In Search of Ancestral Headstones

What compels us to search for evidence of ancestors? Perhaps it is the deep-seated need to feel connected to them, the discovery of who we are, who we come from, and where on this planet those ancestors lived and were laid to rest.  Perhaps we just enjoy solving mysteries.

Tracing one’s roots and discovering who our ancestors are and what their stories can reveal to us is a favourite past time of many people worldwide. Through the use of modern technology which is constantly evolving daily, the daunting task of a genealogical search has become much easier for us to find the answers we desperately seek.

I began my own search about 10 years ago, and like many, I began that search by first following my paternal ancestral line. I didn’t know very much at all about my father’s grandfather, William Rose Frew. All I knew was that he emigrated from “somewhere” in Scotland to the United States in the mid to late 1800’s. Once I set my mind to the task, answers began revealing themselves rather quickly much to my delight!

Through a genealogy website, I found a distant (4th cousin) in Scotland, Lindsay Robertson. His great-grandfather, John Rose Frew, was my great grandfather’s brother!  I was elated.  After corresponding with him for a short while I discovered he had a keen interest in our ancestors and had already compiled a lot of documentation regarding them. Not long after I was on an airplane and visiting Scotland for the first time.

St Clements churchLindsay in front of Thomas MacNaughten's family grave in St Clement's churchHe showed me a lot about our ancestors’ town, Dingwall, where they lived, work and attended school.  He also took me to the St. Clement’s churchyard where I saw for the first time the headstone of our 3rd great-grandparents, Thomas MacNaughten and Christina Rose Frew.

It’s amazing how a simple thing like a tall piece of pink granite stone standing there with chiselled stone masons cuts could move me so much.  I never imagined it would affect me in such an emotional manner, but there I was, awestruck and elated, with tears in my eyes. I felt as if it had been waiting for me to find it and it was welcoming me home.

On each subsequent trip back to Scotland I always visit that particular headstone.  It keeps me grounded and connected to my roots.

Last year when I visited, I noticed the moss beginning to grow on the face of the smooth cool polished stone and dirt was beginning to find purchase there.  In addition, the paint in the stonemasons’ cuts had almost all but disappeared.

I inquired at the nearby stone masonry shop to find out how to clean and care for the stone.  He gave me excellent advice on the materials to use and the technique to employ.  It cleaned up beautifully just like he said; it was shining elegantly and practically begging for more loving attention.

I shared what I had accomplished with my hosts, the Dingwall museum curators, Ian and Pat MacLeod, and they also encouraged me to do more and offering some more helpful advice and direction on how to restore the lettering.

restoring frew headstonerestoring frew headstone18

The next day, I followed Ian’s advice and armed myself with a “wee tin of enamel paint and a wee paintbrush” from the local hobby shop. I headed back to the churchyard and began applying a new coat of white paint in the stone mason’s chisel cuts.

For 3 consecutive days, I worked on it for a few hours each day in the rain. Luckily the stone has a pointed top so I was able to put an umbrella over the top and the adjacent tree branches held the umbrella in place to shelter me from the raindrops as I worked.  After due diligence I restored the entire stone; it looked practically as good as new once again.

restoring frew headstone21
refinished Frew headstone







During my several visits to Scotland, Lindsay has taken me to explore many other old churchyards such as Dyke and Elgin where the Moray Burial Ground Research Group (MBGRG), which he is a member of, has done an amazing amount of work.  He explained the processes and procedures the group employs as we wandered through a myriad of headstones.  The dedication and painstaking work that this group accomplishes just amazes me.

Discovering one’s roots is a very important and sacred journey for many people worldwide.  Having organizations such as MBGRG locate and record headstones in ancient churchyards and cemeteries is such a valuable resource.  The service they also provide for transcripts, photos and digital files to customers worldwide is a Godsend to us all.  Thank you!

I just recently joined the group as an International Associate and I am hoping that on my next upcoming visit to the Highlands of Scotland that I will have the honor and pleasure to work alongside my fellow MBGRG members in a churchyard.  That, my genealogy friends, is at the top of my “Bucket List!”

