How in the Heck Do You Pronounce Kirkcudbright?

St. Cuthbert's Cemetery, Kirkcudbright. Searching for dead ancestors includes spending lots of time in graveyards. Note the size of the tombstones. They are filled with writing memorializing family members.

The second day of our Southwestern Scotland tour took us into Kirkcudbright on the River Dee. Once again I was on the trail of dead ancestors…

But first, just how do you pronounce Kirkcudbright? I think it’s a test Scots give to unsuspecting tourists. If you come up with kir-COO-bree and not kirk-cud-bright, you get a gold star.

Kirk, by the way, is a Scottish Church. Cudbright is a reference to Saint Cuthbert, an early luminary of Scotland who is rumored to have said his prayers while standing naked submerged in the ocean.

Why do saints do things like that?

Afterwards, sea otters were supposed to drop by and warm him up. Hmmm.

On our way to Kirkcudbright from Creetown, we stopped by Carsluith Castle where we bought the best, smoked salmon and Brie cheese I have ever had and Peggy posed as Princess. She has a thing for castles. It may be hereditary. Whenever we visit her mom, Helen declares, “The Queen does not cook.”

Carsluith Castle and the Marrbury Smokehouse where we bought delicious smoked salmon and Brie Cheese.

Princess Peggy looking out the window of Carsluith Castle smiles at the mere mortal taking her photo.

Kirkcudbright is a very attractive community. McClelland Castle dominates the town. Our brochure suggested that Robert McClelland of Kirkcudbright built the castle for conspicuous consumption as well as protection in the late 1500s when there was a slight break in Scotland’s bloody history.

McClelland Castle, Kirkcudbright, as it looks today.

An inside view of McClelland Castle. Note the thickness of the walls.

By the mid 1600s the castle was on its way downhill, a victim of the commitment of the Lord’s of Kirkcudbright 2 and 3 to the Covenanter Movement. The Covenanters were serious Presbyterians who firmly believed that Jesus Christ, not the King of England, was the rightful head of their church.

The King didn’t approve. Consequently, there were lots of Covenanter Martyrs, including at least one of my ancestors, John Brown of Priesthill. You will meet John in a later blog.

McClelland could have been a distant relative as well (or not) since Browns and McClellands hooked up in the America of the 1700s. All I have to go on is the strong bond between Covenanter leaders that seemed to transfer to early America.

Peggy, on the other hand, had definite Kirkcudbright ancestors, the Kevans. I suggested possibly they worked as servants for the McClellands and got in trouble (grin). Turns out the Kevan/Cavan family was quite prominent in Kirkcudbright’s history.

Peggy and I dutifully did a walking tour of the town under cloudy skies threatening rain. Highlights included the Tollbooth, an eclectic museum, a Celtic cross and the town in general.

The Tollbooth was once responsible for collecting taxes and serving as a jail for Covenanters and witches. It now serves as an art center.  The museum brought us up to date on just about everything of importance to Kirkcudbright including the towns relationship to John Paul Jones, a native of Scotland and a slave trader before he joined the American Revolution.

The Kirkcudbright Tollbooth which once served as a tax collection center and jail. It now serves as an art center and recognizes Kirkcudbright's commitment to the arts.

Kirkcudbright's Celtic Cross

A walkway off of High Street, Kirkcudbright. We often found these intriguing paths filled with flowers and even art work off of main streets in Scotland's towns and villages.

This 'take the pledge' bowl we found in the Kirkcudbright Museum amused me. I suspect my Scottish Grandmother would have approved.

I was also amused by this gargoyle like cat-man we found over an arch near McClelland Castle. The flowers added a nice touch. I suspect cat man's job was to frighten off evil spirits.

What photographer can resist a picturesque cottage?

Having sated our desire to see Kirkcudbright we headed back to Creetown. Next blog we visit Wigtown, Scotland’s bookstore center, stop by an ancient druid monument, and visit the birthplace of my Great Grandmother, the colorful village of Kirkcolm.

We found this pretty flower box attached to a house in Creetown.

William Brown Mekemson Has His Head Chopped Off

I was born to wander; I’m convinced of this. Whatever lies over the next horizon calls to me and pulls me onward. But I am also an escapist, driven as much as drawn. Stability in time resembles a jail I become desperate to escape.

There are consequences to being a wanderer; some are good and some bad. Both have led me to think about what turned me into the person I am. Was nature or nurture the driving force?

