The Talented Mr. Smith
There's much more to a life than a name, date and next of kin.
Skeleton genealogy-as in "John married Joan, and had A, B and C," accompanied by dates and place names-is fine for reference purposes, but it's the flesh and sinew that give a person individuality. Genealogy calls for a few words telling something of the character and career of those named, dated and located people. A life is a story and, if told well, may be a wonderful tale.
I have long been an admirer of Mr. Smith-how's that for an innocuous name? When he was 15, his Loyalist parents left Granby, Massachusetts, and came to Preston, NS, just outside of Dartmouth. Smith's father was a graduate of Yale University, a clergyman whose studies embraced theology, chemistry, botany, mathematics, medicine and Indian dialects. But for all his credentials or accomplishments, perhaps his most important role was as a father, raising an ecology- and community-minded son with an array of interests and influence that surpassed his own.
Young Smith was "remarkable for the vast and varied information he acquired in botany, natural history, etc," remarked the noted geographer Andrew H. Clark, while Professor Eville Gorham pronounced him "a pioneer of plant ecology in this continent." This son of a political refugee became a Renaissance man who knew much about many things and something about almost everything.
He supported his family of 14 children as a land surveyor and by selling seeds from flowers and vegetables that he acclimatised to Maritime growing conditions. He drew up petitions for neighbours, served as a road overseer, won agricultural competitions and, in later life, edited The Colonial Farmer. He gave evidence to the Durham Commission, lectured to the Halifax Mechanics' Institute, translated German stories and served as secretary to the Central Board of Agriculture. He selected and planted the trees around province house.
Sir John Wentworth was also a New England Loyalist, which is perhaps why he asked Smith, then 32, to "visit the most unfrequented parts, particularly the banks and borders of the different rivers, lakes and swamps, and the richest uplands." He was to report on "the soil, the situation of the lands, and the species, quality and size of the timbers; the quantity of each sort also, and the facility with which it can be removed to market..." Smith estimated the acreage, and "the possibility and means of rendering [land] fit for cultivation either by banks, drains, or otherwise." At intervals between May 1801 and October 1802, he made three lengthy trips through wilderness Nova Scotia, spending 150 solitary days in a region that had few roads. All he carried was a compass and a map he found "as much hindrance as help."
Settlers from Europe were unaccustomed to the spaciousness of this continent and tended to use wasteful methods of clearing and cultivating land. Smith repeatedly denounced the destruction of wildlife habitats, and praised the Mi'kmaq way of life that favoured reforestation. He urged for good stewardship of what he considered to be gifts given by a bountiful Providence. The solution to meeting human needs was not through more industrialization, but through more rational and intensive use of land and forest. As Smith put it in a lecture given in 1835, "Rough and rude as our forests appear, they form a portion of the 'garden of God.' In all their various productions, there is nothing superfluous or out of place."
No subject was too great or too small for him. On one occasion he might give precise directions for planting cabbages. In the 1840s, he persuaded Halifax to use the Chain Lakes as the source of its first piped water supply, which along with their neighbours, supplied good drinking water for more than a century.
Smith died in 1850 and was buried in a family plot (the stone there today was erected in his memory years later.) And who was he? Why, our very own "Dutch Village Philosopher," Titus Smith of Fairview. Surely his life story beats "Titus Smith, born 1768, died 1850; married Sarah Wisdom, 1803, and had..." Not every biography will have such a versatile person as its subject, but many an ancestor will warrant more than a name and a date. You may even find a story to tell.
Dr. Terry M. Punch is the resident genealogist on CBC radio and editor of Genealogist's Handbook for Atlantic Canada Research.
What Are the Odds?
Not everyone who shares a surname is related… some may have just shared the same local.
Remeber the question that usually stumped us as kids? A flipped coin has a 50-50 chance of being heads or tails. If heads comes up, what are the odds of it being tails on the next toss? Most children can't seem to resist saying that it will be tails, but of course half the time it won't be.
This came to mind recently when I heard someone deplore that the family he was researching had such a common name, what Dauzat and Mathiot used to term un nom très répandu. If, like me, you have a surname that's uncommon in this part of Canada, it's not necessary to carry out the exercise I'm about to outline. But if you are about to embark on sorting out your MacDonalds or Boudreaus, your Campbells or Smiths, it may not be a bad idea to see what the mathematics of your project will be.
