Sepia Saturday 188: The Melvin/Melville Family of Leith

SS 188Despite my late response to this week’s Sepia Saturday post, this theme produced an instant image association. It was so reminiscent of photos I’ve seen of the old harbour in Leith – the port for Edinburgh, Scotland, over many centuries. Just imagine the whisky that may have been shipped!

Cassell's Old and New Edinburgh by James Grant Vol 6. This 1829 engraving reflects life in Leith as my ancestors would have known it.

Cassell’s Old and New Edinburgh by James Grant Vol 6. This 1829 engraving reflects life in Leith as my ancestors would have known it.

My own Melvin (aka Melville) family were closely associated with the waterfront of Leith for many generations. Much of the time they lived either on the Shore or very close by. I first visited Leith in 1992 when it had that run-down, vaguely seedy atmosphere stereotypically associated with busy working ports. On my most recent visit in 2010, gentrification had settled in, with Michelin-starred restaurants and flash water-side apartments.

Cassell's Old and New Edinburgh by James Grant Volume 6: Leith Shore.

Cassell’s Old and New Edinburgh by James Grant Volume 6: Leith Shore.

Despite this, so many of the old buildings remain that it’s easy to see where my ancestors lived and, with some imagination, envisage the bustling scenes they’d have witnessed daily as goods and ships were loaded ready for their voyages up or down the English coast or across the North Sea to Scandinavia.

Image of Leithh shore including the Martello tower. © Pauleen Cass 2010

Image of Leith Shore including the Martello tower. © Pauleen Cass 2010

My Melvin family included porters (perhaps bustling with the whisky casks being loaded) and many merchant seaman, some just ordinary seamen but a few who were also the ship’s cooks or stewards. The life of a seaman is not an easy one, with the risks of the sea and the economic hazards of getting work. The evidence suggests that my ancestors were fairly poor, living in the tenements near the waterfront in small rooms, but they presumably gained regular work.

Shore, Leith © Pauleen Cass 2010

Shore, Leith © Pauleen Cass 2010

Of all my emigrating ancestors the Melvins were perhaps the best prepared for the long voyage ahead. They would also become the first of my families to make the voyage back and forward to the old land: international voyagers. The price they paid can be counted in the graves of Janet Peterkin Melvin, my great-grandfather’s first wife, who died at Peel Island in Moreton Bay shortly after arrival in Australia or that of my great-great grandfather Laurence/Lawrence Melvin who is buried somewhere in Rotterdam.

Leith and Australia have other connections. Governor John Hunter was born here.

Leith and Australia have other connections. Governor John Hunter was born here.

Some days are diamonds for Cairndow

Some days are diamonds” as John Denver once sang. This morning I received an email from my 3rd cousin, Sheila, in Canada. We share common ancestors Duncan and Annie McCorquodale (various and many spellings).

I had sent Sheila a link to an amusing parking sign for McCorkindales and she repaid me with a gold mine! Don’t you just love family networks!!

Sheila had unearthed a wonderful web site for the village of Cairndow which lies at the top of Loch Fyne in Argyll/Argyle, Scotland. It’s called “Our Houses, Their Stories” and has been supported by the Lottery Fund UK.

The postcard from my grandmother's collection.

The postcard from my grandmother’s collection.

Now I’ve been researching my McCorkindales/Macquorqodales/McCorquodales for over thirty years and I’ve also fortunate enough to have visited Cairndow several times. And yet, this web site has opened up our family history in a completely different way. Despite my previous background research into various documents, this site has made the actual location of some of the houses now unambiguous.

Cairndu postcard back

Back in 1989 I’d taken a left towards Strachur to check out my Isabella Morrison’s (later McCorkindale) birthplace. It was only on my return back to Oz that I had a lightbulb moment, looking at a postcard I’d inherited from my grandmother saying “does it put you in mind of puir auld Scotland”. You can well imagine I was ever so frustrated for not putting this together earlier – because Isabella is actually buried in the Kilmorich churchyard at Cairndow: pictured in the centre of the postcard.

Not the original Ardkinglas building but it shows the magnificent location.

Not the original Ardkinglas building but it shows the magnificent location.

Needless to say I’ve also done all the census records for the family, emailed and met with the estate manager for Ardkinglas estate and walked the property’s wonderful gardens. I’d visited the East Lodge gate house (thanks to the estate manager) and marvelled that widower James McCorkindale lived in such a tiny place with his adult daughter, Euphemia, before being moved to the Greenock workhouse where they both died.

Isabella Morrison McCorkindale's gravestone is right near the door to the Kilmorich church.

Isabella Morrison McCorkindale’s gravestone is right near the door to the Kilmorich church.

I’d asked where Baichyban was precisely (having acquired a topographical map). And yet, despite all this research, there were still ambiguities in my mind eg which house in Strone did they live in, was that Baichyban house too recent? The website also indicates that James, and another daughter, Isabella, had also lived in the North Lodge which appears to have been one of the houses at Strone. Local knowledge is a wonderful thing!

