Author Archives: Janice Hamilton
“Someday I’m going to write a book!” How often have you said that, or heard a friend or relative make a similar statement? You probably didn’t hold your breath until it appeared.
So it comes as a surprise to the nine members of Genealogy Ensemble, the family history writing group of which I am a member, that we are actually doing it. In November, we will launch Beads in a Necklace, a book of collected short stories based on our family research.
These real-life stories include a young Scot who immigrated to Canada and became a famous gospel singer, memories of queueing up for food rations in post-war England, and a young girl who was kidnapped from her home in southern Maine by the Abenaki Indians in 1692 and spent the rest of her life in Quebec.
Now that it’s about to be published, I thought it would be worthwhile to look back at some of the lessons we learned that might help potential authors.
The genesis of Beads in a Necklace goes back to 2012 or so when we decided to write about our families and share our stories. Since then, we have met once a month to critique each other’s work, improve our story-telling skills and gain confidence.
After a while, our stories were so good, we wanted to share them more widely. We began taking turns posting them on our blog, Genealogy Ensemble. The book authors among us kept talking about the possibility of publishing something, but the idea always seemed far away.
Last year, we got serious about the idea. With 2017 being the 375th anniversary of the City of Montreal, where we all live, and Canada’s 150th birthday, we decided it was time to publish a collection our stories: a 250-page book, with a proper binding and a beautiful cover, that we will be able to give to friends and relatives for Christmas.
Start with Structure
We started discussing the project last September. The first step was to each choose our five favourite stories. Each article had to be about 500 words long and include endnotes citing the sources of our facts. Apart from that, there were no rules.
After considerable debate, we agreed on the title Beads in a Necklace, and we came up with a logical way of organizing the stories into sections.
We all pitched in to help at various stages of the process, depending on our areas of expertise. I did most of the editing, with help from Tracey. I had worked as a journalist, and Tracey and Dorothy are also professional writers. That helped a lot: we know how to tighten a longwinded sentence, spot a good first paragraph and structure a story so it flows smoothly. Several members of our group have natural writing talent that they never knew they had, but they are still learning the skills that come from writing on a daily basis. And sometimes writers have to let go of their egos and allow changes. Of course, everyone could say yes or no to editing suggestions, and we always managed to find compromise solutions.
Sandra, who has experience preparing annual reports in the corporate world, did most of the layout, with Claire’s assistance. Claire also knows her way around digital photography and she cleaned up the often scratched or faded photos we wanted to use.
Ask for Help
We even got friends involved: one friend who is a proof reader is making sure there are no typos or missing punctuation marks, while another friend who is a graphic designer has agreed to do the cover.
There have been many details to consider. The people responsible for the layout had to decide on the size of the book and the fonts to use and get quotes from a local printer. Someone has to look after making a digital version available, and we have to crank up our marketing strategy. Last but not least, we had to find a place that is big enough but not too expensive for our celebratory book launch. We found a church hall that is perfect!
Persevere through glitches
Most of the glitches we have encountered have been computer-related. For example, we tried both Google Drive and Dropbox so we could upload files that everyone could edit. Both did the job, but we found Google Drive to be a bit unstable, while for a reason I still don’t understand, I can’t see many of the changes that Sandra and Claire have made to the layout in Dropbox.
This has been a long process. We were editing in January and the book will be launched in November. But we are all thrilled about it. Furthermore, I hope to apply the lessons I have learned from this experience when I write a book about my own family’s history. Just don’t hold your breath until it appears.
This article is also posted on writinguptheancestors.blogspot.ca
Before 1900, photography was the domain of the expert. Cameras were complicated, film was bulky. That year, the Eastman Kodak company introduced the Brownie camera, a simple box with a lens, loaded with a roll of film, and photography became available and affordable to the general public. My grandmother’s family were early adopters of this new technology, and my grandmother, Gwendolen Bagg (1887-1963), became an enthusiastic photographer.
One of her first subjects was her own house in Montreal’s Golden Square Mile. She photographed not only the exterior, but also the drawing room (living room), with its ornate mantelpiece and heavy drapes.
