Going Back To My Roots.
An Ancestral Journey to Airdrie, Scotland.
Today is my mama’s birthday!!
The one who nurtured me in her womb. And the one who labored to bring me into this world. The one who cradled me in her arms. She is the one who whispered words of strength into my ears at every moment that I doubted myself.
Last year, I wrote more of a poetic style post in honor of her special day. You can read that here.
This year, I’ve decided to honor her by writing a little about our Scottish roots.
As you know, in May, my mother and I (along with my aunt) traveled to Scotland.
This was my mother’s first time stepping onto foreign soil.
There are studies out there that say certain memories are written on our DNA. My gut instinct (though I’m no scientist) is that a pull to your ancestral homeland is one of these memories. You may recall that my ethnicity according to Ancestry.com is 79% British and 10% Irish. My mother is 85% British and 9% Irish. While your parents do each contribute 50% of their DNA, the makeup of that contribution varies. Which is why siblings can have different percentages of a certain ethnicity. If my dad were to take the test, I suspect he’d have more Irish than my mother since I have a wee bit more than her.
Scotland has always been intricately linked to our knowledge of our heritage. However, that Scottish heritage was through my maternal grandfather, Andrew McLachlan Scott (1922-2011) and he was somewhat of an enigma. He stood over 6 foot tall, had piercing blue eyes, and a tattoo of a cross and flowers that said “mother” along with the initial R.S. (for my grandmother) on his arm. He raced motorcycles in “Hound and Hare” races across the California desert. My mother would interview him before he passed away and we have a great collection of tales, but he only knew little bits and pieces of his family history.
We knew that he had been born in Sydney Mines, Nova Scotia, Canada and that he had arrived in Los Angeles (his family sponsored by an uncle already living there) when he was about 18 months old. His mother had been born in Wigan, England and emigrated to Nova Scotia as a child. She died at the age of 37. One month after my grandfather turned 10. His memory of her was little fragments here and there. We knew that his father was born in Holytown, Scotland and emigrated to Nova Scotia with his family as a teen. And his paternal grandmother, Agnes McLachlan Scott, would come to live with them at some point along the way. Her heavy Scottish accent would have the neighborhood children asking my Grandfather if she was speaking English.
The path to Airdrie.
She would be the one that would help lead us down the course of discovering some of our history. This was because, even though she died in 1944, she left records that we were able to use. I always felt a kinship to her because, in her “Declaration of Intention” for U.S. Citizenship, which was signed in 1925 (affirming amongst other things that she was not an anarchist nor a polygamist), she was 64 years old and stood at 5’6″. I read this as a teen, during a time when I struggled over the fact that I towered over most of my peers. (While 5’8″ is not that tall in today’s world, I attended a high school where I could literally see over most people’s heads as I walked the halls). I always wanted to be shorter.
Until I read that declaration.
I always liked to imagine that was a pretty regal height for that time. That perhaps my height came from those enigmatic Scottish roots.
And the document that we possess would many years later would send us to a little town in Scotland was this one:
The Certificate of Proclamation.
In Scotland, banns were proclaimed in church for three successive Sundays prior to a marriage in case there was any impediment to the marriage.
My mother also has the Certificate of Proclamation that was proclaimed in Airdrie, but this certificate gave a physical address for where my great-great grandmother was living.
We knew that the landscape of Airdrie had changed since the days of coal mining, but we still wanted to walk the streets and perhaps see the church in which they’d been married (if we could discover which that was).
If you’ll recall from this post, our initial plan to travel there while in Glasgow was not possible due to a train disruption.
Instead, we traveled from Edinburgh on the day prior to flying home. The trains run from Glasgow to Edinburgh every 7 minutes. However, Airdrie is not a stop along each line. We also thought we’d be visiting Caldercruix due to it being listed on the certificate. This meant a very specific train. The staff at the train ticket offices were amazing during our entire usage of the rail system while in Scotland. They knew how to get you to all the stops that you wanted to make and the cheapest way to accomplish that. Since there were three of us, quite often it was cheaper to buy a roundtrip Groupsaver ticket.
Meaning of Airdrie.
I did love how all of the stops also had the Gaelic name.
Since Gaelic was originally spoken, not written, there are varying interpretations of what Airdrie originally meant. Most interpretations involve it being a high area. In fact, Airdrie is built across seven hills : Airdriehill, Cairnhill, Gartleahill, Flowerhill, Holehill, Golfhill, and Scarhill.
