Saturday, April 22, 2017

All DNA Matches, Great and Small, in Yorkshire


I've been despairing, just a little bit.

I recently had my DNA 'done' on Ancestry - and not only was the ethnicity estimate totally weird - but, from the start, I could find no evidence of my father and his North of England side.

I don't look much like my father, so...well, you know. I began to wonder.

My mother is French Canadian with most of her ancestors (all French)go back to the boat in the early 1600's, to Normandy and Poitou in France.

My father is pure Durham, Yorkshire and Northumberland, off the plane in 1948 after WWII.

At first, it was the Ancestry ethnicity estimate that perplexed me. It had NO French or "Western Europe,"  just British, Italian/Greek, Caucasus? and bits of this and that... On Gedmatch Eurogenes I had a bit of Red Sea (Levant) and Amerindian and South Seas and South Asian, to go with North Sea and Baltic and, yes, West Asian and Mediterranean.

On some estimates, like DNA LAND  I am 10 percent Jewish. Family tree changed my estimate in mid-stream from Western Europe, Italian and Greek and Turkish, to British, Iberian, and Turkish.

Was the British my Mother or Father? I still don't know.


I  have learned that French Canadians,  by and large,  come out British, Irish and Italian on Ancestry ethnicity, so I started to wonder about the Caucasus/West Asian business on my own chart.

So much to worry about.

Well,  the ethnicity estimates are from thousands of years ago. This explains a lot.

 A few weeks ago Ancestry launched a Genetic Communities feature, where they indicate outright that my ethnicity estimate is from millenia ago.  They also tell me that I come from a genetic community called  French Settlers along the St. Lawrence and French Settlers in Montreal and Detroit.

Now, tell me something I don't know! All my DNA "cousins" (Americans, Canadians) seem to have a French Quebecker connection, if they aren't a quarter or half French.

The other day, I decided to take my sure-fire maternal connections (little floaty leaves where people match dna-wise and tree-wise) and use the Shared Matches feature to find all the "cousins" who are connected to my Mom. That took up just about every one of the 350 potential cousin matches.

ALL of them.

So either, my father's English side is invisible - or my REAL father is also French Canadian and his matches got swept up with my mother's.. not unlikely as French Canadians are so inter-connected coming from 5-7 thousand initial settlers.

I've been driving my family crazy fretting over this puzzling conundrum. (My parents have passed away, of course, so I can engage in this self-indulgent exercise guilt-free.)


My beautiful Eurogenes 13 profile on Gedmatch. The colourful little bits are from the North of England ancestors, it seems.

I've been using Gedmatch to seek out people with DNA kits with relatives with the right names in the right places in their trees,  Hall in Cumberland, Nixon in Nawton Yorkshire, etc.

I have to memorize a lot of numbers, good for the brain.

I now know how far Helmsley is from Thirsk, where the author who wrote All Creatures Great and Small had his animal surgery, as they call them in the UK.

I even watched a few episodes of the charming show on YouTube. (I'd seen it before, of course.)

I've matched small bits of DNA with many such people, but I also performed a control experiment and noticed that I can match little bits with random people, too.

But, today, checking out Boyes in Yorkshire, I got too many matches, largish matches, like 5 and 6 centimorgans, double matches, matches with siblings, etc.  to be able to deny that I am related to my father.

Or to man from Yorkshire called Boyes ;)

I think, anyway. Likely. Maybe, Perhaps.

About 20 matches out of 30 names available with DNA. As per usual, the one person with the same direct ancestor in his/her tree, didn't have any DNA to compare to mine.

These Boyes started up a department store, apparently.

It seems that Ancestry doesn't have many British people in the database, even though they started up a UK division last year. It also seems that few people from the North of England emigrated to the New World, so their DNA isn't in many American Ancestry subscribers. (The Nixons and Cowens I have found on Gedmatch went to Australia.)

This is what I'm telling myself today. Hey, in the 70's, when Richard Nixon was President,  I couldn't make a purchase in a store without the cashier asking me if I was related to Dick. That was because there were so few Nixons around. (I said No, but it looks like we may be Border Reivers.)

