If your ancestors were amongst the early Irish of the Ottawa Valley,1 do not overlook the McCabe List. There’s a chance you might find a male ancestor on this list; and if you do find an ancestor, you will have uncovered invaluable information on his Irish origins. As the above image demonstrates,2 to discover an ancestor on the McCabe List is to find the elusive holy grail (county, parish, townland) of Irish genealogy. If you suspect your Irish ancestor was in the Ottawa Valley area by the 1820s, therefore, the McCabe List should be high on your list of must-consult sources.
What is the McCabe List?
The McCabe List (named after the Belfast genealogist John McCabe, who discovered the document in the Public Record Office in Kew, England in the 1980s) was a petition signed by 673 men, the vast majority of them Irish,3 and many of them canal labourers working on the construction of the Rideau Canal. The petition was dated 5 February 1829, and was submitted to Lieutenant-Colonel John By, Superintending Engineer for the Rideau Canal, in the hope that, “as a Personage of distinction in this Country [Canada],” he might “intercede with Government” to secure assistance for “[our] Relatives residing in that Country [Ireland] in impoverished circumstances, who would have long since emigrated to British America, had they been possessed of the means so to do.” The petitioners were asking for government assistance, in other words, to help their impoverished relations in Ireland to emigrate to Canada. Although nothing ever came of this request for emigration assistance, the petition survived as part of the British government’s Colonial Office series (CO 384: War and Colonial Department and Colonial Office: Emigration Original Correspondence).
Where can you find the McCabe List?
First, there is a published version of the McCabe List: The McCabe List: Early Irish in the Ottawa Valley, by Bruce S. Elliott, index by DeAlton Owens (Ontario Genealogical Society: 2002). This is a published transcription of the original document, with a valuable introduction by Elliott, and a handy and easy-to-use index.
Third, there are some excerpts (some of them cross-linked to other pages of information) of the McCabe List at Al Lewis’s indispensable Bytown or Bust.
And finally, and most excitingly, I think, if you subscribe to ancestry.ca, you now have online access to the complete petition. It is not listed as a separate source at ancestry.ca, however, but is contained within a larger, and largely unindexed, collection.
Here is a direct link. And here is how to find it:
- Go to Canada, Immigration and Settlement Correspondence and Lists, 1817-1896 (this collection is currently listed under Ancestry.ca’s “Recently added and updated collections;” you can also find it under “Immigration and Travel”).
- Select the year range 1817-1851.
- Select (Volume 022) North America Emigration Societies; Individuals, 1829.
- Go to images 82-133 (pages 65-113). The signatures (or marks, for those who could not sign) begin at image 87 (p. 68).
- By “early Irish,” I mean those who were in Upper Canada by the late 1820s (well before the Great Famine; and by the way, if you are researching Ireland-to-Canada ancestors, please don’t assume that they emigrated during the Famine era: they may have arrived in Canada a couple of decades earlier). ↵
- The National Archives; London, England; War and Colonial Department and Colonial Office: Emigration Original Correspondence; Class: WO 384; Piece Title: North America Emigration Societies; Individuals; Piece: 22. Ancestry.ca: Canada, Immigration and Settlement Correspondence and Lists, 1817-1896 (database on-line). ↵
- Almost all of them Irish, but a few French Canadians also signed the document. ↵