All posts by Sandra McHugh

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 As a way of giving back, I enjoy transcribing historical documents so that others can search for their ancestors.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, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/French_Republican_calendar, accessed 8 September 2022.
  2. Family Search, French Republican Calendar, https://www.familysearch.org/en/wiki/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, http://www.visionofbritain.org.uk/place/8383, accessed 19 July 2022.
  2. Grace, Maria, Random Bits of Fascination, https://randombitsoffascination.com/, accessed 19 July 2022.
  3. Genuki, John Marius Wilson, Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales – 1870-2, Lapley in 1872, https://www.genuki.org.uk/big/eng/STS/Lapley/Gaz1872, accessed 20 July 2022.
  4. Wikipedia, Priory of Lapley, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lapley_Priory, accessed 20 July 2022.
  5. Wikipedia, Lapley, England, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lapley, 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 (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:2:QPSL-KHBC : 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, http://www.leisureandculturedundee.com/streetwise-scourin-burn, referenced March 24, 2022.
  4. National Library of Scotland, Ordnance Survey Town Plans 1847-1895, Dundee, Background, https://sites.scran.ac.uk/townplans/dundee_1.html#, referenced March 27, 2022.
  5. Dundee Heritage Trust, Genealogy Guide, https://www.dundeeheritagetrust.co.uk/, referenced March 24, 2022.
  6. Whelehan, Niall, History Workshop, Migrant Textile Workers and Irish Activism in Victorian Dundee, April 9, 2021, https://www.historyworkshop.org.uk/migrant-textile-workers-and-irish-activism-in-victorian-dundee/, referenced March 24, 2022..
  7. DD Tours, Workers of the Mills, September 16, 2014, https://www.ddtours.co.uk/archive/workers-of-the-mills/, referenced March 24, 2022
  8. Whelehan, Niall, History Workshop, Migrant Textile Workers and Irish Activism in Victorian Dundee, April 9, 2021, https://www.historyworkshop.org.uk/migrant-textile-workers-and-irish-activism-in-victorian-dundee/, 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, https://storymaps.arcgis.com/stories/89b65e8f684a47bab7ccc058e0bb1570, referenced March 24, 2022.
  11. Knox, W.W., A History of the Scottish People. Urban Housing in Scotland 1840-1940, SCRAN, https://www.scran.ac.uk/scotland/pdf/SP2_4Housing.pdf, referenced March 27, 2022
  12. Leisure and Culture Dundee, Cholera in the 19th Century, http://www.leisureandculturedundee.com/cholera-19th-century-0, referenced March 27, 2022.
  13. Knox, W.W., A History of the Scottish People. Urban Housing in Scotland 1840-1940, SCRAN, https://www.scran.ac.uk/scotland/pdf/SP2_4Housing.pdf, referenced March 27, 2022

They Came By Ship

The Titanic Sunk and Loss Feared of Over 1,500 Lives

The April 16, 1912 of the Guardian newspaper screamed this headline.1 Other newspapers around the world had similar headlines.

Just over three weeks later on May 11, 1912, my grandfather, Thomas McHugh, his widowed mother, Sarah McLaughlin, and his two brothers, Edward and Francis, boarded the S.S. Grampian in Glasgow, Scotland, to cross the Atlantic to start their new life in Canada.2

They would have been sad to leave their home, excited about their new lives, and definitely worried about hitting an iceberg.

There was a total of 1,638 “souls” on board the S.S. Grampian,3 33 of whom were Saloon or First-Class passengers, and 363 were 2nd cabin passengers. My family was part of the 1,244 passengers in steerage. The crossing took 20 days and the ship arrived in Quebec City on May 21, 1912. Between them, the McHughs arrived with $150 in their pockets. Browsing through the passenger lists, I can see that they had a lot more money than many of their fellow passengers. 4 A Google search tells me $150 in 1912 is about $4,300 in today’s dollars. As they were poor and lived in a tenement in Dundee, Scotland, I can only assume that this meant that they had carefully planned to emigrate.

