13 July 2014

Silent Sundays

Basque whalers' graves, Saddle Island, Newfoundland
Photo: CBM

08 July 2014

The Book of Me (15)

Lately it's becoming a struggle to answer the prompts. That may be part of a general genealogy research-and-writing block, including but not limited to a lack of (what I consider necessary) lightness for the me business.

I began this:

Handwriting (Prompt 42)

Paraphrasing: Add to your Book of Me an example of your handwriting. Share some examples from your family and/or ancestors. Has your handwriting changed over time? Perhaps include some samples of younger generations?
Remember airmail letters?

Hmmmmm. To extend Julie's thoughts, our born-in-the-1900s generations take/took it for granted that we can write manually ― because we now have universal education, at least in the basics of reading, writing, and 'rithmetic. Pupils were encouraged to emulate the perfect, precise script of the alphabet that the teacher prominently displayed on the blackboard (do they still have blackboards?).

The learning of handwriting was not particularly a priority for our more distant ancestors. Nor may it be in the future for our new "digital age" generations. There's a distinct whine going on now that, come the fast-approaching future, allegedly-educated human beings will have lost the skill (and the will) to write by hand. Our babes of the hand-held devices and glowing screens communicate socially almost at the speed of light and tiny keyboards have perforce created their own short-form language. What that means for their future employment and career activities, I have no idea. I think I will step around that kettle of fish while the stepping is still fairly navigable. Serious thought finished.

Then I rifled through old files for what seemed like hours to find some handwriting samples, thinking of foreign-born ancestors schooled in a different writing style, or some of my correspondents with elegant script. You know what happened! I got distracted into sorting out things that needed sorting; I got sidetracked down memory lane. Scraps of paper from children learning to write; Grandpa's thoughts in a shaky hand that deteriorated so much with age; the beautifully rounded writing of a cousin, the one who took her own life at the age of thirty-six.

Meanwhile. Genealogy blogging languishes with half-finished posts and half-baked ideas. Does this happen every summer? Maybe I'm not alone. To be honest, I spend more time on my other blog: CamelDabble TravelBabble. The camels are not shy about demanding equal time. Along with other travel tales.

The Book of Me ― Prompts 43 + ― is in suspension for the time being. Bits and pieces to appear here until I get my mojo back.

© 2014 Brenda Dougall Merriman. All rights reserved.


18 June 2014

Wordless Wednesday

Historic Birchtown Cemetery, Nova Scotia

10 June 2014

The Book of Me (14)

"The Book of Me, Written By You" as introduced by Julie Miller of Angler's Rest is moving right along. Many bloggers have joined the popular challenge (as seen on the Facebook page) and present a variety of approaches to the different prompts.
Ulanova sculpture by Elena Yanson-Manizer ca.1950

When I grow up I want to be ... (Prompt 38)
Paraphrasing Julie: What did you want to be? What inspired you? Did you become what you wanted or did you do something different? Did you follow your dream and it was not at all what you expected? How did it all work out?

My childhood dream was to become a ballet dancer, or rather to become like Moira Shearer or Galina Ulanova. Let's face it, I spent a lot of time amongst a gaggle of similar-minded girls and young women. Over a period of years and examinations and performances, the dream faded into reality. Reality could not be confined to one narrow choice. University studies were not as forgiving as high school to allow for demanding dance classes six days a week. And not going to university was never an option for someone who wanted to learn about the whole world.

So then I thought I would become a philosophy professor. ?!What?! {I am nothing if not eclectic}. My mentor-professor was keenly recruiting for his mediaeval studies department. That was moving forward fairly well in grad school until I crashed into a major family disaster. Life took a left turn somewhere and before too long I found myself undertaking a traditional domestic role.

Now I want to be a writer when I grow up.

Do You Have A Safe Place (Prompt 39)
Paraphrasing Julie: Somewhere that you gravitate, to make decisions or reflect; Somewhere you go to think; Somewhere you go to take time out; Somewhere you keep things you must not lose or do you have more than one safe place?
Where Do You Think? (Prompt 40)
Paraphrasing: How do you record those thoughts? Or do you? Does thinking happen when you are in the bath, on the settee? Where do you go or what to you do when you need to seriously think of something?

Since Prompt 39 is much like Prompt 32(De-Stressing), and Prompt 40 is much like Prompt 39 (Safe Place) I am glossing over Where Do You Think? and said to myself, now don't get too silly. Such as, when are we not thinking? Seriously seems to be the key word, i.e. thinking about a major decision to make or big problem to solve. 