Bear in mind that not everyone who shares a surname is necessarily biologically related. I doubt all Murphys derive from one long-ago sea raider. Or that the Parsons go back to one ancient parish in western England. And even if they did... Years ago, families often got their name from the inn sign on the local. Say it featured a steer. John who kept the inn was John Bull. The stableman was called Will Bull, and the porter was known as Richard Bull. If they all had descendants who traced their families back to that English village, people will assume they were related, but they may have been totally unrelated.
As a matter of fact, not even all Punches share a common ancestor-we come in Irish, English and German editions, for starters. Try to pin down the several Martin families in Atlantic Canada to a common country of origin and you'll see my point. If you can't confine bearers of a surname to a place of origin, imagine the odds of finding that they are biologically related without establishing probability on the basis of Y-chromosome DNA testing of hundreds of people. Obtaining consent and participation, plus the cost, renders that an unlikely route to take.
How can you find out whether you are taking on mission impossible if you decide to establish the relationship of the people who share your surname? A very useful resource is the 1901 and 1911 census returns found online at automatedgenealogy.com. Here you can enter a surname by province and get a total number of entries.
Be sure to merge any closely related or misspelled versions to get a complete total, or you may miss a family entirely. I entered "MacLeod" in New Brunswick. The answer: there were none, nada, zero! I knew that was wrong. Then I found 10 possible variants of the name, merged them and found there were 1,280 people bearing some variation of the name in New Brunswick in 1901.
Don't forget that many French names have been anglicized-LeBlanc became White; Aucoin, Wedge; Lenoir, Black. The O's were sometimes dropped from Irish names; O'Toole turns up as Twohill, O'Sullivan may simply be Sullivan. Some German names appear in records in both German and English forms, depending on the language of the clerk: Koch became Cook; Eisenhauer, Isenor; Berghaus, Barkhouse.
For Newfoundland and Labrador, not part of Canada a century ago, there's a carefully compiled reference to help tally surnames. In 1955, using the Official List of Electors, Dr. E. R. Seary provided a list of the 816 most common names in his province. In his book, Family Names of the Island of Newfoundland, he tells us that the top five surnames are, in order, White, Parsons, Smith, Power and Walsh.
Just to show how different the surnames of two provinces in this region can be, compare those to the
top five I counted in the 1864/1877 birth registrations in Nova Scotia: M(a)cDonald, Smith, McNeil(l), M(a)cLean, and M(a)cLeod.
Of course, it's likely to be less difficult to sort out the McLeans in Newfoundland than in Nova Scotia, and vice versa for the Parsons.
So, ask yourself early on, "What are the odds?"
For the Record
If your ancestors are noted in written records as peasants or savages, note that these are, well, relative terms.
Remember the old caution, "There's many a slip 'twixt cup and lip"? As the owner of more than one stained shirt, I can attest to this. Tea and coffee work very well.
How often have we heard some politician speak of his legacy, of how he will be remembered by posterity? The speaker has in mind a knight in shining armour raising a gem-studded chalice to his lips, a Sir Galahad figure to be spoken of with reverence decades after he has left the stage. Think of all the rusty tunics where the cup slipped and the legacy was reduced to an embarrassing stain.
Imagine what you can do with ink… which brings me to my point. So much of what we know about people in the past, your ancestors and mine, depends on the written/printed record, upon ink. This went through my mind as I reviewed some obituaries I'd clipped over the years. One spoke of a man whose idea of great fun was scattering broken glass along his lake frontage to keep kids from swimming near his property. His obit described him as "a caring man, especially fond of children." Another example mentions a chap as "a loving husband," yet everyone knew that, while he was a husband, the loving had taken place with a lady not his wife. With no knowledge other than what's written in these obits, people will have heartwarming images of kindly gentlemen that may be nice, but not true, or at least not fully true.
This process works in reverse as well. How much pleasure does anyone derive from reading an ancestor's name in a list of prisoners, convicts, inmates of poor houses or orphanages? Care to have a forebear who is branded in a written record as a slave, an indentured servant, a serf, a peasant, a popish recusant, a rebel, a savage or illiterate? Early census returns offer further treats for the family historian, with a battery of pejorative terms for a variety of physical and psychological afflictions.
