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!”

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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