All of a sudden the magic box opened and so much became clearer. The website includes the location of each house mentioned on a topographical map (Alleluia!) as well as the names of all the residents since the 1841 census. My James McCorkindale (var sp) appears regularly as he lived there from 1841 until shortly before his death. My suspicions are even stronger now that his daughters are among those listed as servants in neighbouring houses and cottages.

A photograph of Duncan McCorkindale kindly given to me by a cousin many years ago.

A photograph of Duncan McCorkindale kindly given to me by a cousin many years ago.

There’s so much here for me to explore further but I couldn’t be more thrilled with this discovery and I’m so grateful to Sheila for bringing it to my attention. I’ll be offering to share my photo of Duncan McCorkindale, who was a young lad in the 1851 census, with the local committee. Duncan undertook the fairly standard migration to Glasgow where he became a cabinet maker. He died relatively young and his second wife and children emigrated to Australia. Waiting patiently for me in Mum’s new unit, is a chess table built by Duncan as part of his apprenticeship, or so the story goes. Other hand-crafted items have been shared with various Aussie family members.

Even if you don’t have relatives from Loch Fyne, do have a look at the website to see just what can be done by a collaboration of family and local history: you can follow the links below. I’m so impressed!

The Place (topographical map with houses numbered and links to the residents)

The Houses (with details of who lived in each house between 1841-2007.

The People (as yet the weakest link, but I have no doubt this will change.

Congratulations to all the people behind this fantastic enterprise and thanks again to Sheila!

Sepia Saturday 163: Snow deep and crisp and even

This week’s Sepia Saturday image fairly shouted “Kinsale” (Ireland) to me. In a surreptitious test I asked Mr Cassmob what it reminded him of….”snap” …he said the same thing! Why don’t you have a look at the professional image online here and see what you think…not only snow but a snowed-over barrel outside the pub! I have always loved this photo, which I bought it as a souvenir on one visit. Paradoxically it reminds me of a photo my daughter took from near here with a background of spring-blooming flowers.Sepia Saturday 9 Feb snow

Anyway, back to task. Snow isn’t exactly common in the tropical and sub-tropical areas where we have lived but somehow in our travels we’ve managed to come a long way since the days when we whispered to each other on a European train “is that snow falling?” Even our choices of major snow falls covered places from New Zealand to Switzerland and Scotland, Yorkshire to New England. However many seemed to be situated in a natural context and I wanted at least one photo with an urban perspective like the one featured.

The snow-sprinkled rooftops of Lucerne, Easter 1977. © Pauleen Cass 1977

The snow-sprinkled rooftops of Lucerne, Easter 1977. © Pauleen Cass 1977

We were in Lucerne for Easter way back in 1977 when there was a massive dump of snow overnight and then more the next night. With two little girls who lived in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea (not to mention the adults!) you can imagine the excitement! We were staying in a pension up on the hill so we had a lovely view over the rooftops of the town. Later in the day after a bout of snowman building and snowball throwing, we headed down to the Lake where the exquisite Kapellbrücke (Chapel Bridge) over the lake was iced with snow.

The old Kapellbrücke over Lake Lucerne under snow, Easter 1977. © Pauleen Cass 1977

The old Kapellbrücke over Lake Lucerne under snow, Easter 1977. © Pauleen Cass 1977

And how could I resist including these “wilderness” images of the Rest and Be Thankful pass from Loch Lomond to Loch Fyne, and ancestor country.

Rest and Be Thankful Pass, Argyll, Scotland. © Pauleen Cass 2006

Rest and Be Thankful Pass, Argyll, Scotland. © Pauleen Cass 2006

A rest stop at Rest and Be Thankful, but perhaps not in the  snow.

A rest stop at Rest and Be Thankful, but perhaps not in the snow.

M is mulling over Milne Bay Islands, Murphys Creek and Mull (via Lismore)

I am participating in the A to Z 2012 blog challenge throughout April. My theme is a genealogical travelogue or a travel genealogue (I’m not sure which). Today we travel to different locations on the far side of the world from each other. 

M is for MULL (with a detour to the Isle of Lismore) (Scotland)

BTW I’m trialling a slideshow below for Mull because there’s a number of photos I want to show you. My husband’s Argyll ancestry is drawn from the islands of Lismore and Mull so it was important for us to schedule the two islands on our latest Scottish excursion. The family story went that his Donald Black (2x great grandfather) used to row across the strait between the two islands to woo his future bride, Mary McIntyre. It is possible that the story is true given you can easily see Mull from Achinduin on Mull…they were probably well used to the sea, but you’d have wanted the tide and weather with you.  On the other hand, when the weather is fierce you really know what you’re up against. I’m sure we didn’t see the worst weather by any means when we walked down to the ruins of Achinduin Castle, but even so we were struggling to stay upright in the wind.

