Friday, 31 May 2013

Discovering Scottish Roots: I find Peter Munro 1823-1857 at Aberfoyle.

Discovering My Scottish Roots 1: 
Looking for Peter Munro at Aberfoyle Cemetery and unravelling his Stirlingshire connections.

by Tom Thorne

Readers may recall that earlier this Spring I wrote about my impending trip to Scotland. The purpose of this trip was to hammer home some loose ends concerning my family history research and also to experience the ground where my Scottish ancestors trod. Getting on the ground makes research tangible at least for me. It was, I admit, also a bit of a bucket list item for an aging septuagenerian. 

However in pursuing this bucket list item I can only report that it was a very useful and interesting thing to do. I connected into Edinburgh Airport completely jet lagged from a flight from Canada to Brussels and a wait for the flight to Scotland that entailed hanging about the Brussels airport for almost a full day. 

I had exhausted the bright lights of the duty free area of Brussels Airport in about ten minutes where the bookstore offered only trashy potboilers and books that solved such problems as proper household budgeting and making a mint  on the stock market. In my tired state I decided to close my eyes and rest. However the hard seats negated any real attempt to rest. Finally, I boarded an admirable Canadian built turboprop Dash 8 for Edinburgh in the middle afternoon.

Once in Edinburgh I got my rental car painlessly and took off down the road to the closest Travel Lodge where I sacked out until morning. It was a bit disconcerting driving on the left side in my fatigued state, but the hotel was only two kilometers from the Airport so I made it in once piece. Much is made by those of us schooled in right side driving about adapting to the left side of the road. I  usually find it a painless exercise only slightly more harrying when a need for sleep is really your first priority.

The next morning (12 April 2013) I started the real family history quest. I installed my GPS in the rental car and it lit up perfectly with my Edinburgh location. I set it for Aberfoyle a village in Sterlingshire and headed out. My ultimate destination that day was my Bed and Breakfast in Bonhill near Dumbarton, but the short Aberfoyle detour enabled me to explore the graveyard where Peter Munro was buried in 1857.

Peter Munro was the son of my great great great grandfather Duncan Munro (1790-1882). His mother was Janet McCunn (1783-1869) and he was the third child of a family of four. The eldest was Agnes Munro born 1818, John Munro born 1821 and Archibald Munro born 1825.  I descend from Archibald Munro through his daughter Janet Munro (1858-1898) and her “natural” son Andrew Mitchell Munro (1879-1948).

Peter Munro was a farm labourer who worked mostly at Drymen in Stirlingshire. I searched for his head stone in the rain. The older part  of Aberfoyle cemetery on Manse Road is in poor shape. Many stones are covered by lichen or worst yet, toppled text side down.

One stone, however, caught my eye. It was very simple, worn, and its text was covered by lichen. Later in the trip I would find another stone erected by Duncan Munro in 1820 at Rhu Cemetery at Helensburgh in the memory of his McCunn parents in law and it proved to be a similar simple stone like this one. I spent a long time looking for Peter Munro’s grave in the rain and the stone below, I believe, is his memorial erected by his father.  Along the grass line is the engraved text “Munro” found by careful scrutiny of the photo and on site.

This is Peter Munro's grave at Aberfoyle Cemetery in Stirlingshire. In the right hand bottom corner along the grass line
is the engraved word "Munro" just barely visible through the lichen growth on the stone.

We know that Peter Munro is buried at Aberfoyle Cemetery because it is recorded on his death certificate, although the on line Cemetery list of graves does not show him which is understandable seeing the condition of his and other gravestones. 
He died of “gastric fever six weeks” at Fintry a nearby village, not far down the road and near Drymen where he had also worked as an agricultural labourer from at least age 17. The 1841 Census records show him in the Parish of Buchanan at Ross Mcalpine Farm. at that age.  Later in the 1851 Census records we find him at Gartenbrodnack Farm at Drymen aged 27.
He was 34 at his death and was born at Dumbarton in 1823. There is no mention of his wife Agnes Blair a local woman whom he married at Drymen in 1853 nor their son Duncan who was born at Fintry in 1854.
His father Duncan Munro came up from the Bonhill-Dumbarton area to take care of the funeral arrangements. We know this because he signed the death certificate. To go by car today from Aberfoyle to Dumbarton is about 45 minutes to an hour. This would be a three day trip in 1857 for Duncan who was 67 years old at that time. 
In the 1851 Census  Duncan Munro is living a long way from Fintry and Aberfoyle on the Strathleven Place estate near Dumbarton town with his wife  Janet McCunn and two unmarried sons John and Archibald both “fleshers” or butchers. In addition, the future wife of Archibald Munro, and my great great great grandmother, Helen Mitchell (born 1831) in Barony Glasgow is also living with them. She is described as a “House Servant”. She was likely working for someone else. Duncan and Janet could ill afford any servants.
Peter Munro lived a short life and the fate of his family is not known at this time. What we do know about his wife  Agnes Blair and her family comes from a 1841 Census tract. Here is her family. They are living on a farm called Blarnabord also near Drymen. I have added the birth years. The 1841 Census is somewhat irritating because it does not record the county origins of people not born in the Census area, hence the “Outside Census County” designation.