Steerage accommodations were often divided into three compartments on the ships at that time: one compartment for single men on one side of hold of the ship as steerage passengers certainly did not have an ocean view; one for families in the middle; and a compartment for single women on the other side of the ship. I assume and hope that my family travelled together as a family. These compartments were crowded, with about 300 people in each of them.5 Nor did steerage passengers have a lot of room to move around top deck. They were restricted to a portion of the open deck and prevented from mingling with the Saloon and 2nd cabin passengers by metal gates.

The berths were two-tiered and made of metal frames. Each bed had a mattress and a pillow that could be used as a life preserver. The passengers probably brought their own bedding. Most passengers slept fully dressed.6 The picture below is an example of a four-berth room found in a brochure for the Cunard Line, 1912,7 although many ships had no rooms in steerage and the berths were set up in an open space.

The dining room in steerage had long tables with benches. Steerage passengers were provided with a set of utensils that they used for the entire trip, normally a fork, spoon and a lunch pail. A small dish fit into the top of the pail for meat and potatoes, with an attachment on the lid as a dish for vegetables and a tin cup that fit inside for drinks. The pail also served as a wash basin. 8 The poster below indicates that steerage passengers had to pay 3s 6d per adult for their small pail and utensils (pannikin).9

An example of a dining room for the steerage passengers.10

When the McHughs arrived in Quebec City, they were inspected by one of the medical examiners, either Dr. Drouin or Dr. Dupont, who were tasked with examining all the steerage passengers.11 Each immigrant would have been given an inspection card like the one illustrated below. The ship’s surgeon would have signed that they were vaccinated protected.12

My grandfather, Thomas, his brothers and his mother, were not the only McHughs to arrive on the S.S. Grampian. A year before Thomas arrived, his sister, Mary McHugh also arrived on this ocean liner.13 She came from Dundee, Scotland to work as a domestic. And Thomas’ wife, Elsie, accompanied by their seven children, arrived six months after Thomas, also on the S.S. Grampian. 14

It is no surprise that they all booked their passage on the S.S. Grampian as the Allan Shipping Line, founded in 1819 and whose main shipping line was between Scotland and Montreal, is credited with providing passage for the largest number of Scottish immigrants to Canada.15 In 1907 Sir Montagu Allan of the Allan Line Royal Mail Steamers ordered the building of the S.S. Grampian from the Stephens & Sons Ltd. shipbuilding yards in Scotland.16

When World War I broke out, the S.S. Grampian was used to transport troops of the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) from Canada to Europe. After the war, during the summer of 1919, the S.S. Grampian had left Montreal on its way to Liverpool and struck an iceberg off the coast of Newfoundland. Even though the front of the ship was crushed, it managed to reach the port of St. John’s, Newfoundland. Two of the crew were killed, and two of them were injured. Even though the ship was repaired, two years later, while undergoing a refit, it was gutted by fire and sank. It was then considered a write-off.17

