Henry Burt: from Devon Clothier to Colonial Farmer

When Springfield, Massachusetts pioneer Henry Burt died in 1662, an inventory of his estate showed that his belongings included a suit of clothes, a hat, a pound of hemp and flax, his house in the town and 14 acres of farmland nearby, livestock, three blankets and a rug, a brass pan and kettles, a chest and two guns.1 That list suggested Henry had lived a simple, but comfortable, life.

Henry probably brought his family to New England in 1638. Prior to that, he had been a successful clothier in Harberton, Devon, in southwest England, where he had inherited property from his father.2 At the time they immigrated, he and his wife, Ulalia March, had seven children ranging in age from an infant to 18 years old.

England was going through political turmoil in the 1630s, and the textile industry was in decline. Over a ten-year period, some 80,000 people left England for Ireland, the West Indies, Virginia or continental Europe. Between 1630 and 1640, some 20,000 people, many of them members of families with children, went to New England.

Henry Burt and many other migrants also left for religious reasons. In England, members of the Congregational church were persecuted for their beliefs. In New England, where they were known as Puritans, they could worship as they pleased and build a new society based on their religious values. Henry was undoubtedly a Puritan since records show he became a deacon, or lay leader, of the Congregational church in Springfield.

Congregational Church Springfield cr

Congregational Church, Springfield, around 1908

Henry was born around 1595, the son of clothier Henry Burt sr. and his wife Isett. Henry sr. died in 1617, leaving his son an orchard and gardens, a mansion house and several other houses that were rented out. 

He married married Ulalia (sometimes spelled Eulalia) March on December 28, 1619, in the parish of Dean-Prior.3 Ulalia had been born about 1600 to Richard March and Joan (Martyn?) of Sherford, Devon.4

Before they left England, the Burt family probably sold or rented most of their possessions to help raise money for the trip. They had to take along enough food to feed the family for a year, as well as clothing, tools, livestock and other basic supplies.

The average transatlantic voyage took eight to 10 weeks in a ship that carried about 100 people and their supplies. Most new immigrants stayed in the Boston area until they got their bearings, and the Burts were no different, settling in nearby Roxbury. Perhaps they wondered whether God had sent them a message when the Roxbury house in which they were living burned down in September, 1639.5

The following year, they settled in Springfield, on the Connecticut River. The land was fertile there and, like his new neighbours, Henry became a subsistence farmer. My eight-times great-grandfather, he eventually became one of the town’s leading citizens.

Henry first appeared in the town records when he was allotted a planting lot in 1641. He acquired further agricultural land grants in 1642, and in later years. The family home was on the town’s main street, and Henry acquired farmland on both sides of the river.

In 1644, Henry Burt and three other men were elected as selectmen, or town officials.6  Serving as a selectman for ten years between 1644 and 1655, he was responsible for handling local issues such as taxation, land distribution, fencing regulations and road building. When Henry became a freeman in 1648, he became eligible to vote.

In 1649, Henry became Springfield’s first Clerk of the Writs.7  This was an elected position that involved issuing summonses and recording births, marriages and deaths. He held this position continuously until his own death in 1662. He was also a deacon of the church and, for several years in the 1650s when the First Church of Springfield did not have a minister of its own, he was one of several men chosen to conduct services.8

Besides these activities, Henry had a large family to support. He must have been a hard worker, raising his own crops and livestock and, like many other Springfield inhabitants, working for merchant William Pynchon or his son John. Pynchon owned the only store for miles around, and he also owned the mill and the blacksmith shop. Pynchon generally paid employees in store credits, and Henry purchased precious nails, a pane of glass and the occasional treat, such as sugar.

Henry and Ulalia had a total of 13 children, nine of whom were born in England, and two of whom died there. Daughter Hannah, the first of their children to be born in New England, married John Bagg in 1657. She was my direct ancestor.

When Henry died on April 31, 1662, he left part of his estate to son Nathaniel and the rest to his widow. His possessions were valued at 181 pounds, while his debts, primarily to merchant John Pynchon, came to 50 pounds.

Ulalia lived another 28 years, dying Aug. 29, 1690, but she prepared her will six years before her death. She listed individual bequests including a heifer for daughter Mary, two cows for daughter Sarah and, to daughter Abigail, a cloak, a green apron, a coat and a shift. Daughter Patience received her red stockings. Ulalia divided her land, cattle and kettles between her sons and requested that the rest of her estate be divided according to the needs of her survivors.9

Ulalia’s will did not mention daughter Hannah Bagg or Hannah’s husband John because both were already deceased, but she did want granddaughter Abilene Bagg to receive two yards of cloth.

