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Part Qallunaaq
Chapter 7. Discovering Gold


When Cammy Campbell, host at Scotland’s Northsound Radio, gave me a slip of paper with an address on it, I was skeptical about the wisdom of doing what he was strongly recommending: To go to the Aberdeen Town Registry to have William Mackenzie Peter’s name entered in a search for any record of him. But Cammy’s composure as he authoritatively eased his “go-forth” onto me was serious. As he shooed me into the cab he had called to take me there, his last words rang like a benediction: “Ya nev-RR know what’ll turRn up!”

My few trips to archives had given me several unfavorable impressions. You sign in, get a registration card, put white cotton gloves on to handle any original papers, keep absolutely quiet, show your registration card to a dour-looking desk boss, and sign out. The thought of having to do any of this turned me right off. But here I was in my searched-for grandfather’s country, and why was I here, if it’s not to search for him?

The Aberdeen Town Registry reminded me of a bank. It had rows of sectional booths, which resembled teller’s wickets. I was pleasantly surprised by not having to do any signing-in registration-paper routine. People simply lined up like customers at a bank for an available teller, and the lines weren’t long. Before I had time to think idle thoughts, I was soon in front of a server, a middle-aged woman who exuded confidence.

I gave her the name of my subject, and the year of birth of my mother. This was like handing crumbs of food to somebody who really needed a sumptuous feast. But the dear archivist thankfully took these crumbs without making me feel guilty for offering so pathetically little. She asked me to wait as she bolted energetically to a back room, looking like she had some great important mission to perform.

The archivist reappeared after 15 minutes, holding a sheaf of papers, which she placed sideways, so we each had to turn out heads sideways to look at them. The first was an entry from a census recorded in 1901, for the Parish Ward of Broughty Ferry, the Ecclesiastical Parish of Monifieth, in the Village or Hamlet of Barnhill.

The entry listed William M. Peter, age 36, linen and jute goods agent, born in Forfarshire, Lochee. Here was the first needle, found in the Scottish haystack! I felt a tingling sensation caused by discovering nuggets of gold! The geographical names listed in the records didn’t yet mean a thing to me. But I had discovered a name, which I had lost, seemingly beyond any hope, in the daily journal entries of the HBC archives. Even if there were thousands of people in Scotland with this same name, it was going to be a joy to start narrowing down the list!


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