Combining Ancestry with Travel

Just recently, I took a short road trip down to southern California to visit treasured old friends from my school days.  I visited Tracie and Mike in Marietta and also visited various family members in La Mesa and La Jolla further down in the San Diego area.

While I was reminiscing with my school chums, we were swapping stories about events that had occurred in our respective lives over many years since we’ve seen each other.

Tracie wanted to hear more about my recent travels and learn more about my interest in discovering my family roots as I travel.  After sharing with her one particular story regarding my first visit to Scotland, she made me promise to write it down because it gave her ‘goosebumps’ when she heard it.


So this post is dedicated to you, Tracie!

I hope my readers enjoy it as much as you did…..

Many, many moons ago, on a Friday evening, I was relaxing and enjoying the company of friends after a long week of work.  We were “cozied” up in their living room with “brewskies” in hand and a plethora of appetizers to munch on while we discussed current events, sports, told funny stories, etc., when the topic turned to what nationality our surnames represented and where our families hailed from.

At that time, the information I knew about my grandparents and a couple of my great grandparents on both the maternal and paternal sides was minimal.  I knew, for instance, that I had some English, Scottish, and German in me, but that was about it.  I had no idea who the emigrants were, nor where they emigrated from, in these countries.  I distinctly remember first considering the idea of traveling to Scotland with the express intent of discovering where those particular Scottish ancestors were from. The ‘seed’ for my dream was planted when I thought, “Wouldn’t it be cool to go to Scotland to try to find out!  Take a Genealogy Trip! Yeah, that would be fun!”

That seed took a long time to germinate and poke its head above ground.  Fast forward in time for about 15 years.  The kids have all grown up and flown the coop to start lives of their own, the internet had since been invented, and I found myself with lots of extra time to do whatever I please ‘after work’ instead of laundry, grocery shopping, etc. like I used to when the kids were young. Then it happened – The two little new leaves on my germinated seed shoot popped through, and I remembered my earlier desire from years past. I decided to spend my newly found free time to finally start pursuing my desire to discover my roots.

As I’ve mentioned before in an earlier post, I went online to several genealogy websites. With a bit of fantastic luck, I stumbled across a precious link to many of my ancestors through an online conversation my cousin, Lindsay, in Scotland was having with another cousin, Penny, in the Seattle area.

Since I had been judiciously saving airline award miles during the germination process of my dream, I now had another valuable link to follow up on. I also had someone new in my family to meet, I promptly booked a flight to Scotland to take the “Genealogy Trip” I had dreamed about years before.

I’ll never forget the first day I spent on that trip.  After getting all settled into my lodgings the first night, I looked at the map to determine just how far away the town was from me that my great grandfather emigrated from.  It wasn’t very far at all, and although I had plans to meet Lindsay there later that week, I could hardly stand the excitement, nor did I want to wait any longer!  I decided to go there on my own the very next day to spend time checking it out, walking around the town, and becoming familiar with it. That way, when I went there with Lindsay and got into the “details” of our ancestry, I would already be familiar with the general layout of the town, landscape, and what-not.

Dingwall Scotland, taken from the hill just northwest of town where the Neil Gunn monument stands. May, 2006

It was May 1st, a national holiday in Scotland, which meant most of the businesses in town were closed. There was hardly any traffic on the main street. I had the place to myself. I could wander through the streets without all the hustle and bustle of other people going to and fro. I didn’t see very many people, except for the occasional guy in a kilt!


While I was strolling through the center of town, I noticed the museum and walked over to read their sign about when they would be open.

(If you would like to visit, click here for current information:  Dingwall Museum)


Much to my dismay, I discovered that they weren’t planning to open for the season until the day AFTER I got back home from my vacation!

“Well, that won’t do,” I thought, “I should come back tomorrow.  Maybe someone will be around behind the scenes preparing for the opening, and I could at least talk to them.”

Promptly returning the following day, I was delighted to find two ladies busily making preparations in the reception area.  I knocked on the window and smiled, trying to get their attention.

“We’re closed, dear,” they responded.

I smiled again.  “I know.  Can I just talk to you for a minute?”  I inquired.

One of them came over to the door, unlocked several chains and bolts, and the inner door slowly creaked open, with a smiling face appearing in the narrow opening.

“Thank you so much,” I said. “I noticed the opening dates for your museum.  Unfortunately, I will have left the country by then, and I’m just wondering if you could let me look around?  I don’t mind messes and will certainly stay out of your way.  I just want to see if there is anything about my family in your museum.  I came all the way from California to this particular town. Please….”  I pleaded.

“What is your name, dear?” the kind lady asked.

“Claudia Frew,” I replied.

Lucky Louise, that’s me! That day I miraculously knew the magic word!

She promptly opened the door wide, ushering me in while saying, “Well, by all means, come on in!” She closed and barred the door once again, and as I was glancing around the room, taking in all the interesting tidbits on display, she announces to me,

“Welcome to the FREW ROOM!”

