23 January 2016

My Geni Treeee

"Geni is solving the problem of genealogy by inviting the world to build the definitive online family tree." True. Right there on their website.

" ... the problem of genealogy."

I can think of numerous, typical genealogical problems in the course of any family historian's pursuit. But I didn't know genealogy itself as a study has an unspecified, overwhelming problem that necessitates constructing a "definitive" world tree.

Apparently others do, because Geni.com and its sister MyHeritage.com are overflowing with individual contributions anxious to help assemble and define The World's Answer To an All-inclusive Family Tree (TWATAFT©). Not to forget that FamilySearch.org and Ancestry.com and how many others also encourage the growing of, as they like to say online trees in the expectation that their respective efforts will mesh somehow, some day, like magnificent tectonic plates finally thundering into their ordained slots. And who knows, maybe then everlasting peace on earth won't be far behind because we will then finally recognize we are all truly sisters and brothers.

(Do the geniuses in these companies have nothing but bliss and hugs at their own family gatherings? Do they not have the drunk uncle; the mouthy grandmother; the petty criminal brother; the vicious teenager; the schizo cousin; the sullen in-laws; the hidden skeletons? You know what I mean. The old saw about never discussing controversial subjects in order to get along is something someone always does. Some family gatherings are more like an initiative for World War III instead of World Peace.)

So will those companies ultimately merge their gigantic trees with each other? Or is this a competition among them?

In a moment of weakness some time ago I joined the basic free service of Geni.com ― despite my growing aversion to public "family trees" and visions of impossibly-tangled, unsourced, unverified truthiness where the well-researched bits are lost in the glorified stew. The operating principle at the time seemed to be nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Not exactly as shown
Why did I really do it? Because ... Latvia.

What I knew was that plenty of Latvians and Estonians were sharing on Geni and maybe, just maybe, they knew something I needed to know ― hopefully breaching the walls of language and culture. Hesitantly I put my (deceased) mother and a few earlier generations online. Right away I didn't like their dating format and married females being shown with their married surname, birth surnames in brackets e.g. Liso Jurikas (Riis). If I remember correctly, Geni also wanted email addresses for these DEAD people till something in the system figured out they were offline. To show that Merriman was not my birth name, I inserted ex-husband who somehow came out as my father. This did not look encouraging for a start. My clumsy, perhaps; I can't blame Geni for everything. Or was collaboration already underway?

Soon this newbie had dozens of relatives / references to other trees from mystery submitters. In fact, every imaginable ascending relationship began showing up from well-meaning people adding to my supposed distant ancestry so what is this: my tree is only 10% complete, I'm told. And "Invite your relatives to complete your tree." Well, I don't see a HELP button to find out what will happen if I click on them. Never mind, it appears they are toiling away for my benefit regardless of any invitation. Will I see borrowed iterations coming from myself? Am I really the manager of "my" tree? If only the citations were there ...

Unlike its sister site, MyHeritage, Geni does not send me continual messages about "smart matches" to other trees whereupon I must upgrade from the free site to subscription status for access to fellow submitters and enhancements. After registering with Geni I have not been stonewalled with requests to Pay Up; I can contact the toilers. Well, okay, I do get weekly "family reports" but that is acceptable ― i.e. who has messed around done what lately. I believe MyHeritage sends similar messages to its free members but immediately blocks you from new information unless you upgrade.

It's not as if you genealogists haven't heard that whine before. Be sure to see Kerry's post on Clue Wagon. Changing horses in mid-stream seems like emotional blackmail. She said it SO well four years ago. 

Statistics: Geni says I am connected to 99,854,343 people on Geni.com and 5,000 of them are blood relatives. Dazzling, isn't it? The figure changes day to day. My tree spawns: two hundred and fifty pages of it. Glancing at page 10 of this compilation starts a zillion entries for second cousins thrice removed. Lots of unknown names in the "managed by." Dare I look at page 25? Yes. now it's third cousins twice removed. Page 49: fourth cousins twice removed. At this rate it would take me all day to reach page 250 just for idle curiosity. Plus extra time with Google translate for things that look like remarks. Just imagine if my tree were 60% complete. Or 90%.

So even on my micro level the whole concept is dazzling. Should I care if my quintuple great-grandfather's alleged great-grand-aunt's purported sister-in-law has an automatically generated relationship to me? I didn't sign up for a full-time job policing outta control floods of repetition (did I?) as coattail hybrids join the fun. It's a challenge to my preference for sharing prolonged and often painful research in traditional narrative (old-fashioned?) ways. But less stressful my way! 

