Monday, 18 September 2017

All Good Things Must Come to an End

As with everything else, even the best of trips must end. The past 9 days have been an absolute whirlwind when we look back on it, but the moments and the memories will last forever.

Ed & Lynne enjoyed their first trip to Scotland, Lynne's ancestral homeland. Lynne's paternal grandfather was from Stromness in Orkney. This was our first point of focus and one we were sad to see ending. While in Orkney, Lynne was able to connect with three cousins from her grandfather's line. This allowed Lynne to get additional family photos, have people in a current photo identified and to have the amazing opportunity to go and see where her paternal great granny had lived and worked and where many of Lynne's ancestors are buried. Moments like this can't fully be understood. They provide a sense of awe, a deep connection to the country, the land, the people, the history. And they provide a sense of completeness that is defies description.

Being in Orkney gave Lynne a personal understanding of her ancestor's relationship with the sea - the tides, the riches it provides in terms of food and work, how quickly a storm can blow in and how rough the passage can be. 

From Orkney, we headed back down to Edinburgh. Lynne's maternal grandparents were from Buckhaven in Fife. We toddled of to Fife for a look at where her granny had once lived, where her grandfather had attended school and to see where her ancestors are likely to be buried. We traveled to the Fisheries Museum in Anstruther to gain a better concept of what the life of a fisherman and his family was like. 

Ed and Lynne are already making plans to return and to stay longer. That, to me, is always the mark of a successful ancestral trip. 

Thank you, Lynne, for allowing me to share in your genealogy journey with you. And for allowing me to introduce you to your ancestral homeland. 

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Fife - On An Ancestral Hunt

The ancestral journey continues as Lynne's maternal side hail from Fife. Although the house itself no longer exists, we were able to see the houses that remain on the same street in Buckhaven. Lynne's granny often talked of paddling in the Firth of Forth and seeing how close she was to the sea, it was easy to imagine her floating about in the waves. The street, aptly named Shore Street, follows the coast line. Buckhaven has done a wonderful job of making people aware of their history with several plaques and storyboards throughout the town. 

We visited the site where Lynne's granny would have attended primary school, the school now replaced by a park. We were able to see the primary school her granddad attended and found the street he had grown up on as well. Granny and Grandad were only a street away so it wasn't hard to understand how they might have met. 

The library has a lovely museum upstairs that we were able to visit and the librarian guided us to the cemetery where Lynne's ancestors would be buried. A bit more work needs to be done to locate exact graves or headstones. 

From Buckhaven, we drove through to Anstruther to see the Scottish Fisheries Museum to give Lynne a better understanding of the life her great grandparents lived. I had toured the museum in May and was surprised to see how many new displays there were. 

We enjoyed a lovely lunch at the Boathouse and then made our way back to Edinburgh, stopping in South Queensferry where Ed had a chance to see the magnificence of engineering up close. 

Sad to Leave Orkney

I have no known ancestral ties to Orkney. DNA has not placed me in Orkney. And yet it calls to me. I first visited Orkney last spring and fell in love with the island, the gentleness of the way of live, the incredible history and the warm hospitality of the Orcadians. 

I had the chance to return this past week to accompany someone with ancestral ties and it was an amazing experience for her as she still has several living relatives here that she was able to meet and spend time with. 

We stayed at the Ferry Inn. Busy, relaxed and very much a home away from home. We managed to visit the tourist spots - Skara Brae, Skaill House, Ring of Brodgar and Maeshowe. We ventured to Hoy to see the Naval Base museum, briefly popped into the Scapa Distillery and enjoyed knowing that Lynne's ancestors lived, worked, walked and worshiped here. And that her family still lives here. 

Our last night was spent on the Ferry. Northlink Ferries has a B&B that allows you to stay on the ship while it is berthed in harbour. The ride back to mainland Scotland was rocky but much smoother compared to our sickening ride over. 

Friday was our day to travel back to Edinburgh. And we all admitted how sad it was to have to leave Orkney. Edinburgh and Stromness really are worlds apart. In every sense. 

