16 February 2015

King Edward Lives On

In the things-we-rarely-do department: take a tour of a historic site in our own backyard. The King Edward Hotel in Toronto is a well-aged institution, Built in 1903, it was financed by George Gooderham of the local distillery fortune. The plan was to name it the Palace Hotel in honour of Queen Victoria whose death, alas, occurred before its completion so her son became the honouré. I only know that because my friend Bruce of Bruce Bell Tours was leading the group.

Bruce has developed a uniquely entertaining flair as a story-teller, immersing himself in a love of Toronto architecture and its historical characters. No, sad to say I am not getting a kickback or a discount.

King Edward VII
The King Edward was a landmark for turn-of-the-century times when travellers' hotels were decidedly pragmatic. As well as an elegant venue for travellers, the hotel also represented the height of fine dining and socializing for the local elite. The intention was to eclipse all other inns and hotels in the city, and it succeeded. Little expense was spared in the best of materials. Craftsmen and artists were employed to create opulent features.
Postcard; City of Toronto Archives
The main floor and mezzanine had the expected grand public rooms and dining rooms. Originally, of course, women did not enter the main foyer; there was a side door to their own reception area. If they were wives waiting for husbands to check in, or solo travellers, they could order tea in the women-only parlour upstairs. The Royal Suite has accommodated many royals including Queen Elizabeth and celebrities like Richard Burton and Liz Taylor in one of their kiss-and-make-up periods. Hemingway lived here in his early journalism days. Caruso, Valentino, Teddy Roosevelt, Mark Twain; Bruce bubbles over with such stories.

The King Eddy has undergone numerous changes in over a hundred years, but sumptuous teas are a permanent fixture. Naturally, the hotel had to become modernized in many ways, for instance the change from gas lighting to electricity was one major update. Interior changes, restorations, or adaptations for modern functions have been at the discretion of a series of owners since.
Vanity Fair Ballroom; bestoftoronto.net
I learned new things. The arch above the Vanity Fair ballroom has a magnificent glass skylight once-commissioned to Tiffany that never saw the light of day, so to speak. Unresolved business negotiations kept it from being finished or displayed; what a sad case of obscurity! Outside on Colborne Street, back of the hotel, Bruce pointed out a glimpse of the skylight and its position. Our chattering collective awakened an interest in a brand-new resident of the condos into which much of the old addition have been transformed. He hailed us from a sixth floor window and much lively dialogue was exchanged.

I was gobsmacked to hear that Gooderham planned an underground station to receive out-of-town arrivals. From the train station, prestigious guests would be able to continue on to the King Edward by carriage below ground. Presumably this would be to avoid mingling with the hoi-polloi on the street. The unfinished tunnel still lies beneath Scott Street to the west; access to it is blocked (but I suspect Bruce has wangled a way to see it).

Although the hotel at first contained several ballrooms still in use today, the 1921 higher addition included the new Crystal Ballroom. The lofty top venue, named for its massive crystal chandeliers, became renowned for parties of grandeur. Now empty and almost derelict, it nonetheless gives a superb view of my 'hood from three sides. I see my home! I see the homes of my friends and neighbours! ... Ahhhh. Thank you, Bruce.

For history lovers, see the lovely blog I discovered: History of the KingEdward Hotel.

© Brenda Dougall Merriman. All rights reserved.

02 February 2015

The Johnson Burial Vault

Last August, a longstanding, worthy project came to completion in the Eastern Townships (l'Estrie) of Quebec. Interested parties gathered to re-consecrate the last resting place of a Canadian hero, Sir John Johnson, Bt, UE. The Société de restauration du patrimoine Johnson had every right to feel proud of their accomplishment. Formed by members of the Sir John Johnson Centennial Branch of the United Empire Loyalists Association of Canada (UELAC) and Société d'histoire du Haut-Richelieu, with the cooperation of Quebec's Ministère de la Culture et des Communications (MCCQ) and archaeologists, the Société had restored the long derelict burial place.

Why was this necessary?
 Sir John died in 1830; he and other family members were buried at Mount Johnson (now known as Mont Saint-Grégoire) near the rural residence he favoured in his last years. The location is east of Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu. This 1940s photo taken by the 6th Baronet shows how the stone vault became forgotten and deteriorated as the Johnson property changed hands; nature and local farming took its course. Vandalism ensured that the inscribed stones were scattered. It seems bizarre, but the site was so rundown in the 1950s it was bulldozed into a pit in the belief that it was no more than a pile of old rubble.

