26 July 2011


Apparently Hallmark (or possibly the president of the United States, or maybe Wills and Kate?) has decreed July 27th as Bagpipe Appreciation Day. How appropriate for waxing sentimental about tribal memory. It’s in the DNA. 

Family reunion
... at Finisterre Farm in rural Ontario. A perfect summer day. All the cars were parked in a fallow field. Throughout the day the outdoor throng got busier and noisier as cousins were immersed in intense discussions. The notes of the pipes were faint at first. Unexpected. People paused as music unfurled. Conversation drifted away to awed silence. A magnificent piper in full regalia strode up the driveway onto the lawn. One of my more inspired ideas.

This was no run of the mill piper. Luckily for me, he was not only a neighbour but a talented scion of the famed McCrimmons. Who ...? you ask. Hereditary pipers to the McLeod chiefs of the Isle of Skye. He played several pieces for an engaged audience and bantered back and forth with us. At the urging of wicked little urchins amongst us, he obliged by flashing the big question under his kilt. Boxer shorts. Due to this shameless display, he shall remain nameless. His tradition-minded parents would never forgive him for the underwear. 

A bareboat sail
... in the British Virgins ranks among the world’s best adventure vacations. The holidayers comprised two couples, with but one sailor holding certification papers. That fact allowed our good friend to be captain. One semi-experienced sailor and two female dogsbodies, who almost knew what a jib is, completed the crew. We took possession of the 43' boat on Virgin Gorda and loaded up with grub and refreshments from the island’s limited provisions shop. The captain signed lots of paperwork including instructions from the charter company where and when not to sail in the BVI on pain of death or bankruptcy.

Good, there’s a charcoal barbecue on the deck. There’s only one captain here and he wants barbecue. We were about to learn the Power of Captain.

Feeling his oats, the captain we thought was our friend forced us to sail to Anegada, the biggest do not go there on our instruction list. Anegada is out in the real-time Atlantic ocean, surrounded by shallow wreckedy reefs not to be navigated by dumbass tourists. As we closed in, three of us were spotting by hanging over the gunwales; we might as well have jumped in and towed the boat. By the end of the week, Captain Bligh decided to run Sir Francis Drake Channel. Naturally, he chose a day when the wind and the waves were higher than the do not sail on our list. Overpowering wind. Raging wind. Two protesting voices went unheard—never, ever, question a Captain. The superheroes commenced tacking our suicide course full tilt down (or up?) the channel with the spinnaker taut as a drum. Dogsbodies clutched each other on the back deck screaming their brains out. Bruises sprouted on body parts like black plague boils.

There were compensations. One of them was Peter Island, I think, where we anchored peacefully one evening, being more or less stable underfoot. Labour and leadership had reached a truce. Wrinkled from sensational snorkelling in the transparent waters, we awaited our barbecued steaks. On the clear air came drifting the harmonious, softly-thrilling tones of the pipes. Over there, the sole yacht anchored in the distance. A solitary piper on deck saluting the sunset. Bliss.    

The downtown piper
... sometimes at the corner of Bay and Front, sometimes around the Eaton Centre, sometimes at the LCBO. His knees red and shiny from cold at times but he persists in all weather. Stubborn wee chappie, lifting the spirits around him. Who is he? He gets my loonie or twoonie when I find him.

© Brenda Dougall Merriman, 2011

[Other bits of nostalgia-nonsense-satire will mainly be posted on theFamdamily.]

17 July 2011

(Almost) Silent Sunday

SUMMER ..! .. We’re in the midst of it! Isn’t it glorious? Didn’t we wait all year for this? YES!

Photograph May 2011 by BDM
Summer has a way of interfering with good intentions about blogging. Mine, anyway. All that daylight. All that warm air on exposed skin. So many surprising free pleasures in a great city—movies under the stars, live music beside the lake, rooftop barbecues, countless neighbourhood festivals, sidewalk cafes as the sun goes down. Urban citizen that I am, my undying gratitude goes to no mosquitos

Summer seems like “return to your roots” time. Family historians! Mount your expeditions! You know ... drag the family to an isolated cemetery 800 miles away that takes you two days to locate in an overgrown woodsy tangle of poison ivy. The gravestone(s) you seek is illegible or missing and the mosquitos (insert blackflies, ticks, snakes, or local pest) are killing everyone as the sunscreen drips off your forehead. Of course the kids are whining and husband’s face acquires thunder clouds. Nevertheless, a worthy effort. One must do what one must do.

My first experience with the time-honoured genealogical road trip was discovering that the cemetery in question had three different names. I have a large correspondence file with municipal officials to prove my confusion. No, wait. That file got chucked in the last downsizing. Eventually we learn that not only cemeteries, but also the names of ancestral villages/towns/counties/countries underwent metamorphoses.

Last summer I did a deep roots thing, over the seas. Now that is what genealogists dream of. To the places of the ancestors you never knew. You spent years trying to figure it all out, who they were, where they were, what it was like for them, how you relate to—or feel—their heritage.

Photograph September 2011 by BDM
Photograph July 2011 by Will Dougall

This summer is more about living branches. The world’s mightiest lake exerts a magnetic pull north and west to the sleeping giant. Everyone born there feels it.

With all the recent nasty surprises of climate change, let’s ENJOY while we have the good stuff. What are YOU doing to celebrate summer?

