10 January 2012

Loyalists: Eligibility - Grab the Certificate and Hug It

This is the 5th post in an occasional series about United Empire Loyalists. Part One of eligibility (the ancestor’s) was discussed last month. Part Two is about who qualifies for regular membership in the United Empire Loyalists’ Association of Canada (UELAC). The two parts are intertwined.

They are so intertwined—the second dependent on the first—that this scribe became uncharacteristically verbose. This post right now will continue in the near future. Smaller bites may be more palatable. 

We are more than 200 years down the road from Loyalist days of hardship in new territories of unbroken land. A century after that time, the beginnings of the UELAC were founded. It was 1914 when cohesion took place “to unite together irrespective of creed or political party the descendants of those families who during the American War 1775 to 1783 sacrificed their homes in retaining their loyalty to the British Crown, and to perpetuate their spirit of loyalty to the Empire.[1] You can see the modern mission statement at http://www.uelac.org/about.php.

The UELAC is a hereditary society. It is “an organization dedicated to enriching the lives of Canadians through knowledge of the past, in particular the history of the United Empire Loyalists and their contribution to the development of Canada.”[2] The organization does provide for affiliate and associate members which is not being discussed here.[3] Regular membership requires proving your ancestor was considered a Loyalist in his day, proving your descent from him or her, and swearing an oath of allegiance to the Crown. Presenting credible evidence and proof on your application will result in a certificate attesting to your Loyalist ancestry.

The words “hereditary” and “descent” and “prove” involve genealogy ... naturally! The research tasks of proving are essentially do-it-yourself, unless you hire a professional genealogist. A UELAC branch genealogist—because you must apply through one of its branches—will give you some guidance with your application. The application itself spells out how to proceed.

Today’s world of genealogy represents accelerated research tools, accumulated wisdom, and the evolution of applicable standards. It was not the same back in the 1880s when commemorative societies were being formed, or even in 1914. Grandchildren of Loyalists were still alive, many well into the twentieth century, as was family memory. Applicants for membership merely submitted the relevant ancestor’s name (perhaps the ghost of “everyone knew” was a factor). Not until 1970 did the UELAC establish standard proof requirements and application forms.

The UELAC was not alone in struggling with this situation. Other North American hereditary societies were undergoing the same self-reflective review as time marched on and newer generations had more descendant links to prove. The societies were slow to adapt to research standards promulgated in the wider genealogical community; after all, they didn’t want to discourage new members and offend the old ones.

Even still, the society requirements and submitted evidence may be interpreted differently from branch to branch, and/or possibly rely too much on derivative and hearsay sources. The position of Dominion Genealogist oversees all branch-approved applications for final approval. The bylaws provide for an Investigating Committee, to assist him or her. In practice, it makes sense for discretionary consultation with the relatively few problematic applications that come in—the ones with a weak generational link, or an unconvincing “argument” for identity or relationship from indirect references.

It may take more time again before the UELAC trades in the shop-worn Preponderance of Evidence principle. Aka “balance of probabilities,” it is a borrowed legal term from the fledgling days of raising the critical bar in genealogical and family history studies. It is not a sufficient measure for a proof argument collating indirect evidence. Graduating to the Genealogical Proof Standard would be a progressive step for the society.[4]

The last round of Eligibility continues next time.

[1] “The Founding of the UELAC,” United Empire Loyalists’ Association of Canada, (http://www.uelac.org/UELAC-history/Founding-UELAC.php).
[2] “About the UELAC,” United Empire Loyalists’ Association of Canada, (www.uelac.org/about.php).
[3] Associate members have an abiding interest in the Loyalist period without having a Loyalist ancestor (or are in the process of researching one). Affiliate members have met the proof requirements but cannot swear allegiance to the Queen of Canada (i.e. citizens of another country).
[4] Board for Certification of Genealogists, The BCG Genealogical Standards Manual (Orem, Utah: Ancestry, Inc., 2000), 1-2. See also Merriman, Genealogical Standards of Evidence: A Guide for Family Historians (Toronto: Dundurn Press and The Ontario Genealogical Society, 2010), 38-41.

© Brenda Dougall Merriman, 2012

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