Saturday 2 March 2024

Finding deeper American roots


                                                      Did my early Ontario ancestors live in a rustic cabin like this?

My ancestors lived in many and diverse places, more than I imagined when I started my journey into family history. But even when I began, I realized that my parents came from very different backgrounds. So different that I knew that if I pushed the button available on some DNA sites to find out "are your parents related" it would always come out negative. Their backgrounds were different enough that it was easy to identify my maternal and paternal sides on Ancestry's DNA circles.

Not that there was huge diversity in those backgrounds. Both ancestral pasts were tied to the British Isles and, in fact, my parents were married there. A few years after their marriage they immigrated to Canada. But they weren't the first in the family to immigrate to that country. My mother's father had immigrated there in 1911. My mother had been born in Canada, daughter to her recent immigrant father and his wife, my grandmother, a product of two Scottish lines that had first set foot in Canada in 1843 and 1853. In the early years of my ancestral search, I confined my research in Canada and the province that was to become Ontario to records after those dates.

While those were early years in the history of what was to become Ontario, I felt I could safely ignore any history that came prior to those years in the mid 1800s as it wouldn't be relevant to my ancestors. In fact, the subtitle of a book in my personal library insists that where they settled had already been set up before they got there. That book was Upper Canada: The Formative Years, 1784-1841.

But I didn't pick up that book until later. When I first began my genealogical journey, the histories I read about Canada West were mostly confined to the years after my Scottish ancestors settled there. Even in the later years when they arrived, most of the towns and farms where still in the eastern portion of what eventually became Ontario. It wasn't until later in the century that settlers began to explore further west. My families followed that trail so far in that direction that they ended up on the Prairies.  

That seemed like a formidable start to those families experiences in North America and to my genealogical research but subsequent breakthroughs would show that some of my ancestors were in Canada West decades before the mid 1800s. In fact, they had been in North America for generations before then showing that my American roots were far deeper than I thought. Family history research can bring some surprising things to light!

Saturday 24 February 2024

Tips from genealogy magazines


                                                         Some of the many genealogy magazines I have collected

I have started to go through my stash, or should I say stashes, of genealogy magazines. There are a lot of them, many not even read. In the past, when I made an attempt to keep up with perusing the articles, I tagged the pages I wanted to get back to. Those were the pages with links to websites or other information of interest. It is only now when I look at the date of some of those publications that I worry that many of those links are out of date. Oh well, that's one way of seeing what stood the test of time.

Your Genealogy, March/April 2016, in an article on Scottish Research, mentioned two prime research sites, Genuki, which I knew about, and A Vision of Britain Through Time which rang a faint bell. I tested that site out by looking up Horkstow, Lincolnshire, where I knew my earliest known British ancestor had been born, but that probably wasn't the wisest choice, since the history on the site only goes back to 1801. However, it does offer links to other sites as well as information about historical places and writing.

The article was just one of many that I've tagged in my piles of genealogy magazines. I'm hoping to get through the stack of publications that I've already read before tackling all the other magazines that have piled up over the years. The "already read" heap is pretty daunting itself but I just have to remind myself that there could be treasurers in there to discover. 

Saturday 17 February 2024

Researching an ancestor's character

                                       Some of the books that may give me clues to my ancestors' characters

As a storyteller, I like to convey the personality of my characters whether they are fictional or are people who actually lived. With real people that can be easier if we have actually met the person, although any impression gathered may have been coloured by circumstance and our relative status at the time. Trying to understand historic figures can be trickier.

Some of their personality can be gathered through their actions, but it must be remembered that those actions happened at a different time. Society then had different rules, written and unwritten. There were also different social supports in place or, in some cases, lacking. So actions were constrained by circumstances that need to be explored if we are to have any hope of understanding them.

A chance remark at a recent online meeting put me on the path of another clue. It was an observation about the presenter's own behaviour being typical for a middle child. Could birth order hold some clues for understanding our ancestors? So many families in earlier times seemed to be big and messy with many more children and often featured changing partners for the parent couple if one of those parent ancestors was long lived. I have a few families in my own ancestral background in mind while I ponder this. I've also plucked a book about birth order from my shelves to see if I can find any potential for using the idea of birth order to explore ancestors' characters further. Let's see if The Pecking Order: Which Siblings Succeed and Why by Dalton Conley can offer me insights into my ancestors and their families. 

Saturday 10 February 2024

Time to explore my genealogy collection


                                  Copies of documents I forgot about recently found among my genealogy records

I'm currently following along with the DNA Study Group presented by Your DNA Guide. One of the prompts that Diahan Southard says after we have finished processing our DNA matches is to ask yourself "What have I gathered?" Really, that question can probably be used outside the DNA context. I know I have a bad habit of hunting for information while researching, obtaining the treasured data, gathering it and then storing it away somewhere. I fall down at the stage of putting it into use.

It's the same thing with books. My personal library is filled with tomes on my subjects of interest. A lot of them are histories of places that my family have lived and they have lived in a lot of different places. There are other pet topics as well, such as genetic genealogy, medicine and diseases, transportation and books about Jack the Ripper - I have a weakness for murder mysteries, and besides, my family lived in the East End of London where Jack hunted.

The time has come to actually find what I have gathered. Part of that happens as I delve into various sources to bring to life a story of family so writing various articles and this blog are part of the process. The project of broadening my family tree also helps. I've run across things I didn't remember I had. Things like a family tree related to the husband of one of the McKay daughters that I found tucked into the pages of a binder along with copies of documents related to that couple, including their births and marriages. The family tree was a bonus that can take me off in another direction if I let it, but the husband's line is not directly related to mine and, before I use the information on it, it would need to be checked out. So I should probably save it to look at later. But those books on the shelves are something I need to start exploring. Maybe they hold important clues to how my ancestors lived. 