  1. Newspapers.com, The Guardian, April 15, 1912, retrieved December 25, 2021.
  2. “Canada Passenger Lists, 1881-1922,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:2HLP-31W : 23 February 2021), Thomas McHugh, May 1912; citing Immigration, Quebec City, Quebec, Canada, T-4785, Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa, Ontario, retrieved December 25, 2021.
  3. Passengers lists for S.S. Grampian arriving in Port of Quebec, May 21, 1912, Library and Archives Canada, https://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/discover/immigration/immigration-records/passenger-lists/passenger-lists-1865-1922/Pages/image.aspx?Image=e003578022&URLjpg=http%3a%2f%2fcentral.bac-lac.gc.ca%2f.item%2f%3fid%3de003578022%26op%3dimg%26app%3dpassengerlist&Ecopy=e003578022, accessed February 3, 2022.
  4. Ibid.
  5. GG Archives, Steerage Conditions, https://www.gjenvick.com/Immigration/Steerage/SteerageConditions-ImmigrationCommissionReport-1911.html, retrieved February 3, 2022
  6. Ibid.
  7. GG Archives, Changes to Steerage Conditions on Steamships, 1912, Third Class / Steerage Four-Berth Room. 1912 Brochure RMS Franconia and Laconia – Cunard Line. GGA Image ID # 118805de77, https://www.gjenvick.com/Immigration/Steerage/ChangesToSteerageConditionsOnSteamships-1912.html, retrieved February 7, 2022
  8. Parillo, Vince, True Immigrant Tales: Steerage Challenges in Getting Fed, May 14, 2014, https://vinceparrillo.com/2014/05/15/true-immigrant-tales-steerage-challenges-in-getting-fed/, retrieved February 7, 2022.
  9. Image courtesy of Bjørn Christian Tørrissen, Wikipedia, S.S. Grampian, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SS_Grampian, retrieved February 7, 2022.
  10. Image credit: Parillo, Vince, True Immigrant Tales: Steerage Challenges in Getting Fed, May 14, 2014, https://vinceparrillo.com/2014/05/15/true-immigrant-tales-steerage-challenges-in-getting-fed/, retrieved February 7, 2022.
  11. Passengers lists for S.S. Grampian arriving in Port of Quebec, May 21, 1912, Library and Archives Canada, https://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/discover/immigration/immigration-records/passenger-lists/passenger-lists-1865-1922/Pages/image.aspx?Image=e003578022&URLjpg=http%3a%2f%2fcentral.bac-lac.gc.ca%2f.item%2f%3fid%3de003578022%26op%3dimg%26app%3dpassengerlist&Ecopy=e003578022, accessed February 3, 2022.
  12. GG Archives, Allan Line, Canadian Immigrant Inspection Card – Steerage Passenger – 1912, Wm. Cudly, jgenvik.com, “Immigration Documentation,” https://www.gjenvick.com/Immigration/ImmigrantDocumentation/1912-06-27-InspectionCard-SteerageImmigrant-Canada.html, accessed February 3, 2022.
  13. Findmypast.com Passenger Lists Leaving UK 1890-1960, Mary McHugh, S.S. Grampian leaving Glasgow June 24, 1911 and arriving in Quebec City July 8, 1911, retrieved January 23, 2022.
  14. Findmypast.com Passenger Lists Leaving UK 1890-1960, Elsie McHugh, retrieved December 13, 2017.
  15. Wikipedia, Allan Line Royal Mail Steamers, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Allan_Line_Royal_Mail_Steamers, retrieved February 7, 2022.
  16. Wikipedia, S.S. Grampian, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SS_Grampian, retrieved February 7, 2022.
  17. Ibid., retrieved February 7, 2022.

Mary Died of a Broken Heart

I have no doubt that the real cause of my great-grandmother’s death was a broken heart. She had experienced one grief too many and after the death of her daughter, she gave up and her heart gave out.

Alice Mary Knight, my great-grandmother, was born in the small village of West Bromwich, Staffordshire in 1875.1 Mary’s love story started in Birmingham, about six miles away. She went to Birmingham to work and met John Deakin at the rooming house where they were living.2 John also came from a nearby village. They were single, away from their families, and most certainly lonely. They married in 1900 and almost immediately moved to Sheffield, 90 miles away.3

The move to Sheffield would have been difficult. While Mary and John had each other, they would certainly have been homesick. Especially as their son, my grandfather, George Deakin, was born soon after they moved. In a strange city with a newborn, far from her mother and sisters, Mary would certainly have missed living in the village.

John found a mining job in Sheffield and he possibly worked for the Tinsley Park Collieries, situated very close to where John and Mary lived.Mary would have been alone most of the day as miners often worked 12-hour shifts. This young couple could have no inkling that the mine would unravel their lives.

In 1905, their little family was complete with the birth of George’s sister, Alice Gertrude Deakin.4

When George finished school, he went on to apprentice as a fitter, also at a mine, and possibly the one his father worked at.5 Fitters repaired and maintained machinery. George always worked at the surface of the mine. But he knew that it would not be long before he would be asked to work below ground. He was a short man and therefore an ideal size for moving around in the close spaces below ground. “I did not want to work below ground in the mine,” Gramps would say every time someone asked him why he came to Canada.

When George came to Canada in 1922, he had not yet decided whether he would stay.6 As soon as he arrived, he went out west by train to work on the wheat farms, to bring in the harvest. When the work dried up on the farms, he returned east to Montreal and met my grandmother, Grace Hunter. He was content living in Montreal. He married my grandmother and they had two children, Jack and Patricia. He had a job he enjoyed and worked there all his life, even during the Great Depression. George went on with his life but I cannot help but think that his mother must have been sorry he was so far away. Mary must have regretted George’s job at the mine, the catalyst for his emigration to Canada. It is unlikely that George ever went back to England for a visit, possibly because he may have felt that he could not take the time off work. A week to get there, a day’s journey by train to get to his parents’ house, and then the return. My grandparents were not rich, so money would have also been a consideration.

