Friday flip through the archives


Originally posted as part of my 100 Days project. Kirkyard at Kirkmichael, Perthshire, Scotland. Resting place of James Wallace and Ann Cunnison. Image: Su Leslie, 2013

Reading Amy’s account of visiting her Seligman family members’ burial place in Santa Fe, (My Ancestral Town, Santa Fe, New Mexico in Brotmanblog: A Family Journey) made me think about a wet and cold afternoon I spent in a tiny churchyard in rural Perthshire, Scotland, looking for the resting place of my 3x great grandparents James Wallace and Ann Cunnison.

I originally wrote about this in a post called On Stilled Voices and Visualising Silence.

Yesterday my 100 days project word was ‘silence’ — and I have to say it was possibly the most challenging to date.

Partly that might be because I’m away from home, without access to my normal work tools and archives and reliant on my iPad. Partly it’s just because silence is something I find difficult to visually convey.

Eventually I realised that the most profound silence is not an absence of sound, but an absence of communication. Last year, on my trip to Scotland, I visited a number of cemeteries and kirkyards, looking for the headstones of ancestors. I found more than I’d expected and will always treasure those moments with those tangible symbols of my lineage.

But alone in those bleak, quiet places, I also felt the profound loss of lives stilled. I come from ordinary folk who don’t in general leave traces of themselves in recorded history. Once those who knew them stop sharing stories, their lives are silenced.

If I learned anything from my kirkyard visits, it is to speak to family members now; record their stories and share them with the next generations.

Once upon a time, I wouldn’t have seen the point in visiting places just because my ancestors had lived there. But as I have become more and more interested in my family history, I’ve realised the power of any tangible reminder (photographs, objects, places) of those long gone. I’ve learned to listen to those echoes of past lives, and to hear traces of my own voice there too.

9 thoughts on “Friday flip through the archives

  1. Beautiful post, Su, and thanks so much for linking to my blog post. We folks do all seem to have similar responses to these things.

    • Thanks Amy. We do. When I was reading your post, I had a really strong “flashback” to my day in Kirkmichael — even though rural Perth in Autumn could hardly be less like Santa Fe!

  2. Hello how amazing while searching for my rrelatives who live in Scotland I typed in Joe Malone and your father’s photo came up.Joe was my Great Aunty Annes husband.She died a fair few years ago.Joe owned the Penny Farthing Pub in Kirkaldy.He would be 83 by now.I am searching for my second cousin Joanne.Joe and Annes daughter. If you have any information about them it would be very much appreciated.Not having much luck from over here in Australia

    • Hi Lee. Amazing! I can ask my dad if he knows anything about Joe these days. The last time I was in the Penny Farthing was probably about 1991; with my dad’s brother and his wife. They were regulars; and lived quite close by. I don’t remember Dad ever talking about Joe’s family, but I’ll let you know if he does have any information. I know what it’s like trying to do research from a distance!

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