I observe my weekly reports and the exponential explosion with a weary wary eye. do want to love all the toiling genies but I'll pretty much stick to my way. If you should find my Geni tree don't believe a thing you see. There are other ways to create and share a tree privately. Just as I'm wondering what I wanted to say here wrapping this up, I found she did it again (where was I when the email notice came?). Viva Kerry.

Next family reunion: let's get on with the peace and love.


~~ Posts to be resumed, hopefully, once a residential move is completed. ~~

© 2016 Brenda Dougall Merriman


24 December 2015

Where Goes This Blog?


Blogging since 2007. I’ve had my share to say, admittedly and purposefully about my own personal family research, but also had something to contribute – I think – about researching Loyalist ancestors or bits of history or problem-solving along ancestral trails.   

The end of the year feels more like where is this blog going? It slowed down lately. Not that I have nothing to say or work on — “retirement” is just a word — but the production of actual family histories creates a vacuum in the wake. For a while. Besides, CamelDabbleTravelBabble and reviewing crime novels keep me well occupied as a change of pace from genealogy.

And ... there are numerous excellent writers of genealogy blogs doing what I do, with more energy and immediacy. The best are educational without preaching, spreading good advice on standards and methodology; it’s a pleasure to see them thrive. Unlike many of my geneablogging colleagues, I’m not trying to sell my business services to earn income or up my profile. They work hard for a market share in an ever-increasing field of genealogy service providers. (Disclaimer: I have been known at times to flog my books!)


Is it true that blogs are becoming irrelevant?  What’s that about? As it is, it’s hard to keep track of even the good ones. Is tweeting the latest favoured child of technology? I don’t tweet. Most writers instinctively rebel at such draconian word restriction, but it seems to suit the millennials and the instantly gratified. Although I find myself not reading as many blogs as I used to, I have loyalty and affection for the first bloggers I “met” and the Geneabloggers network. It’s an effort to add a comment to a blog but a well-written piece on a subject of interest that gives you a lift deserves its own little lift. 

There you have it. No, I have it - blogging is my medium. Shall I go more Canadian ... or indulge more in musing/amusing ... bury myself in ignored family branches ... or pack up and satisfy the travel bug? Ahhhh, time will tell. 

May 2016 be good to us all.  


© 2015 Brenda Dougall Merriman

11 December 2015

"Done What She Could"

Isabella Campbell
June 17th 1924 Aged 78 Years
SHE HATH DONE WHAT SHE COULD

My first reaction many years ago was that this was a rather demeaning epitaph, a subtle expression of reproach at not having done quite enough. Was my imagination working overtime, projecting a lack of familial warmth onto her, my great-grandmother? Or do the words indicate a fulfilment of her character? ... a life that met demands and challenges to the best of her ability? With resigned or cheerful acceptance if not creating extraordinary notice?

Did Isabella choose those words to commemorate her life? Or were they chosen by someone else to sum up a long life?


Isabella is buried with her husband, John McFadyen, in Sunnyside (Moosenose) Cemetery, in Springfield, Manitoba. Since she outlived her husband by nine years, someone else had the words engraved on the family tombstone, perhaps actually chose them. At the time of her death, neither she nor her remaining children lived in Manitoba.

Knowing this family slightly ― through reminiscences of a few grandchildren who visited ― it behoved me to revisit the New Testament. The McFadyens were strong Presbyterians of Free Church persuasion. I don't know how strict their observance of Sabbath activities was, what with farm work being necessary every day of the week, but every Sunday the family gathered at the dining room table to have Bible readings. No-one was excused.


Mark 14:6-8 (King James Version) ―
She hath wrought a good work on me. ...
She hath done what she could; she is come aforehand to anoint my body to the burying.

On the day when the Last Supper would occur, a wealthy woman approached Jesus and anointed him with the full measure of her very precious spikenard oil. The onlookers were saying what a waste; if she had sold it instead, it would have provided for many poor people that Jesus cared about. But Jesus rebuked them; she simply brought what she had at hand and honoured him with all of it. Most of all, her anointing unknowingly served a higher purpose: traditional preparation for his impending death and burial.