The majority of photos were taken during summer vacations with the family. Many Montrealers left the city in the summer, not only to escape the heat, but also to avoid the outbreaks of disease that plagued the city in those years. In the early 1900s, the Bagg family went to Cacouna, on the shores of the St. Lawrence River, and they also spent time at a lake near Ste. Agathe, in the Laurentians, north of Montreal.
Gwen photographed her father stretched out on the lawn at Cacouna, her mother in a wide-brimmed hat, and her older sister on horseback and in a canoe. Her little brother, Harold, was a favourite subject. In one picture, taken when he would have about five years old, he posed with his two girl cousins. According to the custom of the day, he had long hair and was dressed exactly like the girls in what appears to be a dress. The following year, his blonde hair remained long, but Harold wore a sailor suit.
In her late teens, Gwen photographed her friends, wearing elaborate bathing costumes on the beach near Kennebunk, Maine. On the porch at the hotel where they stayed, all the young women wore light dresses that reached the ground and covered their arms to their wrists. They must have been very hot.
In 1913, Gwen photographed her mother, by now a widow and dressed in black, leaning up against a big log at Kennebunk Beach, chatting with a friend. By this time, her sister Evelyn was married, and Gwen liked to photograph her little niece, Clare.
The camera must have been a good one, and whoever Gwen shared it with (probably her mother), was also a good photographer. All these photos were in focus, well exposed and tightly composed. Most importantly, Gwen put her photos into albums and identified most of the people, places and years they were taken. She got married in 1916, and after that, although she continued take family photos, the prints ended up in a box, loose and unidentified.
Gwen kept these albums and my mother inherited them and then passed them on to me. Several years ago, I asked the McCord Museum in Montreal whether they would like them. The McCord already had a collection of letters and business ledgers that had belonged to the Bagg family, so these photos shed light on another aspect of their past. The albums are now part of the Bagg Family Fonds, and a few of them have been digitized and can be viewed on the McCord’s website at http://collections.musee-mccord.qc.ca/scripts/explore.php?Lang=1&tableid=18&tablename=fond&elementid=31__true (go to the very bottom of this page).
This article is also posted on http://writinguptheancestors.blogspot.ca
I cannot say for certain that my grandmother had a Brownie, but she certainly had some type of simple box camera. The square photos in her album are approximately 3 ½” x 3 ½”, corresponding to the Kodak film sizes 101 and 106. This chart on the Brownie website describes the different sizes of film that Brownie cameras used over the years: http://www.brownie-camera.com/film.shtml. If she did have a Kodak, it was probably similar to the camera described on this website: http://www.historiccamera.com/cgibin/librarium/pm.cgi?action=display&login=no2bullet
The conclusion of one of the stories on Vita Brevis, the New England Historic Genealogical Society blog, demonstrates a typical family historian dilemma.
“We still don’t, of course, know who wrote down the story, when, or how likely they were to know the true facts of the case, but someday the original family version may surface.”
Alicia Crane Williams’ conclusion to her post about a man whose ancestor’s wife allegedly received a dowry equal to her weight in gold (http://vita-brevis.org/2017/01/poor-man-in-london/, Jan 9, 2017) was exactly as it should be. An important part of our job as family historians is to clearly make the distinction between history and story, fact and myth. Williams came across the story while researching a sketch of Henry Lamprey of Hampton, New Hampshire, but as far as she could tell, it was just that: a family story. She read it in an 1893 history of the town and traced an earlier reference, but she was still trying to figure out how much – if any – of the tale was based on fact.
As family historians, we all run across family stories, some amusing, others tragic. We are usually thrilled to find these stories since they help fill in some of the blanks between our ancestors’ birth and death dates. But that does not make them true.
Accounts written at the end of the 19th century are often suspect. Many towns in North America published books featuring profiles of prominent members of their communities. These accounts were usually provided by the families and they tended to emphasize the positive rather than relying on solid research.