My answer may be similar to that of many other participating bloggers. Serious thought means at my desk, at my computer. A writer often works out serious thought on paper, if any of us use paper any more in lieu of a keyboard connected to the metal box that stores all the serious thoughts. Hopefully when I settle at my computer I remember what the serious thought was that I intended to mull and analyze and agonize about. Writing it out is like brainstorming with yourself. One-person crowd-sourcing.
It's imperative to be upright and tapping at the keys to get that professional feeling of properly addressing the issue. Required components in place ― reference material, specific notes, the internet, accumulated emails, and so on ― at my side. The position allows the illusion of controlling emotions and examining gut feelings. There is also something to be said for throwing yourself on your bed shrieking and pounding the mattress.

Blood Group (Prompt 41)
Paraphrasing: Do you know your blood group? Many people don't. Here in the UK many family doctors do not know or have it on record. A simple and yet important snippet of information. Do you have a popular blood group? What about other members of your family?

Holy crapola, I have no idea if my tiny perfect doctor knows my blood type. Because I used to donate blood and the Red Cross gave me a card, I know I am B Positive which is not as common as O, for example. True story: I read somewhere that the Great Plague as it was called in 17th century Europe wiped out most of the B Positive guys and that indicates to me that having it could be a risky business. It's true that I read this; I dunno if the story is true. Maybe the surviving B people have magical powers.

Blood type is good to know, I'm sure, if you need a transfusion but it seems nowadays there are miniscule ingredients of the blood even more important. Understanding the science fails me here, because it starts to sound like DNA. I do have an odd cell? component in my blood that requires monitoring because it could mutate? or do something weird. Monitoring ... that my hematologist says has to go to Utah for an expensive test, for crying out loud, as if I were deliberately imposing on our (basically pretty darn good) health care system. Well, it wasn't my idea to sit in her waiting room every January with my snowboots dripping on her floor, it really wasn't. Probably (20% probability) it's an Estonian cell? causing the indignity, I mean, until a few years ago I didn't even know I have Estonian blood cells too.

I passed my B on to one child and I forget what the blood type of the others is. Something to do with their father, could be. He is O Positive which is hard to forget because when he was racing he had to have it indelibly stencilled on his crash helmet. Oh yes, and he did crash once, at St Jovite it was, luckily no transfusion required.

© 2014 Brenda Dougall Merriman. All rights reserved.

30 May 2014

Reflections on GIO

Perhaps I've done my publisher a disservice. Perhaps myself too. There was some nice hype lately about one of my books and it's only occurring to Brenda now that maybe she should say a few words on the eponymous blog.

This year is the 30th anniversary and fifth edition of Genealogy in Ontario: Searching the Records, first published in 1984.

Actually, I did say a few words in the May issue of the Ontario Genealogical Society's (OGS) quarterly Families. Answered some questions. And the editor queried some of my colleagues who said nice things about me. So why would I blather more about it here? Well, because my family and friends do not see Families and possibly someone who would benefit from the book is lurking out there. After you write a book, the general idea is to sell books.

I've likely said this somewhere before on my blog, but writing the book was originally a trade-off with OGS for cravenly backing out of a loosely-defined project for which I wasn't well-equipped. On the other hand, I could see a gap in OGS publications that needed filling. The title was chosen in an ephemeral haze thinking that others might follow, such as Genealogy in Ontario: Major Resource Centres, and/or Genealogy in Ontario: Research Methodology. Bet even my genealogy friends didn't know that.
My favourite cover;
my child-the-artist helped
with the design

"GIO" sold its first printing rather quickly; I'm not sure if it was one or two thousand copies. and I wonder if anyone has a handle on ultimate sales figures. I lost track after 5,000 and that was about twenty years ago. In Canadian terms, not a sorry number. However, I've had to disabuse a few friends that non-fiction books of an instructional nature do not generate millions in advances and royalties. Expansion in the next editions made it grow, but later editions required fewer textual changes, becoming more a matter of updates. For that I am most grateful to the OGS members who assisted. I was, you see, busy trying to earn my rent with client research. With more books in my head.

Something was missing in the Families tributes. In hindsight, maybe I didn't answer unformed questions. Maybe I can do it here. I missed the voices of some long-term friends in the genealogical community. The ones in OGS who first made a neophyte feel welcome; all those who willingly, cheerfully supported me in OGS and FGS and APG; and the ones the ones in BCG who mentored (and still nourish) me. Many are gone now, but my gratitude abides. They still sustain me, all.

Over the passage of time the greatest rewards have been the friendships. We talk to our dead people. We carry so much information to share, yet never stop learning. Are there more books in my head? Possibly.

© 2014 Brenda Dougall Merriman

25 May 2014

Silent Sundays

(Part of) China's ruling dynasties chart;
Puyi, the last emperor of over 2000 years of imperial rule 

22 May 2014

The Book of Me (13)

Let me remind myself and the reader that The Book of Me, Written by You (to use its full title) was instigated by Julie Goucher of Angler's Rest blog. Julie calls it a "journey of rediscovery" to prompt personal memories. There's no compunction to write on every topic; the prompts are random and often delightfully quixotic.