Years later it was difficult to identify the original site but bones were recovered among the stones, thanks to the dedicated persistence of the Société, a team of archaeologists, and many individuals. The nineteenth-century painting likely helped in the reconstruction process. Details of the restoration story can be seen on the Sir John Johnson Centennial Branch website. 
Painting of the vault by Henry Richard Bunnett, 1885; McCord Museum, Montreal
Among the surviving inscriptions were:
Sir John Johnson, second baronet, born in 1742 at Fort Johnson, New York, died in Montreal on January 4, 1830 in his 88th year;
Lady Mary "Polly" Johnson nee Watts, wife of Sir John Johnson, died on August 7, 1815.
Sir John's gravestone had been found earlier and is mounted at the Mississquoi Museum, Stanbridge East, Quebec. Researchers used newspaper notices among other records to estimate there were at least a half-dozen burials in the old vault.
Sir John Johnson in the 1790s,
McCord Museum, Montreal

Briefly, John Johnson was born in 1741, son of Mohawk Valley entrepreneur and colonial Superintendent of Northern Indians William Johnson (later Sir William, 1st Baronet of New York) and Catherine Weissenberg. Sir John was knighted by King George III during an extended visit to the British Isles 1765-1767, then succeeded to the baronetcy on his father's death.  
Gavin Watt's 2006 edition is
available from Global Genealogy

He is best known as the Loyalist leader who, as the American Revolutionary War began, escaped to Quebec to form the King's Royal Regiment of New York in 1776. The KRRNY (aka Royal Yorkers) was the foremost Loyalist Corps in the Northern Command throughout the conflict. 

Sir John was also esteemed for his commitment to native allies as Inspector General of the Six Nations and later, as head of the Indian Department. Post-war, Sir John acquired extensive real estate in Lower and Upper Canada with several homes finer than that at Mount Johnson ― including his Montreal residence and manor homes at St. Andrews, Quebec, and Williamstown, Ontario (the former burned; the latter is preserved as a museum). Much more detail is in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography.

In a solemn service the excavated remains were carried in two funeral urns to their restored resting place accompanied by members of the recreated King's Royal Yorkers among other dignitaries. It's unfortunate that media coverage of the event is hard to come by; see the Sir John Johnson Centennial Branch Fall 2014 Newsletter for photographs and more of the re-consecration.

An important figure in eighteenth-century Canadian history gets some overdue respect.

© 2015 Brenda Dougall Merriman 

22 January 2015

The Book of Me (20)

This is the virtual end of virtual me. Julie Goucher's inspired series of The Book of Me Written by You will continue in 2015 without me. It's been challenging, it's been fun, sometimes serious. It prompted, reminded, encouraged so many of us to record our own memories and biographical bits. I will continue to add to my Memoirs file.

What are your priorities? (Prompt 67)
What are your priorities? American author, Kathleen Winsor owns this quote: "Most people are so busy knocking themselves out trying to do everything they think they should do, they never get around to do what they want to do."

How much of life is necessary routine and how much is left for "what you want to do"? A lot of adult prime time is naturally consumed with working to earn shelter and food, then transforming the food into meals and keeping the shelter maintained to some minimum standards of hygiene and respectability (unless you're a rabid genealogist). Also to mention the care and feeding and counselling of pop-up junior human beans. Attending to social relationships and obligations take up more time.

Genealogists have been known to abandon all such normal human activities, living in bunkers with crates of paper and a figurative umbilical cord to the Internet with all its technological manifestations. Ergo, a resemblance to decent humanity may be accidental.
But ...
Any genealogist will tell you s/he is doing what they want to do. Lucky us who find or make the time! The way the world works, this generally happens when you reach Seniorhood, that affirmative age of bucket lists and wishful self-indulgence.
I do love those tartans, don't I?
It is resolved that the FRASERS Family History must be completed this year!
Secondarily, Brenda must work on revisions to the DOUGALL and LATVIAN ancestors!

Memory Tree (Prompt 68)
Julie showed us this image to illustrate the prompt. Think of those who will not be with us for the festive / holiday season. Who would you put on your memory tree and why? friends and family, former pets and colleagues.

My parents are up there for many reasons, a strong one being that my children never knew them. I'd put my kids there too, cuz they're not around most any time of the year. Plus a host of other relatives I knew, who left us too soon.

What is your most treasured possession? (Prompt 69)
This could be something that you have bought from an inheritance, a gift from a family member, or an item from a friend. How do you plan to secure its survival with future generations?

Over the years we collect so many things. And we have favourites. Then a lot of us find that we have to downsize at a certain point of life. Maybe more than once. De-cluttering is like a preliminary step. Sentiment must be governed by stern practicalities. Give away or sell. Wedding gifts of a million years ago are useless if they only gather dust. What is the one thing I won't be parted from? My mother's engagement ring, I guess. Or ... And ... Oh my, I seem to be merging this with Prompt 66. Well, literary licence and all that. 

My children may or may not respect and love my treasures after I am gone. If anyone figures out how to spy on them from the afterlife and threaten the disobedient with unholy disasters, do please let me know before it's too late.

What have you learnt about yourself and your family? (Final Prompt, No. 70)
Think back to the question we asked in Prompt One - Who am I? Before you review the answers you wrote then, answer the question again. Now compare: Are there similarities? Is it the same, or have any answers changed? In the wider, original question, what have you learnt about yourself and your family? Anything you still want to write / explore?

Memory being what it is, I can't for the life of me recall if the original question was more extensive, i.e. more details to the prompt? I do believe many people answered with bullet points. One of my thoughts is that the question ― who am I ― would definitely be answered somewhat differently at each stage of a long life. But we are where we are, so let's see; it's still a mystery where this is going until I check back with Prompt 1:
I am a writer, a family historian, a genealogist, a mother, a grandmother, a camel chaser, allergy survivor, and always an optimist, solitary dancer, defender of redheads, and part-time hermit.
I see what I did was cheat. I ticked off everything Julie had listed for herself, which I can't find now (good excuse) with a few amendments including camel chaser. Doubting that I've changed a bit over the length of the series.

