M.C. Moran

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.

Fitzgerald, from Ireland to Hastings Co., Ontario

A reader is looking for information on William Fitzgerald (born in Ireland about 1816) and his wife Ellen (born in Ireland about 1813). The couple emigrated from Ireland, and came to Hastings Co., Ontario in 1843. One of their sons, John Fitzgerald, married Mary Ann Hickey in 1864. Many of the family are buried at St. Ignatius R.C. Cemetery in Maynooth, McClure Township, Hastings Co., Ontario.

Any information would be greatly appreciated.

Currie/Curry or Corry, from Fermanagh to the Ottawa Valley

A reader is looking for information on a family who emigrated from Co. Fermanagh, Ireland to the Ottawa Valley in the early- to mid-19th century. The family name was Currie/Curry or Corry, and the forenames were Patrick, Frank, Thomas, and Christopher. They apparently left Ireland with the Lunney family who settled at Pakenham (Lanark Co., Ontario).

The Lunneys were in Canada by the mid-1830s: on 24 January 1836 (Notre Dame, Bytown/Ottawa), Edward Joseph Lunney (son of Patrick Lunney and Rose Reilly) married Johanna Mantle (daughter of John Mantle and Ellen Hourigan).

Any information on this Currie/Curry/Corry family of Fermanagh would be much appreciated.

Death of Alexander Michael Moran

The Ottawa Journal, 1 February 1939.

The Ottawa Journal, 1 February 1939.

Newspaper obituaries often supply loads of genealogically useful information, along with interesting forename and surname spellings.

Here, for example, is the obituary for my paternal great-grandfather Alexander Michael Moran (1871-1939). A fairly standard obituary, which informs readers of the death of A.M. Moran, and supplies practical information about the arrangements for his funeral and burial. But from the perspective of a genealogical researcher, this obituary offers a good deal more.

In addition to listing his birthplace (Huntley, Ontario) and his place of death (231 Armstrong St., Ottawa), it also supplies information about his former employment. (He worked for the Grand Trunk Railway, and then for the Canadian Pacific. My father always told me he was a machinist for the GTR.)

And it names 12 other people:

There is also a reference to seven grandchildren, but these grandchildren are not named. My father was one of these seven.

There is one obvious typo-type error in the list of names: “Annie N. Benton” should be “Annie M. Benton” (for Anna Maria Benton). And there is also a surname spelling variation (I hesitate to call it an error, since I’m always insisting that spelling doesn’t count in genealogy, and that you mustn’t cling to the notion of a “correct” surname spelling if you want to find your ancestors’ records) which might prove misleading, if I didn’t already know the name. The obituary names the mother of my great-grandfather as “Mary Levoy, of Pakenham.” If I didn’t already know that she was the Irish-born Mary Leavy [Levi/Levy], originally of Co. Longford, Ireland, I might go looking for a French/French-Canadian Marie Levoy.

For me, it is somewhat poignant to read that “the death of Alexander Michael Moran occurred at his residence, 231 Armstrong street, suddenly on Tuesday” (31 January 1939). Poignant because it makes me think of my now-deceased father (who died 14 March 2013), who once told me about the death of his grandfather, some of the details of which he could still recall so many years after the event.

231 Armstrong Street was also the home of my father at the time of his grandfather’s death: my dad, with his parents and his older sister Rosemary, lived upstairs at 231 Armstrong St., while his grandparents, Alec and Annie (Alexander Michael Moran and Anna Maria Benton), lived downstairs and ran a small grocery store out of the front of the house. My father recollected that he used to love to go for car rides with his grandfather, to go with him to deliver groceries from the shop or to make deliveries for the St. Vincent de Paul Society. He also recalled that his grandfather played the fiddle, and that he loved to drink buttermilk. “He was a quiet man,” said my father, “and very kind.”

My father (born September 1934) was four years and four months old in January 1939, and was at home when his grandfather died. Some seventy-odd years after the death, he still had a vivid memory of seeing his beloved grandfather lying dead. Apparently my great-grandfather had been outside shovelling snow, and, feeling unwell, had gone inside, where he suffered a massive, and fatal, heart attack.

How much of my father’s memory of his grandfather’s death can be attributed to a direct recollection of a dramatic and traumatic event? and how much of it had been mediated by later retellings of the story over the years? This I do not, and cannot, know. But I’m pretty sure that my dad did remember something of the awful drama surrounding his grandfather’s death, even though my father was only about four and half years old at the time. In the world of my father’s childhood (and it really was a different world, in so many respects), adults didn’t try to hide the reality of death from even very young children, the way we now do.

Anyway, to return to the main idea of this post:

Newspaper obituaries can be extremely useful genealogical sources, but are often riddled with errors and inaccuracies. Follow up on all possible clues (and a close and careful reading of an obituary will often yield important clues), but never, ever assume that because it was printed in the papers, it must therefore be officially, and incontrovertibly, true.

  1. Two other brothers had predeceased him. John Moran, born 1854, died at Rochester, Minnesota in 1921. James Moran, born about 1858, died at Nepean Township in 1899.
  2. One other sister had predeceased him. Margaret Jane Moran, born about 1856, died at Huntley in May 1873, at about sixteen years of age.

Link

As if Ireland hasn’t already lost enough invaluable and irreplaceable genealogical records, John Grenham sounds the alarm over the state of the original Roman Catholic parish registers — which are “still sitting in the sacristies and presbyteries around the country where they have been for the past two centuries,” with no preservation plan in place, and “no archival programme to ensure their survival.”