In 1935, John and Mary received more bad news. John had laryngeal cancer. At the time they did not know it, but mining is now considered a risk factor for laryngeal cancer. John underwent surgery to address the cancer, but he had heart failure from the shock of the operation and died on the operating table.7

After the death of her husband, Mary and her daughter, Alice, decided to move back to the village of Smethwick, John’s birthplace. Both John and Mary’s family were in the area. At least Mary would be close to some family members. Mary purchased a house and Alice found a job as a timekeeper at W&T Avery, a spring balance manufacturer.8

Tragedy struck again about ten years later when Alice was diagnosed with a brain tumour. Alice Gertrude died in the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham on November 1, 1951. Alice’s friend and neighbour, Marie Evans, was the informant on the death certificate.9

Within a week of Alice’s death, Mary changed her will.10 She must have already been seriously ill and, although we don’t know for sure, the urgency would have been to dispose of the house. Mary died of a heart attack less than two months after the death of her daughter. She was a widow, her son lived far away, and her daughter had died. The sorrow would have been overwhelming.  Mary died at home on New Year’s Eve in 1951, in the company of her younger brother, Benjamin.10

Mary’s new will left 20£ to her brother, Benjamin, for being the executor of her estate. She left a few bequests of 5£ to some of her friends and to the Firth Alms House in Sheffield, Yorkshire. Mary required that all of her other possessions, including her house, be sold and bequeathed to her son, George, in Canada.11

Mary must have felt that she lost her son to Canada and that when her daughter died in 1951, that the future was bleak. When death gently came to claim her just two months after her daughter’s death, Mary did not fight back.

  1. Certified copy of an entry of birth, Alice Mary Knight, born April 17, 1875, extract dated May 4, 2021.
  2. Certified copy of an entry of marriage, John Thomas Deakin and Alice Mary Knight, November 25, 1900, St. Paul’s Church, Aston, Harwick, extract dated May 25, 2021.
  3. 1901 census, Tinsley, Yorkshire, John Deakin and Mary Deakin, referenced January 1, 2016.
  4. Copy of an entry of birth, Alice Gertrude Deakin, born July 19, 1905, referenced July 27, 2021.
  5. Declaration of passage, George Thomas Deakin, Form 30A, referenced October 2, 2009.
  6. Idem.
  7. Copy of an entry of death, John Thomas Deakin, died July 8, 1935, referenced October 29, 2021.
  8. 1939 Register, Findmypast, Deakin, Alice G. and Deakin, Alice M., Alice is registered as a timekeeper at a balance manufacturer. Mary is registered as unpaid domestic help, referenced June 24, 2017. 
  9. Copy of an entry of death, Alice Gertrude Deakin, died November 1, 1951, referenced August 29, 2021.  The informant was Marie Evans, neighbour and friend. The law is specific about who can register a death in England: a relative, someone who was present at the death, an employee of a public house where the death occurred, or the person making the funeral arrangements. As Marie Evans was not a relative, she was allowed to register the death if she made the funeral arrangements. As such, the death certificate states that Marie Evans was “causing the body to be buried.” This way Marie Evans was able to allow her to register the death.
  10. The Last Will and Testament of Alice Mary Deakin, dated November 1, 1951 and probate, dated February 6, 1952, referenced August 12, 2021.
  11. Copy of an entry of death, Alice Mary Knight, died December 31, 1951, referenced August 8, 2021.

The Harvester Scheme

When I was a little girl, I would spend hours with my grandfather in his home workshop. He would make all kinds of things and I used to love watching him at work. I still have some of the tools he made, as well as a cribbage board and a turntable that swings the Scrabble board around to face each opponent. He crafted a complete house of Barbie furniture for my dolls and, to my delight, he asked me my opinion about every single piece. I felt both the weight of responsibility for deciding what each bed and chair would look like, and pride in participating in this project with him.

