DISCOVERING long-lost details about your family tree has become very popular lately – and no-one was more thrilled to find distant cousins in Newton Stewart than an American visitor to these parts last summer.
After a search of discovery with more twists and turns that an episode of Who Do You Think You Are?, a delighted Agnes Bakhshi, from Colonial Heights, Virginia, finally came face to face with descendants of the Scottish branch of her family in Sarah and Ian Bryden, who live in Newton Stewart.
Now back home the US, Agnes had travelled to Scotland with only a few sketchy details of who she was descended from, but thanks to the customary kindness of Gallovidians, local people made a special effort to help her fill in the blanks and tie her family roots down to two particular areas of Dumfries and Galloway.
In order to tell Galloway Gazette readers her amazing story and to thank the those who had helped her, Agnes recently wrote to the paper from her home in the United States.
All she knew about her family before she travelled here was that her great-grandparents had emigrated to America in 1849 from Glasgow, allegedly on the day they got married. In the family history handed down by word of mouth, she had been led to believe that they had been married in Town Head, Glasgow.
The family name was McGuffie or McGuffog and her great-grandfather had lived for a time with his family at 3 Arthur Street, Newton Stewart, and she also heard that the McGuffog family tombstone was in Minnigaff. Finally, the other thread she wanted to follow up was that her great-grandmother’s maiden name was Bennett and she had been born in Kirkmichael Parish near Dumfries.
Agnes takes up the story:
“After looking around Town Head in Glasgow, it didn’t seem to be the right place at all so we set off for Newton Stewart.
“Jim McLay at the Museum was very helpful, looking up records for us, but it didn’t seem that it was the same family that lived in 3 Arthur Street.
“This was very frustrating, but the next day, after he had checked more records on his home computer he called us at the Crown Hotel and said he would collect us and take us to Minnigaff to show us the McGuffog tombstone. He had even written out for me everything that was on it. This got us started again and the next morning we set off for Kirkmichael.
“At the Registration Office at the Municipal Chambers in Dumfries we were helped by Erica Johnston, who spent the best part of the afternoon looking up records which pointed us in the direction of Kirkmichael Church where she told us we would find the Bennett tombstone.
“When we got there the next morning the first thing we saw was a sign for the farm of Town Head! Right across the road from the little church!
“We found the Bennett tombstone and when the church clerk, May Copeland, arrived to open up the church for us we discovered a lot of family information in the baptism records, including the fact that my great-grandfather, Archibald McGuffog, had married my great-grandmother, Anna Bennett, in that very church! This was the right Town Head!
“But I still had a missing puzzle piece. What was the family connection to that grey stone building in Newton Stewart – 3 Arthur Street?
“The census records of 1841 and 1851 showed that the McGuffog family worked for the Cumloden Estate nearby. This made sense as I had always heard that my great-grandfather was a shepherd in Scotland, and had settled in Pennsylvania where they had farmland.
“The key to all this was an Agnes McGuffog. Between the McGuffog and the Bennett families there had been 17 brothers and sisters and only three did not emigrate. One of the three was Agnes and she had married a William Simpson. Once again Jim McLay came to my rescue. He found William and Agnes had lived for a time at 3 Arthur Street with my great-grandparents Janet McBryde McGuffog and John Bryden McGuffog. That was my family! My dream had come true after all!
“Jim McLay also found out that, while living there, Janet ran a draper’s shop next door at No 5 until she died at the age of 99. Across the road at 10 Arthur Street was a grocery shop that was run by William and Agnes Simpson.
“We were so happy to then be put in touch with and meet my long-lost relative Sarah McGuffie Bryden and her husband, Ian. I now feel I have living family in Newton Stewart. After all, a McGuffie married a Bryden! And I could trace my name, Agnes, back to that headstone of my great-great-grandmother in Minnigaff.
“Wasn’t it magic that all of this was found in just three days thanks to all those caring, kind and thoughtful people. Each person led the way to the next person and to the next place and at the end there were all the answers.”