Seattle family get back to Dundee roots

July 25 2013, 3.08pmUpdated: April 16 2016, 10.31am

In 1856 Marjorie Smith and her five children left Dundee for a new life in America.

It was a life that could have ended almost as soon as it began, as the trek they joined to Utah ran into terrible trouble and by the time a rescue party reached them dozens of people had died. But the Smiths were among the lucky ones, and they settled in the town of Beaver where they intermarried with other Scottish immigrants.

Yesterday some of their descendants visited the Howff graveyard to see for the first time a headstone that commemorates the family and tells of their remarkable tale of survival.

Upon it is a quote from Marjorie about her ordeal, saying: “I have been out yonder in the snow praying to the Lord to spare our lives that we might pass through to the valley.”

The memorial was planned by Kerry Hughes of Seattle.

She said: “Genealogy has always been a big thing for my family and I had certainly heard about this branch that came from Dundee.”

She started researching in more detail a few years ago, aided by the fact that the disaster that befell the Willie Handcart Company, named after its leader James Willie, is a well-known part of US history.

Scottish genealogist Dr Brian Thomson, who is accompanying the family on their trip, assisted with the Scottish end of the story and Kerry was also able to make use of information written by one of her ancestors.

Marjorie’s husband Alexander died before she emigrated and a total of four family members were buried in the Howff, but with no marker for the graves as they were too poor to afford one.

Kerry said: “This headstone indicates the individuals who travelled to the United States and had a rough journey. That’s well-documented within the part of the US that we live in and so it was always discussed.

“The daughter Mary Smith was a young girl when she emigrated and my great-great grandmother, that was her mother-in-law, and so the stories came through the family as well directly.

“I have always been somebody who says there is nothing to be lost by asking and so when I learned that there were four family members buried here without a marker of any kind I asked.

“I didn’t think I would get a good positive answer given the historical nature of the cemetery, but they actually said yes, you can do one marker.

“It took several years to get this arranged and it’s very satisfying, a nice conclusion.

“It’s very meaningful to the family and hopefully will be meaningful through the years and I hope a sense of place and connectedness will also be felt by other family members.”

The exact spot where Alexander Smith was buried is not known, but Kerry said she knew that family members had later written of taking a break from weaving to visit his grave.

“So I feel like I actually can say I could be walking exactly where my ancestors walked,” she said.

During their visit the family met Innes Duffus, archivist of the Nine Incorporated Trades of Dundee. He said the city council and Historic Scotland had been “incredibly helpful” in approving the installation of the headstone.

Kerry and her husband Pete and sister Dianne are also visiting Clackmannan to learn about the Patterson family, who were the other Scots emigrants on their family tree. They too have a claim to fame as one of their descendants is Philo Farnsworth, a well-known American inventor and early pioneer of television.

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