Aunts and Uncles (Prompt 35)
How many did I have? Few. Actually, two. Two aunts. Not many, is it? Poor me. The aunts were married so I had two uncles by default but they both died when I was very small. Mom was an only child. Aunt Mabel died when I was about ten and she lived quite far away in Thornhill, Ontario, so sadly, I have almost no personal recall of her. It was kidney disease that killed her. Had she lived a few years longer, medical science may have been able to treat her adequately. The disease must be related to a genetic trait, as kidney problems occur several times in the next two generations from Mabel and her brother.
Mabel, Isabelle, brother Hector
Aunt Isabelle (Auntie B) also lived far away, in Vancouver. She was the baby in her family. Once, she explained to me how she got the nickname "B" but alas, I've forgotten the story. It will come to me one of these days when I'm not looking for it. We had return visits with Auntie B several times; she was so much fun with her dry sense of humour. She loved reading to my kids, and children's books in general. Seeing the Osborne Collection at Toronto Public Library was a big thrill for her, where we both sighed over the literally-fabulous Arthur Rackham illustrations.  

Then there was "Uncle" Peter, really my Dad's first cousin, and "Aunt" Agnes, really my Dad's second cousin. Agnes seemed ancient to us as kids, but she was a welcome sight coming to take us out of school for a lunch in the dining elegance of Simpson's department store. I married into a pack of aunts and uncles, all deceased now.

Your Year (Prompt 36)
Paraphrasing Julie: Think back over your life. Which was “your year” in terms of happy, special and treasured events? Which year was absolutely not “your year”? Think in terms of health, wealth, happiness, sadness, bad luck.
Good: the years my children were born; the year I divorced; the year I reunited with my long-estranged brother.
Bad: the year my father died, setting in motion a long chain of wretched circumstances. Bleak House redux.

Feeding the Animals (Prompt 37)
Paraphrasing Julie: In childhood, did you feed some animals? Do you remember the excitement, or being scared at the time? Do you perhaps still feed animals?
The only possible response to this comes not from my childhood but that of my children and therefore mine somehow by default. We (mainly they) fed animals, alright. Sure did. For about sixteen years on a working farm. It must be stated: The parents of my children were not raised on farms! Can you guess this was back in the first days of Harrowsmith magazine? Back to the land and all that.
Ontario Gothic
We learned not only to feed a multitude of animals but also to find the feed in the first place and then dispose accordingly when the animals' time had come. Driving the truck to the Co-op. Baling hay. Inhaling hay. Hauling water to the barns when the pipes froze. Calling the vet at unforgivable hours. Up at dawn. Collecting and cooking a million eggs. Deflating the capons. 4-H. Attaching a trailer to various vehicles. Herding escaped pigs and horses with a dopey dog earnestly screwing up operations. Too many barn cats. Watching the dumb pheasants fly away forever. Dreadful attachments developing, giving them names. Tosh's truck coming for the beef cattle remove. Picking up the packages from the lamb butcher.

You'd think my children turned into vegetarians. Wrong.

Harrowsmith died a quiet death. That's when my writing career began, a manuscript with the working title Rock Picking is Not a Career.

But my kids, there's this: //www.youtube.com/watch?v=fZ1tF6LgB40

© 2014 Brenda Dougall Merriman

14 May 2014

Genealogy has lively moments ... for the sake of argument

For newbie and experienced researchers alike who thrash away doing our best to produce quality family history, it’s a good thing we have Thomas W. Jones and his ilk. Jones’ latest publication is called Mastering Genealogical Proof.[1] It's a welcome addition to genealogical studies, available from the National Genealogical Society’s (NGS) online store. And study it is; the workbook-like design was deliberate. The first printing sold out in less than a month, evidence of the high regard for Jones and his qualifications.

This is hardly a book review. I merely want to point out the excellent growing body of work that supplements Mills’ Evidence Explained[2] and the newly revised/published Genealogy Standards from the Board for Certification of Genealogists.[3]

The Genealogical Proof Standard (GPS), first delineated by BCG in 2000, is gathering increased international recognition. Jones has further refined relevant concepts and terms to reflect some twenty-first century nuances in the indispensable elements of sources, information, and evidence. For example, authored works are a source distinguished from original and derivative records; indeterminable relates to information from an informant who cannot be ascertained; negative evidence is "the absence of information that answers a research question."[4]

Although proof in purely scientific terms is an absolute (beyond a reasonable doubt), genealogists and family historians employ the word to make assertions about ancestral identity and relationships. Mastering Genealogical Proof discusses the word and its application to genealogy. "Like all researchers, genealogists require a multi-faceted standard to separate acceptable information items and conclusions from those that are unacceptable."[5]

Hence the "interdependent" steps of the GPS that are repeated with each new research cycle. "Meeting the GPS neither requires nor ensures perfect certainty. Genealogical proofs―like accepted conclusions in any research field―never are final."[6]

We should recognize that our "proofs," however careful the reasoning, are vulnerable to the possibility of new evidence surfacing, thus invalidating our result. Proof is a semantically and scientifically argumentative word in our case. Is it misused? Do we need a different word?

