All posts by Sandra McHugh

Edward MacHugh, the Gospel Singer

During his lifetime, Edward McHugh made several trips back and forth across the Atlantic Ocean, but there was a world of difference between his first trip and his last.1

Edward was 19 when he immigrated from Scotland to Canada in 1912 with his widowed mother, his two brothers, his sister-in-law and his brother’s seven children. Destined for Montreal, they traveled on the steamship S.S. Grampian in third class, or steerage. Edward would have slept on a bunk bed and shared his room with other family members, and meals would have been served at long communal tables in the dining room.2

Forty years later, in 1951, he traveled first class from Southampton to New York on the luxurious R.M.S. Queen Elizabeth ocean liner.3 He would have enjoyed a spacious stateroom, first class lounges and formal dining. He could have ordered anything he wanted from room service.4 There would have been plenty of space to store his eleven pieces of luggage.5

By that time, Edward had retired and was able to afford first class passage because of his successful career as a musician. This is the story of how a talented, working-class young man from Scotland and Montreal became famous in America as the Gospel Singer.

Edward, born in 1893 in Dundee, Scotland, came from a family of jute-factory workers of Irish heritage. His father was a yarn dyer.6 When the family arrived in Canada, they settled in Verdun, a district of Montreal located close to the factories that would have provided employment for the three McHugh brothers. Edward worked as a manual labourer in the rail yards on the locomotives.7

Shortly after his arrival in Canada, he made his public singing debut at Montreal’s Hunt Club, singing God Save the King. The Duke of Connaught, then the Governor General of Canada, heard him sing and was instrumental in sending him to study at London’s Royal College of Music.8 This college accepted both students who paid tuition and students who won entry through competitions.Given Edward’s humble background, it is probable he had a scholarship.

By 1919, Edward had decided to pursue a musical career so he left Montreal, settled in New York City and continued his studies .10

It took a few years for Edward’s career to take off, but in 1927, Edward was invited to sing The Old Rugged Cross, an evangelical hymn written in 1912,11 on Boston radio station WEEI.12 The next day, the station received 2,300 letters praising Edward’s baritone voice. His choice of hymn and the timing were excellent. Gospel songs had become increasingly popular as they were easier to sing than traditional hymns. 13

In 1938, Edward published a compilation of gospel hymns and poems.14 His fame grew and, by the 1940s, he was nicknamed the Gospel Singer and he was a regular on NBC radio.16

In 1947, an ad for Edward’s 15-minute radio program appeared in Billboard Magazine. It claimed, “Edward MacHugh, Your Gospel Singer, [. . .] who is said to have the most perfect diction of any singer without sacrificing warmth . . . ”19

It wasn’t just the quality of his voice that made him popular; he seems to have tapped into a need for comfort in troubled times. During World War II, his fans often requested he sing God Will Take Care of You,17 a song that must have soothed people whose loved ones were risking their lives serving their country.

When asked about gospel music, Edward replied, “A lot of people think that hymn-singing is ‘corny.’ That’s okay with me. I get my satisfaction in giving real pleasure to a great number of people and perhaps in being some small help in times of trouble and affliction.”18

It is clear that Edward’s beautiful baritone voice moved many listeners. He popularized hymns and gospel songs through his radio shows, compilations, records and concerts,20 and he sang songs of simplicity, devotion and encouragement in times of pain.

After he retired in the 1940s, Edward and his wife Jennie lived a quiet life in Norwalk, Connecticut. They had no children. During his retirement, Edward continued to make records and take part in religious festivals and church anniversaries. He passed away in 1957 at the age of 63 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.21

Note: At some time in his life, Edward changed his name from McHugh to MacHugh

  1.  “UK, Outward Passenger Lists, 1890-1960,” database,, Edward McHugh, Grampion,  Glasgow to Quebec, leaving May 11, 1912.
  2.  Gjenvik, Paul K., Glenvick Gjonvik Archives (GG Archives), Collection of Travel Brochures, online <>, accessed 13 February 2017.
  3.  “UK, Outward Passenger Lists, 1890-1960,” database,, Edward McHugh, Queen Elizabeth, Southampton to New York, leaving October 6, 1951.
  4.  The National Railway Museum, York, England, U.K., photo and description of a first-class cabin on the Queen Elizabeth, 1950, online <>, accessed 13 February 2017.
  5.   “UK, Outward Passenger Lists, 1890-1960,” database,, Edward McHugh, Queen Elizabeth, Southampton to New York, leaving October 6, 1951.
  6.  McIntyre, Alistair, “Significant Scots, Edward McHugh.” Unknown posting date. Electric Scotland, online <;, accessed 13 February 2017.
  7. “Edward MacHugh,” obituary, Ottawa Journal, 6 February 1957, p. 5.
  8.  “E. MacHugh Ex-Gospel Singer Dies.”Undated clipping, ca.1957, from unidentified newspaper. Privately held by Sandra McHugh, Montreal, Quebec
  9. Wikipedia, Royal College of Music, Early Years, , accessed 13 February 2017.
  10. 1920 United States Federal Census, 1920, Manhattan, New York City, New York, Enumeration District (ED) 829, sheet 2, Ward 11 a.d., Dwelling 250, apt. 39, Edward McHugh: digital image, (http://www.ancestry.comaccessed 27 February 2017)
  11. Wikipedia, The Old Rugged Cross,, accessed February 13, 2017.
  12. McIntyre, Alistair, “Significant Scots, Edward McHugh.” Paragraph xx
  13. Wikipedia, Gospel music,, accessed February 13, 2017.
  14. MacHugh, Edward, compiler. Treasury of Gospel Hymns and Poems.  Winoa Lake, Indiana: The Rodeheaver Hall-Mack Co., 1938.
  15.  “U.S. Border Crossings from Canada to U.S. 1825 1960, database,, Edward McHugh, Buffalo, New York, U.S.A, June 16, 1935.
  16. McIntyre, Alistair, “Significant Scots, Edward McHugh.” 
  17. “E. MacHugh Ex-Gospel Singer Dies.” Privately held by Sandra McHugh.
  18. E. MacHugh Ex-Gospel Singer Dies.” Privately held by Sandra McHugh.
  19. The Billboard Magazine, 7 June 1947, p. 11.
  20. Concert poster Jordan Hall, October 15, year unknown.
  21.  “Edward MacHugh,” Ottawa Journal, 6 February 1957.

