While touring the highlands of Scotland this fall, I had the privilege of seeing some of my ancestral lands and buildings. My father‘s grandmother was a Campbell. While I, personally, have yet to solidify the American Campbell line back to Scotland, I have a few suggestive documents which I’ll be following up this winter. The documents were a pretty new discovery right before going to Scotland, so I was pleased as punch to find out that we would not only be driving through Argyll, but fairly near Kilchurn castle – the seat of Clan Campbell of Glenorchy for 150 years.

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There are three ways family history can get messy:

  1. Convolution – I don’t know which Campells I’m descended from, whether the Campbells of Glenorchy (later Breadalbane), the Campbells of Cawdor, or the Campbells of Argyll. They all have different histories, castles, tartans, customs, saying, etc. In genealogy, just a name doesn’t get you much… or it gets you everything, there’s really no in-between. The Campbell knot is one I look forward to unraveling, but it’s a little messy once I trace back across the pond, nonetheless.
  2. Reputation – an ancestor of ill repute, whether it be Vikings who pillaged, a scandalous murderer, or bastard children, every heritage has a little notoriety – and Clan Campbell is another note thereof in my family tree. The Campbells fought with, for, and against the British in different wars and were divided themselves. Campbells fought and died for the Bonny Prince at Culloden; there was a division of Campbells who fought for the British in France at the same time. Campbells were the clan who became the Black Watch, the Scots who held the highlands for the British during the times between the Risings. The Black Watch tartan is, in fact, the most well-known Campbell tartan – and it’s lovely. The Campbells are complicated.
  3. Actual mess. Wet shoes, muddy clothes, and soggy memories.

See, when we went to Kilchurn Castle, the Scottish National Heritage site had yet to be updated to reveal that the castle (open year-round) was closed, due to the wet. The result was a bit of a mess. We struggled past puddles and mud and lost shoes all the way to the castle only to find that we could admire from without, and no more. All of our socks got wet, some of us got very muddy, and it was generally a cold and miserable sort of day to go traipsing across the Scottish Highlands.

Family history – I tell ya, it can be kinda messy! But I got to see a Castle (TM) where my ancestors may have presided for over a hundred years. How cool is that?

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