Category Archives: Travel

Who do I think I am?

A genealogy FANATIC, that’s who!

I’ve been into ancestry research for many years, long before the TV show Who Do You Think You Are? began airing. It has since become one of my favorite programs. How about you? Isn’t it a great show?

When I first signed up with Ancestry.com in 2008, I knew very little about my grandparents, and nothing about anyone beyond them in my family tree. After extensive digging (and some mild obsessing) my first big success came when I discovered a long-lost second-cousin from my paternal grandfather’s side of the family who coincidentally lived a couple of miles from my brother.

I was hooked!

Since then, I have connected with family from all over the world, some of whom happen to look just like me. My dad had 10 first-cousins we never knew about, so I am now enjoying a whole passel of second-cousins.

Next, it was time to dig into my mom’s side of the family.

I wasn’t making much progress until one day I got a message in my Ancestry.com inbox from the husband of my third-cousin (who, up until then, I didn’t know existed), telling me that some of my Scottish ancestors had died in a famous Utah mine explosion.

Over the years, since I first learned of this story, I’ve managed to dig up an impressive amount of information about these people about their lives, and their deaths.

William and Helen, my great-grandparents whose names I didn’t previously know emigrated from Scotland in 1922 with their four kids: Jeannie, Willie (my eventual grandfather), Nellie and Isabella.

Before then, William worked in the coalmines in Scotland, where life was desperately hard. Helen’s brother was a big wig at the coalmine in Castle Gate, Utah and he arranged jobs for his family members. Several of his siblings journeyed across the Pond on ocean liners, with their families, to seek their fortunes.

Only a year later, Helen died of cancer at age 39 leaving Jeannie, who was 19 at the time, to mother her siblings. Six months later William, his brother Peter and their cousin Thomas were all killed in a massive mine explosion that took the lives of 172 men. William and Helen’s kids were now orphaned, strangers in a strange land.

Through my research, I discovered that William and Helen’s kids spent a large sum of money ($2,000 in today’s currency) for their headstone. That tells me that they cared a great deal for their parents — after William was killed, the kids had to fend for themselves. To put themselves in debt like that … well …

I’ve seen this photo of Helen and William’s headstone online, because someone else posted the pic on the FindAGrave website. Next week I’m traveling to Castle Gate to visit their graves for the first time.

It will be my honor to pay my respects to these people, the great-grandparents I never knew — and never would have known, if not for Ancestry.com.


lisa author shotLisa Bonnice is an award-winning, best-selling author. Her current passion-project is a series of metaphysical comedy novels. The first in the series is Be Careful What You Witch For!, a modern-day fairy tale about Lola Garnett, a bored housewife and office drone who wakes up with unexpected psychic abilities, and no instruction manual, and Twink, the reluctant, sarcastic faery assigned to assist and educate her. Its sequel, Patterns in the Chaos, is in the works.

http://www.lisabonnice.com

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Lisa & Jeff go to White Castle

lisa-and-jeff-go-to-white-castle-copy

There are no White Castle‘s anywhere near us so in January 2015, when Jeff heard that a new one was opening in Las Vegas, he immediately declared that we must go.

He craves a bag o’ sliders. Neither of us has had a White Castle burger in about five years. Unfortunately, Vegas is almost six hours away from Phoenix, where we live, so it has taken a long while for us to finally get up the time, the money and the energy to make the trek.

This weekend, we are finally going. I hope they’re as good as I remember.

Martha McGrath, 1851, Bradford England

I think Martha McGrath was my mom’s mom’s dad’s dad’s mom (my third great-grandmother). I say “I think” because I’m not 100% sure. All signs point in that direction, but I hesitate to state it as fact. One of her sons shows up in a stranger’s Ancestry.com family tree with matching information to my own, so it’s safe to assume they are the same person, but I’m always cautious if I can’t confirm it more than once.

According to the 1851 England census,  Martha lived in Bradford, England (Bradford was mentioned in the Doctor Who episode The Crimson Horror) with her three children at 120 Longland St. I can actually see that building on Google Maps. When Jeff and I go to England this summer, I’ll see it in person.

Born in 1807, Martha was a 44-year-old widow at the time and worked as a dress maker. She was born in Ireland, as was her husband and father of her three children. Beyond this, there is no information about him anywhere, at least not where I can find it.

My second great-grandfather, James McGrath, was 12 at the time. He was born in Bradford and worked as a “boot closer”. His little brother Alexander was 8, and their little sister, Mary, was 4.