Hold on! Perhaps you need to smooth the corners off the offensive labels. Context to the rescue. The "rebel" was in fact a "patriot" to the other side. The "Tory"? Why he was in fact a United Empire Loyalist. The "recusant," oh, shucks, he was merely a Catholic. "Peasant" covered a vast majority of folks not many centuries ago. Then again, perhaps your ancestors all lived in castles, thereby being part of the Great and the Good. But at the other end of the spectrum, "slave" was not a voluntary status, so no blame can be attached to being one. As for being a "savage," let's just say that it depends on who's talking.
We have to examine bad press-the inky record-of people in the past with care. Sometimes all we have are one or three isolated bits of information, so we don't know the whole story. Human nature, despite centuries of people improving us, has remained surprisingly consistent over the ages. People ate, drank, married and procreated, wondered why they were here and where it was all going. The motives for murder or for prayer have not changed much, if at all.
As a society we have moved far from reliance on oral tradition for most of our information. What gets ink, what is written down in some fashion or other, shapes the ideas of future generations about ourselves and our times, just as we rely mainly on documentary evidence for our account of bygone people and events.
The message cuts two ways. In looking at the past, we must be prepared to understand what we read in the context of the time when it was written. To be illiterate in 1750 was no shame. Few had access to schools and fewer had the freedom from work to attend them. In looking to the future, we need to recognize this basic fact: We will be remembered and probably judged by what is written by or about us.
Step one: try to live so the truth will be to our credit. Step two: failing that, ensure that what does enter the record is favourably expressed.
Dr. Terry M. Punch is the resident genealogist on CBC Radio and editor of Genealogist's Handbook for Atlantic Canada Research.
Our first Lutheran minister wasn't here long-but the church he left behind has lasted centuries.
What sort of career would you expect of a clergyman who claimed he'd been "persuaded to marry while... under the influence," was described as "anything but exemplary" and who deserved "a fatherly chastening?" One such character was Daniel Schumacher, the first man to act as a Lutheran clergyman in Canada.
He arrived in Halifax from Germany on the Speedwell in 1751, listed as "T. Schömacher," age 22, from "Hambourg, a Candidate in Theoligie." His time in Nova Scotia was less than three years, long enough to add a few chapters to his varied life story. A man close to becoming ordained would seem destined to become a community leader, one of the few educated people in the original German community at Lunenburg, NS. Instead, his path followed a bizarre course.
German Lutherans would gather in a house in Halifax's old north suburb to hear Schumacher preach and, apparently, administer the Lord's Supper. After a two-month sojourn in Lunenburg he was back in Halifax where he married Catharina Hown in July 1753. Halifax was not to his liking; he turned up in Philadelphia-without Catharina-in March 1754. He approached Henry Muhlenberg, head of the Pennsylvania organization, or synod, and presented credentials from Hamburg. Schumacher was sent to Reading, Pennsylvania, where his conduct was reported as "anything but exemplary."
Pressed to explain himself, Schumacher excused his departure from Nova Scotia: "At that time Evangelical ministers and school teachers were opposed. There was nothing remaining there for my support, inasmuch as the people were poor and the rulers had no concern about advancing evangelical truth. I left in a miserable condition... Thence I went to New York and afterwards to Philadelphia where the providence of God pointed out my way to this town of Reading."
John Albert Weygand, a minister whom Schumacher had met in New York, wrote to the synod of Hamburg, asking for information about him. Weygand reported that Schumacher was destitute when he arrived in New York so he clothed him and sent him to Pennsylvania, where his services could be useful. He recommended giving the young man "a fatherly chastening" for having administered the Lord's Supper in Halifax for more than two years, while not yet ordained.
Then details of Schumacher's conduct in Halifax began to emerge. It seemed that he had "deserted his wife... He himself admitted this, and gave as his reason… that he was persuaded to marry her while he was under the influence of liquor… And it is sadder that he continues… when it comes to drunkenness."
The synod at Hamburg reported it did not know when or from whom Schumacher had received any testimonials, adding that "even if he had... he has since conducted himself in such a bad manner, and made himself unworthy..."
Schumacher was never ordained but remained in Pennsylvania. He continued to hold services and baptize people as an independent preacher, mainly in districts with no organized congregations and resident clergy. He became a talented speaker. He had a second and stable (though possibly bigamous) marriage with Maria Elisabetha Steigerwald, and had seven children, five of whom survived his death in May 1787. His later career in the Allemangel district in Pennsylvania was quiet enough, suggesting that after his second marriage he left his heavy drinking behind and behaved responsibly.
