The Gift of Genealogy

Do you remember this photo?

Balquhidder Graveyard 2

I posted it on this blog along with a number of others that I took in and around the small Scottish village of Balquhidder, a couple of weeks ago. Well, the reason that I’m posting it again, is that I received such an interesting comment regarding it today over at Flickr, by fellow Scot, Eddie:

“Here was Isaac living with his family on the 1881 Census

Dwelling: Ednample Mill
Census Place: Balquhidder, Perth, Scotland
Source: FHL Film 0203501 GRO Ref Volume 331 EnumDist 2 Page 15
Marr Age Sex Birthplace
William SPY W 83 M Tillicoultry, Clackmannan, Scotland
Rel: Head
Occ: Millar
Beatrice MC KENZIE M 30 F Balquhidder, Perth, Scotland
Rel: Dau
Occ: Gen Serv
John SPY U 27 M Balquhidder, Perth, Scotland
Rel: Son
Occ: Joiner
Isaac SPY U 24 M Balquhidder, Perth, Scotland
Rel: Son
Occ: Joiner
Maggie SPY U 16 F Edinburgh, Scotland
Rel: Grd Dau
Occ: Dressmaker
William THOMSON U 19 M Australia
Rel: Grdson
Occ: Joiner
John MC KENZIE 6 M Balquhidder, Perth, Scotland
Rel: Grdson
William MC KENZIE 1 M Balquhidder, Perth, Scotland
Rel: Gson”

This is the census entry from 1881 which locates Isaac Spy and his family, and gives information on their places of birth and their occupations. I don’t know about you, but I found this completely fascinating, and I am so grateful to Eddie for finding it and sharing it with me. All of a sudden this image, which attracted me because of the shape of the stone, its carved scroll form, the burst of snowdrops at its base, and the soft light filtering through the trees, has been endowed with so much more because of Eddie’s genealogical sleuthing. Rather than a collection of shapes and forms, we now have lives, personal histories, narratives, and the image is all the more richer because of it.

How does the census information affect your response to the photograph? Does it fire your imagination? Has a genealogical discovery ever enhanced your own perception of a photograph before? Have you ever had this experience where someone else has added to your understanding of your own photograph?

PS Thanks again to Eddie – you can check his photos out here.


March 3, 2008. Environment, Photography.


  1. LivSimpl replied:

    I’m glad you posted this! I’m always fascinated by people’s pasts which is one reason I feel compelled to keep a journal, but that’s beside the point.

    A good place to get started on genealogy/family history is

  2. Mrs. Chili replied:

    AMY! You’re making me do a lot of work here!

    I have no connection to my biological family. I come from a long and enthusiastic tradition of abuse and neglect, and I’m proud to say that I was strong enough to let it end with me.

    The thing is, though – even though I WANT nothing to do with my parents or any of their relatives, I really do wish that I had some sense of history beyond the aforementioned abuse and neglect. It occurs to me, every so often, that I’m connected to people whose lives were lived hundreds – and even thousands – of years ago. I float through my life pretty disembodied and disconnected from that sense of foundation and family, though, because I had to make a choice about how I was going to live my life. Of course, I have my husband and my daughters and the family I’ve purposefully created, but I have no history – no roots, so to speak.

    I do know that most of my ancestors, on both sides, come from your general neighborhood, and I feel a pull to Scotland that I can’t adequately describe. Perhaps my hope is that there would be someone there – either in the past or the present- who shares my DNA and who would prove to me that I’m not the only gentle person in the family.

  3. Daz Cox replied:

    I think the photograph stands alone as a piece of art but the very fact that someone randomly filled in the blanks and made it even better is truly inspiring!

  4. barbara replied:

    So impressive – what a wonderful combination. This is the exact type of thing that makes me take pen and paper and create.

  5. amypalko replied:

    Keeping a journal is such a good way of passing something down to future generations, LivSimpl. Also, thanks for the link. I’ll be sure to follow it up!

    Oh, I’m sorry, Mrschili! Thank you so much for your comment, though. I think that knowing your roots, your ancestral heritage, can be completely fascinating, but I don’t believe that our relatives’ past actions dictate our own either now, or in the future. I do hope you make it over to Scotland one day, but until you do, you may be interested in my new prize draw 🙂

    It really is truly inspiring, isn’t it, Daz? It adds a whole other layer to the image turning it into a collaborative piece rather than a solo effort.

    Thank you, Barbara. The combination works well, doesn’t it? And it’s so lovely to know that my photo sparked off something for someone else, who then shared the results. Really does make it all worth while 🙂

  6. On a Limb with Claudia replied:

    What an amazing thing! Living in such a young country, and state, we have very little of this kind of thing. Just touching a stone like that is amazing. We have such a connection to the past – and this photo really shows that.

  7. amypalko replied:

    It is amazing, isn’t it, Claudia! In Scotland it’s very difficult to escape the remains of history; it is everywhere. But saying that, some choose to become blinkered to it, and others choose to acknowledge and engage with it. I know what I prefer!

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