This article is also posted on https://writinguptheancestors.blogspot.ca

See also:

Janice Hamilton, “John Bagg of Springfield, Massachusetts,” Writing Up the Ancestors, Feb. 22, 2018, http://writinguptheancestors.blogspot.ca/2018/02/john-bagg-of-springfield-massachusetts.html

Notes:

I was able to find an amazing amount of detail about Henry Burt’s life, thanks to the careful record-keeping of the early settlers of Springfield, and to the fact that, 120 years ago, another Burt descendant used those records to write two books about the Burt family and the town of Springfield.

For background on New England’s Great Migration, see https://www.greatmigration.org/new_englands_great_migration.html. You can find details on the individuals who moved to New England between 1620 and 1640 in the multi-volume study of the Great Migration published by the New England Historic Genealogical Society, and members of the NEHGS can access the society’s extensive online database.

The children of Henry and Ulalia Burt were:10

Sarah, b. Harberton 1620/21, m. 1. Judah Gregory of Springfield, 2. Henry Wakley of Hartford and Stratford, Ct.  Sarah was living in 1689.

Abigail, b. in England about 1623, m. 1. Francis Ball of Springfield, Mass. In 1644 2. Benjamin Munn of Springfield in 1649, 3. Lieut Thomas Stebbins, in 1676.

Jonathan, bapt. Harberton 1624/25. d. 1715.  m 1. Elizabeth Lobbell, in Boston, 1651, 2. Deliverance Hanchet, 1686.

Samuel, buried Harberton, 1625.

David, bapt Harberton, 1629, d. 1690. moved to Northampton. m. Mary Holton, 1655.

Mary, bapt. Harberton, 1632, buried there 1634

Mary, bapt. Harberton, 1635, d. 1689; m. William Brooks in 1654 of Springfield and Deerfield, Mass.

Nathaniel, bapt Harberton c. 1637, d. 1720; m. Rebecca Sikes, 1662.

Elizabeth, bapt. Harberton, 1638, m. 1. Samuel Wright Jr. of Springfield and Northampton, 2. Nathaniel Dickinson of Hatfield, Mass.

Hannah, b. Springfield, 1641 m. 1657, John Bagg of Springfield.

Dorcas, b. New England, 1643?, m. 1658, John Stiles of Windsor, Ct.

Patience born Springfield, 1645, m. 1667 John Bliss of Northampton and Springfield.

Mercy, b. 1647, Springfield, m. 1. 1666/7 Judah Wright of Northampton and Springfield.

Footnotes:

  1. Henry M. Burt, Silas W. Burt. Early Days in New England. Life and Times of Henry Burt of Springfield and Some of His Descendants, Springfield: Clark W. Bryan, printers, 1893, Google Books, p. 92-93.
  2. George Skelton Terry, “Genealogical Research in England: Burt-March” The New England Historical and Genealogical Register, 1932, vol. 86,Boston, MA: New England Historic Genealogical Society, 1847-, p. 218. (Online database: AmericanAncestors.org, New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2001-2013.)
  3. Terry, Ibid, p. 83.
  4. Mary Lovering Holman, Ancestry of Colonel Harrington Stevens and his wife Frances Helen Miller, compiled for Helen Pendleton (Winston) Pillsbury, 1948, privately printed, p. 365.
  5. Terry, Ibid, p. 219.
  6. Burt, Early Days in New England, p. 85.
  7. Henry M. Burt, The First Century of the History of Springfield. The Official Records from 1636 to 1736, with an historical review and biographical mention of the founders. Volume 1. Springfield, Mass: Printed and Published by Henry M. Burt, 1898, Google Books, p. 45-46.
  8. Burt, Early Days in New England, p. 87.
  9. Burt, Early Days in New England, p. 93.
  10. Terry, Ibid. p. 219.

Do You Believe in Ghosts?

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I’m sitting on the fence, myself.

Over a decade ago, I discovered an old trunk of  paper memorabilia once belonging to Nicholson family of Richmond, Quebec, my husband’s mother’s ancestors. It contained 1000 letters, 300 from the pivotal 1908-1913 years.

From these missives, I learned a great deal about these  Canadian- born Scots, whose parents were  Hebridean Scots, cleared from the land in the 1800’s and forced to come to Canada. And, because of a rather weird series of coincidences I learned all about a certain Masonic sword.

One  evening back in 2004, about a  year after I first found the trunkload of letters, I received an email.It was from Matthew Farfan, editor of Townships Heritage WebMagazine.

