30 January 2010

Sunset Pushkar Camel Fair

Photograph Mary Ann Waring, October 2009.

It's been far too long since we had a camel break. There are other places where life is less complicated.

21 January 2010

Historical Toronto: The Ultimate Map Book

Last September I talked about two old maps of Toronto. Some time later I just happened to be in the neighbourhood of The World’s Biggest Bookstore (that really is its name). If you can call a mile or two being in the neighbourhood. Odd, how the smell of books will lead to automatic detours *~*

A few hours of browsing, salivation, and sheer escapism are just what the doctor ordered. Did anyone ever leave a bookstore empty-handed? With mandatory canvas bag in hand, but never thinking to take a wheelie cart with me, I have to limit my selection each visit to save shoulder sprain (and a certain amount of budget anxiety).

I've recovered and picked myself up after a huge digression on the last post.
My latest treasure from a recent expedition. Derek Hayes is well-known for his marvellous atlases and map books, but this one was new to me. My city! Historical Atlas of Toronto won the Heritage Toronto Award of Excellence in October 2009. Published in hard cover in 2008, it also became available in 2009 in soft cover.

What delights therein, with such rare maps and accompanying commentary. Some publishing blurbs:
Lavishly illustrated with over three hundred maps, this new book charts the evolution of the city from its origins as a Native village to a French trading fort, to York, the capital of Upper Canada, and finally to Toronto, Canada's largest and most diverse city. Packed with archival photos and memorabilia to complement the maps.
* maps by early French traders and military surveyors, including examples from the War of 1812 and the American Civil War period of the 1860s,
* maps of the first surveys that influenced the urban growth of Toronto today,
* maps of railway lines, the Canadian National Exhibition and the fires that wiped out large swaths of the city,
* maps documenting the controversial development of the expressway network, from the 401 to the 407,
* maps showing the growth of suburbia, from postwar projects to recent subdivisions.
Each page is a revelation of new finds. I return to it again and again. How streets changed. How villages evolved, merged, disappeared. How businesses grew and moved. How the waterfront was reshaped. How services were structured.

History. Celebrate! Enjoy!

Derek Hayes, Historical Atlas of Toronto (Toronto: Douglas & McIntyre, 2008). 192 pages. Full colour. 9" x 12" format. Hardcover $49.95, paperback $34.95.

18 January 2010


Do you love maps? I do. I can spend enormous, silly amounts of time staring at them. More time than I waste checking out Facebook :-D Maps hold anticipation, imagination, stories, dreams.

Getting there from here on contemporary road trips is not unlike some genealogical problems. You have to calculate a distant goal with probably some allotted time to complete your assignment (I’m stretching hard here, guys, to make a connection: A to B is not always a straight line).

No GPS system for this navigator; it takes away all the fun of savouring the colourful, hypnotic maps and tangled road lines and making your own route choices. Sitting at breakfast in the small-town café where all the pickup trucks are parked, debating today’s route, is an exhilarating measure of freedom—whether you are a sole driver or have the car packed with kids and assorted relationships. Taking freeways is far too boring. All those villages and towns and cities and special places to see. What will they really look like in 3-D and real time? What kind of people live there? Will I meet some? Do they speak like me or have “accents”? Can we find something in common to talk about? Or will I feel foreign?

A map of North America gives me a retrospective of the 49 American states I’ve seen, the 10 Canadian provinces (and still working on Mexico), a never-ending continent to explore. There! ... once a breakfast in Sweetwater TX, where patrons of the local diner were winding up for the Rattlesnake Festival; lunch on a deck over Chesapeake Bay MD, new to local history; dinner at the Plains Hotel in Cheyenne WY, new cowboy boots satisfactorily in place. ... Er ... not all on the same day, to be sure.

See: Here’s where the car broke down in Arkansas, an unforeseen stay in Bill Clinton’s hometown; there’s where my friend lives on Poor Farm Road in Vermont on Lake Champlain; the unsuspected and exciting gorge of the Saskatchewan River my cousin showed me; that atrocious hardtop from Valladolid to Mérida in the Yucatan, in pursuit of the alluring Gourmet Magazine hotel. How to reach that unique spot on the Bay of Fundy, or Canyon de Chelly, or Lime Rock racetrack in Connecticut which was always around the corner but never quite there like Brigadoon. An endless continent to explore! Snakes Bight NL, Savannah GA, Sturgis SD, I want them all.

Then I can trace all those wine-loving Bourgogne towns from Dijon to Lyon (the caves of Beaune and Mâcon highly recommended); the starkly forested highway from Finland to St Petersburg along which the rurals augment their meagre incomes selling smoked fish, firewood, mushrooms; the biblical sites on one of the Red Sea to Dead Sea routes; the foothills in Rajhastan where scampering monkeys routinely interrupt traffic, slight as it may be.

