Even a working visit to Scotland can uncover precious pieces of the ancestry puzzle.
“I felt like a great explorer when I returned to Canada,” says Kristin Papillon, communications advisor for WestJet Airlines in Calgary, Alberta, and the corporate editor of the company’s in-flight publication. “I had such treasures to share with my family.”
Papillon, whose maiden name is MacCallum, grew up knowing she had Scottish and French roots. When her long-time employer sent her to Scotland for some promotional work last year, the possibility of discovering something about her largely unknown great-grandfather suddenly loomed large.
“I travelled with members of WestJet’s Creative Services team to film a Scotland destination video for our airline, to document the making of our WestJet tartan, and to gather information for stories for our internal and external communications,” she explains.
Team members put her in contact with George MacKenzie, chair of the Scottish Ancestral Tourism Group, and Iain Ferguson, ScotlandsPeople Centre manager. She also visited the Mitchell Library in Glasgow where she was able to work with genealogists to see what clues existed in the meager family information she brought with her.
“Working with these individuals to find out more about my roots was exhilarating. Researching my family history was hands down my favourite part of the visit to Scotland. I feel such a connection to the country and the residents there now and I can’t wait to return.”
Papillon’s search was to find John Whyte MacCallum, a man who passed away when his son – Papillon’s grandfather – was just nine years old, and about whom his descendents knew little.
“I found John, and I feel like a huge part of the family puzzle was revealed to me. Having never met him, I almost feel like I know him now. I especially enjoyed sharing the information with my father – John was the grandfather he had never met. I only wish my grandfather was still alive, I think he would be pretty pleased how interested I am in our family genealogy.”
Like others who have painstakingly sifted through endless possibilities in search of a single hard fact, Papillon grew more motivated as one piece of information led to another.
“Since I’ve been home, I’ve done extensive work on my Scottish (paternal) family tree. I’ve worked my way back to the early 1600s. My Scottish roots run very deep.”
Papillon considers herself a researcher by nature, so once her interest was piqued she went looking for resources. She points out other “30-somethings” like her read blogs, listen to podcasts and follow groups through various social media channels.
“We also love to travel, and I think that is an area (for Scottish Ancestral Tourism) to partner with. Sure, it’s fun to go on a beach holiday or to that must-see destination, but there is something about travelling to the country where your lineage began. It can be life-changing to discover – and see in person – the places where your family lived.”
Papillon warns that ancestry research takes time and patience, two commodities generally in short supply for most people, but she knows perseverance pays off.
“Start early! Also, talk to your parents and grandparents while they are still alive. I wish I talked to my grandfather more about his family when he was alive, so I encourage everyone to sit down with the family they have and talk about family roots. Even if you do nothing with the information right away, you still have it for future use.”
A few months after Papillon’s Scottish adventure, WestJet had its inaugural flight from Halifax, Nova Scotia to Glasgow.
“Seeing how excited all our guests were brought me right back to my visit back to Scotland. My family loved all the information I was able to share – now I just need to travel back to Scotland and take them with me so they can walk in the same places our ancestors did.”
Papillon also wants to visit the Canadian Immigration Museum at Pier 21 in Halifax.
“I know the boat that my great-grandmother travelled on (Lake Erie) but I want to find more information on John’s travels to Canada. I’m also hoping to dig up some photos of him so I can put a face to the name.”
Her research showed her that part of what she considered to be her French background is also Scottish.
“I now consider myself more than half Scottish with a little French, Polish and German in the mix. Canadians have roots all over the world, which is why it is sometimes easier just to call yourself Canadian.”