29 December 2008

Silent Sunday

Latvian Junior Hockey Fans in Halifax, The Coast, May 2008

22 December 2008


Everyone’s doing resolutions. Where does this end-of-year compulsion come from? It must have a history. Uh ... genea-blogger friends ... I was just musing. History condensed to 25 words or less cheerfully accepted :-D

There is probably a genealogy Carnival out there about New Year’s resolutions but I can’t seem to control my blog functions or the carnival requirements. My three Christmas wishes didn't reach its cyber-appointment. That won’t stop me, of course, from a public display of good intentions that undoubtedly look familiar to many genealogists:

Number 1. Say “NO” even more than I vowed (and often contradicted myself) two years ago. Standards and technology in genealogy will continue to evolve nicely without my oar in the water. Organizations, memberships and blogs will thrive without my sticking my nose in. As a self-described eminence grise in a small circle, this is like passing the torch. This is like knowing how to bow out when the time is right.

Number 2. Say “YES” when advice or help is requested and I can specifically offer something. Note the similarity to a notwithstanding clause for Number 1—have I contradicted myself again without remorse? It may also be incumbent on me to be forthright on things genealogical when it really matters. And know when to curb my inner bitch who feeds on sarcasm and satire.

Number 3. Get serious about researching and writing as much family history as I can. A few ancestors before me were interested in their roots, and someone in another generation will take it up. Since I have had training in these skills, it behooves me to leave a written legacy others can build on. I will be dead when they discover how lazy at it I was sometimes.

Number 4. Keep tackling thorny problem-solving issues that come from former clients or family research—great fodder for writing articles. Get it going. Even if the problems aren’t solved yet, put them down in writing and review, research, re-analyze them. Sort the evidence, note the gaps, take more time, reach even farther.

Number 5. Find more camel trips. How inevitable was that. Granted, it won’t be on every genealogist’s list of resolutions but there are hardly enough words to be said for unparalleled vistas, pure air, a magnificent animal and the hospitality of Bedouins. Traipsing in a desert is not totally incompatible with family history. When I think of the connection, you’ll be the first to know. It likely has something to do with adoption.

Strange lady in pink eludes photographer; photo by MAW, October 2008.

Merry Christmas to all who celebrate it, and have fun relaxing over the holidays!

14 December 2008

Genea-bloggers' Christmas Wishes

Here I am, reporting for duty at the genea-bloggers’ 62nd edition of Carnival of Genealogy. The commanding officer is Jasia at Not that I’ve participated much on the parade ground, but what family historian can resist asking three ancestors for a gift? We are cautioned a gift must be material and not wishful thinking for research clues. That will be a considerable challenge.
1. Donald-the-soldier McFadyen, please send every military service paper you ever had. Sorted in chronological order, if it’s not too much trouble. No need for gift wrapping. A few old contemporary newspapers folded around them would do. Preferably you could wrap them in your wife’s shawl for safekeeping in transit to me. The shawl would be a bonus since no-one knows what tartan you wore at home.

2. Grandmother Marija Jurikas Freibergs, you probably don’t know how I, with hindsight, would love to have your garnet earrings (Jurikas posts passim). I adore the dresses you wear in your photographs but they would be a waste because you were 5"1" and I am 5"9". Some genealogists would ask their female ancestors for family recipes, but despite all her skills, Marija couldn’t cook worth a darn and besides, Latvian cuisine has yet to achieve trendy restaurant status. At least not in Toronto.

3. John Dougall, I would be thrilled if your family bible turned up. Your grandson John (1783-1867) kept one from the time of his marriage, so maybe you did too. Maybe a descendant in Scotland has it. Lord knows I wouldn’t want to scoop a family treasure away from someone I haven’t met yet. But how can I know if they appreciate its special value and are taking good care of it? If you could just send their address or GPS coordinates (oops, no modern technology) I’m out the door already.

Possibly I cheated in bypassing Santa and going right to the sources. Those ancestors existed but I’m never sure about Santa.

06 December 2008

My Famous Canadian Ancestor (Not)

The most recent Canadian Genealogy Carnival ( is for “My Famous Canadian Ancestor.” I hope Kathryn doesn’t mind if I mention the one who isn’t ... isn’t my ancestor. He’s famous, but I assert he’s not mine.

This post also comes under the category of a prophet is not without honour save in his own country and similar sentiments. Family historians admire each others' work but sometimes it’s a different matter with family members who cling like limpets to treasured myths. Simon Fraser is one of the barnacles I’ve been trying to excise from the family chronicles.

Simon Fraser was a fur trader and one of Canada’s best-known explorers. A famous river and a famous university in British Columbia are named after him, and no doubt many other things. Simon was born on the eve of the Revolutionary War in New York state in what would become Vermont. His father, also called Simon, died a year later in an American prison for supporting the British forces. The family fled to Canada where in due time Simon joined the North West (Fur Trade) Company, becoming a partner in 1801. In 1805 he was sent west to explore new territory for trading posts and a navigable river to the Pacific coast. It was 1808 when he reached the mouth of the river that bears his name—not without a great deal of adventure and hardship, recorded in his journals.

Map of Fraser river from Vancouver Sun newspaper,, accessed 5 December 2008.
Clashes between the North West Company and the Hudson’s Bay Company led to the disgraceful Seven Oaks massacre in 1816 where the governor of the Red River settlement (Manitoba) and 19 of his men were killed. As representatives of the Nor’Westers in the vicinity, Simon and five other partners were arrested and tried, but acquitted of treason, conspiracy and accessories to murder. Eventually he retired to farm in Cornwall Township among other Highland Loyalist families. The details in Dictionary of Canadian Biography ( are much more edifying than my cursory words.

The family debate? One of my cousins claims Simon as our worthy ancestor. After all, it's good enough for him that we share the same surname and Simon did settle in Canada. Now, I like to think of myself as broad-minded, allowing points for the opposing side. It’s true that Simon’s origins, like ours, were in Inverness-shire, Scotland. Although it wouldn’t surprise me if every Fraser family in the world originated in Inverness-shire. Therefore we could all be related hundreds of year ago to umpteen degrees of kinship.

On the other hand. Simon’s family had arrived in colonial America in 1773. His lineage has been quite well-documented over the years by clan historians and other scholars. They didn’t leave room for a stray John Fraser who was born at about the same time in Scotland and only came to North America in 1807. That was my Inverness-shire John Fraser (my Perthshire John Fraser is so out of this discussion). Also, the name Simon is strewn like confetti throughout the generations of his family’s ancestors and descendants. Names among Simon’s children like Isabella, Catherine, Harriet, William and Simon were not used in my Inverness Fraser line.

But those items are merely a warm-up for my best winning points: Simon Fraser’s family, unlike mine, were consistent Roman Catholics and they were in America as Loyalists during the Revolution. None of that holds water for my cousin. Being a myth buster is a hard row to hoe.