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Article posted: March 17, 1999
Tenants No More: Voices from an Irish Townland 1811-1901
By: Ryan Taylor, Biography and Archived Articles
One of the great pleasures of reading original emigrants' documentsletters and diariesis that you can hear their voices telling you the stories. It is the most intimate way to experience history.
A new book opens the door on one Irish townland, Gurteen in Kings County (now Offaly) in the first half of the 19th century. A packet of diaries written in Ireland were carried to Australia and have survived to become the basis of Tenants No More: Voices from an Irish Townland 1811-1901 and the Great Migration to Australia and America, by P. Frazer Simons.
The Clay family had members in both the United States and behind in Ireland, so they wrote a great many letters. These, with the diaries, make a long book detailing their experiences as emigrants and then pioneer settlers.
It may be that you have no connections with Gurteen, or even Ireland, but the size of this collection of original materials gives a more detailed picture of one family's life than we can usually find, especially at this end of the social scale. There are letters written from Ireland to the emigrants as well as far-flung relations sending news back home.
Simons is an Australian academic and he has spent a great deal of effort in reconstructing Gurteen, not only in words but also in vivid line drawings, so that those who might want to learn what an Irish village looked like in their ancestors' day have only to open Tenants No More.
This is the kind of book that need not be read in its entirety. It invites you to dip in (but I suspect few will be happy to read only one or two letters and then stop). The people quickly come alive. One of the most interesting aspects of the letters is the agitation by individuals who want to emigrate, concerning where to go and when, and those who do not, or who think that one of the prospective countries is better than another. It is fascinating to see the process by which people made their decisions, and to think that most of our emigrant ancestors probably went through similar agonies.
Tenants No More is published by Prowling Tiger Press, 119 Cremorne Street, Richmond, Victoria, Australia 3121 (fax 03-9427-7338). I have not been able to find a website for this publisher. It is possible that a bookseller in Canada or the United States handles this title also.
National Archives Website
The pre-1850 passenger and immigrant lists at the National Archives of Canada can now be accessed free of charge at http://www.ingeneas.com/free/main.html. It is a very simple listing to use and helps bring the limited number of early lists right into our homes. The period covered is 1801-1849, and most of the immigrants listed are from Great Britain and Ireland.
World War I
Some time ago I wrote about a query from Karen Russell of Peterborough, who wanted to know how to find out more about the circumstances of her great-uncle's death in World War I. I suggested she contact his regiment, which might have an archives.
Karen recently wrote to me to say that her search was very successful. The regimental archives directed her to the National Archives of Canada, where the field diaries of the Canadian Light Horse are available on microfilm.
Field diaries are the actual reports written by officers each day for the benefit of senior officers, who kept well away from the fighting and needed information so they could direct the troops' movements. These diaries describe the military actions in detail, and include many names.
Alex Hastie was one of a patrol of five men sent out on 9 August 1918 to carry a message to another unit. They were attacked by a troop of Germans, but they were able to capture most of them. Another group of Germans then advanced on them, and the little patrol retreated. The diary says, "Heavy rifle and M.G. fire was opened on us from the trenches, so we seized the lead horses and rushed them toward our own lines. The Enemy advanced some machine guns within 400 yards and as I realized there was no chance of getting the convoy clear, I shot some of the horses and rushed my prisoners into the trench as a body of enemy were advancing with the intention of cutting us off." Two of the five men died in the retreat, including Alex Hastie.
The vivid account of the day, written by Lieut. F.A. Taylor, will be a treasured part of Karen's family history.
If you wish to locate diaries connected with members of your family, you should look for Canadian War Records office War Diaries (RG9, III-D-3) at the National Archives. It is possible the microfilm you want may be available on interlibrary loan.
The website of the National Archives can be found at http://www.archives.ca. On the third page, you will find a section on military records.
ACROSS THE WATERS - Available March 22
One of the reason for doing genealogy is to see how our ancestors lived. The most dramatic experience was emigrating across the ocean, but how much do we know about what it was like? It would be terrific to hear an actual emigrant describe the trip.