My ancestor Stanley Clark Bagg is a good example. After he died in 1873, several Montreal “historians” wrote about his family’s roots. My research has proved that they made an error and this misinformation has been perpetuated until today in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography. (See “The Biography of Stanley Clark Bagg: Don’t Believe Everything You Read”, Genealogy Ensemble, Dec. 2, 2015, https://genealogyensemble.com/2015/12/02/the-biography-of-stanley-clark-bagg/
Also common is the story about families being descended from royalty, aristocracy or the very wealthy. My MacGregor ancestor was supposedly descended from the clan chiefs and my Hamilton ancestor, a tailor, was – you guessed it – allegedly related to the Dukes of Hamilton. None of my research has showed either claim to be true.
Our job as family historians is not to just to repeat family stories as facts but to try to verify them and to correct the record when necessary, or at least indicate that there is doubt about a story. Many family stories do contain kernels of truth, and it is often helpful to put our ancestors’ lives into historical context. But if we can’t sort out what is fact and what is fiction, we have to be clear that we are recounting an unverified story.
The night before three-year-old Arthur Hamilton became ill, he was reciting a rhyme and joking about lisps and kisses and mistletoe with a family friend who was helping put the children to bed. Someone – his mother or the friend – recorded those words in his baby book.
The following day, Arthur came down influenza. In fact, everyone in the house – his parents, his twin brother and his two older siblings – got sick. The others recovered, but Arthur did not.
When the influenza pandemic reached the Hamiltons’ Winnipeg home in January 1919, it was at its deadly peak. Arthur was among more than 1,200 Winnipeg residents and 50,000 Canadians killed by the pandemic, which was brought to Canada by troops returning from the trenches of World War I.1 Some 21 million people died from the virus worldwide.
Today, Arthur’s baby book, and that of his twin (my father) is in the University of Manitoba Archives as part of the Hamilton Family collection. These cheerfully illustrated booklets include important milestones, such as the twins’ first steps. Arthur’s book is especially moving because of the entry about the jokes he made just before he became ill.2
Archivist Shelley Sweeney has used Arthur’s baby book in the classroom many times. For example, she took it to a religious studies class that was exploring how people react to death by expressing regret and memorializing the person who has passed.
“It strikes people as so unbearably sad,” she says. “There are always sympathetic expressions and murmurs when I talk about it.”3
The death of a young child like Arthur seems especially sad, but the influenza pandemic traumatized whole communities. Some people lost family members to the flu after having already lost sons and brothers in the war. Many of those who died were between 20 and 40 years old, in the prime of their lives. Children were left without parents, families without income earners, businesses without customers, and manufacturers without workers. Poor neighbourhoods had the highest death rates.
Some people compared the pandemic to the Black Death of medieval times. The government banned large public gatherings to try to control the spread of the virus. Hospitals and physicians were overwhelmed.
My grandfather was a physician and my grandmother had trained as a nurse, but they couldn’t save their son. They tried everything they knew, but there were no effective treatments in 1919.
Their older son, Glen, a future a physician himself, later recalled being taken in to see Arthur’s body. He said, “I can remember on the floor beside his crib there was an enamel basin with boiling water in it – Friars Balsam [eucalyptus oil] – that aromatic stuff you put into body rub, and a little tank of oxygen. And those were the weapons to fight the flu. That was all!”4
My grandfather, Thomas Glendenning (T.G.) Hamilton, was devastated by his son’s death. Not only had he failed as a physician, but, as Glen Hamilton suggested in an interview, T.G. may have felt that he had been too attached to Arthur. “Dad was a very strict Calvinist Presbyterian and he felt that in some way, because he was so fond Arthur …. that he was being punished by the Lord ….”5
Arthur’s death was a pivotal event for the Hamiltons in a way that seems surprising today, but was typical for the time. Many people were deeply religious and believed in personal survival after death. Grieving families wanted to communicate with loved ones who had passed, so they turned to mediums and séances. Between the two world wars, a strong spiritualist movement developed in Canada and elsewhere.6 Glen suggested that Arthur’s death stimulated his parents’ interest in the psychic field.
