Newspapers Nuances ~ Reading Deeper

 

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I believe even those new to the discipline of genealogy are quite aware of the usefulness of newspapers as genealogical sources.  Though newspapers represent an original source of secondary information they are an example of sources which are often rich in social history and context.

Newspapers are obvious sources of birth, marriage and death notices.  These tend to be the “go-to” periodical documents of interest to genealogists.  These are genealogical gold!  Birth notices may aid in proving parentage, marriage notices may prove marriage details but also could list family members.  Obituaries are perhaps the most valuable of these newspaper notices often providing a great deal of life event and family information.

The rush to attach these notices to your family tree occasionally can lead to missinimg_1140g a research opportunity.  While many novice genealogists may be sure to add family members from these documents to their trees they may disregard other information which could lead to unique discoveries and records.  Be sure to research the organizations and places listed in an obituary.  Local clubs, service, and leisure organizations, religious organizations or places of worship, places of work should not just be thought of as fluff.  They create context and tell the story of an individual’s life but more than this they can form leads to unexpected records and documents.  Pick through notices with a fine toothed comb analyzing every stated name, organization, and relationship you may be surprised by the results.

Now look beyond these notices and think in even broader terms.  If you, like myself are from a small town or city, you know that small town local newspapers are filled with articles about everyday people as yourself.  They detail local events, celebrate accomplishments, describe local disasters, and often just act as a old fashioned “Facebook” social page.  Even if your ancestors were not famous or infamous newspaper articles may mention them.  Reading the local papers of their times also provide you with some social context.  What was happening in their community?  Were there any local events which may have effected their lives?  We often scour sources for the names of the individuals we are researching however broadening the scope of our search to include social history can provide more valuable information than you may imagine!

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Of course, it is always a genealogical jackpot when an ancestor appears who was celebrated, notorious, or perhaps unfortunately experienced tragedy!  I will offer a few personal examples which illustrate how “reading deeper” can ultimately lead to further sources.

If you are a regular fcarter-articleollower of my blog you will already be aware of the story of my notorious Great Great Grandfather John Carter.  Accused, tried, and convicted for the murder of his wife the story splashed across the British papers, I had no difficulty in finding article after article.  Had I read these articles for the narrative alone and then tucked them away in a file or attached them to my family tree I would have overlooked clues to amazing resources.  I decided instead to pull every name from the articles.  The name of the coroner, the police officers involved, even the name of the executioner.  Researching each of these individuals gave me new insights and context but more importantly lead to the discovery of the coroner records investigating the deaths of all three of John Carter’s wives!  Another significant discovery was John Carter’s mugshot which surfaced through researching the gaol also named in newspaper articles.

 

Perhaps it seems common sense and obvious but as busy genealogists it can be easy to gloss over secondary sources without attention to detail!  Genealogy is an investigation and as they say “the devil is in the details”!

 

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Browsing the 1666 Quebec Census

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If you, as I, have sprung from the earliest of French-Canadian roots you may be overwhelmed by the vast expanse of records.  While it is always heartening to see that research sources abound it can also be daunting wading through the piles of paper, the websites, the book stacks, to piece together the stories of our ancestors and decipher the validity of sources.

French-Canadian genealogical research can be hampered also by one’s lack of French language knowledge and the fear of accessing records and documents one cannot comprehend.  I would like to encourage researchers to move beyond this fear and discover a world of exciting documents brimming with rich genealogical details.

fah_canadianIn genealogy, as in many disciplines, it is important to be systematic, bearing this in mind I have decided to produce a series of blog posts introducing novice genealogists to specific French-Canadian document-sets, databases, and resources available online.  The hobbiest must understand that genealogical research should venture beyond sites such as Ancestry and Family Search.  Seasoned researchers, especially those who began their research prior to the onslaught of the internet, focus much of their research deep within the stacks of the archives.  Visiting an archive in person is always preferable but today we are lucky to find more and more archives are updating their websites with digital databases, many including images of original documents.

I am planning a series of blog posts regarding specific French-Canadian records and collections available online for those who are newly venturing into French-Canadian research.  Today I will focus on the early Quebec census records which should represent a wonderful starting point for those struggling with the other language-rich French-Canadian sources we will later explore.

