Category Archives: Scotland
Elizabeth Mowat is my great great grandmother. I didn’t even know her name before I began my genealogy quest. I still don’t know much about her but I now have a photograph, a portrait of her in her “go to church clothes” with the requisite black bonnet.
There were no pictures of her in the box that started my family history search, although there was a family photograph of her husband William, her son Donald, his wife Alice and three of their children, William, Mary and James Dickson. I originally thought Elizabeth was alive at the time, so why on such an occasion was she not with them at the photographers? It later turned out she died in 1883 and not the assumed 1888.
It was through the internet and RootsWeb that I finally saw her face. Robert Harkness, from her daughter-in-law Alice’s line, said his family had lost all their old photos and information in a house fire but his uncle might know some family history. I wrote to his uncle, Bruce Harkness but did not hear anything. Then a couple of months later I received a letter from a George Dickson with photos and stories. He was also a relative of Alice’s and lived in the same apartment building as Bruce, in Belmore, Ontario. Bruce had shared my letter and it was George who responded. In the package was a picture of Elizabeth.
She was born in 1829 in Pulteneytown, Caithness, Scotland. Her parents were James Mowat and Isabelle Houston. It doesn’t appear that she had any siblings or at least any that survived to the 1841 census.
She married William Sutherland a shoemaker and 13 years her senior, May 1845, in Pulteneytown and they set out for Canada soon after. They sailed with two of William’s nephews and their wives so he had some family with him, but Elizabeth left her family and her life, never to see them again. There are Sutherland letters that have survived which reported on all the neighbours and friends so I assume the Mowats also heard about their daughter’s new life and family.
Elizabeth and William had seven children, William, James, Donald, Christina, Isabella, George, and John. They moved from Toronto to West Gwillimbury and finally to their own land in Carrick, Bruce County Ontario. After clearing the land and farming for a number of years they gave up the hard work and moved back to Toronto.
Elizabeth died in 1883 and William died in 1887. My sister Jeannie and I visited Mount Pleasant Cemetery and found their tombstone. The names were readable but not the inscription. As Jeannie went to the car to get some paper to try a rubbing, the sun came out and it’s angle made the inscription jump out,“The dead in Christ shall rise first”.
Ancestry.com. Scotland, Select Births and Baptisms, 1564-1950 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2014.Original data: Scotland, Births and Baptisms, 1564-1950. Salt Lake City, Utah: FamilySearch, 2013
Extracts of entries in an Old Parochial Register. Proclamations of Banns and marriages Parish of Wick, County of Caithnes general register Office, New Register House Edinburch on 26 September 2000.
Archives of Ontario; Toronto, Ontario, Canada; Series: MS935; Reel: 36 Source InformationAncestry.com. Ontario, Canada, Deaths, 1869-1938, 1943-1944, and Deaths Overseas, 1939-1947 Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010.Cert.
“The dead in Christ shall rise first.” 1 Thessalonians 4:16
By Sandra McHugh
When I say that my grandfather, Thomas McHugh, worked as a cipher, Bletchley Park, MI5, and Russian spies immediately come to mind. He was neither a Russian spy nor did he work as a cipher during the war. His employer was the Bank of Montreal and it was his first job when he came to Canada in 1912.
The decision to immigrate to Canada was not easy for Thomas. He was in his mid-30s and already had seven children, between the ages of one and fifteen. For over 40 years, the jute manufacturers of Dundee, Scotland had been providing employment for his parents, aunts, uncles, siblings, wife, and for him. However, by the early 1900s, he was facing a precarious future for his children.
By the early 1900s, Dundee had suffered a serious decline in the textile industry and more significantly, the jute industry. Jute was imported from India, however, the mill owners realized that it would significantly lower the cost of production to open mills in India to prepare the jute and import the finished product to Scotland. Once mills were established in India, the jute production in the mills in Dundee decreased substantially.1
So when Thomas arrived in Canada, a little ahead of his wife and his children, he was eager and prepared to do any job so that he could. The Bank of Montreal had its headquarters in Montreal, Quebec. In the early 1900s, the bank had significant dealings with Great Britain and there were correspondence and banking instructions back and forth between Canada and Great Britain daily. These instructions were mainly sent by telegraph overnight. There were two reasons for this. Some of these instructions were confidential and it was preferred that they remain so. Overnight instructions reduced the number of people who would have access to them. Another reason was the time difference between Montreal and the United Kingdom. The banks in London and Edinburgh were open for business while Montreal was still asleep.