By the time James was 22, he had moved to Manchester and lived as a lodger at 65 Fleet St, Ashton-under-Lyne–according to the 1861 census. He worked as a cordwainer, so apparently shoe-making agreed with him.

By 1870, he had somehow emigrated to the US (I can’t find his name on any passenger lists), because he shows up in Detroit, in the census, married to my second great-grandmother Josephine. He was employed as a brewer, which he apparently continued to do for the rest of his life–that is, at least, according to what my mom has been told.

I get the sense that he was being deliberately sketchy about being kept track of. In various places, he lists his birthplace as either Ireland or England. I can’t find him or any other dependents in any census records after that, until my great-grandfather Charlie McGrath moves out and starts his own life, with his marriage to his first wife, Maggie O’Leary, in 1894.

Maggie died, leaving him with two daughters, Marie and Grace. He eventually married Emma Gelinski, and they gave birth to my mom’s mom, Mildred in 1904.

Great-Grandpa Charlie, with my mom, Joann circa 1937

Great-Grandpa Charlie, with my mom, Joann circa 1937

In 1910, the census lists Charles McGrath as an agent in a tea store, and in 1920, he was employed as a tool clerk in an auto factory (this was Detroit, after all). He disappears from the records after that. My mom tells me that he became a brewer and ran a drinking establishment before Prohibition. The front room held a bar for the men, and the ladies would go into the back room to sit in the parlor to drink. He had to close this business down when Prohibition began.

Charlie died in 1940. This picture of him is as far back as his lineage goes, in our family photos.

But it all began with Martha, in Ireland, in 1807. And whomever came before her … and before her … and before her …


Ancestry search reveals the beginning of a story

I didn’t know my mom’s dad. Her parents divorced when she was a teen, and I only have a vague memory of meeting him once when I was a kid. All I knew about him, growing up, was that he was born in Scotland and he was an engineer who worked at the Nike missile sites in Norway during WWII.

Because she never talked about him, and he didn’t seem interested in us, I wasn’t very curious about who he was. I concentrated all of my genealogy research on my dad’s side of the family, and was able to unearth his ten long-lost cousins. I am now in contact with cousins all over the world, people who look just like me, who I never knew existed!

But now that I’m planning a summer 2014 trip to Scotland, where my grandfather was born, I thought I’d do a little research on Ancestry.com to see if I could scout out any locations to visit while I’m there. Oh boy, did I find some stories!

I’m still putting the pieces together but, from the looks of it, just his lifetime alone was a heckuva tale. He was born in 1905, in Dreghorn, to a coal-mining family. Ancestry.com searches have given me actual locations where they lived, in various “Miners’ Rows” in Dreghorn and the surrounding villages around Kilmarnock, Ayrshire.

Never having been there, the phrase “Miners’ Row” meant nothing to me. I had no frame of reference. My husband’s parents were also coal miners’ kids, but they grew up in America. Their lives were hard–I’ve seen the movie Coal Miner’s Daughter, and I’ve visited Elkhorn City, KY, where his dad grew up–so I expected to find that my grandfather’s life wasn’t a cake walk. But here in the US, life was easy compared to the conditions in turn-of-the-century Scotland!

Here is a description for Six Row, which Ancestry.com listed as one of his family’s addresses (from the Scottish Mining Website):

“There are two water-closets for each row placed immediately in front of the houses and two washing-houses. There are also very filthy cesspools in front of the doors. The brick tiles on the floors are very much broken up, and holes inches deep are to observed everywhere. The walls of the houses are very damp, and the partitions do not appear to have been plastered. There is one ash-pit for every two rows. A well with gravitation water is placed in each row. There are two washing-houses for each row, but the floors are so sunken and broken up that the women complain that they have to stand to the ankles in water when doing their washing. The condition of the roads into these rows is abominable.”

I found this photo on an Ayrshire history site (ayrshirehistory.org.uk). It seems to be a fairly representative photo of the miners rows back then.

So I guess it’s no surprise that the entire family packed up and moved to the US in the 1920’s. Things didn’t get much better for my grandfather, because within two years of moving here, his mother died of cancer and, a year later, his father and uncle were killed in the famous Castle Gate Mine explosion in Utah.

Photo of the Castle Gate memorial “borrowed” from Paul and Kathleen Smith’s travel-blog http://www.lazydazers.com/index.cfm?fa=ShowItem&ID=3232

I don’t know why my grandfather wasn’t there that day. My mom thinks that it may be because he told her that his parents didn’t want him to be a coal miner–they wanted a “better life” for him. However, just two weeks before the explosion, the mining company cut down on their work force and laid off many men who had no dependents. So that could be why he wasn’t there. In any case, he and his sisters, according to the records I found, were taken in by his mother’s brother, who was killed in a car accident in 1944.

