Archive for September, 2012

Today marks 107 years since Dr. Barnardo died. I’ve found in my genealogy research that there seem to be two sorts of researchers – those that know a lot about British home children and those that don’t even really know the term. For those that don’t know, a plan was created that had the dual goals of giving British children new lives in new lands and (not coincidentally) removing them from Britain. They weren’t solely orphans, but also children who had been removed from their family homes for whatever reason. The contemporaneous literature is fascinating to read from a social history perspective, as it (for example) portrays Canada as a land free of the cholera that had been ravaging many parts of England. Canada did, of course, have cholera, but it and the other destinations for home children – the other most common one being Australia – were seen as places where children would start over in a physically and psychologically clean environment, away from physical diseases and what was seen as the moral disease of poverty. Dr. Barnardo, mentioned in the first sentence, was one of the chief proponents of this plan.

My great-great-great-grandparents James and Henrietta (Burch/Burtch/Birtch) Brown were farmers and extremely religious Baptists in rural Ontario, Canada. James’s father, uncles, and aunt had been some of the principal people involved in establishing a local Baptist church in their rural area. James and Henrietta raised six biological children to adulthood. After the last one left home, they adopted a home child. I suspect that their religious beliefs were part of the impetus to them, but that’s just speculation. They adopted Louisa Cligg/Clegg, who had come over on the Parisian with her sister, Elizabeth. Louisa and Elizabeth had been brought over by Miss Annie MacPherson, one of the other major players in the home child movement besides Dr. Barnardo. As was standard at the time, Louisa and Elizabeth lived in Miss MacPherson’s Stratford, Ontario, group home until placements were found for them.

Louisa Cligg

A young Louisa Cligg on the Browns’ farm in Ontario, Canada; scan from Janis. I know from seeing a photocopy of another copy that originally this was a portrait of her with her adoptive parents.

At age 10, Louisa was very lucky to be just below the cut-off point for adoption. Elizabeth, age 12, was not so lucky; 12 was considered a fine age to be working, and she was sent to another household to work as their youngest servant. I have no evidence that Louisa and Elizabeth ever saw each other again, though I certainly hope for their sakes that they did. I’ve tried to imagine what it would have been like to come from an urban environment in England – one adult record indicates Louisa was born in London – to a rural Ontario farm to live with two fairly elderly farmers, and I really just can’t even conceptualize what a shock it would have been. On the census where they were living together, Louisa is recorded as James and Henrietta’s “adopted daughter.” I don’t know if that was James and Henrietta’s term or if, being in such a small community, the enumerator knew the story and it was their choice to term it that way.

While the young children were technically supposed to be treated as adopted sons & daughters, many of them were really treated as free labor, especially on farms, and there was very little oversight of the children’s welfare after they were sent out as adopted children or workers, so abuse was also fairly common. I can’t say for sure what Louisa’s life was like with the Browns, but as an adult she gave two of her own children their first names as middle names, so hopefully that means that she at least had some good experiences living with them. Louisa married young. Since Canada has a 100-year disclosure policy for many of its records, much of what I know of the rest of her life is through having located one of her descendants, so I won’t share that here. I still don’t know when or where she died, but hope to find that last piece of the puzzle someday.

Some Starter Links for British Home Children

Read Full Post »

I have been buying homemade-style pasta from local pasta makers for a while. Yesterday I cooked some for a meal and got to wondering about when it would have become common for the folks in my tree to begin eating it. That’s such a broad question – I had folks flung all over – that when I began trying to answer the question, I narrowed it down to when it became commonplace in the States. Sifting through search results, I read this article, The History of Pasta. Among other things, it states:

As other pasta factories sprouted up, the cost of pasta became more affordable. By the time of the Civil War (1861 to 1865), even the working classes could afford a pasta dinner. Cookbooks of the period indicate that the common way to prepare pasta was still baked with cheese and cream.

  • In the mid-1880s, according to food historian Karen Hess, cookbooks published as far west as Kansas included recipes for macaroni, some involving a tomato and meat sauce.

Now, I am not a food historian, nor an expert on the history of food. I write articles about the history of vegetables and herbs, but I am well-aware that’s not the same thing. So I am not completely sure how accurate this article and others I have read in my background research are. But one thing I can say for sure is that as a social historian, I find the best way to find out about the past is to go to sources from it. So I cracked open my copy of The “Sunlight” Almanac for 1896: A Home Treasury of Information for the Use of All Members of a Household (New York: Lever Brothers, Limited, 1896), and turned to the recipe subsection of the “Home Management” section. The pasta dish I found was macaroni and cheese, or as the almanac’s unnamed author(s) called it, “Macaroni Cheese.” The most interesting thing, to me, is that it is categorized in the “Sweets” portion, as is the recipe for an omelet that immediately follows it; the two recipes are stuck in amongst fruit desserts, “casserole of rice,” cheese straws, and similar recipes. The recipe is written in the paragraph style that was common of the time period:

Macaroni Cheese.

Required–1/4 lb. macaroni, 3 oz. cheese, 1 oz. butter, a cupful of bread-crumbs, cayenne and salt.