A bit of shared DNA is someone who has a Boyes in their tree...

Sunday, April 16, 2017

French Canadians - Genes - and Colourful Ethnicity Wheels

I have a rainbow of colours on my ethnicity wheel of Gedmatch.. My French Canadian possible cousins had very plain wheels with North Sea, Baltic and Western and Eastern Mediterranean.  I was confused.


Well, let's hope it's over.


I have been agonizing over the fact that my Ancestry DNA 'cousins' seem all to be French Canadian.
After all, I'm supposed to be half French Canadian and half British from Yorkshire,Cumberland and Northumberland.


I had my autosomal DNA tested and I instantly found oodles of French cousins, with ties to my family tree, on Ancestry.


41 of them, in fact, and I've only completed about 10 lines back to the boat and Normandy and Poitou.

But, I couldn't for the life of me find a tree that didn't have a French Canadian in it!

To top itoff, my ethnicity wheel made things more confusing. French Canadians, it appears, come out North Sea, Western and Eastern Mediterranean and Baltic.

I had less North Sea than almost anyone of my 'cousins', except for a cousin who is three quarters Italian and one quarter Northumbrian.

I also had a real rainbow of colours. Lots of Caucasus (about double what my cousins had) and Siberian and Holy Land and Polynesian and Amerindian. Whoa!

No one I could find on my connections list, with a tree I could verify, had a wheel anything like it.

But, then, I went to Gedmatch and tried to find people with my English Grandparents' names in the right regions, Richardsons, Cowens and Forsters.

It wasn't hard, I immediately found shared DNA with 4 people with those names. Four people with shared DNA out of a handful of  contenders.

 And when I checked out the Forster wheel, (Eurogens 13) it was as colourful as mine, except no Amerindian.

Someone directly related to my father's great great grandmother had a kit, but when I entered it, it stalled. (What bad luck!.)

But, there you go. Case closed. Until tomorrow, when I start agonizing again. I won't rest until my brother gets tested this summer.

The problem is, many people on Ancestry have large trees going back to pioneer times, Virginia and such, and they all have at least one French line, to go with their Italian line and their many German lines, etc. America is, indeed, a melting pot.

 It seems many immigrants to North America have someone who stopped in Montreal. It was a major port, after all. That messed me up.

Whenever I saw a French name on these American trees, or an Anglicized French name like Beechamine or Tibo or my favorite, LeFEEVER,, I decided that person was attached to my French Canadan line.

That's not necessarily true.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Helmsley, James Herriot and DNA Dilemmas

When my son travelled around York by bus as a student, he said it felt like home (and he had no idea about his roots.)  Maybe that's a clue.


I can't recall when I watched the television series, All Creatures Great and Small, on PBS, but it ran from 1978 to 1990 apparently, so it's likely I watched it in the late 80's, when I had little babies.

I recall only one episode, one where the Harriot's character is upset because so many people are bringing him animals to be put down. (Must check what year that is.)

I have never read the books by Alf Wright, alias James Herriot, on which the series is based. Maybe I will now.

I watched the first three episodes of  All Creatures on YouTube today.  I did so because I just learned that Wright had his real veterinary practice in the town of Thirsk in North Yorkshire.

The series is shot somewhere else in North Yorkshire.

I've been doing my genealogy. I've taken the Ancestry DNA test, and I am trying to grow a tree. My father's side of the family is from North Yorkshire, Cumberland and Northumberland and his father was born in Helmsley, Yorkshire, 15 miles from Thirsk.

There are still some Nixons and lots of Richardsons (his paternal grandmother) in the area.

I'm becoming familiar with the names of all the little towns in the area, and all the local families, like Featherstone,  as I try to figure out if ANYBODY in my DNA 'cousin list' is from my English side.

Yes, my 'ethnicity estimate' from Ancestry says I am 32 to 57 percent British, but French Canadians come out British on these tests. Most French Canadians came from Normandy, originally.  From what I see from the bazillions of French people on my Ancestry cousins list, French Canadians, even those who are 100 percent Quebecois,  come out British, Irish and Italian/Greek, for some crazy reason.

