Author Archives: Sandra McHugh
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
Everyone is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day. We all love to be Irish for a day on March 17. In my case, I treasure my Irish roots. Today, I will raise a pint of Guinness and toast my ancestors.
Although my grandparents were Scottish, my great-great-grandparents, John McHugh and Mary Garret, were Irish. They were both born around 1820 in Ireland. They would have been young adults when the Great Famine, also known as the Great Hunger and the Irish Potato Famine happened between 1845 and 1852, when potato blight ravaged potato crops throughout Europe. Ireland was significantly affected and, as a result, one million Irish immigrated to other countries. We commonly hear about the Irish that moved to North America and Australia but a significant number of them immigrated to Scotland.1 John and Mary McHugh were among those who decided to go to Scotland.
At the beginning of the 19th century, it was already common for Irish agricultural workers to move to Scotland temporarily to work during the harvesting season. By the 1840s, the number of these workers had increased from a few thousand per year to 25,000. By 1851, the Irish-born population in Scotland had risen to 7.2% of the total population.2
The economic difficulties in Ireland, combined with the industrialization of Scotland that included the expansion of coal and iron ore mining, and the building of shipyards and railways, as well as the significant expansion of the textile industry in Scotland, made Scotland an attractive destination for the Irish.3
The Irish were ideally qualified to work in Scotland’s textile industry as many of them already had knowledge and experience in the textile and jute industry. Linen and yarn production was already established in Ireland.4The economic conditions in the 1840s in both Ireland and Scotland provided John and Mary McHugh with the impetus to move to Scotland to work in the textile factories in Dundee. Not only John, but Mary also, would have been assured of a regular wage, as many of the textile workers were women. 5
While Scotland would have been a choice destination for John and Mary, it would have been a difficult adjustment. Sadly, this is because of their religion. They left communities in which everyone was Roman Catholic to go and live in Protestant Scotland. The Irish Roman Catholics did not have an easy time of it in Scotland. “Anti-Catholic Scots were active in the Scottish Reformation Society and sometimes caused riots.”6 These anti-Catholic sentiments probably encouraged the Irish Catholics to remain in their distinct communities and delayed their integration into Scottish communities.7
The following quote illustrates that the Irish were victims of discrimination.
“As late as 1923, the Church of Scotland could still publish a pamphlet entitled ‘The Menace of the Irish Race to our Scottish Nationality’. The Irish were seen as drunken, idle, uncivilised and undermining the moral fibre of Scottish society. They were also seen as carriers of disease. Typhus, for example, was known as ‘Irish fever’.”8
Unlike the above quote, we know the Irish to be hard working, disciplined and adaptable. I am proud to have Irish roots.
So, despite what would have been great adversity, John and Mary settled in Scotland, lived in a Roman Catholic community and had children and grandchildren who worked in the textile industry. The generations of McHughs working in the textile industry in Dundee came to an end when their grandson, my grandfather, Thomas McHugh, could no longer find regular work in the textile industry in Dundee and decided in 1912 to move to Canada.
A toast to the Irish! I wish you all a very happy St. Patrick’s Day.
By Sandra McHugh
The Scots call the New Year’s Eve celebration Hogmanay.1 Hogmanay is part of my family’s history.
My grandfather, Thomas McHugh, came to Canada from Scotland with his family in 1912. The family maintained the Scottish traditions and they celebrated Hogmanay. My father, Edward McHugh, was usually the “first-footer.” This means that he was the first one to step across the threshold after midnight, bearing gifts. Traditionally, to ensure good luck, the first-footer is a tall and dark haired male. Fair haired first-footers were not welcome, as it is believed that fair-haired first-footers were associated with the Viking invasions.2 My father brought gifts of coal and a herring, but some of the other traditional gifts include shortbread, a black bun, and whiskey to toast the new year.3
There are a few theories about the origin of the word Hogmanay. The Scandinavian word for the feast preceding Yule was Hoggonott. The Flemish words hoog min dag mean great love day. Some believe that the origin of the word Hogmanay can be traced back to the Anglo-Saxon Haleg monath or Holy Month or the Gaelic words for new morning, oge maidne. Many believe that the source is French, homme est né for man is born. In France, the last day of the year when gifts were exchanged, was called aguillaneuf and in Normandy, this was called hoguignetes.4
Hogmanay is an important celebration in Scotland. It is believed that this festival was first brought to Scotland by the Vikings for whom the passing of the shortest day of the year, the winter solstice, was an event to be celebrated.5 The importance of Hogmanay took on an even greater significance because Christmas was banned in Scotland for about 400 years. A 1640 Act of the Parliament of Scotland abolished the “Yule vacation and observation thereof in time coming.”6 This Act of Parliament reflected the changing attitudes towards the Christmas Feast Days during the Reformation. Christmas Day only became a public holiday in 1958 and Boxing Day in 1974 .7
The partying and hospitality that goes on at Hogmanay is a way of wishing family, friends, and strangers a Guid New Year. The old is swept out, sometimes literally by giving the home a good cleaning, and by clearing up any debts before the bells ring at midnight.8
I wish you all a very Guid New Year.