The Library and Archives of Canada website is just one place you can access some wonderful online digital databases.  A particular favourite of mine is that of the 1666 Quebec Census which is not indexed but is a collection of browse-able images.  While they may be rather difficult at times to decipher there are some decent online transcriptions which can be used to help you as you work through the originals.  One of these transcriptions can be found on Hugh Armstrong’s Genealogy Site.  The transcriptions are divided by region so you must be sure to match up the correct region to the correct portion of the original census.

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Sample page from the 1666 Quebec Census

You will also find the 1667  and 1681 Quebec Census record images.  All these early census records include the names of all household members and ages.  The 1666 census also includes occupations or descriptors.  These records as you should expect are in French however the nature of the census as a listing of names and ages makes them easily comprehensible to even those with little experience of the French language.  They are a fabulous starting point for those breaking into the realm of French-Canadian research.

Some helpful vocabulary you may encounter in the 1666 Census:

travaillant ~ labourer                         Cordonnier ~ shoemaker   macon ~ builder                           charpentier  ~ carpenter                   menuisier ~ carpenter        fils ~ son                                      Sa femme ~ wife                                  habittant ~ settler                boulanger ~ baker       chapellier ~ bricklayer                      fille ~ daughter                      briquetier ~ bricklayer           Domestique Engaigé ~ Domestic    notaire ~ notary

These are just a few words you may encounter.  Use Google translate or go “old school” as I often do and invest in a French-English dictionary.

I look forward to delving further into the topic of French-Canadian online resources, including collections from Bibliotheque et Archives Nationales du Quebec (BANQ), in future blog posts!

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Exploring the lives of First Nations’ Ancestors Through Investigations of Social History!

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If, like me, you have been lucky enough to discover you have First Nations’ ancestry you may soon after feel somewhat unlucky when you find that the records we rely on as Genealogists quickly dry up!  As we start to wall up that family line one brick at a time we should step back and rethink.  Is there no way to combat this scarcity of documentation?  How do we as Genealogists and Family Historians handle cultures which thrived on oral tradition rather than written records?

As an archaeologist and history researcher I can assure you that the scarcity of records proving the life events of your individual ancestors does not have to represent a research wall but rather a unique research opportunity.  Once the usual records dry up remove that first brick by discovering what other post-contact documents may exist.

huron-missionsMy 8th Great Grandmother was Huron or Wendat (Wyandot).  The Wendat people no longer exist as a nation.  They were drastically reduced as a result of European introduced disease, and Iroquoian attacks.  Those who survived were often assimilated into the other Iroquoian nations.  I encountered my 8th Great Grandmother through the Roman Catholic Church parish records (Drouin collection).  She had married my French Canadian 8th Great Grandfather and was described as a “Huron”.  Her parents were named as was her birth place in a Huron mission in the “land of the Huron” now part of Ontario.  While these parish records would seemingly represent the end of the research road they were not.

The Huron missions were the purview of the Jesuits who were prolific writers, journaling and writing letters detailing their experiences.  The Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents provide an amazing source of documentation and social history.  Though written from a European perspective a picture of life can be painted.  An interesting aside to always consider is regarding the perspective and worldview of documents created during colonization and their pitfalls.  Dr. Sarah Nickel has touched on this problem in an interesting presentation entitled, Revealing Indigenous Histories Through Oral Interviews.

le_grand_voyage_du_pays_des_hurons_1632_gabriel_sagard Can one turn to Indigenous oral history interviews to discover the social histories of our ancestors?  It is possible, though the value of these oral histories may fade the further you venture into the past.  If ones researching First Nations ancestors in more recent generations the options are more varied and available.

In the case of my Huron ancestors few records exist beyond those involving my 8th Great Grandmother.  While she can be found in parish and notary records her parents were only names appearing on her marriage record.  It was through the Jesuit Relations that I found one mention of her father.  A stroke of luck!  To fill in any further gaps I was reliant upon sources of social history to understand the Huron world of the 1600s and before, the world of my ancestors–context!