Going Solo

I first began traveling solo before I retired.  Because of the kind of work I did, I was required to travel to distant cities and some very remote places for training, meetings and special assignments.  Usually this meant I was traveling alone.  It presented some challenges at first, but in the process I learned a lot of new skills, gained a lot of confidence, realized how resourceful I can be when needed and in the end, actually became quite competent at “going solo.”

The first time I tried “going solo” on an actual vacation (not required for work) it wasn’t planned to be a solo trip at all.  I had been saving up money and vacation days in order that my daughter and I could go to Hawaii for 10 days – my treat.  However, as the day approached when we were scheduled to depart, my daughter was unable to go with me as planned.  My first reaction naturally was to cancel entirely and re-schedule for another time.  Much to my surprise, my daughter told me I should go anyway; she knew how much I was looking forward to it and besides she couldn’t imagine when she would be able to join me in the near future.

“But what would I do by myself?” I resisted.

“Whatever we would have done together, that’s what,” she replied, “since when do you NOT know what to do?  You travel by yourself all the time for work and have a great time doing it, imagine what a super time you could have doing what you want instead of doing what was required of you?

Armed with her encouragement to do so and the desire to “stretch” myself out the “box” I had confined myself in, I began playing a game with myself that I often played with my children – the “What If” game.

I didn’t have the answers readily available so I asked myself, “If you DID know what the answer was, what would it be?”  It was just the question I needed to ask myself. Like usual, when asked, I came up with the answers that could  free up my imagination to discover the answers I already possessed but was resistant to,  and then was able to explore the possibilities I hadn’t allowed myself to consider.Twin Falls, on the way to Hana.

When all was said and done I did go to Hawaii by myself and it turned out to be the ultimate travel experience of a lifetime.  Because I saved up enough money for two, I had plenty to last me for not just 10 days but twice as long!  I went to Maui for 10 days and then hopped on over to the big island – Hawaii – for another 10 days!  I loved the time I had alone doing exactly what I wanted to do, when I wanted to do it and the ability to change my mind in a moments’ notice without affecting anyone else in the process.  During that vacation I also realized that I am not so much a “tourist” per se, but rather a “traveler” and that there is a big difference between the two.

I discovered for instance that “travelers” take more risks,  gain pleasure in overcoming difficulties and discomforts and also, are open to and seek out other people along the path of exploration.  I thought that I was in the minority, traveling alone, but soon learned that almost half of adult Americans are single, divorced or widowed and that solo travelers represent about 21% of all travelers.  There are over 15.9 million in the US alone!  Wow!  I really am not alone in this adventure!

Since that first trip of “going solo,” I have travelled many other times and visited many other places.  Sometimes alone; sometimes with others.  Both are good and have their merits, but I find I actually prefer the solo adventures.

The solo adventures are indeed very special trips and stand out as my favourites.  They offer unique opportunities to better understand who I am, appreciate my own impressions and opinions and build my self-esteem tremendously.  I love the freedom they offer and the independent spirit I get to enjoy.  I get to explore my own fantasies and pleasures of discoveries, both of self and new ly found, serendipitous locations around each corner.  I get to go at my own pace, stopping when I want, forging ahead when I have a driving desire, and that I do not have to cater to others needs and desires all the while which can be in conflict with my own.

Going solo doesn’t necessarily mean going alone, however.  If you are new to solo travelling,  and would like to try it for yourself but you lack the necessary confidence, you might consider other options available to you.  For instance, as a solo traveller, one can also go on group tours as a solo person travelling without a partner.  My biggest obstacle is finding a friend or relative that has both the time and the money to travel with me when I want and am able to.  Usually, those two criteria don’t coincide very often.  Rather than not travelling at all because I don’t have anyone that can join me,  I do have the option to join a specialized tour group.  I prefer small and intimate tours and have found many wonderful resources online for just that purpose.

For instance, there is one particular site I have discovered, “Women Traveling Together” ( that offers some very unique and interesting travel opportunities specifically for small groups of women of all ages. They apparently do more than just travel; they are spontaneous, embrace the unexpected and make new friends in the process.  Just my kind of travellers!

Another example which has piqued my interest is a “Bike and Barge” trip.  The following websites are wonderful opportunities to see the beautiful Dutch blossoms in bloom in a unique and very enjoyable way on a bicycle during the day and sleeping on a boat on one of the many canals in the Netherlands.  They also offer bike and barge tours in other locations as well!

