Our Newsletter


Genealogy Ensemble

A group of Montreal-based friends who meet monthly to discuss genealogy
and write about their ancestors


Jan/Feb  2019    Newsletter No. 8


An Irish Peasant Family Discovering the Blight of their Store: Daniel Macdonald. Public Domain Wikipedia.
 The Great Hunger of 1847

4.5 million Canadians claim some Irish ancestry. Although the Irish have been coming to North America for a long time, it is estimated that hundreds of thousands of Irish emigrated to North America because of  the Irish Potato Famine of 1847, a tragic situation caused as much by politics as by the water mold phytophthora infestans.

Of these Irish refugees, around 100,000 came through Quebec, stopping on the way for health checks at the island of Grosse Ile in the St. Lawrence River.

(Source : https://www.pc.gc.ca/en/lhn-nhs/qc/grosseile/decouvrir-discover/natcul1/b)

These Canadian immigrants were probably the poorest of the Irish potato famine refugees.  Being part of the British Empire, passage to Canada was cheaper than to the United States.  Also, the United States feared an influx of ‘undesirables’ so it was more difficult for victims of the famine to emigrate there. These Irish immigrants moved mostly to the North American cities where they supplied cheap labour and suffered discrimination.

There is a memorial to these Irish immigrants at Grosse Ile, the quarantine station for people fleeing ‘the Great Hunger’ between 1845 and 1849. According to the https://www.irishcentral.com/roots/grosse-ile-irish-famine website, over 5,000 refugees died on Grosse Ile in 1847 alone, with as many dying earlier at sea.

According to this Montreal Gazette article, “Montreal was in a sense the epicentre of the 1847 famine migration. Many refugees perished right on the city’s water front.” Read this very interesting article about the efforts to build a memorial to these immigrants in what is now a very busy sector of the city.

Jacques Gagné’s Posts

Original St. Patrick’s Church in Quebec City. (BANQ collection) http://numerique.banq.qc.ca/patrimoine/details/52327/2247891


Mr. Gagnés most recent post covers Seigneuries of Charlevoix and the Saguenay.

Jacques recently published articles on BnF Gallica (La Bibliotheque Nationale de France); the Townships of Pontiac, Gatineau Counties, plus the Township of Hull; and Research Help for French Louisiana Sources. His future projects include updating his Research Guide to the Irish Catholic Churches of Quebec (https://genealogyensemble.com/2014/05/20/irish-catholic-churches-of-quebec/) and an extensive series of articles about merchants in New France.

Read a year-end synopsis of Jacques Gagne’s Research Interests for 2018 and 2019 here. 

 Our Presentations


2018  was the year we at Genealogy Ensemble gave How to Write your Family Stories Presentations in Montreal and as far away as Ottawa and the coast of Maine.

In the words of Mary Sutherland: We certainly learned that everybody has stories. If you asked for someone to stand up and tell a story about their ancestor, the room would be quiet, but if you asked audience members to turn to their neighbour and tell them something about an ancestor, it got everyone talking – and they were hard to stop.

In the words of Tracey Arial: Audience members at the presentation to Mile End Memories had great research questions, particularly about the need to check addresses over time due to street renaming and renumbering. All the streets in Montreal were renumbered in the early 20th century, for example, so that Saint Laurent could be point zero for all east-west streets.

The audience at the Montreal West Library, Genealogy Ensemble’s first presentation.

Janice Hamilton writes more extensively about her experience:

I had fun a lot of fun doing the Genealogy Ensemble writing your family history presentations. I did five, one by myself, the others with various partners. Each one was different because each library asked for something a little different and because each of the presenters had different stories to share.

Our best turnout was in Montreal West. I did it with Mary, and we both live there and have lots of friends through our other activities (fitness, quilting, etc.), so we used our networks to advertise the event. The most disappointing was at the Benny Library in NDG. I am sure a lot of people in that area are interested in family history, and the librarian who organized the event was really keen, but I don’t think she promoted it enough. Good promotion is key.

Our most satisfying was at the Mordecai Richler library in Mile End. I organized that one through friends who live in the area and are the leaders of an active local history organization. Not only did we get a good turnout and a lot excellent questions, but we did it all in French! We were very pleased with ourselves.

We also did a lunchtime presentation at the Atwater Library where everyone seemed to be knowledgeable about family history research and asked interesting questions. That library is a wonderful community resource and the staff were extremely helpful getting the equipment set up and helping us sell copies of the book.

Finally, I did a presentation by myself in the small coastal community in Maine where we have our family summer cottage. The Community Center there did a great job promoting the event and provided coffee and cookies to everyone.