The thing about Bella, as she was known, was the raising of ten children when I expect she also did everything daily required of a farmer's wife. Not unusual for her time and place. She lived through the deaths of two sons and one daughter, the latter whom had Down Syndrome. When her children scattered and the family farms were sold, she stayed with her youngest daughter Barbara in Vancouver where she died. By and large, an "ordinary" life.

No doubt Barbara consulted her sisters for an appropriate epitaph (not everyone on the family stone has one). How would I interpret that for Isabella? Perhaps she clearly gave all she had to each mundane task. Perhaps she consistently "made do" in any situation with modest means. Perhaps her children felt she was a model of hard work and Christian teaching. I will never know for certain, but re-thinking an epitaph can be a lesson.

© 2015 Brenda Dougall Merriman

06 November 2015

Remembrance

Photo: J. McVittie, 2015
John McCrae, In Flanders Fields (1915)
"If ye break faith with us who die / We shall not sleep ..."

In Flanders Fields: 100 Years Centenary exhibition at John McCrae House, Guelph, Ontario.
(http://guelphmuseums.ca/event/fighting-in-flanders-gas-mud-memory-2/)

In Flanders Fields Museum, Ieper, Belgium ― http://www.inflandersfields.be/en

Webcast 11 November 2015 at Canadian War Museum: http://www.warmuseum.ca/remember


29 October 2015

Death Becomes Us

Such modern fuss is made regarding Halloween, the eve of All Hallows Day, otherwise known as All Saints Day in the liturgical calendar. Candy and costumes and zombies have taken over. However inclined you feel about the hereafter, the following more inclusive day receives less attention in most quarters: November 2nd ― All Souls Day. I leave you to your own theological convictions or research.

All Souls is a day when I remember, among others, the stars that flashed across the genealogy world's northern firmament. A few were passing acquaintances; most were friends. All had my deepest respect for their contributions to our educational growth, and above all, their warmth and enthusiasm for sharing.

Just some of our Canadian losses since the millennium; spare a thought and/or a prayer?


René Jetté 3 May 1944‒18 May 2003









Danny Johnson 25 August 1953‒22 February 2005








Sandra Devlin 28 November 1946‒1 February 2006







Ryan Taylor 18 June 195025 September 2006










Ken Aitken 1947‒21 April 2007










Paul McGrath 1959‒23 October 2008







Clifford Collier 1929‒21 February 2011










Joan Miller 7 March 1953‒4 January 2013







Brian Gilchrist 7 April 1956‒1 May 2014










Elizabeth Hancocks 1928‒13 February 2015











Otherworldly as they are now, may they be free of age and illness and sorrow. A healthy sense of humour goes hand in hand with the best genealogical minds. They won't mind if I josh a little:
At my age, I'm often asked if I am frightened of death and my reply is always, I can't remember being frightened of birth.
~ Peter Ustinov

Or wax sentimental:
And I believe my voice will sound / Upon the whispering wind / So long as even one remains / Among those I call "friend." ~ Johnny Hathcock


© 2015 Brenda Dougall Merriman



26 October 2015

Book: The America Ground

Nathan Dylan Goodwin. The America Ground. 2015 [Orders: nathandylangoodwin.com]

Goodwin has settled with mature polish into his lead character, this being the third book in the "Morton Farrier, Forensic Genealogist" series. For an earlier review, see here. The author chose a little-known (to North Americans) historical Sussex setting for the background of Morton's latest case. Hired by a flamboyant antiques dealer, his job is to uncover the story behind the painting of a woman who was murdered in 1827. Dual narratives follow events in Eliza Lovekin's life and Morton's own search for his biological father. For good reason Morton must keep secrets from his fiancée Juliette, the police constable; as Eliza's story unfolds, present-day danger rears its ugly head. Our hero needs to learn ‒ fast ‒ who is threatening him and why.

Be prepared for a vivid stay in the 1820s Hastings area; the injustices of nineteenth-century poverty are deftly portrayed. Nonetheless, it's thoroughly engaging from start to finish, replete with a twisting genealogical trail and well-calculated (sometimes sinister) surprises. The research methodology is true to life, albeit Juliette often finds him with a bandage on his head. I do find the pages very dense with long paragraphs and normally no half-space between them. The only thing the insatiable sleuth-reader might request would have been a local map. Attractive covers, excellent pacing between narratives; all in all, a very fine job. The fan club is growing!

Self-published, the book is available in paper or e-book editions. Goodwin does fairly aggressive marketing for his works, so I may be preaching to the choir.