What made the Hamiltons unusual was the effort they put into exploring psychic phenomena. For more than 10 years, until T.G.’s death in 1935, they held almost weekly séances with a small group of regular participants.7 T.G. became known across Canada, the United States and England for his psychic research, while Lillian played a key organizing role in the background. T.G. emphasized the “scientific” nature of his enquiry, but his grief must have coloured these experiences.
Around 1980, Margaret (Hamilton) Bach donated her parents’ research notes, speeches and photographs to the University of Manitoba Archives, and a few years ago I added a few items, including the twins’ baby books. Today, many people consult the Hamilton Family fonds. Some are interested in psychics, several have used the collection as inspiration for plays and visual art, and other researchers are using the collection to explore how people cope with trauma.
Although many people, including myself, are skeptical about the authenticity of their experiments, it is wonderful to see that T.G.’s and Lillian’s passion is still contagious in so many different ways.
(This article is also posted on http://writinguptheancestors.blogspot.ca.)
Notes and Sources
T.G. Hamilton and Lillian (Forrrester) Hamilton had four children: Margaret Lillian (1909-1986), Glen Forrester (1911-1988), and twins James Drummond (1915-1980) – my father — and Arthur Lamont (1915-1919).
To read more about the Hamilton Family fonds, see http://umanitoba.ca/libraries/units/archives/digital/hamilton/index.html
1 Janice Dickin, Patricia G. Bailey, “Influenza”, The Canadian Encyclopedia, Historica Canada, http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/influenza/ (accessed March 20, 2017)
2. Baby book of Arthur Lamont Hamilton. University of Manitoba Archives and Special Collections (UMASC), Hamilton Family fond, A10-01, Winnipeg.
3. Personal email communication with Shelley Sweeney, March 23, 2017.
4. James B. Nickels. “Psychic Research in a Winnipeg Family: Reminiscences of Dr. Glen F. Hamilton”, Manitoba History, June 2007, p. 5.
6. Esyllt Jones, “Spectral Influenza: Winnipeg’s Hamilton Family, Interwar Spiritualism and Pandemic Disease,” in Magda Fahrni and Esyllt W. Jones, editors, Epidemic Encounters: Influenza, Society and Culture in Canada, 1918-20, Vancouver: UBC Press, 2012, p. 195.
7. Janice Hamilton “Bring on Your Ghosts!” Paranormal Review, winter 2016, p. 6. This edition of the magazine, published by The Society for Psychical Research in England, is entirely devoted to the psychic research carried out by the Hamiltons.
If you google Charles Clark Waterford pewter, you may see some ads on ebay for antique dishes made by this Irish pewter manufacturer in the early 1800s. You may find his name in my blog post about the Shearman family, and you may also come across a 2009 post on RootsWeb by Lorraine Elliott, looking for more information about him.
Earlier this year, Lorraine, who is descended from Clarke’s grandson Robert Clarke Shearman, got in touch with me. Charles Clarke was an ancestor to both of us. I’m descended from his granddaughter Martha Bagnall Shearman, who immigrated to Canada in 1847. Robert, who was Martha’s brother, settled in New Zealand.
Lorraine did some research on Clarke and discovered quite a bit about his professional accomplishments, although his personal life and family connections are still something of a mystery.
Charles Clarke ( – 1830) was a Waterford ironmonger and brass founder as well as a maker of pewter flat ware in this ancient city in southeast Ireland. He was active in metallic crafts from at least 1788 until his death.
An advertisement in the Waterford Mirror on June 8, 1807, advised Charles’ customers that he made plumbing supplies and sold tea and coffee urns. Ten years later, the same newspaper reported that his factory had made a beautiful set of wrought iron gates, “a model of lightness, simplicity, strength and elegance,” for the Chapel Yard at Craig in nearby County Kilkenny. His foundry designed and made bells for many of Waterford’s churches, and he made stills, condensers and brewing coppers for the distilling and brewing industries.
