The distance between us

This week, we finally finalised our travel arrangements to Shetland.

On the 6th of May, I make the journey up to Aberdeen where I will meet my mum who’s making her own way there the day before. That evening we will get the overnight ferry up to Lerwick. I didn’t imagine it would take over 24 hours to get there, that’s the same amount of time as it takes to get to Australia! We will then spend 4 nights in Lerwick, then 3 nights on Yell, before flying to Edinburgh and spending two nights there, then going home.

I am looking forward to getting the ferry to the islands, it feels very much like the right thing to do. A region so dependent on the sea, with an ancestral history of fishermen and merchant seamen, it would be wrong to miss the chance to approach Lerwick in any other way.

In Lerwick, aside from obviously sight seeing and taking in the best of town, I’m also looking forward to going to the museum, achieves, library and the Family History Society hq. I’m currently in the process of researching and emailing to make sure that the documents we want to see will be available to us. It would be great to meet up with people who can tell us more about Shetland life. It would also be great to meet people who were related to us, but I’m pretty sure all our family left the islands, (which disappoints my husband no end as he was hoping we’d have a distant cousin who’d let us park our campervan on their drive!). It would be amazing to meet anyone who knew my family, but I imagine that’s unlikely- if my grandmother was alive she would be 94 this year, also they left Shetland in the 1930s.

Yell will be fascinating, I cannot wait to see where my ancestors lived and worked. The beaches they would have walked on, the wildlife they would have seen. I’m incredibly excited also to go to the Old Haa Musuem at Burravoe. My family lived in and around Burravoe and I feel that place is going to be very significant to our research.

After Yell, we are going to Edinburgh. Obviously my grandparents settled there, where they lived with my grandmothers family for a while before getting their own place. My mum has memories of their place in Albany Street. There are good and bad memories in that city for both of us, but it is still a city I am very fond of, especially because a lot of my family still live there. We are arranging to meet up with everyone and have a catch up, plus talk about the family and share photos and research.

Rosa and Andrew had 4 children, Marion (Gracie), Christina (Chrissie), Andrew (Charlie) and Rosalind, (Rosie). Marion married Ernest and had 2 children, Chrissie married John and they had 3 children, Rosie married Victor and had 3 children and Charlie was ‘married to the sea’! We have recently found out that this dynamic was not quite as we thought it was, but that’s a story for the future, when emotions are not quite so high.

Gracie with Chrissie and Charlie

Charlie, Rosie and Chrissie

Mostly I am looking forward to getting to know my family again. Not just my Shetland ancestors, who although long gone, still surprise us with revelations and secrets they never expected to be found out, but also my living family. The Scollay family have a history of being very tight and looking after each other, I think that is the Shetland way, ‘family is everything’ I believe it is said, (according to Michael J Fox anyway who the internet accredit that quote to).

When my grandmothers were alive, we would visit Edinburgh every year to visit the grandparents. All five of us in our car, my dad making the long drive up the A1. We would stay at my mums mums, and enjoy time with them. My brother Paul and I would always get told off for making too much noise, often because we were playing WWF on the sofa bed. We would go to new places in Scotland, spot seals, enjoy the festival shows and visit my dads parents. Granny always had a tin of sweets we would sneak in, play hide and seek in their garden and definitely have a trip to the Museum of Scotland. Real proper childhood memories. We would also visit my cousins, actually my second cousins, Danielle and Ben and her parents Diane and Graeme, Diane is Chrissie’s daughter.

I thought Danielle was the best person in the world. She was slightly older than me, and so obviously cooler! She introduced me to the film Dirty Dancing when I slept round theirs one night, and we would swap books with each other and send each other letters during term time when I was back down south. She was the only female relative I had that was a similar age and she made me feel like I fitted in. I wasn’t a kid that had a ‘best friend’ like my other friends at school, I was often the third person of a pair. I had two older brothers and they didn’t want to hang around with their little sister. So, for me, visiting my family and hanging out with Dannii was awesome.

Chris, Ben, Paul, Dannii and me outside my grandparents flat

All my other photos of this time are at my parents house so I can’t share anymore unfortunately. I do think I have a picture of me and Dannii in matching shell suits somewhere though!

My grandmothers passed in the same year, 1994, just a few months apart, I was 10. After that, our visits to Scotland were less frequent. My mums father moved back to East Anglia where he was raised. My dads father stayed in Edinburgh and my parents and I would make the trip up there every so often, but a shorter time away. I, as a teenager was not as concerned with the visits, my brothers were off and working or at university, and I longed to hang out with my friends and do what teenagers do best which is a lot of nothing! The connections I had with my Scottish cousins slowly slipped to nothing. To the extent that when I lived in Edinburgh in my early twenties, I can count on one hand the amount of times I saw them. It is tragic really, considering I found that time of my life to be incredibly painful and lonely, yet I lived mere miles away from someone I once dearly loved. No one is guilty, we are all just young and busy, a generation of people who will make the call or send the email tomorrow.

I don’t know when that happened to families? I am sure we can’t be the only family that has drifted apart. In my research, Shetland seems one of those places where everyone knows each other. You only have to watch the Ann Cleeve’s drama to know that they look after their own. So, when is it that these Shetland descendants lost their way and their closeness, and is it something we can get back? Will the latest secret that has come to light make the gap impossible to close? I for one, can’t wait to see everyone and get back in touch. This has become so much more for me than a family history search. I feel like I’m now going in search of my family, and discovering more about myself in the process.

1 thought on “The distance between us”

  1. Lovely post Ali, I am very touched by your kind words.I think all families some where along the line move off and lose connections. We are so lucky to have the technology and social media today to reconnect with those we have lost touch with.
    We loved it when you and the family would all come up to visit and I have fond memories and probably some photos!!. I still have your letters somewhere in my parents attic!
    Now we have reconnected and I’m so pleased we have and I am really looking forward to your visit which I hope will be start of many xxx


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