As a child I lived the nomadic life of an "army brat." I’ve never understood what this term is meant to imply, but it refers to those of us who spent much of our youth moving from one army base to another. Over the course of our assignments, I attended six elementary schools and three high schools. As the perpetual new student I was often asked, "Where do you come from?" With a little difficulty I would try to explain that I came from all over the place. I was born in New York and moved six months later to another state, and then kept moving about every other year. This usually just brought confused looks from the other students, many of whom had lived in the same town since birth. Years later I found myself asking the same question: "Where do I come from?" I needed a place to call home and a better answer than simply, "all over the place."
It was about this time that the first genealogy software programs began appearing. With this tool to organize my information and a deep yearning to find my roots, I was off in earnest to find my ancestors. After several years and a collection of a few thousand names in my computer, I had traced my Scottish lineage to a small town in southern Ayrshire called Maybole. Having spent many hours documenting my ancestral connections to the town, I wanted to learn more about its history and exchange information with others of Maybole descent. I spent days surfing the Internet. Maybole, however, is a small community with a population of less than 5,000, in the somewhat remote lowlands of Scotland. There was not much to be found, and living in Florida, I would have to cross the Atlantic Ocean if I wanted to visit in person.
Then it occurred to me that instead of scouring the world for bits of Maybole history and new cousins, I could let them come to me! I had just created a website with some of my family history data, so why not set up another site where those with Maybole ancestry could exchange information? Certainly our ancestors deserved to be put on the Internet map!
I assumed that all the domain names for the town had been taken by cyberspace speculators, but because of the town’s relatively small size, a good selection was still available. I registered maybole.org and launched a small site for family historians. Not long after this I was in e-mail contact with the chairman of the Maybole Community Council, David Kiltie. After an exchange of a few messages, David asked me if I was "prepared to see the site expanded." There was in fact an amazing wealth of local history information available. Over the centuries many writers had documented Maybole’s long and fascinating story. But the books, documents, photographs, family histories and other mementos of the past were scattered among assorted libraries, in the hands of local organizations and citizens, or sprinkled around the globe to all those places to which Maybole’s citizenry had emigrated. And none of it was on the Internet. That was two years ago.
Today, with over 750 pages and several thousand images, www.maybole.org is one of the largest community based web sites in Scotland. It documents the town’s past as well as the lives and spirit of its citizens today. The site is the result of the cooperative effort of the residents of Maybole, Maybole’s extended Internet community, and in no small measure, David Kiltie.
And there is no end in sight. Each month more local citizens and organizations become involved and discoveries of historical treasures continue to be made. A local plumber recently came forward with a register of the local Maybole militia from the late 1800s, providing great details about its members including their signatures. A neighborhood of Maybole expatriates in Hamilton, Canada produced a 1920s panoramic photo of a group living in an area there known as Little Maybole. A local minister found a large black metal box with documents going back several centuries in the church attic. And the list goes on. A search of antiquarian booksellers on the Internet led to the purchase of local Maybole history books from New Zealand, Australia, Canada and other countries to which Maybole citizens carried or sent them. Many of these have yet to be scanned and placed on the site, but will provide new material for years to come. The website is now a source of civic pride and truly a community effort, made up of contributions from hundreds of individuals.
My original objectives in starting the website - to learn more about this place my ancestors called home and make connections with other researchers - were long ago met and surpassed. Maybole is definitely on the Internet map - just ask any search engine! But I am still thrilled when we receive comments such as these:
I have just recently started searching into my family history and have found your site and the Maybole pages. I was so excited as my grandparents are from Maybole and they came to the States in 1907. I see the pictures and read the history and it is like I am walking in the footsteps of my Grandmother. I am located in a small town in Wyoming so the Internet is the only source of information…
It will be my pleasure to travel to the beautiful place my ancestors called home, hopefully one day soon. Through your site I can actually visualize their homeland. Frankly, it seems difficult to imagine why they would leave such a pretty place.
I live in Christchurch New Zealand, and am so excited tonight to discover the wonderful Maybole site. My forebears left Maybole for NZ in 1876…. It is brilliant being able to see so many clear photos of the town and to get a feel from the other side of the world for my roots…. You’ve made one Maybole descendant very happy.
I have been very honored to be part of the Maybole community. In April 2001 on my first visit to my ancestral hometown, I was named citizen of the year for my role in the Maybole website, an award I shall cherish as long as I live. I believe that our Maybole ancestors would feel pride in our tribute to the spirit of their homeland and be honored to see that the legacy they have given us is cherished and made available for the rest of the world. A similar tribute to the town and its heritage was made over a hundred years ago in a book written by one of the most prolific of those chronicling the life and history of the town, the Rev. Roderick Lawson. The sentiments so well expressed in the preface to his book are as appropriate today as they were then.
Maybole may appear commonplace to others, but to those whose life’s history has been connected with it, the old town must ever be surrounded by a halo…. There have been tragedies and comedies here as elsewhere, and the history of a town is but as the history of the world at large. I trust that natives of Maybole [and their descendants], who are scattered abroad, may be pleased to have this memento of the place of their birth... Everybody should take an interest in the place where his lot is cast; and one of my aims will be served if it helps … to promote the well-being of the "little city of our dwelling which we belong to on this side of the grave." And my highest aim will be attained, if it helps in any wise to teach the sacredness of home, as the spot where our life-tragedy has been appointed us, and which must therefore ever have an interest to us over all other places. (1885)
I have lived in my own community of about the same size as Maybole’s for almost twenty years. It’s a great place to live and I’m developing a website for it as well, but I know more of the history of the land of my ancestors than that of my own place of residence. And if someone asks me today, "Where do you come from?," I have an answer!
Rich Pettit, Florida