Kris Miller Courier UK
Posing with the stone commemorating the journey of her ancestors from Scotland to America in the 1850's are Kerry Hughes (right) and husband Pete Spalding.

Honoring her ancestors, Kerry Hughes trip to Scotland is illuminating and satisfying

West Seattle's Kerry Hughes and husband Pete Spalding took a very special trip this summer, specifically to honor Hughes' ancestors and learn more about their life story. Hughes' long time interest in genealogy led her research to the family of Marjorie Smith and her journey to America in the 1850's. Their struggle to survive was honored by Hughes through the placement of a grave marker that commemorates their story. This captured the attention of the Courier newspaper in Dundee, Scotland where the Smith family lived.

Here's that article reprinted with permission.

by Grant Smith
In 1856 Marjorie Smith and her five children left Dundee for a new life in 

It was a life that could have ended almost as soon as it began, as the trek they joined to Utah ran into terrible weather and by the time a rescue party reached them dozens of people had died. But the Smiths were among the lucky ones, and they settled in the town of Beaver where they intermarried with other Scottish immigrants.

Yesterday some of their descendants
 visited the Howff graveyard in the city centre to see for the first time a headstone that commemorates the family and tells of their remarkable tale of survival.

Upon it is a quote from Marjorie about her ordeal, saying: “I have been out 
yonder in the snow praying to the Lord to spare our lives that we might pass through to the valley.”

The memorial was planned by Kerry Hughes of Seattle.

She said: “Genealogy has always been a big thing for my family and I had certainly heard about this branch that came from Dundee.”

She started researching in more detail a few years ago, aided by the fact that the 
disaster that befell the Willie Handcart Company, named after its leader James Willie, is a well-known part of US history.

Scottish genealogist Dr Brian Thomson, 
who is accompanying the family on their trip, assisted with the Scottish end of 
the story and Kerry was also able to make use of information written by one of her ancestors.

Marjorie’s husband Alexander died before she emigrated and a total of four family members were buried in the Howff, but with no marker for the graves as they were too poor to afford one.

Kerry said: “This headstone indicates the individuals who travelled to the United States and had a rough journey. That’s well-documented within the part of the US that we live in and so it was always discussed.

“The daughter Mary Smith was a young girl when she emigrated and my great-great grandmother, that was her mother-in-law, and so the stories came through the family as well directly.

“I have always been somebody who says there is nothing to be lost by asking and so when I learned that there were four family members buried here without a marker of any kind I asked.

“I didn’t think I would get a good 
positive answer given the historical nature of the cemetery, but they actually said yes, you can do one marker.

“It took several years to get this arranged and it’s very satisfying, a nice conclusion.

“It’s very meaningful to the family and hopefully will be meaningful through the years and I hope a sense of place and 
connectedness will also be felt by other family members.”

The exact spot where Alexander Smith was buried is not known, but Kerry said she knew that family members had later 
written of taking a break from weaving to visit his grave.

“So I feel like I actually can say I could be walking exactly where my ancestors walked,” she said.

During their visit the family met Innes Duffus, archivist of the Nine Incorporated Trades of Dundee.

He said the city council and Historic Scotland had been “incredibly helpful” in approving the installation of the headstone.

Kerry and her husband Pete and sister Dianne are also visiting Clackmannan to learn about the Patterson family, who were the other Scots emigrants on their family tree. They too have a claim to fame as one of their descendants is Philo Farnsworth, a well-known American inventor and early pioneer of television.

Some additional info about the Howff – It was originally part of grounds of a Franciscan Friars monastery until Mary, Queen of Scots granted the land to the burgh of Dundee in 1564 for use as a burial ground. Its name comes from a old Scots word meaning a meeting place – it was used for many years to host meetings of the local trades guilds. It is the resting place of James Chalmers (1782 – 1853) who invented the adhesive postage stamp.

Original article is found here:

Hughes and Spalding collaborated on some additional information about the Smith's journey to America:

Marjorie May McEwan Bain Smith had quite the journey to America; quite the journey in life!