Blair Walter M 55 Farmer Outside Census County born 1786
Blair Margaret F 45 Outside Census County born 1797
Blair John M 15 Stirlingshire born 1826
Blair Walter M 13 Stirlingshire born 1828
Blair Agnes F 11 Stirlingshire born 1830
Blair Janet F   6 Stirlingshire born 1835
Other people are also on the farm, some of interest with the name Blair. There is another Walter Blair age 40.

Blair Walter M 40 Outside Census County born 1801
Blair James M 55  Dyke builder Stirlingshire born 1786
Blair Duncan M 15  Agricultural lab. Stirlingshire born 1826

Others on the farm are: Alexander McGregor 15, Agricultural labourer from Stirlingshire; William Thomson, 15, Agricultural labourer from Outside Census Country; Christina McLaren, 20, Female Servant, Outside Census County; Christina Campbell, 15, Female Servant, Outside Census County; Robert McKay, 40, Dykebuilder, Outside Census County. 

We don’t know whether Walter Blair, 55, was a tenant or a land owner. The number of farm labourers suggests a farm that was at least a going concern.  Agnes Blair is 11 years old which makes her birth year 1830 seven years younger than her future husband Peter Munro. That would make her 23 at her marriage at Drymen on 7 June 1853 and Peter would have been 30. The birth of their first child Duncan Munro (named after his paternal grandfather)  on 1 November 1854 at Fintry, comes after 18 months of marriage. 

Going back to Peter Munro’s 1851 Census reference in Drymen at Gartonbrodnack Farm Peter worked as a “farm servant”  for a Gavin Paterson who was a shepherd. Sheep farming was something Peter knew well. His own father, Duncan Munro was a shepherd all his life. By this time the 1851 entry reveals Peter’s birthplace as “Dumbartonshire-Dumbarton”.

© Copyright 2013, Tom Thorne, All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Reporting on some promising signs as the Brussels Airport baggage handlers try to put a good face on their wild cat strike.

Brussels baggage handlers watch airline administrative staff load planes with customer suitcases.

I have just learned from a very reliable  airline source at 1615 hours today that my airline's administrative staff have been loading their own planes under the somewhat hostile eyes of wild catting Swissfort baggage handlers.  Today I was critical that my airline's phones were not answered. The reason they were on the tarmac making certain customers are served. I suggested that they place a message on their phones saying what they are doing and how their customers come first.

Apparently other airlines seeing the initiative of the Jet Airways staff are following suit. It is good to hear that practical solutions are now underway to clear the stranded passengers. Apparently talks are still underway to solve the problems of the wild cat strikers. These talks apparently have senior management  from the Swissfort company, government labour officials, the airport management and of course the striker's bargaining team.

In addition affected airlines are clearing their stranded passengers by routing them  to other airlines not affected by the strike. Not all airlines use Swissfort at Brussels Airport so this is possible.

What I find somewhat irritating is the fact that when I was in the airport on 14 May the Swissport strikers came out of the baggage handling areas and performed a noisy demonstration in the passenger terminal. It was irksome as a stranded passenger to have to put up with this type of stupid bravado. Some older passengers were shocked by this blatant disregard for the dilemma strikers had created by their wild cat strike actions. 

My source tells me that the baggage to be cleared from the first days of the strike down in the sorting area is large and chaotic. Hopefully now this silly strike ends and baggage handlers return to normal. However in the offing are strikes by air traffic controllers. The European labour unions need to get a dose of reality about the economic effects this kind of action has on tourism and business for the Euro Zone. 

© Copyright 2013, Tom Thorne, All rights reserved.

Day four of the Brussels Airport baggage handlers strike. Is a settlement near? Is there any other choice?

The Great Silence has descended on the Brussels Airport baggage strike. Is it a good omen that a settlement is near?

by Tom Thorne, Brugge Belgium 15 May 2013

In the world of labour relations often the Great Silence descends as the sides of a dispute get down to the short strokes, solving their problems and finally agreeing. The Brussels Airport baggage handler's strike may be in that mode at the moment.

We can only hope that this silence is a good omen. This morning no one was answering calls at my airline or answering my emails for information. Yesterday I contacted Swissfort the company the baggage handlers work for, asking them to comment and to this moment they have not replied. 