Even in those days, the banks were concerned about security, privacy, and confidentiality. The banking instructions and transactions were submitted by telegraph and were encrypted. It was the job of the cipher clerk to decipher them so that the bank staff could then ensure that the instructions were carried out as required.
To be a cipher clerk, one had to be reliable, meticulous, and honest, and ensure the confidentiality of the bank’s business. The cipher clerk used a cipher handbook to decipher the information. Also, the cipher clerk worked overnight, so it was a difficult job for a man with a family.
So while my grandfather, the cipher, did not work in espionage, I still think that his first job in Canada was rather interesting.2
2 As related by my father, Edward McHugh
By Sandra McHugh
There are two popular theories or myths about why Scottish and Irish names are either Mc or Mac. One myth claims that Mc is Irish and Mac is Scottish. Another theory maintains that Mc is Roman Catholic and Mac is Protestant. The latter theory is the important one that concerns the story of my great uncle, Edward McHugh or MacHugh, the Gospel Singer. Edward’s name was McHugh but when he began his singing career, he changed his name to MacHugh so that no one could possibly suspect that he was Roman Catholic, or so family legend claims.
His musical career started at the age of 26 when he left Canada to move to the U.S. to study music in Manhattan in New York City in 1919.1 He had moved to Canada from Scotland with his mother and his two brothers when he was just 19. But Edward was restless and he did not want to stay in Canada and he definitely did not want to continue working as a manual labourer for the Canadian National Railway.
It took a little while for Edward’s career to take off, but in 1927, Edward was invited to sing ‘The Old Rugged Cross’ on Boston radio station WEEI.2 The next day the station received 2,300 letters praising his baritone voice. His fame grew rapidly and, by the 1940s, Edward McHugh was a regular on NBC radio.3 By that time he wrote his name as Edward MacHugh, and his nickname was the Gospel Singer. He continued to be popular and in 1954, Billboard Magazine carried an article saying that MacHugh’s show was named as the “2nd Best of All Non-network Religious Series.”4
The first time that Edward’s name shows up as MacHugh is in the 1930 U.S. census, when he was on tour in Massachusetts.5
All of the hymns and gospel songs that he sang were Anglican, Church of Scotland, Methodist or other evangelical hymns. In 1938, he published a compilation of gospel hymns and poems. These hymns and poems were Protestant, but Edward was a Roman Catholic. Many family members believed that Edward changed his name so that no one would know that he was Roman Catholic and some thought that he did not want anyone to think that he was Irish.
Perhaps Edward made the right decision, even though the other members of his family were insulted that he had changed his name. He must have been an astute marketer.
An advertisement in Billboard Magazine, June 7, 1947 states that ‘Edward MacHugh, Your Gospel Singer, … who is said to have the most perfect diction of any singer without sacrificing warmth” is offering 15-minute radio programs and other promotional material such as newspaper mats, glossy prints, press releases, etc. 6
As the introduction to his compilation says, “The Gospel Singer prefers to live a simple, happy life …”
This is not exactly true as he lived in a large two storey house on eight acres of property in Connecticut. Even today, this would be considered an estate. Certainly Edward had carefully created an image of himself.
If you would like to hear Edward sing, here are two of his recordings:
6 The Billboard Magazine, June 7, 1947, p. 11
By Sandra McHugh
The Scots call the New Year’s Eve celebration Hogmanay.1 Hogmanay is part of my family’s history.