Excerpt:
Juliette flashed awake and shot a disbelieving look at him. "Here? Hastings? This is where you've brought me for two nights away?" 
"Nice, isn't it?" Morton said, drawing into a parking space at the rear of the hotel."Are you actually joking?" she asked. 
Morton shook his head. 
"Why here?" 
"I just wanted to get away, plus I've got a ton of research to do in town so I just thought it would be nice to have a couple of nights in a hotel." 
He made more of a meal parking her car than was strictly necessary, so that he could avoid her penetrating gaze as she attempted to work him out. 
"Why didn't we just stay at your dad's house, then?" 
He turned and gave her an I can't believe you just said that look. 
She sighed. "And why's she coming with us?" Juliette asked, turning behind her to face Eliza Lovekin's portrait. 
"She fancied a break, too," he quipped. (188)

© 2015 Brenda Dougall Merriman



22 September 2015

Latvian Families in Revision (3)

NEW! What a relief. My Latvian Ancestors updated, ordered, arrived.

  It expanded:
- from 72 pages to 104 pages;
- with many more photographs;
- including the Estonian RIIS family of legend;*
- with a brand-new cover, thanks to the talented Jane.


I have been fortunate over the years to meet three of my mother's first cousins: two live in the U.S.A. and one in Latvia. Two years ago in Latvia, Cousin Rasma greeted us Canadians at the Freibergs' ancestral farm, Kalna Koneni, ushering us to a table loaded with traditional Latvian goodies, the most wonderful feast. Hospitality knew no bounds as we were given a basket overflowing with more of the same for our next journey.

knifepork&spoon.wordpress.com

Family, I have words for you. BACON BUNS. I repeat, bacon buns. Are you listening, nephews and nieces? Proof absolute of your DNA inheritance, though it be one-quarter of your makeup. A revered Latvian food item, bacon buns (pīrāgi) are part and parcel of any respectable Latvian meal. Thus our bacon craving is legitimately and irredeemably lodged in our cells along with the cholesterol.

We discovered another proud Latvian product in our takeaway basket. Balzams is ... an acquired taste. It's a herbal liqueur in a vodka base, famously known as Riga Black Balsam. Personally I find the acquiring is hard work. It's that word balsam that reeks of evergreen needles, right? And reminds you of swiping some gummy sap off a pine tree to chew when you were a kid to see what it tastes like, right?

The twenty-four herbs that go into it are supposed to be very healthy for you ― Lord knows the Latvians are a health-conscious lot ― and if that doesn't cure whatever ails you, then the 90 proof will ensure you don't care any more. Now I'm thinking that balzams should follow a bacon buns binge just to clear the bloodstream. I sort of cheated because the bottle I brought home had an extra dose of currants in it, rendering it slightly more palatable.

The two foodie photographs are not in my book. A bonus for reading this. You're welcome.

Time soon for a little rest and ocean air until the next project starts clamouring.

* Previously posted about at length; see "Estonia" in the sidebar at right.

© 2015 Brenda Dougall Merriman

  

08 September 2015

Long May She Reign

                          She did and does.
                          A Queen for the ages.
                          A Queen for all ages.
                          A Queen for all time.
                          Coolest Queen ever.


23 August 2015

Latvian Families in Revision (2)

Limbaži Orthodox Cemetery
The thing about the cemeteries I saw: individual grave markers are rare except in modern times. "Modern times" seems to mean post-Second World War, from what I could gather. Descendants living in the same region care for the graves. They know who is buried there. It's not like they are in a foreign place seeking elusive family history.

Because of that, a cemetery in Latvia is not necessarily a good source for finding or verifying older generations. The earliest man of a certain surname in that graveyard might have a marker, or perhaps simply the family name itself is commemorated.


Example: the family of my great-grandmother Katrina Tukkums: TYKKYMA FAMILIA. At least seven graves are visible in this family plot. No specific bits of information. I know from her 1868 marriage record that her father was Feodor and they farmed on the Roperbecki estate, Umurga parish. I know from her grandson that she died 24 December 1938. Her parents likely lie here, silent.

But Katrina would have been buried with her husband Janis Jurikas. It is the parish registers we depend on for vital information. There ‒ as with the occasional grave marker ‒ a strange language, confusing declensions in personal nouns, and often German or Russian script, make it a slow process.