The wider view: Myself is the same writer of irreverent tendency but I still have much to learn about my family, living and dead. And the cosmos is endless for writing and exploring. As my Free Thinker Grandpa would say: So long, see you in the Land of Imagination.

© 2015 Brenda Dougall Merriman. All rights reserved.

14 January 2015

Ahnentafel, Ponder and Provenance

While I am waiting for DNA revelation to strike me as a lightning bolt whereby all comprehension and analysis of results become crystal clear, bwahahahaha ...
... I decided to have another look at the ahnentafel printout a cousin sent me quite a while ago. Because it purported to take some of my Scottish lines back to the 1200s, I set it aside here in the hope that exposing it to a generally inviting atmosphere would self-generate a few clues about its sources.

Didn't happen. Osmosis does not work in all areas of the universe.

So what is an ahnentafel and what does it tell you? The German word means a list of ancestors; it's one type of reference tool used by family historians. Each person in the direct lineage is assigned a number in ascending order. We start with a base person, usually oneself. The father's assigned number will always be twice that of the child, and the mother's twice that of the child plus one. E.g. If I am No. 1, my father is No. 2, my mother is No. 3; their parents are Nos. 4, 5, 6, and 7.
Click to enlarge

The numbers multiply exponentially as each generation doubles the number of ancestors. Each woman numerically following a man will be his wife, that is, mother of a child. Typically, each one-line entry would have dates and places of birth and death. Sources for the information are not normally cited. See The Encyclopaedia of Genealogy.

After reviewing the chart, I decided to re-format it manually with my father as No. 1 instead of myself. That way, the ancestors would be entirely Scottish, and really, that was the focus of the chart anyway. The process was similar to transcribing a document in that I had to think about each entry. For about five or six generations I knew the correlated "paper trail" of research I had done myself.

Once beyond the realm of my own research experience, it was much heavier going than I expected. For one thing, I had thought having about three FRASER lines was complicated but intriguing. The ahnentafel assigns me no less than nine different MACKAY lines. As the names ascend farther and farther back, birth and death information become sparse. Many lines disappear when a dead end/brick wall was reached. The Mackays and a few allied others persisted. And wouldn't you know it ― they frequently married Mackays.
Clan Mackay, Wikipedia
Shall I tell you some of the notable ancestors? ― Eoin Macdonald Lord of the Isles 1321-1387 and his predecessors; Robert II Stewart, King of Scotland, ca.1316-1390; Walter Stewart, Lord High Steward of Scotland, ca.1280; Robert I (VIII) Bruce, King of Scotland, 1272-1329; an unnamed sister of King Malcolm IV ca.1137. It's all lovely and thrilling. I couldn't possibly be more Scottish.

But uppermost I was asking myself, where is this information coming from? Provenance! Contact with my cousin has been lost but she was not a mediaeval scholar nor a specialist in Scottish archival records. It had the ring of arcane genealogies published by Scottish historians in the eighteenth or nineteenth centuries. My feeling was that someone, some descendant at some time, had copied bits and pieces from those old recorded genealogies ― genealogies with roots in the honourable Highland oral tradition of reciting one's ancestors for generations. A tradition not immune to its own transmission lapses.

I was noticing what seemed to be discrepancies in naming practice, in the period before the early 1700s when surnames per se were unknown. Highlanders were then customarily identified by patronymics, adding father's name and often grandfather's name to their own. A great deal of historical context is necessary to assign such a man to what we now think of as a surname. Idiosyncrasies appear in my ahnentafel such as "Iye Roy (Alexander or Hugh) Mackay ca.1463" and "Iye (Ymar, Ivor) Mackay ca.1305" or "Angus Dow (Duff) Mackay" or "Mac Eth," begging elucidation. Some parentheses may indicate alternate occurrences or spellings of names but the form is inconsistent (and who or what is an "Eth," please? I do know that Iye ‒ pronounced "eye" – was the early name that became the clan name). "Neil Williamson Mackay" for a man born about 1606 strikes an odd note. To my simple mind, would not "Neil MacWilliam Mackay" or "Neil son of William son of Iye" be closer and truer to the Gaelic?

In today's world, we would expect the person's Gaelic identification with a translation in parentheses. Or vice versa. But hand in hand with capturing the oral tradition in writing and familiarity with cultural custom is the issue of spelling the Gaelic pronunciations, firstly in Gaelic. I've no idea if modern scholarly consensus has reached a consistency in that respect, but the resurgence of Gaelic language and literature is surely addressing it. Am I expecting too much information from an ahnentafel? I'm no Gaelic scholar, in case that wasn't clear!