I came out British Isles, Caucasus and Italian/Greek. No Irish. Weird.

I have so many cousin connections on my French Canadian side, I am wondering if I even have a British side.


Unfortunately, my Yorkshire foremothers (if they are my foremothers)  had a lot of their kids out of wedlock. (Apparently, this was a fairly common thing for farm girls back then. See my last post.) So no DNA matches. At least, I hope that's the reason.

Of course, as I've explained here, French Canadian genealogies are quite reliable due to the excellent records kept by the Catholic church. These Yorkshire, Cumberland and Northumberland records, not so good.

Yesterday, I suddenly realized that I already was familiar with the Helmsley area, through this British television series, among many other TV programs, no doubt. Well, Downtown Abbey takes place in the area, doesn't it? And that program I loved called Jam and Jerusalem..

Too bad All Creatures Great and Small isn't on Netflix, not right now, not in Canada, anyway.

But I'll settle for the Youtube, until it's taken down. It's a comfort to watch as I agonize over this puzzling situation.


One name, Calvert, from Yorkshire, seems to be promising. I am DNA  cousins with a number of Americans with his family in their tree, and these American families have NO apparent French genes.


But, it's amazing how many 'pioneer' Americans have at least one French Canadian line.When I see something like Tibo, even in a Texan, I say to myself:  "Oh, no. Not another French Canadian connection."

Some people seem to have both small Yorkshire towns and small Quebec towns in their trees. Annoying!

And, even if the people don't seem to have any French connections in their tree, if I see they are from Maine, or Vermont or Rhode Island, I know they probably do and  just don't know it.

But, I was buoyed by a bit I read on a message board.  Some guy from Northumberland, 100 percent going back centuries, said he took a DNA test with his siblings and they all got Caucasus as a puzzling result.  These ethnicity estimates are ancient, it seems.

Maybe my perplexing Caucasus genes are the proof I'm really British. My Dad's families go back to the Border Reivers in Cumberland and Northumberland and possibly all the way back to the Holy Land. (I wrote about that a few posts ago.)

So, on theme of pets and genealogy, my cousin got her DNA done, she's adopted, and also her mutt's. He is part chihuahua and part poodle.


Over the Top for Women's Suffrage

Canadian Suffragists, all from Ontario, marching in a March 1913 Suffrage Parade in Washington DC. Stowe Gullen in the motar board. Constance Hamilton was there, too.  She would soon start her own national suffrage movement, the National Equal Franchise Union, but she would give up the suffrage fight within a year. Hence, the report below, by the Canadian Suffrage Association, trying to cement their place in history as the one-and-only credible national organization.



WWI was still raging in June, 1918 when the National Council of Women held their annual general meeting in Brantford, Ontario.

1917 had been a bitterly divisive year in Canada, especially among Canadian suffragists, because in order to get re-elected and pass his conscription bill, Premier Borden had concocted a Wartime Elections Act that gave the vote only to women with close relations at the Front.

Suffrage was still a key issue for the National Council of Women during the WWI years, and many provinces, including Ontario, granted the provincial franchise to women during that time, although many society ladies put aside their suffrage advocacy for 'patriotic work.'

I am writing about this bizarre business in a book called Service and Disservice, about the Canadian suffragists and their dubious involvement in the 1917 Conscription Election. It's the follow up to Furies Cross the Mersey, about the British Invasion of Suffragists to Canada in 1911/12.

It was all a bit of a mess, well, a HUGE mess, and in the 1918 Yearbook of the National Council of Women most of the women's societies agreed to let sleeping dogs lie and avoid re-hashing, in their annual reports, any of the raw emotion, bent logic, viciousness and invective that had characterized the Canadian women's movement the final months of 1917.

The Canadian Suffrage Association, led by Dr. Margaret Gordon, a pacifist, had come out vocally against this limited suffrage ploy of Premier Borden's Union Government.  Dr. Gordon called the Wartime Elections Act 'a  disenfranchisement act.'

