(Another nerdy obsession of mine: the British monarchy...I actually got up at 6 a.m. local time to watch the royal wedding a few years ago...I mean, the Duchess of Cambridge? C'mon. Gorge.)
I love movies like "The Patriot" and "Braveheart" (maybe I just love Mel Gibson?) and when I was little Felicity was my favorite American Girl doll. There's just something so romantic about a group of people coming together to fight for something they believe in...and winning. Knowing that my ancestors were Scottish and English has often made me wonder whether they were witness to these events. Did they fight in any wars? When did they arrive in America? What did they do here?
Who were they?
My mind tends to wander, if you haven't already noticed, and when I'm standing in an old building or walking through an antique shop, I often stop to imagine what those things have seen. What happened in their rooms. What precious personal items they held. Time is such a strange thing, the way it passes. How it never stops. And seconds turn to hours which turn to days and weeks and years. Generations. Centuries. How someone you know knew someone else who knew someone else who knew your ancestor. It kind of blows my mind. We're never that far removed from our roots.
Over the years, I've learned the stories of my family. My grandfather's sister, Linda, has told us all kinds of things about their great-grandfather, John Gillian Barclay. We thought he was the first of our family who moved here from Scotland, but it turns out his father came, too. I have a small, silver snuffbox he was gifted by the employees of the Ferguson Brother's Factory Mile End in Glasgow for his "impartial conduct towards them" in 1839. This week, I found the record of his arrival on Ancestry. It's likely father and son came together and their ship, the Franconus, arrived in New York on May 29, 1850.
This is the first tangible evidence I've found of John Gillian's father, who was also named John. And I write these things here to protect them, to keep them safe in one place where I won't lose them, to write them out and commit them to memory. These pieces of history are little treasures to me.
Amazingly, if you dig enough on Ancestry you'll stumble across other living family members. John Gillian has multiple profiles because multiple people have created them for their family trees. My aunt and I each have one. And a couple other people do, too; however, their profiles of him are incomplete because he's a more obscure relative of theirs and they know little about him. It's crazy to look through their family trees and discover that I'm looking at the Ancestry account of my 6th cousin. I emailed back and forth with a lady who is descended from John Gillian and his first wife, Mary. I'm descended from the children of his third wife, Martha. The woman I talked to lives in Oklahoma and she didn't even know John Gillian was married more than once...and he is her great-great-grandfather! I was able to tell her where he was buried, that he served in the Union Navy, and had many more children.
But what she gave me was even more precious.
This is a photo of my great-great-great-grandfather, John Gillian Barclay. All I'd ever seen up to last week was a painting of him (pictured at the top of this post). He is the spitting image of my father and seven years ago, when my great-aunt Linda pulled that painting out of storage, we all gasped because it was like looking at an older version of my dad.
When I stumbled across this photo of John Gillian, I gaped at it for about five minutes, taking in all the elements of his dress, his expression, his posture. And that top hat! Can we just marvel at that for a second, please?
Here was a man who traveled across an ocean to start a new life in New York, who served this country as a lowly landsman in the Civil War, who married and was widowed and married twice more, who raised babies who became my family, who moved to Georgia and died and was buried, alone, in a quiet country cemetery in 1906.
I wish I had more answers to my questions. There are secrets surrounding his departure from Scotland that we might never discover. Whispers of murder and then mob activity in New York, prompting him to sign up for military service. Whether these things were accidental or the regrets of a young man too foolish to know better, I'm sure I'll never know. But I suppose that's part of the fun. The mystery of who we are and where we come from. The good and the bad, the mundane and the exciting.
His story is part of mine, and mine will one day be part of another. And thanks to the internet and this little blog, maybe they'll have fewer unanswered questions.
So cheers to you, family! I'm so glad you're mine.