Of course, historical maps are best of all when ancestors are the great interest. Pre-First World War Eastern Europe. Eighteenth century Scotland. See how the old roads follow the rivers and valleys ... if there are roads. What are the significant geographic features that affected the inhabitants? Depending on what you know about your ancestor and the availability of map scale, are the villages or even farms shown? Are actual buildings of the period shown? Does it give you an inkling of where your ancestor slotted into local surroundings or status or ownership? How close can you get to or guess where country children rambled to play their secret games? Which town was the magnet for farm people heading to marketplace or church? Where was industry developing to pull young people away from the farm?

Whoa ... I began this post intending to convey my excitement about a map book of Toronto. Oh, how I DIGRESS when an ATLAS presents itself! Brenda resumes, after a disciplinary pause.

08 January 2010

Lost Opportunities

Genea-Bloggers, if you have experiences like this, you have my permission to forward or adapt for the miscreant. Just tick the necessary boxes and fill in the blanks. It’s quite acceptable to tick off more than one box in a section.

Dear Cousin ______:

What a thrill it was for me to hear from you, a new relative, via—
□ postal letter
□ email
□ my blog or website
□ telephone

We made a connection thanks to your new interest in family history and definitely have a relationship—
□ 2nd cousins (add “removed” wherever necessary)
□ 3rd cousins
□ 4th cousins
□ half-cousins
□ step-cousins
□ et cetera

I understand the connection because—
□ your brief message connected some missing dots for me
□ I knew your grandparents (aunt, uncle, greats, whatever)
□ we can help each other fill in more blanks
□ I’m not a salesman, scammer, phisher, or otherwise idle person

After I shared my family research on your line—
□ I’ve heard no more from you
□ emails to you bounce back
□ your phone is disconnected
□ I ask myself if you have a website I don’t know about (with my stuff on it now?!)

To be honest, I am wondering if you are avoiding me because—
□ this new family history interest of yours had some ulterior motive
□ you think I’m an intrusive lunatic
□ you didn’t want to know your grandpa was a bigamist
□ twitter is your only sorry way of functioning with your fellow human beings
□ you went bankrupt since I heard from you
□ you are incommunicado in jail

Depending on the possibility of further communication, I am prepared to—
□ make allowances for personal problems
□ never answer you again
□ delete your whole family line of descent from my family history
□ sue your ass off for copyright infringement

With due respect,
______________________ , hardworking family historian

05 January 2010


What could possibly be more Scottish than tartan? (... please don’t call it plaid). Tartan is so identified with a special culture and country. Hasn’t every family of Scottish descent had a moment of wanting to wear/flaunt a tartan? A warm fuzzy feeling of belonging to a grand clan heritage? Or a more atavistic image connecting to bold, boisterous, fearsome warriors?
MacDougall wr567r; courtesy of Scottish Tartans World Register
Nostalgia ruled when I dug my old “Christmas” skirt out of mothballs in the cedar chest to savour the MacDougall tartan. Once it attended a reception for Coline MacDougall of MacDougall, 30th Chief of the Clan. Lately, the zipper has decided it won’t quite close. That made me think fondly of the Hunting Fraser jacket and skirt that I wore to rags as a young teenager.

What is the protocol these days about choosing or wearing a tartan? Is there a protocol? King George III and Queen Victoria did their bit to restore some tartan pride after the crushing defeat of the ’45. For a time there was a notion that we are only entitled to wear “our” clan colours. No doubt those clever little pocket clan books are still being sold—the ones where you looked up your surname to see if it qualified as a clan or a sept!

In their day, I’m sure our ancestors felt no restrictions on their warp and woof, slavishly matching their cloth with their clansmen neighbours. Historian and weavers are thankfully having their say now. There are at least two authoritative-looking websites for searching and learning about tartans: Tartans of Scotland (including "the Scottish Tartans World Register, to bring you the complete Register of all Publicly Known Tartans online, which includes details and images of over 2800 tartans.”) The Scottish Tartans Authority is another, but this site played havoc with my Internet browser so I gave up and used the former. Each site illustrates variations with the sources of their samples from ancient to modern.

Maybe we’ve come full circle. Now you can even have a personal tartan created and woven to order. The RCAF has a familiar one; so does Nova Scotia. There was a recent contest for designing a tartan for the City of London, England. The Isle of Coll was not to be outdone:
Visit Coll: >> “Coll” >> “Coll Tartan.”
The MacDougall search reveals 18 samples. Some of them vary wildly! MacFadyen offers three choices. And out of 22 Fraser designs, not one looked like my old brown hunting pattern! How much fun did you have on the site?
MacFadzean wr744r; courtesy of Scottish Tartans World Register

Did I ask what could be more Scottish than tartan? Don’t get me started on the bagpipes ...