Regardless of the countless times I’ve seen the classic, Goonies, if I happen to be surfing by, you can bet your surfboard I’ll stay there until THE END. This ‘80s cult flick produced by classic flick maker, Steven Spielberg, features a rag tag neighborhood gang of adolescent misfits searching for the lost treasure of one infamous pirate, One-Eyed Willie. If found, the booty will save the ‘hood from demolition at the hands of evil developers.
There is a universal allure of finding hidden treasure. Whether it’s a man and his metal detector on a sandy beach, a woman scouring the flea market for a Ming vase, or the latest discovery of ancient Egyptian ruins making the headlines, people are endlessly fascinated with finding the Holy Grail du jour.
My hidden treasure came in another form... searching who the heck I am and where I came from; hunting to discover the origins of my family like Indiana Jones gone looking for the Ark of the Covenant. I inherited my dad’s big brown “cow eyes,” the same eyes that stare back at me when I look on old photographs of Nana Turnbull. I get my inquisitiveness from Granddad Choate (and his love of gambling.)
But what else did they pass along to the helix? Are there hidden stories of adventure? Heroism? Unrequited love? Tragedy? Did they have a fortune and lose everything? Am I a secret princess and don’t even know? Does my family have a history that would even make the inhabitants of Downton Abbey jealous?
As with many treasure hunters, the hobby quickly became an obsession. Tracing the branches of my family tree was like putting together a puzzle that morphed into a Rubix Cube.
I got hooked.
It started innocently enough. About 15 years ago, our family took a trip to Scotland in search of Nessie. Really. (That story is owed an entire blog post, which I will offer in the future.) While there, the four of us took a pilgrimage to the ancestral home of my father’s clan, the Turnbulls.
Set between idyllic rolling green hills – the very ones Sir Walter Scott waxed poetic about – sat the village of Bedrule. Six row houses, one telephone booth, a cat and a quaint Church of Scotland rebuilt after WWI. Just a few miles from the English border.
My little sister, MacKenzie, and me were amazed by all the Turnbulls in the cemetery but completely astonished by the dates; the earliest of which was from the 1200s.
According to stories passed from my great grandfather, Thomas Turnbull, born in Durham, England in 1871, the Turnbulls were ferocious border raiders who survived by grit and shrewd underhanded prowess.
It was there on that hallowed ground in that cemetery that 11-year old Sydney Turnbull stood on the land of her people and where she has metaphorically stood ever since.
A guest book at the tiny church was signed by thousands of other like-minded Turnbulls from all corners of the world who made their own personal pilgrimage to our collective homeland.
I remember my father moved to tears when the minister brought him volume after volume of such books, page after page of Turnbulls. There was an overwhelming feeling that my little family of four from Nashua, New Hampshire belonged to something far, far bigger. An invisible but strong string connected me to untold souls in this world. And the next.
After this trip, I was hooked on finding out everything I could about my family. Real progress was finally made when, 10 years later, a 25-year old Sydney gifted her parents with Ancestry.com DNA kits. And, while both tests failed to give any conclusive results, I was disappointed but not deterred. It was then I began, in earnest, the arduous and exciting task of following my family’s treasure map.
Stay tuned for Part Two!