Lismore is just gorgeous though its population is small due to the massive emigration and evictions during the 19th century. The island now has a new Heritage Centre with displays and genealogical information, so if you have Lismore ancestry it’s definitely worth getting in touch. Caledonian McBrayne took us over the sea to Mull, with our goal of learning more about the McIntyres. If the weather was blowy on Lismore it was truly hideous on Mull that day, wet, blustery and cold. We were ever so pleased to place ourselves in the hands of our hospitable B&B owner, Helen, hours earlier than planned. With a nice hot coffee and a piece of homemade cake we could look out over Tobermory harbour from the warmth of our room. Delicious!

But of course these diversions do not make for good family history so on a much sunnier day we took ourselves back to the Cal-Mac port at Craignure and the information centre, where the ladies did their very best to assist us. With their help and an internet map from the Mull Genealogy site, we managed to locate the area of Ardchoirk (my aide memoir is to call it Artichoke). As always, still more research to be done, but at least we saw the area where they lived. The Mull Historical Society site offers some historical background for interested readers. While on Mull we made the drive to Iona, a small island off the coast easily reached by ferry. Iona is the site of St Columba’s ancient monastery and almost as soon as you arrive the peace of the place seeps into your spirit. We loved everything about it: the ancient carvings, the simplicity of the church, the ancient chapel, the amazing carved gravestones, the scenery…. We drove back to Tobermory via the west coast road which would have been more relaxing if we hadn’t been racing the fading daylight, but we did have an interesting encounter with a Highland cow and calf. And probably my favourite quote attributed to St Columba: Angel nor saint have I seen, but I have heard the roar of the western sea, and the isle of my heart lies in its midst. And on a pragmatic note, I’m trialling the slideshow facility because I had a number of photos I wanted to share with you.

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M is for MILNE BAY ISLANDS (Papua New Guinea)

I’ve talked a bit about Milne Bay under my A for Alotau post but I just wanted to add some comments on its islands. Milne Bay Province, or District as it was known then, is a now-peaceful coastal area of Papua New Guinea (PNG). The people lack the aggressive attitude sometimes found in other parts of PNG, perhaps a reflection of their surroundings. My husband’s family lived in this district for many years and it was to Milne Bay that he returned from boarding school a couple of times a year for the holidays. In those days the district headquarters was on the small island of Samarai, off the southern tip of PNG.

Apart from the government offices, the churches and two sort-of-general stores (BPs and Steamships) and some trade stores, there really wasn’t a lot there. By the time I visited you went there by government trawler on a 3-4 hour trip, breathing in diesel fumes from the engine and trying to rest. A visit to the Steamships Trading Co store caused much interest to those who’d worked with my husband during the school holidays, and knew his parents well. Mr Cassmob has many fond memories of Samarai: their house on the waterfront with the little crabs scurrying on the flats; the Catalinas taking off and landing; evenings at the Club. These two blogs provide stories about Samarai here and here.

Yam huts, Trobriand Islands, taken by Les Cass in the 1960s. © L Cass 1962.

Margaret Mead and Malinowski, both famous anthropologists, are known for their research in the Trobriand Islands. Less well known is that these islands are part of Milne Bay. As a young and fairly naïve woman I visited Losuia on a charter flight not long after I got to PNG. It was quite an introduction as the Trobriand Islanders are known for their minimal dress, explicit dancing, and amazing, and sometimes graphic, carvings.

These old photos were taken by my father-in-law in the early 1960s on the Trobriand Islands © L Cass 1962.

Selling carvings and artefacts on the Trobriand Islands © Les Cass 1964.

On another charter Losuia became our refuge. We’d visited Guasopa on the Woodlark Islands earlier that day, when I’d been in raptures to see surf and sand again, but on the return flight in the six seater, 4 passenger, aircraft the weather closed in.

Despite the fact that the area is generally flat as a tack, there was a minor sticking point: the 100 ft hill en route to the Trobs, which couldn’t be seen because of the cloud cover (these were the days of visual flying). Luckily the cloud lifted at the last minute and we landed with minimal fuel in the tank, so we had an enforced overnight stay at Losuia and were very grateful for it. We have always regarded that day as a lucky-flight day and I’ll bet the pilot did too! Papua New Guinea certainly made for interesting life experiences.

M is for MURPHYS CREEK (Queensland)

How on earth I omitted this initially I don’t know as it was on my writing list, probably talking too much about Mull and Milne Bay. Murphys Creek is a pivotal place on my family tree as this is the nearest village to where my Kunkel ancestors lived at the Fifteen Mile. It’s highly likely they also lived there during the construction of the railway line and I’ve wondered whether the newspaper quote which refers to them “even having their own pork butcher”, might relate to George Kunkel whose occupation that was.