In a blog post, Tony Proctor of Parallax View said:
Just as genealogy strives to explain the past from the available evidence, so (pure-)science tries to explain the universe from experimental evidence. Their common evidence-based aspirations lead them to the same limitation: you can never prove anything absolutely, but you can certainly disprove something. ... 
I agree that historical research has a large element of precision in such areas as finding all available evidence, analysing and correlating that evidence, resolving any conflicts, and writing it up clearly and unambiguously. However, whereas science reserves the term proof for the absolute case, and doesn’t attempt to push any ideas beyond the status of theory, genealogy employs the word proof in the context of the less-precise disciplines. Despite attempts to define proof for the genealogical context, I believe this disparity of precision is at the root of many of our confusions.[7]

Tom Jones does not specifically address what some are recently calling "degrees of probability" (regarding how strong a genealogical assertion in our work may be). John D. Reid in Canada's Anglo-Celtic Connections raised the issue of measuring genealogical conclusions by using a “quantitative probabilistic approach.”[8] 

Another Jones, by the name of Paul, presented a very interesting paper this month at the Ontario Genealogical Society's Conference: "Determining how much confidence you should have in your genealogical inferences."
"This presentation illustrates basic probability calculations, corrects some common misunderstandings about probability and suggests how probability could, in some circumstances, augment but never replace the Genealogical Proof Standard (GPS)."[9] 
Unfortunately I was unable to attend this highly anticipated talk. In it he spoke about basic probabilities, conditional probabilities, and Bayes Theoremtools of potential assistance to the researcher.

I submit that anything less than 50% "probability" in answering a research question is not of supporting value to a hypothesis nor does it make an acceptable conclusion. It probably means that I did not go deep enough into sources or analysis to draw a confident, reasonable conclusion; or else sources are disappointingly non-existent or inaccessible. Writing out the results is a work in progress. However, let's point out that unsatisfactory results can be worthwhile in disproving a hypothesis or inspiring new research tactics.

It's encouraging to see genealogists, from many different occupational skill perspectives, contribute to the ongoing discussion.

[1] Thomas W. Jones, Mastering Genealogical Proof (Washington, DC: National Genealogical Society, 2013).
[2] Elizabeth Shown Mills, Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace (Baltimore, MD: Genealogical Publishing Company, 2007). The website Evidence Explained (https://www.evidenceexplained.com/) has a regular Quick Tips blog among many other features.
[3] Board for Certification of Genealogists (BCG), Genealogy Standards, 50th Anniversary Edition (Ancestry.com, 2014).
[4] Jones, op. cit., 15.
[5] Jones, op.cit., 2.
[6] BCG, Genealogy Standards, 3.
[7] Tony Proctor, "Proof of the Pudding," 26 December 2013, Parallax View (http://parallax-viewpoint.blogspot.ca/).
[8] John D. Reid, "Probability in genealogy," 24 July 2012; "How to use probability in genealogy - part 1," 4 September 2012; "How to use probability in genealogy - part 2," 5 September 2012; "How to use probability in genealogy - part 3," 6 September 2012 (among others), Canada’s Anglo-Celtic Connections (anglo-celtic-connections.blogspot.ca).
[9] Paul Jones, "Determining how much confidence you should have in your genealogical inferences," Ontario Genealogical Society Conference 2014, Syllabus; it's unclear yet whether the Syllabus will be for sale at the OGS online store.

© 2014 Brenda Dougall Merriman

09 May 2014

The Book of Me (12)

Some memories are not to be publicly shared.

What makes you proud? (Prompt 31)
Pride in accomplishment: the harder-earned, the more rewarding, for all concerned. Witnessing family members fulfilling their potential or, in particular, "overcoming the odds" is unsurpassed joy, always there to warm the heart in troubled times.

How Do You De-Stress? (Prompt 32)
Stress is a double-edged sword. Conscious of deadlines (self-imposed or otherwise), some of us can do our best work. On the other hand, too much pressure can boil over the top. And I'm just talking about work, research and writing work. Stress also sneaks up from the subconscious sidelines to pile on — household, family, personal issues — in the middle of working or in the middle of the night. You are spared the details of obliviously grinding my teeth when in intense mode; the stiff neck; the muscle spasms. Trying to be aware. Doing the exercises said to alleviate. I know I'm not the only one. We are so human, aren't we?