Discovery Room at the Airdrie Library.
After alighting from the train (my mother loved that at each stop the train would announce “mind the gap when alighting from the train”), our first stop would be the Discovery Room at the Airdrie Library. The first thing we discovered was that we needed to have a very specific search. You pay for the help of the librarian in that room.
So we headed back down to the main part of the library to narrow down our notes to specifics. The day happened to be June 6th. The time just before 11 am. We were able to join in with all those around us, as well as all of Britain, in the minute of silence held for the victims of the London Bridge attack.
It was very emotional to be this foreigner participating in this moment… on their lands.
Almost like a sacred space to which, as an outsider, I’d been invited into to come alongside and share in their grief and horror.
Once we had our questions together, we returned upstairs. 1881 census records told us that Agnes McLachlan Scott lived on Flowerhill Street, along with her mother Agnes Baird McLachlan and some siblings. Through the microfilm records in the Discovery Room of the library, we were able to get an actual address.
We were interested in walking up Flowerhill street, because we knew from the 1841 census records that Agnes Baird McLachlan also lived on this street when she was a five year-old, and that her father, James Baird was a Hand Loom Weaver, which we would see as the same occupation for Agnes Baird McLachlan at the age of 15 on the 1851 census.
Airdrie was known for its weaving community during that time. Nearly every weaver had his own home and garden. My mother purchased a copy of a photo of what the homes would have looked at that time. Those homes mostly having been replaced by apartment buildings.
The librarian helped us learn how to maneuver the Scotland’s People website and even found the marriage certificate for Agnes McLachlan and James Scott. We learned that they were Baptist and that they had been married at 38 Shanks Street, her home, not at a church as we’d previously thought. We think this was due to the fact that the Baptist Church located in Airdrie hadn’t been completed at the time of their marriage. However, the name of the pastor doesn’t align with that Church and we haven’t been able to discover where he may have ministered.
We looked at some old maps of Airdrie to see what it may have looked like at the time.
I’ve highlighted the areas that we planned to walk around. Our starting location was in the lower left of this map, out of view.
Chunky Monkeys Coffee.
Given that we had not eaten lunch, we popped into Chunky Monkeys Coffee on Anderson Street.
I kept seeing advertisements for Appletiser, so I decided that I must try one before leaving the U.K. It was tasty. It was a very cold and rainy day, so my aunt opted for hot chocolate covered in marshmallows and a warm soup. My mom and I split a sandwich because we may or may not (definitely may) have been saving room for one of the decadent treats in the display case. After fueling up, we went to brave the rain. This was the rainiest day of our entire time in Scotland.
So rainy that this is the only photo that I pulled out my camera to take. And you know how I love some good architecture! This is a Category B building dated 1920 and erected from Red Ashlar Sandstone. We passed this building located at 56 Stirling Street more than once. This was taken at the end of our time there after I crossed the street to return to the train station.
The walk to Flowerhill is uphill… like are we going to get to the top uphill. I had already visited Stirling Castle with my aunt and mother so I had no doubt that their legs would accomplish this feat….but that rain! Our raincoats kept us dry, but our legs and feet were at the mercy of the sideways rains.
My iPhone was loaded with Google or Apple maps directing our footsteps. Once I attempted to switch to the camera but realized that some water had found an entrance into the case and that the touchscreen had been rendered useless. I was horrified that I may have ruined my phone. And even more concerned that we might indeed get lost if the phone quit working.
My mother had a mini umbrella that was supposed to withstand wind. It almost lost the battle, but it did hold up while I removed my case, dried my phone and put it back together.
We admired the land surrounding Flowerhill Street and then continued on, a school crossing guard helping us make it across the busy roundabout at the top. We passed Central Park and then discovered there would be some more uphill climbing before reaching our final destination.
Though the homes are not the same, it was an amazing feeling that after having traveled so far and having spent the afternoon slogging through the rain, we had arrived.
Arrived at this little intersection of the world that had called our name for so many years.
Walked across the land that had once held vows spoken upon its air.
Vows of a life together…vows that would begin a family.
Vows that would take that family across the ocean to a place where a son would meet the woman that he loved. In that love, they would have a family.
A family that they would take across the border into a new land to the place where a son would meet a Los Angeles beauty who used to kiss the sailors coming into port.
Their love would ultimately give birth to four children.
Number three would fall in love with a long-haired Floridian boy in 1976.
This love would produce two children.
Of which, I am the first.
And it all began on Shanks Street.
Let your light shine!