Oral History

Occupation: Married Woman (Canada Voters Lists, 1935-1980)

During the 1930s Alex and Annie operated a small grocery shop in their home on Armstrong St. In the depths of the depression my father, who was a railroader, got very little work and we were often short of cash. At those times our credit was good and we could always get the essentials at the Morans. There were lots of card games and visits to and fro. Uncle Alex was also a fiddle player and he and Aunt Em Delaney played for dancing and entertainment.

– Emmett Patrick Sloan, Memories of the Morans (2007)

Ancestry.ca has an extremely useful database of voters lists: “Canada, Voters Lists, 1935-1980.” These lists can be used as a census substitute of sorts, although of course they only include adult citizens (age 21 and over until 1970, at which point the voting age was lowered to 18). They can help to discover and/or verify addresses, and they may also provide some useful information on occupations.

But as with the Canadian census (and the US federal census, for that matter, and the UK census too), these voters lists tend to erase evidence of occupation for married women. Well, perhaps “erase” is too strong a term? it suggests an act of commission, when what we are dealing with, arguably, is an act of omission.

My great-grandparents Alex (Alexander Michael) and Annie (Anna Maria Benton) Moran had a grocery store, a small “mom-and-pop” operation at the front of their  house on Armstrong St. Here they are in the 1935 List of Electors (Victoria Ward, City of Ottawa), with my grandparents Allan Jerome Moran and Mary Catherine Lahey (here listed as Mrs Allan [W] [= Wife], married woman) listed just below:

Alexander Moran, Carleton, Ontario, 1935. Ancestry.ca: database online. Original: Library and Archives Canada; Ottawa, Ontario, Canada; Voters Lists, Federal Elections, 1935-1980; Reel: M-4739.

Notice how Alex and Annie’s “mom-and-pop” operation has become a “pop” operation in this document: Moran, Alexander is listed as a “grocery store proprietor,” while his wife Annie (Mrs Alexander, [W] [= Wife]) is given the occupational designation of “married woman.”

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.

Scarlet fever deaths in March Township, 1870-1871

You know you’re a census geek when you find yourself reading the “Nominal Return(s) of Deaths” from the Canadian census returns.

The “Nominal Return of the Deaths within the last twelve months” (1871 Census of Canada, Ontario, Carleton County, Township of March) for the Township of March records twenty deaths in the township for the period roughly covering April 1870 to April 1871 (census enumeration officially began on 2 April, 1871, and the schedule of deaths was to cover the past twelve months).

Of these twenty recorded deaths, I count three adults, and seventeen children.

I am counting James “Houricane” [= James Hourigan, son of Thomas Hourigan and Mary Moran] as an adult, though he was only eighteen years of age when he died, in October 1870, apparently of “Inflammation on the Lungs.” In oral family history, as recorded, for example, by Peter Alexander (“Alec”) Lunney (see “‘My Maternal Ancestors,’ by Alec Lunney”), James Hourigan’s death has been attributed to the Great Fire of 1870. While his death did not occur on the night (the night of August 17, 1870, that is) of the Great Fire, perhaps his “Inflammation on the Lungs” was a result of injuries sustained through exposure to the fire? Or did James Hourigan’s untimely death, coming so soon after the dramatic event of the Great Fire, get mixed in with accounts of the fire, so that it was (mistakenly or confusedly) handed down as a result of that fire, when it was the result of some other cause entirely?

Three of the deaths (one adult, with two of his children) were undoubtedly the tragic result of the Great Fire of 1870. John Hogan, aged 35, and his sons John (aged 9) and Richard (aged two months) were “Burnt to death on the night of the great fire of the 17 of August.” A ghastly incident. I’m sure I have come across an account of John Hogan’s desperate, and unsuccessful, attempt to save his two young sons — in a local history, perhaps? At the moment, I cannot remember where.

