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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.

Did they travel on the same ship?

It has always bothered me that on the passenger lists of the S.S. Grampian, sailing from Glasgow to Quebec City, my grandfather, Thomas McHugh, was not listed with his wife, Elsie McHugh and their seven children.

My father was always clear that Thomas arrived ahead of his large family in the early 1900s. The plan was that Thomas would have time to find work and a place to live, and get settled in.

I first found my grandmother, Elsie McHugh and the seven children listed on the passenger list of the S.S. Grampian, leaving Glasgow and arriving in Quebec City. The year was 1912.  I knew that I also had to find out when Thomas arrived. I returned again and again to passenger lists for travel between Scotland and Canada in 1910 and 1911. No luck. It was only when I started to research my great-uncle, Edward McHugh that I discovered Thomas also on the passenger list of the S.S. Grampian in 1912, leaving Glasgow and arriving in Quebec City. Thomas was accompanied by his mother and two brothers.

Harrumph. It seemed as if Thomas didn’t leave ahead of time. But why in the world were Elsie and the children not listed with Thomas? Were they separated because of the children? This didn’t make sense. Elsie would have needed all the help she could get. Little Adam was just three and his brother, Thomas was one year old.

I kept going back to these entries. There was something about them that bothered me. I looked up potential reasons to be separated on a ship. I looked up whether families would be divided for any reason in the list of passengers. No luck.

Also, I kept getting mixed up whether it was May or October 1912. I would look at my notes and if it said May, I realized that the date was October and I would change it. I would then go back later and change it back to May. Argh. I needed to get it right.

This week I decided to establish definitely whether Thomas came over to Canada first. Perhaps he came to Canada and then went back to Scotland for his mother, his brothers, his wife, and his children. This would make perfect sense. This would explain why my father was so sure that he came ahead of the family and all the evidence that I had said that he came over with his family.

Well, I could find no trace of Thomas on passenger lists of 1910 or 1911. He wouldn’t have come before 1910, I would think.  I did find him again on the passenger list of the S.S. Grampian, May 1912. And I found Elsie again. Wait a minute. October 1912! The penny dropped. They both travelled over on the S.S. Grampian but at different times of the year. I was so blinded by the name of the ship that I did not realize that even though they were on the same ship, they travelled on different dates.

While this was not a brick wall, it was certainly a puzzle for me. A puzzle of my own making. Once again, this reaffirms that, while primary genealogical research is important, it is also valuable to revisit assumptions, documents, and notes. Look and look again and again.  Most genealogists I know enthusiastically forge ahead and tend to neglect reviewing previous finds. I am no exception.

 

“Those of us already deep in the accumulation may also benefit from revisiting our past research.”

Brenda Dougall Merriman, Genealogical Standards of Evidence: A Guide for Family Historians

 

 

 

The Cipher

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

1 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Dundee

2 As related by my father, Edward McHugh

Everyone is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day

Everyone is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day.  We all love to be Irish for a day on March 17.  In my case, I treasure my Irish roots.  Today, I will raise a pint of Guinness and toast my ancestors.

Although my grandparents were Scottish, my great-great-grandparents, John McHugh and Mary Garret, were Irish.  They were both born around 1820 in Ireland.  They would have been young adults when the Great Famine, also known as the Great Hunger and the Irish Potato Famine happened between 1845 and 1852, when potato blight ravaged potato crops throughout Europe.  Ireland was significantly affected and, as a result, one million Irish immigrated to other countries. We commonly hear about the Irish that moved to North America and Australia but a significant number of them immigrated to Scotland.1 John and Mary McHugh were among those who decided to go to Scotland.

At the beginning of the 19th century, it was already common for Irish agricultural workers to move to Scotland temporarily to work during the harvesting season.  By the 1840s, the number of these workers had increased from a few thousand per year to 25,000.  By 1851, the Irish-born population in Scotland had risen to 7.2% of the total population.2

The economic difficulties in Ireland, combined with the industrialization of Scotland that included the expansion of coal and iron ore mining, and the building of shipyards and railways, as well as the significant expansion of the textile industry in Scotland, made Scotland an attractive destination for the Irish.3

The Irish were ideally qualified to work in Scotland’s textile industry as many of them already had knowledge and experience in the textile and jute industry.  Linen and yarn production was already established in Ireland.4The economic conditions in the 1840s in both Ireland and Scotland provided John and Mary McHugh with the impetus to move to Scotland to work in the textile factories in Dundee. Not only John, but Mary also, would have been assured of a regular wage, as many of the textile workers were women. 5

While Scotland would have been a choice destination for John and Mary, it would have been a difficult adjustment.  Sadly, this is because of their religion.  They left communities in which everyone was Roman Catholic to go and live in Protestant Scotland. The Irish Roman Catholics did not have an easy time of it in Scotland. “Anti-Catholic Scots were active in the Scottish Reformation Society and sometimes caused riots.”6 These anti-Catholic sentiments probably encouraged the Irish Catholics to remain in their distinct communities and delayed their integration into Scottish communities.

