Thursday, 21 March 2013

Roots: I go to Scotland to make my family history more tangible. Seeing where it happened enables dry facts to come alive.

Argyle and parts of Dumbartonshire in the 19th Century. 
The scene of my family history from the 17th-20th Centuries 

A genealogy trip to Scotland: Roots on the ground or is it simply satisfying a bucket list item of an aging geriatric?

by Tom Thorne

I have the family history bug. Stories still on this blog attest to this interest. Family Historyitis is a pleasantly incurable syndrome, however, and at times it smacks of an obsession. The infection is now at a point where to really understand my Argyllshire Scottish roots I feel compelled to get on the ground in Scotland.

This has morphed into a trip to Scotland this spring. On 10 April 2013 my wife Mieke and I, make for Brussels Airport from Toronto where we land on the morning of 11 April. At the airport Mieke goes off with her Belgian family primarily to see her mother who is 92  this year.

I hang about Brussels Airport for a tiring day and then in the afternoon fly on to Edinburgh where I intend to get my rental car and go to sleep in the first hotel I find. On the morning of 12 April my jet lagged odyssey into family history begins. 

In 2007 we went to Scotland to tour the highlands and see Neolithic megalithic standing stones and other archaeological evidence at Callanish on the Hebrides,  Brognar Ring on Orkney and other sites throughout the Scottish Highlands. That was a wonderful trip but the fleeting hour we spent in Inveraray ( the Argyll origins of my Munro family) while on our rushed way to a ferry to the Hebrides, was simply an unsatisfying prelude to what was really needed.

This time I will have from 12-23 April to focus only on family history then I return to Belgium and a trip to see World War II Holland and my regiment’s (The Royal Canadian Regiment) contribution to the liberation. 

In Scotland there will be a luxury of time compared to 2007 experience because I will  get on the ground and fully into the family history task. The basic trip is from Edinburgh over to the Dumbarton-Trossachs- Aberfoyle area where my Munros lived and worked in the early 19th Century after they came down from Inveraray about 1818.  

Some of their descendants still live in this area today. I will meet some of these contemporary people and see where my family is buried and where they lived. Sadly my generation of cousins from the 1940’s are mostly dead which is a sobering thought for me. I am the only one left of my mother’s sisters and brother’s children at nearly 72 years old. 

However, a lot  of evidence remains in Bonhill, Dumbuck, Dumbarton, Helensburgh and Roseneath from the 19th and early 20th centuries. For example, Dumbuck House an old 18th Century estate house is now a hotel on the Clyde River near Dumbarton. In 1861 my great great great grandmother Helen Mitchell Munro died on this estate at age 28 from tubercolosis. 

The Strathleven House estate now a local government building in Dumbarton, is the site of where Duncan Munro worked as a shepherd in 1851 and nearby Mains Farm area is a suburb now where he lived in 1861. Spouts farm where Duncan Munro lived in 1841 as a shepherd with his family is still in open country.  The shepherd’s house now a recorded archaeological site, retains the stone outline of a small cottage that can still be seen. It makes family history much more tangible. You see the ground and looking to the west from Spouts, the Leven River flows towards the Clyde River from Loch Lomond.

I will be staying in a Bonhill bed and breakfast which is how a visitor can link to an area because you can mine local knowledge from your hosts. However my bed and breakfast is near where Duncan Munro 1790-1882 from Inveraray and a huge extended family lived nearby at 145 Main Street in 1881 at the age of 91. That building also still exists along with their parish church.

Once I have done this part of the trip which includes examining Rhu Parish churchyard Plot 71 for evidence of Peter McCunn and Agnes McFarlane the parents of Duncan Munro’s wife Janet McCunn 1783-1869,  I go north to Inveraray and Argyllshire where the family goes back to at least the 17th Century. In the 18th Century the Munros were concentrated on farms in the Glenaray a river valley behind Inveraray town. I will be carrying primary documents and early maps on my iPad to guide me. 

Again, I will be staying in a bed and breakfast in Inveraray from 15-22 April to gain local lore. On 19 April I will attend a luncheon meeting of the Neil Munro Society. Neil Munro is a famous journalist and author who is also an Argyll Munro with origins in the Glenaray at Ladyfield Farm. At that time I meet Duncan Beaton who is related to me through Archibald Munro 1798-1864 who was the brother of my ancestor Duncan Munro 1790-1882 and both born in Inveraray Glenaray Parish to John and Mary Munro who married in 1789.

We can trace the parents of both these people into the Glenaray at Drimfern Farm where Archibald Munro born 1712 lived with his wife Isobel McIlvoile or Bell, born 1723. We find all these people in the wonderful primary Duke of Argyll census document  of 1779 which I have transcribed onto my iPad. I hope to find information about which Mary Munro, John Munro actually married in 1789. Perhaps someone will know the answer.

I think you get the picture why it is important to get on the ground. There is only so much a researcher can do on line and from downloaded documents. I need to get a tangible sense of place and time by tramping about on the “auld sod”. Watch this space for discoveries.

© Copyright 2013, Tom Thorne, All Rights Reserved.

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