Purposely getting OUTSIDE, out of my cave at least once a day, is a great antidote. Walking, walking, walking. Celebrating the fact that I can walk and see and hear and participate in the vitality around me. Doing the regular fitness class even if the muscles are protesting or the brain is muzzy. My seasonal R & R is pottering in my tiny rooftop urban garden before sunset with a few like-minded (and not horticulturally critical) neighbours. A glass of wine doesn't hurt.
Regrets (Prompt 33)
Personal regrets as in poor life choices? Or as in rueful words and deeds? Who does not have some regrets? I do not plan to elaborate on any because it's a waste of time and energy once you have dealt with them. Life is as we make it, and if we make mistakes, we then have some options:
– wallow forever in a trough of ulcer-producing anxiety under a self-inflicted cloud of doom;
– think it through and face up to admission and apology if applicable;
– think it through, absorb the lesson learned, and move on.

Now I got me going. BIG regret: that in 2006 I did not extend my trip to Jordan for the following week in Syria! A lost opportunity to see the museums and antiquities of Damascus, Aleppo, Palmyra, ... many may never be the same again. All World Heritage sites in that country have been damaged in the civil war, aside from the continuing immense human suffering. Oh dear, this is previewing a blog post still under construction. 

An odd regret from left field (actually, a colleague's blog post triggered it): my older brother was born a year before me and died the same day. The birth and death certificates do not have a name for him, but I think, had he lived, he would have been named for my paternal grandfather. While I rarely indulge in speculation, it does make me wonder if or how family dynamics might have altered.
Ice cream is universal therapy

Disclaimer: I do not regret one of the hundreds of milkshakes I must have had in my life. Or any other ice cream product. It fits right in there with de-stressing.

Easter Memories (Prompt 34)
Minneapolis. Every Easter my Dad would drive the family (until we were obstreperous sophisticated teenagers) from The Lakehead across the border to Minneapolis to visit Uncle Peter Dougall and his family. A big city! We stayed in a hotel! We ate in restaurants! We had spending money! Department stores! We had American cousins! And Uncle Peter was such a cool dude — lucky, lucky us!
Not precisely as pictured

© 2014 Brenda Dougall Merriman

01 May 2014

A Mind of Their Own

The CAMELS are migrating again. They have spoken: they want their own blog. 

Previous posts from my other blogs are being updated and transplanted. New posts will appear. Additional travel commentary to come. You can join us at http://camelchaser.blogspot.com. It's called CAMEL-DABBLE TRAVEL-BABBLE. 

25 April 2014

The Book of Me (11)

Such a good excuse I have for my particularly laggardly period in March: almost a month exploring awesome China till my head was overflowing with new sights and thoughts. So it is with some readjustment I am asking myself, why does most of this current crop of (Book of Me) responses seem shame-based? Hmmmm

Parents (Prompt 28)
This did not resonate, sorry. No nicknames, not immigrants, although Winnipeg-born Dad migrated to Port Arthur, Ontario, in a business venture in the 1920s and stayed thereafter. 
Port Arthur and sister city Fort William were long known collectively as The Lakehead for its pride of place on Lake Superior. After intermittent attempts to amalgamate the two cities, in 1970 the citizens voted to go through with it, and call it Thunder Bay, by a narrow margin over The Lakehead. I was not living there then. Some of us miss the old "Lakehead" name.

What's in Your Pocket/Bag/Holdall? (Prompt 29)
Are you serious? I've seen the purse/bag contents that some of you have virtually dumped in response to this prompt! Trust moi, I'm no stranger to the compulsive junk we love habit but my personal goal is being hands-free when out and about the city. Chronically inflamed muscles in my neck and shoulders react swiftly if I carry heavy stuff! Debit card, a bit of cash, and keys go into my pockets.

Such self-protective good intentions do not apply while I'm travelling. How do I end up lugging a satchel full of nostrums for every conceivable predicament that might arise (none ever do); to my deepest mortification, the Shanghai Museum security staff made me up-end the entire works onto an inspection tray in full view of an instantly-formed throng of interested strangers. Wild horses wouldn't drag a photo of that painful display out of me, even if I had one.

Your First Day of School (Prompt 30) 
Do I remember?! Oh geez, here we go with the most humiliating episode ever. Absolutely no-one wants to hear this. Miss Jacobs' grade one classroom at St James Public School, Port Arthur. It's pretty simple. The first rule we learned was raise your hand for permission to go to the toilet. I did so; permission was not granted. The pee soon trickled through my clothing onto the seat of my desk and of course pooled on the floor. I think it was my first day at school but does the day really matter when all I remember about grade one is Miss Jacobs' evil face forever burned into my brain and she has a lot to answer for my damaged psyche.
 You're welcome.

18 April 2014

North York's Golden Lion

This display case fascinates me every time I go to the North York Central Library (home of the Ontario Genealogical Society Library, among other genealogical collections and resources) in Toronto. Meet the "Golden Lion" created in the 1820s:
North York's Golden Lion concerns an inn, an innkeeper's family, and a skilled woodworker. The site was Yonge Street at the southwest corner of what became Sheppard Avenue. Thomas Hill had a tavern there, selling it in 1805.[1] On the same site, Thomas Shepard (the surname spelling varies) built the Golden Lion Inn by 1825 or perhaps had expanded it from the previous owner. It was a large building for accommodating twenty guests and the enterprise included stables, barns, and driving sheds.

