My journey to know Countess Ada de Warenne began several years ago when my good friend Charlene, a professional genealogist, agreed to my request and took my old box of family history to her home to put it into some reasonable order. She returned several weeks later, having done extensive research into my family line. With additional data she located on www.ancestory.com and other websites, she turned my old box of notes into ten notebooks of family genealogy.
With great wonder, I followed one of those direct lines from myself down the centuries to my 24th great-grandmother, Ada De Warenne. When I saw her name on the paper, I cried. What reasonable person cries at the name of an ancestor? It was an emotion I could not explain, but it was an instant love for her, as well as a deep longing to learn everything about her life.
Those feelings propelled me to go on my first trip across the pond—accompanied by four of my daughters. My enthusiasm was great as I arrived in Scotland, as you can see in excerpts from my journal.
Why do I feel so excited, I thought, as the cab rounded the curve of Bridge Street, but there it was. . . the Nungate Bridge. I had heard that Countess Ada had built the bridge during her residence in the burgh in Haddington. I later learned that the current bridge was built in the 1300’s. That’s how it is over there. So many homes, buildings, statues, walls, etc. are very old and may I say, very beautiful.
My four daughters, Krista, Becky, Rachel, Anna and I traveled to the British Isles the summer of 2014 on a two-week vacation. We planned to see sites in London, then on to Edinburgh, Haddington, and round the trip out with the highlands of Scotland.
The trip to Haddington had been the main focus of my visit to Scotland, but traveling with four daughters was described best by our Edinburgh bed and breakfast owner as we noisily burst through his door for our three-day stay, “You are traveling with four daughters! Is that kind of like herding cats?” he huffed.
“Yes,” I responded with frustration while shushing my girls. “Exactly!”
We had missed the 1:10pm bus from Edinburgh to Haddington, and at first, I thought all was lost. The trip to Haddington and back to Edinburgh would be 100 pounds. “But who cares,” I quickly decided. “I am so close. I have to see Haddington, if only for an hour or two.”
We flagged down a cab, and we were on our way!
On the ride from Edinburgh to Haddington, I told the cab driver the story of my grandmother Ada. I told him that she was family from long ago who walked the earth in a land that was mysterious to me, and yet somewhere deep within me, she and this land were incredibly familiar. It was like I knew her. Who was this lady? I had to know. I had to walk her land with hope that I would feel her spirit there.
By the time we arrived in Haddington, the poor cab driver must have been exhausted with my constant chatter.
“Go and see your grandmother’s bridge,” he said in his broken English, as he pulled off to the side of the road. “I will do you a favor and turn off my meter.” “Go!”
And now, as I walked across the Nungate Bridge and looked out at the idyllic scene of the Tyne River with the swans and their babies gliding effortlessly, seagulls flying overhead, cawing and diving for food, weeping willows hanging wild and untrimmed in the river, I felt emotions I had not expected.
I was home.
Strong emotions of love and wonder I had rarely experienced completely enveloped me as I stood on the Nungate Bridge and gazed on the gentle waters of the Tyne River. This must be euphoria, I thought.
I supposed that I was connecting to some part of my heart and soul through my ancestral line that had previously been unknown to me. The spiritual energy of Haddington and my Grandmother Ada was as much a part of me as my Tennessee and North Carolina roots and other ancestors who had traveled in dreadful ships from England and Scotland to America in the 1600’s. I think that even my DNA was tingling!
As special as that first trip to Haddington was, I was surprised that I learned very little about Ada while there. Very few people had ever heard of her, and there were no books dedicated to her life.
There was something here in Haddington and from Grandmother Ada that I needed to learn, and there was a story here to share. I knew that, somehow, she would be involved in helping me tell her story.