On the trail of lost ancestors in Helensburgh, Scotland
A few weeks ago, I decided – pretty much on a whim – to start tracing my family tree. I think, like most people who do this, I was secretly hoping I’d find out I was directly descended from Cleopatra or something, although, as it turns out, that would be pretty difficult because, with the exception of one adventurous branch of the family who emigrated to the States in the 19th century, only to return ten years later (possibly thrown out?), it would seem my ancestors have spent hundreds of years diligently mining coal all over Scotland, except for a few renegade souls, who mined clay instead. I’d imagine it was a bit like living inside a DH Lawrence novel, only grittier, and more Scottish.
My ancestors also appear to have cunningly avoided doing anything that might have drawn attention to themselves throughout their lives, which makes them a little harder to trace. I didn’t read all of those Famous Five books as a child for nothing, though, so I have persevered, and one thing I have managed to find out (mostly because it was, er, already known to my parents) is that my maternal great-grandparents, and their parents before them, lived in Helensburgh, which is a little town on the Clyde, in the west of Scotland.
Anyway, this Sunday was Easter, obviously, but it was better known in our family by the much more important title of “My Mum’s Birthday”, so, to celebrate, my dad thought it would be a nice idea to take my mum “back to her roots”, so to speak, and take a little drive to Helensburgh. And because Terry and I like to hang around like a bad smell all the time, we went too. Look, here’s me and my mum having a whale of a time in the local cemetery! Happy Easter!
Honestly, if there’s a better way to celebrate your mother’s birthday than by taking her to a graveyard, I don’t know what it is. Happy birthday, mum!
Unfortunately, our ancestors continued to be elusive, and we didn’t manage to find any of their graves – we think they’re probably unmarked, or marked by a tree or something – so we drew a blank there. We did, however, have a few addresses we knew some of them had lived in, and we managed to find those. Here’s me, Terry and Rubin looking slightly suspicious as we loiter outside the building my great-grandfather once lived in:
Note: he was not a dentist. And actually, despite what I said above, these Helensburgh ancestors weren’t coal miners either, or even clay miners. No, my great-grandad was a plasterer, which I would imagine was quite daring of him at the time. We visited a couple of other streets we knew the family had lived on, but although most of the rest of the streets were still intact, and dated back to the late nineteeth/early twentieth century, the buildings the early Forever Ambers had lived in had been knocked down. We’re assuming this had nothing to do with our family, but you never really know…
Anyway, because nothing works up a good appetite quite like poking around graveyards, we retired to the waterfront to eat ice cream and bags of greasy chips. Here are the disembodied heads of me and my parents floating above a host of golden daffodils:
I have my eyes closed because, seriously, you have no idea how many photos I have managed to ruin by doing that. It’s like some freaky skill I have, to always know the exact moment the shutter will close, and to close my eyes in sympathy with it. Here’s a rare shot of me with my eyes open, just after lunch:
I like to think my ancient ancestors once stood on this same spot, gazing pensively out over the Clyde and thinking deep thoughts. Sadly for them, though, they were probably too busy huddling together for warmth or weaving rough sweaters out of coal, or whatever people did in those days, to have much time for pensive staring. Which was probably a good thing, really, because look where Pensive Staring has got me?
After that, we drove along the Clyde to Loch Long, which is a loch, and is long:
Loch Long has no associations with my ancestors, as far as I know, but my uncle did almost catch his death of cold once in Arrochar, on its banks, so it sort of counts.
Then we went to Loch Lomond, which, again, has absolutely nothing to do with our family, but which is just nice. Its banks were looking suitably bonny, I thought:
And then we came home. So, in conclusion, we didn’t find out too much about my ancestors, but a good day was had by all: