About Shamwest

I am an ESL teacher who started writing poetry in high school where I won a scholarship for English composition. My maternal grandparents were British immigrants who homesteaded in Manitoba. My paternal grandparents were French Canadian and Metis, my grandfathers family being amoung the original settlers of Montreal. My grandmother was 2nd cousin to famed martyr Louis Riel. Researching their history has been challenging and fascinating at the same time.

Limelight

I am finally in receipt of Davis and Mary Coakley’s book “The History and Heritage of St. James Hospital, Dublin”.  Naturally after all the commotion I went through during it’s writing, I was anxious to see what part of Alexander Fraser’s life as master of the South Dublin Union workhouse might be mentioned. Some may recall that I had quoted  a memoir in my blog which had been written by one of the grand-daughters of Agnes, Alex’s wife (my maternal great-aunt). The writer would in fact, be my second cousin.

In my enthusiasm for the subject, I assumed that the person who had passed the memoir to me would have known if the writer was still alive but I was wrong.  Of course, one day I got an email from that person who was shocked to see her name “on the internet”.  I had made an agreement that the author could quote from the memoirs through my blog, huge mistake. However, I agreed to withdraw said quotes from my blog . She then agreed herself that the professor could use them.  Lesson learned.

The book is voluminous, naturally, there is so much history to the building and Alex’s time there received small mention after all. There is a photo of the family on the steps of the Master’s residence, Garden Hill and the few quotes aforementioned and a paragraph or two.  I haven’t finished reading the book yet.

My purpose in writing on the subject was not about the workhouse but about my amazing great-aunt Agnes, who you will find in my posts. She was the mother of 8 children of her own and took in 3 of her sister Sarah’s children when she died. The door to her home was a revolving one and she was mistress of the South Dublin Union for 26 years.  During this time, she was also a mainstay of her own family, helping her father in his old age. She was likely the person who saw my grandfather and his brother off when they came to Canada.

When Alex broke his leg in 1908 and died of pneumonia, she received nothing from the Union and was forced leave Garden Hill and manage on the small amount they had put away.  In spite of all, Agnes lived to be 104 years old. My mind often wonders if she learned something at the workhouse that kept her alive all those years. In the meantime, I will enjoy reading the rest of the book which I am sure will provide further enlightenment.

Pretty Anna

Below is a marriage photo of my maternal great-aunt Annabella McGhee Smith, a bonnie Scots lass if ever there was one.

Annabella McGhee Smith, Joseph Collins Peat-1908 ret..jpg

I have written about her previously here.  Shortly after they married, the couple moved to New South Wales, Australia, presumably for work. Last week as I reviewed my family tree, I came upon a hint for James Smith Peat and naturally I opened it. The record was for an inquest into the death of a 16 year old boy at Lithgow, a bullet wound to the head; parents Anna and Joseph Peat. This happened in 1933, the year my mother was born.  James ( I assume named after Anna’s father) died in April and my mother was born in May. I was greatly saddened by this piece of news. Genealogy is probably not a great pursuit if you are an “empath”.

Again my imagination started to take hold, I know very little about that part of Australia or any part of Australia for that matter. I do know that all of the Smith family worked in the smelting factories of Coatbridge and that James, my great grandfather was a “hard man”. Anna would have had some grit in her but what prepares you for the loss of an oldest son, especially like that.

I wonder what the circumstances were that he would have even had access to a gun and also what my grandmother’s reaction would have been to the news. My mother was her last child and she almost hemorrhaged to death having her a month later.

I am not sure how many families whose ancestors were pioneers have stories of the unsuitability of many of them for the life they chose.  For some, the freedom they were seeking came at an extremely high price. The actual realities of the women’s lives especially, are seldom spoken of .  Many people have come to me and asked how I have managed my own life. It is nothing compared to that of my predecessors.

Happy Canada Day!

Happy Canada Day to all my Canadian readers. We are privileged to live in such a great country, one that is amoung the wealthiest and safest in the world. It is a place of refuge for the thousands fleeing oppression and an example of peaceful relations. Let’s remember all who came before to make this country what it is!

Who Are You ?

I have collected the updates for my DNA autosomal test. I still find it screamingly hilarious that I have 1% Andean DNA, from South America. The other 5% North American Indian not too surprising since my grandmother’s family was Metis. It is also great fun to compare with other members of your family. In my case that would be my brother who is a year and a half younger than I. For part of the year we are only 1 year apart. The initial test showed us to have about 5 nationalities in common but now it has been refined down to only 3. He has more English DNA, more native and less French than I and no Scandinavian. So, in effect we are getting to know each other even better than before .

