True Confessions of a Scottish Genealogist in Salt Lake City


True confession one –  None of my direct ancestors were born in the US. Not one.

True confession two – despite preceding statement, I find myself in Salt Lake City this week attending an Advanced Methodologies course run by the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy (or SLIG).

I have lived in the US for 17 years. This week I am up to my eyeballs learning about land records, tax records, military files and pension records, the underlying laws that triggered the creation of certain records, to name a very small selection from the course content. That’s a fairly bland description of a course which is steeped in detail and so rich in information that much of it will take weeks or months to digest.

So what’s in it for a gal from….Scotland?

I told the class during introductions on Monday that I did not expect to find any of my ancestors in any of the record sets we would be investigating this week. I remain 99% confident that this is the case. The only direct ancestor known to me with even the vaguest of connections to the US was my great-grandfather. He worked for Andrew Carnegie for several years, in Scotland. The Carnegies kept a summer residence in the north of Scotland called Skibo Castle. My great-grandfather, a composer, music teacher and a church organist of the highest proficiency, was employed by the Carnegie Trust in Dunfermline, Scotland. One of his duties was to travel to Skibo in the summer and spend 6 – 8 weeks there as the official organist. (Andrew Carnegie loved organ music and had a full church organ installed in the grand hallway at Skibo). My great-grandfather, an educated man, spent some evenings mingling with the house guests, although he himself was definitely an employee. He kept a diary for many years and wrote about his brief encounters with some of the visitors, including Booker T Washington. If any of these influential visitors similarly kept a diary, perhaps they have noted encountering my great-grandfather within them. Perhaps those are languishing in an archive somewhere and I will come across them one day.

Perhaps I will eventually find someone on a collateral line who came to the US as an early immigrant and left their mark. I certainly have distant cousins in the US – DNA has already shown that. Most of these I have not been able to link to a shared ancestor back home – yet. Perhaps I have distant cousins who ended up in the 79th New York Highland Regiment. The Regiment recruited more recent immigrants of Scottish descent as well as Scots who had left home and were already well-established. The regiment reputedly took part in 27 campaigns during the Civil War. Initially they wore full kilt regalia, including a somewhat oversized white fluffy sporran. Presumably they realised the impracticality of the kilt get-up, and switched to tartan trews. Supposedly, the US government  would not pay for this uniform and they ended up wearing some variation of the Union blue uniform.

79th Highlanders in full kilt regalia. Who was going to pay for that?


Guided by the erudite presenters of this course, I am now able to create a strategic plan for how to further research a collateral ancestor of my own in the US, who served in the military, or left a will, or petitioned Congress, or is mentioned in a quit claim deed, or left a record of actions they were involved in. This will be fabulous knowledge to take back for client work. I may have to wait a little longer before I am able to work on any more personal connections.

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