Revues savantes BnF Gallica – Bibliotheque de France 16
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This week Perseverance landed on Mars, the latest rover sent to explore the Red Planet. The excitement of space exploration always stimulates my imagination.
When the first astronauts went up in space I attended elementary school. Televisions on tall carts were wheeled into our classrooms and we watched wide eyed as the rockets took off. The excitement of the count down kept us all on the edge of our seats; three, two, one, blast off!
With only male astronauts, most little girls didn’t even consider going into space, myself included. Still, as men first circled the earth and then the moon, finally landing there in 1969, dreams of space travel were limitless.
In 1983, Canada chose their first astronauts and among the men, a woman, Roberta Bondar. She followed Marc Garneau as the second Canadian in space flying on the Space Shuttle Discovery. In 1992, the Canadian Space agency wanted a new group of astronauts. How did they look for astronauts? They put advertisements in local papers. There in the Career’s section of the Saturday Gazette it said, The Canadian Space Agency Seeks Astronauts.
I had been working as a technician in a cancer research laboratory. My boss’s research grants were not going to be renewed and so I needed another job. A fellow at the camera club who applied on to be an astronaut in the previous search expressed pride at his rejection letter. So I thought, why not.
Surprisingly, I could say yes to all the qualifications to become an astronaut. You had to be a Canadian citizen, have at least a Bachelor’s degree from a recognized university in engineering, physical science, biological science, medicine or mathematics. They only wanted at least three years of related professional experience and the candidate needed good communication and presentation skills and would undergo demanding physical and psychological examinations. So I applied, highlighting my background in a scientific lab with expertise working with instruments, biological and immunological assays, designing experiments, trouble shooting and working both independently and in a a team all abilities suitable for a payload specialist.
When I received the ‘we regret to inform you letter’ from the Canadian Space Agency, I expected it. Over 5000 Canadians applied and according to the letter; “ the Agency has had the challenging task of selecting a relatively small number of candidates from among the many diverse and interesting applications received. Your submission was carefully considered, but we are unfortunately unable to offer you employment. However, your application form will be kept on file for a period of six months. Should a suitable position become available within this period we will be pleased to communicate with you again.” I had no further communication.
The Canadians chosen to train as astronauts in 1992 included Chris Hadfield, Michael McKay, Julie Payette and Dave Williams but not me.
I must admit in my heart of hearts I didn’t really want to go into space. It is fun imagining being there but after training for years, the end result of all your work is to climb into a tiny capsule above a bomb to be blasted into space. I will be happy to watch from my armchair as a Canadian astronaut flies to the moon in 2023 on the Artemis II mission.
Write what you know. That is good advice, but it can be hard to follow if you have poor health and seldom travel or even explore your own neighbourhood. This was the case for my mother. Nevertheless, several of her articles about her hobbies and personal memories were published in the local media.
As I write this, snow is falling outside my office window and, in the midst of a pandemic, the government has advised people to stay at home. These restrictions feel much like the limitations my mother experienced, so I dug out some of her articles to see what inspired her.
Joan Hamilton (1918-1994) was a prolific letter-writer: letters to the editor of The Montreal Star, letters to the newspaper’s television critic, and letters to federal and provincial politicians on a variety of topics. But what she really wanted was to write magazine articles, so she was very proud when several of her stories appeared in Montreal Scene, a magazine inserted every Saturday in The Montreal Star. It generally featured four or five articles, along with the weekly television listings, and there was always a painting of a local scene on the cover.
“Feathered Fun” by Joan Hamilton, which appeared in the January 15, 1977 issue, was about her own favourite pastime, armchair bird-watching.
My parents’ house had a sunroom with picture windows overlooking the backyard where a large crab-apple tree, laden with wizened fruit, attracted many birds in winter. “If you are lucky, anytime after mid-January, a group of evening grosbeaks or common redpolls may discover your garden treats,” she wrote, adding, “There is no better pick-me-up for the winter blues than to spot the beautiful yellow, black and white grosbeaks feeding on the snow.” Mother also attached small bird feeders to the sunroom windows and kept them full of seeds so she could watch the chickadees up close.
In another article, “Winters Remembered,” in the March 25, 1978 issue, she suggested that Montrealers were getting soft, no longer able to cope with snow and cold weather. She recalled that the postman called twice a day when she was young, and if there was a time when he couldn’t get through the drifts, she didn’t remember it. Furthermore, “in those days, many deliveries were still made by horse-drawn sleighs, which always seemed to triumph over the highest snowbanks.”