The following quote illustrates that the Irish were victims of discrimination.

“As late as 1923, the Church of Scotland could still publish a pamphlet entitled ‘The Menace of the Irish Race to our Scottish Nationality’. The Irish were seen as drunken, idle, uncivilised and undermining the moral fibre of Scottish society. They were also seen as carriers of disease. Typhus, for example, was known as ‘Irish fever’.”8

Unlike the above quote, we know the Irish to be hard working, disciplined and adaptable.  I am proud to have Irish roots.

So, despite what would have been great adversity, John and Mary settled in Scotland, lived in a Roman Catholic community and had children and grandchildren who worked in the textile industry. The generations of McHughs working in the textile industry in Dundee came to an end when their grandson, my grandfather, Thomas McHugh, could no longer find regular work in the textile industry in Dundee and decided in 1912 to move to Canada.

A toast to the Irish!  I wish you all a very happy St. Patrick’s Day.

 

1 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Famine_(Ireland)

2 http://www.irish-genealogy-toolkit.com/Irish-immigration-to-Scotland.html

3 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Industrial_Revolution_in_Scotland

4 http://www.irish-genealogy-toolkit.com/Irish-immigration-to-Scotland.html

5 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Dundee

6 http://www.irish-genealogy-toolkit.com/Irish-immigration-to-Scotland.html

7 Idem.

8http://www.educationscotland.gov.uk/higherscottishhistory/migrationandempire/experienceofimmigrants/irish.asp

Hogmanay

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.

Sources

1 http://www.scotland.org/features/hogmanay-top-facts

2 Idem

3 Idem

4 http://www.rampantscotland.com/know/blknow12.htm

5 Idem

6 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christmas_in_Scotland

7 Idem

8 Idem

The Wyndies of Arbroath

My grandmother, Elspeth Mill Boggie Orrock was born in 1875 at 32 East Mill Wynd in Arbroath, Scotland.  She was born in the “Wyndies” of Arbroath, specifically built by the spinning mills and factories to house the handloom weavers that flocked to Arbroath from the surrounding rural parishes. “By 1875, there were 134 spinning mills and factories, factories operating 1,400 power looms and producing 450,000 yards of cloth annually.”1 Flax, jute and sail cloth were woven in these mills. Almost 5,000 people were employed in the textile industry in Arbroath at that time and about a third of them were women. 2 Sure enough, between 1851 and 1911, all of the censuses list members of my family as mill workers, jute weavers, flax dressers and doffers, and yarn bleachers.

Marcol, a member of The Shoppie, a forum for life in Arbroath, posted this picture of the Wyndies on June 8, 2014.3

Marcol Wyndies

The work days in the mills would have been long, starting at 6:00 a.m. and ending at 7:30 p.m., with a half hour break for breakfast and a half hour break for dinner.  They worked six days a week and Sunday was their day of rest. The mills were kept clean and were well ventilated.  In addition, it was not unusual for the owner of the mill to provide free evening school for children working in the mills.4

By the early 1900s, Arbroath and neighbouring 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.5 Once mills were established in India, the production of the mills in Arbroath and Dundee declined significantly.

The growth of the textile industry in Arbroath in the 1800s provided an impetus for my grandmother’s family to move into the city so that they could find steady work in the mills and provide for their family.  The decline of steady work in the textile industry in the early 1900s was the reason why my grandmother, with her husband, who had always worked in the mills, and their seven children, decided to move to Canada in 1912.

 1 http://archive.angus.gov.uk/history/features/2004-08-oldarbroath.htm

2 http://www.scottish-places.info/towns/townhistory385.html

3 http://www.theshoppie.com/arbroath/forum/topic.asp?TOPIC_ID=4108&whichpage=4

4 Factories Inquiry Commission submitted to Parliament, 1833, pages 21 to 23

5 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Dundee

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