It turned out that the building they use for their museum reception area was once the pharmacy that my great grandfather’s brother, James, owned and operated!

dingwall museum

The Frew clock ticking away on the wall was made by another brother, John.  He had a clock shop just down the street as well.Claudia Frew highlighting the clock by

The numerous poster-sized prints of old photographs scattered around the walls were all taken of various other family members, just to name a few examples.



Ermine robes modeled by a mannequin in a glass case upstairs in the council chambers were worn by John Rose Frew, the clockmaker, while he served as Provost of Dingwall, no less!  There is even a large painting of him!  Talk about a genealogy jackpot!

Dsc02456    Dsc02459

I spent the most part of that day exploring the museum, which I had all to myself.  The ladies insisted that since I was family, I could take as many pictures as I wanted of anything I so desired. They pulled out books for me to delve into, had me sit in the Provosts’ chair at the head of the council table, and they even made tea and pastries for me at the conclusion!  It was so much fun.

pat and elizabeth

Little did I know at the time, however, that my cousin Lindsay had made prior arrangements with them (unbeknownst to me) and that I had spoiled his surprise a wee bit with my inability to be patient until I met up with him on Thursday, but he didn’t seem to mind.

The ladies knew I was coming; they just weren’t expecting me for 2 more days!  I’ve remained friends with them since, and each time I return, it’s a pure pleasure to be in their company once again; I feel like I’m coming home.

Pat, Claudia and Ian – 2006

Lindsay also took me all around the town, pointing out houses our ancestors lived in according to census and other records he had researched.

I can't remember whose house this was, I'm thinking perhaps John Rose Frew?    May Naughten's home (now a chippy shop), Thomas MacNaughten's mother, lived here in Inverness, Scotland

He took me to nearby towns and churchyards where other various ancestors once lived or were married at (introducing me to the wonderfully ancient and old churchyards).

021_5      022_4

He showed me our great-great grandparent’s headstone in St Clement’s churchyard.

St Clements church     Lindsay in front of Thomas MacNaughten's family grave in St Clement's church

He even presented me with a wholly organized notebook binder containing print outs of all the stories, family trees, records, and pictures he collected for our family!  He even included complete electronic copies of everything on CDs for me!

It all came with a warning, however.

“I am so thankful for all of this information, Lindsay. How can I ever repay your kindness?  With the information you’ve provided, I already have a great example to start, and I can begin my own research and add to the various lineages on other parts of my family tree following this outline!” I exclaimed.

“Be careful what you ask for,” he chuckled, “It can be quite addictive!”

And boy, was he ever right!  I’ve been researching since and have enjoyed every minute!  What a treasure trove of information he provided me to work from – all because I planted a seed of desire.

I’ve returned to that lovely little burgh in the Highlands on every subsequent return and visited the friends I made there. I always find something new and continue to feel more connected to my ancestors.  That’s a beautiful and fulfilling feeling I enjoy tremendously.

This past spring, when I visited Dingwall, the thing I enjoyed most was just hanging out in town. It was fun getting to know some of the locals. I recognized them on the street and said hello to them by name. I stayed with the curators of the museum in their sweet, cozy home, experiencing the everyday routine of Dingwall, attending WRI (Women’s Rural Institute) functions with Pat, and taking little day-ride excursions together.  Just a little “slice of life” in the town where my great grandfather, William Rose Frew, was born and raised.

downtown Dingwall taken from the road up to Mitchell's monument

As a special ancestral treat this past May, I especially enjoyed spending about 2-3 hours each day for about 3 days in the churchyard of St.Clement’s restoring my great, great grandparents headstone, Thomas MacNaughten, and Christina Rose Frew.

before restoration headstone   restoring headstone

It was a labor of love to first, clean, and then repaint inside the stonemason’s cuts on the rose quartz, ensuring that perhaps one day, when my very own great-grandchild visits themselves, will be able to gaze upon it and be able to read it.  You never know!


Combining one’s ancestry with travel agendas can be quite rewarding.  As I have mentioned before, when discussing the google map making, I enjoy adding the yellow hearts to my map.  Each yellow heart represents an individual ancestor I have discovered throughout my continuing genealogical research.  I’ve gone to see many other towns and locations in Scotland, England, and Ireland simply because some of my ‘peeps’ came from there.

Another example of this is when I visited Dundonald Castle this spring.  My 20th-something great grandfather was Alexander de Dundonald.  This castle was originally built by him, and he lived here along with subsequent generations, which included King Robert II, King of Scotland.

Alexander de Donald story   dunDonald banner   King Robert II


When I entered the castle and walked the ancient halls, imagining the vast hall and suites and my ancestors in them, it had so much more meaning to me because I had discovered my ancestral link to this particular place.  It wasn’t “just another castle.”  It made me wonder, as I touched the stones in the massive walls if my DNA was touching Alexander’s own DNA traces that he left only 20 generations prior.

DunDonald castle        dundonald interior

Making the ancestral connection and traveling to visit their origins is immensely enriching for me in many ways. One of the ways it improves me is that It helps me to understand myself better and how connected I am through these ancestors to a multitude of people in today’s world.

stewart lineage

We really are all connected one way or another.

Author: Claudia Frew

Adventuresome, independent, and fun-loving 68-year young American great-grandmother who loves to travel; often going solo!

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