So, too,  had the Montreal Suffrage Association, under Carrie Derick, although they were 'warmly in favour of compulsory national service.'

(The MSA was careful not to use the word Conscription in their propaganda.  That was a hot-button word in Quebec.)

 The Montreal Local Council of Women had been greatly divided over this Wartime Elections Act. Their President, Dr. Grace Ritchie England suffered an impeachment hearing over her support of Liberal Sir Wilfrid Laurier in the 1917 election, and for a September, 1917 letter to the Press she co-authored with Mme Dandurand, an elite French woman, calling the Wartime Elections Act 'an insult to women'.

But, you wouldn't know it by the  annual reports filed in 1918 National Council of Women  Yearbook.

Only the National Equal Franchise Union, whose President Constance Hamilton had loudly supported Borden's Union Government and this limited suffrage re-election ploy, made mention of dissent within the ranks over the issue, while claiming that all ended well with everyone coming together in a spirit of patriotism.

(Not true, of course.)

The Montreal Local Council avoided discussing the Conscription Election, focusing, in its report, on its work to care and control (and  put away on special farms) the feeble-minded of society, Carrie Derick's pet project. She was a McGill Botanist/Geneticist and a eugenics evangelist.

In the 1918 report, the Montreal Local Council of Women also mentioned  that they distributed Conscription literature around town, in both languages, at the request of the Federal Government.


By 1918, most women in Canada had won the right to vote federally. This was the silver lining in the dark, undemocratic cloud of the very cynical, anti-Quebec and anti-immigrant Wartime Elections Act, that made hypocrites of so many of the society ladies/social reformers of Canada.

The Montreal Suffrage Association uses the Suffrage Play "How the Vote was Won" as a war fundraiser. Although pledging the MSA to war work almost immediately,"We have been asking for our rights, now it is time to do our duty" in September, 1914, President Carrie Derick never gave up the suffrage cause, putting pressure on Borden in May 1917, demanding the Federal Vote for Women: "We have been doing our duty, now it is time to have our rights." 

She tried to organize a nation-wide deputation to Borden that month, but the PM, at the end of May, suddenly promised all Canadian women the federal vote.

 Then, in September, Borden broke his promise, after receiving 'disturbing intelligence from out West,' revealing that citizens in many constituencies weren't likely to vote along patriotic lines. This according to a representative of the Montreal Suffrage Association. 

Borden's main man, Arthur Meighan, was just as afraid of the anti-war sentiment in Quebec, but Borden couldn't come out and say that. He told  Quebec Suffrage Leaders that he couldn't give ALL Canadian women the vote in 1917 until he changed the laws regarding citizenship for new Canadians. As it stood, a female immigrant was granted Canadian citizenship directly upon marriage to a citizen.

"You don't appreciate the pickle I am in," says Borden to a French suffragist organization in September,1917 defending his Wartime Elections Act that gave only women with men at the Front the right to vote in the December federal election, ensuring that Borden would win the election and that his Conscription Bill would pass.  (He wanted 100,000 conscripts. In 1916 he had asked for 500,000 recruits and the MLCW formally endorsed mandatory overseas service to fill that huge quota, about 1/8th of all the men in Canada!)

Here's a direct translation: "Before women have the vote, we must establish what quality of citizen she is." And some suffragists in Canada bought it. Oy.

Here's the entry for the Canadian Suffrage Association for 1918. It all sounds so very familiar, doesn't it?

CANADIAN SUFFRAGE ASSOCIATION. Margaret Johnston, Recording Secretary.

The many long years of steady educational spade work, together with deputations to Parliament and the bringing of world-famous speakers to Canada by this Association, was undoubtedly the means which resulted in such glorious victories for the cause of Suffrage, as Canada has had during the past two years.

 A movement gathers weight and rapidity, as it grows, and finally it is able to sweep aside obstacles which obstruct its progress, and to "carry on," by its own momentum. The women's suffrage movement has undoubtedly reached the crest of the wave sooner, because of the war, than it might otherwise have done, but had not the foundations been laid secure and sound on the rock bed of Justice, supported by an educated public opinion, no parliamentary action could have taken place.