It seems that a  couple in the Okanagan Valley of BC, we’ll call them the C’s, wanted to get in touch with me.  They had Norman Nicholson’s sword!   Norman is my husband’s great grandfather.

I had very recently posted an article about the Nicholsons on Matthew’s webmag with a big pic of Norman in Mason regalia front and center.  The family papers revealed that old Norman Nicholson was a member in good standing of the Sussex Preceptory No. 9, Knights Templar, Sherbrooke.

I immediately emailed this Mr. C. “How in Heaven do you know it is Norman’s sword?”

He explained.   In the early 60’s, his family had rented the Nicholson home, in Richmond, Quebec,  from  Edith Nicholson, Norman’s daughter.  Somehow,  Norman’s sword had been swept up in the bustle when the family moved out around 1965.

Mr. C had adored that house with its steep basement stairs and wondrous attic filled with fantastical (see : old fashioned) things. Mr C remembers  using the silver sword to ‘terrorize’ his sister.

tighsolas

 Tighsolas, built by Norman  in 1896, the year Sir Wilfrid Laurier came to power for $2,700. 

 

« Phone my wife, » Mr.C  further instructed. « She’ll tell you all about the sword. »

So I did, on the jump, and what a story Mrs. C. related! The sword had been hanging on the BC couple’s wall since the death of her in-laws. Prior to that it had traveled all over North America, as far as California.

In 2004,  Mr. C’s sister visited them. She mentioned, out of the blue, that the silver sword on the wall had a name engraved on it. They checked : the name was ‘Norman Nicholson.

A few months passed. Mrs. C had a sudden impulse to return the heirloom to its rightful owners. (What impeccable timing on her part!)  Her husband’s childhood stampbook provided some clues. Apart from many stamps,  it contained a picture of an old man with handlebar moustache decked out in Masonic garb with said blade at his side, and one envelope addressed to Mrs. Margaret Nicholson, Richmond, Quebec.

Normanregalia

 Norman in full Masonic regalia. This photo was in the stamp book and returned with the sword in 2004.

normanmargregalia

Margaret and Norman on Tighsolas lawn. A photo in the Nicholson photo album

Mrs. C googled ‘Norman Nicholson’, but no luck. There were too many people with that name .  She then he entered “Margaret Nicholson” into the search engine and, presto, she  fell upon the Eastern Townships Heritage website with my story and, plunk in the middle, she saw another picture of Norman in his Masonic regalia.

I can see it clearly in my mind’s eye. Over 50 years ago, in the age of Beatlemania and go go boots, an imaginative little boy living in Richmond, Quebec, plumbed the depths of that Nicholson treasure chest full of letters and memorabilia – the same one I discovered  in 2003 at my in-laws’ – and this little boy snitched some stamps and an envelope for his collection and glued it into a page beside an appealing photograph of a snowy-haired swashbuckler, who was really a down-on-his-luck Eastern Township hemlock bark dealer.

A little later,  he took the very sword the old man in the picture was posing with!

 stanps

(Some Nicholson letters. Many letters in the 1000 envelope stash  had the stamps carefully cut out. I now know where these stamps are!  )

There’s more.

Norman ’s sword arrived at my house  soon after. I showed it to my husband and my sons, Norman’s heirs, then placed it on the mantel.

That very night, as we all watched TV downstairs, we  heard a loud thump in the living room.

We went upstairs to find the Nicholson binder I had put on the coffee table had exploded open. Its cellophane pages were strewn on the floor. Atop the pile was Norman’s death certificate. I kid you not.

It was likely the dog nosing around that caused this to happen, right?  The binder had been filled to bulging with Nicholson documents. Still,  I took no chances. I placed a portrait of Margaret on the mantel beside the Masonic sword.

I like to think that is what Norman was looking for.

 

PS. Although perpetually cash-strapped due to the crash of the hemlock bark industry in the Eastern Townships around 1900, Norman always found the 3 dollars to pay his monthly fees to the Masons.  Norman’s records reveal he paid a hefty initiation fee, too, in 1888. Fifty dollars!

Clearly it was important to be a Mason in the ET. Apparently, the Presbyterian Church frowned up the society, saying Masons were encouraged to keep secrets from their wives. I know because the Nicholsons clipped a bit from a newspaper, likely the Montreal Witness, claiming as much!

In 1912, Margaret and their daughter, Edith, join the Order of the Eastern Star Chapter in Richmond. Edith became the Secretary. This OES was a female version of the Masons.

 

This is an updated version of a story published on the Eastern Townships Heritage Webmagazine in 2005.

