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.

52 weeks of Abundant Genealogy: Week 3: Celebrate the generosity of free websites

This week’s questions are gifts in themselves. I have two sites that I routinely sing the praises of, one international and one for regional Australia, and one that I think deserves to be better known.

Ennis has delightful narrow streets. This image is from Wikipedia. Unfortunately I've now discovered my Ennis photos have gone AWOL.

Clare County Library is my all time favourite resource for free family history and Clare history, aided and abetted by CLASP (Clare Local Studies Project). In the real world you will find them in Ennis, County Clare where the Local Studies Centre is a treasure trove. The good people there have been leaders in the field of promoting the county’s history at a personal, regional and international level for many years. While the rest of Ireland languished in a “what can we get from you” mindset, Clare Library was generously sharing its information and harnessing the enthusiastic energies of volunteers around the world. Careful scrutiny of transcriptions have ensured their indexes are reliable. The townland and parish indexes are particularly helpful.  The value of the site is really only fully appreciated when you go to look up something in another county only to find blank walls or minimal information. I can’t thank them enough or praise them highly enough! If you have Clare ancestry you just don’t know how lucky you will be with this site.

Drayton & Toowoomba Cemetery

Closer to home, my much-used Drayton and Toowoomba Cemetery grave search, hosted by Toowoomba Regional Council, is my top contender. I couldn’t have done without it when writing my Kunkel family history or in researching “my” Dorfprozelten emigrants or other Darling Downs ancestors. It not only tells you who is buried there with their grave location, but also gives you a death date and tells you how old they were as well as who is buried in the same grave revealing further, sometimes unanticipated, links (like the stray Gavin buried with my female Gavin ancestors). Other councils have followed suit and offer similar services, but like the Clare County Library they get the honours for being truly innovative as well as tremendously useful.

Another site I use less regularly but which deserves to be better known is one which is dedicated to photographing gravestones in cemeteries in South-East Queensland. This is a personal rather than an organisational website and again was among the leaders in this type of activity. If you have ancestry in South East Queensland, do have a look at what they have to offer.

The abundance of free sites available to us as family historians is quite remarkable and is truly something to be grateful for.