Well, I’ve been resident on the Isle of Skye coming on two weeks now (for those of you coming to this site for the first time or who weren’t already aware, my girlfriend and I have recently relocated to Scotland on a working holiday to help a friend of ours get his deli/cafe up off the ground). We arrived in Broadford last Monday evening (April 4), where we moved into our lodgings and met our housemate, the brother of a friend of ours gracious enough to put us up for our stay here. The next day, we were immediately thrown into the world of Deli Gasta, our project for the next little while, and it’s been more or less non-stop ever since.
Let’s break down the name: “Deli” explains itself; “Gasta” is, I believe, a Scots Gaelic word that translates as something like “good tasting” which, when you think about it, is what you’re looking for in a deli. It’s located in a former corn mill in Harrapool, which sits just outside Broadford. The building dates from at least the early 19th century (possibly earlier), and has quite a bit of character still, despite renovations over the years. In my very biased opinion as both a historian and an employee, I think it’s brilliant.
While learning the ins and outs of operating a deli occupies much of our time, it hasn’t been all work and no play. On a positively balmy day this past Saturday, we took advantage of a weekend off and hiked from our place in Broadford to the remains of the village of Boreraig, a casualty of the Highland Clearances in the mid 1850s. The landscape was absolutely stunning, but once back at our house four hours and 14 miles later, we found we’d become casualties of the hike. I think that’s verging on irony.
But back to the deli. Truth be told, I never saw myself working in food service in any capacity (and definitely not in the initial start-up stages), but there you have it – a first time for everything, as they say. It’s certainly a change of scenery compared to what I’m used to, but I won’t deny that I’ve been enjoying the challenge. That said, the hustle and bustle of the past week has left me a bit short on time, so I dug through my list of drafts and (thankfully) found this post that I started (and abandoned) nearly two months ago.
Is this proof that things happen for a reason? Methinks…maybe.
Back in February, I was contacted by a woman in Nevada seeking assistance of the genealogical kind. One of the things I love about this profession is the complete randomness with which people get in touch with me – sort of like how clients would unexpectedly don the threshold of 221B Baker Street in search of the services of Sherlock Holmes. Anyway, she was in the process of researching her Stewart ancestors, who lived for a time on the Island. She wanted to know more about the time they spent in the province, and whether or not she was even on the right track at all. My last name (Stewart), and my background both factored heavily in her choosing me to carry out the research – talk about a happy coincidence!
The work was straight forward enough, and successfully tackled over the course of two days spent at the Public Archives and Records Office (PARO) in Charlottetown. I was able to trace her Stewart lineage to its arrival on the Island in the first part of the nineteenth century, and the point at which it departed the province for western Canada coming on the twentieth. (If you’re wondering about the header image, it’s a shot of Glasgow Road Pioneer Cemetery in Ebenezer, where one of the client’s relatives, 2-year-old Margaret Stewart, was buried in the late 1850s.)
But what I want to discuss here is not the research; rather, I want to profile one of PARO’s greatest (yet often overlooked) assets, and the one that, in this instance, actually provided the clues I needed to tie my research together: family files.
First off, if you’ve never been to PARO, you should really consider paying a visit. You can find it on the fourth floor of the Hon. George Coles Building on Charlottetown’s historic Queens Square, next door to Province House. Bring along a piece of ID to present to the commissionaire working the front desk. He or she will give you a visitor’s pass, at which point you can either take the stairs or the elevator to the top floor. The archivist supervising the research room will give you a form to fill out and issue you with a laminated research pass, good for life and free to boot! Said employee will then offer to give you a tour of the facility and explain some of the main record sets and how to use them, and from there you’re off to the races.
But to the matter at hand: what exactly are family files?
Simply put, family files are literal file folders, organized by surname, in which can be found everything from pedigree charts to newspaper clippings to a wide assortment of information, contributed by professional researchers or the genealogical enthusiast with data to share. Some files are quite large (“Stewart”, for instance, occupies the better part of a filing cabinet drawer), while others not so much. It really depends on what’s been submitted.
How do you access family files? There’s not much to it. Walk on up to that helpful employee at the front desk (and that’s any one of them, by the way), say you’d like to see the file for a particular surname, and if it exists, it’s yours to peruse! It can be a crapshoot vis a vis the contents of each file, but it’s definitely a shot worth taking. You never know when you might stumble across that one nugget of information that provides the breakthrough you need.
I’ll admit that I’m bad for forgetting to consult family files when researching. This past occasion wasn’t any different. I’d amassed a sizeable assortment of information for my Nevada client, but there was just one problem: it was all circumstantial. Stewart can be a difficult surname to research, and while I’d uncovered a lot and felt I was on the right track, I hadn’t actually managed to find anything concrete that proved it. I’d exhausted the main record sets, and with little left to turn to, I broke with tradition and though to pull the family file. I flipped through a number of unrelated documents until, lo and behold, I found a pedigree chart that someone had submitted in the 1990s. There, in writing, was the very information I needed to complete my research. Just like that.
The lesson to take from this rambling account? Basically, leave no stone unturned or, in this case, family file unopened!
Right, well that’s pretty much it for this week. If you haven’t already noticed, the title of this post, in my opinion, is a clever homage to everyone’s favourite hit 70s sitcom “All in the Family”. As such, this post wouldn’t be complete without a slice of Archie Bunker wisdom:
“And remember, don’t talk to strangers unless you know them very well.”
Admittedly a weird quote, but about the most politically correct one I could find. Not all that surprising, when you think about it.
PEI History Guy
P.S. – If you find yourself in Skye sometime between now and the first of July, be sure to put in at Deli Gasta, where yours truly can don his barista cap and whip you up a range of specialty coffees. I know one of my readers, if/when he reads this, will be doubled over laughing at the notion of me making coffee (you know who you are).
P.P.S. – While I will be spending quite a bit of time at the deli, I should also like to point out that I am ready, willing, and able to carry out any Isle of Skye-related genealogical and/or historical research you may require. I’m conveniently located a mere 40-minute bus ride away from the main archive in Portree, and 20 minutes or so from the Clan Donald Centre in Armadale. Just sayin’.
P.P.P.S. – Believe it or not, there’s a rat – yes, a rat – that lives somewhere in the ceiling in our bedroom, whose adventures abound on a nightly basis and who is being particularly noisy as I write this. We’ve named him Ricardo – Ricky for short.