I have a beef, soon to become clear. As this post developed, I thought how much can I condense here and be lucid without tying myself in knots? Thankfully for all of us, I found my way to posing my concern du jour without writing another book on the topic.
The word Loyalist, in Canada’s historical context, refers to United Empire Loyalists. Is there any other such group about which the general public is more confused, if not outright apathetic? Not only that, some of the membership, or would-be membership, in the United Empire Loyalists’ Association of Canada (UELAC) are also guilty of misperceptions. The UELAC does its share of educational outreach but clearly there’s room for more.
United Empire Loyalists were the founders of the provinces of Upper Canada (Ontario) and New Brunswick. Beyond that, their courage and diligence in great adversity were the strong fibre of a renewed British North America. Remember? ... They were the “losers” in the American Revolution (1776-1783), the defeated American colonists, the “migrants” some would call them, the evacuees, who started their lives again from scratch and succeeded.
Enough waving the flag.
So what’s my beef? Well, the UELAC is a hereditary society and so it involves genealogy. Just like the DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution) and the Mayflower Society, if those names are more familiar to you. Genealogists both within and without the society who assist applicants and/or offer services to the public are behoved to understand the contemporary circumstances AND the society’s requirements for (full) membership.
Recently I was appalled to see a statement that a Loyalist had to prove British birth for entitlement to free land in Canada. What is wrong with that egregious statement?
It’s long been known to historians and family historians and others who care (i.e. who read on the topic) that Loyalists came from very diversified backgrounds. All of them had spent time in an American colony before 1776. Some were born in Great Britain. Some were born in Ireland (not deemed as "British"). Many were born in America: generations-old families of New Englanders and colonies further south, descendants of Palatine origin, and old Dutch stock. Some were Québecois. Some were Iroquois Confederacy Indians and even some were slaves of African descent. British birth? Dickswigger me.
The well-intentioned individual was not familiar with very basic Loyalist research. The concern—of course—is that internet surfers with a new interest in family history will swallow such tripe. And probably pass it on to other naïfs. Credit where credit is due: the gaffe is being corrected.
This is but one example of misleading information and statements of dubious worth—an endemic genealogical hazard on the internet. Offering oneself as a family history guru on many resources and countries is a risky business without earned peer recognition. I don’t like to see the efforts of professional educators being undermined but Genealogy Policeman is not a job to which I aspire ... do we need some??
Some readers will be astute enough to notice I addressed merely one element of the offending statement. The bits about “free land” and “in Canada” would have generated much more blogging than you want to read at one go. If this post raises questions about Loyalists among enquiring minds, I could be persuaded to add more commentary. I’m willing to share because I do know a fair amount about this particular subject and earned some recognition for it. I am also on record that I always have more to learn.
 Brenda Dougall Merriman, United Empire Loyalists: Tracing Loyalist Ancestors in Upper Canada (Campbellville, ON: Global Heritage Press, 2006).
Winner of the National Genealogical Society’s 2008 Award for Excellence: Genealogical Methods and Sources.
© Brenda Dougall Merriman, 2011