In addition to James Hourigan and John Hogan, the other adult death was that of Mary Williams, who died of “Dropsy” in June 1870, at the age of 33. 1

Nominal return of deaths in March township

Nominal return of deaths in March township

So: three adult deaths, at least one of them the result of Great Fire of 1870 (but possibly two, if James Hourigan’s “Inflammation on the Lungs” was fire-related), and two childhood deaths also the horrible outcome of that fire. The remaining fifteen deaths were those of children, several of them infants, and most of them very young.

A Michael (here given as “Michel”) Moran died of “infantile debility” at the age of one month (no connection to my Morans of Huntley Township that I know of, by the way).

At least eight of the children died of scarlet fever (or “Scarlet Feaver,” as written above). And some of the deaths are not attributed to any recorded cause: for “Disease, or other cause of Death,” there is just a blank, with no information supplied. But some of these blanks immediately follow upon ditto marks for the cause of “Scarlet Feaver” — perhaps more ditto marks were implied, so that even more of the deaths were the result of scarlet fever? In any case, of the fifteen childhood deaths that can presumably be attributed to childhood illness (and not to the dreadful calamity of the Great Fire), over half (at least eight) were reportedly the result of scarlet fever.

Scarlet fever (a highly contagious bacterial infection) was once a horrible scourge, but thankfully is no longer: “once a very serious childhood disease,” it is now “easily treatable” by antibiotics.

So many childhood illnesses that used to run rampant, unchallenged and unchecked, through villages and towns and communities, and carry off too many infants and children in their wake: now readily treated, or easily prevented through vaccination.

  1. On “dropsy” (= excess fluid buildup) as a “symptom rather than a cause of a disease,” see “Dropsy, and Researching Other Archaic Medical Terms” at Kim Smith’s Dead and Gone.

The Barley Grain For Me (O.J. Abbott and Pete Seeger)

seeger-abbott_newport

O.J. [Oliver John] Abbott, Home Child, singing “The Barley Grain For Me” with Pete Seeger, at the Newport Folk Festival, 1959-60:

How/why did this English orphan from Paddington, London know so many of the old Irish tunes? Because when he was sent to Canada, as an 8- or 9-year old boy, he was placed with some of the Irish farmers of South March (and apparently learned some of his songs from the Laheys of March).

(More on O.J. Abbott in a future entry…he is one of Canada’s most notable folk singers).

Research Tip of the Day (Oral History Interviews)

If you read genealogy ‘how-to’ books, ‘researching your family history’ guidebooks, advice for oral historians, and so on and so forth, you’ve no doubt already come across this very obvious, but very important, piece of advice. But the advice (or admonition) is so important, I believe (and I speak from bitter, regretful experience), that I think it bears repeating:

Don’t wait.

Don’t wait too long; don’t save it for a rainy day; don’t wait until it’s too late to conduct an oral history interview with an elderly relation who might (and who almost certainly will, if you listen carefully) supply valuable information; colourful anecdotes; or just a sense of the ‘pastness’ of your family’s past. Do it now. Or, if you cannot do it now, do it tomorrow. And perhaps you should have done it the day before yesterday? (Believe you me, I speak from bitter, regret-filled experience).

Do not wait.

Don’t think, ‘Well, I really should interview Aunt Mildred one of these days,’ and then put it off until some point in the distant, seemingly infinite and limitless future. Yes, Aunt Mildred at age 86 seems as hale and hearty as a woman half her age, and has been known to drink a much younger man under the table. She’s a real force of nature, is Aunt Mildred, and such a character! I really should try to interview her one of these days.

Don’t wait. Do not wait until “one of these days” is a day late, and a dollar short.

Your elderly aunt, however impressively sturdy and young for her age, is but mortal, after all, and her time on this earth is finite and limited. Call Aunt Mildred today, or at least tomorrow morning, to set up an interview. Don’t risk depriving yourself (and your family) of the information and the insights that your aunt might have to offer; don’t risk depriving Aunt Mildred of the chance to reminisce, and to regale you with stories of times past, or perhaps to finally set the record straight. Do not wait to talk to Aunt Mildred. Talk to her now, or tomorrow morning, or perhaps the day before yesterday.

