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“Someday I’m going to write a book!” How often have you said that, or heard a friend or relative make a similar statement? You probably didn’t hold your breath until it appeared.
So it comes as a surprise to the nine members of Genealogy Ensemble, the family history writing group of which I am a member, that we are actually doing it. In November, we will launch Beads in a Necklace, a book of collected short stories based on our family research.
These real-life stories include a young Scot who immigrated to Canada and became a famous gospel singer, memories of queueing up for food rations in post-war England, and a young girl who was kidnapped from her home in southern Maine by the Abenaki Indians in 1692 and spent the rest of her life in Quebec.
Now that it’s about to be published, I thought it would be worthwhile to look back at some of the lessons we learned that might help potential authors.
The genesis of Beads in a Necklace goes back to 2012 or so when we decided to write about our families and share our stories. Since then, we have met once a month to critique each other’s work, improve our story-telling skills and gain confidence.
After a while, our stories were so good, we wanted to share them more widely. We began taking turns posting them on our blog, Genealogy Ensemble. The book authors among us kept talking about the possibility of publishing something, but the idea always seemed far away.
Last year, we got serious about the idea. With 2017 being the 375th anniversary of the City of Montreal, where we all live, and Canada’s 150th birthday, we decided it was time to publish a collection our stories: a 250-page book, with a proper binding and a beautiful cover, that we will be able to give to friends and relatives for Christmas.
Start with Structure
We started discussing the project last September. The first step was to each choose our five favourite stories. Each article had to be about 500 words long and include endnotes citing the sources of our facts. Apart from that, there were no rules.
After considerable debate, we agreed on the title Beads in a Necklace, and we came up with a logical way of organizing the stories into sections.
We all pitched in to help at various stages of the process, depending on our areas of expertise. I did most of the editing, with help from Tracey. I had worked as a journalist, and Tracey and Dorothy are also professional writers. That helped a lot: we know how to tighten a longwinded sentence, spot a good first paragraph and structure a story so it flows smoothly. Several members of our group have natural writing talent that they never knew they had, but they are still learning the skills that come from writing on a daily basis. And sometimes writers have to let go of their egos and allow changes. Of course, everyone could say yes or no to editing suggestions, and we always managed to find compromise solutions.
Sandra, who has experience preparing annual reports in the corporate world, did most of the layout, with Claire’s assistance. Claire also knows her way around digital photography and she cleaned up the often scratched or faded photos we wanted to use.
Ask for Help
We even got friends involved: one friend who is a proof reader is making sure there are no typos or missing punctuation marks, while another friend who is a graphic designer has agreed to do the cover.
There have been many details to consider. The people responsible for the layout had to decide on the size of the book and the fonts to use and get quotes from a local printer. Someone has to look after making a digital version available, and we have to crank up our marketing strategy. Last but not least, we had to find a place that is big enough but not too expensive for our celebratory book launch. We found a church hall that is perfect!
Persevere through glitches
Most of the glitches we have encountered have been computer-related. For example, we tried both Google Drive and Dropbox so we could upload files that everyone could edit. Both did the job, but we found Google Drive to be a bit unstable, while for a reason I still don’t understand, I can’t see many of the changes that Sandra and Claire have made to the layout in Dropbox.
This has been a long process. We were editing in January and the book will be launched in November. But we are all thrilled about it. Furthermore, I hope to apply the lessons I have learned from this experience when I write a book about my own family’s history. Just don’t hold your breath until it appears.
This article is also posted on writinguptheancestors.blogspot.ca
Summer is slowly waning, days are getting shorter, the sun is slipping below the horizon earlier each day and at times there seems to be a slight chill in the wind. The playgrounds are silent. Schools are back in session.
Where did the summer go? How did you spend your summer? Did you travel to faraway places, relax on a beach, or stay right here in the city and enjoy some of the festivities while celebrating our 375th Anniversary?
The island of Montreal has been my home since the mid-60’s. This summer I became a tourist in my hometown. Several organized guided day tours were a pleasant way of seeing and learning about the many hidden gems tucked away in unusual places.
Did you know that there is a large piece of the Berlin wall in the International Trade Center in Old Montreal, or that there were guided tours of the Seminary?
Recently on a Saturday afternoon, after a lengthy detour and a drive between orange construction cones another genealogist and I arrived late for a guided tour of the Seminary in Old Montreal. We joined the group in the courtyard adjacent to Notre Dame Basilica where the Sulpician Priests during this anniversary year have opened their doors to the public. The last time that happened was during Expo 67, fifty years ago.
The young guide, Gabriel, was describing the French clock, (from France) noting how the original mechanisms were made of wood. Over the years there were many changes and today it runs on electricity. The bells ring every fifteen minutes, although they are often drowned out by the bells of the Basilica.
The Priests of Saint Sulpice arrived in Montreal in 1657. From 1663 until 1840 were the owners of the island of Montreal. They were the Seigneurs. They began building the Seminary in 1685 and today it is the second oldest building on the island of Montreal and the oldest building standing that has retained its original purpose.
As you walk by the courtyard on Notre Dame Street it is possible to see where the restoration of the building is ongoing, beginning with the upper third floor which is currently vacant. The restoration team has done their utmost to retain the same look as the lower levels.
From the clock tower in the courtyard our group moved through a narrow passage between buildings and in to the garden, a large spacious area where for many years it provided produce for the Seminary. Today it is a quiet, serene wide expanse of grass, walkways and large trees, several that are over one hundred years old. Recently they planted almost two dozen young trees at the far end of the garden.
The tour ended in the garden. However, because we arrived late and missed the visit to the museum we were permitted to go in and view the numerous artifacts found within. The main theme focused on the founding of the Sulpician priests and their mission in New France. One of the items that caught my eye was a hand drawn map of the island of Montreal dating back to 1702 that showed all the different settlements on the island.
Perhaps the most important part of the event was when several people asked about the archives and the possibility of visiting them. The response was surprising as it had always been noted that it was next to impossible to access the archives. The guide noted that there are two permanent archivists and two students working during the summer months. If someone wishes to visit the archives they must have a specific purpose, along with names and dates. The archivist will give your request consideration and inform you if they are able to assist you in your request or they may recommend where you might find answers. He also noted that there is much work to be done in the organizing of all the data they have.
Being a tourist in one’s hometown has been an interesting experience. A cruise on the St. Lawrence gave us a bird’s eye view of the port of Montreal. A full day bus tour with six different stops along the way covered most of the prominent areas of the city, Old Montreal, up the mountain along Camillian Houde Parkway, a drive up to Mile End area, a brief stop in Welinsky’s and a visit to Fairmont Bagel, just to name a few.
Each of the day trips were rewarding. Although it was strange at first to be a tourist in one’s hometown there were many other Montrealers with the same idea.
I spent my entire career writing corporate documents. I could spin with the best of them. It is very different from writing family history stories. When I joined the Genealogy Ensemble family history writing group, I had to learn a whole new way of writing.
In a corporate document, you are always trying to get something from someone. It could be funding, agreement on how to proceed, approval for a project, agreement with your point of view, or understanding and approval of why you did what. The list goes on and on. Your objective is to sway your audience to your point of view.
When I would write corporate documents, it was important that I provide the reader with the context of the request. I usually started with the background, then the current situation, followed by a description of the issue, and concluding with the desired outcome.
Family history stories should start with a lead that will grab the reader’s attention, much like a news story. Simply put, a good lead will incite the reader to continue.
Writing family history stories is intensely personal. After all, you are writing about your own family. Your voice must come through. When I would write corporate documents, I was always the anonymous writer. No one knew me personally, even if I signed the document. The corporation always spoke in the document, not me. Family history writing is all about you and your journey discovering your ancestors. Your family history stories are an important part of the family archives.
Corporate writing is full of the third person. Organization X believes. Organization Y has decided. Organization Z recommends. When it is your family, feel free to put your emotion into it. Writing about your ancestors is a way to bring them alive and to celebrate their struggles and achievements. You can bring compassion and understanding to stories of their lives.
Most importantly, have fun writing about your ancestors. In a way, it’s a little like writing about yourself.
Sarah Ann and her children were known as the Berkeley Street Eagles. They lived at 339 Berkeley Street in Toronto, just a couple of blocks from Seaton Street where her brother-in-law William Eagle lived. He was said to have kept an eye on the family but Sarah Ann seemed to be a strong woman and didn’t need looking after. She had an imposing figure and at some point a glass eye that stared at you when she talked.¹
Sarah Ann was widowed in 1876 when her husband Alexander Eagle was killed at work. He was just 40. Alexander was a teamster and he was loading a wagon with salt barrels when one fell on him.
His wife was left to raise seven children. The oldest, Amelia was 14 and baby Frederick only one year old. Sarah Ann had already lost two children, Eliza Jane at seven and Alfred, Frederick’s twin at only one-month-old. The family continued to live in Goderich, Ontario for a while but then moved to Toronto.
Sarah Ann Esten McMillan was born in Ireland and came to Canada with her family when she was about 14, in 1849. It was a six-week sea voyage in a sailing ship and then the family had to continue from Kingston to Goderich by stage coach. According to her obituary, she used to boast that she made the first salt in Goderich and saw the first train that came into Toronto.²
The eldest child, Amelia was known as Millie. She was a good daughter. She lived with her mother, worked as a tailor and never married. When her brother Frederick and his wife had their first child she moved in with them and was there until her death in 1943.
Martha Ellen the second daughter was said to be the wild one, although at 18 she was still living with her mother and working as a milliner. She left home after she married Harry Shepard, moved to Chicago and had a family. She seemed to turn out well. Her brother William became a baker and he too moved to Chicago. He married and ended up in Los Angeles.
David Eagle, also never married. He lived with his mother and worked as a cabinet maker and house builder. His sister Sarah Ann, known as Annie kept house for everybody at 339 Berkeley Street. After she died in 1949, the house was sold and Dave went to live with his brother Fred in Hamilton.
Emily was a school teacher. She married Edgar Bent when she was 40 and went to live in New London, Connecticut. They had no children and after her husband died she returned to Berkeley Street.
Frederick Eagle the youngest, lived at Berkeley Street until his marriage to Mildred Campbell in 1904. It appears he was lucky to get her. A write up about their wedding stated; “Mr Eagle is a former Goderich boy who is well known and much esteemed in his native town. The bride whom he has been so fortunate in winning is one of the most popular young ladies, an especial favourite with her friends and one who will be missed in the work of the church of which she has been a member from young girlhood.” They had three sons.
Eagles continued to come and go from Berkeley Street even after Sarah Ann’s death at 84 in 1919. Sarah Ann’s favourite saying according to grandson Fred was, “a mickle is a muckle.” This Scotish saying can be a mickle or a pickle but with a muckle generally, means many small things can make something large. I think Sarah Ann would be surprised but pleased to know her house on Berkley Street is now worth almost a million dollars!
- A story from my Aunt Beth Sutherland Van Loben Sels.
- Sarah Ann’s obituary Toronto Star.
- The Scotsman December 12, 2013. Mony a mickle maks a muckle. This is popularly thought to mean that a lot of small amounts of something will make a large amount of it. It is often used to try and encourage people to save little amounts of money in the hope, one day, that these will become a fortune. The sentiment may be admirable, but the saying as it stands actually does not make much sense. Mickle and Muckle, far from being opposites in meaning, actually mean the same thing. As nouns, they both mean a large amount or a great deal of something. http://www.scotsman.com/news/scottish-word-of-the-week-mickle-muckle-1-3231104
- I met Fred Eagle, Sarah Ann’s grandson and son of Frederick once in 1997 at the beginning of my genealogy research. He told me family stories insisted he and Minnie Eagle were cousins as she had always been cousin Minnie, but actually, they were first cousins once removed.
Upon seeing the farm after so many years the first words out of my mouth were, “I remember it being much bigger!”
“You were much smaller when you spent childhood summers here”, was my husband’s response.
Yes, I had been smaller but there were certainly changes. The perimeter of the property has been slashed. The trans-Canada highway now cuts through the apple orchard behind the house. That night I watched the lights of the big transport trucks where once there were only fireflies lighting up the darkness. The barn is gone, its aged wood sold off as reclaimed wood for trendy furniture. The big vegetable garden is gone, too. No one has time anymore to preserve vegetables. The trees and bushes along the brook are thickly overgrown. There is no sign of the headstones in what was a small family cemetery.
The lilac tree, however, still stands as it has for decades. Beside it now is a large sign: La Gite des Lilas, Caplan, Quebec. It was at this B&B that I had made reservations for two nights.
My grandfather, George Hudson Willett, bought the farm in 1900 following his return from the Klondike Gold Rush. My grandmother, Isabella Maria Gilker, came here as a bride in 1901. Seven children were born and raised in the house, the youngest being my mother. This was where my grandmother died in 1933 when my mother was only fifteen.
My grandfather raised pigs and chickens along with beef and dairy cattle. His eldest son Keith became a butcher, slaughtering the animals and those of their neighbours. Father and son worked together until my grandfather’s death in 1961.
Various siblings left their city homes each summer to return to the farm with their families. The cousins spent sun-filled days playing in the barn, riding the hay wagon, catching brook trout, picking big juicy strawberries, and splashing in the jelly-fish infested waters of the Bay de Chaleur.
