I have 64 fourth-great grandparents, all with different surnames. So do you. Through my searches on Ancestry, aided by DNA testing, and Wikitree, and Gedmatch, I have been able to positively identify 29 of them, all born between 1740 and 1784 somewhere in the UK.
On my recent trip to Scotland I tried to track down something about one of these couples, John Riddle and Margaret Turnbull, great, great, great, great grandparents on my Mom’s side of the family. (The photo accompanying this post has been identified as being this fine Scottish Borders couple).
This September, I stayed for a few nights in Melrose, a small town in the Borders District of Scotland and site of the Melrose Abbey. I knew that this couple had lived in that vicinity, having been born just a few kilometers away. Coincidentally, the Crinklaw’s on my Dad’s side of the family also lived in this area. I have written about them before and showed iconic photos of old Betsy Crinklaw, my third great grandmother and talked about her father’s fabled association with Sir Walter Scott, whose estate still exists and is a tourist attraction a short distance from Melrose.
I had hoped to find a gravestone from the Riddle couple but, alas, that was a bit of a wild goose-chase. I saw lots of Riddle’s and Turnbull’s in the many graveyards I visited but none housed these relatives. It turns out that the Turnbull name had originated nearby, assigned to a young man who saved Robert the Bruce sometime in the 1300’s from an attacking bull. He was named Turner of the Bull ( Turn-e-bull, eventually shortened to Turnbull) and given land. There is even a statue commemorating this event in nearby Hawick (pronounced Hoyik). There is also a little hamlet named Riddell. The Riddle name gets changed in the records from Riddle to Riddell with the wind so that makes some of the tracking a bit more difficult.
John Riddle/Riddell was born in Hobkirk, Scotland on December 20, 1784 and baptized there along with three of his older siblings on December 28 (see the handwritten baptismal record) was a shepherd, living at at Wauchope Farm, near Hobkirk. For more than 30 years he was a shepherd and spent some of his time fathering a large family. In his later years, he rented a farm not far from Walter Scott’s Abbotsford. I was able to find this on old maps and correlate it with new maps of the area and tracked it down. It is now a running track sports field on the edge of Melrose.
Robert married Margaret Turnbull in 1799. He was only 16 and she was a mature 22. Margaret was born near Hawick and was baptized in the Cavers church in 1777. I foumd that church which is on a narrow road out in the country with rolling hills and grazing sheep surrounding it one Sunday afternoon. There are still some stones from the original church on that site as part of the building which has been renovated a few times in the 240 years since little Margaret was baptized there.
John and Margaret subsequently had 13 children, one of whom, my thrice great grandfather, Robert S. Riddell, immigrated to Canada and is buried in Kirkwall Cemetery near Cambridge Ontario (and one concession over from the African Lion Safari). Others in the family went to New Zealand and through finding DNA links, I have been happy to be able to correspond by email with two of them.
John died at Berryhall Farm on May 9, 1851 at the age of 66. His wife, Margaret outlived him by 10 years and died in St Boswells, a stone’s throw from Melrose on January 21, 1862. I have found the written record of her death.
I thought I was on track to find them in the Bowden cemetery but got waylaid looking for them in another church yard where there were, indeed, Turnbull’s and Riddell’s but not this couple. I guess I will have to go back! Many of the gravestones in these burial grounds are covered in moss or worn flat making the task of finding them more difficult.
Each one of those 64 fourth-great grandparents gave me, on average, 1.5% of my genetic make up so theoretically 3% of my being is from this couple. And it is measurable and I can even tell you which chromosomes contain their material. I know for certain that segments of my chromosome 6, 7, 10 and 21 came from them because I share (as do my kids) certain segments of these chromosomes exactly with other descendants of these relatives – too many long continuous segments to be coincidental and we all have confirmed that this couple were remote ancestors. Fragments on these chromosomes are specific little bits passed down from John and Margaret, something measurable and finite from these relatives from over 200 years ago that exists within me today. Although we all know that we inherited our DNA from our ancestors, the fact that it is measurable and traceable and finite is something that for me is quite astounding.