Québec Genealogical eSociety: A New Type of Family Research Society

I just joined the Québec Genealogical eSociety for $45 Cdn.

Johanne Gervais, a professional genealogist who is passionate about researching Quebec records, founded this online research society last month. It operates in both English and French.

In addition to participating in webinars, the membership will give me access to two important Quebec databases: the BMS2000 and the PRDH database.

According to the website:

The BMS2000 database contains:

BMS records (births, marriages and deaths) from 24 genealogical societies of Québec. Close to 10 million BMS records have been collected.

The PRDH database (The Research Program in Historical Demography) contains:

A repertory of vital events, 1621–1849, for Québec, which includes approximately 2.3 million baptismal, marriage, and burial certificates registered in Catholic parishes prior to 1850. Also included are approximately 26,000 Protestant marriages recorded before 1850 and more than 20,000 certificates of various other types: census records, marriage contracts, confirmations, and lists of immigrants.

A genealogical dictionary of families, 1621-1824 for Québec, which offers a reconstruction of the history of all families who settled in the St. Lawrence Valley, or roughly the current territory of today’s province of Québec, from the beginning of French colonization to 1824.

A repertory of couples and filial relations, 1621–1824 for Québec, which specifies for each spouse the names of his or her parents and the names of his or her other spouses, if applicable, with a link to these couples. In addition, a list of the couple’s children who married before 1824 is supplied, with a link to their first marriage.

If you want to learn more about the society, visit their website or stop by their table at RootsTech2018.

Congratulations on your launch Johanne!

He Couldn’t Serve

IMG_9105

If you weren’t in uniform you weren’t doing your part.” This was a quote from a veteran on Remembrance Day 2017.

My father, Donald Sutherland volunteered for service at the beginning of WWII but was twice rejected for medical reasons. He had to sit out the war working as an accountant and serving in the Blackwatch reserve.

“ Dear Mother, I had my medical test today. It went fairly satisfactorily except that as usual, my heart was a little fast and I have to go in again Thursday am to have a recheck. They do everything under the sun to you and it takes about an hour and a half. Everything else went well and I suppose I’ll be accepted if my heart steadies down next time. I am supposed to go to bed very early on Wednesday night to soothe my nerves. I just expected to have the interview today but they buzzed me right through the whole works, Love Don”

Donald graduated from McGill University in the spring of 1939. He had just turned 22 and he and all his classmates expected to find jobs and begin their adult lives but war was on the horizon. Germany invaded Poland on September 1, 1939, three days later Britain declared war on Germany, followed by Canada a week later. Personal lives were put on hold as young men volunteered for military service.

With his new commerce degree, my father had begun working for Ritchie Brown and Company as an auditor  Once war was declared, he signed up for the McGill Canadian Officers Training Corp (C.O.T.C.). The McGill C.O.T.C. was quickly expanded from 125 to more than 1,400 cadets and 50 instructors. The need for a drill hall spurred the construction of the Arthur Currie Gymnasium. New recruits were trained in map reading, military law, organization, administration and upon completion sent to a branch of service in which they could best contribute their talents and skills.  

In August of 1940, he registered with the Dominion of Canada National Registration Regulations expecting he would soon be in military service. He went in for his medical examination without a thought and was rejected. He later tried again.

Twice he received a certificate of rejection from the Canadian Army. The doctors said he was not able to do strenuous work because of his high blood pressure and mitral valve insufficiency. He also received a rejection notice from the Airforce because that application wasn’t completed.

With his second rejection letter from the army came an Applicant for Enlistment badge and card to identify him as an applicant who had failed to meet the minimum medical standards. The lapel badge was to be worn to show the public he had volunteered.

IMG_9118

Applicant for Enlistment Lapel Pin

 

He served in the Black Watch Reserve to the end of the war. As a reservist, he was a part-time soldier while he continued at his day job. He trained raw recruits at camps in Mount Bruno and Farnham, Quebec and garnered high praise from his commanding officer. The battalion’s modified trooping of the colours was written up in the Montreal Gazette, pointing out Lt. D.N. Gatehouse and Lt. D. Sutherland, bearing the flags.

IMG_9095

Commanding Officier & Donald Sutherland Black Watch Camp, Mount Bruno, Quebec  1941

 

I can only imagine how my father felt, staying home, receiving letters from all his friends serving overseas, while he travelled in Canada auditing company books and marched in Montreal.

Notes:

2017 was the 100th Anniversary of my father’s birth and in his memory, I wrote this story. This is a companion piece to my mother Dorothy Raguin’s war service https://wordpress.com/post/genealogyensemble.com/4470

Letter from Donald Sutherland to his mother Minnie Eagle Sutherland July 28, 1942.

