Tag Archives: Robert Burns

Ancestral Synchronicity in Saltcoats, Scotland

The Saltcoats train and bus station, with connections to Glasgow, Ayr, Kilmarnock and many other places in Ayrshire.

Jeff and I parked the camper for two weeks in Saltcoats because their “holiday park” had the amenities we needed for such a long stay, and it was a centralized location, with a train station, for my genealogy research in Ayrshire. Little did I know, when I booked our spot months before we left the States, that I would also find ancestral connections there!

Saltcoats Town Hall

Saltcoats is a cute little town on the coast of the Firth of Clyde in southwest Scotland, just a short hop to Kilmarnock—where most of my research was to be done—and to Ayr and Glasgow, also places with ancestral connections.

My husband (Jeff), my brother (Mike) and I spent a lot of time bopping around the town on the days that I didn’t feel well enough to be out scouring the countryside for genealogy clues. There were plenty of pubs to keep us busy, including The Salt Cot, where the food and drinks were very affordable and downright delicious. They have a great system where you order by app from your table by giving your table number and paying for it on the app when you order. They were also one of the few places I found with Pimm’s readily available.

On the days I felt well enough to leave the camper, I certainly kept up with Jeff and Mike in the ale sampling, in spite of (or because of?) being sick with a head cold. One of my favorites pubs was the Windy Ha, where Rabbie Burns is said to have been a regular customer because he enjoyed the friendly atmosphere.

The Windy Ha, where Robert Burns is rumored to have been a regular.

There’s a framed print on the wall, inside, saying that Rabbie wrote his 1792 poem, Saw Ye Bonie Lesley, “while having a quiet drink” in the Windy Ha, about a local woman named Lesley, with whom he had fallen in love.

In addition to enjoying our unhurried time in Saltcoats, which allowed us a chance to soak in some genuine Scottish life, as opposed to hurrying from place to place or only visiting tourist sites, imagine my surprise and delight when I discovered that my 3x great-grandfather, Alexander Garroch, lived in Saltcoats in his final years, according to the 1901 census.

Alexander is as far back as I can trace the Garroch name in my family tree. He was born around 1827 in Wigtownshire and, from what I can gather, was involved in a paternity suit in 1844 at age 17, while working as a farm laborer. He didn’t marry the girl, and she gave birth to a daughter. He married my 3x great-grandmother, Margaret, when she was 21 (he was 19). They had nine children in 15 years.

My 3x great-grandfather lived at this address at age 75, according to the 1901 census. He lived in many places throughout his life, but retired and probably died here.

Alex and Margaret eventually moved to Riccarton, near Kilmarnock, living for a while in a place called Bridgehouse Cathouse. I assumed, using American vernacular, that this meant it was a house if ill-repute, but my Scottish researcher friends were surprised at that and quickly assured me that it probably meant that there were just a lot of cats hanging out around that house. Many houses had descriptive names instead of street addresses. The local residents knew the houses by these names.

In 1861, they lived in the Gatehead Tollhouse, where Margaret was the toll keeper and Alex worked, again, as a farm laborer. She died in 1870 at the age of 45 and he remarried a woman named Jessie, with whom he eventually moved to Saltcoats and lived as a “Retired Ploughman” according to the census.

The most welcome ancestral connection, though, came in the form of meeting a living and breathing distant cousin, Sandra, who just happened to own a caravan at the same holiday park we were staying in. Sandra and I are related through our shared 5x great-grandmother, Grace Maxwell. Grace has been a brick wall for many of her ancestors, with a lot of different online family trees disagreeing about who her parents were. That mystery has finally been solved, but now her confirmed father, James Maxwell, is the new face of that brick wall.

I had a lovely chat with Sandra and her husband, Bobby, when they came to the park’s laundromat to keep me company as I tried valiantly to do two weeks worth of laundry. We talked like we’ve known one another for lifetimes. Unfortunately, I didn’t get any photos because I was distracted and looking pretty ragged, after so much traveling. The dryers weren’t working because the fish and chips shop next door had recently caught fire, so the gas was turned off in the building—meaning, no heat in the dryers!

But, just like family, Sandra and Bobby generously volunteered to take my wet laundry back to their house to dry it for me. Weeks later, as I write this, my heart still swells with gratitude for this huge favor. We had no way to get the wet clothes to another local laundromat (we couldn’t drive the camper, due to the diesel/unleaded fuel clusterboink) so I was screwed. My cousin’s willingness to help was such a godsend! Thank you, Sandra and Bobby!

And, of course, here’s you another dug (Scottish for dog), this one waiting for its people on the main drag in Saltcoats:


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.

 

 

http://www.lisabonnice.com

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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.

http://www.lisabonnice.com