My grandfather, Thomas McHugh, came to Canada from Scotland with his family in 1912. The family maintained the Scottish traditions and they celebrated Hogmanay. My father, Edward McHugh, was usually the “first-footer.” This means that he was the first one to step across the threshold after midnight, bearing gifts. Traditionally, to ensure good luck, the first-footer is a tall and dark haired male. Fair haired first-footers were not welcome, as it is believed that fair-haired first-footers were associated with the Viking invasions.2 My father brought gifts of coal and a herring, but some of the other traditional gifts include shortbread, a black bun, and whiskey to toast the new year.3
There are a few theories about the origin of the word Hogmanay. The Scandinavian word for the feast preceding Yule was Hoggonott. The Flemish words hoog min dag mean great love day. Some believe that the origin of the word Hogmanay can be traced back to the Anglo-Saxon Haleg monath or Holy Month or the Gaelic words for new morning, oge maidne. Many believe that the source is French, homme est né for man is born. In France, the last day of the year when gifts were exchanged, was called aguillaneuf and in Normandy, this was called hoguignetes.4
Hogmanay is an important celebration in Scotland. It is believed that this festival was first brought to Scotland by the Vikings for whom the passing of the shortest day of the year, the winter solstice, was an event to be celebrated.5 The importance of Hogmanay took on an even greater significance because Christmas was banned in Scotland for about 400 years. A 1640 Act of the Parliament of Scotland abolished the “Yule vacation and observation thereof in time coming.”6 This Act of Parliament reflected the changing attitudes towards the Christmas Feast Days during the Reformation. Christmas Day only became a public holiday in 1958 and Boxing Day in 1974 .7
The partying and hospitality that goes on at Hogmanay is a way of wishing family, friends, and strangers a Guid New Year. The old is swept out, sometimes literally by giving the home a good cleaning, and by clearing up any debts before the bells ring at midnight.8
I wish you all a very Guid New Year.
Writing a family history blog is a lot of work, but the effort is rewarding in many ways. Since I started writing my own blog and contributing to http://www.genealogyensemble.com, I have heard from several relatives I never knew I had. A distant relation in Australia is helping me break through a brick wall in Ireland. A researcher in Vancouver has provided information about a great-great aunt who moved there from Montreal. And a distant cousin in Ontario forwarded some of the letters our newly immigrated Hamilton ancestors sent home to Scotland.
Another breakthrough came through the kindness of the parish archivist in Lesmahagow, Scotland, hometown of those Hamilton ancestors. He ran across the article I posted about my three-times great-great grandfather Robert Hamilton, a tailor in the town Lesmahagow near Glasgow. Robert’s son and grandchildren left Scotland in 1829 and settled as farmers in what is now Scarborough, a suburb of Toronto. Robert, an elderly widower, stayed behind and died in Lesmahagow two years later.
My uncle did some research on the family in the 1950s and copies of the documents he collected eventually made their way into my hands. One of the items I acquired was a sketch of the parish cemetery in Lesmahagow, showing the location of the grave of Robert Hamilton and his wife Janet Renwick. When my husband and I visited in 2012, there was only grass in that spot, so I was delighted when the parish archivist recently emailed me a photograph of the missing Hamilton gravestone. The photo was taken in 1999. Since then, the stone must have fallen over and been covered by dirt, or perhaps it became unstable and had to be removed for safety reasons.
The text shown in the photo says: Erected in memory of Robert Hamilton tailor of Abbey Green who died 18th Nov. 1831, aged 77 years, and of Janet Renwick, his spouse, who died 2nd May 1821, aged 63 years, and of their son Archibald, who died in infancy.
Most Scots could not afford gravestones in those days, and I am sure the Hamiltons were no different. Tailors did not make much money. This is a nice big stone, and I suspect it was erected by family members many years later, perhaps with money sent to Scotland from the farm in Canada.
See also: Robert Hamilton, Tailor of Lesmahagow, http://writinguptheancestors.blogspot.ca/2013/12/robert-hamilton-tailor-of-lesmahagow.html
This article is simultaneously posted on writinguptheancestors.blogspot.ca
I hold the documents as gently as I would the child for whom I have searched for so long. A birth certificate. A death certificate. Four days apart.
My husband knew he had a sister but that’s all he knew. The family never spoke of her and Jim grew up an only child. He did not even know his sister’s name. Thoughts of having a sister, however, evoked a tangle of fragmented memories and emotions that over the years he tried to shape into a plausible scenario. My searches on-line for a female Smith born to Jim’s parents came up empty. It was only last summer, when Jim was seventy, that a cousin found a name on a family tree she had been given: Elizabeth followed simply by a “d”. No dates. The name was enough to find the records.
Elizabeth Smith was born on December 18, 1943 to Peter Dudgeon Smith and Mary Ann Syme. She was born at home at 36 Bentinck Street in Glasgow. Bentinck is a street of tenement buildings near Kelvingrove Park. Today the area is very trendy, but during the war two families often lived in a single tenement sharing the kitchen and bathroom. Such was the case for Jim’s family. His father was in the navy and away at sea for weeks at a time. Given the cramped living quarters, it was very likely that Jim was witness to the sounds and sights of his mother’s labour and delivery, at best confusing for a two year old but likely quite terrifying. Certainly he would have seen the newborn and perhaps even held her although no picture exists today to document this event.