He may have been in the family business. Waterford Streets Past and Present lists Nehemiah & William Clarke, Brass Founders, Braziers and Engine Makers on Peter Street in 1788. There is also a solo listing for William Clarke. Pigot’s 1824 City of Dublin and Hibernian Provincial Directory listed Terence Clarke, hardwareman and ironmonger, on Waterford Quay. How these people may have been related to Charles is unknown.
Charles was located on Barronstrand Street by 1790 with what appears to have been a household ironmongery shop at the front of the building and a foundry and a factory in the rear. He lived nearby at 38 Barronstrand Street.
The year 1782 was an eventful one in Ireland, with members of the Irish volunteer militia forcing the British government, which then ruled Ireland as a colony, to make Ireland an equal partner. These attempts at reform soon failed and political unrest continued throughout Charles’ life. Meanwhile, on Dec. 18, 1782, The Dublin Hibernian Journal announced the marriage of “Mr. Charles Clarke of Peter St. to Miss Bennett, late of Bath.” Bath is located in southern England, across the Irish Sea from coastal Waterford.
Charles had at least two daughters, Charlotte and Arabella, however, the girls may have been half-sisters. It is likely that Charlotte Bennett Clarke — the mother of both Martha Bagnall Shearman and Robert Clarke Shearman — was the daughter of Charles Clarke and Miss Bennett. The 1955 article in the Waterford News noted that Arabella Clarke died in 1822, age 13, at her father’s residence in Barronstrand Street. It is not clear whether there were other children, or when Miss Bennett died. Lorraine found hints that Charles married several times, however, Clarke is a common name.
When Charles died on Jan. 9, 1830, there was no male heir willing or available to inherit his business and, according to the Waterford News, it was sold to Samuel Woods and renamed the Phoenix Foundry.
Breaking Through my Shearman Brick Wall, July 6, 2016, http://writinguptheancestors.blogspot.ca/2016/07/breaking-through-my-shearman-brick-wall.html
Christ Church Cathedral, Waterford: A Tale of Two Weddings, June 8, 2016, http://writinguptheancestors.blogspot.ca/2016/06/christ-church-cathedral-waterford-tale.html
This article is also posted on writinguptheancestors.blogspot.ca.
Charles Clarke is mentioned in two booklets by David Hall: Types of English Pewter and Brass, Bronze and Copper, 1600-1900. Both are published by the author in association with the National Museum of Ireland and available at the shop in the National Museum of Ireland – Decorative Arts and History, Dublin.
See Robert S. Hill, “Shearman, Robert Clarke”, from the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://TeAra.got.nz/en/biographies/1s10/shearman-robert-clarke.
The National Archives of Ireland has a transcript of Charles Clarke’s will, dated 1830 and proved in the Prerogative Court. (Reference number IWR/1830/F/217, volume 4/236/16.) The executor was William F. Clarke of Waterford.
Lorraine found other references to Clarke marriages in Waterford, however, we do not know how these individuals were related to Charles. In 1771, Miss Clark of Peter Street married Capt. Thomas Doyle. In 1773, Mr William Clarke, brass founder of Waterford, married Miss Thomson. In 1792, Miss Jane Clarke of Peter Street married Mr. Magrath, cabinet maker. The National Archives of Ireland has an abstract of a marriage licence grant for William F. Clarke to Mary Mackesy, dated 1826, for the Waterford and Lismore diocese.
Miss Bennett, late of Bath, is of great interest to me because she is represents the most distant of my direct maternal ancestors, but without more information, it is hard to trace further back in that line.
In 2014, I wrote about the brick wall surrounding the Irish origins of my great-great grandmother Martha Bagnall Shearman.1 Thanks to the generosity of a new-found distant cousin, I have now demolished that brick wall, moved the family tree back another six generations and discovered additional Shearman family branches in New Zealand and the United States.
I knew that Martha Shearman was born in Waterford, Ireland, married Charles Francis Smithers there in 1844 and came to Canada three years later.2 Because of Charles’ career in banking, the Smithers family lived for several years in Brooklyn, New York, and I discovered that two of Martha’s brothers and a sister had also immigrated to Brooklyn. I knew nothing, however, about the Shearman family’s roots in Ireland.
