Stories

Marriage of Edmund Conroy and Margo Jemmison

book cover areyoumymotherIf, as promised in December 2014, the National Library of Ireland launches a website with digitized images of its Roman Catholic parish register microfilms, this will be a game changer for Irish genealogy and family history research.1 As John Grenham puts it:

These records are – by a long way – the single most important source of historical Irish family information, one of the greatest legacies of the Catholic Church to Ireland.

The idea that someone in Ottawa or Boston (or anywhere in the world, really) will now have free, online access to a set of records (the single most important set of records for Irish genealogy, given the loss of the 19th-century census records) that, until recently, had seemed to lie hidden inside an Irish family history mysterium … well, this is a great idea, is it not?

To be sure, there will be challenges. Many of the records are in Latin, with seemingly bizarre latinized renderings of Irish forenames (Diarmuid [anglicized as Dermot] becomes Jeremiah; Sheila becomes Cecilia; and so on). Pages torn or ripped out just at the point where you think your great-great-grandmother’s marriage record might be. Cramped, spidery writing, with ink splotches all over the page. These records will not present themselves to Irish family history researchers as something warm and friendly, easy-going and easy to use.

They will not be “user-friendly,” I suspect (they will not be indexed by name, for example).

And yet. And yet. Make no mistake: this is a game changer. For anyone who cares to slog through page after page of sometimes poorly-photographed images of sometimes indecipherable handwriting, this is it: this is the key that unlocks the door to the Irish family history mysterium.

And the records will no doubt be crowd-sourced: before too long after their release (not overnight, but sooner than you might expect), we will see local genealogy societies coming out with indexes; we will see random people on the Internet offering their own transcriptions of the records for this parish or that. (And caveat emptor, needless to say.)

Transcriptions are Good, but …

… they’re not as good as the originals.

The thing is, I just don’t entirely trust somebody else’s transcription of an original record. I want to see the original (or a photograph of the original) for myself, and make my own interpretation, and draw my own conclusions. And just as importantly, I want to view the record in context, which means I want see the surrounding records. I want access to la vraie chose, in other words.

Do I sound too demanding (I want this, and I’d also like that)? I guess online access to the digitized Drouin records (Catholic parish registers for the province of Québec and for parts of the province of Ontario) has spoiled me, has raised my expectations for online access to (photographs of) the original records. By the way, the Drouin records are available at FamilySearch, and also at Ancestry.ca.

I used to complain about RootsIreland.ie (Irish Family History Foundation) because their former pay-per-view system was simply too expensive. In fact, there was a period a few years ago when I actually banned myself from visiting their site, because the temptation to spend more money on more views was too overwhelming. I mean, it was a bit ridiculous: how much money are you willing to spend in pursuit of a Patrick Ryan, a man with one of the ten most common surnames in Ireland, and with one of the most common male forenames too? Well, too much money, in my case, whenever I visited that site. And so I banned myself.

I no longer complain about RootsIreland, now that they have 1). replaced the pay-per-view system with a subscription service; and 2). added RC parish records from the Catholic Archdiocese of Cashel and Emly (and hello, Patrick Ryan: no, not those other Patrick Ryans, the Patrick Ryan that I was actually looking for). I now find RootsIreland to be an incredibly useful site.

So this isn’t a complaint, exactly. It’s just that what you get at Rootsireland are somebody else’s transcriptions, and transcriptions are not as good as the originals.

Are You my 3x-Great-Grandmother?

conroy edmond jameson marg 1may1815 mountmellick queensAs I’ve mentioned before, the family lore surrounding my 3x-great-grandparents James Moran and Margaret Jamieson strikes me as so romantic, so improbable, that I often refer to the story of their elopement to Canada as “the Ballad of James and Margaret.”

And it’s a great story: a young lady of quality (of “the Quality,” as they called it at the time) falls in love with the coachman, a handsome young rogue of a fellow, who is working for her family. And because her family would never agree to the match, the two young star-crossed lovers determine to elope to Upper Canada.

Well, of course I am sceptical. As I have also already mentioned before, if you grew up as the descendant of Irish emigrants, you will no doubt have grown up hearing all sorts of nonsense about how we were once the Kings and Queens of Ireland. And then you look into the records, and discover that we were once the agrarian underclass of County Tipperary!

But for all my scepticism, I have never been inclined to dismiss outright the oral family history claim that, before she married James Moran, the young Margaret Jamieson had married a man by the name of Conroy, in the Queen’s County (Co. Laois).