Originally I came down on the side of nurture but a close look at my ancestors over the past three years has changed my perspective.

A long line of pioneers and adventurers populate the Mekemson and Marshall family trees. Restless urges sent members of both clans on their way to the New World in the 17th and 18th centuries and kept them moving west in the 19th and 20th.

Puritan Marshalls packed their bags and sailed off for the New World in the 1630s. The Scotch-Irish Mekemsons arrived in Pennsylvania from Ireland the 1750s. They spent the Revolutionary War years in upper Maryland and had moved on to be Kentucky by the 1790s.

The cry of gold sent both Marshalls and Mekemsons scurrying to California in the 1840s and 50s. Great, Great Grandfather George Marshall even left a pregnant wife behind in his hurry to get rich.

It’s a good thing from my perspective; otherwise, I wouldn’t be here. Margaret Marshall was pregnant with my Great Grandfather. On the way home, her husband George was killed, stripped of his gold and thrown into the Pacific.

It was tough and often deadly on the frontier.

Indians, in particular, took their toll on my wandering kin. Samuel Marshall was among the first to pay the price. He was killed in 1675 during the Great Swamp Fight of King Phillip’s War.

His demise was relatively tame in comparison to that of William Brown Mekemson. He ended up on the wrong end of a tomahawk (or several) during the Black Hawk Indian War of 1832. A 1903 book by Frank Stevens describes the event.

The Indians had attacked the night before, stealing a horse. Captain Snyder decided to pursue the Indians the next morning and caught up with them “firmly entrenched in a deep gulch, where, in a sharp hand to hand encounter, all four were killed with the loss of only one man, Private William B. Mekemson, who received two balls (bullets) in the abdomen, inflicting a mortal wound.”

Except it wasn’t immediately mortal. Mekemson was placed on a litter and transported back toward camp. Along the way he pleaded for a drink. A squad was assigned to climb down to the creek and fetch water. At that point the Indians struck again. Some 50 or so “hideously yelling, rushed poor Mekemson and chopped off his head with tomahawks…” and then rolled it down the hill. That was mortal.

Later, ancestors on the Marshall side would barely escape a similar fate in the White River Indian Massacre near early Seattle. None of these encounters were enough to discourage the family from its wandering ways, though.

Before Mother went trolling and landed Pop, he had lived in Nebraska, Washington, Iowa, Oklahoma, Colorado, Oregon and California. I’ve no doubt that lacking an anchor of three kids and a wife he would have kept on going and going, just like the Energizer Bunny. And so it has been.

Even as a little kid I felt the call. At first I explored the jungle-like graveyard next to our house but by seven I had thoroughly investigated everything it had to offer

The problem was there were definite limits on how far I could wander. Fortunately I had lax parents and lived in the pre-gang, pre-drug, pre-kidnapping, pre-almost-anything 50s of rural America. Or, at least that was our assumption.

The house was never locked unless we were going away for a week and I can’t remember my parents ever locking the car doors.

Given this sense of security, Mother could get us out of her hair and feel relatively certain that nothing terrible would happen. We were free to explore the boundaries of our world. At first this meant the Pond and the Woods… (Next blog)

(This blog is an elaboration of an earlier blog I wrote on Searching for Long Dead Mekemsons, Makemsons and Marshalls.)

When Being Goofy Isn’t Enough


OK, I am a little strange. I admit it. But Goofy… no way. I confess, however, I’ve had a long affinity for the floppy eared, big-footed fellow. Yuk Yuk.

It all started when my mother told me that a cousin of hers, Vance ‘Pinto’ Colvig, was the original voice of Goofy.

I had never heard of Pinto so I looked him up. Sure enough, he was the voice of Goofy. In fact Walt Disney was so taken with the voice that he gave Goofy a starring role as one of Mickey’s best buddies.

I was willing to let the connection slide after that. I did trot Goofy out on an occasion, however. In the competitive world of dating, it’s valuable to have a famous relative, even if he’s a cartoon. More than one woman was impressed with my shirttail link, including my wife Peggy.

I never used “I am related to Goofy,” as a conversation starter, though. It was more like a third or fourth date thing.

When Peggy and I recently moved to the Applegate Valley in Southern Oregon, I decided to do more research on Pinto. He’s a native son of the area and grew up in the historic town of Jacksonville, which is where Peggy and I go to play.