Epitaphs for the deceased have become more common. One: "Memories of you will blossom like white apple trees." Another: "All my ties are broken, so dear to my heart." My cousins tell me that choosing an epitaph can lead to vigorous family discussion! As in many countries, Latvian communities set aside an annual Sunday to honour the dead. It's a summer ritual for extended family to gather at the cemetery, clean the area and tend the plantings, tell stories, and socialize with their grave-site/grave-side neighbours.

Mālpils Cemetery
We are still trying to decipher this one, archaic Latvian, and German script. My great-great-grandfather Ans Freibergs (ca.1810- October 1891) ... and numerous descendants surrounding him.

So many photographs to fit into the family history update! But who's complaining.


06 August 2015

Latvian Families in Revision (1)

Four years since I self-published My Latvian Families.

Two years since I visited the cousins and the family farms.

Time to update the family history, don't you think? One of the happenings to add:

This photo (1937) was my only clue to finding the family home of grandmother Marija Jurikas.

I knew the name of the parish and the former manor estate and the closest town, Limbaži. But this was driving in unfamiliar country where Latvian place names have replaced nineteenth century Germanic names. I'd had no contact with any living relatives if indeed there were some. Finding Limbaži was not a problem but finding a farmhouse on a country road was a different matter. One of the maps cluttering our car actually had rural houses marked on it, with no names of course. We would simply explore the local roads, right?

The local roads are bad. Bad, as in sometimes covered with pools of water disguising potholes the size of tectonic shifts. And we'd been at it most of the day, hunting up churches and cemeteries. Luckily there aren't many choices from Limbaži. North, south, east, west. Let's go south, I said, a speck on the map called Lāde beckons. It was slow going, peering hard at each house we saw, trying not to be distracted by getting the best stork nest photos. Around about the time my driver was fed up with the damage to his shock absorbers, I yelled STOP THE CAR!!

Yes, there it was. The house. Much altered but with the same tree (minus the pole) by the driveway. Most of all, the name on the mailbox, Krastina, confirmed that descendants of my grandmother's brother still lived there. Ķrūmiņi farm. Still in operation.

I would like to say we had an impromptu family reunion. But it didn't happen. The man working on his tractor was not Mr. Krastinš nor did he show much interest in strangers jabbering in a foreign language. Nevertheless, we rejoiced in our discovery. It was not the only serendipitous event of the day.


© 2015 Brenda Dougall Merriman

25 July 2015

Dougall Ephemera

Thunder Bay Airport, one I can claim:
First World War pilot and aviation pioneer
A scattering of DOUGALL place names from my "Other Families" collection ― lore that I randomly, sporadically track. Optimistically, pursuing them might lead to clues about pre-1750 origins for my own Scottish Lothian ancestors.

Dougall Avenue, Windsor, Ontario 
A main thoroughfare in Windsor was named for James Dougall (1810-1888) an early merchant and public official when the town was still called Sandwich. Purportedly he chose the name of Windsor in 1836. James married into the old prestigious Baby family; his brother John was the founder of the Montreal Witness newspaper among other ventures. Both were born in Paisley, Scotland, sons of John Dougall (died 1836 Montreal) and Margaret Yuill, according to the Dictionary of Canadian Biography. Their origins west of Glasgow probably preclude any known connection to my ancestry I'm aware of different Dougall lines in/near Glasgow.

Dougall Park in Gibsons, BC
I'd come across several references to this park in the former Gibson's Landing. Research led to the widow Louisa Bryson Dougall who originally donated the park land to the Anglican church there. Louisa was a large property owner and social force in the town's formative days. Her husband was George M. Dougall, a journalist in the 1911 census; both were born in Montreal. But all my (born) nineteenth century Georges are accounted for. Thanks to the Drouin Collection on Ancestry.com, I know George Matile Dougall was born 1 March 1866, son of James Duncan Dougall, merchant in Montreal, and Laure Emily Matile on 27 June 1888; a John Dougall was a witness at the June baptism, Zion Congregational church. I believe he is connected to what I call the Montreal Witness Dougalls.

Dougall Road in Kelowna, BC
Also out west, peripheral reference from a British Columbia newspaper article, unknown yet when or why this street naming was done. Dougalls are alive and well in Kelowna today.

Dougall Canal in Orillia, Ontario
I once met a Toronto resident from this family and we could establish no connection. Bruce Dougall's family began spending summers on Lake Couchiching in the late 1800s. Bruce "designed, financed and constructed" the canal over fifty years ago to open up Orillia's development. Clearly the family has been in Ontario well over one hundred years ― I've found nothing about their origins but haven't looked very hard. In 2015 the town re-named the canal to honour him.

