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Here I sit at my dining room table this St. Patrick’s Day evening, sipping a lovely Irish cider and doing my utmost to feel as Irish as possible.  Devoid of green clothing and anything resembling a shamrock, I feel I may be failing…

In place of a live Irish band, I am jittering in my chair to Mumford & Sons, who, let’s face it, are just as good. Everyone knows that a fiddle is the key to a good St. Patrick’s Day celebration!

My husband is playing at an Irish pub tonight and I, for lack of a pub-mate, am nerding it up at home, taking full advantage of ancestry.ca’s free access to Irish records. I wish to tell you that my evening has been successful, that I have solved a mystery and found a long lost relative, but each of these is a devastating untruth.

I have entered and re-entered known and far-reaching dates to no avail.  I have brainstormed alternative spellings to given names and surnames, ports of arrival and departure, and every other detail I can imagine.  What am I doing wrong?!?!  Perhaps a bowl of popcorn will make this all better.  Popcorn and cider you ask?  An odd combination to be sure, but let’s not be too quick to judge.

Yes, just as I thought.  Magnificent!

Okay, one final vent…  I love the Irish, but if the Public Records Office had survived the Easter Uprising of 1913 I don’t think I would be facing so many unanswered questions. It’s an odd juxtaposition (ironic, really) that in fighting for Ireland’s sovereignty and unity, the very records that held the country’s collective history were effectively destroyed.  Perhaps there was no going back after the conflagration- the recorded past had been destroyed and nothing could or would ever be the same again.

I find myself considering the emotions that St. Patrick’s Day evoked in my ancestors.  Both Thomas Shaw and Isabella Jordan lived in Ulster and were Protestant in faith.  If this statement is true, St. Patrick’s Day has little connection to the inherent Irishness of the Shaw or Jordan families; however, part of me also wonders if the religious associations that once defined St. Patrick’s Day began to change for the Irish living in North America.  Perhaps they needed a day to remember family and friends back home…

I will never know if this was the case for the Shaws who settled in Collingwood Township, but I will continue to be proud of my Irish heritage on this day, and all days, and share the stories of the early Shaws who left the Emerald Isle in search of the promising future they found in Canada.

May the luck of the Irish be with you in all that you do!

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In 2007 I began to record the stories and histories that have been shared with me in a little brown book that is safely stowed on my bedside table. As of late, I haven’t been as prudent about filling its crisp, blank pages with recently gleaned stories; however, knowing that the journal exists comforts me, and diminishes the guilt I should feel.

For many months I thought and talked about putting pen to paper, and then I finally committed to recording everything I could remember from conversations with family members over tea and cookies, and of course homemade pie.  The result is a handwritten compilation of voices and personalities from all sides of my family, as well as the occasional family acquaintance and friend.  Continue Reading »

Margaret (Hawman) Shaw, Robert Shaw and child

The earliest known photograph of Margaret (Hawman) and Robert Shaw.  The young child  on Robert’s knee is believed to be their eldest son, Almore.  Photographer: C.A. Fanjoy, Collingwood, Ontario.

Lost opportunities

Grandpa and Grandma Shaw with Ross and Jean Shaw, 2008.

Grandpa and Grandma Shaw (standing) with Ross and Jean Shaw (seated), 2008.

No matter how many questions I have asked, I am haunted by those that I wasn’t brave enough to voice. Or worse yet, the questions I didn’t make the time to ask.

And all of a sudden I am too late.  My opportunity lost, forever.

I recently learned about the passing of my grandfather’s second cousin, Ross Shaw.  I had spoken with Ross and his wife Jean on a couple of occasions, but, silly me, I always thought I would have the chance to ask the most important questions at a later date.   Continue Reading »

Norman Shaw and son, Ian.

I was recently struck by a truth that I have contemplated, but never truly considered in a formal and serious manner.  While attending a lecture in Collingwood, the evening’s speaker made a simple deduction that left me searching for a pen and paper.

The Watts family of Collingwood ventured to Canada from Ireland and began a boatbuilding business that became internationally renowned.  Seventy years after arriving in Collingwood, the Watts family was still building and shipping custom-made wooden boats across Canada and into the United States.

The speaker’s conclusion was this: The Watts family was able to build boats in Collingwood for so long because they were good at what they did.  At a time when many Irish immigrants were destitute and struggling to stay alive, building Canada’s railways and canals, the Watts family set out on its own and established a business that earned the family a respected place in Canada’s marine history.

I can assure you that I am not attempting to argue that the Shaws are icons of Canadian history, but I would like to suggest that, like the Watts family, they were exceptionally good at what they did, and that it’s no coincidence the Shaws have been farming the land atop Blue Mountain for the past 163 years.   Continue Reading »

For the past two weeks (okay, possibly four), I have postponed my weekly entries in an attempt to discover the plausibility of the question I posed in my last post: Might Thomas have arrived in New York, and then ventured across Lake Ontario to Toronto in 1847?

According to historian Mark. G. McGowan, 38 560 refugees arrived in Toronto’s harbour in 1847, 75% of whom were Irish.   For Toronto’s then population of  20 000, Ireland’s mass exodus introduced significant health and socio-economic challenges that resulted in less than favourable opinions of the Irish. Many regarded the Irish as a diseased people who were dependent on the goodwill, and economy, of the citizens of their port of arrival.  Continue Reading »

Exciting news!