Elizabeth died at home between four and eight a.m. on December 23rd. I vision her mother nursing her in the middle of the night, returning her to her crib, falling back to sleep herself only to wake sometime later to find the tiny body. The cause of death was listed as congenital debility, a vague term explaining little. Was it clear at her birth that she would not live long? Was she not transferred to a hospital because nothing could be done? Or might congenital debility have been a term for what today we call Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and her death actually a shock to her parents?
Jim has a strong memory of his father being angry with his mother over the death. Was what Jim interpreted as anger actually grief? Or was it in fact anger? At what? His parent’s silence over the years is strange. Perhaps they felt Jim was too young to have remembered the event or they may have wanted to protect him from the tragedy. How much information he may have absorbed from adult conversations he overheard across the years is anyone’s guess. Collecting facts in bits and pieces without an understanding of the context would only serve to compound his confusion. He made what sense of it he could and eventually believed his sister was hit and killed by a car.
The location of Elizabeth’s grave is still not known. She is not buried with the Smiths in Greenock Cemetery. She may be with her mother’s people in Blantyre. What is known, however, is that Elizabeth lived for four days and is remembered by her big brother.
By Sandra McHugh
There it is in the 1881 census: John Hunter, age 13, coal miner. John Hunter, my great-grandfather, is the last in the line of almost three hundred years of coal miners.1 He was able to change collieries and, later in life, his job. This was possible because, by the time he was born, the servitude of the coal miners had come to an end.
The generations of coal miners in my family can be traced back to the birth of James Hunter in 1621. He was a coal miner, born in the town of Alloa, County of Clackmanannshire, Scotland. Alloa nestles at the foot of the Ochil Hills and has thrived over the centuries because of its location on the Firth of Forth and the many industries that were powered by coal. Today, Alloa’s economy is based on leisure and retail. 2
Coal became an important commodity in Scotland in the 1600s. 3 The rural areas were agricultural communities and coal mining provided employment. Entire families worked in the coal mines. While some children started working in the mines as early as four years old, the usual age of employment was around eight or nine years old. Both male and female children worked in the mines. 4
As a result of the economic importance of coal in the 1600s, new collieries opened up and, having no skilled workers, attracted workers from other collieries. The colliery owners who lost workers petitioned Parliament to take action.
The Parliament of Scotland in 1606 passed an Act whereby coal miners were bound to the collieries’ owners:
“no person should fee, hire or conduce and salters, colliers, or coal bearers without written authority from the master whom they had last served.”
This Act effectively ensured that coal miners and their families were bound to the colliery for life. A collier who deserted was considered to be a thief and punished accordingly. This Act also gave the coal owners and masters the powers to apprehend “vagabonds and sturdy beggars” and put them to work in the mines. A further Act of 1641 extended those enslaved to include other workers in the mines and forced the colliers to work six days a week.5
The process of emancipation only began with the Colliers and Salters (Scotland) Act of Parliament in 1775, which defined how the colliers could be freed by age-group. Once the father of the family was freed, the entire family was freed. But still, the process of complete freedom was only achieved with another Act of Parliament in 1799 that declared the colliers “to be free from their servitude.”6 For almost two centuries, colliers and their families had been legally bound to the colliery owners. Even after the Act of 1799, it was common for the children of coal miners to work in the mine. It was expected that sons and daughters would follow in their father’s footsteps, as their families needed the income that the children would bring.
In 1842, the findings of the Children’s Employment Commission outlined the dismal conditions under which children worked in the mines. It was a shocking discovery to learn that children, as young as five or six, worked as trappers, opening and closing the ventilation in the mines, and other jobs, such as carrying coal. The conditions were deplorable and there was a public outcry. On June 22, 1842, Parliament passed the Mines and Collieries Act 1842 (c. 99) with the objective of improving employment conditions for both boys and women in the mines. Males under the age of 10 were forbidden to be employed in the mines and boys who were not yet 13 years old were limited to 12 hours of consecutive work. In addition, these boys could not work more than 3 days a week, nor for two consecutive days. These rules applied even if a boy worked for different owners. With this Act, women were also forbidden to work in the mine. Women were then employed to work at the pit head, therefore not in the mine.7 The growing public consciousness of the miners’ conditions was a significant step to ensure that mining conditions improved, that working conditions were fair, and that safety became a prority.
1 Family tree in Ancestry. Common ancestor is William Hunter, coal miner, father of John Hunter.