Turns out Pinto’s big brother, Donald Colvig, married my mother’s aunt, Star Marshall. I guess that made my mother a second cousin, once removed and makes me… nothing. But I am still going to claim Goofy. And there’s more:

I learned that Pinto was also the creator of Bozo the Clown! Now I have a choice. I can either claim I’m related to Goofy or claim I’m related to Bozo. I am not sure what that buys me but it might make an interesting epitaph.

A painting of Bozo

Pinto was a very talented man who spent his life making people laugh. Here are some of his other accomplishments. He was:

  •      The voice of Pluto, Mickey’s dog.
  •      The voice of the anal pig who built the brick house in the Three Little Pigs.
  •      The voice of Grumpy and Sleepy in the original version of Snow White.
  •      The co-composer of ‘Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf.’
  •      The voice of one of the three Munchkins who sang the Lollipop song in Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz.
  •      The voice for Popeye’s nemesis Bluto who was always hustling Olive Oyl.

In this early photo, Walt Disney listens in on a song. Pinto is on the right, playing the Clarinet.

It’s quite a legacy. Pinto also had a nationally syndicated comic strip and was co-owner of an animation studio. Interestingly to me, Pinto was also one of the first people to urge that warning labels be put on cigarettes. ( I spent three decades doing battle with Big Tobacco.)

Goofy and Bone share a moment.

The Mekemson Ghost of Fort Mifflin

I am on a ghost hunt. It’s the season. The eerie creatures are known to hang out at Fort Mifflin, which is located next to Philadelphia International Airport on the Delaware River. It’s one of the hottest ghost watching spots in America and has been featured on the popular TV series, “Ghost Hunters.”

The entrance to the ghostly ammunition magazine taken during the day.

We are scheduled for a nighttime tour by lantern.

Peggy and I decide to do a reconnaissance during daylight hours but a police vehicle blocks the road. A dozen or so media crews are pointing their cameras into the airport at a large UPS cargo plane. It has just flown in from Yemen and is being searched for ink cartridge bombs. We are caught in the midst of a “credible terrorist threat” as President Obama describes it.

Ghosts can’t be nearly as scary… can they?

By 6:30 the police car has moved but the TV crews are still on watch. We wind our way through the circus. Dusk has arrived at the Fort.  The tour is scheduled to start as soon as it is fully dark. Make that pitch black; there is no moon.

Our guide gathers us and his lantern immediately blows out. “It’s only the wind,” he explains. “I don’t believe in ghosts. I don’t hunt them and they don’t hunt me.”

His disclaimer comes with a ‘but.’ He works at the Fort, and occasionally ‘things’ happen. There are unexplained footsteps on stairs. Doors close and latch on their own. Voices are heard in the next room. A woman screams like she is being murdered. The police are called but can’t find anyone, or thing. A man walking on the rampart disappears into thin air.

Our guide relates story after story as we make our way through the candle lit buildings of the fort. Other staff, volunteers and visitors have also experienced strange phenomena. More than one visitor has left on the run and even the guide has packed up and gone home on occasion.

We arrive at the Fort’s ammunition magazine, a bush covered hill that resembles an ancient burial mound. A bright torch outlines the dim opening. We enter and walk down a narrow, dimly lit corridor that opens out to a large, arched bunker. A single candle creates dancing shadows on the far wall.

“I’ve never felt anything in here,” the tour leader relates. “It’s dead space,” he quips and repeats himself in case we missed his humor. For others, the story has been different. Tourists speak of a wonderful guide who was waiting for them in the bunker. He was dressed as a Revolutionary soldier and vividly described the horrendous battle that took place on November 15, 1777. Which is great, except the Fort had no such guide…

I stare hard into the corner where he supposedly stood, trying to create something out of nothing. But there are only the dancing shadows. Peggy tries to take a photo but the camera freezes and refuses to work. As she struggles with it, the last of our tour group disappears down the narrow corridor, leaving us alone with the flickering candle.

We hurry after the group. There is no one outside the magazine, only the glowing torch and the dark night. “I think I saw them heading down a side corridor,” Peggy says. With more than a little reluctance, we dutifully troop back inside. Peggy’s corridor is a bricked in wall. I am starting to feel spooked.

“Maybe we should go back to the bunker,” she suggests.

“No,” I reply and head for the entrance. Just as we arrive, the shiny torch makes a poof sound and goes out, leaving us with nothing but dark. The hairs on the back of my head stand at attention. Peggy and I decide it’s time to vacate the premises.

Fortunately we find our group.

Halloween experiences don’t get much better. But this isn’t the end of the story. On my next blog I will report on why our theoretical ghost may have been a very real ancestor… Andrew or James Mekemson.