Across the Waters: Ontario Immigrants' Experiences, 1820-1850
by Frances Hoffman and Ryan Taylor gathers together selections from firsthand accounts so that today's readers can discover what it meant to be a pioneer in Ontario. From the day they decided to strike off across the Atlantic to the first harvest in their own clearing, the settlers will tell you about the seasickness, the quarantine station, the mosquitoes--the fish you could scoop out of streams with your bare hands, the pride of owning your own land and the joys of helping one another build a house.
Hoffman's and Taylor's previous book, Much to be Done, gave diarists from the Victorian era the chance to tell us about their lives. Their new book offers the same opportunity to those diarists' parents and grandparents.
Across the Waters: Ontario Immigrants' Experiences, 1820-1850 has been printed and will be ready to start shipping the week of March 22, 1999. Available in both softcover and hard cover (library binding) versions. more information.
Avoiding UFOs (Unidentified Family Origins)
Barbara Renick's talk at the 1999 GENTECH conference in January concerned evaluation of information in genealogical software. She called the talk "Avoiding UFOs (Unidentified Family Origins)".
Her concern was that people might record information without noting where it came from. You should be able to establish the Five Ws for every item, she said. These are: who was involved, what the event was, when it happened, where and why you reached the conclusion you did from it.
A couple of months back a cousin of mine in Saskatchewan found some of my genealogical information on the Broderbund website. She tracked me down and we have happily linked up for genealogical purposes with several other cousins. We are fairly distantly related, our common ancestor having been born in 1755.
I sent a poster-sized seven generation chart to these cousins and one of them wrote back asking me why I came to the conclusions I did about the first and second generations. This is the Why which Renick mentions. There is no room on a poster to include the explanations and background, but fortunately I had done my homework or it would have been embarassing.
When you find a new ancestor, do you always stop to think about why you know that he or she is related to you? It is a good idea to do this.
In my case, I had included two sons in a family born in the 1730s in Oxfordshire, England, although we do not have birth documents for them. I based this on the church records for this parish, where the family name begins with the father in this group. Before this, there are no others of the name there.
This family was employed by the Churchills, dukes of Marlborough and ancestors of Sir Winston Churchill. They seem to have come to the village at the time the Churchills built their palace nearby, and continued to work for them. In fact, my grandfather was named for Sir Winston's father, Randolph.
We suspect that if the Churchill family archives at Blenheim Palace has documents about their workforce which goes back to the 18th century, we will find out more about our ancestors in it. We are going to write to the current duke to ask about this.
The more I thought about it, the less I liked my conclusions about the two boys who have no birth records. I had done this work twenty years ago, when I knew much less than I do now about genealogy. It is time to reconsider whether we can honestly keep them on the family sheets or put them in a new box marked 'questionable'.
Most of us would have known about the first four of Barbara Renick's Ws. The fifth one, why, should not be neglected.
Ryan's Heritage Notebook...
LDS Website Update
My column on the coming Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints website provoked a great deal of comment. Some people wanted to point out that the data on the CDs offered for sale was material which is not currently in the International Genealogical Index or other Family Search files. I do not know if this is true, but several people told me so. Certainly the CDs are not exhaustive sources for the areas they cover. Before you buy, be aware of what exactly is on the disk.
Also, I would like to point out that the LDS website is not yet available, it is being planned. The original starting date of early March has been delayed. The plan was to have a beta-test of the material for a short time, then do some revisions before launching the site in the summer. Reactions from the public (who were much more enthusiastic than expected) have caused the beta-test to be delayed. I will keep you informed
Books By Ryan Taylor
Across The Waters, Ontario Immigrants Experiences 1820 - 1850 - by Frances Hoffman & Ryan Taylor, 1999. Riveting first-hand accounts of the immigration and settlement experience, taken from the diaries and letters of 150 immigrants.
Routes To Roots, The Best of Ryan Taylor's columns from the Kitchener Waterloo Record, by Ryan Taylor 1997
More Family History Research Resources