The irony is that, if I follow his family tree backward into history, he is descended from royalty on his mother’s side of the family (by about twenty generations). The Littlejohn branch takes us backward to the Stewart/Bruce lineage!

At this point, that’s about all I know about him. I can’t wait to get to Scotland to walk the same ground as these people about whom I only know the stories of their deaths. I look forward to learning about their lives.

Help “crowdfund” my trip!

Follow my progress on GiveIt100!

Why you should use GiveIt100.com to accomplish your goals (an unsolicited review)

I started using the goal-tracking website GiveIt100.com on December 1, and already–just four short weeks later–I am a changed person. Let me tell you how that happened.

Goal achievement doesn’t come easily to me. I tend to procrastinate and will do just about anything to avoid rejection. To that end, I’ve designed a system that works for me. I call it Shape Shifting, and I use it create the life of my desires (see my blog “How I reached my Goal Weight” for more info).

Recently, I created a pretty challenging goal for myself: to take a three-month trip to Great Britain next summer. That is a challenge for many reasons but, mostly, it’s the expense that’s stopping me. I’ve been using my Shape Shifter’s Daily Diary, and have made tremendous progress, but I got stuck and I needed something outside of my own toolbox.

Ask and the Universe delivers.

My friend Curtis told me about a website that he had stumbled upon, founded by Karen Cheng–the woman whose time-lapse video Girl Learns to Dance in a Year had gone viral.

In response to numerous questions about how she did it, she and her partner, Finbarr Taylor, created a site called GiveIt100.com where users are asked to upload a 10-second video every day for 100 days showing their progress toward a goal. I decided to give it a try and launched my project: I’m planning a trip abroad with “creative financing”, for 100 days.

Give It 100 offers exactly what I was looking for. It’s the missing link between my own method/comfort zone and accomplishing a goal that feels very far away.

Because I have agreed to post a video, every day for 100 days, I have to demonstrate progress every day. While Give It 100 shares progress-tracking with Shape Shifting, there are a couple differences:

  1. Give It 100 shares your progress  publicly, so there is a stronger accountability factor (Shape Shifting groups are a little more private).
  2. Going to the trouble of creating a video forces you to make an effort toward progress, because you have to have something to talk about. It’s hard to take a day off.
  3. It’s deliberate focus on one single goal. With Shape Shifting, I’m working on (and succeeding with) several goals at once. But this goal is so big that it requires laser-like focus.

Another thing I like about Karen’s site and her attitude is that it gives users permission to fail, make mistakes and look stupid. That’s half the battle, when working toward an “impossible dream.” It’s hard to publicly declare a goal and then admit you don’t have a clue how to accomplish it. This site demonstrates the understanding that practice makes perfect, and no one is a born expert at everything.

So many of us don’t even start toward that dream because we cannot conceive of how to accomplish it–it’s too doggone big. I like Give It 100‘s baby-steps approach. Since I started, I have had breakthrough after breakthrough simply because I knew I had to show them I was doing something … anything … to move forward.

I’m only 28 days in, and already I have pushed myself through the kinds of barriers that I might have otherwise allowed myself to procrastinate my way out of. Without the accountability and forgiving encouragement of Give It 100, I may have eventually stopped trying and the whole thing may have become a forgotten dream, one of those things I would remember wanting to do but never getting around to.

No, I still don’t have the money to pay for this trip. But I now have a lot of good ideas, some great leads and new contacts that I wouldn’t have had otherwise. I can’t wait to see where I’ll be in another 72 days!

Follow my progress on GiveIt100.com!

Looking for Experts: Sponsorship

I’ve reached a point in planning this trip where I am ready to take the next step: looking for sponsors. I’ve done a lot of research into “who” and “why”, and I have a pretty good list of the kinds of companies to approach. What I need from the experts is advice and/or assistance in “how”.

What I’ll be pitching:

WHO: I am a best-selling author of four books and part of my planned “Bucket List” trip to the UK is to do research for two (or more) upcoming books. My husband Jeff and I are both former standup comedians, and we make great traveling companions and story tellers. You can read one of our month-long adventures beginning with this blog.