Without belabouring the above points, I found identical forms of address and spellings published in narrative form in The Book of Mackay in 1906[1] and harking back to History of Clan Mackay in 1826.[2] Both have some basis in earlier works, primarily Gordon's Genealogical History of the Earldom of Sutherland, a manuscript of 1630 that was not published until 1813.[3] These were historians who knew their Gaelic. As well as reference to documents, accounts of oral history were also a likely original source of any Scottish genealogy that reaches back so far. It certainly helps that there are heritors (landowners) in the ahnentafel since land inheritance was a most serious matter. Documentation of land and title charters exist for some of the people.

The ahnentafel is littered with place names, the majority referring to what we know as the county of Sutherland, although county delineation came later. Here I found some geographical errors. Strathnaver of enduring northern setting ("Homeland of Mackay") was oddly put in distant Kirkcudbright in 1232. Fowlis was placed in Ross and Cromarty in 1420 although it seems to be firmly planted in Perthshire. Gigha parish was properly in Argyll in 1315 but was suddenly bumped to Ayrshire in 1280. Carrick (as in Earls of ...) was placed in Argyll whereas it was a lordship in southwest Scotland. And so on. 
Those are not cases of evolving name changes nor are they relevant to spelling variation over a long historical period; learned compilers were highly unlikely to have committed such obvious gaffes. Perhaps each new borrowing, personalized by family historians, repeats or adds such pitfalls. However! I am glad to say that the earliest narratives are more explanatory about names and places than an ahnentafel.

Did I mention pedigree collapse? Oh yes: It is visible six times on my particular chart but likely happened more often in the "unknowns." Basically it refers to an ancestor who occupies more than just one entry on a pedigree. The most common example is when cousins marry. They share two mutual grandparents instead of what would ordinarily be four, reducing the expected, purely mathematical, total of ancestors. See "Pedigree collapse" at International Society of Genetic Genealogy.

So how did my cousin find the appropriate link to attach to our mutual heritage? Or did she? I don't think I'll find a DNA match to Robert the Bruce any time soon.

[1] Angus Mackay, The Book of Mackay (Edinburgh: N. Macleod, 1906); available on Internet Archive, https://archive.org/details/bookofmackay00mack.
[2] Robert Mackay, History of the Clan Mackay [with lengthy subtitle] (Edinburgh: Andrew Jack & Co., 1829); available on Google books.
[3] Sir Robert Gordon, Genealogical History of the Earldom of Sutherland (Edinburgh: A. Constable, 1813); available on Internet Archive, https://archive.org/details/genealogicalhist00gord.

© 2015 Brenda Dougall Merriman. All rights reserved.

30 December 2014

The Book of Me (19)

As usual, with great skill and stealth I am manipulating both Julie's prompts and my succinct half-witted comments.

Is Blood Thicker Than Water? (Prompt 62)
Julie teased with an image from the UK's NHS "Be a Blood Donor" poster here in the UK: blood doesn't grow on trees. Family or friends: what matters? Who comes first?

Good one. I belong to the school of You Can Choose Your friends but You're Stuck with Your Family ... (so make the best of it). Not that I have any complaints about my exceptionally beautiful, talented, highly intelligent, and harmonious family. "Coming first" implies a choice between family or friends? I can't think of an example. Like, if they both want to borrow money at the same time? If they both lie wounded on the street, whom would I rescue first? Or, if a friend and a family member were at loggerheads and you had to take sides? Ouch. Guys, let's talk!!

Addresses & Locations (Prompt 63)

From your childhood can you recall your next door neighbours?

Judge McComber on one side and the Emersons on the other. This could be our house or Mr. Emerson's house, debate ongoing; the two were very similar in style except ours was red brick. Our houses were on a hill on North Court Street, Port Arthur. (Did I say somewhere else that Mr. Emerson kept chickens in his large back yard? He did. Weird-seeming to us then). I've no idea if there was a Mrs. Emerson but there were no kids.
All I remember about the Judge was he died and I, a small child, was taken to the "viewing" in his home. The casket was open to his waist and I thought his legs had been cut off. That's what they do when you die and get stuffed into a box. That piece of creepiness lingered way too long. Luckily, on the other side of Mr. Emerson was the Crooks family where my best friend lived. When his tongue got stuck one winter to the iron railing on our back steps, my mother poured water on him/it (disappointingly) instead of grabbing the camera.

Colleges & Universities (Prompt 65)
Did you go to college/university? What did you study? Was your studying vocational or a step on the ladder to another profession? Photos?
Did anyone notice I switched places with No. 64? It seemed a more natural progression. Undergrad, I studied my socialist friends, musical theatre, and parties. Majoring in French was ultimately (faintly) useful only when trying to buy shoes in Paris (il faut cultiver notre jardin). By the way, it doesn't work in Québec. The accent.

Post-grad, I studied mediaeval philosophy and the Yorkville club scene.
My car was constantly pilfered by junkies in the lane behind Gerrard Street where I lived; I'm sure I mentioned that before. Photos? There's a certain amount of PHOTO FAIL here. Cameras were not a common piece of equipment ... ergo, not employed in the heat of animated debate over Gilson's interpretation of de esse et essentia or rarely during random acts of Vat 69 madness.

