Monday, April 27, 2015

Am I Descended From a Loyalist?

One question that is periodically brought in the various Canadian related genealogy Facebook groups is "How do I know if I'm a related to a Loyalist?". Often that question surfaces due to a family tale being passed down through the generations. Unfortunately, like many genealogy related questions, there is no easy answer to that question. Instead we need to rely on our research skills and methodologies to work through the problem.

First we need to agree upon a definition of a Loyalist. In this case I refer you to the general guidelines published on the web site of the United Empire Loyalists' Association of Canada for their definition:
  • Either male or female, as of 19 April 1775, a resident of the American colonies, and joined the Royal Standard prior to the Treaty of Separation of 1783, or otherwise demonstrated loyalty to the Crown, and settled in territory remaining under the rule of the Crown; or
  • a soldier who served in an American Loyalist Regiment and was disbanded in Canada; or
  • a member of the Six Nations of either the Grand River or the Bay of Quinte Reserve who is descended from one whose migration was similar to that of other Loyalists.

This typically means that a soldier that was born in the United Kingdom and joined the military in the UK and then fought in the Revolutionary War in British North America is not considered a Loyalist.

The starting place is to work back in the family tree until we get to someone born in the late 1700s or early 1800s. That person may be a son or daughter of a Loyalist. Yet we still have one more generation to get back to ... their parents. If we can get back that far then the next challenge appears: proving that they are Loyalists. So what resources can you use to help you out?

  • Census Records (may state "Loyalist")
  • Land Records such as petitions and deed may state UEL1, SOL2, DOL3
  • Military records such as nominal rolls, pension records and applications
  • Government publications especially those lists compiled from lists from the above sources
  • Books on the history of military regiments and Loyalists
Don't forget about the Loyalist Directory found on the UELAC web site. There you may find a listing of known Loyalists and possibly even the completed certificate application to be recognized by UELAC as a descendant of a Loyalist.

Many of those resources above may not be online so a visit to your local archive or library may be in order. If an Interlibrary Loan isn't possible then you may even need to plan a genealogy vacation to visit a national or provincial archive in order to review the documents. However, there are many online resources to be found. For a list of those sites and collections that I commonly use in my own research see my post from December 2014 titled "Online Resources for Your Loyalist Research Project".

1. UEL: United Empire Loyalist
2. SOL: Son of a Loyalist
3. DOL: Daughter of a Loyalist

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

In Honour of Samuel McKinlay

A hundred years ago today or tomorrow, the date is a little uncertain, my grand-uncle Samuel McKinlay, like many others during the First World War, gave his life in the service of his country. The only picture I have of Samuel McKinlay, Jr. as an adult is that of the eldest sons found in the "The McKinlay Family" article by Bill McKinlay in A History of North Monaghan Township, 1817-1989 (Samuel Jr. is circled in red).

McKinlay, Bill. "The McKinlay Family." The North Monaghan Historical Research Committee, editor, A History of North Monaghan Township, 1817-1989. Canada: The North Monaghan Historical Research Committee, 1990. p. 99.
McKinlay, Bill. "The McKinlay Family." The North Monaghan Historical Research Committee, editor, A History of North Monaghan Township, 1817-1989. Canada: The North Monaghan Historical Research Committee, 1990. p. 99.
In a situation seen across Canada several of the McKinlay sons enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force. Unfortunately for Samuel he was the only one that didn't make it back home.

Sometime between April 22nd and 23rd, 1915 he was killed when the Canadians were brought up to fill the gap due to the lines collapsing during the Ypres Gas Attack.

So for all those that went off to fight for their country, regardless of the nation they were fighting for, yet never came home thank you for your sacrifice. For all those that have served or are still serving their country, thank you for your service.

In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
- John McCrae1

1. John McCrae, In Flanders Fields and Other Poems. Edited by Sir Andrew Macphail, Toronto, Briggs, 1919.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Some Lessons Learned from WDYTYA

Out of the several current television shows with a primary focus on genealogy1 I find that TLC's Who Do You Thing You Are?2 is the most interesting to me. Much like the Canadian History Channel's earlier Ancestors in the Attic you get to follow the trail of research and learn about some of the resources used. Unlike Ancestors in the Attic where they helped the average person, WDYTYA focuses on a family branch or two of a celebrity. Now the celebrity focus really doesn't matter to me. What matters to me is that they show some of the the leg work and also keep the brick and mortar buildings in the forefront of their research toolkit.