I don’t know whether anyone has followed up on our recommendations to start writing. Most of the questions we fielded were focused on research issues, rather than writing. Unless you are either really motivated or have a writing background, writing is not easy. I now realize that the nine women who make up Genealogy Ensemble are very lucky to have found each other, stayed with this project and made such progress as writers.

One spin-off is a new project in Maine. There is a small local history society in our community that has done a lot of work on the fishing community of the past. Under its umbrella, a group of us started meeting last summer and are starting a blog about the history of the summer cottagers’ community. The plan is to model it on Genealogy Ensemble. I am hoping that people will write their own stories about how their families discovered the place, their memories of growing up there and so on. There are just a few of my parents’ generation left, and we need to collect those memories before they are gone.



A Dollard Library Presentation


On November 21, 2018, Claire Lindell, Marian Bulford and Sandra McHugh gave a family history writing workshop at the Dollard-des-Ormeaux Library. This event was held as part of the library’s program to recognize Genealogy Week.

There were about ten participants, which made the workshop enjoyable. The small group meant that there was an easy exchange of information within the group, making it more meaningful for the participants.

Unfortunately Marian forgot her notes, but that did not deter her. She was able to get them from an email and carried right on. It was also nice for Claire to meet some old friends at the workshop.

Feedback from the participants indicate that they appreciated the research tips the most and were happy with the handouts. (Sandra McHugh)

Upcoming Events.


Sandra McHugh and Tracey Arial will be giving a webinar in French to members of the Quebec Genealogical esociety. Called  Écrire l’histoire de ses ancetres on Wednesday, February 13, 2019 at 7 p.m. For more info, refer to https://www.genquebec.com/en/event-created/month/2019-02

Barb Angus and Lucy Anglin will be giving a presentation at the Beaconsfield United Church on Feb 19, 2019 at 12 noon after their lunch.

Barb Angus, Mary Sutherland, and Claire Lindell will be giving a How to Write your Family Stories presentation to the Trefoil Group, a group of retired guiders, on March 27th, 2019.

Other News

Beads in a Necklace: Family Stories from Genealogy Ensemble continues to be available at Chapters in Pointe-Claire in the ‘local authors’ section.  If you prefer the Kindle version, it can be downloaded for a small sum from the Ontario Genealogical Society and here on Amazon.

What some of us are up to these days:

Barb Angus: 2019 is the 150th anniversary of the Grand (Masonic) Lodge of Quebec. I have been asked to research and write a “history story” of the first Grand Master, John Hamilton Graham (1826 – 1899). He immigrated from Scotland to Vermont with his parents in about 1840. He eventually became the headmaster of St. Francis College in Richmond, QC, a boy’s grammar school. His wife and family never moved from Vermont to Richmond. In addition to being the first Grand Master, he was also instrumental in establishing the Provincial Association of Protestant Teachers (now QPAT). I have found information about his life as a Mason and as an educator but have found next to no information about his family history. Grand Lodge would like to invite a descendant to the anniversary celebrations. I invite anyone with information to contact me.

Mary Sutherland: I have been moving on to my French Canadian ancestors, my maternal grandmother’s family. I had not focused my research on this branch of the family as my great uncle Herbert Bruneau had already put together a family tree. He had traced the Bruneau line back to their arrival in New France. I am now looking to see what I can find out about the Bruneau wives and their ancestors.

Tracey Arial: I’m now offering the first of a 3-part series of online courses. The first, Profile Your Canadian Ancestry using Military Records, begins on January 21, 2019. The second course in the series focuses on Census records and begins in March. The third features travel records and begins in September. You can sign up for one or all three here: https://notable-nonfiction-academy.teachable.com/courses. Please note that current prices are founder prices. Students have lifetime access to the courses as they continuously get updated.

Dorothy Nixon: I am big fan of BBC Radio Four dramas, so I am creating a trio of semi-fictional audio stories about my father’s family from the North of England. My first ‘beta’ effort, A Stranger in his/her Bed,  was posted on January 9. The story is about my great grandfather, John Forster, an itinerant preacher from Knockburn, Northumberland and his struggle with Alzheimer’s. I am following it up with a story about my father, Peter Nixon, a student at a rugged rugby-mad prep school in St-Bees, Cumberland in the years before WWII.  The third  ‘audio drama’ will be about  my grandmother, Dorothy Forster Nixon, Peter’s mother and John’s daughter, and her humiliating experience testifying at a War Crimes Trial held in Singapore in 1946. My husband is a retired television editor and I hope to enlist him on the production side, music and voice editing and such.

