Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - Feb. 1, 2008

From Balquhidder to Burns

It's amazing how one thing can lead to another.

Each weekend, husband Art and I spend a couple of hours updating family group sheets - forms that, for relatives both living and gone, include basic information such as birth, marriage and death dates and places.

I read the information stored years ago on an old computer program while Art re-enters it into a new program, making additions and corrections as we go. The whole process is as exciting as watching paint dry for most folks, but for a family historian, it is heady stuff, despite being routine.

But this past Saturday wasn't routine.

After many weeks, we had reached David Stewart in the alphabetized sheets - my great, great, great grandfather.

The sheet said David was born in 1776 or 1777 in Carindasy, County Kerry, Ireland. His wife was known only as Elizabeth, born in County Down. They had nine children, some born in County Down and some in County Derry. We had gathered some of that information in the early 1990s, when we found their graves, along with those of five of their children, in the Ottawa Township Cemetery in Waukesha County, Wisconsin. Typical for a family history nut, I recall the time we spent in the cemetery clearly. While Art and I went from stone to stone, 5-year-old daughter Mariya played with every knob on the car's dashboard while Art's Mom kept her company.

But as we went over this information, it struck me odd that David was born in County Kerry, which is quite a distance from counties Down and Derry. In the 1770s, a person usually didn't travel far to find a mate. And where was Carindasy, Ireland?

Answering such questions was very time-consuming before the Internet became widely available. But not so today. Art decided to do a quick search, but Googling Carindasy produced no hits. A map search of County Kerry and a broader one of Ireland produced nothing. Historical maps of Irish counties netted zilch.

At some point, I mused that perhaps Carindasy wasn't in County Kerry, but instead was in County Derry. After all, my Stewarts were Scot-Irish Presbyterians and County Kerry had been home mainly to Catholics.

Still no success.

Then I suggested that perhaps the name wasn't a town, but a parish or even an individual farm.

I'm not sure what the exact sequence of our search was, but after more than an hour, we connected my David Stewart with Walter Stewart in County Derry. The account we found said Walter had led troops sent to Ireland from Scotland in 1643 to "quell the native Irish." When he retired, his family, along with Sloan relatives, bought the Cairndeasy - not Carindasy - estate located near the village of Moneymore.

A MapQuest search on Moneymore, Northern Ireland followed, with Art looking near the village. Bingo! Just to the northwest was Cairndeasy Road.

But now we wanted to know where Walter Stewart's home was in Scotland. This is where things took a turn toward the strange. After a short time, Art connected Walter with the village of Balquhidder - a name that seemed familiar.

Another MapQuest search quickly revealed why. We not only had stayed in a town near Balquhidder during our 2005 trip, we had visited the village itself! I remember how unhappy the girls were about the constant rain, while I thought the mist and shroud-covered hills lent an air of mystery and haunting beauty to the Scottish landscape.

Art suggested a looping route through the countryside with no particular destination in mind. After visiting a couple of woolen mills, we continued on. Near the western extreme of the loop, Art noticed a small sign near the road's edge for Balquhidder Church, its claim to fame being that its cemetery is the burial place of Rob Roy MacGregor. MacGregor was a cattleman and farmer, but it was his status as a local Robin-Hood-like folk figure and a thorn in the side of the English that had made him a beloved figure to the Scots.

It was drizzling hard when we arrived and the girls elected to stay in the car. A Scotch pine branch - the symbol of the MacGregor clan - had been placed on MacGregor's grave and lit candles stood nearby. The church was very old and very cold. The literature at the entrance described it as being on the "thin line" between man and God, a place of religious significance since the time of the Druids.

Art and I both noticed that some Stewarts were buried in the small cemetery and joked that they were probably my Stewarts. It was funny because Stewart in Scotland is as common as Smith or Jones is here.

But, now that we connected Walter from Balquhidder with David in Cairndeasy, we know those Stewarts almost certainly ARE part of my family line. And that line also includes such historical figures as Robert the Bruce, William the Conqueror, Charlemagne, Constantine the Great, King Charles II of France, King John I of England and Llewellyn the Great, Prince of Wales. So I probably share, oh, perhaps two genes out of thousands with some of them.

I also know now that there is a direct line from Balquhidder, Scotland to Burns, Kansas, where Grandma Ethel Stewart Freeland lived and is buried. And I know that just from curiosity about a place name.

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