My grandfather, George Deakin (1901 -1983,) born in Sheffield, England, learned these skills when he was a young man. His father was a miner and George also worked for the coal mining companies of Sheffield, which were significant employers in the early 1900s. Gramps was a fitter which means that he made parts either for piping or for equipment and machinery.1, 2

I used to ask my grandfather why he came to Canada and the answer was always the same and always emphatic. “I did not want to work in the mine.” Sometimes he would go on to explain that, when he left, he still worked above ground for the mining company. However, he was a very short man and he knew that it was a matter of time before he would be required to work underground. Small men were valuable in the low tunnels of the coal mines, but the work was dangerous and unhealthy. Gramps had no intention of ever working underground.

So in 1923, he came to Canada as part of the Harvester Scheme. That year, Canada had a bumper wheat crop and North America could not provide the labour needed to harvest the crop.  Under the Harvester Scheme, the two major Canadian railway companies entered into an agreement with the British government to transport 12,000 workers out west where they would earn $4.00 per day plus board. 3

He ended up in Manitoba and the Canadian west must have suited him because he used to enjoy talking about his time on the farm. The days were long and the men worked hard but Gramps found it satisfying to work so hard.  And how the workers enjoyed the hearty meals that the women of the farm prepared for them!

He only stayed one harvesting season in Manitoba because, once that bumper crop had been harvested, there was no more work. He took the train to Montreal and easily found work as a draftsman at the Northern Electric plant. He had learned to read and draft drawings in Sheffield and his skills were in high demand. He worked at the Northern Electric plant in Lachine all his life, even during the Great Depression.

When Gramps first arrived in Canada, he was not sure he would stay.4 But after he met and married my grandmother in 1925, they settled in the Montreal suburb of Verdun and raised two children.

Here, he was able to work all his life in a job that he loved. He especially enjoyed the attention to detail that went into designing. And when he wasn’t designing at work, he was making tools, games, and Barbie furniture for the family.

1 Canada. “Immigration Records (1865 – 1935)” Database. Library and Archives Canada.  BAC-LAC, http://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/discover/immigration/immigration-records/passenger-lists/Pages/introduction.aspx#d: 2017.

2 http://www.occupationsguide.cz/en/POVOL/148.htm

3 Foster, John Elgin, The Developing West:  Essays on Canadian History in Honor of Lewis H. Thomas, Edmonton: University of Alberta Press, 1983

4 Canada. “Immigration Records (1865 – 1935)” Database. Library and Archives Canada.  BAC-LAC, http://www.bac-lac.gc.ca/eng/discover/immigration/immigration-records/passenger-lists/Pages/introduction.aspx#d: 2017.

The Schoolmaster

In 18th century England, schoolmasters and tutors had to belong to the Church of England. The 1662 Act of Uniformity required all clergy, dons, schoolmasters, and tutors to subscribe to a declaration of conformity to the Articles of the Church of England.1

Samuel Everell,* my four times great-grandfather was the schoolmaster in the village of Longnor, Shropshire, England. He was probably a schoolmaster all his life as I can find him in the records as schoolmaster from the time he registered the birth of his son, Charles, in 18132 until he was 57, in the 1841 census.3 All of the records indicate that Samuel and his immediate family belonged to the Church of England. While there was a community of Quakers in the village of Longnor, Samuel could not have been one of their members. Nonconformists were banned from teaching.4

Samuel, while not necessarily well educated, would have certainly been able to read and write. He was born in 1784 in the village of Condover, about four miles away from Longnor. His father, Benjamin Everall was a blacksmith.5 At that time, one had to be a member of the nobility to attend one of the two universities in England: Cambridge or Oxford. Graduates of these universities sometimes became private tutors for the children of the gentry. These tutors would live with the family and even dine with them.

Samuel probably taught in a charity school. The gentry generally believed that education should not be extended to the poor as it might upset the social order.6 They did, however, believe that the poor should read the Bible. Education for the working classes was haphazard. Sunday schools taught reading so that children could read the scriptures. They also sometimes taught writing and arithmetic. In 1800, when Samuel was 16, there were 2,000 Sunday schools in England with an enrolment of 10% of the population between 5 and 18.7 Maybe this is where he learned to read and write. It was not unusual for one of the better students to become the schoolmaster. The salary of the schoolmaster was either covered by the parents or sometimes the gentry would contribute to the cost of the running of the school, including the schoolmaster’s salary.

