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Archive for the ‘Musings’ Category

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.  (more…)

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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.  (more…)

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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.   (more…)

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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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In keeping with my 2013 New Year’s resolution to devote a couple of hours to my blog at a local coffee shop each week, I find myself sitting in a relatively loud room, in a surprisingly cold, uncomfortable and unbalanced chair, sipping an extremely disappointing vanilla spice latte that cost a whopping $5.37, listening to music I would never bend an ear to in the comfort of my home, and wondering who on earth is peeking over my shoulder, undoubtedly judging me as I type these words.

I endure all of this in an attempt to thrust myself back into my student past, back to the predictable and dictated life of rigid deadlines and the panic-stricken heartbeat I depended on to inspire the believed brilliance of every concluding paragraph I have ever written prior to scrambling out my room and across campus to class. Call me crazy, but I miss being a student. I miss the stress and the debilitating feeling that perhaps there was an oversight and I was mistakenly admitted instead of someone else.

Perhaps it’s because of my academic past that I find myself quick to critique what has hitherto been written about the Shaw family of Banks, Collingwood Township. Thankfully (and regrettably) I know of only two such occurrences.  The earliest appears in the form of a newspaper article entitled “This is Collingwood: The Shaw Family of Nearby Banks” which appeared in Collingwood’s Enterprise-Bulletin on September 6, 1972, written by J.T. MacMurchy.  The sole source of the article’s content appears to be my great, great uncle, Lorne Shaw.

The second occurrence is recorded in the pages of one of my greatly treasured books – An Illustrated History of Collingwood Township, edited by Bill Shannon, and published by Collingwood Township Council in 1979. An entire chapter is devoted to the small, agricultural community of Banks, and the Shaws are credited as one of the area’s pioneering families.

[Sidenote: If you ever stumble across a copy of this book, please do yourself a favour and buy it as quickly as you can. Do your best to suppress the look of astonishment if you happen upon it at a yard sale.  Mask your excitement upon seeing a 25 cent sticker on its cover.  Calmly hand over your quarter (there is no room for error here – do not try to get it for less), continue to smile, walk casually to your car and leave the scene as quickly as you can.  Remember this. Train for this.  And whatever you do, do not tell me if this happens to you as I may persuade you to give your copy to me, your mentor. And may God with you if we happen upon the book at the same sale and reach for it at the same moment.]

While reading these early accounts, I often forget, and inevitably take for granted, that while I sit in comfort (well, relative comfort due to this ridiculous chair), I have ready access to a wide array of ancestral records courtesy of the internet that assist in determining dates of settlement, births, marriages, deaths, etc.

Lorne, and other family members, must have relied on a number of family stories passed down to them throughout their lives by the many voices of their collective past.   Without Lorne’s account of Thomas’s arrival and livelihood at Banks, I would be even further removed from the early Shaws whom I have chased through the history books and across the Atlantic.

So without further ado, I give you Lorne’s account of Thomas’s arrival in Collingwood Township as recorded by Mr. J.T. MacMurchy…  Well a little ado – just one more week.

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