There are so many possibilities out there just waiting for you to consider.  Use your instinct and follow your dreams.  Maybe you are like me; someone who enjoys their own company, and often relishes solitude, lingering where you desire and moving on when you’re ready.

Maybe you are ready for a change or are willing to try something new.  Maybe you aren’t sure you would want to try “going solo” but are tired of not having anyone to travel with, or, the people who you can travel with don’t  want to see and experience the same things you want to.  Consider a specialized group tour that caters to your dreams and goes places and experiences the things you want to visit and experience.

The point is, if you want to travel, then start dreaming.  In today’s’ world there is no reason you can’t.  There are so many opportunities and ways of accomplishing it.  You just have to be willing to dream and play the “What IF” game.

“What if I did travel, where would I like to go?”

“What if I did travel alone, what would I do and what do I want to visit and experience?”

Stretch your imagination, believe in yourself and go after your dreams!  If you do, you will be rewarded in so many unpredictable ways!






Spontaneous Travel Urges

If you’re at all like me, the thought of possible travel opportunities is ever present on your mind.  Therefore, when an opportunity presents itself, I often really enjoy just being spontaneous and saying “YES!!!”

One such opportunity presented itself to me in just the last few days and I said “Yes!” to a 6-day trip to Hawaii no less!  My son asked if I would come to visit him and his girlfriend on the north shore of Oahu for about a week!

sea turtle2

Fantastic!  I didn’t see that one coming at all.  What a great surprise it was to receive that spontaneous invitation.


In just about 10 days I’ll be flying over the Pacific and will soon be smelling the sweet aroma of one of my favorite flowers – Plumeria!  If I’m lucky (and I often am) I will also get another opportunity – skydive with Will at Skydive Hawaii! I will be celebrating wonderful events in life with him; making memories!  That, my friend, is what traveling is all about.

While I was being “in the moment” and saying “Yes,” another thought came back to my mind via my ‘travel angel’ perched upon my shoulder near my left ear.  She tapped me on the shoulder and said “Psst!”

Her urging brought to mind my desires to return yet again to Scotland and Northern Ireland this year.  Had my previous plans to return in June and July of this year not changed and been cancelled, I would have actually been there right now – as I write this. Instead, I am at home, wishing I was there like so many times.  I love that place.

“So, what’s stopping you now?” the travel angel inquired.

“Well I’m buying a new house for one thing, and will get back from Hawaii just in time to sign papers in escrow, pack, move and unpack again; that’s what!” I replied and resisted.

“Yes, this is true,” she admitted, “however, that will be done by the first week or so in August.  There’s still a lot of summer left after that, isn’t there?” she insisted.

“As a matter of fact there is…” I weakened

Before I knew it, I found myself online looking for available award miles flights! There they were – just waiting for me!  I now have in hand one round-trip ticket leaving on Aug 24th and returning October 3rd; 7 glorious weeks to explore and experience Scotland and Ireland again.  Be still my traveling heart!

The map below shows the main proposed route I will take and what I hope to visit and enjoy.

scotland map

As you can see I’ll be all over the place visiting friends, gardens, ancient Abbeys where early Celtic Kings are laid to rest, attending the Lonach Highland Gathering & Games, volunteering with the Moray Burial Ground Research Group to help find and restore ancient gravestones in churchyards, and visiting my new Frew friends again who I met in Ahoghill, Ireland last year.

frew girls

A least a couple of the “Frew Girls” will even do a bit of ancestry research at PRONI (Public Records of Northern Ireland) in Belfast to see if I can find out anything more regarding my 4th great grandfather, Sergeant John Frew 1781-1832 who died in Belfast during an outbreak of cholera.  The trip is jammed packed with a whole lot of fun and exploration!

Some might call me impulsive, I like to think I’m spontaneous.  I feel most comfortable and joyful when I’m being in the present moment, paying attention to what opportunities pass by my range of senses especially when it comes to travel.  I have found by being in the moment and “open” to what comes my way that quite often these wonderful spontaneous offerings present themselves and are brought to my attention by a tap on the shoulder and a “Psst!” in my ear! Being spontaneous is invigorating and keeps me young at heart!

Stay tuned for photos to follow in just a few short days!  Aloha!