Great Uncle James Went to Reform School

James Orrock, my two-times great-grandfather, was a farm labourer in Scotland in the mid 1800s. Agricultural labourers did not work all their lives on one farm. It was common for farm servants, both men and women, to attend farm hiring fairs. They would then hire themselves out to the highest bidder.1

Hiring Fair

According to the 1851 census, James worked on a farm in the village of Marykirk, Kincardineshire.2 His wife-to-be, also a farm servant, worked on a different farm located in the same village. They married two years later. By then they had moved to Kirken, in County Angus.3 Mary and James went on to have seven children and it is no surprise that their children were born in different villages, as James would have moved from job to job, always as a farm servant. The various censuses indicate that James worked as a ploughman, farm servant, or agricultural labourer. His family followed him as he moved for work. In 1863, their daughter, Martha Linn died of small pox at the age of three.4 Two years later tragedy struck again when James died at the age of 33 from tuberculosis.5

When Mary became a widow, her situation would have been precarious. James had been sick for a long time and had been unable to work. Mary had to find a way to provide for her children. Farm servants were usually lodged at the farm where they worked. Families often had small dwellings, with a small yard, where they could have a garden and a henhouse.  With the death of James, Mary would have also lost her home. It is no surprise that she moved to Arbroath, perhaps in the hope of working in the jute and sailcloth mills. At the time of James’ death, demand for jute was high due to the American Civil War6 and work was available in the mills. Mary would soon learn that, while Arbroath provided employment, it also provided additional worries about her son, James.

The 1871 census shows Mary living with four of her six remaining children in Arbroath.7 Her eldest son, Alexander, 17, worked as a farm servant in a village about 10 km away, in Kirkden.8 Ann and Jemima, 16 and 14, would have been working. David and Jane were in school. But where was James, only 12 at the time?

I found James in the 1871 census listed as an inmate at the Mars Training Ship for Homeless and Destitute Boys, about 35 km away from his family.9 This ship was moored on the river Tay at Woodhaven Harbour, Wormit, Fife from 1869 to 1929.10

The HMS Mars was built in 1848 and saw military service in the Crimean War. Deemed surplus in 1869, it became a training ship with space for 400 boys with the objective to take destitute and homeless boys off the streets of Dundee, Edinburgh, and Glasgow and train them for service in the Royal Navy or the Merchant Marine at their discharge at age 16.11 

The Mars Training Ship was an initiative put forth by Lord Provost William Hay and members of the elite. Truancy and vagrancy were rife in the cities of Scotland, due to overcrowding, unemployment, and poverty. The inmates of the Mars were often picked up for truancy or for begging and were sent to the training ship for five years by magistrates. The boys were poor, orphans, beggars, or homeless or sometimes they had just fallen in with the wrong crowd.12

Mars Training Ship Institution 13

The move from farm life to a bigger urban centre would have been difficult for James. He was 12 when he shows up as an inmate in the Mars Training Ship and he was probably sent there at the age of 10 or 11. There is no way to know why he ended up there. We know that his family was poor. It is probable that he wandered the streets while his mother and two sisters worked long hours in the jute mills. He may have been a difficult child as he suffered from mental illness later on in life.14

The Mars Training School was an industrial school, as opposed to a reform school. The boys did not have a criminal record; however, in some ways they were prisoners. All of the boys were very poor and many of them were homeless. For those who did have homes, they were deliberately given very little opportunity to maintain connections with family and friends.15

Upon arrival on the ship, a medical officer examined the boys once they were stripped. The children then washed, put on their uniforms, and were assigned a number. From then on, they were only referred to by their number. Even the boys called each other by their numbers.16

The day on the Mars ship would begin early, at 5:30 a.m. The boys scrubbed the deck, had breakfast, and then said their prayers. In the morning they learned English, arithmetic, geography, and music. The afternoons were dedicated to practical skills such as shoe repairing, clothing and sail-making, woodworking, metalworking, tailoring and seamanship. The boys were attended by doctors and dentists and were well fed. There was less disease onboard than in the crowded and unsanitary cities of Dundee, Edinburgh, and Glasgow. To further reduce the chance of disease, the boys would make an annual trip to Elie, a coastal town, allowing a skeleton crew to fumigate and clean the ship. 17

James would have been discharged from the ship when he was 16. Records of his later life did, indeed, indicate that he worked as a seaman.18

