Author Archives: Sandra McHugh
It has always bothered me that on the passenger lists of the S.S. Grampian, sailing from Glasgow to Quebec City, my grandfather, Thomas McHugh, was not listed with his wife, Elsie McHugh and their seven children.
My father was always clear that Thomas arrived ahead of his large family in the early 1900s. The plan was that Thomas would have time to find work and a place to live, and get settled in.
I first found my grandmother, Elsie McHugh and the seven children listed on the passenger list of the S.S. Grampian, leaving Glasgow and arriving in Quebec City. The year was 1912. I knew that I also had to find out when Thomas arrived. I returned again and again to passenger lists for travel between Scotland and Canada in 1910 and 1911. No luck. It was only when I started to research my great-uncle, Edward McHugh that I discovered Thomas also on the passenger list of the S.S. Grampian in 1912, leaving Glasgow and arriving in Quebec City. Thomas was accompanied by his mother and two brothers.
Harrumph. It seemed as if Thomas didn’t leave ahead of time. But why in the world were Elsie and the children not listed with Thomas? Were they separated because of the children? This didn’t make sense. Elsie would have needed all the help she could get. Little Adam was just three and his brother, Thomas was one year old.
I kept going back to these entries. There was something about them that bothered me. I looked up potential reasons to be separated on a ship. I looked up whether families would be divided for any reason in the list of passengers. No luck.
Also, I kept getting mixed up whether it was May or October 1912. I would look at my notes and if it said May, I realized that the date was October and I would change it. I would then go back later and change it back to May. Argh. I needed to get it right.
This week I decided to establish definitely whether Thomas came over to Canada first. Perhaps he came to Canada and then went back to Scotland for his mother, his brothers, his wife, and his children. This would make perfect sense. This would explain why my father was so sure that he came ahead of the family and all the evidence that I had said that he came over with his family.
Well, I could find no trace of Thomas on passenger lists of 1910 or 1911. He wouldn’t have come before 1910, I would think. I did find him again on the passenger list of the S.S. Grampian, May 1912. And I found Elsie again. Wait a minute. October 1912! The penny dropped. They both travelled over on the S.S. Grampian but at different times of the year. I was so blinded by the name of the ship that I did not realize that even though they were on the same ship, they travelled on different dates.
While this was not a brick wall, it was certainly a puzzle for me. A puzzle of my own making. Once again, this reaffirms that, while primary genealogical research is important, it is also valuable to revisit assumptions, documents, and notes. Look and look again and again. Most genealogists I know enthusiastically forge ahead and tend to neglect reviewing previous finds. I am no exception.
“Those of us already deep in the accumulation may also benefit from revisiting our past research.”
Brenda Dougall Merriman, Genealogical Standards of Evidence: A Guide for Family Historians
I spent my entire career writing corporate documents. I could spin with the best of them. It is very different from writing family history stories. When I joined the Genealogy Ensemble family history writing group, I had to learn a whole new way of writing.
In a corporate document, you are always trying to get something from someone. It could be funding, agreement on how to proceed, approval for a project, agreement with your point of view, or understanding and approval of why you did what. The list goes on and on. Your objective is to sway your audience to your point of view.
When I would write corporate documents, it was important that I provide the reader with the context of the request. I usually started with the background, then the current situation, followed by a description of the issue, and concluding with the desired outcome.
Family history stories should start with a lead that will grab the reader’s attention, much like a news story. Simply put, a good lead will incite the reader to continue.
Writing family history stories is intensely personal. After all, you are writing about your own family. Your voice must come through. When I would write corporate documents, I was always the anonymous writer. No one knew me personally, even if I signed the document. The corporation always spoke in the document, not me. Family history writing is all about you and your journey discovering your ancestors. Your family history stories are an important part of the family archives.
Corporate writing is full of the third person. Organization X believes. Organization Y has decided. Organization Z recommends. When it is your family, feel free to put your emotion into it. Writing about your ancestors is a way to bring them alive and to celebrate their struggles and achievements. You can bring compassion and understanding to stories of their lives.
Most importantly, have fun writing about your ancestors. In a way, it’s a little like writing about yourself.
By Sandra McHugh
When I say that my grandfather, Thomas McHugh, worked as a cipher, Bletchley Park, MI5, and Russian spies immediately come to mind. He was neither a Russian spy nor did he work as a cipher during the war. His employer was the Bank of Montreal and it was his first job when he came to Canada in 1912.