Tintagel Castle, Cornwall.(zpqt)

Tintagel Castle (Photo credit: Bob Linsdell)

WHAT: We’re planning a summer-long trip to the UK in 2014. We will be exploring Arthurian legend sites, tracking Doctor Who shooting locations, visiting ancestral sites (we both have extensive and interesting ancestor stories from all over the UK), interviewing the occasional celebrity that we’ve seen on BBC America (we’ve already successfully started booking interviews), taking gorgeous nature walks, blogging and writing restaurant reviews. The pinnacle of the trip, for me, will be to face my intense fear of heights and take a photo of the sunset over the Irish Sea from the top of the Blackpool Tower.

English: Blackpool Tower

Blackpool Tower (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

WHERE: England, Wales, Scotland and possibly Ireland.

WHEN: We’re shooting for next summer, from the start of June until the end of August. We’ve been invited to a Druid Solstice ritual shortly after we arrive, and we’ll spend June in southern England and Wales, exploring Camelot and Avalon, and Jeff’s ancestry and Doctor Who locations.

In July, we’ll spend time in Liverpool, because we’re Beatles fans, then head to Janet’s Foss, a waterfall in central England where the Queen of the Faeries is supposed to have lived. Along the way, we’ll be taking long nature walks to see the beauty that is the United Kingdom. Then we’ll head up to Scotland for a visit, to find where my ancestors ranged from dirt-poor coalminers to ancient royalty.

English: Janet's Foss

Janet’s Foss (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In August, we’ll still be in Scotland and possibly Ireland, but then we’ll come back south in time to spend a week in Blackpool during their annual Illuminations celebration. We’ll be tracking down shooting locations for the incredible BBC miniseries, Blackpool (starring David Tennant, Sarah Parish and David Morrissey). We’ll wrap up the trip in London and head home.

WHY: Why not? Life is short and the world is waiting.

Regarding sponsors, I have a list of several companies to approach. I’ve already started to build a platform. I have very good reasons why each of these companies may be interested in trading goods/cash in exchange for shameless pluggery. We’re going anyway. They may as well come along for the ride.

So … now what? How do I make this happen? What kind of presentation should I create? How do I pitch this? Do you want to sponsor us? Do you want to help us find sponsors in exchange for sponsorship? Your expertise is requested and appreciated. Fill in the form below, or email me at lisa @ lisabonnice.com.  Meantime, I will continue to plug away with research.

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Synchronicity from Scotland

Mel Gibson's version of Robert the Bruce

Mel Gibson’s version of Robert the Bruce

There was a flaw in my family tree. Years ago, I had traced my mom’s dad’s lineage all the way up to Robert the Bruce (the cutie pie* King of Scotland, in Braveheart) but it just didn’t feel right. I didn’t know how or even what to fix. I was reluctant to mention this factoid in blogs about the planning of our trip to Scotland, because I wanted to be accurate but sensed that I wasn’t.

Turns out, I was wrong, but what I love most about this story is how I found out.

As part of the trip, I’m tracking down our family trees so we can visit ancestral sites. Part of Jeff’s family comes from Wales and England, and much of mine comes from Scotland, England and Ireland. I’ve been actively searching again for my Scottish roots, looking for the flaw that I knew was there, but coming up empty.

Out of the blue, I got a message on the Ancestry.com site from a probable distant relative in Scotland with a brief message about the information I had found, years ago, for my great-grandmother. The message said only: “I have doubts about her parents.”

Sure enough, that was the branch that led us to royalty.

With the new information he offered in subsequent emails, I redid the whole thing, and along the way found actual addresses for my great-grandparents! I learned that my grandfather, who I didn’t know, lived in desperate conditions in a coal-mining family, and all of his direct ancestors did as well. They lived in hard times, a far cry from princes and princesses. It’s a fascinating story, and the local historical societies are bubbling with all of the information I need to actually stand in the same locations as my ancestors.

Once I learned as much as I could about the most recent generations, I started to go up the branches to see how far back I could take it this time. I didn’t expect much, because no one cared enough about the unwashed masses back then to keep track of them beyond the census. But eventually I discovered a pretty strong limb that was taking me back into the same surnames that I recognized from last time: Bruce and Stewart.

It turns out that I am not, indeed, the 22nd granddaughter of Robert I, King of Scots. I am, however, the 22nd granddaughter of his brother, Edward the Bruce, King of Ireland!

I love how the Big U delivered this information to me in such a quirky way. It feels like a hole was punched into the time/space continuum at the perfect time to open this portal to my Scottish heritage. I’m doing a wee jig, as we speak!


* in reality, King Robert was probably horribly disfigured from leprosy.

What he probably actually looked like.

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