Bench, Linlithgow, Scotland
A 2012 news item in the Linlithgow Gazette: a bench at Linlithgow Loch named for him is a tribute to local man Andrew Dougall. Nicknamed "Bushy," he was an avid fly-fisher, founding member of local fly-fishing clubs. Mr. Dougall died in 2008 at the age of 50. The locale where he loved to spend his time is among my family parishes. And the fishing gene runs strong in my family's Y-DNA!
Andrew Dougall's kin; I spy some red hair

A scenic group of places, if not exactly genealogically rewarding.

© 2015 Brenda Dougall Merriman. All rights reserved.

10 July 2015

DONE: Independent Small Print Publishing

... As "done" as any modest family history ever is. The dead ends and brick walls are obvious points for pulling together what you have and starting to write. In my case, that began about seven years ago. More sub-title: John Fraser from Inverness-shire, Scotland and John Fraser from Perthshire, Scotland.
Then, as so often happens in the evolving access to sources, more information surfaced as I applied myself to the narrative task. The research continued irresistibly as I wrote.

It's difficult for the genealogist to call a research halt; it's difficult for the writer to stop editing the manuscript. But the moral is you have to start writing sometime, and you have to stop somewhere.

The print-on-demand publisher I'd used before ‒ Belgium-based ShopMyBooks, formerly known as UniBook ‒ decided to go all "new and improved" and oh by the way, we are deleting your previous books with us unless you re-format them from scratch, imposing a fast-looming deadline. Following our three easy steps. Trust me, the steps were not easy and SMB was not responding to email. One friend complied, with difficulty, and had dreadfully frustrating delivery problems.

Originally the SMB process was easy for the technology-challenged. The search for something similar yielded websites like Lulu, CreateSpace, and Blurb. My manuscript was created long ago in 8.5 x 11 size to match my earlier family histories. Not every company would accept that size with the options I wanted and I was not going through 110 pages to re-format to say 8 x 10 with the headaches of re-sizing photos, placement of 243 footnotes, odd-page alignment for new chapters, etc. I chose CreateSpace (CS). So check out finished-size availability before you start formatting your manuscript in a certain size!

Uploading with CS is the easy part. And they will assign you an ISBN number if you wish. Because it's an American company, they want tax information which amounts to nothing if you are a non-US citizen, but still, some pertinent forms to go through. Also, because CS is an Amazon company they pay a lot of attention to marketing, sales, and distribution. You can set your own price, including a royalty if that turns you on. Since my only "market" is my extended family, I am not going into high gear over those aspects.

Cover design is important and has technical specifications that were over my beleaguered head. They would not be beyond your average, clear-thinking genealogist. I believe the three-mentioned companies have similar requirements, some providing a template to follow ~ but if I see the word bleed again in the next ten years it will be too soon ~ Instead I sought a knowledgeable colleague, for whom I am extremely grateful, to manage that feature. (CS does provide helpful services for a fee.)

I am pleased with the finished product and even more pleased with the discounted cost for my own purchases. Once I reviewed and approved the proof copy they provided, and sent in my own order, the delivery from South Carolina to Toronto was made in an astonishing forty-eight hours. Oopsy, did I mention? - customs duty on the shipment, not onerous.

Now I feel I can update the former family histories with some faith and familiarity in the procedure.

Without a doubt, further relevant genealogical sources and information and evidence will appear, with or without me. Let's hope My Fraser Families will inspire the millennial generation to carry on.

© 2015 Brenda Dougall Merriman

10 June 2015

Rights and Wrongs

This blog post began in anticipation of Canada's National Aboriginal Day, before the Truth and Reconciliation Report was made public on 2 June 2015. I ruminate as a student of the American Revolution and as a retired professional genealogist, long recognizing the contribution of indigenous allies to "our" eighteenth century cause, their modern struggles for identity, and moreover, their original presence everywhere in "our" land. Consider this post as random, naive pondering on our prejudices.

Dictionary of Canadian Biography
Where did we go off the rails since Champlain's day? That still-enigmatic man, regarded as a father of our country, is described as culturally and religiously tolerant in an age not known for tolerance in his Europe.[1] From colonial recognition of aboriginal rights in 1763, much seems downhill from there.

