Tag Archives: Coal Mining

Setting foot on ancestral land

This flag attached to the ceiling of the Tam O’Shanter Inn in Ayrshire, Scotland reminded me that I was in the land of “Freeeeeeeeeedom!!!”.

I knew, when I set off for Scotland, that I would come back changed. I knew that some “ancestral healing” would occur, because that was my intention. And, boy, did I get it … in spades!

For the first time, I set foot on Scottish soil—the land of my mom’s dad, and his folk for as far back as I can trace. I went because I’m that serious about  genealogy and because these people have a fascinating story. But mostly I wanted to figure out why my mom—who died last year—was chronically depressed, because she passed it on to me and I had to know: Did she inherit the gray gloom from them? And, did I have to inherit the gloom from her?

It makes sense that an inherent miasma of woe was passed down through this lineage, considering what happened to her own dad, William (called Willie, as a child—in his homeland, that’s pronounced “Wullie”).

On the right side of this photo taken in Coalburn, Scotland, there used to be a coal mine. My great-grandfather and his son Wullie, my granddad, used to walk to work down this road. I walked in their footsteps.

Wullie had a hard childhood, working in the coalmines as a teen, and then losing both of his parents before he turned 19, right after emigrating to the States and leaving everyone and everything he knew behind.

No wonder he couldn’t show love to his own kids, when he eventually had them. His ability to feel must have been blown to bits after his mom died of cancer and was buried on his eighteenth birthday, and his father was killed in a mine explosion just a few months later, leaving all four of their children orphaned in a strange land.

(Image Source) This photo was taken days before the March 8, 1924 explosion at Castle Gate Mine #2, in which my great-grandfather was killed. For all I know, he could be in this photo.

Wullie could have died alongside his father that day—he should have been in the mine, but was laid off because work was slow and he didn’t have a family yet. Men with families to support were allowed to work that day.

So, let’s add survivor’s guilt to an already very full plate. It’s no surprise that he was unable to connect emotionally with his children or his many wives, leaving my mom hurt and resentful through the end of her days.

If you want to talk about passing down depression, this is a pretty good place to start. Mom, even though she had a good life by normal standards, was never happy. No matter what she achieved, or what gorgeous possessions she surrounded herself with, she just couldn’t be happy for herself, or anyone else. In fact, many of us wouldn’t even tell her our own good news because she’d always find a way to look at the dark side and pee in our Wheaties.

I have a tendency to look at life the same way and have, therefore, been as deliberate as I can to instead view things in a positive light. In spite of these efforts, I have always been tortured by depressive thoughts. No matter how much I accomplished, no matter how nice a home I created, it just wasn’t enough to feel okay. That’s all I wanted—to just feel okay, and that’s not a very high bar. Even so, I couldn’t do it.

It didn’t start with my mom or Wullie, though. I experienced things in Scotland that showed me that they were just cogs in a very large wheel. I could write a book about how this trip has changed my outlook (in fact, don’t be surprised if you see it fictionalized one of these days). But because this is a blog and needs to be kept short, I’ll just say that these past few weeks of being put through the ancestral healing grinder have been truly transformative. I’ll tell more about it in the days to come, but this is enough for now. The story needs time to unfold.

I’ve been home less than 24 hours and my house feels both alien and familiar. Yes, this is the same place I’ve lived for a long while, and these are the things I’ve collected over the years, but I’m seeing it all like a hologram through prismic lenses.

Right now, I’m struggling to fit back into my old life without losing any of the expansion I’ve attained. It feels like trying to force myself into a pair of favorite shoes that I’ve grown out of over the past month. I loved those shoes, but my feet are bigger and I can’t wear them anymore.

Some hae meat and canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it,
But we hae meat and we can eat,
And sae let the Lord be thanket.

So, I’m stretching those shoes as I reminisce, unpacking my souvenirs and showering with the remains of the travel-sized soaps and shampoos. I’m hanging up the Rabbie Burns plaque that we bought in an antique shop in Ayr, and finding a place for the rock that I picked up in the parking lot at Stonehenge. I’m eating the last of the chocolate Weetabix that I brought home, and drinking my morning tea from the cup I bought in London on our first day there. This is all helping to assimilate old me into new me.

I’m changed. I’m more multidimensional. I’m bigger on the inside. I’m deeper and richer, and somehow … happy. So, the healing begins.

Stay tuned for more and here’s you a pair of Scottish dogs (or dugs, as they pronounce it there):


Lisa Bonnice is an award-winning, best-selling author. Her current passion-project is a series of metaphysical comedy novels. The first is entitled The Poppet Master (previously published as Be Careful What You Witch For!, now revamped and with a new ending). The Poppet Master is 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. The Poppet Master will be available in summer 2019. Its sequel is in the works.

Lisa is also writing The Maxwell Curse, a fictionalized version of a story she found in her own ancestral lineage about a witch trial, a generational curse, and massive mine explosion, all of which left ripples of destruction in their wake, devastating one family’s tree.


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.