Naturally, since the war broke out, the energies of the Canadian Suffrage Association had to be diverted into many channels, for it was imperative to loyal citizens that they do patriotic work, both as an Association and as individual members.

 No new Associations, therefore, have been formed since Ontario went "Over the Top" for Suffrage, but we felt that the Rubicon had been crossed, which was soon shown by the Federal Amendment following so quickly in its wake. 

No longer, do we hear the old slogan of Anti-Suffragism, "A woman's place is in the home," for this terrible world war has conclusively proven that "A woman's place is wherever she can be to serve humanity." 

This Association has contributed, through the personal work of its leaders, much that is basic in the making of Democratic opinion in Canada. 

We are too close to the life-work of Dr. Emily Stowe, Dr. Stowe Gullen, Mrs. Flora MacD. Denison, Dr. James L. Hughes and Dr. Margaret Gordon, our five National presidents, to estimate the scope and true value of their work—history will tell the story—but The National Council of Women know the long hard struggle, the many years of intensive work which were necessary, before Woman's Suffrage became a plank in their platform. 

A man-made nation, emphasizing the combative attributes of the male sex and glorying in the ideal of power through might, has launched the human race into a bloody struggle that staggers the imagination, and dazes, almost to madness, the human mind. 

Nations are recognizing that the co-operation of women is necessary, and that the ideal, for which, to-day, the Allies are staking their all, is the same old ideal on which the Women's Suffrage Movement was founded. 

When the Union Government invited many of the representative women to present themselves at Ottawa, to discuss policies for the nation's welfare, our national president. Dr. Margaret Gordon, was asked to represent us. 

(Editor: This is news to me. It is said that 4 leading women, including Mrs. L. A Hamilton of the National Equal Franchise League and Mrs. Torrington of the National Council of Women,visited Borden in Ottawa in early August, 1917. Earlier, he had sent them telegrams, asking them to poll their nation-wide memberships to see if he would win the election if women got the vote. The answer was NO. In my book, I suggest that Mrs. Hamilton, who was convenor for the immigration committee on the National Council of Women, gave Borden the idea of limited suffrage, although Nellie McClung generally gets the credit for this.) 

This notable gathering bore testimony to the truth of the vision of the the pioneers, whose efforts laid the foundation on which has been reared that great modern structure which the President of the United States epitomized when he said, "We must make the world safe for Democracy." 

Though the Canadian Suffrage Association has been in the thick of the fight for over a third of a century, it is not going to rest because of victories won. Our work will not be finished, until women and men, throughout Canada, shall meet on the democratic ground of political equality, for on that foundation, and that only, can a real Democracy be built.

HERE'S a tidbit by Mrs. Torrington from the same yearbook.

The franchise makes women, as they are in the majority, the arbiter of the nation's destiny.

And lest we forget how religious many of these "maternal' reform-minded mostly Presbyterian women were: Mrs. Torrington again.

The future of Canada lies in the home. The victory won on the battlefield must be followed by a realization of the power of consecrated motherhood. To us it is a testing time, and surely there is not a woman to whom war does not bring its problems. Upon woman rests the responsibility, in a great measure, of the development of a higher civilization. Nor is it a time of our personal beliefs or convictions. A writer has said : "The origin of your duties is in God. The definition of your duties is found in His Law. The progressive discovery and the application of His Law is the task of humanity." I am convinced that the solving of the many social problems which we are facing will come through the spiritual touch—our being in touch with the Infinite. 

Read Suzanne Evans' Mother of Martyrs.

War and Spring Cleaning 1917





Here's a bit about Montreal's Edith Wharton, who was a suffragist and suffragette sympathizer back in 1910-1919, but who also supported the very undemocratic Wartimes Election Act of 1917 that gave the vote only to women with men at the Front.

Frances Fenwick Williams was a Montreal author and suffragist who will figure large in my book Service and Disservice about the 1917 Conscription Crisis in Canada - and the iffy involvement of the Canadian suffragist movement.