  1., accessed 15 March 2023. Picture of the engraving of a hiring fair courtesy of History Scotland website.
  2. National Records of Scotland, 1851 census, Parish of Marykirk, County of Kincardineshire, James Orrock, Scotland’s People, downloaded 27 March 2023.
  3. National Records of Scotland, Old Parish Registers, Church of Scotland marriages, Kirken, James Orrock and Mary Watson, Scotland’s People, downloaded 27 March 2018.
  4. National Records of Scotland, 1863 Deaths, Parish of Dunnichen, County of Forfar, Martha Linn Orrock, Scotland’s People, downloaded 8 March 2023.
  5. National Records of Scotland, 1865 Deaths, Parish of Dunnichen, County of Forfar, James Orrock, Scotland’s People, downloaded 9 April 2018.
  6. The Textile Industry of Arbroath since the Early 18th Century, Turner, W.H.K., The Abertay Historical Society, 1941, p.15
  7. National Records of Scotland, 1871 census, St. Vigeans, Arbroath, Mary Orrock (Watson), Scotland’s People, downloaded 16 March 2023.
  8. National Records of Scotland, 1871 census, Kirkden, Angus, Alexander Orrock, Scotland’s People, downloaded 23 March 2023.
  9. National Records of Scotland, 1871 census, Woodhaven, Forgan, Fife, 1871 census, James Orrock, Scotland’s People, downloaded 15 March 2023.
  10. Wikipedia, HMS Mars,,July%201848%20at%20Chatham%20Dockyard.&text=She%20served%20as%20a%20supply,the%20River%20Tay%2C%20off%20Woodhaven, accessed 19 April 2023.
  11. The Mars Training Ship and Elie, Gordon Douglas, 13 January 2017,, accessed 23 March 2023.
  12. Maritime Trail Dundee, Mars Training Ship,, accessed 23 March 2023.
  13. The Herald Scotland, From Mars to Dundee: The prison ship that shaped generations, Ron McKay,, accessed 24 March 2023.
  14. General Registers of Admissions in Lunatic Asylums, 1888, James Orrock, downloaded 22 March 2023.
  15. Whyte, Christine, HMS Mars: An industrial school in the late 19th century, Scottish Journal of Residential Child Care, Volume 20.2,, accessed 11 April 2023.
  16. Ibid
  17. The Mars Training Ship and Elie, Gordon Douglas, 13 January 2017,, accessed 24 March 2023
  18. National Records of Scotland, 1930 Deaths, Parish of Liff and Benvie, County of Angus, James Orrock, Scotland’s People, downloaded 8 March 2023.

Auntie Madge, the Riveter

Page one of the Montreal Star read “Canada is Now Officially at War.” The article goes on to describe the declaration of war on Sunday, September 3, 1939:

“The declaration of war called forth a feverish activity, disturbing the quiet of a mellow Sabbath day on the very edge of autumn. … Thousands of people … heard the roll of bugles and drums, but, this time, with a martial motive. The Army Services Corps were parading with placards calling for volunteers in their vital lines of military service.” 1

Both my dad, Edward McHugh, and my uncle, James McHugh, volunteered to serve in the Canadian military. Edward went into the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) and James joined the Royal Canadian Hussars, the armoured car division of the Canadian Armed Forces. Edward was stationed in Yorkshire, England and James saw active duty in France.

While the McHugh brothers were in Europe fighting the war, Canada was being transformed. Madge Angell, James’ wife, worked in one of the many factories that manufactured armaments for the war effort. She was a riveter and one of the one million Canadian women who worked in plants that produced munitions, weapons, and equipment during the Second World War. Veronica Foster, Ronnie, the Bren Gun Girl, represented these women and became a Canadian icon. Foster worked for the John Inglis Company Ltd. on the production line for the Bren light machine guns. She was photographed for a propaganda campaign under the direction of the National Film Board of Canada. These pictures were used to encourage Canadian women to participate in the war effort.2

Unknown photographer, Veronica Foster, an employee of John Inglis Co. Ltd. and known as “The Bren Gun Girl” posing with a finished Bren gun in the John Inglis Co. Ltd. Bren gun plant, Toronto (May 10, 1941), contemporary print from vintage negative. National Film Board of Canada. Photothèque / Library and Archives Canada e0007604533

Canada not only needed women to directly support the war and work in the munitions industries; it was also essential that they fill jobs traditionally held by men. Women worked on airfields, in factories, and on farms. They developed a reputation for fine precision work in electronics, optics, and instrument assembly. With the men away from the farms, the women took on the extra work. Lumberjacks became lumberjills. They also drove buses, taxis, and streetcars. Notably, Elsie Gregory MacGill was the first woman in the world to graduate as an aeronautical engineer. She worked for Fairchild Aircraft Limited during the war and in 1940, her team’s design and production methods were turning out more than 100 Hurricane combat aircraft per month.4

Elsie MacGill. Source: Library and Archives Canada 5

Canadian women wanted to play an active role in the military and lobbied the government. As a result, more than 50,000 women served in the armed forces:

  • The Canadian Women’s Army Corps;
  • The Women’s Division of the Royal Canadian Air Force;
  • The Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service (Wrens); and
  • Nursing sisters. 6
Second World War painting, Private Roy, Canadian Women’s Army Corps, by Molly Lamb Bobak.7 

For women who did not work or were not members of the military, there were also many opportunities to contribute to the war effort. Women were asked to reduce their consumption of goods that were in short supply and to recycle. Goals were set to collect tons of rubber products to transform them into tires and other needed items for the war. Ration books were assigned.8 My grandmother, Grace Hunter, loved to cook and bake and she would often speak about the challenges of rationing during the war. At that time, all baking was home made, so the rationing of flour, butter, and sugar was difficult.

