Sometime back before the turn of the century we had the vague idea of visiting Scotland to see where a chunk of my family’s history played out. I’m a Canadian with Scottish roots on both sides of the family. My great-grandfather on my father’s side was a fishmonger in Edinburgh before he emigrated to Canada with his children, my grandfather among them. He died not long after the photo with me on his lap was taken.
Then when we were mulling over the idea of visiting back then a distant cousin, whose hobby was geneology, sent me a hand-written letter full of details about my great-grandfather and his times back in the late 1800s in Edinburgh. She had visited Scotland in the early 1970s and had tracked down many details of our Scottish roots going back a few generations.
One thing interrupted another as life happened to us in the meantime while we were making other plans, so we never did make it to Scotland.
I’d bought a guidebook we never used, but because we’re now definitely going to be there in one month, the other day took it off the shelf where it’s been sitting for the past dozen years. I was thinking there must be some interesting stuff about Scottish history in it even if the practical information must be hopelessly out of date.
As I took it off the shelf it opened to the page where I’d stuffed a letter my cousin had written me so long ago, and quickly forgotten. It’s better than any guidebook is going to be. It’s got a little wander all laid out for us. Here’s an excerpt:
Your great-great grandparents John and Isabella lived on Leith Street near Register House. Your great-great grandfather John was a lithographer. Your great-grandfather was a fishmonger and had three fish shops before coming to Canada. Your grandfather James was a bank manager in Saskatchewan. Your grandparents were married in the Tron Kirk, High Street and South Bridges. (hmmm. they must have gone back to get married? Must check this.)
Your Granddad and my mother lived as children in a house on Warrender Place (or Park) Edinburgh near Marchmont Road. She and your grandfather were pals. Most of her childhood memories were with him. It is a lovely street, wish I had known the address. Your great-granddad James (their father) had a fish shop on the corner of Warrender and Marchmont. Mother and your grand-dad played on the Meadows nearby, and spoke of the huge jawbone they played under. I found it, not so huge, must be a whale bone, would appear very big to a child.
Your grand-dad and my mother walked the Royal Mile every day because James had two other fish shops. They used to ride under Canongate Tollbooth, driver had to pay. They lived in Duddingston for a while and attended school. I have since been told that the school might have group pictures with them in it. My mother always wondered what she looked like as a child.
Suggest you walk the Royal Mile. Your great grand-dad sang in choir at St. Giles Cathedral. It is beautiful. Sundays the Pipers are there for church service.
(…) My mother’s memories of her fourteen years in Scotland made my visit to the homeland memorable. I felt as though I belonged.
Another family detail gleaned from a photocopied Scottish newspaper clipping was their war record. My grandfather had six brothers. All seven of them fought in France during World War I. They each fought in a different unit and never met the other during the whole conflict. Astoundingly, all seven survived that most murderous of wars, which the clipping mentions must be a record for the whole country.
A clipping of my great-grandfather’s obituary was also among the papers stuffed in that guidebook. Apparently I have another place to pore through: Carisbrooke cemetery. Would the gravestone still be there? It will take a visit to the Isle of Wight to find out for sure.