The decision to immigrate to Canada was not easy for Thomas. He was in his mid-30s and already had seven children, between the ages of one and fifteen. For over 40 years, the jute manufacturers of Dundee, Scotland had been providing employment for his parents, aunts, uncles, siblings, wife, and for him. However, by the early 1900s, he was facing a precarious future for his children.
By the early 1900s, Dundee had suffered a serious decline in the textile industry and more significantly, the jute industry. Jute was imported from India, however, the mill owners realized that it would significantly lower the cost of production to open mills in India to prepare the jute and import the finished product to Scotland. Once mills were established in India, the jute production in the mills in Dundee decreased substantially.1
So when Thomas arrived in Canada, a little ahead of his wife and his children, he was eager and prepared to do any job so that he could. The Bank of Montreal had its headquarters in Montreal, Quebec. In the early 1900s, the bank had significant dealings with Great Britain and there were correspondence and banking instructions back and forth between Canada and Great Britain daily. These instructions were mainly sent by telegraph overnight. There were two reasons for this. Some of these instructions were confidential and it was preferred that they remain so. Overnight instructions reduced the number of people who would have access to them. Another reason was the time difference between Montreal and the United Kingdom. The banks in London and Edinburgh were open for business while Montreal was still asleep.
Even in those days, the banks were concerned about security, privacy, and confidentiality. The banking instructions and transactions were submitted by telegraph and were encrypted. It was the job of the cipher clerk to decipher them so that the bank staff could then ensure that the instructions were carried out as required.
To be a cipher clerk, one had to be reliable, meticulous, and honest, and ensure the confidentiality of the bank’s business. The cipher clerk used a cipher handbook to decipher the information. Also, the cipher clerk worked overnight, so it was a difficult job for a man with a family.
So while my grandfather, the cipher, did not work in espionage, I still think that his first job in Canada was rather interesting.2
2 As related by my father, Edward McHugh
By Sandra McHugh
There are two popular theories or myths about why Scottish and Irish names are either Mc or Mac. One myth claims that Mc is Irish and Mac is Scottish. Another theory maintains that Mc is Roman Catholic and Mac is Protestant. The latter theory is the important one that concerns the story of my great uncle, Edward McHugh or MacHugh, the Gospel Singer. Edward’s name was McHugh but when he began his singing career, he changed his name to MacHugh so that no one could possibly suspect that he was Roman Catholic, or so family legend claims.
His musical career started at the age of 26 when he left Canada to move to the U.S. to study music in Manhattan in New York City in 1919.1 He had moved to Canada from Scotland with his mother and his two brothers when he was just 19. But Edward was restless and he did not want to stay in Canada and he definitely did not want to continue working as a manual labourer for the Canadian National Railway.
It took a little while for Edward’s career to take off, but in 1927, Edward was invited to sing ‘The Old Rugged Cross’ on Boston radio station WEEI.2 The next day the station received 2,300 letters praising his baritone voice. His fame grew rapidly and, by the 1940s, Edward McHugh was a regular on NBC radio.3 By that time he wrote his name as Edward MacHugh, and his nickname was the Gospel Singer. He continued to be popular and in 1954, Billboard Magazine carried an article saying that MacHugh’s show was named as the “2nd Best of All Non-network Religious Series.”4
The first time that Edward’s name shows up as MacHugh is in the 1930 U.S. census, when he was on tour in Massachusetts.5
All of the hymns and gospel songs that he sang were Anglican, Church of Scotland, Methodist or other evangelical hymns. In 1938, he published a compilation of gospel hymns and poems. These hymns and poems were Protestant, but Edward was a Roman Catholic. Many family members believed that Edward changed his name so that no one would know that he was Roman Catholic and some thought that he did not want anyone to think that he was Irish.
Perhaps Edward made the right decision, even though the other members of his family were insulted that he had changed his name. He must have been an astute marketer.
An advertisement in Billboard Magazine, June 7, 1947 states that ‘Edward MacHugh, Your Gospel Singer, … who is said to have the most perfect diction of any singer without sacrificing warmth” is offering 15-minute radio programs and other promotional material such as newspaper mats, glossy prints, press releases, etc. 6
As the introduction to his compilation says, “The Gospel Singer prefers to live a simple, happy life …”
This is not exactly true as he lived in a large two storey house on eight acres of property in Connecticut. Even today, this would be considered an estate. Certainly Edward had carefully created an image of himself.
If you would like to hear Edward sing, here are two of his recordings:
6 The Billboard Magazine, June 7, 1947, p. 11