It's the follow up to Furies Cross the Mersey, about the 1911/12 British Invasion of Suffragettes to Montreal, an invasion Ms. Fenwick Williams helped bring about, I suspect.

I've written about Ms. Williams a lot on this blog. She was clever and nervy - an outlier who was part of the social elite but who made fun of these people in her books.She was the daughter of a Montreal stock market official and from a distinguished Nova Scotia family.

Her second novel, A Soul on Fire was published in 1915 when she sitting on the Executive of Board of Directors of the Montreal Suffrage Association, although she wasn't a social reformer like her co-members.

Frances Fenwick Williams, about 30 years old, was an 'equal rights' suffragist, not a 'maternal' suffragist.

 She was married in 1910  but was estranged from her American husband.

Being married gave FFW the right to be a member of the MSA.  Young single women were not invited into the Montreal suffrage movement. They were too 'excitable.'

FFW was a bit like the famed American author Edith Wharton, if you think about it, but she was not nearly as good a novelist. A critique of her 1915 novel, A Soul on Fire, claimed the characters didn't resemble any  in real life.

Hmm. Ivy Compton Burnett was a Dame Commander of the British Empire, Post-War novelist and member of the Women's Writers Suffrage League.  FFW went to London in 1912 to visit with the suffragettes. And, then, she joined the very 'sane' and 'reasonable' Montreal Suffrage Association, as a kind mole.

FFW liked to give speeches. She was an able debater at the February, 1912 Montreal Suffrage Exhibit. Her speech is in my book Furies Cross the Mersey.

During  the 1917  Conscription Crisis, she was there when Borden needed her, giving a speech in Montreal on the first day of December, a day after riots in Sherbrooke, Quebec among other towns.

Borden deliberately pitted English Quebeckers against French Quebeckers during that year's election.

"I am a suffragist, a socialist and half a soldier," she told the 100 ladies assembled at the 1917 rally. She also said she had no political affiliation but was for the Union government because it was the closest thing you can get to a non-partisan government.

She said anyone against the Union Government and Conscription was a  "Traitor to the Dead."

(Grace Ritchie England, Montreal born President of the Montreal Council of Women, stumped for Sir Wilfrid Laurier and suffered an impeachment hearing in 1918 for her troubles. Sir Wilfrid, as leader of the Opposition, said he'd give women the federal vote in 1916, probably forcing Premier Borden to do the same. He also cautioned that giving women the vote wasn't going to bring about all the good things people thought; nor was it going to bring about all the bad.)

At least FFW wasn't a hyprocrit like so many of the other suffragists during WWI.

In 1913, she wrote a piece in her column The Feminist, called Women and War  stating: "It is generally believed that since women don't take part in military actions that they are opposed to war. It would be a similar thing to say that since men don't take part in Spring Cleaning, that they are opposed to it."

But she also wrote this 1917 war poem that seems to show two enemy soldiers dying together.

Before Verdun
By FRANCES FENWICK WILLIAMS

No prayer can help, no agony atone,
As I came into life I go  - alone!

Another man is lying by my side,
Another, caught in death's fast-brimming tide.

Mine was the hand that struck his life away,
And his the hand that laid me low today.

Yet now, as nearer draws the dreadful end,
He seems to me a brother and a friend.

What is he thinking as his life ebbs fast?
(How lonely each poor soul is at the last!)

If I could hear him speak before he dies I should not feel so desolate,  but he lies,
Silent and spent.

His lips grow slowly white.

I hate to look upon the piteous sight!



(There's more.)

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Matriarchy, Patriarchy, DNA and Family Ties

 My maybe ancestral paper trail.. My Nixon Helmsley Yorkshire line goes back a few generations and then goes 'female', Hannah giving her name to her son Robert. This was often done if the kid wasn't the father's...and Hannah's son marries a woman with unknown father.. 

Well, I had my autosomal DNA done on Ancestry and I constructed a tree, easy to do for the French Canadian side, not so easy for the Northern English side.

Within a month, I had 41 almost-certain matches between DNA and my tree, all French Canadian - and I've only complete 10 lines or so of about 500... if I want to go back to the boat...to the shores of Normandy.