Scarcity of food lead to rationing.9

My grandmother also knit socks, gloves, and other knitted clothing for the troops that were delivered by the Red Cross. Women made warm clothing for the soldiers at the front, as well as quilts and bandages. As well, women groups sent books, newspapers, and treats to military hospitals.10 Nana was also active in organizing the “send off” and “welcome home” parties for the Montreal servicemen. My mom, Patricia Deakin, was a teenager during the war and her mother recruited her to help at these parties. She enjoyed these parties and felt that she was doing something for the war effort. An extra bonus was that she thought that the servicemen were very handsome.

  1. The Montreal Star, 4 September 1939, page 1,, accessed 4 January 2023.
  2. Wikipedia web site, Veronica Foster,, accessed 9 January 2023.
  3. National Gallery of Canada web site, The Other NFB: Canada’s “Official Portrait,” Rynor, Becky,  1 March 2016,, accessed 16 February 2023.
  4. Government of Canada web site, Women at War,, accessed 16 January 2023.
  5. Goldstream News Gazette, Canadian women making history: A life of firsts in flying colour, 29 April 2017,, accessed 30 January 2023.
  6. Government of Canada web site, Women at War,, accessed 16 January 2023.
  7. Private Roy, Canadian Women’s Army Corps, painting by Molly Lamb Bobak, Beaverbrook Collection of War Art (online), Canadian War Museum, 19710261 1626, accessed 16 January 2023.
  8. Government of Canada web site, Department of Veterans Affairs, Timeline – Women and War, accessed 30 January 2023.
  9. The Montreal Gazette, 1943, Library and Archives Canada, PA 108300, accessed 30 January 2023.
  10. Government of Canada web site, Department of Veterans Affairs, Women on the Home Front,, accessed 30 January 2023.

Tribute to Joan Benoit

With great sadness, we recently learned of the death of Joan Benoit of Pointe Claire, Quebec in late 2022. Joan was a devoted genealogist and volunteered and helped run the Quebec Family History Society (QFHS) for over thirty years. Ever patient, she helped both the experienced and novice genealogist in their research. She was the “go to” person when anyone had a question. In the words of Claire Lindell:

“It was spring of 2012 when I walked in to the QFHS. Joan greeted me with a smile and made me feel welcome. She offered to help me with my quest for ancestors. She took Rene Jetté’s big blue dictionnaire from the shelf and asked me the names of those I was searching. Within minutes I found my mother’s ancestral family … Claude Jodouin who arrived in Ville Marie in the mid 1600s. I was off to the races and have never looked back, thanks to Joan.”

Ruth Dougherty (left) and Joan Benoit (right) chat in front of Earl John Chapman who is seated at the table speaking with Oskar Keller during Military Roots Day, 2012, at the QFHS.

Joan’s extensive knowledge, accompanied by a warm smile, has helped numerous researchers over the years. Many of her fellow genealogists became her friends. As well as being an avid researcher, she also had a vision of what was needed to promote genealogical research and always accepted the challenge to do what was needed. For approximately twenty years Joan was a well-known visitor to the Archives nationales du Québec on Mullins Street in Pointe-Saint-Charles and later the Archives nationales on Viger Square in Old Montreal. She researched hundreds of family lineages.

Jacques Gagné and Joan Benoit enjoyed a friendship of many years, which Jacques says can best be described in Proverbs 27:17, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” In other words, good friends bring out the best in one another and enhance each other’s strengths.

Joan’s quiet presence, always supportive, will be sorely missed.

My Parents’ Courtship

As a child, I never imagined what life was like before my parents had my brother and me. But once in a while they would talk about their courtship and what it was like to meet right after World War 2.

When war broke out in 1939, my dad, Edward McHugh, signed up right away. He was stationed in Yorkshire, England and only returned home when the war ended in September 1945. He was already 31 and normally would have been considered a confirmed bachelor.

My mom, Patricia Deakin, would often speak about the day the war ended. She worked for the Sunlife Insurance Company of Montreal. The Sunlife Building was located on Dominion Square in downtown Montreal. When word got out that Germany had surrendered, all of the office workers in downtown Montreal just left their offices and walked out into the streets to express their joy. My mom described it as an amazing outburst of pure joy and celebration of the end of a long and painful war.1

Celebrations in the streets of Montreal at the end of WW2

When Edward went to war, he intended to return to work for his employer, the Canadian Celanese located in Drummondville and his employer had guaranteed his employment. However, my dad decided to stay in Montreal.

At that time, my mom’s brother, Jack Deakin, was dating Norine Scott. Norine and Patricia became great friends. The picture below shows them in the Laurentians for a day of skiing.

Norine Scott (left) and Patricia Deakin at the ski hill

Both the Canadian National and the Canadian Pacific operated trains from Montreal to the Laurentians, known as the “snow trains,” otherwise known as the P’tit train du Nord.2 Below is one of the Canadian Pacific posters.3

Promotional poster for snow trains

It wasn’t long before Norine introduced her young and eligible Uncle Eddie to my mom and that was the beginning of their courtship.

Both Ed and Patricia loved going to the movies and their Saturday night dates were often a meal at Bens Delicatessen, followed by a show. Bens was a well known delicatessen in Montreal that was famous for its Montreal-style smoked meat. In 1908, Benjamin Kravitz and his wife Fanny Schwartz opened a sweet shop on Saint-Laurent Boulevard and then added sandwiches, using Benjamin’s mother’s recipe. In 1929, they moved to 1001 Burnside (now de Maisonneuve), in the theatre and night club district of the city, and then to their final location in 1949.4

Bens Store Front5

My parents were married on May 21, 1949 at St. Columba Anglican Church in Notre-Dame-de-Grace. This church was built in 1920 but has now been sold to a developer.6 My grandparents would have been parishioners of the church as they lived just 10 minutes away.7 The post WW2 period was marked by a housing shortage. Pressure on the housing shortage was due to demobilized soldiers returning home, and the increase in newly created families. My parents, like many post WW2 newlyweds, lived with my grandparents after the wedding.