But its most visible claim to fame was over the main entrance: the "life-size lion carved out of a pine stump."[2] A man from Scarborough called Paul Sheppard was the craftsman. Historian Patricia Hart makes no mention of a relationship or the coincidence of the two men's names. Earlier writers have referred to Paul as Thomas Shepard's son.[3] Apparently Paul Sheppard also carved wooden adornments for area churches, including St. James in York.

The inn not only hosted travellers: it became a destination for entertainment because Thomas Shepard and his sons were lively musicians. A hall was built above the capacious driving shed, becoming a popular venue for all-night dances; groups of young party-goers would regularly come north from the town. The Shepard family were also known for their doggerel verse. Their Reform political associations during the 1837 Rebellion led to the arrest of four Shepard brothers along with many others and a sentence of transportation to Van Dieman's Land.[4] Before that happened, Michael and Thomas Shepard Jr. escaped from interim incarceration at Fort Henry in Kingston. Those who took refuge in the United States were later pardoned.

Some twenty years after the original work was installed, the carver made another life-sized lion sculpted from oak, using putty to create the lion's mane.[5] Perhaps the pine lion was deteriorating. On what did Paul Sheppard base his design? We will never know the answer, but curiosity made me wonder if his lion resembled that of the Upper Canada legislature, the carving plundered in 1812 (we don't know who carved this one):
Canadian War Museum
Resemble? Not so much after all!

The lion, of course, is a British heraldic symbol and because it's so greatly admired, variations have been imitated every-where.

Often they guard a prominent public building or a grand estate (Royal York Hotel, Toronto):

So how did the Golden Lion come to the North York Library? And yes, it is the original oak lion, now at least 150 years old.[6] Although the carving had numerous homes over the years, and at one point acquired the nickname "Henry," the re-gilded king of beasts is being treated royally now.

Long may he reign!

[1] Patricia W. Hart, Pioneering in North York (Toronto: General Publishing Company Limited, 1968), 86. Many details are from Hart's well-researched book.
[2] Hart, ibid.
[3] Catherine, Canadiana Department, North York Central Library, to Brenda Dougall Merriman, e-mail, 28 February 2014, "Golden Lion statue." Catherine cites articles by Jeanne Hopkins in York Pioneer and old newspapers.
[4] Hart, 161-2. Hart cites John Ross Robertson, Old Toronto, 120-121.
[5] Hart, 86.
[6] Catherine, North York Library, e-mail, 28 February 2014.

© 2014 Brenda Dougall Merriman

12 April 2014

The Book of Me (10)

Note to self: playing catch-up gives short shrift to each prompt; it would be fitting that I sink my teeth into something occasionally. Is this one of them?

Technology (Prompt 26)
Technology is. I don't like or dislike it, it's just there. Swiftly changing, moving, improving, upgrading, dazzling, and inevitably intimidating the crap out of me. New technology is not necessarily embraced in this cave.
blinking>> Luddite! Luddite!

Say what you will about you or your ancestors living through dramatic new technology changes, the World Wide Web and the Internet win these days, hands down. This is not to disparage the industrial revolution, space travel, or the flush toilet. Nor do I ignore the safety pin, the zipper, velcro, plastic, crazy glue, duct tape, and spandex which are definitely underrated, powerful inventions (that I classify as technological). But let's face it, every generation thinks its new technology is the most significant. And they are right.

So back to the Web and all that, including computers. Failure to adapt to initial steps could potentially leave you behind forever. Or that's how it looks some days. My computer technology curve began with the excitement of a brand-new Family Roots software program. It was shortly after being the recipient of an office discard ― a 1980s IBM computer. What a grand companion this software would be, my cutting edge new BFF! Together we would go places I'd never gone before. My family genealogy would be professionally assembled, charted, preserved.

But the friendship was torpedoed at birth when the stubborn thing erased itself with a little accidental help from me. Disappeared right off my screen and the floppy disk it lived on, away on its own bloody-minded trip to the clouds or wherever. A pivotal moment that forever unhinged me: abused and abandoned. A very kind Steve Vorenburg in Massachusetts listened to my inarticulate weeping on the telephone (another expedient technological invention) and replaced the unrepentant software, but our relationship was never the same again. It's my considered opinion I never recovered from PTSD.

What I'm really missing is the spark or the patience to focus on learning technology that has no interest for me but ironically offers bits and pieces that could make my life easier. Or so they say. Truth is, I find it boring. Bigod, it must be an outright miracle I can even manage a computer. Three quarters of the time, that is. 
Luckily I can limp along thus far using a computer, a scanner, and a digital camera. It will take one of my kids and and a good day's intensive training to operate one of those newfangled cell phones.