After they’d returned to the area in 1874, and settled at the Fifteen Mile(see F is for..), George worked for the railway as a labourer to earn cash for the family’s support. Oral history suggests that his wife Mary also lived there “in a humpy” (a shack) where she looked after him during the week. Whether this is true or not I have no way of knowing. There was also a string of young children to care for back on the farm so perhaps this was after they’d grown up.

Murphys Creek is also where they worshipped at the little timber Catholic church, which they no doubt contributed to financially and possibly in labour. The Kunkel children would have attended the Murphys Creek school but unfortunately the admission records don’t survive back to that time. One of the Kunkel sons was also on the school board later on. In short, the Kunkel lives were woven into this community.

The newly restored gravestone for the Kunkel family in the Murphys Creek cemetery, Queensland. © P Cass 2012.

Murphys Creek is also where George and Mary Kunkel were buried, together with their son George Michael and daughter Mary Ellen, who had predeceased them. Their gravestone stands isolated at one side of the small cemetery and I suspect they are in the Catholic area. Over the recent decades their gravestone had taken on a nasty lean with the impact of drought and a few bits had snapped off.

In the terrible floods of January 2011 I feared it had been swept down-river to Moreton Bay, a small potential loss compared to what others suffered on that shocking day. Fortunately for our own family’s heritage this wasn’t so and our plans to restore their memorial took effect soon afterwards. We’d collected funds at our second reunion in 2007 to celebrate George and Mary’s 150th anniversary but these things take time. I visited recently and the newly-levelled and restored stone is standing proud with a bronze plaque which repeats the information carved into the stone but which is slowly deteriorating and far too expensive to restore.

I investigates Ireland, Inishail, and Ipswich (Qld)

I am participating in the A to Z 2012 blog challenge throughout April. My theme is a genealogical travelogue or a travel genealogue (I’m not sure which) and today’s post explores interludes in Ireland, Inishail, and Ipswich (Qld, Australia).

I is for Ireland

As soon as I arrived in Dublin in the late 1980s there was a sense of recognition, a realisation of how much like the Irish we Australians are in so many ways…the sense of irony, mickey-taking, disregard for authority. At the same time it seemed unfamiliar because I’d expected the inflexibility and conformity learned from my life in an Australian Catholic school and church with Irish nuns and priests, and a stern Irish-born grandfather. It was a delight to discover that Ireland was full of joie de vivre and craic (good fun) as well as the darker, more morose side with which I was familiar.

Allihies, West Cork on the Beara Peninsula

Without the urge to learn more of my family history I may never have visited Ireland, and so would have missed out on far more than adding leaves to my family tree. Ireland fulfils so many stereotypes that you’ve heard about: the green patchwork fields, the distant blue hills, old stone cottages, the soft rain, and the quirky sayings and greetings that seem quintessential yet somehow difficult to remember when you leave. Coming from Australia with its wide open spaces and vast distances, it’s easy for a tourist to think “ah I’ll get there in no time” but everywhere there are those signposts that can all point to the same place, via twisty Irish roads that only change how much time it takes you to get to your destination. Despite the number of times I’ve visited I still make the mistake of not allowing enough time!

Beautiful Achill Island, Co Mayo. © P Cass 2006.

Over the years we’ve visited 20 counties and each has its own beauty. Despite my Clare ancestry I have to say my favourites are the rugged, more isolated areas: Achill Island (Mayo), Beara Peninsula (Cork), the wide-open spaces in south-west Donegal, tragic site of many evictions, and the steep cliffs near Dun Choin by Dingle (Kerry).

Over the decades as the Celtic Tiger stirred, and then roared, the social atmosphere has changed. There was cash to splash and everyone was busy, busy. There was a brashness to life, in Dublin especially, that I didn’t really like…it had turned into a typical big city (or perhaps I’d got used to living in a smaller city). In the rural areas people remained both friendly and reserved, much as always. The standard of living had improved which made life more comfortable for people…the decades and centuries of disadvantage were slowly being turned around. It’s sad to think that the Irish people are now going through such difficult times.

Wherever you go, there is that essential kindness and welcome that the Irish share with the visitor. It’s a grand place to visit and if you have the opportunity it’s well worth going. Even if the trip doesn’t uncover specific family history, you’ll get a much better sense of the place and its people, and, intuitively, the loss your ancestors experienced when they left it all behind.

I is for Inishail (Scotland)

Inishail is part of the combined parish of Glenorchy and Inishail in Argyll, Scotland. Inishail lies over the hills from Inveraray and borders the starkly beautiful Loch Awe. The MacArthurs and Campbells are powerful in this area, and history abounds. I’m not planning to talk about that here but if you want to investigate further you might find this linka helpful starting point.