History books, ethnographies, dictionaries/linguistic studies, archaeological reports are all examples of pre and post contact sources of helpful contextual information.  Having worked on a pre-contact Huron archaeological site in Ontario I was already a step ahead in my understanding but here is a list of reading I discovered:

“From Mother to Son: The Selected Letters of Marie de l’Incarnation to Claude Martin” or “Word from New France: The Selected Letters of Marie de L’Incarnation to Claude Martin”Words of the Huron by John Steckley
The Children of Aataentsic by Bruce Trigger
An Ethnography of the Huron Indians, 1615-1649 by Elisabeth Tooker
The Death and Afterlife of the North American Martyrs by Emma Anderson
Huronia by Conrad Heidenreich
Huron Wendat: The Heritage of the Circle by Georges Sioui

Many of you who were previously unaware of your First Nations heritage will likely have Metis ancestors.  Compilations particularly of French-Canadian and First Nations marriages exist and can also prove useful.  If they have been sourced, all the better!

  • First Metis Families of Quebec Series by Gail Morin

Metis documentation is perhaps easier to find, most specifically in the prairies.  Metis are of mixed Aboriginal and European heritage.  The government wishing to expand in the west used scrip to extinguish the aboriginal land title of Metis peoples.  Métis Scrip Records can be found in the Library and Archives of Canada collection.  Other excellent prairie Metis record databases and collections can be found at Glenbow Library and Archives, The Hudson’s Bay Company Archives, and Provincial Archives of Saskatchewan.

perles_christi_belcourtWe must remember that First Nations is meant to indicate a multitude of indigenous nations.  As a first step attempt to determine which nation to which your ancestor belongs.  It is this knowledge which will provide a starting point when determining available sources.  What region of Canada might your ancestor have lived in? In what treaty area?  Consider the time frame.  Then begin!  Research the particular First Nation through history books and ethnographies to determine what was happening during the period of interest and perhaps what documentation might be relevant.

Library and Archives Canada has several collections which could be useful and provides a Guide to Researching your Aboriginal Genealogy at LAC.  Of particular interest to those researching more recent generations might be the registers which start around 1951, Treaty Annuity Pay Lists 1850-1982, and Residential school records.

Other wonderful sites which may provide you with valuable resources:

  • Our Legacy
  • Canadiana (which is unfortunately a subscription site but one can browse the collection titles before subscribing)

2_huron-villageLook to archaeology reports to gain a greater understanding of the life of your ancestors pre-contact.  Archaeological societies exist for most provinces and publish regular journals.   Here are two examples of archaeological reports from a Huron site I once worked on:

Finally, think outside the box by reading well researched fiction for a broad feel of the period and the culture.  Keep in mind it is fiction!  A wonderful example would be The Orenda by Joseph Boyden. Explore historic sites, cultural centres, and museums dedicated to First Nations history.

Remember, the end of the “usual” records we as Genealogists tend to rely on does not necessarily signal a brick wall.  If a wall exists perhaps we can, at the very least, build a window through which we can view the possibilities of the more distant past!

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A Novel Idea

Lake House

Because I am so passionate about my Genealogical research it absorbs much of my time.  Like a sponge my research sucks up time and I wonder where did the evening go?  Where did my weekend vanish?  Why am I still in my pajamas, poised before my computer screen, empty morning coffee cup at my side at two in the afternoon?

Though genealogy and family history is a wonderful hobby full of discovery, puzzles, history, and sentiment among so many other exciting things for crazy people such as myself–and possibly you if you are reading this–one does need to escape from it once and a while.  Learning to find joy in other leisure activities creates an important balance.  Exercise, pushing one’s self away from that keyboard, is crucial and healthy but so is turning off the screens and curling up with a book that doesn’t necessarily add to your genealogical research but may still have just the hint of family history that would peak any genealogist’s interest.

A bit of mystery, and detective work, a little delving into local archives and dusty family journals, and of course a whiff of scandal leading ultimately to skeletons in the family closet; no it isn’t my family history research of which I speak, but rather the latest novel by Kate Morton, The Lake House!
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I realize readers might question why I would choose to write about a novel on a genealogy blog.  My response why ever not?  What is genealogy and family history but the piecing together of a story.  The Lake House is novel which tells a family’s story through the gathering of pieces one by one, configuring them, analyzing them, and reorganizing them until finally the truth is revealed.  Kate Morton, with her usual skill and genius, has woven the thick fabric of an intricate plot which morphs with each new warp and weft.  The novel appealed to my interest in puzzling family history together, excitement in genealogical discovery, and amazement in the almost coincidental and fateful way some information seems to fall into one’s lap unexpectedly.