Sandra McHugh: When we think of emigration from Ireland due to the Great Famine, we usually think of North America or Australia as a destination for the Irish immigrants. However, many of the Irish went to Scotland, and by 1851, the Irish-born population of Scotland had reached 7.2% These migrants arrived when many Scots were emigrating to England or other parts of the British Empire. The Irish sustained Scotland’s industrial revolution and could be found in great numbers in Glasgow and Dundee and in mining communities. Like many immigrants, the Irish were discriminated against and accused of working for lower wages and therefore stealing jobs from the Scots. They also suffered religious discrimination in Scottish Reformation society as the majority of them were Catholic. I will probably write a story about this.

Summary of Recent Stories

Since the last newsletter, a number of  stories focusing on the Canadian military have been posted on Genealogy Ensemble. Barb Angus tells about the short life of Private Lloyd William Tarrant, her son’s great uncle and a Boy Soldier of the Great War. Claire Lindell writes about Francois Eugene Jodouin of Sudbury, Ontario who signed up for WWI in 1916 and survived the war despite multiple hospitalizations, at least once for mustard gassing. Tracey Arial offers us some practical advice for writers and genealogists in Getting Quotes from Attestation Papers.

Janice Hamilton finished her series of articles about her American colonial ancestors with Timothy Stanley and Hartford’s Ancient Burying Ground and she is now focusing on her father’s family in Manitoba; Lucy Anglin explores the longish engagement of her father and mother in the Courtship of Anne and Tommy, Part 2.

Marian Bulford takes us over the pond to write about her grandfather and a shipwreck off the Cornish coast in Plucky Police Officer; In Thirteen Children, Mary Sutherland explores the life of William Sutherland who mysteriously had two families, one of them when he was very, very old. In A Stranger in his/her Bed, Dorothy Nixon voices a podcast from a script she wrote about her great-grandfather John Forster, a Northumberland-born itinerant preacher, who succumbed to Alzheimer’s in his later years.

Genealogy Tip of the Month


According to www.irishcentral.com, if your research into your Irish ancestry is to bear fruit, you must figure out where your ancestors lived to the smallest villages. They advise:

“Conducting oral history interviews with living family members is a great way to learn specific locations. You’ll, of course, want to ask your relatives about their lives, prompting them to tell their most memorable stories, harrowing adventures, and tales of derring-do.

But remember also to ask them for mundane facts like specific locations (and dates and names).”

Read more at https://www.irishcentral.com/roots/genealogy/tips-irish-genealogy-research (advertisements)

Writing Tip of the Month


Paper Outline or File Cards?

Novelists, screenwriters, playwrights, non-fiction authors: if you poll them on their ‘process’ you will discover habits unique to each but also many similarities.

Most successful artists who are beginning research on a writing project take notes of some kind.

Once the research is completed some authors create outlines, yes, just like the ones  the teacher made you do in high school. This is especially true of commercial novelists who have to pump out book after book to a tight publishing schedule.

Screenwriters, who work to extreme deadlines, often write their ideas, scenes, dialogue, etc. down on file cards. File cards allow these visually-minded people  – quite literally – to move their ideas around, say, on a cork board.

Whatever their field, conducting in-depth research seems to be the key to success for many writers. They like to get down to a first draft loaded with much more information than they can ever possibly use.


Links We Like

Library and Archive Canada Irish Potato famine: A page of resources for genealogists researching ancestors fleeing the famine who might have landed in Canada.



Food for Thought.


Human beings can survive on a diet of potatoes and milk and this is why Irish tenant farmers were encouraged to grow potatoes on their tiny allotments. Indeed, some farmers had allotments so small, there was room only to grow potatoes.

Potatoes were originally brought to Ireland from North America as a novelty for elite tables. In the past, the farmers’ diet was grain-based.

And this is why the potato blight of the 1840’s was so devastating to these tenant farmers, many of whom died of starvation/disease at home or on the hazardous trip out of Ireland.

Genealogy in the News



Sounds Interesting


Listen to this interesting BBC Radio 4 Podcast of Letters from America
with Alastair Cooke

St. Patrick’s Day Controversies.



Quote Unquote


Activist Tom Hayden:

“I was raised in an Irish American home in Detroit where assimilation was the uppermost priority. The price of assimilation and respectability was amnesia. Although my great-grandparents were victims of the Great Hunger of the 1840s, even though I was named Thomas Emmet Hayden IV after the radical Irish Nationalist exile Thomas Emmet, my inheritance was to be disinherited. My parents knew nothing of this past, or nothing worth passing on.” 

Irish President Mary McAleese:

“The immigrant’s heart marches to the beat of two quite different drums, one from the old homeland and the other from the new. The immigrant has to bridge these two worlds, living comfortably in the new and bringing the best of his or her ancient identity and heritage to bear on life in an adopted homeland.” 

Both Quotes:  https://www.irishcentral.com/roots/irish-american-quotes