Which is why the record above (a transcription of an actual record) is of interest to me. The county fits; the date fits; and the names (more or less) also fit (“Margo”? I’d like to know how many “Margos” were running about Queen’s County ca. 1815: I suspect not too many, though there must have been a lot of “Margarets”).

Is this Margo Jemisson my Margaret Jamieson? Well, she might be, but then again, she might not be, I just don’t know. The only way to possibly crack this nut is to dig deep into the parish registers, and to view all relevant surrounding records in context.

Which is why I am so looking forward to the NLI’s release of the digitized images of its Roman Catholic parish registers. I want the key that unlocks the door to the Irish family history mysterium.

  1.  And I shouldn’t say if, I should say when (the NLI’s Parish Registers Digitisation Project is currently scheduled to launch “by summer 2015″): it’s just that this project is so monumentally awesome that I still can’t quite believe they will pull it off.

The Ballad of James and Margaret

The family lore surrounding my 3x-great-grandparents James Moran and Margaret Jamieson is so romantic (and I have to say, so seemingly improbable) that I sometimes refer to the story of their elopement to Canada as “The Ballad of James and Margaret.”

The story goes something like this:

Margaret Jamieson came from a family of quality, and was the daughter of a doctor, and the granddaughter of a landed gentleman, even; whereas James Moran, of much humbler origin, worked for her family as a coachman. Margaret suffered a tragic loss at an early age with the untimely death of her first husband, a Mr. Conroy. The young widow and her family’s coachman then fell in love; and, her family being opposed to the match, James and Margaret eloped to Canada.

Doesn’t the above story make my 3x-great-grandfather sound like “The Gypsy Rover”? (He whistled and he sang til the green woods rang/And he won the heart of a lady…). Except that James Moran didn’t end up as “lord of these lands all over.” Instead, he ended up as a yeoman of Huntley Township, Carleton County, with 200 acres of land to divide between his two surviving sons Thomas and Alexander Michael.1 Not exactly “lordly,” but not bad for an Irish Catholic emigrant who was likely the landless son of a landless tenant farmer back in Ireland.

But back in Ireland where?

  1. Another son, James, born about 1824 in Huntley township, died in 1851. There is a notation of his death in the 1851 census, with the cause of death listed as “collara” (cholera).

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).

 

The best damn fiddler…

Reading Peter Behrens’ The O’Briens, I was reminded (because of the novel’s character of Mick Heaney, a drunkard and a degenerate, and an Ottawa Valley fiddler) of a film I watched many years ago: The Best Damn Fiddler from Calabogie to Kaladar.

Not that Emery Prometer (the main character of the film, and also a hard-drinking Ottawa Valley fiddler) is anywhere near as awful as the lecherous and child-molesting Mick Heaney. Prometer is not awful at all, really (or not like that, not like Heaney), though he’s certainly an irresponsible husband and father. The film depicts him as a lovable ne’er-do-well, a sympathetic, though obviously flawed, character.



The Best Damn Fiddler from Calabogie to Kaladar by Peter Pearson, National Film Board of Canada.

Bishop Guigues on John Lahey’s Donation

As a followup to my post on John Lahey the Elder, here is Bishop Guigue’s account of John Lahey’s donation of two acres to the mission of March (later the parish of St. Isidore, Kanata). The following (which I discovered through google books) is taken from Alexis de Barbezieux, Histoire de la province ecclésiastique d’Ottawa et de la colonisation de la vallée de l’Ottawa (Ottawa, 1897), which cites Guigue’s notes on his visit to March township in September 1848:

The Queen vs Kelly: Part IV

Continued from The Queen vs. Kelly: Part III.

Hard Times, Hard Labour

As reported in Part III, John Kelly entered the Dominion Penitentiary at Kingston on 15 May 1841, to serve a one-year sentence for the manslaughter of his brother-in-law Michael Hourigan.

Dickens described the penitentiary as ‘well and wisely governed’…

While we don’t have any details specific to Kelly’s one-year confinement in the penitentiary, we can assume it was a harsh, if not hellish experience. Though touted as a model of the new, and more humane approach to punishment and rehabilitation — when Charles Dickens visited the Dominion Penitentiary in the 1840s, he described it as “an admirable jail,…well and wisely governed, and excellently regulated, in every respect” 1 — the new prison at Kingston was in fact “a place of violence and oppression.” From an online history at Correctional Service Canada:

At the root of its problems in the early years was its first warden, Henry Smith. Smith’s use of flogging, even in an age when it was an accepted form of discipline, was flagrant. In 1847, inmates were given 6,063 floggings, an average of 12 per inmate. Women, and children as young as eight were flogged. As well, Smith punished inmates with shackling, solitary confinement, bread-and-water diets, darkened cells, submersion in water, 35-pound yokes, and imprisonment in the “box,” an upright coffin. His son ran the kitchen, profiteering by diverting food and serving rotten meat. In his spare time, he tortured inmates, once putting out a prisoner’s eye at archery practice.

