Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Halifax, a Casuality of War part 1

A port on the Atlantic, sleepy Halifax became a bustling city during the First World War. The military moved in as did workers for the factories producing war material. The boarding houses were full especially those close to the docks. The harbour was busy but guarded closely. Little did they know that the most deadly threat came from friendly shipping within their own waters.

There was a sense of optimism in the city in 1917. The US had entered the war in April of that year and the tide was turning in the allies' favour. December 6, 1917 started as a working day like any other. People were just starting their working day when two ships, the Imo and the Mont Blanc, collided in the harbour. The Imo retreated to see what repairs were needed but the crew of the Mont Blanc abandoned ship. They knew that the Mont Blanc's cargo made it a floating bomb. After the collision the cargo started to burn. As the Mont Blanc drifted closer to the Halifax shore people stopped to watch the flaming ship. It was quite a spectacle as the flames shot up and the burning ammunition created a fireworks show. And then the ship exploded.

People were killed, houses were wrecked. The blast went deep into the harbour and caused a tsunami wave that pushed onto the streets close to the docks. Adding to the destruction were the house stoves that were used to fight the winter's chill. These toppled over in the blast and started fires in many of the houses. Richmond, the area closest to the docks, was devastated. Most of the houses in the North End were wrecked and even some in the richer South End were uninhabitable. Halifax paid dearly for its part in the First World War.


Kitz, Janet and Pazant, Joan, December 1918: Re-visting the Halifax Explosion. Nimbus Publishing, Halifax, Nova Scotia, 2006

Mahar, James and Mahar, Rowena, Too Many to Mourn: One Family’s Tragedy in the Halifax Explosion. Nimbus Publishing, Halifax, Nova Scotia, 2008.

Friday, 24 June 2016

Another Disaster

Most disasters are unexpected. They find people in the midst of their everyday lives and change everything. Some people do not survive; those who do are often scarred by their experiences in ways that are visible or hidden from view. Not long after the Regina Tornado another disaster struck in a city in a different part of Canada. On December 6, 1917, Halifax was devastated by an explosion.

The Halifax Explosion was massive.  The initial explosion and the fires that followed laid waste to most of the North End and also caused damage in other parts of the city. This episode of Halifax history came to my attention when I lived in the North End. In this way the explosion touches upon my family history research through my own life.

 There are also some family lines I have traced in Halifax. Did the explosion affect members of the Hickey or McLaughlin families? My exploration of the information about the explosion will include some real genealogical research to see if any members of these families were affected by the disaster. 

Monday, 20 June 2016

Male and Female Families

In recent years, developments in the field of genetic studies have added depth to both genealogy and history. Genealogists can use DNA to trace relatives and to “prove” the ancestry that they have painstakingly eked out through paper trails. Historians can use genetic tests of current populations to prove or disprove theories of immigration or the disappearance of population groups.

Literature based on the renewed science of genetics is written for the public. Not only is the writing engaging but its theories can add new possibilities and interpretations to existing research and suggest new avenues to explore. A particularly accessible author is Bryan Sykes, a former professor of human genetics at Oxford University. In his book Adam's Curse he explores the reasons why it has been concluded that families have inherited tendencies to produce one sex more than the other. In some families this is more pronounced than others. Many of us have heard stories of the parents of boy after boy striving to have just one girl – all in vain.
Sykes puts the reason for families that are predominantly “male” or “female” down to the relative strength of the Y-chromosome or mitochondria. Interesting. Let's look at the family of Harold Strange Chambers and see if any pattern emerges to show if it is a “male” or “female” family.

 Chart of the Y-DNA of Harold Chambers family

This simplified chart of the Chambers family shows the male line from Harold's great-grandfather down to Harold and his brother. There were no females and two males in his grandfather's generation, then four boys in his father's generation, then the two boys of Harold's generation. This looks like a case of a predominantly male family until Harold and his wife produce one child, a daughter. Did the strength of the Y-chromosome peter out when it got to Harold or was the mt-DNA of his wife stronger? (No, her female line didn't just produce girls.) Clearly there are many forces at work when DNA is handed down from generation to generation. Who knows what science will reveal about DNA and heredity next?


Sykes, Bryan. Adam's Curse: A Future without Men,W.W Norton & Company Ltd., London, 2013.