Tracing the Path to the Past

Contributing Writer
Janet Wahlberg

While I generally share research tips and strategies with you, this month I plan to share with you a story of discovery in Scotland. My husband and I recently spent a week in Scotland. One of my goals was to try and find the Boleskine Kirk (pronounced bowl- short (e) – skin) near the lower end of Loch Ness. It was the church where my four times great grandfather (The Frozen Grandfather) baptized his youngest child, Violet. It was her baptism that allowed me to place him in the Highlands and thus prove the family legend of the grandfather who froze to death in the Highlands even though he was born and lived in Roxburgh, in the Lowlands for much of his early life. This story was published in the Gazette in January of this year.

In preparation for the trip, I used Goggle to try and pinpoint the location. I also obtained a period map (1830s) that showed the location of the original church, now in ruins as well as a newer Boleskine Kirk built in 1799. I then contacted the Highland Archives to obtain any information that they might have on the church. Their records did not show the church still standing. However, I was determined that we would at least take a look at the area. So off we went with my husband’s new-found skills driving on the left side of the very narrow roads.

We drove from Inverness along the western shore of Loch Ness to the southern end near Fort Augustus. With only a few wrong turns, we were finally able to cross over to the eastern shore and begin driving back toward Inverness. The scenery simply took your breath away…high sharp peaks that dropped precipitously to deep valleys. The slopes were covered in heather and gorse as well as sheep grazing even at the highest elevations. It was a great surprise to me to see how mountainous the terrain was. I had envisioned soft rolling hills for herding sheep.

While driving along slowly trying to determine where we were, a very small road sign stating simply Boleskine Church appeared on our left. Just beyond it there was a single-track road (two-way traffic) with bushes that rubbed on either side of our rental car that went up and over the hill. At the very top it opened up and just next to the road was the church that I was looking for. It was a simple stone structure built in 1799. My husband kept me supplied with tissues for my tears while he took several photos. It was very moving to think that my ancestors had worshipped at this tiny country church nearly 200 years ago. We walked the cemetery with a brisk wind and some light rain falling but found no evidence that my grandfather was buried there. Interestingly, the church is still active and holds services every Sunday at 10 a.m.

This was truly the highlight of my trip. I would encourage any of you who have the opportunity to visit the locations where your ancestors were born, lived, died and were buried to do so. It adds so much dimension to their lives and gives you an appreciation of how daily life impacted them.

To read Janet Walberg’s previous genealogy columns or to delve deeper into her writings and insights for searching out and recording your own family’s genealogy, please go to jamestowngazette.com and visit Janet’s own web page.