Remember that in Genealogy, the Genealogical Proof Standard requires the genealogist to perform a reasonably exhaustive search for sources, and analyze those sources before making any conclusions.  I was reminded of this while reading The Lake House.  I was also reminded that as one collects each new piece of evidence the conclusion may change, sometimes in very substantive ways!

 

 

My Persistant Pursuance of a Passion

Dictionary Series - Miscellaneous: genealogy

If it has not already become apparent, I have a true passion for genealogical research.  I believe the appeal is not only in learning the unknown about my own ancestors but rather in the human stories, suspensefully revealed piece by piece, and uncovered through the dramatic building up of clues and information.  Who among us does not enjoy a detective story, a mystery which we have fulfillingly solved ourselves?

However, this preoccupation is less fulfilling without the skills required to obtain those story pieces and to puzzle them together.  Up until January I have been a self-taught magnifying glassgenealogist.  I had the aptitude and I was able to search out the resources to help me develop my abilities.  Webinars, my own trial and error, reading blogs, articles and books have all been my learning tools but in January I decided I wanted to pursue my passion more seriously.  I want to be taken seriously as a genealogist, I want to build credentials, and I want to be able to legitimately provide services and assistance to others in search of their family’s past.

This was the impetus for me to go in search of a Canadian genealogy education program and I was gratified to find exactly what I was looking for: an online certificate program through the National Institute of Genealogical Studies. The National Institute of Genealogical Studies (NIGS) has been offering genealogy courses for over 15 years.  Why I had not thought to pursue this new path of education years ago I cannot fathom.

NIGSThe Certificate in Genealogical Studies — Canadian Records is a 40 course program resulting in a certificate and post-nominals (PLCGS).  I have completed 7 of the 9 Basic Level courses and will be taking the final 2 basic courses this coming month.  Completely online, each course includes module readings, assignments,  an exam, and optional live stream chats.   The program includes required Basic, Intermediate, and Advanced level courses as well as elective courses which can be selected from a wide menu of choices.  Most courses are about two months long however you can work ahead if you wish.  You are allotted approximately 2 years for several of the culminating analysis courses which appear to be more intensive. I enjoy working at my own pace!

I am excelling thus far and more importantly enjoying my learning experience. The director of the program  has been very helpful and personable whenever I have had any questions.  Even if you are not interested in obtaining a certificate you may enroll in NIGS courses individually   or in groupings to further your knowledge and aid in your research endeavours.  Whether you wish to pursue Genealogy as a business professional/academic or you just want to gain quality skills to aid you in your personal genealogy the National Institute of Genealogical Studies could be what you are looking for just as it was for me!

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Research Travels with Evernote!

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Moved but not yet settled, I nevertheless felt the urge to return once more to the comfort of my blog!  During the course of this trying relocation I have continued to find solace in my ongoing genealogical research. Rummaging through my belongings, discarding and reorganizing, I realized it was vital that I start to find better ways to organize the genealogical notes I was drowning in.  While digging through my hodge-podge of sticky notes, note paper, folded loose leaf, and–heaven forbid–even napkins upon which I had literally scrawled information, I began to formulate a plan of attack to battle my genealogical mess!

My first project goal was to find a solution to the problem of scattered notes regarding my future research.  As I have mentioned before, much of my research is conducted from a distance.  I do not live where my family history developed and I rarely have the opportunity to visit those locations vital to my research.  While more and more genealogically relevant documents and sources continue daily to become available online, so many of the most exciting and rich sources of family history remain only locally available.  An example of such genealogically lush resources include local newspapers, family files in libraries and archives, cemetery records, local history books, and even previously written family histories.  Though they may not appear online however we can be grateful that many archives, libraries, and local historical societies have at the very least been far more diligent over the last several years in providing online catalogues and indexes of their holdings.  These indexes are the perfect resource for directing future research and for planning genealogical research trips.