She wrote, “We must have got our first car in the late ‘20s. A Hupmobile with glass flaps for windows, it didn’t have a heater, that’s for sure. Maybe that is why in those days nearly everyone put their car ‘up’ for the winter…. We relied on the trusty old streetcars. We lived near the crest of Côte-des-Neiges, and I don’t remember a time when they were not able to make the hill. They had cowcatchers that acted as snowplows in front, and during big snowstorms, there were special snow plow cars clearing the tracks, trailed by a string of streetcars, power lines crackling with light and windows steamed, but making it up the hill.”
Travel, both short and long distance, was by the invincible train, she recalled. “Trains may have been delayed, but at least you always got where you were going.” She had particularly fond memories of the Laurentian ski train which carried Montrealers to the slopes north of the city in the winter. “The gaiety on board was as much a part of the fun as skiing.”
She continued, “We never worried about freezing or starving during power failures. First of all, we had a coal furnace which, although it had to be stoked morning and night, was not subject to breakdowns…. We cooked with gas, so there was no worry about being unable to have a hot meal if the electricity went off. Lots of people still had wood or coal stoves.”
Towards the end of the article, Mother asked, “Was it really better back then, or has time blocked out the bad memories and left only the good?” Perhaps she did block out some of negative aspects of winter in the 1930s and 1940s, but her memories nevertheless made for entertaining reading.
What to expect while researching online at about 92 Archives départementales de France; Free Online Searches with free downloads of original Church Registers or original Civil Registers or original Notarial acts through the web or smart phones. No memberships are required except for one archive Filae.com and it permits and an online research process is also free to see what documents are available, however, a membership is required to view these documents.
I sat glued to the television watching hundreds of people, armed and angry, storm the Capital Building in Washington. They had been incited by Donald Trump to overthrow the recent presidential election results, the election that Trump claimed had been stolen from him by Biden and the Democrats. This violence could not possibly be happening in America. This was Third World stuff.
I no sooner said the words then my mind was yanked back sixty-four years to a Third World insurrection I had witnessed as a teenager.
In seventh grade, at the age of twelve, my father accepted a job overseas with an engineering company, part of an international consortium contracted by the Pakistani Development Corporation to build a paper mill on the Ganges Delta. Khulna, the town selected for the mill, was situated in East Pakistan known today as Bangladesh. The logs were to be hauled by boat upriver in huge booms from the mangrove forests of the Sundarbans (home of the Bengal tiger) to be made into the pulp necessary to produce various paper products.
The salary for a four-year contract was considerable, deposited in a Canadian bank account and not taxed by either country. A house was provided, a school, leisure facilities, servants, and first-class transportation there and back. On the way out we sailed to England on the Empress of Britain, flew to Dacca, the capital of East Pakistan, and finally driven by car to the site. We returned home with stops in Hong Kong, Tokyo and Honolulu, truly an “Around the World Adventure”.
Dad saw this contract as the opportunity to give his three children the university education he never received following the bankruptcy of his father’s bookstore during the Depression and the necessity for he and his brothers to support the family. My parents were certainly adventurous to take their children to live half way around the world but, in hindsight, very naïve about international contracts, particularly in southern Asia.
We arrived at the site in 1957 during the construction phase of the mill. India had only acquired Independence from Britain ten years earlier becoming India and Pakistan (East and West sections) in 1947. East Pakistan then began a drawn-out process of separation from West Pakistan, largely for religious and linguistic reasons, to eventually become Bangladesh in 1972. The years in between were full of political unrest and civil disobedience. East Pakistan was placed under marshal law in 1958 shortly after our arrival. Uprisings continued, growing ever-more dangerous.
The attack I witnessed was against the construction of the mill. I was much too young to understand the whys of what was happening. All I saw was the huge mob of rioters trying to access the compound. As they attempted to break down the gates and climb the protective walls, they were beaten off by soldiers, local police and compound guards. The mob grew larger and larger and those who fell under the blows were trampled. The noise of the crowd was unforgettable – continuous chants I didn’t understand, sounds of batons pounding flesh and cement, screams of pain and barking dogs, all under the heat and humidity and the everyday smells of south Asia.
