Kim walks in 18th century ancestors' footsteps at Whitefoord House
SVR recently welcomed a very special visitor to our Edinburgh residence – a USA-based descendant of the family from which Whitefoord House first took its name in the 18th century.
Kim El, a research scientist from North Carolina, was attending a seminar in the city, and - on her first trip to the UK - was intrigued to learn more about the historic site in the Canongate which was once the location of her family’s home.
We invited her in to Whitefoord House for a tour of the buildings and grounds, and gave her an insight into how our charity has provided accommodation and support to veterans since it was established here in 1910, a century after her ancestors had moved on.
One of Kim’s ancestors is Caleb Whitefoord (pictured), the only son of Colonel Charles Whitefoord, and cousin of third baronet Sir John Whitefoord – the original owner of Whitefoord House, who had the building designed by the King’s Master Mason and constructed in 1769. The well connected family had Robert Burns and Walter Scott within their social circle, and the multi-talented Caleb went on to become an eminent scholar, wine merchant, political satirist, diplomat and trusted friend of Benjamin Franklin – one of the Founding Fathers of the United States.
Caleb's daughter Maria married Captain Malcolm Laing Smith, and in due course, they migrated to what is now Tasmania, Australia. Kim’s family is descended from one of their children, Major Caleb John Lee Smith.
With so many military connections in her ancestry, Kim was delighted to discover that Whitefoord House is now the location for a charity providing accommodation to ex-servicemen and women. She was also thrilled to see that Sir John's portrait hangs in the boardroom at Whitefoord to this day.
After her emotional visit Kim said: ““I am so grateful to everyone at SVR and I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to Whitefoord House, which allowed me to connect with a piece of my ancestry. The sense of community radiated within SVR and also between SVR and surrounding communities. It was refreshing! I am delighted to know that the house has been put to such great use to serve veterans."
SVR were first alerted that Kim was in town by her stepfather Donald L Barriger Jr, a retired First Sergeant in the US Army, who is a volunteer peer support counsellor and advisor with his local Veterans' hospital in Indianapolis. Together with Kim's mum Dianne, the pair have been delving deep into the family genealogy.
Donald said: “History lives within us all and those who passed before us give meaning to our lives today, even if this is not universally acknowledged. Could Sir John Whitefoord ever have thought that his his ‘town home' would some day become a haven for veterans in need? A lofty purpose and truly a wonderful outcome indeed!”
Dianne added: "When we learned how close Kim would be to Whitefoord House, Don was adamant that we should try to make contact. Don - being the good soldier that he was and is - put his best marching foot forward and took the lead to do so. From my perspective, it was a chance to show my three daughters that there is truly a valid family connection for us all back to Scotland. This was a wonderful chance to bring to life at least one part of the larger family tree."
Colin Leslie, SVR Head of External Relations, said: “We are pleased that Donald contacted us to let us know that Kim would be in Edinburgh. It was our pleasure to welcome a descendant of the Whitefoord family, and give her the opportunity to walk in the footsteps of some of her ancestors. This site has rich historical significance, and the Whitefoord name continues to be synonymous with SVR’s work in Edinburgh, providing vital support and accommodation to veterans.”
- Portrait of Caleb Whitefoord by Samuel William Reynolds, after Sir Joshua Reynolds mezzotint, published 1795. © National Portrait Gallery, London