Of course with only an hour of time, including commercials, the other 999+ hours of behind the scenes efforts of the researchers, archivists, and librarians are often glossed over or presented as a fait accompli. Yet we as the family historians often do the same when we give the 50 page descendants report to a family member. They don't realize the time and effort taken to find, analyze, and compile the information into something that is readable.

Another thing I enjoy about WDYTYA is reading the tweets of many of my fellow genealogists while the show is taking place. Even without a Twitter account you can follow the #WDYTYA hashtag in real time while the show is on or even go back and look at older posts.

So here are just some of my thoughts and lessons learn over the past several years of watching Who Do You Think You Are? I find myself repeating many of them when I live tweet during the East Coast broadcast.

It comes down to perspective. A person's motives are always complex. It is rare you find a truly good or evil person. What a person does in the past needs to be judged based on that time and not through your own personal bias.

Since our ancestors were either willing or unwilling participants in events you need to learn about the times they lived in. Why would a 15 year old become an indentured servant? Could it be that that was the price to pay for their passage to get away from a land struck with famine and poverty?

Something to keep in mind when researching: most documents aren't online, indexed, or digitized. WDYTYA does a great job in keeping idea this in the forefront. They may start with visiting but more often than not the celebrity ends up at a library or archive to find the actual document that connects them to the ancestor.

Before it is too late ask your living relatives about their life, their experiences, and what they remember about their ancestors. Often the starting place for the show is a visit to a relative to learn what they know or have in their possession. Sometimes the celebrity will express remorse that they didn't ask their parents or grandparents those all so important family history questions.

Many of the newspapers of the past had a very visible political bent. Keep that perspective in mind when reading those papers. Much like the political bent of some of the news broadcasts on television today the newspapers of the past were often also platforms for the political views of the owners and editors. If an article is talking about your ancestor in a glowing positive way or vilifying them check to see what the viewpoint is of the editor. If your ancestor was a Whig and the newspaper was owned by a Tory then their might be some bias in the words used to describe your ancestor.

Before visiting an archive you may want to contact them 1st to order the files. It may take a day or so to get them from the vaults. This is a very important detail to remember. When I visit Library and Archives Canada I see this often. Many times it is a visitor from out of town that comes by with only a day available to do research. However, because they didn't pre-order the material that is held in the vaults at the Preservation Centre in Gatineau they go away disappointed that they couldn't see the document immediately.

When doing US genealogy research make sure you know when the states formed & when the various borders changed (state/county). This not only applies to the United States of America but to any country. Why is this important? When borders change the documents stored in court houses and archives aren't picked up lock, stock, and barrel and shipped to the jurisdiction of the county, state, or country where the place now falls under. The files just stay where they are. So you need to learn about the border changes so you know where to look for that key document.

Remember to record the various spelling of the names of your ancestors. When searching records use those spellings in your searches. How we spell our surname right now isn't necessarily how it was spelled in the past (or even by future generations). Depending on who was recording the information it might not even be your ancestor that was doing the spelling. It could have been a town clerk or clergy member and they spelled the name as they heard it. Is the name spelled Houghten, Haughten, or Hutten?3

Always read the source details when looking at those index records. What is extracted is often only a portion of the full document! An index just provides enough information to allow you to find a person in the collection. What is often missing from the index are the details to confirm that the record really does apply to your ancestor. Always go to the document in question to read and analyze the contents before jumping to any conclusion.

Often the stops along the journey into your ancestors' past brings more joy than finally reaching your genealogy research goal. To aid in our research we should always set a goal. It helps us keep focused and keeps us from being distracted by the BSOs4 we come across. However, during this journey we should also stop and reflect on what we have discovered.

When doing your genealogy research you need to leave present day ethics aside & consider the events in the times they occurred. If you have a well off ancestor that lived in the southern United States in the early 1800s then expect to find that they may have owned slaves. It was just a normal part of their existence. Maybe you have an ancestor that fought in World War II for the Germans. That doesn't mean he was a Nazi but it could just be that he was fighting for his fatherland. Look at the situation through the eyes of those living at that time and don't be so quick to judge their actions.

So set aside some time on Sunday night at 10 pm to watch Who Do You Think You Are? on TLC and follow the live tweets (#WDYTYA) or catch up on the various US, UK, and Australian episodes on YouTube. You might just learn about some unknown resource or some interesting history.

1. PBS's The Genealogy Road Show, PBS's Finding Your Roots, and TLC's Who Do You Think You Are?
2. Often abbreviated as WDYTYA.
3. This was a real life challenge for me. The last various was a phonetic spelling found in the census.
4. BSO - Bright Shiny Object. Those records we stumble upon that drag us away from our current research goal.