For a short while the company families huddled on the upper deck of the Newsprint Club overlooking the scene until company employees escorted us to safety. My heart pounded – surely it would pound right out of my chest. By the time the time the fighting was finally over, the streets outside the walls were littered with dead and bloodied bodies.
Although we continued to see evidence of uprisings in and near the village until we left the country in 1960, never did the violence come as close again. The company purchased a river boat to keep onsite should an emergency evacuation be required. Thankfully, it was there when my four-year old sister had to be evacuated to a hospital in Dacca to save her life from amebic dysentery. It was the only time it had to used.
What to expect while researching online at about 92 Archives départementales de France.
Free Online Searches with free downloads of original Church Registers or original Civil Registers or original Notarial acts through the web or smart phones. No membership is required with the exception of one archive Filae.com and at the latter, the online research process is also free, once you have completed a one-page online request and the link to the Homepage where the information is noted , however to access it, a membership is required.
Click on the link below to bring you to the Homepage
I published my interview with Marian this week on my Unapologetically Canadian podcast. Marian describes what it’s like to discover family secrets as she researches and writes stories about her ancestors.
If you want to join Marian in indexing records from around the world, you can do so at the Indexing Page on the Family History website. You can also choose a Canadian project if you prefer.
Some of Marian’s stories that we discuss included:
Catholic Parish Registers in Alsace – Artois – Champagne – Flandre – Lorraine – Picardie of the 17th & 18th centuries
What to expect while researching online at about 92 Archives départementales de France – Free Online searches with free downloads of original Church Registers or original Civil Registers or original Notarial acts through the web or smart phones. No memberships are required. There is an exception of one website where the online research process is also free, once you have completed a one-page online request.
The contents of this database :
List of Archives Repositories
Genealogy Solution Providers
In the opening pages, please refer to
Yves Landry – Les Français passés au Canada avant 1760
Cole Harris – The French Background of Immigrants to Canada before 1700
All Links referring to www.filae.com such as those with strikethrough
While cobbling together my fathers’s family tree 1, I discovered that his paternal Nixon line2dies out in 1834, when Robert Nixon is born in Marton, North Yorkshire, taking his surname from his mother, Hannah Nixon of nearby Kirkdale. Their reputation is redeemed five years later in 1840 when Hannah marries Christopher Neesam of Osmotherly shortly after she gives birth to a second child, a girl.
There’s no record of Robert’s birth or who Robert’s real father is – and, thanks to further research, I think I know the reason why.
Judging from my father’s family tree,unwed motherhood was not unusual among these Yorkshire farmers.
Church records from rural Yorkshire in medieval times and beyond back up my observation. They reveal that unwed mothers were, indeed, commonplace even way-back-when and the number of unwed mothers in that place only increased over the next few centuries, most notably in the northern ridings.3
As it happens, Yorkshireman Robert Nixon, Hannah Nixon’s illegitimate child, gets married in 1857 to a kindred spirit, Martha Featherstone. Martha, too, had been born out of wedlock in 1835.
Martha’s mom, Mary Featherstone of Pickering, like her mother-in-law Hannah Nixon Neesam before her, gets married a few years later, in 1840, to one Joseph Shaw. 6
Oddly, the DNA cousin matches/tree matches suggest my father is related to both Joseph Shaw and Mary Featherstone,* so this could be a case of a very delayed marriage, for whatever reason.
Maybe that is Hannah Nixon’s case, too. However, I’ve yet to find any Neesam DNA connection to my father’s tree.
In the small town of Rudby (7 miles from Marton, just north of the moors) as much as ten percent of women had children out of wedlock in the early 1800’s. These unwed mothers were stigmatized not only for religious reasons but because they were costly to the town. Sadly, the ‘bastardy wages’ paid to these mothers didn’t do much to end their woe or improve their children’s prospects. An illegitimate child was twice as likely to die in infancy as a child with legal parentage.
Local authorities in Rudby believed that most unwed mothers were the result of ‘courting couples’ where the young man involved was simply marriage-averse, sometimes preferring jail time to tying the knot. It didn’t help the situation, they said, that many unmarried tenant farmers were content with their ‘live-in’ servants (sic).
Modern scholars examining these same records acknowledge that adultery and incest (and, let’s face it, rape) inflated the number of unwed mothers in England but, they think, not to any great degree.4
Grim history, indeed, but my research findings do get brighter.