Even by the severe standards of the day, Smith’s treatment of the prisoners was considered outrageous, and he was removed from his post as warden after an investigation into his abuses in 1848.

  1. Charles Dickens, American Notes (London: Chapman and Hall: 1874), etext edition, University of Virginia Library Electronic Text Center 1996, pp. 240-241.

Emmett and Donny: A Remembrance

Emmett and his brother Donny served with the Royal Canadian Air Force during World War II. Donny’s plane was shot down; and he spent time as a POW in a camp in Germany.

[When my dad was a kid, he heard tales of cousin Donny having been forced to eat “black bread,” presumably pumpernickel or something like that, which my grandparents, in all innocence, took as the highest refinement of military torture.]

When the war was over, Emmett went from hospital to hospital in the UK, looking for his brother. He finally found Donny in a military hospital on the outskirts of London, and stayed with him until he was ready to travel (but from some of his war injuries, including a broken bone that did not heal properly, he never quite recovered).

When Donny was deemed fit to return home, the two brothers took the train up to Edinburgh for the weekend to celebrate, and then shipped out to Canada.

(As told to me by Emmett Patrick Sloan, Ottawa, January 2007).

 

The Queen vs. Kelly: Part II

Continued from The Queen vs. Kelly: Part I.

The Queen vs. Kelly

Bathurst Courier, 16 April 1841

“We are informed it was committed whilst in a state of intoxication,” wrote the Bathurst Courier (16 April 1841) of John Kelly’s fatal stabbing of his brother-in-law Michael Hourigan.

Not surprisingly, the Courier took a lively interest in the case, publishing three brief notices of Kelly’s arrest and detention, along with a lengthy account of his trial. A case like Kelly’s offered the newspaper a chance to entertain its readers with the lurid details of a brutal act of violence, while moralizing on the theme of peace, order, and good government. The fact that “the unfortunate man Kelly” was the only person arraigned at the Assizes for a crime, opined the editors at the Courier, “[said] much for the otherwise peaceable and orderly condition of the Districts.”

“My Maternal Ancestors,” by Alec Lunney

I am extremely grateful to Al Lunney for sending me a copy of Alec Lunney’s “A Collection of Family and Ottawa Area Information,” which includes his account of his maternal (and my paternal) ancestors James Moran and Margaret Jamieson.

Peter Alexander (“Alec”) Lunney (1896-1953) was the son of Hugh Andrew Lunney and Margaret Amelia Hourigan, and a descendant of (my 3x great-grandparents) James Moran and Margaret Jamieson, and also of Mary Lahey (sister of my 3x great-grandfather James Lahey). His ancestral chart can be found here. His “A Collection of Family and Ottawa Area Information” was recorded at Pakenham on 8 August 1946, and included the following account of James and Margaret:

My Maternal Ancestors, by Alec Lunney

On my mother’s side of the house were the Hourigan and Moran families of Huntley and March townships. My mother’s paternal grandparents settled in March township. Her father Thomas Hourigan was born in 1824 in Canada. He married my grandmother Julia Moran, they had in addition to my mother, three other children, James who died as a youth of 18 in the year of the Great Fire of 1870, Mary Anne, who died in 1877 at the age of 26 years and Thomas who died in 1899 at the age of forty years. All of these three were unmarried.

Thomas Hourigan, my grandfather was an ambitious man and taught himself to read and write in an age when that was by no means a small accomplishment. He died in 1857 at the early age of 33 years. My grandmother, left with four small children, then moved to Huntley so as to be near her own people. My mother’s maternal grandmother was Margaret Jamieson, who had an upbringing of advantage in Ireland. Her father was a doctor, as were five of her uncles. Her grandfather was a landed gentleman in Ireland. Her mothers name was Fraswer, so that although she lived in Ireland she was but slightly Irish stock. She married my great-grandfather James Moran against her family’s wishes and left with him for Canada. This was sometime between 1815 and 1820.

