About the Author

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Bruce Henderson is a computer engineer living in Southern California. With the help of his cousins he is researching the history of the Henderson family of southern Caithness. You can contact him at bruce@sigalarm.com

Finding Adam – Part One

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What we think is the ruins of Donald’s House in Ramscraigs, where Adam was born and grew up.

This story is provided to motivate other researchers to go beyond the genealogy of their families and into their history. The search for this man, his history and his family has been the driving force behind my research.

One of the great searches that has been at the foundation of the project has been uncovering information about my Henderson great-grandfather, a man by the name of Reverend Adam Cunningham Henderson. Prior to my visit to Scotland in September of 2006, was the earliest ancestor I knew about.

During that wonderful visit with the family in East Kilbride, my cousin Lesley handed me a 2 page outline of the family tree that had been created by my Uncle Jim’s son, Anthony. It included not only Adam and all of his 11 or so children, but the name of Adam’s father – Donald and the name “Caithness” – a place I new very little about at that time.

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My Scottish family – September 2006

These mysteries were what launched the research project – it was to me very odd that a man who had been so central to the community of East Kilbride at the turn of the 20th century would leave so little evidence of his life. None of us had any photos, and very few stories of the man. We did not know what had happened to his many children, and if they had families of their own. We did not even know where he was buried.

Upon returning home to the US, I resolved to find everything I could about Adam and his family before memories faded and more was lost. Where to start was the question. Thankfully – this is the internet age; a subscription to the fantastic ancestry.com very quickly started supplying me with information about Adam and his parents.

A few short days after starting, I had located Adam in the Scottish census for 1851, and his brothers (previously unknown) James and Alexander. This struck me as a surprise (though it shouldn’t) – Adam had brothers, what had become of their families? I was also able to verify the data that Anthony had put together that Adam’s father was Donald Henderson, a shoemaker in Ramscraigs and his mother Ann Cunningham. Ramscraigs was at that time, another name that had no meaning for me – was it a place, a name of farm or house? Typing that into Google did not even result in anything useful. Furthermore the name “Clashcarn” appears in the census as well.

Oddly enough, the 1861 census did not show Adam at home. He would have been 19 at the time, and it was a mystery where he could be. Oddly enough, after additional searching he turns up in the busy fishing town of Wick, miles to the north of Ramscraigs and Dunbeath, with an occupation listed as “Student”. This is in itself unusual, as pupils in school are typically listed as “Scholar”. His relationship is listed as “Boarder” in the house of a merchant in Wick. This piece of census information was to later lead to a significant discoveries about Adams years in Caithness.

Later in time I was able to use ancestry.com’s record searches to find him in Glasgow in 1871 attending university and living with is young wife, Jane Taylor, and then during his service as a minister of the Free Church of Scotland with his growing family at the manse in Busby, Lanarkshire.

Armed with places, dates and names, it was time to dig deeper into the life and times of this man who was pivotal in the family’s history.

Over the course of several months, I collected and digested what little information I could find about the Busby Free Church, which I came to find out had been converted into flats in the last few years. Thanks to Catherine Pearson of the Free Church of Scotland, I came to find out that Adam began his ministry career in Harthill in 1875, and translated to Busby in 1878. The records of the Busby Free Church were clearly going to be of great interest, but where were they? Normally such records would go to the Scottish National Archives, or to a local collection. Checking with all sources, including the library in Glasgow resulted in no trace of those records, anywhere.

As luck would have it, in the summer of 2008 I was able to visit Scotland once more. Prior to my trip, I resolved to consult whatever records I could find at the University of Glasgow, and see if there were any records of his time as a student. On a free afternoon, with the sun shining, I made my way to Great Western Road in Glasgow, and eventually to the university archives.