St. Columba Anglican Church, Notre-Dame-de-Grace, Montreal

The wedding announcement in the Montreal Star on May 30 1949, describes the bride as wearing:

“A gown of white slipper satin made with nylon yoke on Grecian lines and with train. Her veil was of tulle illusion, was finger tip length, held with a bandeau of lilies of the valley and orange blossoms. She carried a cascade bouquet of white carnations and bavardia.”8

The wedding announcement goes on to say that the reception was held at the Montreal West City Hall, in the music room. This photograph of the wedding party is probably taken outside the Montreal West Town Hall.

From left to right: Alistair Lamb, Mary McHugh, Ronald Lamb, John Deakin, James Meikle, Edward McHugh, Patricia Deakin, Melba Jones, Norine Scott, Dorothy Newcombe, Grace Hunter, George Deakin

The wedding announcement continues:

“Mr. and Mrs. McHugh went to Pleasant View Hotel, North Hatley, for their honeymoon, the bride wearing for travelling a three-piece suit of beige Scotch mist, with white straw hat and green accessories and a corsage of white carnations.”9

Founded in 1897 and located on Lake Massawippi, North Hatley is one of the prettiest villages in Quebec.10 Below is a post card of the Pleasant View Hotel:11

Pleasant View Hotel, North Hatley, Quebec
Patricia Deakin and Ed McHugh, North Hatley
  1. Courtesy Cadeau, C, All About Canadian History, The End of World War II in Canada, Montrealers celebrate VE Day,, accessed 29 November 2022.
  2., Saint-Sauveur History,, accessed 27 December 2022.
  3. Pinterest, Kirill Blinov, accessed 26 December 2022.
  4. Wikipedia, Bens De Luxe Delicatessen,, accessed 7 December 2022
  5. Stanton, Michael, 2005
  6. Memento Heritage Montreal, St. Columba Church,,the%20Polish%20and%20Korean%20communities, accessed 27 December 2022.
  7. Lovells Directory, 1949, Deakin, page 1120, accessed December 20, 2022.
  8., McHugh-Deakin wedding announcement, 30 May 2022, accessed 22 November 2022.
  9. Ibid.
  10. Eastern Townships, North Hatley, Things to Do in North Hatley,,village%20centre%20are%20all%20unique., accessed 28 December 2022.
  11. Pleasant View Hotel, North Hatley, Quebec, Photogelatine Engraving Co. Limited, 19?, Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec, 0002643996, accessed 28 December 2022.

Liquid Gold

Homer said in the 8th century BCE that olive oil was liquid gold. The olive tree reached Greece sometime in the 28th century BCE, introduced by the Phoenicians.1 A staple in Mediterranean cuisine, olive oil has been used for religious rituals , medecines, as fuel in oil lamps, as well as to make soap. Spartans and other ancient Greeks rubbed themselves with olive oil when exercising in the gymnasia.2 Aristotle also described the use of olive oil as a contraceptive. Mixed with either oil of cedar, ointment of lead, or ointment of frankincense, this mixture can be applied to the cervix to prevent pregnancy.3 The olive tree was so important to the ancients Greeks that they awarded an olive wreath to the winners of the Olympic games, symbolizing peace.4

I just came back from visiting my husband’s family in Greece and, as it was October, many of the conversations revolved around when each household would harvest their olives. Obviously, not everyone in Greece has olive trees, but it is common on the islands and in rural areas for each household to have olive trees. The olives are harvested to extract olive oil for family consumption. From the conversations that I listened to, it was important to harvest the olives just before they fell off the trees. This would ensure that the olives were at their greatest weight.  They should also be harvested before they are fully ripe, when they start to change colour to a purple colour, but are not yet fully black. The olive oil will be extracted from the olives at the local mill and it is important to time one’s appointment so that the olives do not sit too long after harvesting and sour.

Family olive harvesting has not changed much over the years. Olives are usually harvested by hand, with a rake that dislodges them gently so that they fall onto a tarp or a net at the bottom of the tree. All stray olives are gathered up and leaves and sticks are sifted out as much as possible.

Olive harvesting on Tinos, 1919 5

An example of the nets used to harvest olives

Olive oil was formerly extracted using millstones. The olives were emptied into a stone basin and ground into a mash. The millstone was harnessed to a donkey. The mash was then scooped out and poured into baskets that allowed the olive oil to drain out into vats. 7

Old stone olive mill8

I had the opportunity to visit a modern mill this olive season and, while mechanized, the process is identical. The purpose is to squeeze the oil from the olives to extract “liquid gold.” Initially the olives are weighed. The first machine separates the olives from any leaves and sticks and washes them. They are then sent to a barrel that crushes the olives and extracts the oil. As the oil is extracted, the machine counts the number of liters as the oil pours into a separate basin. Once this process is finished, the oil is poured into individual containers so that the client can take these containers home. At the mill that I visited, the olive pulp or mash is put into a compost pile.