My guess and hope as a stranded passenger is that the silence and the lack of rhetoric signals progress. My wife and I just want to go home. Apparently senior Swissfort managers are at the table along with representatives of the Belgian government's Ministry of Labour. 

The negotiators will all be tiptoeing around the issues so no one's nose is out of joint and the political facts of labour-government-management are not tipped too far from the usual status quo as Europe wallows in its recessional woes.

Now here is some food for thought for the airlines involved. Information flow to passengers is very important and thinking out of the usual box is also needed in a crisis like this one. The trouble with this idea is the very company in negotiations with the baggage handlers provides the check in and other passenger services too.

So a big firm like Swissfort has the power to control an airport while they go about dealing with their unions often at the expense of passengers who are caught up in their corporate ethos. Swissfort is such a company. They are big and provide all aspects of services to freight haulers, airlines and airports. They are probably too big. A recent poll of their employees ranked their management as remote and uncaring. If that is the attitude around the table it is a recipe for disaster and mistrust.

When their services are working all parts of contemporary travel by plane seem to work well. The check in is good the baggage systems rarely fail or loose luggage. The public and the airlines and the airports are happy. However in the case of Brussels Airport Swissfort holds lot of the business and in the case of this baggage strike a vital and sizable part of service to passengers is compromised when there is a labour action.

The current baggage handlers believe they are understaffed and overworked. That may be true because turfing 25 kilo bags around can be tiring. However this notion of entitlement in contemporary European labour relations is being severely tested by the recession's impact on labour demands and expectations contrasted against management's view of profitability of their operations. More people on the baggage lines means more costs and those costs could very easily these days be invested in automation in the next few years rather than into pay packets for unhappy or surly workers with status quo high expectations.

So we are faced as passengers with the results of an economic European recession playing out in the bowels of the airport baggage handling. The truth is European labour and its lax laws is in a state of change and a dose of reality. Too much is expected and the pretense of business as usual remembering the good old days of post war expansion of business and the Euro social programs is now under great stress throughout the Euro Zone. That is the context I am experiencing as a passenger just wanting to go home with my luggage.

© Copyright 2013 Tom Thorne, All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Wildcat strike lands body blow to Swissport management and its airline clients. The real stress is on stranded passengers.

Brussels Airport: A baggage strike by Swissport employees strands thousands of passengers.

by Tom Thorne, Brugge Belgium, 14 May 2013

Sunday 12 April 2013 was an interesting day at Brussels Airport. The baggage handlers working for Swissport decided to pull a wild cat strike throwing the airport into a logistical nightmare of not being able to load any bags or unload passenger luggage without long waits.

Admittedly I have a bias in all of this. I am a Jet Airways customer and I was scheduled to return to Canada from Belgium on their flight 230 on 14 May. It never happened. My wife and I spent 205 Euros getting our two large bags, and ourselves with hand luggage to the airport . When we arrived we could not check our bags and so we returned to Brugge. We are lucky we are back with relatives hoping that before Thursday we will see a resolution to the strike.

While we were at the airport we experienced one spark of hope. An employee of Jet Airways told us that if we could lug our bags and hand luggage through security they would be loaded by employees of the airline on the tarmac.  My wife and I said we would give it a try. This proved to be false hope although we were in a joyous line believing that we would get a boarding pass for a promising five minutes.

The airline stated it could not accept baggage with no baggage handling in place and so we were saddled with a decision they gave us to rebook or perhaps even abandon our luggage if we wanted to go home to Canada today. The airline would take no responsibility for our bags. We took the rebook option for Thursday 16 May when hopefully this strike will be over. If it's not over then we are stuck in Belgium until it is or until Jet Airways gets us out in some way, a probability being weighed according to a Jet Airways source I spoke to today.

Airline employees were seen moving checked luggage from Monday 13 May to another location on a small cart. Back and forth they went with large loads of checked bags that went no where when their owners flew out. When will these bags be delivered? No one could say and they were now a problem to store.

The striking employees are negotiating with their employer Swissport a large multifaceted company based in Zurich that provides airlines with ground and cargo services. Examining their website media releases for some word about the strike, readers are met with their awards they received as a "leader" in their field. There is no mention of their current deadlocked negotiations with their union at Brussels Airport.  Today I contacted them by email for a statement. At time of publication I have no answer.

To this point in time the Belgian Government is no where to be seen intervening in this strike. Knowledgeable Belgians I know tell me that the government and unions are topics that are highly political and that government action will be perhaps be not visible because of potential political fallout.

If that is so then the union has a lot of aces to play and this strike could be prolonged. That would call into effect the government's responsibility to act for the greater good of the public and  the reputation of Belgium as a tourist location.  In addition, Belgium  needs to seen as a good place to do business. A country where labour and management are more in balance and not so polarized as they are in this case.

The story continues.

© Copyright 2013, Tom Thorne, All Rights Reserved