It is possible that Samuel’s salary was paid by the estate of Sir Richard Corbet, the 4th Baronet of Longnor. The 1831 Parliamentary Report on Charities states the following:

Sir Richard Corbet, of Longnor, in his will dated November 19, 1764, declared that the trustees of his estate ensure that the poor children of Longnor, Leebotwood, Cardington, and Fodesley and poor children of the tenants and that the trustees shall appoint and pay the master to teach the children to read and write English. There were about 14 children who were instructed in a private home by the schoolmaster. The schoolmaster was paid quarterly between 14l and 15l and included 50s for teaching Sunday School. 7

Manor of Sir Richard Corbet (1696-1774), 4th Baronet of Longnor.8

In the beginning of the 19th century, the Church of England continued to sponsor education. Samuel probably died around 1849, so he would not have seen any sweeping changes during the time he was a schoolmaster. However, the government did start to become involved in the education of the poor, voting sums of money for the construction of schools for the poor. Despite the Elementary Education Act of 1870, 2 million children out of 4.3 million children had no access to schooling at all. England saw compulsory and free primary education in the 1870s and 1880s. It wasn’t until 1918 that the Education Act (Fisher Act) made secondary education compulsory until age 14.9

*Everell can be found in the records as Everell, Everel, Everelle, Everil, Everill, and Heverell.

  1. Gillard, Derek, Education in England: a History, May 2018, http://www.educationengland.org.uk/history/chapter04.html, accessed July 21, 2021.
  2. Findmypast, basptismal certificate of Charles Everall, accessed July 7, 2021.
  3. Findmypast, 1841 census records for the parish of Longnor, accessed July 15, 2021.
  4. Gillard, Derek, Education in England: a History, May 2018, http://www.educationengland.org.uk/history/chapter04.html, accessed July 21, 2021.
  5. National Archives, Probate Benjamin Everell, accessed August 11, 2021.
  6. Dartford Town Archive website, Charity Schools, https://www.dartfordarchive.org.uk/early_modern/education_charity.shtml, accessed Aug 16, 2021.
  7.  Lloyd, Amy J., Education, Literacy and the Reading Public, University of Cambridge.
  8. Parliamentary papers, Reports from Commissioners, 1831, volume 11, Charities, Twenty-Fourth Report of Commissioners, https://books.google.ca/books?id=9joSAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA387&lpg=PA387&dq=schoolmaster+longnor&source=bl&ots=BCKVnr91SC&sig=ACfU3U2H-rc0FjRaxNBk4IFw4WzRMbHfhw&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwig1tXOtObxAhWHGFkFHU78AKUQ6AEwCHoECBYQAg#v=onepage&q=schoolmaster%20longnor&f=false, accessed July 21, 2021.
  9. Wikipedia, Sir Richard Corbet, 4th Baronet,  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sir_Richard_Corbet,_4th_Baronet, accessed July 21, 2021.
  10. Wikipedia, History of Education in England, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_education_in_England, accessed August 18, 2021.

Explosion in the Mine

“No Hope for 20 Men Entombed in Mine Afire,” declared the headline in the September 29, 1918 edition of the Chicago Tribune.1

Sadly, 21 men died in the gas explosion on September 27, 1918 in the mine of the Franklin Coal and Coke Co. in Royalton, Illinois.  On the preceding night a fire had been discovered and the firefighters sealed off two of the rooms. They had nailed a door shut but an employee pried it open and ignited the fire with his naked light. He was blown back and he survived until the next day and was able to explain how the explosion happened.2

My great-uncle, John Hynd, a mine examiner, died in this explosion. He was forty-nine and had three young children.3

Rescue operation after Royalton explosion, courtesy of Wayne’s World of History and Genealogy

John came from a long line of coal miners and was born at the Wellwood Colliery in Dunfermline, Scotland. This means that his parents lived on the site of the mine. John’s father, also John Hynd, was illiterate and signed his son’s birth registration with an X.4 Most sons of the miners in the colliery also worked there and started at a young age.

