In the presence of the past

kirkmichael kirkyard resting place of James Wallace and Ann Cunnison

The kirkyard, Kirkmichael Parish Church, Perthshire, Scotland. Image: Su Leslie 2013

Churchyards and cemeteries hold great fascination for family historians. Headstone inscriptions can provide invaluable clues to an ancestor’s life, and in the process of finding one person, it’s not uncommon to discover other family members buried nearby.

They are also places of contemplation.

The tiny village of Kirkmichael in rural Perthshire, is where my 4x great grandparents, James Wallace (1799-1874) and Ann Kinnison/Cunnison (1806-1882) lived and died.

They lie in the bottom corner of the kirkyard, down by the burn; their lives commemorated by a headstone bearing the following inscription:

Erected by
Greeley Colorado USA
in memory of his father
who died at Benauld, Kirkmichael
20th March 1874 aged 74
and his mother
who died at Blairgowrie
18 February 1882, aged 78.
The above Charles Wallace
died 16 May 1925
Interred in Greeley Cemetery Col. USA

I’ve visited the graves of quite a few ancestors now, but the Kirkmichael visit stays in my mind particularly. Partly because it was such an isolated place — I was totally alone there — and partly because James and Ann are the oldest links in the chain of my history whose physical resting place I’ve touched.

Posted to Ragtag Daily Prompt | Past


Phoneography Challenge: fade to black (and white)

Four weeks ago I was in Scotland; in the Perthshire village of Kirkmichael to be precise.

I was there because I knew that a distant branch of my family had lived in the village for most of the nineteenth century (and most likely well back beyond that), and I wanted to see if I could find any trace of them.

It took a couple of attempts to find the local cemetery – signposts for the church took me to one long abandoned and apparently without a churchyard.

Abandoned church, Kirkmichael, Perthshire, Scotland.

Abandoned church, Kirkmichael, Perthshire, Scotland.

Abandoned church, Kirkmichael, Perthshire, Scotland.

Abandoned church, Kirkmichael, Perthshire, Scotland.

Eventually, back in the village I found what I was looking for. It’s not a large cemetery; but an old one full of the plain headstones apparently favoured by Scots Presbyterians. I spend quite a lot of time in cemeteries these days, and have noticed definite “fashions” (or at least trends) in headstones. Not only are the Scots’ headstones usually quite simple shapes and largely unadorned with carving; they also seemed to me to contain very straightforward epitaphs. Whilst in Scotland, I didn’t see any of the “fell asleep in the arms of Jesus”-type inscriptions that are quite common in New Zealand.

kirkmichael headstone not family

One of the few ornate headstones in Kirkmichael cemetery; a beautifully carved Celtic cross.

But back to Kirkmichael. It was a very wet, grey day and I wasn’t wearing particularly robust shoes, so I was briefly tempted not to explore the cemetery with it’s slightly abandoned, overgrown feel. Thankfully, the feeling was very short-lived, for at the very bottom of the graveyard, close to the boundary wall and alongside the River Ardle, I found the headstone of my 3x great grandparents James Wallace and Anne Cunnison. Born in 1801 and 1807 respectively, James and Anne represent the oldest of my ancestors I have found an actual physical connection to, and it was a very special moment for me to stand in that little churchyard and know that I was touching something so connected to me.

The churchyard of Kirkmichael, Perthshire. In the foreground, the headstone of my great, great, great grandparents James Wallace and Anne Cunnison. The Wallace family lived in Kirkmichael throughout the nineteenth century.

river kirkmichael

The river Ardle as it flows through Kirkmichael, Perthshire, Scotland.

As far as I know James and Anne lived their entire lives in Kirkmichael. This stands in complete contrast to their grand-daughter, Isabella Wallace who was born in St Madoes – also in Perthshire, but moved to Dundee as a child when her father died. She married my great grandfather Stewart Cruden in Dundee, then lived in several Fife villages before ending up in Dysart for a time before emigrating to the United States. Stewart and Isabella lived for 10 years in New Jersey before returning to Dysart in the early 1930s.

I had hoped that there would still be family members in the village, but it was a bleak day and even the pub was closed. I did try the cafe/general store/petrol station, but found it owned by a family from Coleshill, near Birmingham. They were fairly recent “incomers” and weren’t much help on the family history front. They did however serve a decent cup of coffee and quite nice lemon drizzle cake. And we had a pleasant chat about Coleshill; a village I know well from having worked there in the early nineties.

Ironic really to travel half way around the world in search of ancestors only to find a piece of my own past in the most unexpected place.

All photos taken on iPhone 4 and edited with Aviary Ultimate Photo Editor.

The theme of this week’s Phonography Challenge from Sally and Lens and Pens by Sally is black and white.

Here are some more posts you might enjoy:

A Phoneographic Philm Noir

Phoneography Challenge: Black and White