None of this tomfoolery or scholastic application was the slightest preparation at all for the career job of wifery and motherhood. But occasionally it was good before some of the finer points escaped me as a conversation dead end, for encouraging boring people to move on as quickly as possible in another direction.
Jobs & Careers (Prompt 64)
Job or career; is it the same? Did you enjoy what you did? Was it a passion or a means to an end? Did you stay at home? Or did you want to? Did you have employment hopes and dreams? Regrets?

"Stay at home" sounds so dull. 'Twas rarely thus. And even the domestic scene was fodder for the creative juices. I have mentioned before (Prompt 38), I found my inner writer. Maybe I didn't mention the magazine articles about farm life or the community newspaper my friend Judy and I founded. Somehow along the way it coalesced into a passion for family history ... research! detective work! clients! and yes, writing about it! At last, a career as a genealogist. 

No regrets whatsoever. Good times, all. It just gets better and better.

What Do You Treasure? (Prompt 66)
You choose what you treasure, the things, the people, things that are not seen, things that are seen yet not obviously treated as a treasure.

Northern Cree girl; by Susan Ross
Wide, wide scope here. Many people, many "things." It's too easy to say (but still true) what everyone treasures  family, friends, health, safe living in a great country, a full life. I'd like to add enjoyment of genealogical sleuthing, and all the creative arts especially music and dance; the variety of lifelong learning is never boring. The memory collection, of course, is high on the list and just what this Book of Me encourages.
In a more literal way, I treasure mementos and photographs of my parents and their ancestors; bits of precious jewellery; pieces of art; and souvenirs of my travels. What I don't take for granted and treasure: access to the Internet and all its ramifications! 

© 2014 Brenda Dougall Merriman. All rights reserved.

19 December 2014

Christmas 2014

Thank you, Twisted Twigs on Gnarled Branches ... posted some time ago on Facebook.

06 December 2014

Boleskine and Stratherrick Frasers: One Study

Herewith a study that demonstrates the underlying shortcomings of Scottish highland research. It's John Fraser again, my Argenteuil, Quebec, farmer. The long-term research goal has had multiple parts:
▪ find John's first marriage in Scotland to Ann (possibly Nancy) Fraser;
▪ find the baptisms of his two oldest children (Alexander, James) born to such a couple;
▪ find John's own baptism (range 1768-1776) and the names of his parents.

Research parameters included assumptions (assumptions can be dangerous, we know; but sometimes they are the only potential clues we have):
▪ that the local history saying John was a native of Inverness-shire is fairly accurate;
▪ that he was born ca.1776 (age at second marriage) OR ca.1768 (age on 1851/2 census);
▪ that his father was called Alexander or James (name of John's first and second sons);
that his mother was called Elisabeth, Ann, or Mary (names of his daughters).

From Scotland's parish registers (OPRs): utter fail in anything resembling solid information, mainly because sad excuse Scottish OPRs for so many highland parishes are missing erratic years of baptisms and marriages. Great periodic chunks of nothing. The serving minister in the 1790s parish account of Boleskine and Abertarf, states:
 For what reason we cannot assign, but we do not find that there has been any regular baptismal register, kept in this parish, for many years past.”[1]

Also, kirk session minutes often only survive from the nineteenth century when we need eighteenth century and earlier! Potentially helpful are monumental inscriptions (MIs) and the Old Statistical Accounts and sometimes local histories, but other sources such as estate papers, sheriff courts, tax lists, militia rolls, and so on, are usually available only in distant regional or private collections.
Boleskine Burial Ground; photo: WJ Millar, geograph,org.uk
Enter an unsourced reference to Boleskine, shire of Inverness, from an online "tree" (that unfortunately conflated three or four JohnFrasers of Quebec into one man). It was worth deeper investigation.

Combing the published Inverness-shire MIs produced any number of family possibilities that may ultimately be irrelevant. Parts of the surviving old stones are frequently illegible. In my case, each mention of an Alexander or a James on a stone had to be examined to see if my John Fraser would fit in their families. Example from Boleskine burial ground:
Flat Stone, erected by James Fraser, tacksman, Glindomore, died _[illegible]_, wife Elisabeth Fraser died 12 September 1789 age 67 years, son Hugh Fraser died 18 June 1797 age 22 years [2]

What analysis can I make of this, as applying to my John the farmer?

Names: The forenames are relevant although imperfect Highland custom, since James was the name of my John's second son, and Elizabeth was the name of his first daughter. Hugh is a compatible name as a possible brother for our John who used that name for his fifth son. All three names recur in John's descendants. If this was my John's family, the loss of parents and a brother may have influenced his decision to emigrate.

Place: Glindomore or Glendomore, sometimes Glendomere, has all but disappeared as a place name, but would have been a farm within the Lovat Fraser estates (one of which comprised the entire parish of Boleskine/Abertarff). The geographic location along the southeast area of Loch Ness is also known as Stratherrick.
From A Country Called Stratherrick
Status: In general, tacksman meant James was in charge of Glendomore land, beholden to Lord Lovat, with very likely an intermediary principal tacksman or wadsetter to whom he paid rent. In turn, a tacksman would have sub-tenants renting smaller holdings. Rent in former days largely involved agricultural produce and loyalty as a clan soldier. The complaisant system deteriorated when the English enforced draconian tax and proscription measures after “the ’45.”

