The Borders

The following day got started later than it should have. We had plans to travel down to the Borders that day so Mom could do some more research. After a quick shower we took the bus down Prince Street to the North Bridge and had a tasty breakfast of porridge before walking to the stop for the bus to Galashiels. The drive would take roughly an hour and a half. Are you beginning to see why we should’ve gotten an early start?

At least the bus to Galashiels was a slightly more cushy bus than the ones that took you around town. I passed the bus ride as I usually do, with music, reading and staring out the window. The city disappeared and was replaced with rural landscapes and little farmhouses. There were some stops people got off at along the way that seemed to be in the middle of nowhere. It was easy to tell when we had arrived because the concentration of buildings increased exponentially.

We found the Borders Family History Society building down a small side street in a corner building that we walked right by at first. We had to stand and turn on the spot (in the middle of the street, mind) to finally see what we were looking for. The two older ladies inside were both in the middle of helping someone so we decided to go off for some lunch and come back. We found a nice café just up the street to lunch in. On our way we passed a body jewelry shop and I was tempted to check it out while Mom did her research. I decided against it however; the place looked a little intimidating.

When we finished eating we plodded back down the hill, full of what I’m pretty sure had been a meal of soup and bread. As we rounded the corner to the History Society, though, a locked door greeted us with a sign promising some ambiguous return time. Mom was rather dismayed. I calmed her down, saying I was sure they’d be back, that they had just popped out for lunch or something. There was nothing we could really do except stand around and wait, until Mom announced she had to go to the bathroom.

We walked back up to the street we’d been dropped at and Mom went over to the library to see if they would let her use their bathroom while I got us some more cash from a nearby ATM. I pocketed my wallet, now stuffed with cash again, then crossed the street to a little greenbelt with several benches. I did some people watching until I saw Mom coming back down the lane.

We walked back down the road to find that the History Society was open again. Mom went with the ladies into the back room while I sat on a bench in the lobby and made notes about the last few days of our trip. I was being smart this time around and taking notes, which I definitely did not do when we went to New Zealand. That made it rather troublesome to write about after the fact, especially since it took me roughly two years to finish. I’m not the best with deadlines it seems.

Mom came away from The Borders Family History Society with less than she had had when she arrived. Turns out a lot of the things she thought she had right were actually wrong. Though she did manage to come away having discovered a birth certificate. So that was something! From there we were off to Hawick, which should really be spelled like ‘Hoick’ because that’s how it’s pronounced and we felt silly because we hadn’t figured out that nothing in Scotland is pronounced the way it is spelled.

The drive down cost us another half an hour on the bus and it was already pushing five o’clock. We were as lucky here as we were in Galashiels with our drop off location. From the bus stop it was just a short jaunt down the road to the Heritage Hub. Though we did have to cross one of the trickiest roads we had come across on our travels. Eventually we made it without getting squished. We entered the building thinking we had another two hours to do some research, but when we walked in the woman behind the desk informed us that they would be closing in five minutes and that the 7:30 time listed on the website was only for special appointments.

We were a little let down to say the least; we had just spent 30 minutes on a bus to get there. But the woman was nice enough to find what she could for us in the time left to us. Let me just say that it was not a fruitless effort. The women at the Heritage Hub were named Kathy and Zilla. They began by checking a few indexes containing records with the dates Mom had given them. I was sitting quietly at the table while Mom continued to tell them what she could. Kathy was glancing over a page in a binder, talking quietly to herself when she said, “There might be something in there,” and asked Zilla to go and fetch a book. When Mom and I heard, “fetch a book,” we were thinking it would be another binder filled with photocopied pages or something like that.

That was definitely not what Kathy meant.

She meant the book.

The actually book.

The book that they used for recording keeping all those years ago.


Mom was off in the corner talking with Kathy and looking over more binders full of indexes so I was the first to see Zilla bring out something large wrapped in yellow paper and tied shut with twine. My interest and curiosity were piqued instantly, and I watched with wide eyes as she began to unwrap the package. She spread back the flaps of paper to reveal a thick, leather bound book. It was larger than your average laptop and several inches thick.

The cover, which I imagined to have once been handsome brown leather, was now faded and tinged yellow. There were two patches of style along the spine, almost like hinges. The outer layer of the cover was peeling back from its base and flopped over in a large flap when the cover was opened. At last Mom walked over with Kathy, and when she saw the book she gasped. She said, “Wow,” and my only response was, “I know, right?”

Mom and Kathy took a seat at the table next to me, and very carefully, Kathy pulled back the cover. The white pages had lost much of their brightness over the years, but you could still make out the horizontal blues lines and the red vertical one to mark the margin. It intrigued me how similar it looked to the notebook paper we use today. The pages were covered in black ink. The words were thin and very neat. Whoever had been the scribe had a very steady hand.

Kathy began her search in the logical place: the front index. She located a page that might yield some results and began to flip through the many pages. It was a slow progression through the book, and she continued to talk with Mom as she flipped large chunks of pages from one side to the other. Her eyes scanned distractedly over pages as she spoke until suddenly she stopped and Mom uttered a soft exclamation.

There, on a page just over halfway filled with text, right at the bottom of the paragraph, was a name. It read, “Edith Bell or Soutor.”

It was here. That’s who we had been looking for. Mom’s great-great-great grandmother (maybe one more great, a lot of greats though). It was a complete fluke Kathy had even turned to that page, and it was even better luck that she and Mom had spotted it or else it may have been lost forever in the frail, off-white pages of the poorhouse ledger. Of course, we took pictures. Our stop at the Heritage Hub, though brief, was not a waste of time.

We thanked both Kathy and Zilla profusely as we departed. Mom said that if we had time when we got back from Germany that we would try and stop by again and see if there was anything else to be found. Though, I doubted anything could’ve matched that first visit. Mom calls the whole experience her “Who do you think you are?” moment.

From the Heritage Hub, we followed Kathy’s directions to the Sainsbury where we could catch the bus back to Edinburgh. On the walk I started to realize how tired I was becoming, and the chill that began to creep into the air wasn’t helping things either. Luckily, the Sainsbury had a café, and that café had chai. My savior! Mom and I each ordered one then sat down to rest our feet and warm up after our walk.



When we had finished our drinks, we wandered through the Sainsbury to pick up some things for dinner and a snack for the drive back. We walked out to the bus stand much too early, but I’m always paranoid about things like that, especially because we couldn’t really make a mad dash out of the Sainsbury to the stop. It was across the car park and there’s no way we could’ve made it in a hurry. So we sat under the dirty plastic roof of the bus stand and entertained ourselves by watching spiders and fearing that they may drop down on us at any moment.

We opened up a bag of popcorn we had got at the store. They sort of frown upon eating on the bus so we figured we’d better eat it now or we would be staying hungry for the ride home. Bus X95 finally arrived and we stepped on to a nearly empty bus. It was dark when we finally got home to a wet and drizzling Edinburgh. This was the closest thing we had gotten to a good Scottish rain, and the closet we would ever get on that trip. Hell, we got more rain in Berlin.

We shivered in the cold, without our rain jackets of course, until the bus came to take us the rest of the way home. Once we were inside, we started dinner, which turned out to be a bland and tasteless thing. Mom didn’t even finish hers. Before we climbed into bed, we spent a bit of time making sure everything was in order for tomorrow. We would be leaving for Glasgow that morning and then to Berlin the next day. Maya and Malc were kind enough to offer to store our luggage while we were gone so we only had to take one small bag instead of two.




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