Liquid gold 9

  1., accessed 31 October 2022.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Wikipedia, Olive Wreath,, 1 November 2022
  5. Baud-Bovy, Daniel et Frédéric Boissonnas, Des Cyclades en Crète au gré du vent, Geneva, Boissonnas & Co, 1919.
  6. Greece is travel, culture, gastronomy and more, Crete, Olive Oil: The Past, Present and Bright Future of Crete’s Lifeblood,, 3 November 2022
  7. Traveling Classroom Foundation, Making Olive Oil,, 3 November 2022
  8. Ibid.
  9. Green Golden Gold,, accessed 3 November 2022

The French Republican Calendar

Genealogists love FamilySearch. I have spent many enjoyable hours searching for my ancestors on their free databases. As a way of giving back, I enjoy transcribing historical documents so that others can search for their ancestors. This is called indexing and projects are always available on the FamilySearch web site for volunteers to transcribe.

Not too long ago I chose an intermediate French indexing project on FamilySearch, to transcribe Belgium birth registrations.  I now know that an intermediate level of difficulty may mean very difficult. I was able to decipher the names fairly easily, even the uncommon ones, such as Dieudonné. But I ran into difficulties with the dates.

The records I were transcribing were registered in 1798, smack in the middle of French Republican calendar and therefore the dates needed to be converted to the Gregorian calendar. The French Republican calendar, also known as the French Revolutionary calendar, was used by the French government for twelve years from late 1793 to 1805, and for 18 days by the Paris Commune in 1871. It was used in government records in France and other areas under French rule, including Belgium.  The Republican calendar was one of the ways that the French government wanted to do away with the ancien regime after the French Revolution. The new calendar was created by a commission whose members were French intellectuals. Year I (roman numeral) was the first year of the Republic and each new year was set at midnight beginning on the day the autumnal equinox falls at the Paris Observatory. There were twelve months, each divided into three ten-day weeks called décades. The five or six additional days needed to complete the solar year were called complementary days. This calendar closely resembled the one developed by the ancient Egyptians. 1

Luckily, Family Search has a wiki page that explains how to convert the date on the French Republican calendar to the Gregorian calendar. The twelve months in the French Republican calendar are based the natural events that occur during the year. For example, vendémiaire is the grape harvest month. The Family Search wiki gives an example of how the date would be written out: The 13th of Pluviose in the seventh year. This means that this date is the 13th day of the rainy month in year seven of the French Republican calendar. Family Search then provides four calendars that provides the conversion into the Gregorian calendar depending on the French Republican calendar year.2

I had ten birth registrations to transcribe and it took me two and a half hours to complete.  I spent quite a bit of time trying to understand the French Republican calendar. Looking on the Family Search site, I see that there are more civil registrations to transcribe in French but I will wait until I have a few hours ahead of me as once I start, I like to finish the batch.

Even though it is difficult and painstaking to convert the French Republican calendar dates to the Gregorian calendar, I enjoyed learning about this calendar. And, of course, it is always a thrill to know that you have connected the individuals in the historical records a little closer to their descendants.

  1. Wikipedia, French Republican Calendar,, accessed 8 September 2022.
  2. Family Search, French Republican Calendar,, accessed 8 September 2022

Researching Great-Grandfather Benjamin

Have you seen those ads for Ancestry reminding you that you may be like your ancestors? Logical, isn’t it? My 2X great-grandfather, Benjamin Knight and I have something in common. We did not move very far. Benjamin never strayed further than 20 miles from where he was born, just like me.

Benjamin Knight was born in Lapley, Staffordshire, England in 1835. In 1851, 251 people lived in Lapley. The village included 47 houses.1 In the same year, Benjamin,16, still lived in Lapley, working as a servant at the vicarage, the home of John Rate and his wife. This made me wonder how a vicar could afford a servant. Research tells me that vicars in the 1800s in England were relatively well off. They became vicars by being appointed by a patron and the vicar’s housing was provided by the patron. They also had a “living,” an income for life. This income, although usually not remunerative, was assured and steady. The term describing the right to appoint a clergyman to a living was called an advowson and considered a form of property to be bought, sold, and inherited. In addition to his living and free lodging, the vicar could also increase his income through tithes, teaching or cultivating gardens or the glebe (acreage provided by the parish). Parishioner also paid the vicar for ceremonies such as baptisms, marriages, and burials.2

John Rate’s patron was a member of the Swinfen family that owned Lapley Hall, the manor in the village.3 It is also no surprise that the vicar and his wife would have needed servants as the vicar would have been very active in the community.

Lapley Hall, National Heritage List for England, Listing no. 1178246

The vicarage was attached to the Church of England’s All Saints Church, which has an interesting history. Benedictines established and founded Lapley Priory on the site of the current church at the very end of the Anglo-Saxon period, as a satellite house of their Abbey of Saint-Remi or Saint-Rémy at Reims, France. King Henry V put an end to the priory in 1415.4 It is believed that the current church building in Lapley probably dates from the late 11th or 12th century.5

Church of All Saints, Lapley, National Heritage List for England, Listing no. 1374057

The 1851 census not only shows Benjamin as working as a servant at the vicarage; his future wife also worked there, as a house servant.6 Surprisingly, they only married nine years later, in 1860 and at that time, Jane was 40 and Benjamin was 25.7 Vicar John Rate officiated at the ceremony. Sadly, they were married a little over a year when Jane died on October 31, 1861. Jane’s death certificate states that the cause of death was unknown.8 Surprising, on the registration of her burial in the Parish of Lapley, the vicar writes that the cause of death was an accumulation of fat around the heart. This is the first time I have ever seen a cause of death in a church’s registration of burial but it seems that Vicar John Rate took the time to enter in all causes of death in the parish register. For example, the parishioner who was buried a few days before Jane died of English cholera. Oddly, no one else seemed to die of cholera in the village at that time.