Saturday 3 February 2024

Research and a family mystery


                          The Bridgend Hotel on Islay where my Auntie Peg once stayed while doing research in the area

My first forays in family history research happened many years ago. It was a time before personal computers were the norm in family homes, a time so long ago there was no internet. Do you remember those days? They seem remote now as I sit writing this blog post while taking part in an online writing sprint on Zoom with the Family History Masterclass for the February Writing Challenge.

But as far away as the start of my own first steps into my family's past take me, there was someone who had gone before me, my great aunt Peg. Unfortunately, I never spoke to her about her search or anything she had found. She lived in Winnipeg and I grew up in Montreal, so we were not close. She died in the 1970s and my first halting steps on the path to researching family history happened a decade later.

Perhaps my great aunt's interest in family percolated down to other members because it was some family stories that first made me perk up my ears. It could have been the subject that caught my attention, though. That old question of whether he fell or was pushed. I was a fan of murder mysteries at an early age. I have a distinct recollection of my Gran talking to my mother about a death in the family. It was a mysterious end that I later found out had become part of Canadian mythology.

Did Auntie Peg read The Tom Thomson Mystery by William Little? It was about her first cousin once removed and it came out in the '70s while she was still alive. That book might have sparked the conversation I heard between my mother and grandmother. My grandmother was Auntie Peg's sister. It's a real boon to research an event that drew public attention because family details make their way into the account. It's like newspaper research on steroids.

But, as much potential as those sources have, I would still like to be able to see what my Auntie Peg had found during her researches. I know that she went as far as travelling to the places that our ancestors hailed from as I have evidence that she travelled to Islay, where our Gilchrist clan came from. I'm sure that if she had known of my interest, she would have passed on the results of her research. As I've gotten older, I know it would ease my mind knowing there was someone I could leave my research to. Who to leave our research to is a common topic in my genealogy society at the moment and many of us wish we could pass it along to an interested person in a younger generation. 

Saturday 27 January 2024

A chance for Australian Research


                                 My Grandad's sketchy family tree that started off my research into my Australian family

It's very hard to stay the course with one area of research. This time my distraction was a post on Genealogy à la Carte advising that Australian records on MyHeritage were free to access for a short time. So I decided to concentrate on my Australian connections for the time the records were available. 

I previously wrote a series of posts about the McKay family who started out from Dorset and ended up in Australia after detouring through Malta and India. Such was the life of the British forces and their families at the time. William McKay, his wife Henrietta and their children ended up in New South Wales, Australia after he retired from the military in 1888.

                       The birthplaces of William and Henrietta McKay's children reflect the moves of his military career

There are no census records to help place the family together in Australia. I've been trawling through electoral rolls and death notices. But, while looking through the binders of information I already have, I found a printed family tree for the family that Margaret McKay married into. She was the McKay daughter my grandfather was closest to. It looks like this might be more of a distraction than I first thought but then I can always expand this part of my family tree as well. Maybe that will help me identify the families on my Ancestry Community labelled: New South Wales, Australia, European & British Settlers 1775-1975. I know that the McKays would be some of those connections but there were descendants of some of my other related families too. My people weren't very good at staying in one place. 

Saturday 20 January 2024

DNA update: A link to deep ethnicity


Vikings! That conjures up a certain image, doesn't it? I've long been fascinated by tales of the Northern raiders and have a number of books about them in my personal library. Among the world regions my Ancestry DNA ethnicity results come up with are results from Sweden and Denmark. As I have no known ancestors who came from those areas, I chalked it up to Vikings. It only made sense when I could track back ancestral links to Islay and the Isle of Skye, islands on the west of Scotland. It was common knowledge that they were part of the area that been of interest to Viking raiders.

My Scottish ancestry come from my maternal side so that's probably where the Viking link comes in and I used that information in my ethnicity inheritance to separate my maternal and paternal sides when Ancestry came up with the function that allows you to differentiate between inheritance from your parents if they have sufficient differences in their ethnic makeup. I assigned Ancestry's 5% Sweden & Denmark result to my maternal side. But maybe my links to that inheritance came later than the Vikings. After all, they stopped being a nuisance around 1100 or so and genealogical records don't go that far back.

Just to be sure, I opted for the further analysis of my DNA for Viking links at Living DNA as I had also tested at that site. Turns out that my Viking index is 78%, which means that my DNA is more similar to Viking DNA than 78% of all Living DNA customers. They also place my Vikings as coming from Sweden and Denmark rather than Norway.

I found this very interesting and it confirmed my belief that my Scandinavian roots were related to the Vikings but the thing was that I forgot part of the English history that I learned in school. As the Vikings put down roots in the British Isles they were given (or took) what was called the Danelaw. This was described in Current Archaeology magazine as the part of England lying east of a line from Chester to London. It was an area that would include Lincolnshire and I know that one of my family lines, the Tripp line, transplanted to North America in 1630 in the person of John Tripp who came from Horkstow, Lincolnshire. So it left me wondering, did my Viking ancestors end up in England or Scotland or maybe both?

Google Map approximation of Danelaw drawing a line (the roads) from Chester to London, Danelaw being the part east of the line


Current Archaeology January 2015, Issue 298 “A prey to pagan people”? The Viking impact on Britain and Ireland” p28-36