Last weekend I was seduced by Ancestry.ca’s promise of a free, two week trial of a World Deluxe Membership. For those who may not know, Ancestry.ca is a family researcher’s gold mine, complete with records relating to immigration, land grants,  births, marriages, deaths, divorces, censuses, and much more.  It’s also a great forum to connect with researchers from across Canada, and the world over.  A few years ago I was able to arrange a visit between a distant relative, whom I “met” through Ancestry, and my grandparents who were traveling in Western Canada at the time. But I digress…

After providing all of the necessary information (name, address, email, phone, credit card – the one unfortunate catch), I was politely informed that I had already taken advantage of the free membership.  Blast!  I could have maneuvered around this unwelcomed news by creating a bogus account, but that may be wrong….  Thoughts?  I’m torn.  Creating fake accounts is very inconvenient (yes, I am speaking from experience) and generally not worth the annoyance of receiving duplicate emails.  And just in case you are beginning to wonder, this is not a paid advertisement for the ethical use of Ancestry’s services.  Although… No, I’m sure Ancestry’s executives would never go for that.   Continue Reading »

The next generation

I am pleased to announce that this is the final post that will directly address the historical events recorded by Lorne Shaw and J.T. MacMurchy in “The Shaws of Nearby Banks”.   While I have enjoyed interacting with MacMurchy’s text, I am extremely excited to explore the unpublished histories of the Shaws, and their time spent in Ireland, Banks, and beyond.

In “The Shaw Family of Nearby Banks”, MacMurchy devotes two very brief sentences to the first generation of Canadian-born Shaws.  Both sentences appear under the simple subheading “Large Family”, and are introduced by a statement that reads like a disclaimer, or a warning of what’s to come: “The people who opened this country had large families.”  Thomas and Isabella were no exception.

Together, Thomas and Isabella are known to have raised ten children: “James, Thomas, Andrew, Sam, Isabelle (Mrs. Thomas Carscadden), Mary (Mrs. John Carscadden), Robert, William, Edward and David.”  I recently learned from my grandfather’s brother, Ian Shaw, that Thomas and Isabella may have had another child named John, who lived to be eight months old (b. 24 January 1849, d. 3 October 1849).  If anyone has located John’s birth or death certificates I would be most grateful to receive a copy as I have been unable to confirm his connection to the family.

The following photograph is believed to have been taken circa 1901, prior to Thomas’s and Isabella’s return to Ireland for a six month visit with family and friends.  According to Uncle Ian, the return trip was paid for by their children, and their departure was the occasion for this impressive photograph.   To my knowledge, this is the only photograph of Thomas, Isabella, and their children.  If you know of another, please forward it to me and I will happily post it alongside the photograph below.

Thomas Shaw Sr. and Isabella Jordan Family, c1901

The Shaw Family, c1901
Back Row (left to right): James, Thomas, Isabella (Shaw) Carscadden, Samuel, Robert, Andrew
Middle Row (left to right): Thomas Shaw Sr., Isabella Shaw (granddaughter), Isabella (Jordan) Shaw
Front Row (left to right): William, Mary (Shaw) Carscadden, Edward

Continue Reading »

In my research thus far I have encountered a recurring and very frustrating obstacle that is the perfect subject for discussion in the days following International Women’s Day.  True to form, the same challenge is also found in J.T. MacMurchy’s article “The Shaw Family of Nearby Banks”.

Have you noticed that there has been very little discussion about a particular woman in Thomas’s life?  A woman who would have shared in, and contributed to his successes as an early pioneer?  If yes, great observation!  If no, you are one of many so don’t beat yourself up.   All too often the experiences and identities of early female settlers are mysteriously absent from the accounts of family (and arguably national) histories.

In MacMurchy’s article, Isabella Jordan is strictly identified by her relationship to Thomas, resulting in a string of elusive nouns including “bride”, “Mrs. Shaw”, “wife”, and “Mrs. Thomas Shaw”.  The latter is the most effective example of Isabella’s renaming as she has become an accessory to Thomas, the feminine form (or extension) of her husband.  Do you find this troubling?  I am baffled by this unfortunate tradition of renaming, and bemoan the fact that I must search for the identities of women using their husbands’ names.

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Isabella (Jordan) Shaw, date unknown

Continue Reading »

Outliving the past

As you may have suspected, my attempt at time travel was ultimately unsuccessful. I’m still here in 2013, and feeling a bit badly about raising your hopes that an English major would be the one to break the bonds of space and time. When I drove up Blue Mountain last weekend and approached the intersection of Banks – yes there is only one – I fully expected to be greeted by a scene from Collingwood Township’s past. I would have settled for anything.  Instead, the same “For Rent” sign confronted me at the stop sign, unnaturally stationed in front of the old brick building that once served as Banks’ post office, bakery, and general store.

Weekend “homes” are becoming increasingly common on top of Blue Mountain and the sad and unfortunate reality is that the fields and old farmsteads are being consumed in the spirit of “progress”.  I understand that things must change, but the Banks that exists today is a far cry from the active, farming community it once was.  Perhaps this is why objects once owned and used by members of the Shaw family have taken on such importance in the preservation of our collective history.  Despite their age,  these objects have remained, and will continue to remain for generations to come, having captured the fingerprints of generations of Shaws whose histories have been layered one on top of the other.  Seeing a photograph of an ancestor is a powerful experience; however it can only ever be a two dimensional experience.   Handling an object that is known to have been used by an ancestor forges a connection that spans generations.  Thomas’s kettle is a perfect example of this.

As I suspected, the story of Thomas and the kettle triggered a series of questions from interested readers wishing to know if Thomas’s kettle still exists.  And if so, where it resides.  A kettle has been passed down to Lorne’s descendants, and despite my original reservations I believe the kettle that is cherished today is the same kettle pictured below with Lorne.  What do you think?  I realize that the perspectives of the photographs are quite different, but please have a look and consider what you see.

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Continue Reading »