Letter from Major D.L.Carstairs to Lt Gatehouse and Lt. Sutherland July 19, 1942.

Black Watch Stages Colourful Ceremony – The Gazette, Montreal July 20, 1942. The full trooping of the colours was not done in wartime. According to other newspaper clippings my grandmother saved, he marched in a number of parades and ceremonies.

Served under Lieut Col. H.A. Johnston 4th (Reserve) Battalion of the Black Watch.

You can go back!

“It’s so much smaller than I remember!” was overheard again and again as we five sisters toured our childhood home.

The family matriarch awoke one morning weeks before our annual Christmas get together with a brilliant idea! She wanted to organize a family visit to our old home that my father had built 65 years ago. She helped raise his seven children in the 40 years that we lived in that house.

The new owners of the house cautiously agreed to the idea. Little did they know that there were 22 of us gathering at our mother’s Kensington apartment that day! Only twelve of us actually toured the family home.

The memories came flooding back the minute we stepped through the front door.  We were tripping all over ourselves reminiscing about this and that and all the good times. There were sad memories as well  which were acknowledged and gently released.

The most impressive feature of the house was the sunken living room with an entire wall of windows overlooking downtown Montreal. Opposite the windows was a spectacular floor-to-ceiling stone fireplace where many a family photo was taken over the years. The mantelpiece, however,was still annoyingly off centre! The walls echoed with years of children’s dress-up performances and lively after dinner family games of charades and fruit basket.

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The dining room was the scene of more than a hundred birthday parties over the years. We would march around the table singing and bearing gifts for the celebrant. There are tons of photos depicting this very special family tradition .

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Sunday nights we watched the Walt Disney movie on the 12″ black and white TV with supper.  Sometimes we would have lemon and sugar roll-up pancakes or for a very special treat Chalet BBQ chicken dinner was ordered in and devoured.

We all remember the delicious roasts (and legendary roast potatoes) for Sunday lunch after church. Somehow the table stretched to include old aunties and uncles or grandparents who would join us. “Dad would methodically carve the roast but we could not wait to eat. I doubt he ever actually enjoyed his dinner as we always clamoured for gravy bread (bread dipped in the meat juices) and seconds.”

The kitchen had been completely renovated (although our stove was still in use!) but it didn’t deter our memory of Dad sitting on his stool at the end of the counter with his water jug from Vermont, eating his healthy breakfasts. On the kitchen wall behind him was the family bulletin board dotted with scraps of important notices and a handmade birthday calendar.

We delighted in seeing the original wood floors and doors, the built-in cabinetry and the bannister (since reinforced). The glass door knobs on the doors throughout the house stood out although I never remember giving them a second thought growing up. The wood floor in the upstairs hall triggered giddy memories of running and sliding the entire length of the hall in stocking feet.

Thanking our hosts, with a promised donation to a homeless shelter, we strolled back to the Kensington apartment to join the others. “Upon entering the crowded  apartment, we were greeted with the delightful smell of roast lamb dinner and we knew we were home”.

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Photo:  3170 St. Sulpice Road, Montreal, Quebec – The house my father built  in 1952.

The White Death

Michael McHugh looked at his son, born only minutes before, with sadness. What would become of him? The room was warm and toasty even though it was one of the coldest winters in Scotland1 when Francis McHugh was born at midnight on February 21, 1895.2 Nevertheless Michael shivered in apprehension. The doctor was clear. Michael did not have long to live. He would likely be dead before the year was out.

Michael’s eldest son, Thomas was present at the birth. He was just nineteen and much too young to shoulder the burden of Michael’s family once Michael died even though Thomas was already contributing to the family’s finances. He worked in a jute factory as a yarn bleacher.3 At the age of 19, Thomas should be thinking of starting his own family one day. But how could he do that when he would have his mother and four siblings under nine to take care of?

Francis was the fifth child.4 The family lived in a tenement situated in the overcrowded industrial area near the jute factories. It is unlikely that the flat had a bathroom. The night that Francis was born, the flat would have been crowded. A female relative or two would have been there to help with the birth and the younger children. Thomas would have fetched the midwife or “howdie.”5 She would have stayed until Francis and his mother, Sarah, were comfortable and taken care of.

Michael had worked his 12-hour days at the jute factory6 until he could no longer manage it. He became increasing weak, losing weight at a rapid rate. He coughed up phlegm and sometimes blood. When he saw the doctor, his worse fears were confirmed. He had tuberculosis. The doctor named it phthisis. Michael knew it as “the white death.”

