Monthly Archives: May 2014

Heritage Passages: Rideau Canal history

A new online exhibit

If you have Irish ancestors who were in the Bytown (Ottawa) area by the late 1820s, you should certainly check the McCabe List (which I wrote about in this entry).

And if you’re lucky enough to discover an ancestor on the McCabe List,1 you may want to learn more about the Rideau Canal and its construction.

Heritage Passages: Bytown and the Rideau Canal is an online interactive exhibit which presents the history of Bytown “from the arrival of Colonel John By in 1826 to the incorporation of the City of Ottawa in 1855.” The site makes use of extensive archival materials to explore the social, cultural, economic and political dimensions of the construction of the Bytown Locks, organizing its material under such headings as Military, Disease, Labour, and Community.

The section on Disease includes some fascinating material on malaria (which was known as ague, swamp fever, and lake fever). Malaria is now extremely rare in Canada and the United States, and most people now see it as an exclusively tropical disease. But during the construction of the Rideau Canal, malarial outbreaks were common, and the disease killed hundreds of men, women, and children. Even Colonel By himself contracted malaria! The malaria section includes “A Personal Account of Malaria” from John McTaggart’s
Three years in Canada (1829).

The section on Community explores some of the tensions between different groups (French, English, Scottish, and Irish), whose political, economic, and religious rivalries could sometimes erupt into violent clashes. See, for example, the subsections on Brawling Bytown, Lawlessness, and Conflict and Struggle — early Bytown was a very different place from the staid and peaceful Ottawa that it would become. Not surprisingly, “it was the impoverished working-class Irish who were generally held responsible for the disruption of the peace, though it is uncertain whether such accusations were based on fact or on negative cultural stereotypes.” It should be noted that the worst period of violence (1835 to 1845) came after the construction of the Rideau Canal, when unemployed Irish vied with French Canadians for jobs in the timber trade.

Heritage Passages: Bytown and the Rideau Canal is a great example of how the internet can be used to offer a deeply sourced and multilayered form of public history.  

  1. I say “lucky” because to discover an ancestor on the McCabe List is, in most cases, to find the Holy Grail of Irish genealogy, at least for that ancestor and his family: you will get the name of a county and a parish, and perhaps also the name of a town or townland within that parish.

Ottawa Passé & Présent/Ottawa Past & Present

Ottawa Passé & Présent/Ottawa Past & Present is a remarkable website: an interactive blog which juxtaposes photographs from Ottawa’s past with photographs from the Ottawa of today.

Here, for example, is 96 to 102 Wellington Street, in 1938 and in 2014. Use your mouse to move the slider to the right to reveal the photograph from 1938; move the slider to the left to reveal the 2014 photo. The beauty of brick and stone masonry, with arched windows and doors to soften and humanize the building’s lines, versus the cold utilitarianism of completely regular rectangles of glass.

And here is the Ottawa Public Library at the corner of Metcalfe St. and Laurier Ave., circa 1900 (I believe this Carnegie library opened in 1906) and in 2013. Again, use your mouse to move the slider from left to right, and from right to left, to reveal how a beautiful neo-classical building was replaced by, in siteowner Alexandre Laquerre’s terms, “another one more along the lines of brutalism.” It is to weep.

As I mentioned in my post on the “Lost Ottawa” Facebook group, I find it rather depressing to view the photographs of older Ottawa buildings that were demolished in the name of “progress” and “development:” in my opinion, the wanton destruction of heritage buildings to make way for soulless concrete blocks and generic condo towers is an ongoing scandal in Ottawa’s urban planning. Needless to say, I can only agree with Ottawa Past & Present’s tagline: “We believe this city could be better.”

Ottawa Passé & Présent/Ottawa Past & Present is the work of Alexandre Laquerre, an engineer who has lived in Ottawa since 2006, and whose interest in architectural heritage was first inspired by his dismay over the destructive effects of the Dufferin superhighway (l’autoroute Dufferin-Montmorency) on the downtown core of his native Quebec City. The website is clearly a labour of love; and also, I think, a gift to the Ottawa public.

Catholic or Protestant? Can you tell by the forenames? Preliminary

I’ve been meaning to write about this topic for the longest time, ever since a reader asked me, ‘Can you assume Catholic or Protestant for a family on the basis of their children’s first names?’

And my shorter answer is: No. No, you cannot infer a religious affiliation for your Irish ancestors on the basis of their children’s first names (or forenames). The only way to confidently ascertain your ancestor’s religion is to find evidence of religious affiliation in a reliable source (in a parish register, for example, or in a cemetery record).

And my longer answer (No, not necessarily, but…) is forthcoming…

But in the meantime, I was reminded of this question when I looked at the top ten first names in my genealogy database. The majority of individuals in this database were of Irish Catholic origin (but the database includes a significant minority of French Canadians, who were also Catholic). And here are the top ten first names:

  1. Mary
  2. John
  3. James
  4. Margaret
  5. Thomas
  6. Catherine
  7. Patrick
  8. Michael
  9. William
  10. Bridget

Of the above list of names, I would say that Patrick, Michael, and Bridget warrant a presumption in favour of Irish Catholic. Whereas Mary, John, James, Margaret? maybe Irish, maybe English, maybe Scottish, who knows? Catholic, Anglican, or Presbyterian: again, who knows? The only way to confidently ascertain is to get serious with the records.