Little has changed inside today’s B&B. The four guest rooms were once the family bedrooms. A second bathroom has been added. The original bathroom (missing the large “footed” tub), the fifth bedroom, and a section of the hallway has been closed off to form a small suite. Vintage furniture and quilts evoke the end of 19th century when the house was first built. The tilting hardwood floors are testament to the two hundred years the house has stood overlooking the bay.
The upstairs was once warmed, through grates in the floor, by a huge wood stove in the kitchen. My cousins and I would huddle by these openings straining our ears to hear the adults’ conversation long after we should have been in bed. Today the house is heated by electricity and all the rooms are comfortably warm. Guests are free to watch television with the owners in the “parlor” and are served breakfast in the dining room.
The kitchen has undergone the most change. Gone is the big wood stove. Gone are the chairs and the long table where my aunt would serve a full noon meal to any number of farm hands. Gone are the two cots where my uncle and grandfather napped before returning to the fields. Gone is summer kitchen off to the side where each day the milk was separated from the cream. The summer kitchen is now the owners’ bedroom.
As I drifted to sleep each night in a bedroom where I had once slept as a child, memories emerged, memories all but forgotten. Layers of summers unfold in my mind to be enjoyed once again in the telling.
My husband was an appreciative listener.
Today my own grandchildren are collecting summer memories at a lake in the Laurentions. I had a farm, they have a cottage, but both embody the enduring history of family.
Before 1900, photography was the domain of the expert. Cameras were complicated, film was bulky. That year, the Eastman Kodak company introduced the Brownie camera, a simple box with a lens, loaded with a roll of film, and photography became available and affordable to the general public. My grandmother’s family were early adopters of this new technology, and my grandmother, Gwendolen Bagg (1887-1963), became an enthusiastic photographer.
One of her first subjects was her own house in Montreal’s Golden Square Mile. She photographed not only the exterior, but also the drawing room (living room), with its ornate mantelpiece and heavy drapes.
The majority of photos were taken during summer vacations with the family. Many Montrealers left the city in the summer, not only to escape the heat, but also to avoid the outbreaks of disease that plagued the city in those years. In the early 1900s, the Bagg family went to Cacouna, on the shores of the St. Lawrence River, and they also spent time at a lake near Ste. Agathe, in the Laurentians, north of Montreal.
Gwen photographed her father stretched out on the lawn at Cacouna, her mother in a wide-brimmed hat, and her older sister on horseback and in a canoe. Her little brother, Harold, was a favourite subject. In one picture, taken when he would have about five years old, he posed with his two girl cousins. According to the custom of the day, he had long hair and was dressed exactly like the girls in what appears to be a dress. The following year, his blonde hair remained long, but Harold wore a sailor suit.
In her late teens, Gwen photographed her friends, wearing elaborate bathing costumes on the beach near Kennebunk, Maine. On the porch at the hotel where they stayed, all the young women wore light dresses that reached the ground and covered their arms to their wrists. They must have been very hot.
In 1913, Gwen photographed her mother, by now a widow and dressed in black, leaning up against a big log at Kennebunk Beach, chatting with a friend. By this time, her sister Evelyn was married, and Gwen liked to photograph her little niece, Clare.
The camera must have been a good one, and whoever Gwen shared it with (probably her mother), was also a good photographer. All these photos were in focus, well exposed and tightly composed. Most importantly, Gwen put her photos into albums and identified most of the people, places and years they were taken. She got married in 1916, and after that, although she continued take family photos, the prints ended up in a box, loose and unidentified.
Gwen kept these albums and my mother inherited them and then passed them on to me. Several years ago, I asked the McCord Museum in Montreal whether they would like them. The McCord already had a collection of letters and business ledgers that had belonged to the Bagg family, so these photos shed light on another aspect of their past. The albums are now part of the Bagg Family Fonds, and a few of them have been digitized and can be viewed on the McCord’s website at http://collections.musee-mccord.qc.ca/scripts/explore.php?Lang=1&tableid=18&tablename=fond&elementid=31__true (go to the very bottom of this page).
This article is also posted on http://writinguptheancestors.blogspot.ca
I cannot say for certain that my grandmother had a Brownie, but she certainly had some type of simple box camera. The square photos in her album are approximately 3 ½” x 3 ½”, corresponding to the Kodak film sizes 101 and 106. This chart on the Brownie website describes the different sizes of film that Brownie cameras used over the years: http://www.brownie-camera.com/film.shtml. If she did have a Kodak, it was probably similar to the camera described on this website: http://www.historiccamera.com/cgibin/librarium/pm.cgi?action=display&login=no2bullet