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The old university on Glasgow High Street before the new campus was complete

Though I did not have an appointment (I had no idea the records were there), the staff was so very helpful and friendly, and quickly found a large amount of information, starting with his name in a book that celebrated the anniversary of the Trinity college (divinity school), where it confirmed what we had pieced together:

With his identity confirmed, the staff began to bring out several volumes, including class rosters. His first year entry is shown below:

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Adam’s name in the Glasgow University 1867 roster – click for larger view

Adam, much to my delight, lists Ramscraigs Caithness as his home. I have actually found that a few documents related to members of my family denote a specific citation of Dunbeath or Ramscraigs, including immigration records where there is page after page of “country of origin” listed simply as “Scotland”, there in the midst of it is someone who put “Dunbeath, Scotland” – and it’s a Henderson or a Gunn.

According to class rolls, during his four years towards his arts degree, he studied Latin, Greek, Philosophy and even took Physics under Lord Kelvin.

As fortune would have it they also had the records for the Trinity divinity school, and there in his first year was information that had been the topic of discussion between the cousins – his native tongue. There listed on the rolls was the fact that he spoke Gaelic.

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Adam’s name in the Trinity College roster – click for larger view

We could come to find out later, that his Gaelic would be useful in his missionary work among the displaced highland Scots who had come to Glasgow seeking work and a better life.

Though I had already collected more than I had ever hoped to find, Moira gave me a smile and said “there are some photos, though they are likely not in very good shape”. Several minutes later a box containing photographs from over 130 years ago were on the desk, showing photos of the staff and lecturers of the university. However, against all odds was a large, fading group photo showing young men seated at the food of a rock face (looking a lot like Edinburgh) dated 1871. If that were not enough, someone had taken the times to write the names on the photo margin below. After cross-checking the attendance rolls, he was the only Henderson at the university that year. Within this group photo, against all odds was a picture of my great-grandfather while he was studying to become a minister. This was literally the first photo anyone of us alive today had seen of the man.

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Group photo of students at the Trinity College circa 1871

The search for Adam was not done – and would lead us to new discoveries about his family, his brothers and would eventually take us to Caithness. Be sure to check back for part two soon!

What’s Coming For Ramscraigs

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I hope all our readers had a wonderful a joyous Christmas. With Hogmanay right around the corner, there is much to look forward to in 2010. Currently, the family tree is being updated, and a version that covers some of the other families of the area is in work. We hope to expand the number of lines we have published to hopefully include some of the Gunns, a few Sutherlands, and possibly the Bethunes.

Meanwhile, I am trying to put together an expedition back to Caithness for the summer or spring of 2010. I would very much like to re-visit Knockfin, Rhian and finally pin down which of the abandoned houses in Ramscraigs belong to which family.

Part of the work to make any possible trip as productive as possible is finding out as much about the areas as I can. During the Landward filming, I was presented with a host of new facts, which I have been working to incorporate into the history. One effort of research is using aerial images in both the visible and infra-red bands to try and better establish where the buildings were, and where features of the terrain were located, such as the old road (which pre-dates the path of the A9), the village of Ramscraigs, the buildings at Knockfin and Rhian, and the site where they landed Herring at the beach below Ramscraigs.

It has been a struggle to come up with the data, as most of the companies that might have it seem none too eager for business. It may be necessary to collect it myself during my trip. I am far from an expert and doing so, but I am not without some skill in the area.

Any expedition would (hopefully) include documenting the places and stories of the area, in photos, on video and recording the people, that we hope to share with you.

Landward Episode 23 - Commentary

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The episode has aired now (November 27th in Scotland) and thankfully I was able to find a way to see it, and I would now like to share my comments on the episode with you.

First off, I think it was great! It’s by far the best 6 minutes of Henderson ancient history on television thus far. Most of the folks in the family who saw it wish it would have been longer, which is understandable. But the pacing, the camera work and way they packed that much information into 6 minutes was fantastic.

Word from Landward is that they will provide us with the whole footage some time this spring. I am not sure if it will be possible, but I would very much like to try and put together a “directors cut” of the segment from the portion that aired along with some other elements from the tape.

