La Grange volunteer gets to the root of Scottish ancestry
If the trail has grown cold on tracing your Scottish roots, you might want to call Jackie Torrance. The La Grange resident of 30 years shuns the title of expert or professional genealogist, yet she is well versed in Scottish history and which civil registry or church records to consult. She’ll be on call in the genealogy tent at the 28th Annual Scottish Festival and Highland Games June 20-21 in Itasca.
Q. How did you become curious about your family’s history?
A. I’ve always been interested in my father’s side of the family. I’m a first generation American. My father, James Torrance, Jr., was a great storyteller, but not about what I wanted to know. He passed away when I was quite young. My mother, who is French, took me to Scotland and France in my very late teens, and I was just fascinated with Scotland. I began to be curious about my connections.
Q. When did your father come to the United States?
A. He was 4 years old, the second youngest of five children, who all came with my grandmother to Philadelphia. I have the record of the ship, and they came second-class passage in 1904. My grandfather had gone through Ellis Island earlier, and he sponsored them. My father was born in a suburb of Glasgow, and the family had lived for well over 200 years in Newmilns nearby. My grandfather was a joiner, or carpenter, and he set up the looms for making patterned lace tablecloths.
Q. When did you become interested in genealogy?
A. In 1993, I had the opportunity to begin research at a family history center. The initial research into the civil registry records got me going. Civil records date to 1855, and then you have to check the parish registers. It depends on how enthusiastic the minister was as to how accurate the records are. There was also a time when entries would have required you to pay taxes, so people were listed in the church minutes, instead of the baptistery or marriage records. You have to know where to look.
Q. Have you been to Scotland for research?
A. Yes, four times since 1993 and a couple of times before that. I keep in touch on my father’s mother’s side with the Bryson family. My cousins have hosted get-togethers.
Q. How far back have you gone?
A. I’ve only been able to trace back to 1775, though there are records back to the 1600s. My second cousin and I found two possible women who would have borne children around 1775. We haven’t established which one it would be, the one married in Newmilns or Galston.
Q. How did you get involved in the Scottish festival?
A. I head up the Scottish Genealogical Society, and we were asked to have a table. There were two of us. The following year we had a tent and were very busy. That was 15 or 16 years ago, and it’s grown from there.
Q. What do you like about the festival?
A. I don’t get to see much because I’m mostly in the tent, but I love to see the Parade of Clans. There’s also the caber toss, which is like throwing a telephone pole, ideally end over end like it’s 12 o’clock. And there are some really good bands and the bagpipe contest.