Interview with Christine Woodcock of Genealogy Tours of Scotland

By Ceris Aston of Borders Journeys

It’s been a busy few weeks at Borders Journeys. Over the past fortnight, Ian has led individuals and families from Canada on ancestral tours around Scotland and Northern England  from Tarland in Aberdeenshire to Carlisle in Cumbria. We set up the tours in partnership with Canada-based organisation Genealogy Tours of Scotland, who bring groups to Scotland who are keen to explore their family histories and learn more about the land of their ancestors. Over coffee and cake, we chatted to Christine Woodcock, Managing Director of Genealogy Tours of Scotland about her work, family and her fascination with her own ancestry.

What inspired you to set up Genealogy Tours of Scotland?

Christine with her cousin Ian

Christine with her cousin Ian

Having been born in Scotland and raised in Canada I’d visit quite often, so not only do I love the country but I know quite a bit about it too.

When I started doing family history I discovered that of people who have Scottish descendancy, regardless of what percentage, it’s the one they claim. It’s the Scots ancestry that they take pride in.

Many North Americans have never visited Scotland and they have no idea what resources are available for finding out about their family histories. I decided that this would be my niche market – I would take people to Scotland to claim their heritage and learn about their ancestral roots. It also gives me a good reason to visit Scotland and visit my family too. I’m living my dream job!

Where are you from?

I was born in Bellshill but we lived in Bonnyrigg. My family moved to Canada when I was three. My mum and her sister lived a block apart, therefore the social network that they had was all people from Scotland. It was like they created their own little Scottish world in southern Ontario.

My dad had an old antique radio, every Saturday afternoon the city next to ours broadcast a Scottish show – my dad would open all the windows and proudly let the neighbourhood hear Scottish music playing.

My father’s family are very musical, Friday nights were for music – traditional fiddle music – we loved it. Every New Year’s Eve my mum and dad would put on a huge Hogmanay party for family and neighbours.

In some ways, we had a more traditional Scottish upbringing in Canada – because it was really important to hold on to that. We were probably more Scottish than many Scots.

What prompted you to research your Scottish ancestry?

My grandfather had 21 children to two wives, because we had such a large family every summer we had people visiting us.

When all these family members visited we’d all get together the night before they went home, here they’d tell all the family stories again and again. As teenagers my cousin and I hated it and wished ‘poison us please!’

My mum and my grandmother were the best storytellers. When my mum passed away in 1999 and then 8 months later my granny died. I thought my children aren’t going to have these stories – we need to collect these stories. I decided to record my grandfather’s descendants and once you do that, once you get into the Scottish records – there’s no end to the possibilities. I wanted my aunts and uncles to have this record, and that book became a sort of family heirloom.

I started doing a family newsletter – initially it was all of my grandfather’s family but then other relatives wanted involved. The first newsletter went to  20 people, now probably about 200 people receive it.

What have been the most fascinating finds in your own family history?

One of my grandpa’s brothers! He was married and had two young children and he left to go to America. His wife didn’t know if he was ever coming back – and he never did. On his immigration papers he listed himself as single. I traced the records – he made his way up to California, but on his way he picked-up a new wife. In California he became a very successful businessman managing a Turkish bath, dry cleaners and barber shop. Eight years later he was dead! It took a long time but I eventually managed to obtain his death certificate from California – the cause of death it sounded as though he had drunk himself to death. However there was a Coroner’s inquest, obtained the coroner’s inquest papers which recorded that he had died from poisoning. He drank what he thought was gin from a gin bottle but it was infact cleaning fluid. I thought, how would he not know cleaning fluid? I think he was probably nasty and belligerent, and that his wife probably put cleaning fluid in the gin bottle and went off to work. Expecting him to be dead when she returned, he hung on for 12 more days.

What’s the most amazing thing that you have been able to help someone uncover about their family?

Everyone is amazed by their own stories. One lady knew an ancestor had died young , the Death Certificate recorded that he had drowned.  She visited Paisley Library where she discovered he had died in a vat of water – a rain barrel. No-one knows if he was pushed in or was drunk and fell in – he was missing for a couple of days before they found him.

And then, this week someone found out they came from a long line of fornicators – that was fun!

2014 tour at the Taste of Scotland Show

2014 tour at the Taste of Scotland Show

Do your visitors feel that visiting Scotland for the first time measures up to their idea of Scotland?

They don’t know what it is but they all feel as though they’ve come home.

What’s next for the business?

I recently wrote a course for the National Institute of Genealogical Studies, based in Toronto. The course prepares people for an ancestral tour of Scotland.

I’ve just broken into the US market which has expanded my business. The American equivalent of ‘Your Family Tree’ has been in contact about doing online genealogy crash courses of Scottish ancestry.

Why do people want to connect to their Scottish ancestry?

It’s the pride! I’ve found that most Scottish people are proud of their identity and have no difficulty with their self-esteem. The Scots have a very unique humour – they just love that.

How did you find your tour with Borders Journeys?

I visited the place where my granny grew-up and is now a nature reserve. Visiting it gave me the ‘chills’, something I have never experienced before – people talk about it all the time but you wouldn’t think someone as seasoned as me would.

I know the others who have gone on Ian’s tours have had a remarkable experience. It’s a great partnership because Ian can take them to places where their ancestors lived; I know how important and how humbling it is. They do their own research then Ian designs a unique tour for them. They can visit, stand there and feel connected to the place that their ancestors belonged.

Details of Genealogy Tours of Scotland for 2015 tour can be found on their website.

Laurie, Sylvia & Nancy on their ancestral tours

Laurie, Sylvia & Nancy on their ancestral tours

Borders Journeys‘ researcher Ian not only gives research advice but will investigate your Scottish ancestry on your behalf. He will research your family history with commitment and enthusiasm, connecting the dots to form a real picture of who and where you come from.

We design a tailor-made ancestral tours especially for you, taking you on a journey of discovery where you’ll connect with your Scottish ancestors by walking in their footsteps. Your ancestors will be brought to life when you learn about the people, places and traditions connected with them. By the end of the tour you’ll have gained a real insight into your ancestral heritage and where you came from, which you can share with present and future generations.

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