Looking for Long Dead Mekemsons, Makemsons and Marshalls

Several years ago I became hooked on genealogy. Growing up, my knowledge of ancestors stopped with my grandparents. It remained there until I turned 60. My older brother Marshall inspired me. Describing himself as “a homeless man with a pickup truck and a bank account,” he had wandered America searching out our Mother’s side of the family, the Marshalls.

Ancestral Makemson/Mekemson lands hide behind the mist on the Licking River in Pendleton County, Kentucky. To me, the mist serves as a metaphor for the difficulty involved in uncovering family history.

He did it the old-fashioned way (as he likes to remind me): leafing through yellow, aging documents, tramping through almost forgotten graveyards, and spending countless hours in Mormon libraries.

I was skimming through a summary of his findings when I learned that our Great, Great Grandfather, George Loomis Marshall, had abandoned his pregnant wife, family, farm and friends in Will County, Illinois to the siren call of gold in California. He struck it rich but then his luck ran out.  He started home by sea and was killed for his gold.

Had my Great, Great Grandmother, Margaret Paddock, not been pregnant when he left Illinois, I wouldn’t be writing this paragraph. How could I not be intrigued? I became addicted to looking for long dead relatives.

I am not alone. Google lists 107 million sites related to genealogy and these numbers relate a fact; genealogy is no longer a hobby limited to aging elders (which I sort of resemble) rummaging around in musty courthouse basements.

Bone serves as a sight on a cannon at Fort Mifflin just outside of Philadelphia. The Battle of Fort Mifflin was one of the bloodiest battles of the Revolutionary War and bought time for George Washington to escape to Valley Forge. Four Mekemson boys fought in the battle and two heroically gave their lives.

Millions of people today are using the Internet in search of their roots. Ancestral information that once required years of research is now available at the touch of a keystroke. Large Internet databases hold hundreds of millions of genealogy records and thousands more are added daily.

What captures our imagination about genealogy? Is there something about contemplating our future that sends us scurrying for our past? Is searching for our roots a way of seeking immortality in reverse? Or are we seeking fame? Was one of our ancestors a king? Or possibly she was a pirate… Maybe our inspiration is just plain-old-fashioned curiosity.

Whatever the bait that leads us to ask our first question about Great Grandma, it’s the thrill of the hunt that keeps us searching. A blank space on an ancestral chart is a mystery begging to be solved. Hours can be devoted to finding a single answer and that answer inevitably leads to another question, and another blank space.

Over the past 2½ years as Peggy and I have crisscrossed America traveling 65,000 miles in our van Quivera, we’ve added the search for roots to our itinerary of exploring the Country and doing grandparent duty.

Much to my surprise, I have discovered that the Marshalls arrived in America in the 1630s and the Mekemsons/Makemsons in the 1750s. The story of these two families is wrapped up in the story of America.

Family tombstones are often hidden in old, overgrown graveyards and difficult to find. This one marks the grave of William Cox, one of my Mother's Great Grandfathers who is buried near the town of Grants Pass, Oregon. William was born in the 1820s in Mississippi and came across America in a covered wagon.

The Marshalls began their American sojourn as stern Puritans in the 1600s. Three hundred years later they were in on the creation of Goofy. Four, and possibly all six sons of Andrew Mekemson (my first Mekemson ancestor to arrive in America) fought in the Revolutionary War.

Two of his sons died in heroic efforts at Fort Mifflin, a battle that allowed George Washington to escape to Valley Forge and possibly save the fledgling nation.

William Brown Mekemson had his head chopped off by tomahawks in the Black Hawk Indian War and rolled down a hill. His great-uncle may have wandered the forests with Daniel Boone. Abe Lincoln argued both for and against Makemsons in his early years as a lawyer. The stories go on and on leading up to modern times.

One of the most rewarding elements of my investigation has been collaborating with distant cousins on research. Early on I was lucky to come in contact with three of the leading Mekemson family genealogists, Ann Nell Baughman out of Kansas and Bill and Jan Makemson out of Florida. In addition to providing valuable information and support, these folks, along with other cousins, have become valued friends.

Ann even makes clothes for Bone.

Since genealogy is about wandering through both time and space, it is a fitting subject for the Peripatetic Bone’s blog. As I come across interesting stories, I will relate them on this site. Bone is particularly enamored with exploring old graveyards. He feels a kinship with the inhabitants.