Benjamin recovered quickly from the death of his wife and went on to marry Jane Everall on June 10, 1862 in Wolverhampton, where Jane lived.9 A little twist to the story: Jane Everall was a witness to Benjamin and Jane Watson’s wedding two years earlier.10 Benjamin and Jane Watson had no children but Benjamin and Jane Everall had eleven, one of which was my great-grandmother, Alice Mary Knight, born in 1876.11 Both of Benjamin’s wives were named Jane and they became Jane Knight in the records, adding a layer of complexity to the research.

Great Grandfather Benjamin worked in service all his life. He worked as a servant, a groom, and a gardener. After their marriage, Benjamin and Jane, his second wife, moved to Wolverhampton, about eleven miles away from Lapley.12 Later on they moved to West Bromwich, another 10 miles away, but the birth place of Jane. I assume that family living in this village was a factor in their decision to move.

Jane Everall also predeceased Benjamin in 1902.13 Benjamin died in 1908 in the Union Workhouse of West Bromwich.14 People ended up in a workhouse because they were too poor and too ill to take care of themselves and no one from the family would take care of them. Benjamin died of senile decay so he was certainly too ill and probably too weak to live alone. Still, it is surprising that he died in a workhouse as he had eleven children. Benjamin’s youngest son, Benjamin, was present at his death.15

  1. GB Historical GIS / University of Portsmouth, History of Lapley in South Staffordshire | Map and description, A Vision of Britain through Time,, accessed 19 July 2022.
  2. Grace, Maria, Random Bits of Fascination,, accessed 19 July 2022.
  3. Genuki, John Marius Wilson, Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales – 1870-2, Lapley in 1872,, accessed 20 July 2022.
  4. Wikipedia, Priory of Lapley,, accessed 20 July 2022.
  5. Wikipedia, Lapley, England,, accessed 20 July 2022.
  6. Findmypast, Census, Lands & Substitutes, 1851 Census of England and Wales, Benjamin Knight, accessed 3 July 2022.
  7. Findmypast, Birth, Marriage & Death (Parish Registers), Registration of marriage of Benjamin Knight and Jane Watson, 28 June 1860, accessed 07 July 2022.
  8. Registration of the death of Jane Watson, Superintendent Registrar’s District of Penkridge, Registrar’s District of Brewood, County of Stafford, ordered from the General Register Office of the U.K. and received 18 July 2022.
  9. Family Search, England, Staffordshire, Church Records, 1538-1944″, database with images, FamilySearch ( : 8 July 2020), Entry for Jane Everall and Benjamin Knight, 1862, accessed 21 July 2022.
  10. Findmypast, Birth, Marriage & Death (Parish Registers), Registration of marriage of Benjamin Knight and Jane Watson, 28 June 1860, accessed 07 July 2022.
  11. Certificate of birth registration, Alice Mary Knight, Registration District of West Bromwich, Sub-district of West Bromwich North-East, County of Stafford, 04 May 2021.
  12. Registration of birth of Harry Knight (first born in 1863), Superintendent Registrar’s District of Wolverhampton, Registrar’s District of Wolverhampton West, County of Stafford, ordered from the General Register Office of the U.K. and received 07 July 2021.
  13. Assumed from other family trees, Ancestry.
  14. Registration of death Benjamin Knight, Registrar’s District of West Bromich, Registrar’s Sub-district of West Bromwich North East, County of Stafford, ordered from the General Register Office of the U.K. and received 15 May 2021.
  15. Ibid.

Greece, Beautiful Greece

Have you ever been to Greece? Great food, good weather, beaches. I could go on and on. But my favourite part about visiting Greece is staying in the ancestral home of my husband located on the island of Tinos in the beautiful village of Skalados.

My mother-in-law, born in 1932, has lots of stories of growing up in this lovely village. When she was born, the village had no running water, no electricity, and no roads. It is hard to imagine as everyone now has internet, televisions, washing machines, and one or two cars per family.

While she was growing up, the villagers’ took their water from the well located in the village. It was hard work carrying the water that the household needed from the well to the home. They also used the well for washing the clothes. Women would help each other, as washing was heavy and hard work. Everything that they needed had to be carried to the well, including the clothes. To my surprise they used a blue rinse for the whites. 

Well in Skalados, Tinos (courtesy Tinosecret)

The village had two wood ovens and these were also shared. On baking days the families would bring their bread and dishes that needed to be cooked in the oven.

If you have been to Greece, you will have noticed that the stairs in the villages are wide and long, with a small step.  These stairs were designed for donkeys, which explains their design. My husband’s grandfather used a donkey as his means of transportation as there was no road to the village until the 1970s. The whole island is crisscrossed with “donkey paths” that are now either overgrown or used as walking paths.

Stairs – Skalados (courtesy Tinosecret

I am already looking forward to my next visit.