As I perused the internet seeking references to my ancestors and their descendants, jotting down notes on research leads was habitual but the habit became one of disgraceful disorganization.  I would make note of a research lead using my Ancestry.ca family tree but these notes would often be forgotten unless I revisited a particular individual on my tree; I would jot down notes traditionally in paper notebooks or on whatever paper happened to be handy at any given moment; Or I would try to create research log documents on my computer or in binders.  Most of these attempts at keeping track became futile, and inconsistent….enter Evernote!
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I am still an Evernote novice, and I know I don’t use it to its full potential.  I find I have little time to tutor myself on it’s proper use.  Even with my limited skills however I have found it an invaluable organizational tool to direct my future research in genealogy and a wonderfully convenient, efficient, and effective way to carry my research notebooks with me wherever my genealogy adventure takes me.

My Evernote notebook is entitled Future Family Tree Research .  Within this notebook I have created documents for various repositories I wish to either visit or contact regarding specific records.  My log includes for example:  The Collingwood Library– Newspaper lookups, The Oxford County Library (Ingersoll) –Newspaper lookups, The Ontario Genealogical Society–Brantford Chapter, and The British National Archives.

Future Research notebook

Future Research notebook

Each time I come across a reference to a specific piece of research I need to either request from these repositories or need to acquire upon visiting these repositories I entire the information in the appropriate repository notebook.  I have formatted them as checklists so I may check off whether I have requested or received the information.  I indicate the record and include the relevant reference numbers.  It is so easy to edit the lists and I can do it from any device!

Note in a checklist format

Note in a checklist format

These cumulative lists make it easy for me to see what I am looking for when I find my way to an archive, or formulate requests to a local library via email.  I have chosen thus far to score items off my list rather than delete them once I have obtained them so I do not repeat a search.

Check off and score items off your list.

Check off and score items off your list.

Perhaps this is a very simplistic use of Evernote technology.  I am a very simple gal who leans towards traditionalist research methods.  I believe however that if I–with my low tech, paper-centered personality–can find this uncomplicated use of evernote valuable and efficient then others might also!  Others with far greater Evernote knowledge and experience would most definitely be able to improve upon my initial idea and as I personally
increase my skills with the app I know I will be tweaking and re-formulating.  But what I would like everyone to take away from this post is the sense of “Yes I can!” Yes I can use new technologies to aid in my genealogy adventure regardless of my level of technological knowledge or skill. If you don’t try new tools, if you let habit and fear control your techniques

My Geneabloggers Interview

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I was graciously asked if I would give an interview a few months ago for Geneabloggers. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to share my blogging story and genealogy experiences.  I know I have not been writing lately what with a move on the horizon, many obligations, and some quirky computer problems but I shall return shortly!

Here is the link to My Interview!

Thank you to Gini for the opportunity and to all my readers Stay Tuned!

Black Sheep Sunday ~ The curse on a Condemned Man’s Children!

All Saints Church in Goosey, Berkshire, England. Where Clara was born.  Copyright owned by Dennis Jackson.

All Saints Church in Goosey, Berkshire, England. Where Clara was born. Copyright owned by Dennis Jackson.

I occasionally contemplate how the sins of the father can effect his children.  Is a man of sin, condemned to death, the only legacy of his offspring?  Are they forever cursed by his wrongs in life?  Perhaps not.  Children should not have to pay for the crimes of their parents.  They are responsible for their own actions, their own mistakes and not those of others. However, like a chain reaction, one event, one experience can set others in motion and although no one should be held responsible for the evils of their parents perhaps in the eyes of society it taints a person.  A blemish one cannot hide for which one is not at fault!

My great grandfather and his siblings had to contend with this stain on their characters, born of their father’s crimes and his subsequent hanging. Though I had already learned of the fate of my great grandfather and is younger siblings I knew little of the effects on some of his older sisters.  It was the tale I finally discovered of his sister Clara Ann which was to be most disheartening.