Highland cattle near Cladich, Argyll. © P Cass 2006

My interest in Inishail parish arises because my 2xgreat grandparents, Duncan McCorquodale (various spellings) and his wife, Ann Campbell lived there for about 50 years, apparently having moved across the Loch from Kilchrenan parish. They both appear in the 1841 census, and Duncan in the 1851 census, living in Drimuirk. It took some work locating this little hamlet as it’s rarely indexed on maps. My starting point has been the village of Cladich which in its day, was on the drove road for cattle to Inveraray and points south and west. The long haired Highland cattle are still a feature of the area, and of a local estate. In the colder months, when we tend to visit, the clouds hang low, and the mist filters through trees draped in moss and lichen…dimly among the trees appears a woolly Highland cow. It can be kind of spooky.

Drimuirk by Cladich, Parish of Inishail, Argyll. © P Cass 2010

On previous trips I’d estimated from maps where Drimuirk was located, and taken photos, but this time I was given a great privilege…the opportunity to “walk the land” where my ancestors lived. At ground level, and with local help, I could see that what had seemed random rocks were actually the remains of the rude cottages of the long-ago residents of Drimuirk. Of course I have no idea which of the small handful of house foundations was theirs, but I like to imagine it was the one with the view over the loch and where the travellers could be seen coming over the hills. Afterwards I read the Kirk Session records for the parish, and found a reference to the “small house” of Duncan McCorquodale. The reiteration of “small house” suggests that even by the standards of the day it must have been tiny, yet there’d have been half a dozen people living there at times. You can read my post about it here. I’m forever grateful to have been given this chance to see what remains of this little settlement.

Dorothy Wordsworth passed through the area in 1803, around the time my family came to the area to live. She describes the children of the Macfarlane family thus: The children, after having collected fuel for our fire, began to play on the green hill where we stood, as heedless as if we had been trees or stones, and amused us exceedingly with their activity: they wrestled, rolled down the hill, pushing one another over and over again, laughing, screaming, and chattering Erse (Gaelic)…[i]Reading this it’s so easy to imagine my own great-grandfather playing with his siblings in this way.

Genie tip: when searching for Inishail, also try spelling it as Innishail, especially in archive searching, which will add to your results.

I is for Ipswich (Queensland, Australia)

View over Ipswich, March 2012, with St Mary's Catholic church prominent. © P Cass 2012

Ipswich is the place where my Melvin, Partridge, Kent and Kunkel families first settled in Australia. New immigrants would sign work contracts and then travel by boat up the river system to Ipswich from where they  would be dispersed to the most distant reaches of the Moreton Bay settlement, as happened with my Gavin family and most of the Dorfprozelten immigrants who came to Moreton Bay. No doubt the employers were keen to keep them on the move before the immigrants had any idea of just what they were taking on, and how very isolated many of them would be.

Those who came to Ipswich to live and work arrived in a small but bustling town with minimal, but developing, infrastructure. They quickly became part of the social fabric of the community and could, if they wished, make their mark there. William Partridge worked as a carpenter, George Kunkel ran a boarding house in Union Street with his wife Mary and also a pork butcher’s establishment, before they moved west with the railway construction. Richard Kent was an older man when he arrived and remained a labourer as far as I can tell, though he’d run a public house in England. Stephen Melvin arrived later, in the 1870s, and before long was establishing himself with a well-regarded confectionery shop(s) and factory.

My families were on opposite sides of the religious divide with the Kunkels attending St Mary’s, the Catholic church, and the others associated with the Anglican or Methodist churches at different times. Despite this it would have been difficult for the Kents, Partridges and Kunkels not to be aware of each other in such a small community through the 1850s and 1860s.

A well preserved Ipswich home.

One of the interesting things about doing family history from those early days of Moreton Bay/Queensland, is how often you come across someone whose ancestry lies in the same places as yours…not all that difficult when the European population was so small. I wonder from time to time, whether these distant links are part of why we instantly “click” with some people and others, without doing a thing, get our backs up. It intrigues me that much the same thing can happen with people whose names I find bobbing up in the overseas parish registers of my families…kind of weird really.

Ipswich for a long time was a coal mining town and continued to be a place where new immigrants could afford to settle. Ipswich suffered in the 2011 floods, a history which has repeated itself over the centuries. These days it’s throwing off its former social disadvantage and promoting its history, of which there’s a wealth. If you ever want to see fantastic examples of vernacular Queensland architecture, Ipswich is the place to go. Perhaps precisely because it was economically depressed for quite a while, there are wonderful examples of old Queensland homes with deep verandahs, mostly set on stilts to keep them above the flood waters.

I’m looking forward to having more time in the future to re-explore Ipswich and its historical treasures: the churches, the railway workshops, the architecture and the cemetery.

I ships for East Clare immigrants

Irene (1852) [7] + 7 from Ennis; Ironside (1863) [9] and Ida (1864) [9]

A to Z 2012 Challenge

My nod for today is Catherine Noble’s blog about writing. I especially liked “D for Dedication”.


[i] http://www.ourscotland.co.uk/ebooks/recollectionsweek3.htm. Recollections of a tour made in Scotland AD 1803 by Dorothy Wordsworth. August 31st, 1803.