The detailed comments, and hints about what else was filmed Continue reading Landward Episode 23 – Commentary

Landward Episode 23 - My Thanks

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George, Anson and Holly at Knockfin

With the Landward segment now aired, I would like to publicly thank everyone who put forth the effort to make this happen. This includes:

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First off, it was great fun to do a segment on Landward, and I am forever grateful for the chance to present a portion of our story. Thanks to Holly for going with the idea which originally was to film at Badbea and transition to Knockfin instead. Holly kept things moving forward, and Colin; thanks for lugging that camera all over the place.

Holly Booth – Landward Assistant Producer
Colin MacLure – Landward Cameraman

Dunbeath Heritage
Simply put, without the good work of the Dunbeath Heritage Centre, none of this could have ever happened. The Centre served as a hub for the shoot, and put forth an enormous amount of research and logistical support. For those that are wondering, a visit to the Dunbeath Centre is worth the drive to Caithness all on its own. With Dunbeath being a rich site of archeology and historical research, the centre’s collection will hopefully continue to grow.

Meg Sinclair – Director of the Dunbeath Heritage Center
Nan Bethune – Historian and national treasure
George Bethune – Historian and national treasure
Margaret Irvine – Cousin & researcher
Sandy Gunn – Owner of the Rhian site

Knockfin – Wellbeck Estate
Anson is one of the nicest fellows you could ever hope to meet, and I can’t thank him enough for taking us back to Knockfin. My only regret is that I did not have as much time as I wanted to capture the beauty of this place in pictures, but the Estate and Anson has kindly offered to take me back there when I can return to Caithness.

Anson MacAuslan – Factor, Wellbeck Estate

Badbea Families
This whole thing really started with Lynn and Martin Craig. The original concept that came from Lynn and Holly was to return someone to Badbea in conjunction with Scotland’s 2009 Homecoming celebrations. Over time the idea morphed into the Knockfin plan instead, largely due to who was available to travel to Caithness (me). The Craig’s work to preserve the important legacy of Badbea continues to this day, with their fantastic web site, The Badbea Families.

Lynn Craig – Badbea Families
Martin Craig – Badbea Families

To all of you who put forth the effort to make this happen, my eternal thanks. I am sure I have forgotten someone, so please consider yourself thanked if I overlooked you, and drop me an email.

Welcome to Ramscraigs

This site is dedicated to the hard work, determination and memories of all the brave Hendersons and Henderson kin who originated from the Berriedale, Ramscraigs and Dunbeath area of southern Caithness, Scotland. Without their foresight and perseverance, the family as it is today would not exist.

My chapter of this story really gets underway in 2006, when, thanks to a business trip to the UK, for which I am forever indebted to Mr. Tony Gibson, I finally overcame whatever reservations I had and made contact with my Scottish kin.

I spent one perfect, glorious day in East Kilbride talking and visiting the most wonderful people, whom I had only known of at a distance before then. Late in the day, my cousin, Lesley, handed me a two page document with a rough family tree printed on it. For various reasons, much of this information had been lost to us American cousins, and this knowledge was pure gold to me. My cousin Anthony had assembled it from what he knew and what information had come from his father, my father’s older brother James.

Some of the names were familiar, some of them new to me. My knowledge went as far back as “the reverend” as he was called in our house, but here was the name of the reverend’s father – Donald, and beside it “Latheron, Scotland”.

I had never heard of Latheron, when asked my scottish family told me it was “up north in Caithness”.

From this foundation was launched an effort to learn what I could. It started small and simple at first, and grew outward. It transited from simply identifying the members of the family and the various relatives down the ages, but towards the history of Caithness, where they lived, how they lived and how they impacted the world around them.

The effort has been a labor of love, but not my labor alone. As the project has progressed we have constantly collected Henderson cousins and kin, with a few more being found and joined to the project ever month or so. Thanks to all their efforts we have achieved more than I ever dreamed possible.

This site now exists to help us record our knowledge for any and all who wish to learn it. Much of what you read here starts as emails between the cousins, where we reveal new information and discuss and enrich the detail in the telling.

Welcome to Ramscraigs – the ancient home of our ancestors, we are glad you came by! The peat fire is blazing, and there is always another chair at the table.