Thomas Hourigan, my grandfather was an ambitious man…

Foresaking a life of refinement and comparative ease, she chose the crude pioneer life of the Upper Canada wilds. She and her husband were natives of Kings and Queens counties. The Hourigans derived from Tipperary. James Moran and his wife, Margaret Jamieson lived for about three years in the Philomen Wright settlment of Hull, Quebec. Then with their two eldest children they trekked to the Ontario side to carve out a home of their own. They passed Richmond Landing, later Bytown and now Ottawa — if they had foreseen the future land values, we might now all be rich — and staked out two hundred acres in the First Concession of Huntley. Near here lived Dr. Christie with whose family my great grandmother formed a close and lifelong acquaintance which partly compensated her for the sacrifices she made in that pioneer environment. The first James Moran was the pioneer substitute of a doctor, in that he was much in demand as a blood letter a supposed panacea for most of humanitie’s ills in the early days. He died in the late fifties, both he and my grandmother, who lived on into the eighties, are interred at Huntley Cemetery.

James and Margaret Moran had three sons and six daughters. Thomas never married and became known as “Uncle Tom” to a legion of nieces and nephews. Since my mother’s family were so early deprived of their father, they were perhaps closest to him of all the related cousins. His old farm, draining into the miniature Carp River is now owned by a Mr. Cox of Huntley. Alexander (Sandy) married Mary Levi [Leavy] of Pakenham, and lived for a time there, but at his father’s death he came home to Huntley. He had a large family. His son Thos. Moran inherited the family farm, but sold it in 1913. It is now owned by Mrs. Cleary. The CNR (Ottawa to Depot Harbour) bisects this farm, and the old stone house commands a fine view of the valley which James and Margaret Moran chose as their New World home so long ago. The other sons and daughters of ‘Sandy’ and Mary Moran, lived and died in Ottawa, North Dakota, Washington, and Oregon. Only Mrs. Fagan (Minnie) and Mrs. Delaney (Emma) of Ottawa and (Annie) Mrs. Sullivan of Grand Forks, N.D. now remain. The descendants of this family branch are very numerous indeed. There were two sons, Thomas Edwin, who married Bridget McDermott and Alexander, who married Annie Benton. James Moran, son of the original James died as a young man and is buried at Richmond. Of the girls Marcella married John Hogan and lived on the Carp-Stittsville Highway. Their family of three sons and seven girls are now all deceased. Thos. Hogan succeeded to the family homestead, but sold it many years ago, at one time this family had branches throughout the adjacent townships and tho some of their descendants remain, the original family are all gone. Mrs. Pat Hammill (Elizabeth) of Bell’s Corners passed on quite recently, as the last of the family of John and Marcella Hogan. This branch, too, has very numerous descendants. Notable among them are two sisters, Marjorie Byrne (Sister Carmelita) and Madesta Byrne (Sister — ?). These are five generations down from Jas. and Margaret Moran.

Julia Moran, my grandmother married Thomas Hourigan and I have already enumerated their family. Margaret married Ercin [Arsène] Charlebois of Torbolton, and of three sons and one daughter, Thomas of Ottawa remains. Elizabeth married Peter Doyle of Drummond and had a son and daughter, Tom and Lily, both still living. Mary married Geo. Cahill of Calumet Island. They had a large family of whom a son, Dick, lives on the island homestead. Due to their distance away our acquaintance with them was less intimate than with others of the connection. Shortly before my mother’s death we paid them a visit on the island, my mother’s second visit after a lapse of over half a century. Henrietta Moran never married and lived with her brother Tom on the farm in Huntley. After his death she lived in Ottawa and passed away several years ago.

This concludes a quite abbreviated resume of the family of James and Margaret Moran. Their descendants are very numerous and come down to the sixth generation, five of whom were Canadian born. Comparatively few of them remain on the land. Their descendants will be found largely in the cities whether here [i.e., in Canada] or in the great republic [i.e., in the USA], but wherever they are if they could be congregated together, they would surely constitute an assembly of no mean dimensions. My great-grandmother lost contact with her people in Ireland for a time, but in later years was in touch with some of her cousins who had come to this side. A letter we have in our possession, dated New York, 1849 substantiates this. However, circumstances intervened to prevent her ever meeting any of her relations again. Though the rigors of pioneer life, its isolation and its hardships must have been in striking contrast to her early upbringing, she was compensated by a long and happy life with her own children and numerous descendants living throughout the Ottawa Valley. After her husband’s death she made her home with her unmarried son “Uncle Tom.” She had lived from 1798 into the early eighties of last century. My mother never wearied of telling of her, and it is very apparent that in the pioneer community so long ago, hers was a benign and refining influence.