Break the macaroni into small pieces, boil in water till tender, then strain. Melt the cheese and butter together. Butter a dish, cover with crumbs, put in the macaroni with a good seasoning, pour over the melted cheese and butter, then a layer of crumbs and some small pieces of butter on the top, and bake in a hot oven till brown. (p. 258)

Earlier this year I had macaroni and cheese at a pretty upscale restaurant, and their preparation appeared to be pretty much the same as this recipe from over a century ago, minus the need to break the macaroni into small pieces before cooking.

The question, as always, is – this recipe was available to my American folks, but did they actually use it? As social historians, we can say what is likely or possible, but without something specific tying a particular activity to our research subject, we cannot state with certainty that it actually occurred. My great-grandmother, a new mother in 1896, may have made macaroni and cheese as a sweet treat for her family. Or maybe she didn’t.

Read Full Post »

In my previous post I discussed using information I found on the 1940 US federal census to successfully trace a living cousin. I was deliberately vague to avoid revealing information about living relatives in a public blog post. I was very lucky in this particular case because my cousin’s first name and married surname are, as far as I can find, a unique combination in the US. But it is possible to trace down to a living relative even when it isn’t comparably easy.

One of my primary tools, about which I learned when I took Boston University’s Genealogical Research Certificate program, is Veromi.net. There are a number of other tracking sites out there, but I started out with that one and I’ve continued to use it, partly because it has a section that it calls “Possible Associates,” “Associated Names,” etc. While those that do things like heir tracking for a living will often pay to use the subscriber sections of the site, for my purposes I simply cull information from the free portions.

I will start out searching the entire country and see how common the first and last name combination are. If they are common, I will narrow it to the last state that was listed for the person on the records I have, though I remain aware that it is possible they are no longer living in that state. If a hit looks like a possible match, I will take any associated names and plug them back into genealogical databases and see what I find. I have sometimes been able to confirm I have found the correct person solely using records I find via the associated names. Similarly, I have sometimes been able to rule out that it is the correct person solely using associated name records. I also search newspaper databases and search engines to see what comes up.

Once I have a best candidate, I will look them up in online directories. Even if I find a phone number, I typically write them a letter instead, because I feel that it’s a better way to allow them time to digest the information and decide how they want to respond. Many have been returned to me unopened. Some other folks have responded via snailmail that they are sorry but they are not the person I am seeking. Sometimes I never get an answer and have no idea whether it reached the final destination and the person wasn’t interested, or whether it never got there. All of this is absolutely worthwhile for the cases like the one I posted yesterday, where I am able to connect with a living descendant of the other line.

Read Full Post »

Like most genealogists, I often write about the dead here. But one of my primary goals in my personal family history is to trace other lines down to living relatives. I’ve done so quite improbably sometimes, mostly through finding another researcher who’s researching the same line, such as another woman who descends from my sixth-great-grandparents. She turned out to be visiting my area shortly after I contacted her, and we met for coffee and research chat, and it was quite lovely. But I don’t know as I ever would have found her if she hadn’t also been researching the family.

But then there are the people who aren’t researching at all. My great-grandfather’s little brother had two families. After his first wife died in childbirth, he left the area where he’d been living, and his children stayed behind. My great-grandfather never mentioned this brother to his family, and his grandchildren had no idea that the brother had still been alive when they reached adulthood until I began doing genealogy research. Since discovering this, I have hoped to trace a descendant of the first family, particularly of the little boy who was not adopted by an outside family as the baby had been, but rather raised by relatives who lived in the area. (I was lucky; I found an obituary for the baby that included both the biological parents and the adoptive parents, so I knew what had happened to the baby over the course of its life.)

Slowly I have pieced together his life over the course of my genealogy research. The 1940 US federal census, released earlier this year, provided a new piece of the puzzle. He and the wife I’d previously found had divorced between 1930 and 1940, and he had a new wife and a new young child that appeared to be born to that wife. Using vital record indexes, I found that the then-child has already died, but I also found the index to the child’s birth record, which included the mother’s maiden name. With that information, I was able to find another child born to the same couple.

And that child is still alive.

I didn’t know for sure that she was; I did searches online and confirmed that she had fairly recently been alive, and got an address from an online directory. I wrote a snailmail letter to her, with no idea if it would reach its final destination – no idea whether she is still alive, and no idea whether the address was current even if she is still alive. Fairly often these letters don’t reach the person I’m trying to contact, but I figure it is worth the stamp and short amount of time it takes me to write them on the off chance that they will. As with letters to repositories, I always include my email address and phone number so that the person can contact me whatever way they prefer.

I had no idea whether the letter had ever arrived when one day I got a phone call from her. She left voicemail that she had received my letter and was very interested to talk to me about the information in it. After some phone tag eventually we were able to talk on the phone. It turned out that her grandfather (my great-grandfather’s brother) had never mentioned having any brothers to her. The only genealogy research she’d ever reviewed was her late aunt’s research, which she said consisted mostly of charts. She asked me to send her photos and some of my family history research, and I obliged.

I’m so happy to have found a “new” cousin.

Read Full Post »