Jim Pringle and partner Rosemary Miguez, who live in Manitoba’s Interlake, traveled to Europe recently where among other things, Jim searched for his family’s ancestors dating back several centuries. This is what he found.
Rosemary and I left Melrose, Scotland by train after three days of visiting abbeys, circling barely visible Roman remains and discovering a statue dedicated to Thomas the Rhymer. We toured Gala House, the ancient home of the Pringles with its rare painted ceiling.
These sites provided voyeuristic pleasures in the adventures of namesakes but these were ancient Pringles. No proof of direct descent exists.
The desire to know one’s roots is an inexplicable, even primal desire. To touch the same walls, turn the same door handle, stand where forebears would have looked out the window, walk the same streets as family members had, that’s immeasurable.
The Pringle store in Melrose would give me that pleasure. There they are in the family photograph proudly displayed on the wall of Aunt Agnes’ home in Souris, Manitoba.
The photograph of great great grandparents John and Sarah in front of their store. Only an historian could guess as to why they left Scotland in 1882 but there they are in black and white with relatives and neighbours.
Search as we might, the store remained hidden. Up and down every street in this bustling town snuggled up against its namesake abbey revealed little.
We sought the advice and help of the local librarian who did find that Sarah Jobson (Mitchell) Pringle was born in 1823 in Newstead, a short walk up the road where a local informed us that Newstead was the oldest, continually inhabited village in Scotland. (A few days later another village made the same claim, a testament to their love of history).
Bar and hotel owners, old timers and real estate agents were consulted to no avail. Yes, the photo was taken at least 150 years ago but many similar buildings remain stubbornly standing.
None matched the shape and size of the windows and door. The building had either been stuccoed over or its front windows and door renovated out of existence. Or perhaps not in Melrose at all.
Disappointed but there was one last story to follow.When relatives started farming in southern Manitoba they called their farm Kilfasset after Agnes Stewart (Brown) Pringle’s childhood home. She was my great grandmother and records showed she was born in Balfron, a village north of Glasgow. (Check out Balfron’s interesting history in Wikipedia).
In Scotland, and I’m sure in other countries, farms and cottages/homes are given names which survive the march of time and change of ownership. An internet search of Kilfasset gave me a postal code and a street name.
We arrived in Glasgow a day and a half before our flight home. By 2 p.m. we had found our b’n’b where we stored our luggage.
Alas, there was no train to Balfron. The friendliness, helpfulness of bus and train workers in Spain and UK cannot be spoken of highly enough. There is a bus at 1500 hours. The bad news is, the last bus returns at 17:46 and it takes an hour to get there.
That leaves one hour and 45 minutes to find the farm. An hour and three-quarters. Would it be worth it? Would we really find it? It would be owned by a person unknown and could be quite some distance out of town.
With Rosemary’s encouragement: “We’ve come this far, let’s just do it. It’ll be worth the effort,” she says.
So off we go, no food, no water, haven’t eaten since breakfast in Edinburgh. A waiting passenger when asked about a restaurant in Balfron says, “There is an Indian.” I assume she means a curry house.
In about 10 minutes we’re out of Glasgow and into rolling farm land on a narrow two lane road complete with hairpin turns and a temporary set of traffic lights so all can safely avoid a sinkhole.
We pass the Glengoyne Distillery where many have gathered for a Sunday afternoon tasting tour. Through several more villages and countryside similar to the terrain of northern Spain with intricate stone fences and flocks of sheep.
Concerned about bus leaving time when we reached what appears to be the one and only street of Balfron, I ask the bus driver about the 17:46 departure, the time seeming to be awfully precise.
“Not to worry,” he replies. “I’ll watch for you.”
Not sure where the “Indian” is but there is a handsome old church and before the bus stop a police station. What better place to ask for directions.
“Oh, yes, I know Kilfasset farm. Just down the street, walk left on Dunmore, keep going for awhile past the new development and keep on going. It’s on the right,” the officer says before he goes into the station to find the name of the current owner.
“It’s the Patterson place. He’s a good fellow, just go knock on the door.”
Off we go after trying to get an accurate sense of walking distance so we can catch the 17:46.
Balfron is a prosperous little place. We walk by cottages freshly painted in the Victorian style white with black trim. Mercedes cars are parked in front. There is a new development alright. A couple dozen semi-detached houses on cul de sacs. After a 15 minute quick walk up the road we come upon a treed country lane going towards partially hidden farm buildings and a silo. And there’s the sign proclaiming Kilfasset.
A farmer is out plowing the field but does not stop, intent on finishing before the evening and its threatening rain. As we gaze upon the proof of the Kilfasset sign a front end loader turns onto the farm road driven by a friendly fellow who does stop.
He is Andrew Paterson, the nephew of the current owner. There isn’t time for us to go all the way to the farm yard but we’re told his uncle isn’t there anyway.
“Well, that’s okay,” I say. “My great grandmother Agnes Stewart Brown was born here in 1846, long ago,” I explain. “She married a Pringle and I’m a Pringle. It’s enough to see the sign and the land, well looked after and doing well.”
Andrew replies, “My grandmother knows everything about this place and the people around here. She’s 90 years old and sharp as a tack. She wasn’t too well yesterday but go knock on her door. She’ll answer or not.”
After getting directions to go further up the road, past the cottage with blue trim and up the lane marked Cranach we start off ever aware of the time. Cranach Lane is marked “private” but we continue on.
The lane leads to a well maintained cottage with lovely gardens yearning for a warmer spring.
One ring of the bell and the door opens with Betty Paterson in housecoat clutching letters and documents. Grandson Andrew has obviously called ahead.
Betty Paterson is a lively person with a ready laugh and that Scottish whoop of delight. Her letters are from a Mrs. Galbraith who had come a few years before on a similar mission. No Galbraiths have entered into the Pringle tree that I know of and Betty knows nothing of my great grandmother whose family owned the farm long ago.
Perhaps with a longer visit her memory would have jostled up a detail. She does have a book of local history but can’t give me her last copy. Publishing details are noted and she gives me a copy of the Balfron Heritage newsletter.
“If only you had come earlier or could stay longer,” was mentioned more than once. Andrew comes to check on us but must get back to chores.
She laments she cannot drive us to the bus stop. “In my housecoat I’d get arrested.”
We assure her that our alarm has been set and we can get back in time. Betty goes to get tea giving us time to admire her fibre art and the furniture she restored when taking a woodworking course with her grandson a few years ago.
Tea, homemade chocolate cake and cookies are enjoyed. We leave with a kiss and hug goodbye.
We make it back to Balfron’s Main Street with a quick stop at Dr Who’s phone booth where people have been leaving interesting family history notes. I do the same for the record. Sure enough, as the bus goes by on the other side of the street to the last stop turnaround, the driver gives us a wave and a smile.
Another family story related by Aunt Agnes says that great grandparents Agnes and George met at Stirling Castle, she working as a maid, he as a carpenter’s helper. On the bus back to Glasgow a road sign reads – Stirling – 20 miles. Just up the road is the castle we had visited two days earlier by train from Edinburgh. Kilfasset farm exists with the sign to prove it. The castle is so close, the story must be true.
Perhaps I’d already walked in their footsteps.