Today’s surrender evolved out of a request for information from my sister Debbie. She is working on her own copy of our family lineage, after she and my niece recently joined the Maitland Clan. To find the birth and death dates she asked for, I hauled out my genealogy notebook.
This black binder, stuffed with pages and pages of notes and charts, represents years of research by my mom, my Aunt Annie and me. When I first connected to the Internet, back in the early 90’s, I made use of sites such ancestry.com, pouring over names and dates, building my own family tree based on the work of many others.
However, it’s been a long time since I’ve done any fresh work. As I flipped through pages in my notebook, looking up info for Debbie, I paused by one particular name.
Countess Margaret Cunningham
b 1660 in Glencairn, Scotland
She was married to John Maitland, was mother of James Maitland, who traveled to America. She’s in my Scottish lineage, yet back when I had been doing research, I had not found much about her. I had nothing listed about her parents.
Well the Internet has exploded since those early days of the World Wide Web. I googled her. I was not disappointed. A wealth of informative came up. Primarily using a site called GENi, I grabbed a pencil and began to fill in the blanks.
What I discovered was more than her dates of birth and death. I found a whole new line of ancestors that includes more than 100 people, so far! I had intended to add Margaret’s info, and then color. But my curiosity compelled me to keep going. I surrendered to following that trail.
I’m so glad that I did! Researching the Cunningham branch of my family yielded amazing finds. Back I went, generation after generation, to the old kings of Scotland, to Ireland, to Carthage, North Africa, Russia, and the ancient kings of Norway, Denmark and Sweden.
Within Scotland I have newly discovered ties to the clans of Cunningham, Campbell, Gordon, Hamilton, Douglas, Lindsay and Montgomery. And I can show that I am related to Gandalf. Yes! One of my distant ancestors is Gandalf Alfgeirsson, King of Vingulmark in Norway. That may be the closest claim I have yet to Middle Earth!
I loved coming across names in my family lines such as Ragnall mac Somhairle – Lord of the Isles, Raum the Old, Svadi the Giant and Auor the Deep Minded. Many of my ancestors died in battles, on land and sea, and one unfortunate, Ragnar Sigurdsson, a king of Sweden, died in a snake pit.
My explorations today created nine pages of new notes – and I’ve only traced back about half of the names I wrote down – and re-ignited my interest in genealogy. Looking at the names, jotting down birth dates and death dates, all the way back to the year 320, I held on to the thought that these were real people, living real lives, loving, marrying, birthing the next generation, dying. They experienced great joys and great hardships. They laughed and cried.
As the search for Margaret Cunningham Maitland, Countess of Lauderdale, took me all over Europe, and dipped into Africa and Russia, I recognized again, we are all ONE family. We are ALL connected. I see that just from looking back from one individual. When I look at all my known family, I can almost cover the globe. I am here, right now, because of all of these other people. That’s amazing!
I love the words of Native American writer, Linda Hogan:
“Walking, I am listening to a deeper way. Suddenly all my ancestors are behind me. Be still, they say. Watch and listen. You are the result of the love of thousands.”
There’s even a Gandalf walking back there!