Now, the Drouin records are excellent, so the paper trail is easy, but it also looks like French Canadian girls, these filles de filles de filles de roi, who mostly became farmer's wives, were faithful types.

As for the Yorkshire farmers in my ancestry...

I knew from reading a book called The Edwardians, that in the 18th and 19th centuries a good portion of women were pregnant at marriage, a figure which dropped off to near none in the Edwardian era, where unmarried mothers and illegitimate children were victimized and shunned - to make some kind of point.

Patriarchy appears to be a mere suggestion for these resourceful farming women in the North of England.  They were valued for more than being baby receptacles.

For a farmer to be successful he needed a capable wife. Women had a lot of earning power, apparently, in the pre-industrial economy.

Also, these Northern English people were more superstitious than Southern Britons. They believed tha pregnant women had special powers, so these women were protected from any middle-class-type scorn.


Apparently, if a young woman came home pregnant in Yorkshire, in the good old days, she didn't tell her parents who the father was. The mother merely went out and found a man who would take on the roll.

It all very practical, doesn't it?
*

For Better, For Worse: British Marriages, 1600 to the Present

By John R. Gillis



But, it screws up genealogy,or makes it irrelevant. (One Yorkshire farmboy or another, who cares?) I'm probably never going to find someone attached to both my DNA and my paper trail family tree...
 Cousin, Cousine.... Faithful French Canadian women...This 'cousin' tie goes back to Abraham Martin, L'Ecossais, who owned the Plains of Abraham. He was the ancestral father of many a French Canadian. My mother knew of this sort of famous ancestor, a cousin had done his genealogy the old fashioned way. Whether Abraham was, indeed, Scottish or not is up for debate.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Nixons, Forsters and Border Reiving Ruffians



As a young person in the 60's and 70's, growing up in Montreal, I'd continually be asked, "Are you related to Richard Nixon?"

 I would reply an emphatic "No! I'm English. He's Irish."

That's what my father told me to say.

My British-born father also told me that HIS Nixons were from England and they were sheep stealers.  It all sounded a bit silly to me.

Today, 50 years on, I am engaged in working out my genealogy. I've had my DNA tested at Ancestry and I'm growing a tree on Ancestry.

Seems that my father was right..about the sheep.. possibly about Richard Nixon's Irishness...but not about our ties with Tricky Dickie. 

I've just learned the Nixons of Northumberland, as well as the Forsters of Northumberland (my father's mother is a Forster) are descended from the Border Reivers of the Scottish/English border regions.

Some English Nixons went to Ireland but were kicked out due to bad behavior.

My father, Peter, was born in Kuala Lumpur, to Dorothy Forster, born in Middleton-in-Teesdale, Durham to John Forster, born in Allendale, Northumberland. John was an itinerant Primitive Methodist Minister, changing headquarters every two years, and in 1912 he was posted in the lovely town of Helmsley, Yorkshire. 

Border Reiver alliances were made at that time, because after WWI, Dorothy took a boat to Malaya to join Robert Nixon of Helmsley, Selangor plantation manager, who in 1911 had been working as a footman at Dunscombe Abbey in the area of that pretty market town.

Romanticized image of Border Reiver

As I've written on this blog, my mother is French Canadian and I've found it easy to create her tree because of the fine records kept by the Catholic church and also found in Quebec archives, but the Nixon/Forster trees, well, I'm cutting and pasting them off other trees on Ancestry so, who knows.
I've already got 30 plus French Cousin Connections confirmed on Ancestry. That company is  confident that my 'Genetic Community" is from the French immigrants to the St-Lawrence. LOL. 

 I have proof that four branches of my French Canadian tree, back to 1700 or longer, are genuine, paper to gene.

With my English side, it's impossible to tell.  My father's paternal Nixon line goes FEMALE at 1800, with a man taking his mother's, Hannah Nixon's line.  And there's a Featherstone in the line, where the woman had my ancestor out of wedlock.

(It seems many Nixons married Featherstones in that era.)