There is little on the Internet to suggest what a rough beginning this man had in Nova Scotia. Interestingly, he is remembered in Pennsylvania for his verses and Fraktur art-calligraphy and decorative elements-he employed in his baptism certificates. In that sense, our loss was Pennsylvania's gain.
In tracking down the stories of early settlers such as Daniel Schumacher, the biographical genealogist helps to discover the rich tapestry formed by the lives of those who have lived in Atlantic Canada, even those just passing through.
Dr. Terrence M. Punch is the resident genealogist on CBC Radio and editor of Genealogist's Handbook for Atlantic Canada Research.
Food for thought...
How food has influenced where our ancestors set down stakes.
"Pray for peace and grace and spiritual food
For wisdom and guidance, for all these are good
But don't forget the potatoes."
These words, written by New England judge John Pettee, hearken back to the Pilgrim Fathers and the first Thanksgiving in America. Those pioneers gave thanks for having a harvest and enough food stored for the winter ahead.
Ancestors of every origin were at the mercy of their food supply. Western people would not settle anywhere they could not grow or regularly secure the grass crops on which they and their livestock depended. The Scots were renowned oat eaters given oats could be raised and ripened in Scotland. (Englishmen scoffed at the Scots' habit. Samuel Johnson, in his famed Dictionary wrote, "Oats-a grain which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people." Johnson's biographer was the Scot James Boswell, whose father replied to the so-called Doctor Johnson: "That would explain why you have such excellent horses in England and such splendid men in Scotland.")
The Japanese ate a lot of fish given they lived on islands. The Chinese consumed rice since their environment supported rice crops. Much Mediterranean food calls for rosemary, basil and other herbs because these plants are native there. Human diet has been determined historically more by the locally available flora and fauna than by preference.
Before refrigeration and canning, people relied on foods that could be dried or salted for the winter months. Seasonings were used to disguise the fact that some food had smells and tastes that were not conducive to being eaten.
Consider the pig, an animal offensive to observant Jews and Muslims, but a highly prized creature elsewhere. As the local saying had it, you used everything off a pig except its grunt. Farmers raised a pig annually, to be converted into food each autumn. Some fresh pork was eaten, but much was smoked or salted to produce ham and bacon, hung in large portions and sliced off in rashers as needed. When all the "good stuff" had been used, the remainder was made into sausages to which salt and a selection of seasonings-such as paprika, pepper, sage, savory or thyme-might be added.
Some of our early settlers were issued weekly government rations, consisting of five pounds of hard tack, five pounds of meat, four ounces of butter, one pint of pease, 1/4 pint each of vinegar and oatmeal, and double that of molasses and rum. This diet would not suit vegans and lovers of fresh fruit at all, and such a regimen ignored the threat from scurvy caused by a deficiency of vitamin C.
The diet had been much the same during the ocean crossing, although each adult was issued a gallon of beer daily instead of rum. Given that water did not keep long in casks at sea, beer was a good choice, though temperance advocates would quail at men and women knocking back eight pints of beer every day.
People migrated to where there was food: the Israelites across the fertile crescent into "the promised land," Magyars from the steppes into Hungary. Many native peoples and desert tribes led nomadic or semi-nomadic lives, all relating to where food was to be found.
Until the 18th century, cereal grains were the staple diet of Scotland and Ireland. However, these were rapidly replaced by the potato, which was produced in abundance where soil and climate defeated less-hardy crops. The people of Ireland in particular grew increasingly dependant on potatoes, and in the 19th century disaster struck when blight caused several successive years of potato crops to fail.
The massive migration resulting from that tragedy is not merely a race memory. The millions of descendants of the famine refugees populate much of North America, including the Atlantic region. Partridge Island in Saint John Harbour, NB, is one focal point, but Deadman's Island on the Northwest Arm of Halifax Harbour, Gros Isle in the St. Lawrence, and many other places also bear tribute to the influence of the food supply on our ancestors' lives.
Dr. Terrence M. Punch is the resident genealogist on CBC radio and editor of Genealogist's Handbook for Atlantic Canada Research.