James was the tacksman at Glendomore when he had the stone made ― one would guess when his wife was buried. We don’t know the year he died; there would have been a succession of tacksmen after him. The significance of "erected by" does not necessarily imply James was living when his son Hugh died in 1797. Perhaps his death shortly followed that of his wife and someone else added the inscription for Hugh. I can’t glean anything useful from neighbouring stones (the SGS publications provide a diagram of each burial ground).

Dates: Since his wife was born ca.1722, James’ birth year would be similar or earlier. He could easily have had a son born in 1768 or in 1776, but what about wife Elisabeth? At the age of forty-six (1768, the earlier suggested date for my John's birth) she would definitely be nearing the end of the conventionally accepted fertility span. Bearing a child at the age of fifty-four (1776) is not impossible but unlikely. Which brings us to the dates for their son Hugh, ca.1775–1797. The same questions apply regarding mother Elisabeth. Were dates on the stone carving deciphered accurately? Was Hugh actually a grandson? Birthing two children within two years is not in dispute; it's a matter of the mother's age.

Without access to particular regional or local sources, default to the Internet produced a great find regarding Glendomore: a horse tax list in 1797 for Boleskine/Abertarf parish.[3] It shows four Fraser men at Glendomore in two separate clusters: John and Hugh Fraser (taxed for one horse and two horses respectively); Malcolm and James Fraser (two horses and one horse). Because the two groups are separated by some MacDonalds, they appear to be two different households. We don't know if the groupings are fathers and sons, or brothers, or some other family configuration. Malcolm is a problematic name, not occurring in my family.
1797 Horse Tax List, Boleskine; NAS, E326/10/9/213
 "Date of assessment" is September 1797 which seems to eliminate this Hugh from being the man in the cemetery information unless the list had been compiled over many months. "Masters and Mistresses" seems to imply heads of, or adults, in households. One of these Fraser men would be the Glendomore tacksman because the right generally descended in one family line.[4] It would be merely a guess that John here fills that role simply because he is the first Fraser listed at the location. Could James in the second group be the erstwhile tacksman of the burial ground? Doubtful? — He would be eighty-five years old or more in 1797.

Back to the OPRs. Is there evidence of a James Fraser marriage to an Elisabeth in or near Boleskine parish between 1740 and 1775? ― “No matches” on ScotlandsPeople. A son Hugh born ca.1775 to such a couple? ― Not in the available baptisms. A son John born/baptized to such a couple 1767 to 1779? ― No. I can't even find a Malcolm born in Boleskine 1725-1782.

All I can say is it's possible that John in September 1797 was my ancestor who emigrated ca.1805 or that he belonged to the family of tacksman James. I can't support either hypothesis but I can't reject them altogether. There's simply not enough information or evidence for meaningful correlation. Is it a worthwhile exercise? Yes, but I am no farther ahead. Guesses, possibilities, probabilities; the spreadsheet is growing.

That's just one stone of dozens being examined. Why ever did I say my draft was ready for the big edit??

[1] Sir John Sinclair, digital images, The Statistical Accounts of Scotland (http://stat-acc-scot.edina.ac.uk/link/1791-99/Inverness/Boleskine%20and%20Abertarff/ : accessed 3 October 2014), Vol. 20, County of Inverness (1791-99), Boleskine and Abertarf, p. 37.
[2] Alastair G. Beattie and Margaret H. Beattie, eds., Inverness District East, Monumental Inscriptions pre-1855 (Edinburgh: Scottish Genealogy Society, 1996; "Boleskine Old Churchyard," Boleskine parish, County of Inverness, no. 48, James Fraser et al.
[3] “Historical Tax Rolls,” digital images, ScotlandsPeople (http://www.scotlandsplaces.gov.uk/digital-volumes/historical-tax-rolls/ : accessed 2 October 2014), Farm horse tax rolls 1797-1798, Volume 09 [includes Inverness-shire], sheet 213, September 1797; citing National Records of Scotland, E326/10/9/213.
[4] Sir John Sinclair, Statistical Accounts of Scotland ... Boleskine and Abertarf, pp. 21-22.

© 2014 Brenda Dougall Merriman. All rights reserved. 

28 November 2014

The Book of Me (18)

Easing myself back into the blogging groove but way way way behind. Sorry about that, but Life has to happen sometime, somewhere, amidst the bevies of research and writing. Good question ... what is Life anyway. Some of the latest prompts are looking at that.

Chapters (Prompt 57)
Is your life divided into some? Can you easily reflect where one chapter ends and another begins? No problem, Julie. We were just speaking of Life, weren't we. Except each chapter is a book in itself, innit?
One: Schooling and Dance; Two: Wife and Mother; Three: Professional Genealogist. If I have a definable life I'm living Chapter Four now: Writer and wannabe world traveller. Lottery winner would be good too.