Marjorie was widowed, when George Bain died. She was left with four children, Ann Bain (b 1825), Betsey Bain (b 1826), Robert Bain (b 28 Aug 1830), Marjorie Bain (b 25 Oct 1833). Then the following took place:

· Died: Elizabeth "Betsey" Bain (1826-9 Aug 1837) Died of Croup, Age 9 years

· She married a second husband, Alexander Smith (m 1838)

· Born: Jane Smith (b 22 Sep 1838)

· Born: Mary Smith (b 23 Feb 1841)

· Died: Ann Bain (Smith) (1825- 11 Dec 1841) Died of Scarlet Fever, Age 16 years

· Born: Betsey Smith (b 7 Mar 1843)

· Born and Died: Alexander Smith (1845-5 Aug 1846) Died Teething, Age 14 months

· Born: Alexander J. Smith (b 17 Nov 1849)

· Then she lost her second husband Alexander 17 Sept 1850, Died of Typhus Fever, Age 38

She and her surviving daughters worked and saved their money to emigrate to the US. Robert traveled to the US before the rest of them. In 1856, they departed Dundee with a family friend, Eugenia Mitchell, and sailed 4 May 1856 on the ship “Thornton” from Liverpool to New York and travelled by train to Iowa City and Florence and then crossed the plains and Rocky Mountains to the west. They were a part of a large group, called a "company", of 404 people and most of them had handcarts rather than covered wagons.

They were poor people from urban areas in Scotland, England and Scandinavia who were leaving crowed cities, disease and the industrial revolution. They were a part of the Willie Handcart Company and they started their journey late in the season, on 18 Jul 1856. Over the course of their journey, 68 people died. And Marjorie thought she would die, too. She was 52.

In October, during the worst winter in years, the Willie Handcart Company was stuck in Wyoming, starving and freezing. Just when she thought she couldn't make it, rescuers showed up! Her son, Robert, had volunteered for the rescue effort, having no idea that his mother, brother and sisters, and future wife Eugenia, were in the group. Robert ended up being the one who rescued Marjorie and the family!

Everyone except young Alexander (1849-1874) lived to a ripe old age.

What made me think of placing a monument?

I was looking vital records on a Scotland website - - for the Smith branch of my family. I was searching the burial records, which were scanned images of hand-written records. I wasn’t clear on the cemetery information and sent an email 14 Jun 2011 to, asking some questions. I was sent to the Dundee City archivist,, and then to Alistair Lawson, Parks Operations Manager for Dundee City Council, Once I found out which cemetery my folks were buried in – and its history and unique qualities – I learned The Old Howff cemetery was still in place today!

I also learned my family never had headstones; they were too poor. Old Howff hadn’t been paved over nor had it been re-purposed, as some cemeteries have been in Scotland, because Mary Queen of Scots had given it to the city and it had special historical importance. I don’t remember what caused me to ask if I could add a headstone. But I believe that an unasked question will guarantee a “no” and I had nothing to lose by asking and a lot to gain with an affirmative answer. So I asked. My question was along the lines of adding multiple monuments but the answer was that there was only space to add one monument. I was very excited by that answer!!! I was given a list of monument companies who were certified to work with the cemetery and ended up working with Middleton Memorials’ Kyle Neill to design the monument and get it into place. It was an incredible opportunity to memorialize the four people buried there and the rest of their family, who made it to on the US. So I asked what I could do at one of the US cemeteries and determined a plan to also commemorate them by placing a plaque in Mountain View Cemetery in Beaver, UT.

My favorite quote: “If you think you can, or if you think you can’t, you are right” - Henry Ford

What does it mean to me and family?

I’m not entirely sure what my family members think. I’m sure some would think they would have spent that money and effort in a different way. Some might think I have been self-indulgent. The ones I’ve actually heard from have said they think it is great.

What it means to me is that I can leave a legacy for the extended family who are alive now and for future generations… and it is written in stone! There’s an interesting story to tell of my great-great grandmother, Mary Smith Anderson, and her mother, Marjorie May McEwan Bain Smith. Marjorie was 52 in 1856 when she came across the plains in extreme high and low temperatures… walking… in a dress… with children. I am 52 and have had a comparatively healthy and easy life. It is difficult for me to imagine the challenges she was able to address and overcome.

And that story is now told on a monument in Dundee, Scotland at The Old Howff cemetery for anyone walking by to see and for any family member to see. For the next 150 or 160 years or so.

One of the sisters of my great-great grandmother, Betsey Smith Goodwin, wrote several articles about their life in Scotland and their journey across the plains. She talks about them being child laborers in Dundee and visiting the grave of their father during their work breaks. The location at Old Howff, where the monument is located, is at one of the four burial locations, Ann’s. Standing, looking at the new monument amongst all the surrounding old ones, I felt like I could say I was walking where my ancestors had walked. There are few places for a modern American to say that, regarding ancestors who were alive 160 years ago. It is not an uncommon thing for those still in Scotland, the land of their ancestors. I suspect the folks in Scotland thought I was weird.

I can handle that.

~ Kerry L. Hughes

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