Category Archives: WDYTYA

The voyage to meet my ancestors begins …

On November 8, 1921, my great-grandfather William Garroch—along with his brother Peter, his 16-year-old son (my grandfather, William Jr.) and his nephew Thomas—crossed the Atlantic Ocean, from Glasgow to New York City. They traveled on an ocean liner called Cameronia, in second-class cabins.

On January 20, 1922, my great-grandmother Helen—along with their three daughters—followed on a ship called Lapland, also second-class. Helen had $200 cash, in pocket.

After passing through Ellis Island, they traveled by train to Castle Gate, Utah, where Helen’s brother, William Littlejohn, was the superintendent of the Castle Gate coal mine, owned by the Utah Fuel Company. He had arranged jobs for numerous family members, and many of them traveled from Scotland, where the life of a coal miner was much, much more difficult.

Both oceanic voyages took 11 days, and I don’t know how long it took them to get from NYC to Castle Gate. Tomorrow I will travel to Castle Gate with my daughter, from Phoenix, Arizona, a nine-hour drive.

I’ll keep their discomfort in mind if I begin to feel restless about sitting in a car for such a ‘long time’. My daughter’s car is a comfy ride, and we’ll have a cooler packed full of fresh, healthy Trader Joe foods. In comparison, I have nothing to complain about.

Once we’re there, we’ll be touring the site where the town of Castle Gate used to be. It no longer exists. The only thing left is the cemetery where William, Helen, Peter and Thomas are buried, and the opening to Mine #2, the mineshaft in which all three men were killed during the Castle Gate Mine Explosion on March 8, 1924.

We’ll also be visiting the Western Mining and Railroad Museum to view pictures of the town and the people from back then, and chat with the curators there.

I’ll be posting here and on Facebook, live, during the trip so if you’re as interested in genealogy as I am, follow along! I think you’ll find it fascinating.

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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