(The above example of “Aunt Mildred” is almost [almost!] entirely fictional, and devised for illustrative purposes only [or almost only, at any rate]. When I get a chance, I will post about an actual, real-world example of the ‘don’t wait’ approach to oral history interviews. In this, I will speak from experience).

 

Aside

A local chant, as told to me by my mother:

Perth! Perth! Get off the earth!

and let the green grass grow.

Smiths Falls! Smiths Falls! Get off the walls!

and let the pictures hang.

Perth = Perth, Lanark Co., Ontario. Smiths Falls is also in Lanark Co., Ontario.

Home Children: Open Secrets (Part 1)

“Could you look up Mary Hogan?” asked my dad’s cousin Aggie. “I think she may have been,” and this added sotto voce, as if, even after so many years, there might yet be something to hide, “a Home Girl.”1

A Home Girl?

At the time, I knew next to nothing about the Home Child movement, the child emigration scheme which saw over 100,000 children sent from Britain to Canada between 1869 and 1930. And yet, I must have already encountered the term somewhere, because the “Home Girl” designation immediately made some sort of sense to me. I imagined an orphan: an orphan from England? (though Hogan is an Irish surname, obviously, and from the description provided by my father and his cousin Aggie, Mary Hogan certainly sounded Irish).2

Well, I had heard of the “Barnado Boys,” of course. Indeed, I had no doubt first encountered the term as a young girl, when I avidly devoured Lucy Maud Montgomery’s series about Canada’s most beloved (though fictional!) orphan girl ever. As a childhood devotee of “Anne with an e,” I had read of Marilla Cuthbert drawing a line in the sand at the thought of a Barnardo Boy, or, in a phrase which captures the casual racism of the time, a “London street Arab.”3

My father and his cousin recalled Mary Hogan from their childhood as a somewhat elderly and somewhat eccentric fixture on the Burke family farm: not quite a blood relation, perhaps, but no mere “hired girl,” either, and “almost family” through affinity and through sheer length of tenure: apparently she had been with the Laheys and the Burkes since forever.

Well, since at least as far back as 1891, at any rate…

  1. Oral interview with Mary Frances Agnes O’Neill, January 2007.
  2. As I was later to learn, there was nothing unusual about “English” Home Children of Irish origin. In fact, Ottawa (more specifically, St. George’s Home on Wellington Street in Ottawa, now Holy Rosary Rectory) was one of the main receiving centres for Catholic children sent to Canada from Great Britain under the auspices of various English Catholic “protection societies,” which apparently set themselves up as Roman Catholic alternatives to the Protestant-centred Barnardo scheme. Many, probably most, of these Catholic children were of Irish background. For more on the Catholic Home Child movement, see  Frederick J. McEvoy, “‘These Treasured Children of God’: Catholic Child Immigration to Canada” (CCHA, Historical Studies, 65, 1999, 50-70).
  3. “‘At first Matthew suggested getting a Barnardo boy. But I said “no” flat to that. ‘They may be all right — I’m not saying they’re not, but no London street Arabs for me,’ I said. ‘Give me a native born at least. There’ll be a risk, no matter who we get. But I’ll feel easier in my mind and sleep sounder at nights if we get a born Canadian.’” Lucy Maud Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables, cap. 1

When did my maternal grandparents meet?

My maternal grandparents John (“Jack”) Eugene McGlade1 and Delia Lucie Derouin were married on 10 February 1931, at St. John Chyrostom RC Church in Arnprior (Renfrew Co., Ontario). My grandfather lived in his birthplace of Perth (Lanark Co., Ontario) at the time, but was married at his bride’s parish, as per custom and tradition.

Until recently, I hadn’t given too much thought as to when my maternal grandparents might have met, though I had certainly wondered about where (he being from Perth, she being from Otter Lake…).

  1.  My grandfather was probably named after both his paternal and his maternal grandfathers: John after John McGlade, and Eugene after Eugene McCarthy.