05 July 2011

Dougall: A Reverend

Calton Old Cemetery, Edinburgh
In memory of Robert Dougall, Cabinetmaker
d. 27.5.1894 age 58y
Also his son James d. 5.3.1825 age 2y
Erected by his surviving son
the Rev. John Dougall,
Minister of St Andrew Scots Church, Sydney
On receiving this transcript from Scottish Monumental Inscriptions I questioned the fact that Robert, born ca.1836, could have had a son born in 1825. Project spokesperson Helen is the nicest lady imaginable and sent me a photograph of the headstone which is very clear that the cabinetmaker died in 1854.  

One would expect that this monument was erected when the father died in 1854 or shortly thereafter, if John Dougall was visiting from Australia. Constructing more exercises for myself, who was this Rev John Dougall and do his ancestors relate to mine? Since I highly doubt a close relationship to my Midlothian Dougalls, I made this a purely Internet tangent.

Even though Australia does not have the only Sydney in the world, I quickly eliminated Sydney, Nova Scotia, as a target. It does have a St Andrews Church, now United Church of Canada, but its history is not revealed online.

Scots Presbyterian Church in Sydney, New South Wales (NSW), Australia, was founded in 1823 by Rev. John Dunmore Lang (1799-1878). The church’s website has a sketchy nineteenth-century history, mainly concerning Dunmore Lang’s career. He was the first Presbyterian clergyman to serve “the Convict Colony.” No other clergy names appear during his tenure, nor is Dougall’s name in the list of inducted ministers post-1878. I’m thinking this doesn’t necessarily exclude his being a temporary acolyte, but did he enhance his own stature on his father’s gravestone?

There is no death registered for John Dougall 1854-1920 in the less-than-comprehensive “Australia Deaths and Burials 1816-1980” on The index to Statutory Deaths in Scotland on ScotlandsPeople gave 106 results all over the map between 1855 and 1920... too much for my dwindling credits to pursue a man whose main identifier is a father called Robert. If Rev John stayed in or died in Scotland, I’ve no idea where he might have lived or preached.

But “Australia Death Index, 1787-1985” on shows a Rev John Dougall died in 1871 in Sydney, Woolloomooloo, New South Wales: no. V18713114 102—appearing to be the official death registration number. The search results also show plain John Dougall died 1871 NSW, father ROBERT, mother SUSAN, registration place Maitland West, NSW, no. 4258. It appears the second entry is from “Australia Cemetery Index, 1808-2007” on Ancestry.

 Interestingly, a Mrs Dougall died 1871 in Woolloomooloo no. V18713115 102, also registered as Susan Dougall at Maitland West NSW, no. 4261. Her parents are not named. Woolloomooloo is a district in the city of Sydney. Notice the juxtaposition of the registration numbers. Was Susan the Reverend’s wife? Mother? Daughter? Did they die at the same time? And why are they buried in Maitland, about 160 km miles north of Sydney? You can see that obtaining the death certificates and/or burial information would presumably be more revealing.

Next move, back to Scotland: on the new for a parish birth/baptism for a John Dougall 1820-1840. Great ... 287 results ... all the MacDougalls and even some Douglas entries (Patience, self! this happens in some databases). No, skip that and go to the IGI at the old where I get one result (filters allowed, thank you): John was baptized 3 June 1824 in Edinburgh parish, Midlothian, son of Robert Dowgall and Susan McCulloch (OPR extraction). This does not conflict with a brother James who was born before March 1823 according to the gravestone.

Duly following up, thanks to FreeCENScotland I find John as a 16-year-old in Robert and Susan Dougall’s 1841 Edinburgh household (their only child) at 39 Albany Street, and as a 26-year-old divinity student in 1851.

Fasti Ecclesiae Scoticanae should help me out here, but Dougall’s entry was the barest possible outline: born in Edinburgh in 1824; arrived in New South Wales in 1853; served 1854 at St Andrews, Sydney, and East Maitland 1869-1871; died in 1871.[1] It seems likely he attended either Divinity School (Kirk of Scotland) at the University of Edinburgh or New College (Free Church).

One notices the odd gap in Fasti from 1854 to 1869. Or is it a gap? Maybe the entry means he was continuously at the Scots Church until his appointment to East Maitland. However, it seems the man was barely settled in Sydney when his father died, so he might have taken an extended leave in Scotland. From the Sands Directories for Sydney and New South Wales 1858-1933 (intermittent) on Ancestry I learned that Rev John Dougall was resident at 450 Kent Street, central Sydney, from 1861 to 1868. The street number fluctuated a little— 450, 452, 458, 460—Kent Street.

Did John bring his mother Susan back to Australia with him? Did he marry a Susan? Both Scottish and Australian marriage indexes were searched 1851-1861 and later. Three possibles emerged: to Agnes Isabella Laing in 1853 (Edinburgh city); Elizabeth Howarth in 1859 (Goulbourn, New South Wales); and Agnes Graham in 1861 (St Michael’s, Linlithgow). There are no appropriate deaths indexed in New South Wales for Dougall women with these forenames. The directories online are not consistent enough to indicate if a “Mrs” Dougall survived him.

I have not ordered certificates, contacted the churches, or explored potential children/descendants. Any possible connection to my Dougalls will be back in the 18th century or earlier.
Were John and Susan the victims of a local accident or mutual illness? If I had the precise dates of deaths, I could search the Sydney Morning Herald, digitised at Australia Trove by the National Library.

A one-dimensional exercise has minimally placed the Reverend in the location where, ca.1854, he said he was. It seems a shame he must have served a congregation that may now have no collective memory of him.

[1] Hew Scott, Fasti Ecclesiae Scoticanae, vol. VII (Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd, 1928), 587; digital image, Internet Archive ( : accessed 1 July 2011), 587.