Monthly Archives: July 2013

Bigamy in the 19th century: how common?

I’m going to guess: not very common. And yet, it certainly did happen. I’ve actually come across very solid evidence of a bigamy case in the 1840s in the parish register for St. Philip’s RC Church in Richmond. No relations of mine, or I would certainly post about the case.

When you think about 19th-century parish registers, you probably think about names and dates and records. Well, that’s what I generally think about, because I most often consult the parish registers searching for names and dates in the records. But if you read through the parish registers very closely (which I sometimes do, and find myself engrossed in the perusal of records that don’t even mention my own ancestors; but I can’t stop reading, because here is a window into the world of my ancestors, even when they themselves are not cited), you will find traces, and sometimes more than traces, of human dramas and human sorrows; of misjudgments and miscalculations; of criminal violence and sexual exploitation; of the scandals that once blighted actual lives, and that once ruined the hopes and expectations of those who were once living, breathing, flesh-and-blood people.

Incest? Yes, I have seen one obvious 1 instance in an Ottawa Valley RC parish register: it was shocking to come across, even 150-or-so years later. “Illegitimate” (i.e., out-of-wedlock) births? I’ve seen too many instances to enumerate (though the vast majority of RC baptismal records that I’ve read, I should add, concern an infant who was “born of the lawful marriage of [name of father] and of [name of mother].” Bigamy? Yeah, I’ve seen evidence  of that, too; though, in the interests of accuracy, even it runs against an impulse toward sensationalism, I have to say that I can only think of one example (at St. Philip’s, Richmond, already mentioned above) of obvious bigamy.

I suspect that one of the brothers of one my 2x-great-grandmothers was guilty of bigamy. But I haven’t yet posted the details, because so far the evidence I’ve amassed is highly circumstantial, and I haven’t yet found the “smoking gun” that would prove him guilty of what I now just suspect. This is one of those cases where things just look a bit weird, and the details don’t seem to add up. Am I just letting my imagination run away with me? Perhaps. But there is definitely something a bit irregular here, something that doesn’t quite look right. I will post details if and when I find that crucial piece of documented evidence.

For the most part, my Ottawa Valley ancestors (and yours too, if you had ancestors who settled in the Ottawa Valley in the nineteenth century) lived in small, face-to-face communities, where bigamy was not at all a viable life strategy: too many eyes and ears, too many folks who knew exactly who you were, and where your parents came from, and what your father did. And the penalties for bigamy in 19th-century Britain and the British colonies were quite severe: up to seven years of penal servitude, after all, and by “hard labour,” they meant, “We will work you so hard, we will make you wish you had never been born.”

On the other hand, the boundaries between regions and provinces, and even between the British-run Canadian dominions and the newly-forged American republic, were in the nineteenth century highly porous and permeable, and easy enough to slip through. You could cross the border into America without a passport in the 1900s (which was decades before the establishment of a regular system of passport control); you could totally game the system (which was not yet a “system”). For those with the ambition, or perhaps with the law breathing down their necks, there was always the chance to cross over (into the States), to head out, to head west, to “light out for the Territory.”

The brother (of the 2x–great-grandmother) that I suspect of bigamy was raised in Lanark Co., Ontario (whether born in Lanark Co., Ontario, or perhaps in Ireland: this I do not know), and he died and was buried a couple of thousand miles away, in Washington State, in the US of A. Did he cross that border, and take that escape route, into a new life with a new wife?

Have you come across any evidence of bigamy in your own family tree? Not to reduce genealogical research to the status of a gossip mag or a scandal sheet, but ‘enquiring minds want to know!’

  1. Obvious, as in, the priest explicitly spelled out the relationship between the parents of the baptized children, which was that of an uncle and his niece. The priest could not hide his disapproval of the “unlawful” union of uncle and niece even as he baptized their innocent children, and who could blame him? Btw, in the 1851 census, the uncle and niece were recorded as a married couple, which they certainly were not.

