Family history moment: How an 89 year old member found her Scottish clan

With her GPS honed in on a century-old Veterans of Foreign Wars lodge, located near a mining camp deep in California’s Mother Lode along the Mokellume River, Laurel Adams set off for a family gathering very unlike other American summertime family reunions.

Bent on attending a gathering of her ancestral lineage of Scottish loyalists — the Clan Donald — Adams climbed into the Salt Lake Airport shuttle, unsure of what her journey would bring.

As a member of the Lorin Farr 1st Ward, Ogden Utah Lorin Farr Stake, Adams is one of thousands of Church members worldwide who devote much of the spiritual side of their lives to doing temple work for deceased ancestors.

With the name of her great-great-grandfather carved in stone at Martin’s Cove and 25 years as a researcher at the LDS Name Extraction Center in Ogden and the genealogical center in Salt Lake City, Adams has few pages in her family’s history that are left unturned. Most of her work focuses on individuals in her lineage whose passing preceded the Restoration of the gospel by Joseph Smith in 1832. However, she recently discovered in her research, a "genealogical motherlode" that would lead to some remarkable places, intriguing events and unforgettable people.

Adams’ destination — Glencoe, California, which was formerly known as Mosquito Gulch — has a unique connection to her Scottish ancestry. It was there that back in the 1850s, while taking shelter from a raging storm, a lonely gold miner chanced to read the story of the 1692 massacre of the Clan Donald, which was perpetuated by the King of England.

The object of the king’s assault was the Christian village of Glencoe, Scotland, the home of the Clan Donald. The obliging Clan Donald, not realizing that the king’s men were there to do them harm, had initially embraced the soldiers by taking them into their homes to shelter them from a terrible snowstorm. The king’s men, after 12 days of accepting generous hospitality in the homes of the Donalds, began a surreptitious onslaught, killing their hosts. At the day’s end, some 38 innocent lives, including mothers and their small children, lay lifeless in their homes.

The long suffered evil and deplorable effects of the massacre at Glencoe could have been far more catastrophic had it not been for the town’s valiant bag piper who quickly made his way to the hill above the town and commenced playing a warning tune, sounding the alarm. The piper’s rendition, known only to the villagers themselves, warned, “The enemy is among us!”

It was the heart-wrenching story of the Glencoe massacre that inspired the miner, who chanced to read the story, to petition county officials to change the name of Mosquito Gulch, California, to Glencoe. This act stands as a lasting tribute to those who met their tragic demise while striving to save their fellow men from the perils of a late, deadly winter blizzard. To this day, in Glencoe, California, a spiritual entreaty is honored by kindred souls vicariously placing a rose at the base of a cairn in the name of each of the fallen.

Additionally, each year during the first week in February, descendants of the Clan Donald — often called McDonald in modern times — around the globe gather at various localities and pay tribute to their martyred ancestors.

After attending the gathering of her Scottish ancestors in Glencoe, California, Adams, whose great-great grandfather was a McDonald, made it clear she felt that her passion for proclaiming the gospel could not have found a more acceptable genealogical totem than the McDonalds of Glencoe.

“It was a most satisfying encounter,” she said. “After all those years of sitting in front of a microfilm projector, rummaging through file cabinets and staring into a computer monitor, the sheer delight of seeing, hearing and reaching out to embrace branches of the family tree is a joy beyond measure — one that you could never hope to pull up on a website.”

Genealogical research, made possible through family history, is now finding increasing numbers of members with family trees whose roots trace back to the original Glencoe, and this historic family has a strong presence in the Church.

The McDonald side of the family, which she had always taken to be somewhat exclusive, turned out to be a veritable microcosm of the social and ethnic identity of a nation, as well as the Church itself.

The celebration, complete with a banquet featuring the traditional potatoes and haggis, a parade led by the colorful kilt-clad clansmen and the swirling sounds of bagpipes, was a resounding affirmation that the beauty of lives placed on this earth by our Creator could not be snuffed out by a callous band of king’s men. All of which trumpets the future needs and past blessings of Church missionary endeavors.

“To be able to afford myself for a few days the spiritual trappings of ancestors who were back then, in the seventeenth century, still awaiting the restoration of Christ’s gospel … was, for me, a renewed call for addressing my family history responsibilities,” Adams said.

The open-arms spirit with which Clan Donald greeted her, sparked a profound missionary outreach in Adams. The two days of fellowshipping with her kindred Scots had imbued her with recognition that through the miracle of baptism for the dead and temple endowments, their common ancestors need not be denied the saving ordinances of heaven performed in LDS temples around the world.

When asked why, at age 89, she would undertake such a challenging odyssey into a martyred past, her response was simply a firm testimonial of the restored gospel, which sets forth a shared responsibility for performing eternal temple ordinances for kindred dead.

“The massacre of those of my lineage, more than 300 years ago was a great crime,” she said. “But, now, in these Latter-days with Christ’s plan of salvation restored to us, to deny the victims rescue through vicarious access to the temple ordinances and baptism would seem a greater crime.”

And she said that encounters with living descendants of these shared ancestors, like the ones she experienced in Glencoe, offer limitless missionary opportunities as well.

As she prepares to celebrate her 90th birthday, Adams has found a newly energized pursuit of gospel doctrine that has proven to open more genealogical doors and allowed her to make connections she never would have imagined.

— MC O'Bryant

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