THE new year is a time we all think about families and tradition.

My social media stream is full of people posting pictures of well-scrubbed houses – "Grandma insisted on a clean broom for Ne'er Day" – and family recipes – "I don't bake much but this has been in the family for generations."

When my great grand-uncle James died a while back, I inherited a suitcase of family pictures from 1860s tintypes to vibrantly coloured 1960s Rothesay-holiday snaps.

Uncle James died, childless, in his 90s, and I'm now the custodian of his off-duty photos from the First World War trenches, larking around with friends.

He'd been badly wounded, but played down his injuries in letters written home to his mum. With no jobs to be had in post-war Scotstoun, he escaped Glasgow tenement life for New York tenement life, working as an elevator attendant by day and playing jazz piano by night.

He'd a 1920s radio show 'Jimmy Stewart, the Scotch Lad' and sent money home to help his widowed mum.

My grandpa features heavily too. He also fought in The Great War, but succumbed to German bombs in the Clydebank Blitz.

His handsome features stare out from baby to proud young father. There's one especially poignant image from 1940, standing with his beautiful twelve-year-old son Eric.

Within a year, both would be dead. Grandpa at the hands of the Germans; Eric lost to leukaemia.

My grandma's grief was, by all accounts, heart-rending to watch and hear. I still have the griddle that her next-door neighbour made during his shipyard lunch hour in an attempt to lure her from her mourning bed.

Going back a few generations, my grandpa's grandma Sarah Stant's fearsome features brook no challenge.

My mum had spun some yarns about her when I was growing up. She owned a Manhattan brownstone apparently, carried her own feather mattress when she visited Scotstoun, and had coins sewn into her petticoats.

The truth was much less glamorous. She emigrated with her husband and infant son in the nineteenth century, settling into a Brooklyn rooming house with other Scots and Scandinavians.

Her blacksmith husband appears to have grown weary of New York life and left to join the Australian gold rush. She followed, trying to find him, and visited Glasgow en route.

Her feather mattress wasn't a sign of wealth but penury. She probably slept aboard the ship, guarding her few coins in her clothing.

I'm not sure she ever found her husband in Australia, but she lived to a great age in Brooklyn, and her elder son, my great grandfather, became a sea farer. I have his ocean-going passport.

We stand on the shoulders of giants. So many Scottish families have stories like mine with brave near ancestors forced to leave loved ones to seek work abroad.

Small wonder we are so accepting of those who, today, seek sanctuary on our shores.