I'm tempted to add Chapter Last: she died. She gave up the ghost and went to join her ancestors (family historians' new favourite). Really? How do we think they will feel as we join their dusty group? We who scrounged and scrabbled into every possible private aspect of their lives. Do we think they will unilaterally embrace us? Some will, being the kindly and tolerant sort. I fully expect others may be as aloof and opaque as they are while I'm still corpus vivus. If there's any moral to the paragraph: do not miss the opportunity to write your own obituary.

What Do You See? (Prompt 58)
Uh huh, it's Life again, right? Is anyone saying the image of the glass is half-empty? Don't think so, no-one I know! Pass.

Task Reflections (Prompt 59)
Absolutely no. I am not describing each of my daily tasks. Too wretchedly boring. Comparing each task to a similar one undertaken by my ancestors? Feh. Consider the morning stumble to the bathroom. I'm grateful mine is a navigable path to a warm room even if it has a hideous fluorescent light. Trust me, I have experienced the ancestors' path to the outhouse and the world has made some excellent progress in certain household amenities.

Family Traits (Prompt 60)
Now this has some interest. Physical and other family traits exist; they can be surprising and uncanny. I often see a certain facial expression of my mother's cross my daughter's features. I marvel when I see my grandpa peering from my brother's eyes. I laugh when a nephew shifts into a particular pose common to the Dougall men. It's continuity, it's reassuring, the genes have tumbled around and slid into a new working order. Magic.

How Do You Measure Success? (Prompt 61)
Probably I view success and real achievement as satisfaction for a life well-lived. A life that sensibly maximizes personal skills, talent, growth. A life that gives good moments to the nearest and dearest and does as little damage as possible to anyone else. Awards are lovely, but it seems to me that maintaining a healthy inner balance is as important as the striving for goals. Maybe that will make sense when I re-read it. As for how others view us, concern about that at any stage of the journey should never be allowed to overpower us. The liberation of seniority: at my age the die is cast.

© 2014 Brenda Dougall Merriman. All rights reserved.

17 October 2014

Book: The Lost Ancestor

Something a little different ...
The Lost Ancestor. By Nathan Dylan Goodwin. http://www.nathangoodwin.co.uk/, 2014.

Since I regularly critique mystery and crime fiction novels, I agreed to review―with a tiny bit of apprehension―Nathan Goodwin's The Lost Ancestor after receiving his direct marketing appeal.

I'm aware that the occasional genealogical colleague ventures into writing mystery fiction starring a genealogist as the detective. While I've not sought out examples, the few I've seen were not what I considered successful. No doubt most of us can come up with numerous juicy plot ideas from exposure to myriad ancestral problems that we've been asked to solve over the course of a career. But not only does a genealogist as protagonist need adequate knowledge of the subject and credible work habits; the novel itself requires good writing and structure. Readers with historical and genealogical experience also look for value-added, telling details.
Goodwin's novel is a dilly that sucked me right in (it's the second in a planned series after Hiding the Past). That's not an easy thing to do with my predilection for Scottish noir and Swedish perverse. Based in East Sussex, England, forensic genealogist Morton Farrier gets a dream job: find out what happened to the missing sister of an ancestor one hundred years ago. Mary Mercer was learning the ropes as third housemaid in an upper-class mansion (Downton Abbey fans will love the minutiae of Edwardian service life); she suddenly disappeared, leaving a hole in a family tree.

Straightforward assignment? Where would you look for her?

Family historians will recognize many of the sources Morton uses but some may surprise you. You might say certain unusual documents coincide rather conveniently to drive the plot, but Goodwin skillfully builds credibility. Check out Morton's elaborate mindmapping! Identity is only one issue as a strange, twisting scenario unfolds. 

I doubt that the research elements are intrusive for a non-genealogist reader, quite the contrary. Even better is how the author carefully paralleled Morton's progress with Mary's own story, a challenging device handled admirably. Dialogue and characters integrate naturally―a pet peeve of mine when it fails―with just the right touch of our hero's domestic life and a sense of his own family problems. There's more: someone is prepared to kill Morton to stop his meddling research.

Morton's methodology can scarcely be faulted although a few quibbles arise in sources or editing. A reference is made to a street address in Ontario as if Ontario (a province over four times the size of Great Britain) were a town. A passport was unnecessary for a British citizen to travel to Canada (but let's not kvetch on a minor point). Overly-long paragraphs can be a drag. Nevertheless, The Lost Ancestor is a winner in my books ... more, please!

Goodwin has found an engaging, lively "voice" in Morton Farrier. See if you agree with me. I'd love to receive some comments here.

[The Lost Ancestor was self-published on CreateSpace, an Amazon "independent publishing" unit. Paperback copies can be ordered on Goodwin's website; the Kindle version is currently only available in the UK and the US.]

© 2014 Brenda Dougall Merriman. All rights reserved.

10 October 2014

Giving Thanks

Monday, 13 October 2014. Second Monday of October. Thanksgiving Day in Canada.

An important thing for a genealogist to be celebrating with profound thanks is the discovery of new cousins. And yes, the growing list includes DNA matches being studied. This post is partly so my own extended family gets an inkling of the networks that develop, to which we all ultimately belong.

Yours truly has been blessed by the exchange of information with people I've never met. Another strange manifestation of the family history syndrome―probably bemusing to those with quite different preoccupations. All in a day's work for family historians (sounds good, but usually years of work).