Now my grandchild is in the hand-held generation. As far as I can tell, her life revolves around that glowing little screen. Unlike her, I was not born instantly wired. My excuse is that I'm a writer and I write.

Cars and Transport (Prompt 27)
CARS! This takes me back, way back!

At first I was going to post some conventional drivel but instead, my four-wheeled life looked something like this. Like my children later, I don't feel like I'm driving unless it's four-on-the-floor. Some are not precisely as pictured! The old family slides are only now slowly being digitally scanned.
MGA: Poor car got burgled often downtown when in grad school
Daimler SP250: BEFORE (only it was painted bronze)
Daimler SP250: AFTER ((hill climb competition accident after a friend bought it from me)
TR4: Input from the other half
Porsche S90: Much more manageable than a Daimler!
Corvettes(s): No photos; everyone knows what they look like anyway.

Jaguar & GTO: Not exactly the best photo (of the cars, that is)
Formula Ford: The other half gets serious
Formula B: More serious; the Watkins Glen NY, Lime Rock CT, St-Jovite QC, Mosport circuit. The Canadian Race Drivers Association held wonderful dinner dances off-season.
BMW 730: There was also a BMW 630
Dodge Caravan: It was all downhill after that
I think that's enough on cars for a lifetime. Nowadays I prefer driving a camel.

© 2014 Brenda Dougall Merriman

05 April 2014

Cemeteries Part 18: Qingming Festival in China

The fifth of April arrived so soon after I left China, I acknowledge this in haste. Today, throngs of people will visit cemeteries to honour their ancestors. The customs include sweeping and tidying the plot, if there is one. Descendants will make offerings of food and flowers, burning incense and paper money at the memorial. This is only one part of the annual QingmingFestival.

The deceased in urban China are always cremated now, so visits are made to the memorial walls. Only in preservation for historical purposes and rural parts of the country did we encounter actual burial plots.
Monuments to Buddhist monks, Shaolin Temple near Zhengzhou
We were aware of Qingming's imminence while there. Besides, one cannot miss the signs of regard that the Chinese have for their ancestors. Practices and observances are cultural, rather than religious. At any time of the year messages offering and seeking happiness (colour red) are posted to ancestors. 
Burial site at a farm near Guilin
It is somehow comforting to know that such traditions honouring the dead are observed in so many widely different areas and cultures of the world.  

Tartan Day

Get your kilt on ... tomorrow is Tartan Day, April 6th.

Here’s to it!
The fighting sheen of it,
The yellow, the green of it,
The white, the blue of it,
The swing, the hue of it,
The dark, the red of it,
Every thread of it.
The fair have sighed for it,
The brave have died for it,
Foemen sought for it,
Heroes fought for it.
Honour the name of it,
Drink to the fame of it -
(Scots-Canadian poet Murdoch MacLean; from Celtic Guide, April 2013)

And prepare ye! May is Whisky Month ... http://www.visitscotland.com/info/events/homecoming-scotland-2014-whisky-month-p691851 ... just one part of Homecoming Scotland 2014!

05 March 2014

RIIS Ancestors (Estonia) Part Five

When I began to write about Estonian ancestors I did not envision it spinning into a series of posts. As I said, a life of its own ...

The area in question, the location of the Swedish knight and the Riis descendants, is an expanse of intermittent marsh, thickly forested three hundred years ago and more. Rather forbidding, I would think. It did and does have meadows on the banks of meandering streams where no doubt the first farms were created. But much of that land appears to be flood plain. Fishing, trapping, and hunting were also part of the old way of life in "Riisakula."

Today, the Riis origins are part of Estonia's Soomaa National Park. Geographically it is between the towns of Viljandi to the east and Parnu to the west. The Halliste river is the main waterway, fed by the Raudna river and other small streams.
The chronicles via Urmas Haud give a strong sense that the Riis created their own isolated wilderness "domain." Considering the topography, one can understand why this was a close-knit community. Haud states that at a certain point (possibly a census of 1890) sixty percent of the surnames in the area were Riis and variations, Riisman being one (it's worth noting that surnames as such were not recorded until the 1826 revision lists, as in Latvia). Here and there are hints of disputes not only with the landlord and other authorities (not uncommon in the Baltics) but also amongst the burgeoning family itself. Nonetheless, their overriding theme seems to be:
"RIISAKULA — Riisa, we are born, we Noorusemaa."[1]
Noorusemaa, apparently being a proper noun, absolutely refuses to translate for me.