E explores Edinburgh and Ennis

I am participating in the A to Z 2012 blog challenge throughout April. My theme is a genealogical travelogue or a travel genealogue (I’m not sure which).

E is for Edinburgh, Scotland

Sunset lights up Calton Hill. © P Cass 2010

This is a city of shifting light, of changing skies, of sudden vistas.  A city so beautiful it breaks the heart again and again.” Alexander McCall Smith, 2006

This quote was written on the side of an inner-city building when we visited Edinburgh again in 2010 and I imagine that Edinburgh is one of the places many people would have on their bucket list. I’m not entirely sure that I feel completely at home there…it is beautiful, or perhaps imposing, but the greyness of the buildings is always something of a shock coming from a sunny country full of blue skies.

Still I love walking on the streets and hearing the skirl of the pipes, even if it is rather touristy. I’d be more than happy to have the opportunity to live in Edinburgh for a while….imagine being able to sit in the archives as often as you like, or to see those days where the skies are a beautiful blue!

Despite having visited a few times over 40 years, I’ve rarely played the tourist. My time has invariably been occupied in the various family-history-related repositories. Thanks to the wonderful online access provided by ScotlandsPeople (SP), my most recent visit “freed” me a little to have a look around. I think I should have shares in SP as it’s by far cheaper to obtain digital copies of original records so that a real visit can be so much richer (hmm perhaps richer is not what I mean!). On my last visit I spent happy hours in West Register House (now closed) where the staff were wonderfully helpful and I could trawl kirk session records to my heart’s content…I’m looking forward to them becoming available online.

I loved the words on this memorial to a recent mariner who lost his life at sea. The words are the essence of what we aim for as family historians. Click on the photo to read the words.

Apart from the joys of archives, I have another reason for visiting Edinburgh. My ancestor, Stephen Gillespie Melvin, and his ancestors before him, lived in Leith which is Edinburgh’s port. Once, not all that long ago, it was a bit rough, ready and run-down but these days gentrification has come calling. There are expensive apartments being built near the Water of Leith, two Michelin-starred restaurants, and historical monuments including one honouring Australia’s, and Leith’s, Governor John Hunter. What remains constant in my visits are the grey skies. Only once or twice have I seen glimpses of blue skies, even though there’s evidence on the internet that such days exist…I’m sure they can’t all be photo-shopped. I love having a link to this earthy port with its tough maritime industry to which my family contributed for a very long time. Many of my ancestral family members are buried in the South Leith churchyard but of course, not being wealthy, I’ve found no gravestones. How coincidental that having just logged into my family history program, I’ve discovered today is the 158th anniversary of the birthday of my Leith-born ancestor, Stephen Gillespie Melvin.

Work as if you live in the early days of a better nation.

This was one of those rare sunny days between the grey so we went to the Botanic Gardens instead of Leith …what was I thinking to not put family history first!

One of the luxuries of our last visit was visiting the Impressionist Gardensexhibition which was wonderful. The Botanic Gardens had a related theme with certain areas of the Gardens highlighting aspects of some of the paintings. We really loved it and had a great time wandering for hours. Actually this was a beautiful “blue sky” day so perhaps we should have prioritised Leith instead of just having fun.One evening we took a trek to the outskirts of Edinburgh to hear a great traditional band, Fiddlers Bid, from the Shetlands. The music was fantastic, but some of the commentary was lost to us in the broad accents.

We also wandered around the old town looking for where another ancestor had lived and saw this sign. I’m not entirely sure I understand what it truly means, but I know I really like it…Alastair Grey himself does have an explanation of it here. Will Scotland vote for Independence I wonder?

My husband is a die-hard rugby union fan, as am I, and we love to watch Scotland play if for no other reason than to listen to Flower of Scotland and belt it out in our lounge room. Sadly the playing infrequently lives up to the music. I had a Scottish rugby union jersey for the 2003 World Cup which I wore in Ireland…I kept wondering why people were looking at me strangely. Mind you, I can get behind Ireland’s Call with a similar level of enthusiasm.

E is for Ennis, Co Clare, Ireland

Ennis has no direct links to my Irish ancestry but oral history suggests that at least my 2xgreat aunt was familiar with Ennis, but whether before or after her sisters’ departure for Australia is unknown. Broadford, their home town, was on the Bianconi route between Limerick and Ennis so perhaps they were able to travel to Ennis for the markets or similar.

For me, Ennis is the home of the Clare County Library and the adjacent Clare Local Studies Centre. I’ve sung their praises so often in my blog so there’s little need to repeat myself and yet I can’t resist. What a great job these people do, and how wonderfully innovative and creative they can be because of the forward-thinking of the powers-that-be above them. Thanks to them Clare family historians are infinitely better served than those with ancestry in other Irish counties. Thank you, I love using the site and I loved visiting in person even more!