19th Century Tenements in Dundee

The McHugh brothers were just in their early twenties when they left County Sligo, Ireland to try their luck in Dundee, Scotland.1 When John and Edward McHugh arrived in Dundee, they had lodgings on Scourin Burn. Edward was a tinsmith and John, my 2X great-grandfather, was a sailcloth weaver. 2 A burn is a watercourse and the name Scourin Burn, or ‘cleansing burn’ probably referred to the process of scouring (textile term for cleaning the yarn) the yarn before dyeing as the nearby jute factories used the burn for this purpose. Scourin Burn no longer exists in modern Dundee and is now called Brook Street.3

Malcolm’s Pend, from the Scouringburn, Dundee, Photograph James Valentine (1815-1879), created 1877, Courtesy Scottish National Portrait Gallery, no copyright infringement intended

The McHugh brothers were part of a wave of Irish immigrants to Dundee, a city with a thriving jute industry, which had earned the nickname “Juteopolis.” By 1850 there were 47 spinning mills and eight power-loom factories employing some 11,000 people, as well as 4,000 handlooms. Linen goods, especially canvas, were exported to the Mediterranean, Australia, America, and the West Indies.4 Jute was a versatile fabric and used for everything, including the ropes made by the British Navy, sacking, tents, gun covers, sand bags, and horse blankets.5

Work in the mills was grim with the workday lasting twelve hours, from 6:00 a.m. to 6 p.m., with additional shifts on Saturday. It was not unusual for workers to bring sacks home to sew at night. 6 Three quarters of the workers were women and children, who could be employed at cheaper rates than the men. Injuries and accidents were commonplace. Dust would be everywhere and the machinery produced heat, grease and oil fumes, leading to a condition that was known as “mill fever.” The constant noise of the machinery led to many workers going deaf. 7 The booming jute industry provided plenty of work, but there was a shortage of housing due to the large influx immigrants.  Wages remained low. Overcrowding meant that many migrants boarded with other families in cramped rooms.8

John settled in Dundee and married Mary Garrick, also from Ireland, in 1845. They both worked in the jute factories. It is no surprise that John and Mary raised their family close to the jute mills. In 1861 they still lived very close to Scourin Burn, in Henderson’s Wynd.9

West Henderson’s Wynd, looking towards the Scouringburn [Dundee]. 1877, James Valentine Photographic Collection, Courtesy of the University of St Andrews Libraries and Museums, ID: VGA-122-40a

John and his family lived in tenement housing all their lives. Tenement housing was hastily built to accommodate the rapid growth of the city due to the influx of workers. The construction quality was poor and the living spaces were small. It was not uncommon for families to share flats. As it was not profitable for landlords to build brand new affordable housing for the workers, pre-existing tenements were subdivided into smaller rooms, making living space even more crowded.10

In 1861 with 91,664 inhabitants Dundee had only five WCs, and three of them were in hotels. All water in the city was drawn from wells of which the chief, the Lady Well, was heavily polluted by the slaughterhouse. Of the total housing stock of Scotland 1% had no windows, which meant that 8,000 families were without access to natural light. “11

Tour Scotland website, no copyright infringement intended

In the photograph of the tenement above, people are gathered on the outside staircase and the platforms or “platties.” Outside staircases were a way of saving space inside the building. In the photo, you can see how tiny each of the flats are.

In the 1800s, several cholera epidemics swept Dundee. Poor sanitary conditions were a direct cause of these epidemics. Dundee was a crowded and smelly city and, as in the above photograph, toilets were outside the flats and shared by many families living in the same tenement block. There were very few public facilities available for bathing. Disease was everywhere and it was believed that foul smells carried the disease. Inadequate sewerage and drainage facilities, and poor water supplies contributed to the increasing unsanitary conditions in Dundee and with its rapidly growing population.12

By the early 20th century, housing in Dundee continued to be problematic. Even though houses without windows had disappeared by 1881, overcrowding continued to be a problem. The 1911 census reveals that 72% of Dundonians lived in crowded conditions, in a one or two roomed home. Only 32% of the population of London lived in a one or two roomed home.13  In 1911, my grandparents had seven children and were living in a two roomed flat in Dundee.

My McHugh ancestors lived in Dundee about 72 years, from around 1840 to 1912. During their time in Dundee, every member of the family worked in the jute factories. In 1912, they emigrated to Canada and found jobs in other industries.

  1. Death of brother Thomas McHugh in Sligo, Ireland, 1871. Deduced from Ancestry public member tree. To date, this cannot be confirmed.
  2. 1841 Census, Scotland, Scotland’s People, entry for John McHugh, National Records of Scotland, referenced January 2, 2021.
  3. Leisure and Culture Dundee, Streetwise: Scourin Burn, Dundee Names, People and Places’ – David Dorward,, referenced March 24, 2022.
  4. National Library of Scotland, Ordnance Survey Town Plans 1847-1895, Dundee, Background,, referenced March 27, 2022.
  5. Dundee Heritage Trust, Genealogy Guide,, referenced March 24, 2022.
  6. Whelehan, Niall, History Workshop, Migrant Textile Workers and Irish Activism in Victorian Dundee, April 9, 2021,, referenced March 24, 2022..
  7. DD Tours, Workers of the Mills, September 16, 2014,, referenced March 24, 2022
  8. Whelehan, Niall, History Workshop, Migrant Textile Workers and Irish Activism in Victorian Dundee, April 9, 2021,, referenced March 24, 2022.
  9. Statutory death registers, Scotland’s People, entry for Mary McHugh, National Records of Scotland, referenced March 24, 2022.
  10. Kolesnik, Seva, Dundee – Scotland’s Lost Industrial Empire, May 14, 2021,, referenced March 24, 2022.
  11. Knox, W.W., A History of the Scottish People. Urban Housing in Scotland 1840-1940, SCRAN,, referenced March 27, 2022
  12. Leisure and Culture Dundee, Cholera in the 19th Century,, referenced March 27, 2022.
  13. Knox, W.W., A History of the Scottish People. Urban Housing in Scotland 1840-1940, SCRAN,, referenced March 27, 2022