As long as I have a few days of admin to finalize the camper purchase, and we weren’t going to take up residence for at least a week, I booked us into a little Airbnb cottage near Dumfries so I could focus on the tasks at hand, and for another, special reason.
Longtime readers may remember that one of my hobbies is family history research. If you’re interested you can check out some previous posts here and here and here or search for genealogy or family history in the search box in the blog.
I’ve continued to research even while we were in the far flung corners of the cruising world, and last year I had a giant breakthrough because new records were made available online by the Danish National Archives. I’m not one little bit Danish but some of my ancestors lived in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, owned and governed until 1917 by Denmark. The records they released are probate records from the 18th and 19th century, handwritten and mostly in Danish.
I spent hour after hour during much of the pandemic lockdown paging through the records, hoping a familiar name would pop up. And it did! I learned that my great great grandmother’s birth name was Roddan and for the big breakthrough, I learned that her father was from Dumfries in Scotland. This is the first time I’ve been able to make the leap across the pond to my ancestors’ origins in either Ireland or Scotland.
With that new information I’m able to start to piece together a previously missing branch of my mother’s family tree, and now that we’re in Dumfries and Galloway, I’m hoping to make even more discoveries, primarily to learn what would have possessed four carpenter brothers to leave this beautiful place in the 18th century and undertake an uncomfortable journey to the West Indies.
In anticipation of our visit to Scotland I joined the Dumfries and Galloway Family History Society. I looked forward to visiting the center to see what records are available, and to pick the brains of the local historians.
Before we got here I found online a book of headstone inscriptions from a small village churchyard near the town of Dumfries.
“In Memory of William Roddan Esq., of the Island of Tortola, who died at Bilbow in the Parish of Troqueer the 13th of Sept 1784 aged 23 years And of James Roddan his youngest son, who died the 30th December 1784 aged 6 months Also of his eldest son William Adamson Roddan Esq., accountant in Kirkcudbright, who departed this life at Bowhouse of Terregles on the 23rd day of June 1822 in the 41st year of his age.”
Months ago I marked the cemetery on my Google map and we were finally close enough to find it. Jack has known of my fascination with graveyards since we met, and on our first date he took me to an old German cemetery in Pittsburgh. So off we went to read some headstones.
The yard was much larger than I thought, with a couple of hundred engraved stones. Jack was first to find the name Roddan. Unfortunately it was a century too late for my people. We kept looking.
An hour later we admitted we couldn’t find the right stone, but saw that quite a few had either fallen or broken. The stones were transcribed for the book in the 1970s and the preface noted that many of them are no longer standing or legible for one reason or another. Sadly, I think the one I was looking for might be one of them.
On the way home from the churchyard we visited the Twelve Apostles stone circle. It’s the largest in mainland Scotland, and the 7th largest in Britain.
The circle is unimpressive, especially from this distance. It rained heavily the previous night and the field was too mushy to venture into. The stones are nearly buried but were originally close to 2 meters tall and oriented toward the midwinter sunset.
I have a lot of stone circles and standing stones marked on my Google map so expect to see more as we travel further.