It’s funny the things that stay in your mind about a place: the truck jammed under a bridge on the way into town; the welcome and helpfulness of the research staff at the Local Studies Centre; finding the death certificates for my Mary O’Brien’s parents even without known death dates; the river that runs beside the centre of town so that you can have lunch in a café and watch the swans go by; the old narrow streets with their medieval feel; the school kids hogging the footpath as they do the world over; an anniversary dinner in the Old Ground hotel; updating my suite of topographical Irish maps; ginger bath gel for the unheard-of travelling luxury of a hot bath; cash deliveries to the banks complete with machine-gun-toting security guards and multiple armoured vans (this chicken colonial chose to duck into the Vodaphone shop…I’m sure there was something I needed…or not).

I’d love to show you some of my own photos of Ennis, but for the life of me I can’t find them, so have a look at what they have to say at the official website. I think the next time I visit I might take this rather intriguing walking tour…we think Mr Cassmob’s Clune ancestors may have come from Ennis, perhaps we’ll learn more.

A is for Ardkinglas in Argyll, and Alotau (Papua New Guinea).

 Let me explain my plan for the A-Z blogging theme for April. Given that family history is my focus generally, there are a number of paths I could have taken. I’ve opted to use each letter to highlight a place/places of some ancestral significance. Hopefully they’ll also be interesting from a travel point of view. I’ll try to keep them relatively short on words (good luck with that!), and where possible, illustrate them with photos. Where I’m defeated by a particular letter (eg X), I may write about a place I’ve visited. (X still has me stumped). I’m already behind the eight ball having just learned about the challenge so I’ll do two tomorrow to catch up.

A is for Ardkinglas in Argyll, and Alotau (Papua New Guinea).

Ardkinglas on Loch Fyne.

Ardkinglas is an estate in Argyllshire, Scotland. Technically Argyll is in the Highlands but very close, by sea, to the metropolis of Glasgow. In this way eastern Argyll bridged the cultural divide with the Lowlands as in the mid-19th century more and more Scots found their way to Glasgow to look for work as their traditional rural roles disappeared. My McCorkindale ancestors lived on the Ardkinglas estate for many years as evidenced by the census returns. However don’t begin to imagine my family offers a re-run of Monarch of the Glen, despite its physical similarity. Unfortunately my family, like most other Scottish emigrants, were labourers or workmen on the estate, not the laird.

The sixpenny gatehouse for Ardkinglas estate.

Not only that, the current “pile” is not the one that James McCorkindale knew when he worked as a sawyer on the estate in his younger years. As he aged he seems to have become more of a general labourer and in old age, the census reports him living in the sixpenny gate house at the entrance to the estate. Ardkinglas offers one of Scotland’s beautiful gardens with magnificent conifers from around the world and a fantastic array of Rhododendrons. It’s a delight to wander around even in chilly weather but absolutely gorgeous in spring. My husband has just learned to his peril that they now have accommodation available in the old butler’s quarters….he’s so in trouble now.

Alotau is the headquarters, albeit a small town, in the Milne Bay district of Papua New Guinea. It’s family history links are modern rather than historic, with three generations of our family having lived there. You can read about my in-laws’ contributions to Papua New Guinea here and here.

When I went to Alotau as a young bride it had only recently taken over the role of district headquarters from the island settlement of Samarai, another site of family history heritage of which my husband has many fond memories. We had radio telephones, slow combustion stoves, 18 hour power, and more red clay than you’d care to see in your washing. Most of our groceries came in from Samarai or Port Moresby, and the pilot’s success at landing depended on the weather. You can read about my 1st Papua New Guinea Christmas here.

The airstrip for Alotau is some miles away at Gurney, the site of a major World War II Australian base. The Battle of Milne Bay in 1942 was pivotal in turning the tide of the Japanese advance. While less well known than Kokoda it was arguably even more important in the overall scheme of the war’s outcome, as it was the first time the Japanese military had experienced defeat. Milne Bay is U-shaped, and in the Wet Season the cloud descends over the surrounding mountains obscuring everything until you can barely see further than 20 metres away and keeping aircraft from landing –very inconvenient.  It’s unforgiving flying country which challenges all a pilot’s skills. One plane crash, soon after I arrived, killed a young family who we knew, as well as others[i]. The sound of choppers and planes searching through the clouds and mist for a downed aircraft is an eerie and sobering one. My husband was the last person to see this plane take off and I had farewelled some who had stayed at Glyn Wort’s guesthouse (where I worked) that morning. It’s surprising that the incident was not more well-known among his colleagues.

My Alotau memories are quite shell-shocked, having come from a familiar urban environment to a very different environment, but within the year it felt like home. I’ve always wanted to revisit Milne Bay to refresh my memories.


[i] Also see http://asopa.typepad.com/asopa_people/the-kiaps-honour-roll.html. The plane had reportedly stalled the day before when another kiap (later murdered) was on the flight.  In PNG, we lived with the philosophy that “when your number’s up, your number’s up”.

52 weeks of Abundant Genealogy: Week 2 – Thistle do me: ScotlandsPeople

Amy Coffin of the We Tree blog, in conjunction with Geneabloggers, has kicked off 2012 with a new series of weekly blogging prompts themed as 52 Weeks of Abundant GenealogyWeek 2’s topic is Paid Online Genealogy Tools: Which paid genealogy tool do you appreciate the most? What special features put it at the top of your list? How can it help others with their genealogy research?

Which paid genealogy tool do you appreciate the most? For me this is indisputably the ScotlandsPeople web site. I can’t begin to count how many times I’ve used it for myself or my friends. With an efficient search you can get that certificate for the cost of a cup of coffee and you have to admit that’s good value. Sure you can also get the wrong answer to your search ie not the one you were looking for, or hoping for. However the site lets you search using wildcards which can limit the risk so my trick is to use wildcards as much as possible within my requirements, but narrow the search parameters where necessary to ensure I don’t get too many pages of indexes. One year for my friend’s birthday I was able to do a family tree for her for less than $100 (she’s a long-standing, generous friend) and all of it in less than two days. Admittedly I was lucky that her families were in parishes with good stretches of records and that they didn’t move too much. Still it shows what’s possible.

What special features put it at the top of your list? The accuracy of the indexing (mostly) and the ability to see primary records electronically are my top reasons. I may use my Ancestry subscription or FreeCen, for example, to narrow the margins and search for names in the census until I know I probably have the right one then I will go to ScotlandsPeople to see the actual record. That way I can also see the header page for the enumeration district. I also LOVE that the Scots retain the woman’s maiden name and so you are even more likely to be able to find her.

How can it help others with their genealogy research? I’ve heard many people say they’ve looked at it but never paid to use it because it’s expensive. Of course we all have different economic resources, but for me, in terms of bang for your buck, I strongly recommend using ScotlandsPeople. It’s accurate, efficient and you’re seeing a primary record “immediately”…all for the price of that coffee, remember. You are not reliant on what some indexer has decided the document says. You also get to look at who is on the same page and you may even find another relative lurking there. Give it a go, you won’t regret it!

Gravestone Janet McArthur – Kilmorich Churchyard Cairndow, Argyll

Janet McArthur grave at Kilmorich Kirk

This photograph from my archives was taken in March 2003 at the Kilmorich Parish kirk in Cairndow, Argyll, Scotland. One of the reasons I took it was because it linked Scotland to New Zealand.  Perhaps Alexander’s family don’t yet know of his Argyll ancestry or that the gravestone was erected by him.

The words on the stone are:

In Loving Memory of Janet McArthur who died Drishaig 3rd April 1896. Aged 93 years.

Erected by Alexander McArthur, New Zealand 1904

Cairndow is sometimes also shown as Cairndhu on old records. My own great-great-grandmother is buried there.

Time for a new blog look

If you’ve previously logged into my page and are bewildered today, it’s because I’ve introduced a new look to my blog. For some time I’ve been feeling that my blog is a bit “squashed” and made it harder to read. Hopefully there’s not too much open space now.. Let me know what you think…is it easier to read?

The header takes up a bit more space than in my old-style blog but nearly all the images relate to my family history as I’ve used images of ancestral sites. I’d like to be able to link specific images with specific pages but that doesn’t appear to be possible. Happy for any tips if other WordPress people can offer some.

So what images will you be seeing:

The old red-roofed shed on my O’Brien family land in Ballykelly, Broadford, Parish Kilseily, Co Clare, Ireland.

Shore in Leith, Scotland, where my Melvin ancestors lived for many decades before emigrating: they could return now and be familiar with all these buildings.

Dorfprozelten, Bavaria from across the River Main, showing the village church, boats and vineyards: home of my Kunkel ancestor.

A beach scene from Achill in County Mayo because for me it typifies life on Ireland’s coast even though none of my rellies come from here.

A view over Dorfprozelten on the River Main, Bavaria. The river is a boundary and across the river is Baden.

Snow capped hills not far from near Drimuirk on south Loch Awe, Argyll, Scotland: McCorkindale country..

A view over Loch Awe from Kilchrenan parish: my McCorkindale ancestors moved from one side of the lake to the other but the north side (Kilchrenan) is where the McCorquodales came from in the long distant past.

A typical Irish scene in County Clare:patchwork fields.

Inveraray in Argyll, Scotland, home of Clan Campbell, and a focal point for families living in the area -they were inevitably influenced by this family. It is situated on Loch Fyne and my McCorkindales also lived at Ardkinglas at the top of Loch Fyne while my Morrisons lived across the loch from Inveraray.

Hmm, not sure all the images are scrolling randomly as intended, so please bear with me on that one..but at least you’ll get some.

I do hope you enjoy the new look.