Tag Archives: Ancestry.com

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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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.

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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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