I can't prove my English lineage with a DNA cousin tie and probably never will, but I can safely say my father's people were brigands and ruffians and real good horseback riding guerrilla fighters.

If you were on the King's side, you were SIR Ruffian.

Don't blame these people. The area around the English/Scottish border was destroyed by repeated warfare and so not arable. Raiding sheep and cattle was a way to make a living. The exact location of the border was disputed, as well. 

Horse-riding, now that's the part of the story I would have loved back as a child. Galloping over the moors, just imagine!

 The BBC did an expensive series in 1968-69 called the Borderers about these very people. The show is very "Cowboys and Indians" - but also very informative. 

 If the series came to Canada back in 1968, when I was 13, I doubt it would have appealed to me, despite the horses.

The Borderers can be found on YouTube, right now. The show features a young and very handsome Michael Gambon.

You can read more about the Border Reivers and their connection to men in the Nixon Administration here on the Historic UK website. (PS. I don't have to feel so bad. My husband is descended from the MacLeods from Isle of Lewis, just like Donald Trump.)

And, there are tonnes of books about the Border Reivers out there,often featuring colour plates of burly men in armour on beautiful steeds with windswept manes. 

Anyway, I can see from my tree that the Forsters and the Nixons aren't my only Border Reiving relations. There are also Musgraves, Bells and Grahams in my line.  

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Norman Nicholson: An Ordinary Man

Norman Nicholson, my husband's great grandfather liked to keep track of things.  Indeed, that was his one extraordinary trait: He kept track of his every expense, business or household, over five decades.
Balances, inventories, invoices and lists.

From his work: Price of ash for 1899: 8 cents for 12 inch;10 cents for 13 inch; 12 cents for 14 inch.
From his travels: 1913 Trip to Boston to see Grand Lodge: ticket to Montreal, 2.55, street car 05, ticket to Newport, 3.25. Dinner on train .60
From his 1883 ‘dating’ diary: 10 cents for shave and haircut.  15 cents ticket to dance.  5 cents for a peek through a telescope.

He kept all this information in dozens of ledgers, diaries and notebooks and he kept these booklets neatly arranged in a trunk under the window in his daughter's room.

That's how I came to have a  real appreciation for the life of a 1st generation Canadian living in the Eastern Townships of Quebec at the turn of the 20th century.

That's how I've come to understand that my husband's great grandfather, Canadian-born, Canadian schooled  Norman Nicholson, hemlock bark dealer, turkey salesman, Town Public Works Clerk, Inspector for the Transcontinental Railway and The Quebec Streams Commission, was a work-a-day sort, devoted husband to the spirited feminist-minded Margaret McLeod, doting father to three feisty and ambitious daughters Edith, Marion, Flora and one lost soul of a son, Herb.

He was the kind of ordinary man who lives a full life, with all its joys and sorrows and broken dreams, and dies, the memory of him quickly fading to black until, one day, (with any luck at all) a glimmer, as a great great grandson, flipping through the brittle pages of a photo album, points to one particular picture and asks. "Who's this 'sick - looking' dude with the white moustache and beard?" And the boy's middle aged father  leans forward, squints and answers: "Oh, that's Norman Nicholson, your great great grandfather, or at least, I think it is."

"Was he a general or something, too?" the boy asks referring to the man's Masonic regalia.

"No, Norman Nicholson was just an ordinary man."

Ordinary in every possible way.

And with a soft spot for his devoted life-mate.

1911: “I don't want a concrete hall or a little birch canoe;  just want a place with you by the fireside."
See? An ordinary man of conflicting passions, just like you and me, the kind of man who has but one chance to have something flattering written about him and that's at the end of his life:
From the Richmond Guardian June, 1922

The death occurred suddenly last Friday morning  in Montreal of Mr. Norman Nicholson, one of the most respected citizens of this place

And then that's it, finito, no more, except, perhaps, for an epitaph on a tombstone in a far-flung country cemetery no one ever visits.


RIP  Norman Nicholson, my husband's great grandfather.


An oh-so ordinary man, except for this one extraordinary trait, this compulsion to keep track of things, to leave a paper trail for posterity - if mostly in list form.