According to another source5, unwed mothers in the country did have it better than their counterparts in more urbanized areas. A more stable population likely made for a better support system for these women.
In fact, unwed mothers in 18th and 19th century rural Yorkshire weren’t even expected to name a father. A gal in the family way just told her own mom who gathered up her hat and shawl and headed out to find an eligible young man to take the bio-father’s place. (Practical people, those Yorkshire farmers.)
Unwed mothers were also protected by the old Norse superstitions still adhered to by many. One of these superstitions maintained that pregnant women had magical powers, so they were not to be crossed.
The workhouse in Helmsley, hometown of the Nixon clan from the 1800’s onward. Unmarried mothers might end up here to pay off their ‘bastardy’ support, where they were allowed to nurse their child but twice a day. 3
The street in Helmsley where the Nixons lived in 1911. My grandfather, Robert Nixon, was born here in 1890. In 1911, he was a footman at Duncombe Park. Supposedly he got a girl pregnant right about then so he was sent out to Malaya in 1912 to be a planter. Family myth says this woman was either a fellow servant or the Earl’s daughter. Considering the high cost of going to Malaya in the day and that posts in Malaya were given out to sons of richer men, I suspect the woman was from an important family. This would have made a great sub-plot on Downton Abbey, a fictional story that unfolds in the same area.
1. I admit that I mostly used other people’s research to compile my tree. My father, a child of the Raj, told me little about his British roots. The only information I had to go on was that his mother’s father was a Methodist minister and that some of his ancestors were hanged for sheep stealing. See Border Reiving Ruffians. Also see Dissenters and Poets.
But after I compiled his tree with ancestors from places like Helmsley, Farndale and Appleton-le-Moors, I discovered, through DNA, that the ‘cousin trail’ matches on Ancestry supports the tree, 100 percent, at least for the first few generations. My father has matches both in centimorgans (dna) and tree with people on all branches of the tree.
Let me give you one example: When I discovered, using a stranger’s tree, that my father had a great grandmother, Anne Nesfield from Sleights, this explained his rather silly middle name to me. My father signed his name P N F Nixon, as in Peter Nesfield Forster Nixon.
The Nesfield clan of Ugglebarnby etc. Yorkshire is a well established. My father is a close genetic match with someone else with this Anne Nesfield in his tree. These genes make great rugby players as both sides have world-class players.
2. In genetics, the male Y chromosome haplogroup (or set of common alleles passed from father to son) is a much valued tool used by historians and ethno-anthropologists to track historical population movements back to the bronze age and even farther. All haplogroups are assigned letter and number signatures. My Yorkshire father Peter Nixon’s Y dna haplogroup is I1 Z63. I1 is the most common haplogroup in Northern Europe.
Apparently, my father’s Z63 subgroup dominated Northern Germany before the arrival of Charlemagne (who infamously lopped off the heads of thousands of male Saxons) and has has deep origins in Jutland (Denmark). Yorkshire is the most Anglo Saxon region in all England.
3. Hastings, R. P. Poverty and the Poor Law in the North Riding of Yorkshire: 1780-1837. Unwed mothers often had to repay their bastardy wages by employment in the Workhouse. In Victorian Times in Helmsley, as recommended by the authorities, mothers in workhouses were permitted to nurse their children only twice daily. The infants’ diet was supplemented with ONE meal of cow’s milk sweetened with sugar.
4. ibid ( That seems odd to me as I know that Emmeline Pankhurst turned to woman suffrage advocacy when she saw so many young teen patients in her husband’s Manchester clinic who were pregnant by incest.)
5. Gillis, J.R. For Better For Worse: British Marriages from 1600 to Present.
6. There is no birth record for either Robert Nixon or Martha Featherstone. Census records are what the genealogies go by.
I found this on Youtube, an interview with Tamara Hoggarth, born 1860 in Marton. (The poster says “She’s speaking English, I promise.” According to his blurb, she also had an illegitimate child before marrying
The Catholic Parish Registers in Angoumois – Aunis – Limousin – Marche – Périgord – Saintonge of the 17th & 18th Centuries
What to expect while researching online at about 92 Archives départementales de France – Free Online searches with free downloads of original Church Registers or original Civil Registers or original Notarial acts through the web or smart phones. No memberships required with the exception of one archive and at the latter, the online research process is also free, once you have completed a one-page online request.