On our way through Inverness, we stopped to see the Clava Cairns - their time frame lines up nicely with the neolithic parts of Orkney. 

We stopped for lunch at the visitor centre at Culloden and took a quick wee look at the battlefield. It was less than a flying visit - a place to return to when time allows. 

It was a long drive back to Edinburgh. Although we were happy to be here, we were sad to not be in Orkney. And knowing that our time together is coming to an end added to the sadness. However, we still have lots to pack in, so roll on tomorrow!

Thursday, 14 September 2017

Neolithic Orkney

It really is incomprehensible how old Orkney is. Not only in terms of how long the land has been here, but also how long there have been people inhabiting the islands. Today we ventured off to see parts of Neolithic Orkney. We started at Maeshowe, a chambered tomb that is more than 5,000 years old. 

Ed and Lynne bundled up against the wind and drizzle

The tomb

6 ft Ed exiting a 3 ft tunnel 

From Maeshowe, we ventured on up the road to Skara Brae and encountered the Running of the Bulls - Orkney Style as a farmer was moving his herd from one pasture to another. 

Skara Brae is an incredibly well-preserved neolithic village. The village likely housed up to 100 people. These people lived close together and appear to have worked in a community workshop where they built their tools and made their pottery. 

one of the homes - fireplace in the centre and beds along the walls

the workshop

another home

Skara Brae is on the property that belongs to Skaill House. A severe storm blew in off of the Bay of Skaill in 1850 and tore away at the shore line exposing remnants of the long buried neolithic village. The 7th Laird of Skaill recognized the significance of this and contacted the Society of Antiquaries in Edinburgh. Over several years, he continued to excavate the area. 

Skaill House

From Skara Brae, we headed over to the standing stones at the Ring of Brodgar. This was the site of Pagan rituals celebrating the changing of the seasons, the spring and winter solstice, honouring death and other life changes. 

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Lyness - Scapa Flow Naval Base

We drove to Houton (6 miles from Stromness) and took the inter-island ferry across Scapa Flow to Hoy to learn more about Scapa Flow as a base for the British Navy during both world wars. 

The Visitor's Centre is a short walk from the ferry. The displays are inside the old pumphouse. The pumphouse played a critical role during the wars as it was necessary to keep a steady supply of fuel for the battleships. 

Inside the pumphouse are a number of artefacts complete with story boards

The operations table is set up and a " radio" plays a continuous loop of recalled memories from people who were part of the battles or witness to major events during the war years. It is quite fascinating to hear these first hand accounts.

In this same room are some wonderful pieces of ephemera including this 1939 National Identity Registration Card and Ration Book

After the second world war, the base at Lyness served as an operations centre for the salvaging crews that worked to salvage the German Fleet

Also visible from the Museum are the collection of buildings from Rinnighill. Rinnighill was the operations and training centre that supported the troops at Lyness. 


Although only 30 miles across the Pentland Firth, Orkney feels a world away. Life is quieter, calmer and less hurried. The people are a community people - open and welcoming. The world is smaller and the sense of community more intimate. There are single track roads, wide open farms and cows in the city. 

The harbour at Stromness is a busy one, yet the scenery rarely changes. The only difference from one hour to the next may be the presence or absence of the Ferry. There is a serenity about sitting and watching the activity. Never hurried. Calm and comforting. 

This city is rich in history, as evidenced by blue plaques and the odd statue. 

Much of life revolves around the sea, the tides and of course, the weather. All of it taken in stride and never grumbled about. Because of it's place on the map, Stromness also has a long history with the Hudson's Bay Company. For it was here that the ships came to take on fresh water, fresh supplies and men to work for them back in Canada. 

The men were hard working, adaptable and eager to learn. They were skilled at living off the land or the sea. They were known to take " Country Wives"  and many had families in Canada, generally with Inuit women. The wives back in Orkney knew this yet again, this was taken in stride. Most men worked for the length of their contracts and then returned to their homeland. Those who stayed in Canada often remained in the employ of the HBC.