Michael was ashamed. It was known that tuberculosis was contagious, but the stigma remained. It was considered a poor man’s disease because of the unsanitary conditions of the tenements that the poor lived in.7

The doctor was careful to explain to Michael that it was contagious and Michael was careful not to cough or spit when he was with the children. He probably never carried Francis in his arms, out of fear of infecting him.

Michael died at home three months later.8 It would be about six years before Sarah Jane who was eight at the time of Francis’ birth, would be old enough to work and contribute to the family earnings. In the meantime, Thomas took care of them and he continued to do so, even when he immigrated to Canada in 1912, bringing his mother, his two brothers, his wife and his seven children.9

 

  1. Wikipedia web site, “Winter of 1894,” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Winter_of_1894%E2%80%9395_in_the_United_Kingdom, accessed November 28, 2017. The British Isles suffered a severe winter in 1894/1895 that ended a decade of harsh winters, sometimes referred to as the Little Ice Age. Because the River Thames froze over, shipping was restricted and the economy suffered. Coal was at a premium.
  2. Birth registration of Francis McHugh, Scotland’s People, Statutory registers, Births, 282/1 384, accessed November 26, 2017.
  3. In the 1991 census, Thomas was 14 and he worked as a yarn bleacher. Scotland’s People 1891 census 282/1 35/48, accessed November 18, 2017.
  4. Scotland’s People 1891 census 282/1 35/48, accessed November 18, 2017. The 1891 census shows the children, Thomas, Sarah and Mary Ann. Edward McHugh was born in 1873, as per the registration of his birth, Scotland’s People, Statutory registers, Births, 282/1 384, accessed November 26, 2017.
  5. National Records of Scotland website. “Safe Delivery, A History of the Scottish Midwife,” https://www.nrscotland.gov.uk/research/learning/features/safe-delivery-a-history-of-scottish-midwives, accessed December 21, 2017.
  6. Dark Dundee web site, “Workers of the Mills,” https://www.darkdundee.co.uk/archive/dundee-landmarks/workers-of-the-mills/, accessed January 18, 2018. A regular working day was 12 hours in the jute mills. Dundee had one of the lowest wages in the country in the 19th century, and the highest cost of living. Low wages meant that there was little for anything that was not a necessity. While the jute mill workers had regular wages, it would have been hard to get themselves out of poverty.
  7. University of Virginia website, “Early Research and Treatment of Tuberculosis in the 19th Century, http://exhibits.hsl.virginia.edu/alav/tuberculosis/, accessed January 18, 2018.
  8. Michael McHugh’s death certificate, date of death May 16, 1895. Scotland’s People, Statutory registers, Death, 282/1 148, accessed November 26, 2017. Cause of death: Phthisis lasting 4 months. It is doubtful that it lasted four months. The four months may have indicated the time that had elapsed since the diagnosis or since he was off work or even bedridden.
  9. Canadian Passenger Lists, 1865-1935 Database, Ancestry.com, accessed November 14, 2017.

Dad, The Old Bailey, and Me

Recently, I was in the Montreal Courthouse accompanying a friend selected for Jury duty.

It was a four-hour wait so I had time to drink my coffee, look around and daydream. I watched as many lawyers dressed in black robes rushed in to buy coffee and dash out again. Others sat casually with clients over legal documents and I could tell they were lawyers only by their stiff white collars.

As I sat there, a distinct memory came back to me from my last courtroom visit to the Old Bailey in London, England when I was 13.

After my parents’ divorce when I was seven, I infrequently saw my Dad, but in 1958 he took me on a holiday to the capital. My dad was tall and dark and a very quiet, introspective man. I was a chatty individual but, somehow, we had a meaningful time together. At the end of our holiday, he bought me presents to take home, for my mum and sisters. He never told me he loved me, but I have a lovely memory of a man I never really understood or got to know and I like to think this was how he showed his love.

Me and Dad in London, 1958

It was a wonderful holiday, just the two of us. We visited The London Palladium Theatre and saw a show; we shopped on Oxford Street; we went to the London Zoo and Trafalgar Square where I fed the pigeons and had my portrait drawn in pencil by a street vendor, we even ventured to Soho, a notorious part of London frequented by prostitutes, drug dealers and ‘Teddy Boys. ‘So exciting’!

