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Article posted: August 20, 2000
Tracing Your 'Uterine' Lines
By: Ryan Taylor, Biography and Archived Articles
New kinds of genealogy appear all the time. More people are interested in family history. Everyone has their own reasons, so they evolve a new approach.
I have noticed one idea which has sprung up in several places at once. It is called uterine or matrilineal genealogy. Instead of going through a father's line (where, presumably, the same name is the common factor), the family is traced from daughter to mother.
In the April-June issue of Saguenayensia, the historical journal of the Saguenay valley in Quebec, there is a matrilineal line of twelve generations compiled by Jean-Guy Beaulieu. It starts with his mother, Rose-Anna Lagacé. As Beaulieu points out, the name changes with every generation in this kind of genealogy.
The oldest female in the list is Marie Rolet, born in Paris in 1602. Her husband was Louis Hébert, regarded as the first pioneer farmer in New France. Many thousands of French Canadian families proudly trace their lineage from Louis Hebert, but I have never before heard anyone refer to being descended from Marie Rolet.
Perhaps this is the reason why uterine lines are growing in popularity. Many women want to recognize their female ancestors in ways they have not been able to before. This is an outgrowth of the feminist movement, of course, but I think that it also points to the fact that much research in the past has neglected the female in our pairs of ancestors.
I was reminded of the pronouncement of Sir Anthony Wagner, a Garter King of Arms in England in the 1950s, whose introductory book on genealogy said that to research any line but the one patrilineal that bore your name was 'whimsical.' This idea is long outdated now.
My old friend Kathleen Barclay Bowley asked me in May why she was not allowed to claim her female ancestor in her United Empire Loyalist descent. I was mystified that she should have any problem in that area. If a family came as loyalists to Upper Canada in the 1780s and were listed in one of the official documents, surely that was fairly clear.
But apparently not. A spokeswoman for the UEL Association says that the government of 1790 gave the grant to the man in the family, so he is a loyalist. His wife is not.
We know that 18th century governments were paternalistic and narrow in this area. Women weren't persons, couldn't vote, couldn't own things. Poor men couldn't vote either, and weren't really persons in the general scheme of things. Do you suppose that the UEL Association wants us to return to this situation again? I doubt it.
In the end I had to tell Bowley that she was probably out of luck. The UEL Association's ideas for membership are stuck in an 18th century timewarp where men count but women don't. In UEL families, the man does the work (inside the house and out), has the children, builds the barn, weaves the clothing. The woman is merely a decoration.
Fortunately the rest of the world has realized that women have always contributed as much to families as men. Our ancestors' ideas may have been different from ours, but their marital partnerships functioned as two people yoked together, working for the good of all.
I tried out a uterine genealogy for my own family. I used my cousin, Dayle Forderer of Port Perry, since I could go back from her to our grandmother. I could only do seven generations.
Jean-Guy Beaulieu could manage twelve, and made it fourteen when he included his sisters and their daughters. It is an interesting exercise, which gives us a new view of our family. Try it yourself.
Ryan's Heritage Notebook:
Wellington County History
Wellington County History, the annual journal from the Wellington County (Ontario, Canada) Historical Society, has a number of interesting articles in this year's issue.
It starts with looks at two painted houses,one in Drayton and another in Mount Forest. The McWilliam house in Drayton is famous for its beautiful hallway and KW artist and author Nancy Lou Patterson puts it in the context of other wall paintings in houses at Listowel, Stratford and Baden.
Many of the wall paintings were the work of itinerant painters who travelled about, doing a little work here and a little there. Many of the paintings have not survived because nature is not kind to paint on walls, and older houses have a tendency to be demolished or remodelled.
Ross Fair looks at John McDonald's experiences in surveying the Owen Sound Road as it ran through Arthur township. He was dealing with swampy ground, as so many road builders had to do in our area. Can we imagine a group of men, armed with poles and chains for measuring, moving through the uncut forest trying to determine the best place to put a road? It does put today's city dwellers, who insist on using the car when going two blocks to the store, in some perspective.
Other topics include hockey star Bucko McDonald, runner Tom Longboat, Fergus' brass band and a fine example of women's history on the importance of preserving food in summer for winter feasting. This time of year--high summer--was the busiest for housewives in the past, as they took the produce of their garden and put it up in jars for later use.
Individual copies of Wellington County History are $10 from the society or at the shop at the Wellington County Museum. Memberships ($15) include a copy of the journal. You can reach the society at Box 5, Fergus N1M 2W7.
The Quebec City Gazette
The Quebec City Gazette was a newspaper which flourished at the time many emigrants were heading for Ontario. The paper had a wide circulation in Ontario and the deaths and marriages announced in it contain farflung names. The Quebec Family History Society has published a volume of marriages and avolume of deaths covering the 1840s and 1850s. You might want to check to see if any of your relations happen to appear there.
Chinese Family History
Chinese genealogy has its own interest because many families in China have records that go back centuries. A new book lists resources for finding these collections. It is called In Search of Your Asian Roots: Genealogical Research on Chinese Surnames, by Sheau-yueh J. Chao. Each family name is given a brief history. The text is partially in Chinese, mostly in English.
Diary Of An Ancestor
Frances Hoffman of West Montrose was visiting with Anna Wilson, an old friend, this past week. Anna said she was thinking of taking Dr Ken McLaughlin's genealogy course at the University of Waterloo, because she had a growing interest in her ancestors.
A distant grandfather, Joseph Wilson of Guysborough, Yorkshire, came to Canada with his sons. As Anna talked about Joseph, Frances felt that it all sounded very familiar.
She looked in the book that she and I published last spring, Across the Waters, and found that Joseph was one of the diarists we quoted there. She had no idea that he was Anna's ancestor. Imagine Anna's excitement when Frances went to her basement files and came back with a copy of Joseph's diary for her to read.
This kind of serendipity seems to happen all the time in genealogical circles, and especially to Frances. It also gave both authors a very good feeling to meet a descendant of one of 'our' diarists.
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