ALEX Salmond has met American relatives he did not know existed until a chance discovery during family tree research.
The First Minister learned last year he had blood relations in the US who were descended from Salmonds who emigrated in the 1870s seeking a fresh start in the New World.
It turned out the transatlantic adventurers were pioneers of the Wild West, two of them even becoming famous for their stagecoach driving skills.
Now, more than a century on, Mr Salmond has brought the two sides of his family together for the first time by meeting their modern-day descendants, mirroring the TV series Who Do You Think You Are? in which well-known figures trace their family trees.
The First Minister, whose late mother, Mary, had a keen interest in her ancestry, held a private gathering with eight of his long-lost cousins at Holyrood on Wednesday night.
He said: “It was fantastic to meet Tanya and my other relatives from the US.
“I knew about the branch of the Salmond family that had gone to seek a new life in America, but to actually meet up with some of their descendants was something special.”
Mr Salmond discovered the full extent of his US family as a result of online research by Faith Tyler-Odell, an American pastor who had traced her roots back to Falkirk in 1704.
Among those welcomed to Holyrood was Ms Tyler-Odell’s daughter, Tanya Levander, whose great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather was the SNP leader’s great-great-great-great grandfather.
Mrs Levander, an art teacher from Michigan, and the First Minister are descended from two of the sons of farmer John Salmond, who kept cattle on a farm in Slamannan, a village south of Falkirk.
One son’s family line remained in Scotland – where Alex Salmond was born seven generations later in 1954 – while the other led to the creation of the American Salmonds.
It was in 1872 that Peter Salmond set sail from Glasgow and became the first of the clan in the US. Records show that he “was wearing his kilt when he stepped off board and on to the new land”. They headed toMinnesota and built a small homestead where they dealt in cattle. By 1896, his son Peter junior had moved north to the border with Canada, and was continuing to farm the land.
However, to supplement his income, both he and his 18-year-old son became stagecoach drivers, and newspaper articles dating back to their time on the Pelan-Roseau line still exist.
One article, from the Badger Herald in February 1902, tells how they were the first to hook up more than one wagon together to form a ten-carriage train. “It was very successful … and shows what a man can do under favourable circumstances,” it stated. “The trip netted them ninety dollars.”
The story of the Salmonds in North America is told in a book called Peter Salmond: Cattle Dealer, written by the First Minister’s Canadian fifth cousin, Myrla Birch.
In one chapter, she writes: “The Salmond pioneers had the courage to flout adversity. Their closeness as a family gave them the strength and support to build, and rebuild when necessary.”