The Old Bailey was built in 1673, it’s predecessor, the medieval version had been destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666. During the Blitz of World War II, it was bombed and severely damaged. In the early 1950s, it was reconstructed and, in 1952, the restored interior of the Grand Hall of the Central Criminal Court was once again opened by the Lord Mayor of London.  This was the Old Bailey we visited. Although the Old Bailey courthouse was rebuilt several times between 1674 and 1913, the basic design of the courtrooms remained the same. [1]

I remember the entrance to that grand hall. It was like a palace, huge and so beautiful.

The Grand Hall Inside The Old Bailey, the design mirrors the nearby dome of St Paul’s Cathedral

My Dad and I sat in the visitors’ gallery to watch a trial. I have no recollection of the details of the trial. I was too busy looking around at the wood-panelled walls, the prisoner, the solicitors, the policemen and, of course, the judge. He was dressed in a red robe and a horse-hair wig and sat slightly raised on a dais so he could gaze down upon the proceedings.

The ‘accused’ or ‘prisoner’ as they referred to him stood at the ‘bar’ or ‘dock’ with his Solicitors and Barristers (as lawyers are called in England). These 1950’s British lawyers were attired in flowing black robes like the 2018 Montreal lawyers, but with stiff-winged collars with two bands of linen in the front of the neck.  They also wore wigs. And what wigs!

Type of Wigs Worn In Court

Some were white, signalling that a lawyer had just started out in his chosen profession; others were yellow with age, signalling more experienced lawyers. To me, all of the lawyers in the courtroom looked stern and forbidding.

Proceedings moved very slowly with no drama. After a few hours, I got bored and Dad and I left for lunch.  But still, what a memory! And how very different was the Old Bailey courtroom compared to the modern Montreal Courthouse where informality seems to be the rule.

[1]  https://www.oldbaileyonline.org/static/The-old-bailey.jsp

NOTES:

A court is held at the Old Bailey eight times a year for the trial of prisoners for crimes committed within the city of London and the county of Middlesex. The crimes tried in this court are high and petty treason, murder, felony, forgery, petty larceny, burglary, etc.

This link below shows Court Cases being heard today, at the Old Bailey.

https://old-bailey.com/old-bailey-cases-of-interest/

When I visited the Old Bailey, everyone was attired in wigs but that is now changing in England. For non-criminal cases, lawyers and judges will cease wearing wigs and I cannot help but feel sad that yet another centuries-old custom has gone.

Here is a 2 -minute read on the subject.  https://www.reuters.com/article/us-britain-wigs/wigs-off-as-britain-ends-courtroom-tradition-idUSL1287872820070713

Unfortunately, now strict security measures make it impossible for visitors to go into the main body of the building. However, the clip below, shows the Lord Mayor of London opening the newly restored Old Bailey in 1952. This was the hall I entered in 1958 with my Dad.

 

Genealogy Standards

For years, I found the differences between primary and secondary sources confusing. Add the fact that you can have original and derivative versions of both and that either can be negative or positive proof and it all sounds like mumble jumble to someone who isn’t used to them all. Luckily, the glossary within the Board for Certification of Genealogists “Geneology Standards” manual makes all the important distinctions very clear.

For example, on page 72, the glossary defines “primary information” as:

A report of an event or circumstance by an eyewitness or participant; the opposite of secondary information.

This is just one of many confusing nonfiction research terms that are clearly defined in very simple language. The chapters within this pithy guide cover how to plan and research a story. It also shows how to properly cite sources. Several pointers throughout the guide clarify some of the most challenging nonfiction research challenges.

If you want to document, research and write stories about ancestors’ experiences, the guide is a must-have. In my opinion, it’s equally useful for any obsessive nonfiction researcher and writer who wants to communicate carefully and accurately.

Board for Certification of Genealogists Genealogy Standards. Edited by Thomas W. Jones. Washington: Turner Publishing Company, 2014. ISBN 978-1-630-26018-7

 

Sad death

One of the first Canadian women who enlisted into the Royal Canadian Air Force committed suicide less than a year later.

Ten days after her 29th birthday, Hazel Winnifred Webb Seymour left a steady job with the Bell Telephone Company of Canada to enlist in the Canadian Women’s Auxiliary Air Force. The unit operated under the motto: “we serve that men may fly.”

Ten months later, she swallowed three bottles of cleansers (iodine, cresol and carbolic acid) while in the hospital for hysteria. She died on September 10, 1942.

When she joined the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF), Webb Seymour seemed like the perfect candidate. She was healthy, high-school educated, the right age and height, and well-trained in administrative duties. She was married, and had been for seven years, but the couple had no children as he was deployed overseas.