Don’t expect every Irish Catholic ancestor in your family tree to announce himself the product of a Catholic Gaeltacht with a name like Séamus O’Shaughnessy. Some of your Irish RC ancestors may have had names like John Smith.

By the way, there is no Séamus O’Shaughnessy in my database; I just pulled that name out of a hat. There are certainly some Irish Catholic Smiths in my database, though.

Thomas Benton and Catherine Dwyer, Cappawhite, Tipperary

One of my brick wall ancestors is my great-great-grandfather Thomas Benton, who was born in Ireland about 1830, emigrated to Canada in the 1850s, and died at Arnrprior (Renfrew County, Ontario) in 1890.

He married Hanora (“Annie”) Ryan about 1856, but I’ve yet to find a marriage record for this couple, and I don’t know whether they were married in Ireland or in Canada. Thomas Benton and Hanora Ryan had nine known children, apparently all born in Canada, with eight surviving to adulthood. I have baptismal records for seven of these nine children, but not for the two eldest, Catherine Benton (born about 1857) and Thomas Benton Jr (born about 1859). The first real proof of Thomas and Annie [Ryan] Benton’s presence in Canada is the baptismal record for their third child, Bridget Benton (born in February 1861; baptized 1 March 1861). The family can be found in the 1861 Census of Canada (Pakenham, Lanark Co., Ontario), where the birthplace for Thomas Benton and his wife Anne is given as Ireland, and the birthplace for their children Catherine and Thomas given as Upper Canada.

Thomas Benton died 7 March 1890, of head injuries sustained in a horrible accident at a lumber mill. While I have his church burial record (St. John Chrysostom, Arnprior), I have not found an Ontario civil death registration. An obituary in the Arnprior Chronicle does not name his parents. So: with no marriage record, and with no mention of his parents in either his RC burial record or his obituary, the trail goes cold.

But there’s a family in Cappawhite, Tipperary that interests me (especially as Thomas Benton married a Ryan whose family came from Tipperary):

A Thomas Benton married a Catherine (“Kitty”) Dwyer in Cappawhite, Tipperary on 11 March 1809. The couple had at least five known children, all born Cappawhite, Tipperary:

  1. Hanora Benton, baptized 19 December 1818
  2. Kitty Benton, baptized 15 October 1821
  3. Winny [Winnifred] Benton, baptized 8 February 1824
  4. Thomas Benton, baptized 8 June 1826 (could this be my 2x-great-grandfather?)
  5. William Benton, baptized 9 May 1832

So I’m looking for information on the descendants of Thomas Benton and Catherine (“Kitty”) Dwyer, of Cappawhite, Tipperary. Any information would be much appreciated.

John Lynch and Unity Fox, Strabane, Co. Tyrone

A reader is looking for information about her great-grandparents John Lynch (born about 1856, Co. Tyrone) and Unity Fox (born about 1856, Co. Tyrone). The couple were married on 22 May 1878 at a Roman Catholic chapel (possibly Cloughcor Chapel?), parish of Leckpatrick, Strabane, Co. Tyrone, Ireland, with Daniel Murphy and Mary J. Murphy serving as witnesses. Their marriage record lists their residence as Woodend, parish of Leckpatrick, Strabane, Co. Tyrone.

John Lynch married Unity Fox as a widower; the name of his first wife is not known.

John Lynch and Unity Fox had at least one son, John Lynch (Junior), born 17 October 1879, Strabane, Tyrone, Ireland, who married Mary Catherine Boyle in 1909. John Lynch (Junior) and Mary Catherine Boyle emigrated to Canada in 1913, with their four young daughters Winnifred, Catherine Jane, Helen, and Elizabeth Lynch. The family settled at Cornwall, Stormont Co., Ontario, where they had two more children, sons Jack and James Lynch.

The reader is trying to find out the names of her great-great-grandparents (i.e., the parents of John Lynch [Senior], who was born about 1856, and of Unity Fox, who was also born about 1856).

Any information would be greatly appreciated.

Pre-1901 Irish Census Records Online

First, the bad news (not that it’s news: if you’ve been pursuing Irish genealogy at a level beyond that of absolute beginner, you already know about the sad loss of the nineteenth-century Irish census returns):

There are no surviving census returns for 1891, 1881, 1871, and 1861. And there are very, very few surviving census returns for 1851, 1841, 1831, and 1821.

Yes, I know: it is to weep. John Grenham explains the sorry situation at his Irish Roots column.

And now for a bit of good news (and this really is a new and welcome development):

The surviving pre-1901 census records (and to reiterate: most pre-1901 Irish census returns did not survive) are now available online, and free of charge, at the National Archives of Ireland’s website (census.nationalarchives.ie).

Shaun O’Connor at Ottawa Family Tree has a nice post on the topic, with a summary of what’s available.