My trip to Kelso starts, not in Scotland, but in the small southwestern Minnesota town of Springfield. That’s where my mother (from whom I get my Scottish blood) was born, and the museum there is home to a set of family scrapbooks she put together.
A few weeks before my Scottish trip, I visited the Springfield Museum on a quest. You see, one of my ancestors — my great-great grandfather William Dick — was rumored to have worked for Floors Castle in Kelso. He was the lead carpenter (or “joiner”). But when my parents and aunt visited Kelso in the late 1970s, they were told by the castle estate office that they had no record he worked there.
As a journalist, I know that could mean a lot of things. It could mean the records were lost. It could mean no records were kept so far back (the mid-1800s) or it could mean nobody looked very hard for the records.
While tooling through the family genealogy book one day (months before my trip), I noticed mention of a newspaper article about William Dick working at the castle. The note said the article was in the family scrapbooks.
The castle, on its website, says it is interested in historical information about the people who worked there, so I thought a visit to the museum was in order to find records to prove that my great-great-grandfather worked there.
I also noticed in the genealogy and census records that at least one of their ten children, Isabella, was born on the castle property in 1842. Why would she be born there if my ancestors had no connections to the castle?
Since it’s a good chunk of a drive from Duluth to Springfield, my oldest son kindly offered to join me in the quest. This was also a good chance for him to learn more about his family history since he had never been to Springfield.
We took off one afternoon with tents in tow — planning to camp in the Springfield City Campground overnight so that we could get to the museum in the morning. The museum wasn’t actually open on the day we planned to visit, but I had made prior arrangements with the museum director to meet us there.
We met the director, Carole Young, as planned. She had the scrapbooks waiting for us, spread out on a table. It didn’t take us long to find the newspaper article in question since my dear organized mother had indexed the scrapbooks by family name.
There it was, a story from the Spirit Lake Beacon, a newspaper in Iowa. It was dated 1913 and had the title, “Scenes and Reminiscences of a Spirit Lake Lady Reared Among the Royalty of England and Scotland.” It was an interview with Isabella (the one born at the castle) and the story featured her memories of life growing up in a grand house on the castle grounds. Her father was the head state carpenter at the castle, holding the position for “upwards of fifty years” until he retired.
Their house was apparently near a cricket field and castle visitors, such as Queen Victoria and the Prince and Princess of Wales would drive down from the castle to their house to watch the games. The article says “rooms were prepared especially for them” by Isabella’s mother and the children. During these visits, Isabella said, “We children were always on our best behavior and willing to do little things to make it pleasant for the visitors,” who often stayed three or four days at a time. Isabella also met famous composers and pastors. She and her siblings were sometimes called on to “make up the required number” for a cricket game, and Isabella was proud that they could play the game well.
Eventually, Isabella, a widow with children, left the U.K. and came to America to marry a childhood neighbor who lived in Illinois. They later settled in Minnesota and then Iowa. Her brother, Francis, came to America also, settling in Minnesota. He was my great-grandfather.
Viola! Proof that William Dick worked at the castle! Unfortunately, there was no way to photocopy the article from the scrapbook, so my son and I took scans and photos with our cell phones. However, they didn’t turn out so well. Once I returned home, I searched for a digital copy of the story. I couldn’t find it in the Spirit Lake newspaper database, but I was able to find the same story in The Des Moines Register, which had published it a week later. Score!
I sent the story and a photo of William Dick and his wife to the castle. I had also emailed the castle previously, but did not receive a reply to either attempt.
Harrummph. Whatever. It was proof enough for me. And the quest was a good bonding experience for me and my son. I realize there’s almost nothing more boring than reading about someone else’s ancestors, but I hope this story wasn’t too painful.
Next posting: Kelso — for real this time!