What would Champlain think of the imposition of the 1857 Gradual Civilization Act? And the consolidation in the 1876 Indian Act of previous measures that ultimately meant a choice between two loaded sets of "rights"?[2]
The Act deals with such things as the legal definition of who may claim Indian status in Canada, the rights and duties which accompany that status, the structure of Canada’s reserve system and the nature of Aboriginal self-government.[3]


Our historically devolving and increasingly paternal attitudes toward aboriginal peoples profoundly affected their living standards. Of course there are many other factors that led to the sad situation today, not only on numerous native reservations but among "enfranchised" people. Treaty rights and political scenarios have yet to be resolved; I decline to discuss them, being unqualified to do so. And yet, a few historical nuggets make me wonder how and where we went wrong.

If we go back to the founding of Upper Canada, the Simcoes received many kindnesses from the local Indians ‒ as they had much earlier been mis-named (but the generic name stuck). With due respect for the unintended irony in her quote:
Mrs. Simcoe was impressed with the tall muscular men of the Mohawk tribe. She related in her diary, "Jacob, the Mohawk, was there. He danced Scottish Reels with more ease and grace than any person I ever saw, and had the air of a prince ... I never saw so handsome a figure."[4]

And Indians were described:

One contemporary writer said they were truthful and never forgot a kindness. There were no words of blasphemy in their language. They had a great affection for their children and respect for the aged. Indians seldom quarrelled with whites unless insulted by them but were very quarrelsome among themselves. ... It is interesting to note that in 1810 a great number of these Christianized Indians did not use intoxicants at all whereas practically all whites drank to some extent.[5]

A conditional creeps in: One notices the phrase Christianized Indians. Shades of oppression to come. We should remember that many of the "all whites" drank to an exceeding extent if we read contemporary accounts. When did public perception begin changing? Derogatory accounts soon began, with little or no thought amongst the invasive newcomers of the radical disruption they caused and the corruption they spread.

A century later, a privately condescending splitting of hairs ― referring to the Six Nations that provided so much support to the British during the Revolution. A member of the newly formed United Empire Loyalist Association of Canada wrote, when voting franchise was a hot issue:
These Indians by their loyalty, by their intelligence, are on an entirely different plane from some of our other tribal Indians, and it seems to me that Canada would make no mistake in granting them the franchise (but not to the other Indians) merely as an encouragement to the other Indians to rise to the high plane that they have arisen.[6]

Ah. Differentiating "Loyalist Indians" as superior to other tribes ... is it human nature to make such distinctions at a time when assimilation and status were the overpowering government words?

From the late nineteenth century, laws and legal classifications in Canada were developed to prohibit the sale of liquor to "known drunkards" and Indians. "Known drunkards" could comprise any member of the human race but that phrase sank under the radar as the strictures quickly became colloquially called the Indian List. It reinforced the notion that aboriginals were racially incapable of handling alcohol.[7] It resulted in prototypical native classification and identification, effectively contributing to their social marginalization. "Carding" is not a recent concept.

Most of us didn't get their nomenclature right. Especially we did not understand their world view and inherent wisdom. From the beginning, what promises were made or expectations met? Removal has been a dominant historical theme.

Nothing about today's revelations is simple. Cultures that almost disappeared are slowly reviving. Will general public perception change? Our ancestors all but removed aboriginal self-determination and freedom. How soon can we make it right?


[1] See David Hackett Fischer, Champlain's Dream (Knopf Canada/Random House, 2008).
[2] "Legislation Concerning Canada's First Peoples," Canada's First Peoples (http://firstpeoplesofcanada.com/fp_treaties/john_fp33_indianact.html : accessed 6 June 2015). This is a good website for basic information.
[3] Jay Makarenko, "Aboriginal Legislation Prior to the Indian Act, 1867," in "The Indian Act, A Historical Overview," Mapleleafweb (www.mapleleafweb.com : accessed 30 June 2014). Another very informative website.
[4] Eric Hounsom, Toronto in 1810 (Toronto: Ryerson Press, 1970), 182.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Frank H. Keefer to [President of United Empire Loyalist Association of Canada] Dr Sterling Ryerson, 30 June 1914, letter, File 19, accession 944.005.1, Toronto Branch UELAC.
[7] Scott Thompson and Gary Genosko, Punched Drunk: Alcohol, Surveillance, and the LCBO 1927-1975 (http://www.puncheddrunk.ca/firstnations.html : accessed 24 June 2014).

© 2014 Brenda Dougall Merriman. All rights reserved.