When I first started researching the family history, it was because of the Millars. My mothers family, specifically Alex Millar and his wife Janet Crombie, came to Canada in the early 1850s, settled in PEI, with most of their children. Today I was going to discover where they came from, actually walk on the very land they lived, and try to imagine their life before taking what could only be described as a monumental leap of faith …. Relocating 1/2 way around the world.
So, up early, breakfast, and off to Haymarket train station. A lovely ride down the commuter line, stopping at several small villages, but finally …. Burntisland.
The original charter for this town in 1572 spelt the name Birtyland. By 1795 official Maps called it Bruntland. There had once been an island the burnt – it’s that simple. Due to a massive reclaimed land project that created a harbour the town is famous for, the island no longer exists. When it was there, it never recovered from the fire – was just a blackened rock, or “Birty”.
The first thing discovered when departing the train was the Burtisland Kirk. Not only is it unusual in shape and other details, but it was the first church build after the reformation in Scotland. It is also the very church where the Scottish King James VI (James 1 of England), announced that he was forming a team to translate the Bible to English ….. we know his bible today as the “King James Bible”
After wondering the town for a bit to discover many of the really old buildings in in this town have been replaced in the mid-1960s, but it is still very charming. First on the list was a visit the library to see what could be found in their local history section. I was pleasantly surprised to find several books, including parish records and an index detailing the gravemarkers in the Kirk cemetery. The first page opened, and the names of “David Abercrombie and his wife Agnes Reid” jumped off the page at me. My 4xs Great-Grandparents! Paydirt. I found much more, but will never forget that particular moment. On a list of Burgess Tickets, I also found Alex Miller of the SeaMill, 1848. Only slightly disappointed he does not appear on the 1832 voting list. Without a ticket, he was not able to participate or have a say in town politics, so while I have in my notes that the family lived here and started baptizing children in 1826, this was the earliest record of them I was to find on this day.
Then, after a celebratory lunch of fresh Fish & Chips “carry out” enjoyed on a park bench down near the beach, it was time to visit the local history museum, where I was set to meet Ian Archibald. A very pleasant man, retired cartographer, who loves history and grew up in Kirkcaldy – a town not far from Burntisland. He hadn’t planned to come in on Wednesday, but because of our email conversations his wife put off her weekly shopping so he could meet me.
The first thing he drags out is a reproduction of a painting of the Tidal Mill or SeaMill! I almost fell off my chair. Its a clear picture of the farm/complex that was built in the 1600s, where clever manipulation of the tides powered a number of different milling operations. We know the Millar family rented it before leaving in 1850, and it continued to run until early 1900s when most of the buildings were left to decay – only one small out building remains.
After a brief history lesson on the town, and establishing what I hope to get out of the visit, Ian grabs some paperwork and announces he’s ready to start his tour. Off back to the Kirk, where he helps locate what remains of the Abercrombie stone and a few others I have interest in, inside the church he revealed more about its uniqueness, and pointed out the very pew my Millars would have sat.
Then, we were off to the village again, historical information flying at me faster than I can keep up. I learn the town and local castle was originally establish by the monks of Dunfermline, then annexed by the King in 1571 . It was later given to Sir John Melville, secretary to Mary, Queen of Scots. She often visited and there’s an amusing story about a smitten French Poet found hiding in her chambers at Rossend Castle. It was his second attempt to get close to her …… And his last. We climbed up the other side of the village, and stopped by to see the castle. After nearly falling under a wreckers ball in the 1950s, it was saved and restored by an architectural company, now used as office space. Simple, efficient, Scottish.
Then down the hill to where the SeaMill had been for centuries, which turned out to be on the Rossend Estate.
The large mill pond has been filled in now. Canada’s Alcan had once had a large aluminum factory. On this site. It was cleaned up and now hosts a large park where football goalposts stand, so It’s nice to know that the community is enjoying this space. A modern home subdivision surrounds the area, but tucked into some shrub is that one small storage building my Millar family would remember.
Owned by the town council, and currently rented out for storage, there is some talk of converting it to an interpretation center to teach locals and tourists about the Mill, once called a “wonder of the Fife”. I was able to share what we know of the family who lived & worked the mill, so long ago. Another perspective for the local historian to note.
Finally, Ian had to get back to his wife, so after many thanks and promises to stay in touch, there was only one thing to do. A stop in at the local for a pint. What an amazing day. WOW, I’m in Scotland. Another check off the bucket list. I’m SUCH a happy girl.