I posted the article online and eventually Lorraine Elliott, who was born in New Zealand and lives in Australia, came across my blog, Writing Up the Ancestors. She contacted me to tell me that her ancestor Robert Clarke Shearman,3 a New Zealand policeman, was another of Martha’s siblings. The clue that helped convinced her we were related was a photograph in her great-great-grandfather’s album identified as Maria Boate, Martha’s and Robert’s sister in Brooklyn.
Some years ago, Lorraine’s research had led her to a genealogy of the Shearman family written in 1853 by John Francis Shearman (I’ll refer to him as JFS). He was a cousin of Martha’s and Robert’s, an amateur archaeologist and a Catholic priest. (Some of the Shearmans were Protestants, others converted to Catholicism.) This document is in the archives of the National University of Ireland at Maynooth, near Dublin. She sent me the notes she had on that document, along with some of her own research on the extended Shearman family.
The JFS genealogy takes the Shearmans back to the mid-17th century when Thomas Shearman (c 1610-1704) came to Ireland from England with Oliver Cromwell’s invasion forces. He then settled in Burnchurch, County Kilkenny. Subsequent generations of Shearmans lived in and around Grange, not far from Kilkenny City.
Lorraine’s notes stated that Martha was one of 13 children, and that their parents were Thomas Shearman (c 1785-1850) and his wife, Charlotte Bennett Clarke (no dates available).4 Her research suggested that Thomas lived in Dunkitt, Kilkenny, near the city of Waterford, but other sources say that he was from the nearby city of Waterford. Perhaps he lived in Dunkitt in his early life, then moved to the city.
I recently came across another Shearman genealogy on familysearch.org.5 This 15-page manuscript was written in 1863 by a member of another branch of the family, George Shearman (1818-1908) of Penn Yan, a small town in New York State. It was clearly based on the family history written by JFS 10 years earlier, and it added more detail about George’s line and had less information about mine. It listed Thomas Shearman and named his sons, but only mentioned that he had five daughters.
All this information comes with a caveat: neither of these documents meets the requirements of genealogical proof standards. The names and dates of birth, marriage and death were probably based on family records and anecdotes and parish records that existed at the time, but today there are no official records in Ireland to back them up.
Nevertheless, records of the Shearmans can be found in various cemeteries, old Irish city directories, newspaper articles, Tithe Applotment Books and indexes of wills. Kilkenny researcher Edward Law found numerous records pertaining to Grange House, home to my Shearman ancestors, and the librarian with the Kilkenny Archaeological Society, Rothe House, Kilkenny was extremely helpful in my search for traces of the family.
This article is also posted on writinguptheancestors.blogspot.ca.
- Janice Hamilton, “My Shearman Brick Wall”, Writing Up the Ancestors, Feb. 9, 2014, http://writinguptheancestors.blogspot.ca/2014/02/my-shearman-brick-wall.html
- Janice Hamilton, “Waterford Cathedral: A Tale of Two Weddings”, Writing Up the Ancestors, June 8, 2016, http://writinguptheancestors.blogspot.ca/2016/06/christ-church-cathedral-waterford-tale.html
- Robert S. Hill, “Shearman, Robert Clarke”, from the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://TeAra.got.nz/en/biographies/1s10/shearman-robert-clarke. Note that this article says Robert’s uncle was William Hobson, first governor of New Zealand; Lorraine has been unable to confirm that.
- Charlotte was the daughter of Waterford pewter manufacturer Charles Clarke and his wife “Miss Bennett, late of Bath.” My maternal line has now come to another brick wall.
- “Genealogy of the Shearmans”, prepared by George Shearman of Penn Yan, New York, c. 1863 https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:939K-VQH2-8?mode=g&i=113&wc=9DWX-ZNL%3A1040900401%2C1040900901%3Fcc%3D1880619&cc=1880619