Fellow bloggers know what I'm talking about, the "cousin bait" aspect of blog posting. Although some of my un-met cousins waaay precede the advent of blogging and most of them live waaay far away from me. Sometimes we grapple with finding a common language to communicate. Some of the shyer ones I still can't put a face on.

Not only am I delighted to share ancestral connections and research but the experience can go deeper. We discover that we share similar attitudes or values. We become penpals, friends. We attach family photographs. We discuss life. We worry when we don't hear from each other.

Cousins―some of you come with a whole support group of researchers, past and present. Not each and every one is even necessarily related but the enthusiasm is infectious. All I can say is WOW, the thrill continues.

So this is for you, my networking kin living all over the world―in Latvia, Estonia, Sweden; Scotland, Australia, Netherlands, England; the USA and Canada. A heartfelt thanks for your contact, your information, your encouragement, your friendship. May we continue to clear the ancient pathways and keep our roots strong.

© 2014 Brenda Dougall Merriman. All rights reserved.

06 October 2014

The Book of Me (17)

Bring it on, Julie (founder of The Book of Me and our weekly prompter). I'm awash in prompts, embracing them. So how many prompts can I superficially seamlessly mess up collate this time.

School Trips (Prompt 54)
Easy. None. Some kind of underprivileged urchins we must have been. Sunday crocodile lines don't count, I suppose; the lines went two by two to church on Sundays ― á la Ronald Searle's St. Trinian girls ― Westminster (United) for half of us and St Lukes (Anglican) for the other half. The second half had a much more interesting time in my opinion because they got to cross a bridge on their walk and the church interior was much more appealing to daydream in.

Movies (Prompt 55) 
I could go to town on this, but couldn't we all? I lost track of how many times I've seen The Red Shoes after counting twelve or thirteen (-serious-). Vicky Page was my fantasy alter ego.

On the Waterfront was a distant second with about six times but the childish crush on a once-magnetic Marlon Brando died a natural death. I haven't counted how many times viewing Jesus Christ Superstar but suffice to say I and my children can sing and act out every word of the entire film. Speaking of prompts (should unlikely circumstances arise), that could be me you hear, emoting "Everything's Alright" or "I Don't Know How to Loooove Him."

Obviously I'm a sucker for musicals. All of 'em. My brilliant dentist and I recently had a marvellous hour's exchange on the subject while he expounded on his Lincoln Centre subscription, Bob Fosse, Gene Kelly's notorious temper, and whether revivals of The King and I and Flower Drum Song are still dated. I of course offered grunts here and there with several appliances in my mouth. We did agree on some things. 

The Sound of Music doesn't count at all because it's everywhere and sorry I can't say the same for Oliver! ... You must know Fagin's (actor Ron Moody) brilliant "Reviewing the Situation" and "You've Got To Pick a Pocket or Two" but most underrated are the heartbreakers "Where is Love?" and "As Long as He Needs Me."

This is not to disparage any other movie genre because of course I am into thrillers and harried cops and louche detectives and courtroom drama. If only I could remember titles. And the names of each new crop of actors.

Clubs and Societies (Prompt 56)
Aahhh, good thing this came along, breaking away from movie world. Okay, I'm thinking. Well, The Health and Study Club was a loosely defined organization of my teenage years, given its title by the guy who could do the best Finland accent. Members of this fine club shall be nameless and faceless lest their grandchildren suffer grievous disenchantment with an image of staid, comforting, grandparently figures (it's a cover-up, kids).

Health? We drank a lot of beer and purple jeesus and partied every summer. We raced around in boats and cars. Nutritional snacks like trail mix and pizza and sushi weren't invented then. Or craft beer. Study? We made fun of our jobs or university programs or the business world and hardly ever got into trouble except with our parents. Some of us engaged with our future partners right then and there. Others experienced the cutting angst of teenage love.

One time we had an Opening of Navigation party which was a big deal at the Lakehead ― the opening, not the party ― but it did not become an annual event because it turned into an Al Capone-era party, the correlation or significance of which is entirely lost now, of course, and that was the night I discovered a guy hiding in my closet who scared me half to death, so we couldn't encourage more of that. (Sorry, practising for the run-on sentence competition.)

Other societies and clubs, later, were quite grownup. A list of professional organizations (genealogical, historical) would bore the pants off you. Somewhere in there I remember a poetry-writing club, a Russian movie club, a Winnipeg ex-pats club, a wine club, book-of-the-month club (ha ha), oh, and very briefly, the Temple Reef Yacht Club. Finishing number last in every race was frowned upon.

What am I forgetting? ... The Thunder Bay Autosport Club, I suppose. Rallies were okay but fiercely competitive; the logic of winter ice racing escaped me as the damage mounted. Then the hillclimbs and omg, the car I'd just sold was fit for the fibre-glass scrap heap. The driver ever after chose to wear a beard to hide the scar on his face. 

It looked like this. The car, not the scar.

On that note, ending this episode of the Book of Wretched Me.

© 2014 Brenda Dougall Merriman. All rights reserved.