Clara was the daughter of John Carter and his first wife Elizabeth Ann Thatcher.  Clara had been 12 when her mother died. Always awful to lose a mother, being an adolescent was probably that much more difficult.  She was still at home when John remarried to Elizabeth Ann Alder and when she mysteriously disappeared. In 1892, at age 16 she married Henry Breakspear, ten years her senior.  This was before her father had married, murdered, and been tried for the killing of Rhoda Ann Titcombe, his third wife.

Perhaps the fate of Clara had already been sewn up.  Perhaps the poor choices and the harsh personality of her father lead to Clara’s choice in a husband who seems was also aggressive, and possibly weak minded, and lost in his own right.

Prior to his marriage Henry Breakspear had also had at least one run in with the law.  A newspaper article details a case in which Henry was charged with having assaulted a young boy he was employed with labouring on a farm.  He had struck this 15 year old boy and kicked him according to evidence given.  Henry claimed he had lost his temper because of the boy’s sauciness and admitted to having assaulted him but not kicked him.  The beating was allegedly severe and Henry was described as possibly half-witted.  It appears Henry may have had a temper similar to that of Clara’s father!

The newspaper article.

The newspaper article.

Clara’s father John was hanged in 1893 after having been convicted of killing his third wife Rhoda.  Clara had in various trials and inquests given testimony along with her siblings evidencing her fear of her father’s violent and brutal temper. Clara and Henry had a son, Edward John, in 1894 (I have yet to discover whether there were any others).  It was possible that in Clara’s mind John’s execution, and now the birth of a child, would bring closure to all tragedy in her life but this was a far cry from the truth!

As though deja vu, 5 years later Clara’s would have to revisit tragic circumstances when Henry, in a state of unsound mind commits suicide by hanging and, Llewellyn Jotcham, the same coroner who investigated her father, now investigated her husband’s death.  I sometimes wish Clara had left a diary.  That I could peer into the depths of her soul and understand exactly what life with her husband had been but these are the frustrations of genealogy; These are the blanks we must fill with our own imaginings and emotions.

Death Record for Henry Breakspear 1898

Death Record for Henry Breakspear 1898

When we feel we have born all burdens in life that we can, life pierces us yet again with arrows!  In 1914 World War I breaks out and England sends it’s brave and naive young men off to fight for king and country.  Clara’s son Edward is now 20 and off he ventures to France and Belgium as a member of the 1st battalion, Somerset Light Infantry.  Just as Clara has been cursed by tragedy in the past, she is now met with the sad end of her son’s life in its prime! Killed in action 7 Jul 1915, Edward was awarded the Victory medal and star his name appears on the Ploegsteert memorial,
Comines-Warneton, Hainaut, Belgium.

Ploegsteert Memorial, Belgium

Ploegsteert Memorial, Belgium

I know little nothing yet of what became of Clara after all these horrors in her life.  I’d like to think she remarried, found some sort of peace.  Hopefully further investigation into her life will lead to findings as these!

Sympathy Saturday ~ John McGinnis

Obituary of John McGinnis (Collingwood Enterprise Bulletin 14 Oct 1937)

Obituary of John McGinnis (Collingwood Enterprise Bulletin 14 Oct 1937)

John McGinnis was the 3rd Great Grandfather of my husband.  Son of Irish immigrants and born in Flos, Ontario, Canada on 3 Aug 1857. John was a fisherman much of his life.  He moved to Collingwood, Ontario with his parents at the age of 8.  He married his French Canadian wife Mary Jane Burgie 28 Dec 1877 and proceeded to have 8 children, one of whom became a ship’s captain.  John was obviously well-loved and respected and his fellow fisherman nicknamed him “Daytime” due to his early rising!  He was a member of St. Mary’s Roman Catholic church in Collingwood and it is in the St. Mary’s Cemetery he was laid to rest joined two years later by his wife Mary Jane.  He died in Oct of 1937 at the age of 80 years.

Headstone of John McGinnis, his wife Mary Jane, and his son Chares. St. Mary's Cemetery, Collingwood, Ontario

Headstone of John McGinnis, his wife Mary Jane, and his son Chares. St. Mary’s Cemetery, Collingwood, Ontario

I have yet to determine the name of John McGinnis’ mother and to trace his ancestors into Ireland.  His father’s name was also John McGinnis (born abt.. 1818).  Ah yes…another Irish brick wall!