“The mark of a Scot is that he remembers and cherishes the memories of his forebears, good or bad; and there burns alive in him a sense of identity with the dead even to the twentieth generation.”
— Robert Louis Stevenson –
I hear the voice of my mother delightfully recite “My Shadow” by the Scottish poet Robert Louis Stevenson when I ask her if she remembers it.
I have a little shadow that goes in and out with me,
And what can be the use of him is more than I can see.
He is very, very like me from the heels up to the head;
And I see him jump before me, when I jump into my bed.
The Scottish tradition on my mother’s side echoes long in the past. The names include Mitchell, Pickard, Christy, McPherson, McKeen, Campbell and Coburn and more. As she recites these verses from memory, it occurs to me she didn’t learn them from a book but they were spoken to her many times playfully. The rhythmical quality of her recitation doesn’t come from Scotland. It comes from growing up in a family of Scottish descendents.
With all the hub-bub of the vote for or against Scottish independence from Great Britain on Thursday, September 18, I wanted to do a little research, so I contacted my mother and stayed with her for the weekend with the purpose of finding out even more about our Scottish roots. I looked up the Act of Union dating back to 1707. We both followed stories on the news, the NY Times and Vox regarding “the vote,” which by the way was defeated.
The funniest thing about him is the way he likes to grow—
Not at all like proper children, which is always very slow;
For years I have concentrated on learning the history of my father’s Dutch family and only recently have I become more curious about my mother’s side of the family.
For he sometimes shoots up taller like an india-rubber ball,
And he sometimes gets so little that there’s none of him at all.
In 1827 my mother’s great-great-great grandparents Alexander and Mary Mitchell and their nine children sailed from Inverkip on the coast of Scotland to the Saint John River of New Brunswick. They reached New Brunswick shores in a record 21 days my mother’s great Aunt Jenny tells in a handwritten summary of what she knows of her family. Four days later they arrived in Fredericton aboard a wooden boat, then continued up the Saint John in small boats to the Mouth of Keswick. Their journey didn’t end there. The family traveled a further five miles by ox team and sleds to Scotch Settlement. They located in a thick wooded area on a farm.
He hasn’t got a notion of how children ought to play,
And can only make a fool of me in every sort of way.
I remember discovering about Harvey Mitchell. We were in College Station, TX, the home of Texas A&M driving on Harvey Mitchell Boulevard when she brought it up. “I had a distant cousin named Harvey Mitchell,” she mentioned. I wondered out loud if perhaps there could be a connection.
He stays so close beside me, he’s a coward you can see;
I’d think shame to stick to nursie as that shadow sticks to me!
Not wanting to let go of my theory that there was a connection between Harvey Mitchell a professor of Agriculture at the University of New Brunswick and wanting to investigate the origin of the College Station Harvey Mitchell, I looked up the man for whom a boulevard is named in daughter’s college town. I found the answer to my question. The Texas Harvey Mitchell wasn’t my mother’s cousin from Scotch Settlement, New Brunswick. But I was able to confirm with her help that her distant cousin Harvey Mitchell, grandchild of William Mitchell and Ann Dobie (great grandson of Alexander and Mary Mitchell), that his proper title was Commissioner of Agriculture of the province of New Brunswick from 1920 to 1933!
Neither my mother nor I have ever traveled to Scotland, although we’ve traveled to England and my mother has traveled several times to Fredericton, New Brunswick to visit a cousin who still lives there, and to visit the Ridge and Scotch Settlement.
One morning, very early, before the sun was up,
I rose and found the shining dew on every buttercup;
My mother showed me some charcoal drawings, portraits of her family. “That is James Mitchell, my great uncle, Premier of New Brunswick from 1896 to 1897. His term was brief because he died before he could finish out his office.”
“Isn’t the premier of a province like the governor of a state?” I ask.
But my lazy little shadow, like an arrant sleepy-head,
Had stayed at home behind me and was fast asleep in bed.
Then after hours of pouring over old photos, the family Bible, old letters, hand written narratives and newspaper clippings, Mom announced she was tired. “Let’s go out for Mexican food!” she suggested.
This past weekend I focused on learning about the Alexander and Mary Mitchell and the William Mitchell and Anne Dobie Mitchell families from Scotch Settlement, New Brunswick and if you’ve done such geneaological research, you probably know there are still more shadows to meet.