result the story of that line in my family tree had largely been lost but I set out to piece it together.

“It was in the early hours of the morning when I suddenly, and quite unexpectedly, made a significant breakthroughthanks entirely to Low Parks Museum in Hamilton.

“I had already established a paternal line of Scottish ancestry when online searches resulted in two portraits from the museum the family resemblance was spine-tinglingly obvious.

“And although this was an exceptional discovery, the fascinating revelations did not stop there.”

The portrait was of artist Malcolm B Watt, from the Hamilton area, has since been confirmed as the great great grandfather of Mr Rawlings.

It has now emerged that a painting that has hung in Mr Rawlings home for many years – and on several occasions almost thrown out – was created by his ancestor.

James said: “Although the painting had been passed down through the generations we had never known who the artist was and to be honest we are quite lucky to still have it as it was nearly thrown away on several occasions.

“The painting is showing its age but now we know my ancestor M.B. Watt was the artist it will be given much more care. It is a window on the past and to our family history.”

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South Lanarkshire Leisure and Culture Museum Officer Sharon Paton said: “What James found was a painting of The Hoolet Raw in Chatelherault by M.B. Watt and the really exciting thing is it has a sister painting passed down through the generations of his family.

“James told us the family had long wondered what and where the painting depicted and said that when the mystery was solved in the early hours of that morning he was worried his celebrations would wake up the whole family.”

Mr Rawlings is continuing to uncover more of his famils story and is researching possible burial sites which he hopes may lead to other descendants and, hopefully, family still living in Scotland

He is also trying to establish links to Scottish landscape painter John B Fleming, whose family came from the Avondale area of South Lanarkshire.

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