Parliament in the U.K. established the Children’s Employment Commission in 1842 to investigate the conditions of children in mines and factories. With respect to the Wellwood Colliery, James Spawort testified that “the age at which children are taken down depends on the circumstances of their parents, if they are destitute, they are taken early. “ The schoolteacher, William Craig, further testified that “there is no hope of the children being better instructed until some stoppage is put to the practice of working infants in mines. “5

While conditions were still grim, John, born in 1869, had better employment circumstances than his father and forefathers. As a result, the Mines and Collieries Act arising out of the Commission inquiry prohibited girls and women to work down the mine, and ruled that males could only start working at 10 years of age. The work day for any child under 13 was limited to twelve hours.6

The 1881 census shows that John was already working in the mine at the age of 13. He was a doorkeeper in a pit.7 Ten years later, John had been promoted to coal miner. His brother, James was also working at the mine by then and his sister, Mary, was a pit head worker at the mine in Cowdenbeath, Scotland.8

John Hynd arrived in the U.SA. in January 1905. He arrived with a friend.9 He probably came to the U.S. looking for work in a mine. Mines in the U.S. needed qualified workers and hired employment agents in the U.K. to attract workers. It was also usual to advertisement on public bulletin boards. Perhaps this is how John knew about opportunities for miners. 10 While he travelled only with a friend when he arrived, his wife, Elizabeth (Lizzie) Milne and child also immigrated. 10 He possibly settled in Illinois because of the many opportunities for employment in the coal mines and he was living in Benld, a small village that happened to have a coal mine. However, at the time of the census it says that John was working as a bartender. His brother, William was also living with him and working as a miner. William had arrived in 1908 and had also been a miner in Scotland.12 U.S.A. naturalization records show that John’s two other brothers, Andrew and James also immigrated to Benld and probably worked in the mine.13

By 1918 John is back in the mine working as a mine examiner at the Franklin Coal and Coke Co. in Royalton, Illinois, about 130 km away from the village of Benld.  This was a supervisory job that meant he was responsible for assessing the risk of danger in the mine, such as gas leaks and fires. It is not clear whether he lived in Royalton at the time of explosion or he traveled for work. He was buried close to the village of Benld, in Gillespie.14

After John’s death, Elizabeth did not stay in a small village in Illinois. As she had three small children to take care of, she would have had to work. The 1920 USA census tells us that she was living with her three children and working as a confectioner in St. Louis, Missouri.15 Elizabeth died 43 years later in 1961 and was buried beside her husband, John.16

John’s death was the third tragedy in the Hynd family in three years. His father, John, had to bear the burden three deaths. John Hynd’s (senior) wife, Euphemia, died in 1916 of abdominal cancer.73 Then his daughter, Mary Hynd, my great-grandmother, died of liver cancer in 1917.18 And then John’s shocking and tragic death in 1918.

  1. Clipping from Newspapers.com, accessed May 22, 1921.
  2. Wayne’s World of History and Genealogy: History, Genealogy, Coal Mining in Illinois, https://hinton-gen.com/coal/disasters3.html, accessed May 23, 2021.
  3. Death certificate for John Hynd, issued by the Illinois Department of Public Health on April 12, 2021.
  4. Scotland’s People, Statutory Registration of Births, John Hynd, accessed May 1, 2020.
  5. Scotland’s Mining Website, Children’s Employment Commission 1842, Wellwood Colliery,http://www.scottishmining.co.uk/89.html, accessed May 22, 2021.
  6. Wikipedia, The Mines and Collieries Act 1842, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mines_and_Collieries_Act_1842, accessed May 22, 2021.
  7. Scotland’s People, 1881 Census, Mary Hynd, accessed April 27, 2020.
  8. Scotland’s People, 1891 Census, Mary Hynd, accessed August 14, 2020.
  9. Family Search, USA arrivals, John Hynd, accessed May 23, 2021.
  10. Immigration to the United States, Labor, Coal Mining, https://immigrationtounitedstates.org/438-coal-industry.html, accessed June 16, 2021.
  11. Family Search, 1910 U.S.A. Census, John Hynd, accessed May 23, 2021.
  12. Idem.
  13. Illinois Department of Commerce and Labor Naturalization Service, Circuit Court, Seventh District, Macoupian County, Illinois.
  14. Death certificate for John Hynd, issued by the Illinois Department of Public Health on April 12, 2021.
  15. Family Search, USA 1910 Census, Elizabeth Hynd, accessed May 24, 2021.
  16. Find a Grave, Elizabeth Hynd, accessed May 25, 2021.
  17. Scotland’s People, Register of Statutory Deaths, Euphemia Wallace, accessed May 24, 2021.
  18. Scotland’s People, Register of Statutory Deaths, Mary Hynd, accessed April 20, 2019