Her early days in the Air Force reinforced her aptitude for the job. One test resulted in the comment:

“One of the best on the course – always cheerful and will make a wonderfully reliable and good N.C.O. Suitable for a difficult station.”

An “assessment of character” completed in March 1942 also contained high praise: “industrious, capable, willing worker,” “highly resourceful,” and “merits accelerated promotion.”

Four months later, Seymour was admitted to the Station Hospital with something so serious, she stayed for eight days. From then on, she went in and out of hospitals, both civilian and military, until her suicide.

During an inquest about her death, Flight Lieutenant Allan Campbell Blair described what happened in the final three days of her life.

“It was considered that before she should be discharged on the grounds of this nervous disorder that it would be worthwhile to give her another chance and to this end was admitted to Station Hospital again to be kept under observation and the be employed doing small jobs about the hospital which was thought might be of benefit to her. She was apparently responding and there was, in my opinion, no need to restrict her freedom about the hospital. There was no evidence or intentions from her that she was planning self destruction. On September 10, at 1205 hours as Dr. Williams and myself were leaving the hospital we encountered her in the hall holding an iodine soaked stained towel to her mouth and she stated that she had just drunk three bottles of poison….”[1]

After she died, her mother wrote to the military needing help.

“The funeral refund has not been sent to me and I really need that amount to help with my winters’ coal, if I can get any.”[2]

Despite those pleas, the only cheque to the family reimbursed $154.16 they paid for Webb Seymour’s funeral.

 

Note: This story is a mini-version of a chapter in Tracey’s upcoming book: Steady Hands, Brave Heart: World War II’s effect on Canada.

[1] Seymour, Hazel Winnifred; Library and Archives Canada, RG-24, volume 28621, testimony, Allan Campbell Blair, C3966.

[2] Seymour, Hazel Winnifred; Library and Archives Canada, RG-24, volume 28621, letter, Pearl Web, August 28, 1943.

Enjoying the Story of Westmount

I began looking for traces of the Huguenots that my grandmother always told me were in the family. First, I looked for anyone born in Blois, Orléans, Paris, Rouen or Tours France sometime after the Affair of the Placards. These are the towns in which people posted signs questioning Catholic dogma overnight on October 17, 1534. The incident set off the reformation and eventually led to hangings and mass migration of Protestants out of France.

Unfortunately, my genealogical records don’t extend far into France during the 1500s, so that research will be for another day.

My journey through the Hurtubise side of my family, however, led me upon a wonderful history of Westmount called A View of Their Own: The Story of Westmount, written by Aline Gubbay in 1998. The little guide introduced me to several early maps of Montreal I hadn’t seen before, Montreal’s Mohawk name “”Kawanote Teiontiakon” and a hint about how some of my distant ancestors lived. Gubbay describes the geology of Montreal in a way that allows you to really imagine how things used to be.

The western part of the island was distinguished by a little mountain Westmount — some 600 feet high, formed by an outcropping of a larger rise, Mount Royal. Iroquoians had discovered that the slope of the little mountain, facing south-east, was sheltered from the strongest northern winds, a factor which, together with abundant water from the mountain springs, made for a richly fertile soil where they could cultivate their traditional crops of beans and corn. (p 11)

My ancestors get a small mention on page 15:

One by one the families arrived, settling along the Indian trail now given the name of Côte St. Antoine. They included names such as Des Carries (sic), Prud’homme, Leduc, Pierre et Jean Hurtubise, and St. Germain.

(Fascinating how Gubbay missed the French word “et” in her paragraph, something I frequently do in my texts. Bilingualism can be quite troubling sometimes.)

She continues:

Most of the men were artisans, recruited from towns of northern France for their skills as stonemasons, millers, brewers, but they soon acquired the new skills necessary to clear and cultivate the land. In winter, after the land had been cleared, the trunks of the trees were gathered, carried down to the water and lashed together on the rim of a frozen lake, Lac St. Pierre. When the ice melted in the spring the lumber was floated through a short inlet to the St. Lawrence River and rafted along the shore for sale at Ville Marie, now renamed Montreal.

If you have Clarks, Dawsons, Dionnes, Elgins, Enslies, Hays, Hendersons, Lighthalls, Mackays, Monks, Murrays, Newnhams, Ohmans, Parés, Shearers, Smithers or Timmins in your family, you’ll find gems about their lives in this book. If you appreciate reading about the Town of Westmount, the borough of NDG or Montreal history, this is definitely a story you’ll want to discover.

At only 151 pages, A View of their Own: The Story of Westmount is a quick and easy read. Gubbays smooth writing style and her use of many anecdotes make it entertaining as well. I highly recommend it.

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