The word Tõnistua also had previously eluded me. More hints (translated), relating to early practices:
"They had their own holy sacrificial places where they sacrificed to that of the harvest. Also tõnnivakk the village. This was the seat of Tõnistua, which all went to St. Anthony's Day holy mind - Tõnn sacrifice, and to ask him to create happiness.[2]

The old pagan gods were alive and healthy long after Christianity reached the Baltics; indeed today the northern Baltics are still permeated with great sensibilities toward nature. "Tõnistua" or a place of sacrifice, is said to be the only place that survived the wartime destruction of Tiit Kolgis' house in the early 1700s. I can't find a god called Tõnn or something similar but Wikipedia says Taara was the god of nature. Wrapping Tõnn and his seeming relevance to agriculture and/or happiness in the cloak of St Anthony, patron saint of lost things, is an interesting concept!

An ideal map of Estonia showing all villages did not materialize until the Soomaa Park revelation. Finding historical farms seemed nigh impossible; the few villages that get a token mention in Google searches have populations of less than one hundred. It doesn't help that historical maps are either in German or Russian, where place names are quite different. 
This gem of a map is from the Soomaa Park website, at 1:50 000 scale. The villages of Sandra and Tõramaa are shown at the south edge of the park. Vastemoisa village, site of the former manor, lies just to the east of Sandra (off the map). Hoolmiku (Oolmiku) and Riisa are all shown; not all the streams are named, one of which may be the Sillavilla. 
"Riisa Hall stands in the lower reaches of the river's seat of forests, swamps and marshes behind so that in the old days during the summer when the rest did not make it out alone along the river. In winter, when the bogs and fens was on top of the bridge, it had all the external services, and time to get errands."[3]
"Riisa Hall" is not explained, of course, but was presumably the home of a line of descendants. For all I know, some of the eighteenth century houses may still stand. "Ruins of an old farmhouse" are marked at Tõramaa on one of the Park's nature trails.

Knowing the church parishes of the time will point to potential marriage and baptismal records. Saaga is the indispensable online database of digitized Estonian church registers if one is proficient in German. One might expect that this independent Riis clan did not always bother with ecclesiastical formalities in early days! 
Suure-Jaani parish church

Vastemöisa estate was in the parish of Suure-Jaani in historical Viljandimaa county; the church is St. John's, located somewhat north of Vastemöisa village[4] — an obvious place to begin searching. Then again, the Riis settlements were on the eastern edge of Saarde and Tori parishes in Pärnumaa county. Familiar place names for our Jurikas ancestors (a marriage between the families ca.1813) are a mere stone's throw away in Tori which pre-dates Suure-Jaani as a parish.

Urmas Haud's website also has a family chart following my direct line in early days.[5] That, plus the "folklore" narratives could well be the source for much of the information on the Geni trees. Haud has obviously researched extensively in local parish and other extant records, concluding that confirmation of the exact original lineage order is not possible. However, there is documented evidence in Swedish tax rolls that farms existed here since 1624.[6] The names Hants, Ewerdt, Tiit, and Gert appear in sporadic records of the 1600s.
"Riisa Rantso" at a Riis farm on the Halliste Trail, Soomaa Park
Sweden, as the seventeenth century master of Livonia, was more or less constantly at war. Almost hidden in his website, Haud includes the (possibly more accurate?) story of a Riis ancestor called Hants from Sandra village. During wartime, this man went north to Tallin to buy salt. There, a "senior Swedish military official" was so impressed with his great size and strength he was recruited into their army.[7] He was given a "knight's outfit, sword, helmet, and even a horse with a saddle." Interpreting the story's remainder is difficult* but it seems to indicate Hants fled his new job to go home — at what point that happened is unknown. His original sword, helmet, and saddle were preserved for a long time, becoming symbolic and synonymous with progenitor of the Riis family.

My grateful thanks to Urmas Haud and the Estonian Genies for an intriguing journey into a rich epic, still superficial on my part. Please forgive my neophytic attempt to understand and interpret. I would be so grateful if some of my Estonian cousins pick up on these posts!

*☺ Difficult, as for example: "Finally, be prepared dagger sword on the helmet to be broken, and if the kids do Sandra a house in 1912. was burnt down, it may be destroyed in the horse's saddle."

[1] "Riisaküla," Urmas Haud, http://www.aai.ee/~urmas/aba/abaja2.html. Sometimes the website allows English translation and sometimes it doesn't.
[2] "Riisaküla," http://www.aai.ee/~urmas/aba/abaja2.html.
[3] "Riisaküla," http://www.aai.ee/~urmas/aba/abaja2.html.
[4] "Suure-Jaani Parish," Estonian Manors, http://www.mois.ee/english/parish/sjaani.shtml.
[5] "Family Tree," http://www.aai.ee/~urmas/gen/t01255.html.
[6] "... and documents," http://www.aai.ee/~urmas/aba/abaja1.html.
[7] "... and documents," http://www.aai.ee/~urmas/aba/abaja1.html#jadokumendid.

© 2014 Brenda Dougall Merriman