Little Tipperary

When we think of emigration from Europe, we think of crossing the Atlantic to North America or going to Australia. For the Irish, immigrating to Scotland would have been just as difficult as if they had moved to a new continent.

The Irish started to arrive in Dundee, Scotland around 1825, lured by the prospect of regular employment in the growing jute industry. Within 30 years, the Irish community of Dundee had grown to 14,000.3

This quote from James Myles, a local Dundee author, in Rambles in Forfarshire, 1850, gives us a taste of how the Irish immigrants were perceived by the Dundonians:

A great proportion of them are Irish. Drawn hither by the work they obtain at the spinning mills; and it is to be deeply lamented that the vast hordes that have migrated to the Scouringburn are composed of the most debased and ignorant of their countrymen. Their vile slang and immoral habits have seriously injured the poor population of Dundee.2

The first Irish McHughs to move to Dundee, Scotland were brothers John and Patrick McHugh. They both married in Dundee and worked in the jute mills all their lives. And their families continued to work in the mills for generations, almost a century.3 Like most of the Irish immigrants, John and Patrick probably already had experience in the textile industry in Ireland and most likely came from one of the counties that produced linen and yarn.4

The Irish settled where the jute mills were located in Lochee, Dundee, also known as Little Tipperary. 5 The McHughs, like the other Irish immigrants and unlike most Dundonians, were Roman Catholics. The Church of Scotland has been the dominant religion in Scotland since the Scottish Reformation of 1560 and the Roman Catholics would have been looked upon with disapproval and suspicion.

St. Joseph Roman Catholic Church, Dundee, Scotland, built in 1873

It is not surprising that the Irish Roman Catholics lived in the same area and worshipped at the same Catholic churches in Lochee for decades. I can find registrations of marriages, baptisms, and deaths for the McHughs for generations. The McHughs remained steadfast Catholics during their century of living in Dundee and only branched out into other religions once they arrived in Canada in 1912.

The Irish were also seen as carriers of disease, such as typhus, also known as ‘Irish fever.’ Of course, this was due to unsanitary and crowded living conditions in which they lived.6

In 1904, the Lochee Harp Football team was formed by Lochee Irishmen to provide recreation for the poor immigrants. Even today, Lochee is considered the Irish quarter of Dundee.7

  1. http://www.bbc.co.uk/legacies/immig_emig/scotland/perth_tayside/article_1.shtml#:~:text=Irish%20workers%2C%20lured%20by%20the,Dundonians%20had%20grown%20to%2014%2C000., accessed April 11, 2021.
  2. Google books, Rambles in Forfarshire, Myles, James, Edinburgh, A. and C. Black, 1850. Thanks to Angus Folklore, The Dundee Irish and Other Catholics, Coleman, Keith, September 9, 2017, http://angusfolklore.blogspot.com/2017/09/the-dundee-irish-and-other-catholics.html, accessed April 22, 2021.
  3. It is assumed that Patrick McHugh emigrated to Scotland with his brother, John, as Patrick married in Dundee and died there, as did John.
  4. BBC Legacies, Perth and Tayside, Little Tipperary, The Irish in Dundee, http://www.bbc.co.uk/legacies/immig_emig/scotland/perth_tayside/article_1.shtml#:~:text=Irish%20workers%2C%20lured%20by%20the,Dundonians%20had%20grown%20to%2014%2C000., accessed April 11, 2021.
  5. Ibid.
  6. John Gray Centre, A brief history of emigration & immigration in Scotland, https://www.johngraycentre.org/about/archives/brief-history-emigration-immigration-scotland-research-guide-2/, accessed April 22, 2021.
  7. Wikipedia, Lochee, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lochee, accessed April 24, 2021.