Link

Some excellent advice by professional genealogist John Grenham, whose Irish Roots column is a must-read.

School Photo from…St. Malachy’s? St. Patrick’s?

This is a wonderful group photo, taken, I presume, on the steps of a school.

I only wish I knew which school.

My dad is in the second row, third from the left (here indicated with a blue arrow — which I’ve only inserted on a digital copy, of course! not on the original photo). He appears to have a lump on his forehead: perhaps as the result of a fight?

John Alexander Moran (1934-2013) in a group (presumably school) photo. Late 1940s?

John Alexander Moran (1934-2013) in a group (presumably school) photo. Late 1940s?

My father grew up in a working-class Irish and French neighbourhood of Ottawa (Mechanicsville). As children, my sisters and I used to thrill to his stories of “the street”: of street violence, and of street “smarts,” and of a seemingly anarchic, parental-free zone that we could only imagine in our dreams. To hear my dad tell the tale, apparently he and his classmates once threw an English teacher off the bridge into the Rideau Canal! (but did that really happen? er, I don’t know). Well, no doubt he embroidered and exaggerated for rhetorical effect: he always loved a good story. But of his ridiculously strict (by today’s standards) Catholic education, my dad was always dead serious and crystal clear: “We were but savages, and the priests meant to civilize us, and that was the only way out” (out of poverty, and mindless tribalism; and out of lace doilies on the arms of an ugly settee in a small, still, close room; and out of Mechanicsville).

The boy in the front row, second from the left, looks like a Lahey cousin with whom my father grew up, with whom he was especially close; but who knows?

My father attended St. Patrick’s College, Ottawa for secondary school (high school), from roughly 1947 or 1948 to 1952 or 1953 (I don’t have the exact dates, though I probably could, and perhaps should, figure this out). For the later years of his elementary education (grades 7 and 8?), he was at St. Malachy’s.

Did your father attend St. Pat’s, Ottawa? Or, perhaps, St. Malachy’s? Do you see him in this photograph?

UPDATE (6 August 2013): The boy in the front row, second from the left, is indeed the Lahey cousin (a son of Clifford Lahey and Stella McDonnell) with whom my father grew up. This cousin’s daughter is almost certain that this photo was taken in front of St. Pat’s, but is going to ask her father.

UPDATE (15 August 2013): The above photo was taken in front of St. Patrick’s, school year 1947-48.

 

A 9-year-old boy who died “of the disease of Irish emigrants”

This was posted on Facebook, by the Institut généalogique Drouin (but the screencap below is from ancestry.ca: Quebec, Vital and Church Records [Drouin Collection], 1621-1967). It is the burial record for a nine-year-old boy named Henry Gill, “décédé de la maladie des émigrés irlandais” ([who] died of the disease of Irish emigrants):

Burial record for Henry, 17 September 1847, St-Louis de Lotbinière, Québec.

Burial record for Henry Gill, 17 September 1847, St-Louis de Lotbinière, Québec.

“La maladie des émigrés irlandais” (the malady, or disease, of Irish emigrants) was, of course, the dreaded typhus. For a brief account of the typhus epidemic of 1847, see History – 1847: A tragic year at Grosse Île (Grosse Île and the Irish Memorial National Historic Site of Canada).

The priest did not have the names of the boy’s parents (“fils legitime d’un père et d’une mère d’ont nous n’avons pas avoir les noms”/”legitimate son of a father and a mother for whom we have not acquired the names”), but he noted that Henry Gill was the brother of Patrick and of Catherine Gill. A commenter at Facebook notes that Henry Gill and his siblings Patrick and Catherine were the children of John Gill and Mary Lynch, and links to a database of Les orphelins irlandais arrivés à Grosse-Île en 1847-48 (Irish orphans who arrived at Grosse Île in 1847-48), where the Gill children can be found at Reg. Nos. 176, 178, and 177.

Kind of amazing to see these records online, and to see people commenting, and cross-referencing, and cross-linking to other records and databases.