I recently reunited with a long lost cousin. We found that we had much more in common than one would have thought. She was from my father’s side of the family and it was a great comfort to at last find someone who had so much in common with me. You can imagine a childhood where one side of the family is from the opposite culture, French and British. Thank heavens people are more culturally aware now. When I was a child, I was constantly pushed between the standards of the two, particularly where religion was concerned. I believe I am among the many people who were glad when there parents finally separated, just to escape their families!

I have had some communication with people who have DNA matches with me but we don’t seem to be able to find the common ancestor. Hopefully one of them will do that because I don’t really have the interest in it. I just like to read and write history.

I am still thinking about my family and the American War of Independence and whether any were involved in it. I listened to the podcast on Maple Stars and Stripes about finding that out but didn’t find it too helpful. One could just go through to find out where your ancestors were living at the time.

I enjoyed the series “Turn” about Washington’s Spies but found the book quite dull so I decided to watch “John Adams” , the story of the second president of the United States. Paul Giamatti was absolutely amazing in his portrayal of the man who would eventually become president after Washington. It is one of the few movies in which the trials and disappointments of a person were so palpable.

It is sad that two neighbouring countries know so little about each other and even perhaps share a certain animosity bred out of that ignorance. I suppose Canada maintaining close ties with Britain did not help. We are still a young country after all.

Journal May 9

I thought some may like to know “my other life”.  I am an ESL tutor who works with Korean children and also a volunteer tutor to a young Cambodian woman and her 8 year old son. I learn from these experiences every day.  There is so much to learn about people from other countries. Some may know the horrible history of Cambodia’s genocidal war.  For my student, life goes on and  her attitude belies the grim realities she has faced. Somehow, she retains a type of innocence and finds joy in the simple things. She is raising her son strictly and he is a joy to teach. I in turn, find my own kind of joy in helping them navigate this “strange new land”.

I have become hooked on the history of the American Revolution thanks to the series “Turn” and am now trying to navigate the book, Washington’s Spies, The Story of America’s First Spy Ring by Alexander Rose. Somehow the books are seldom as entertaining as the series but you get more insight into character and circumstance. My interest naturally turns to my Beauchamp ancestors again and whether any of them were involved in the war. I listened to a podcast at maplestarsandstipes.com, a French Canadian Genealogy resource for Americans which gave me some ideas on how to track possible connections. I will be looking into that.

I decided that it would be more expedient to upload the information I have on my family to ancestry.ca in lieu of writing a book about it for the time being, so that I can get onto what I want to do, write historical fiction with my family as a base. That is just a little harder than I had thought simply because I am not the most organized person in the world and have 10 years of files in hidden places on my computer. It has had a cathartic effect on me simply because it is bringing some order to my records. Ancestry will also make a simple story for you about your ancestor though not a good as Family Tree Maker.

I have had some inquiries and notices related to the DNA test I did last year, a few of which I have no idea what the person is talking about. I suppose I could do something about transferring data to gedmatch but somehow distant cousins aren’t as fascinating to me as they should be. Can you tell I am not a science geek? I do however appreciate that “with age comes wisdom” and many things in my life are beginning to piece together and gel, though I am not sure I will ever completely understand my relatives!

There will be more updates to come just so you know I am still alive… Cheers, Yolanda

Putting It All Together

I am,  at this moment,  negotiating the pile of papers, certificates and photos I have accumulated over the last 10 years with a view to compiling a book about my family. I find myself getting sucked back into researching which brings about the old feelings of frustration and overwhelm. However, I am determined to create something out of it all. I have confessed before to getting swept away by the adventures of my ancestors, from battling the Iroquois, to following Mackenzie to the Pacific, to the rise of  William McDowell in Ireland, from poor farm boy to owner of a successful tilery and farm.

History was never far from my siblings and I as we listened to our parents talk about their lives as children, one whose family was part of the Red River settlement, the other daughter of Scots/Irish pioneers. We grew into the Canadian landscape and it became part of us, creating strong, independent and resourceful people.

So, I will be clacking away as usual on the computer in between times with my Korean students who themselves are coming to know the ways of this land and people. I will advise you on my progress. Thanks so much for following me on my adventures. As always if you would like to comment on a post, feel free.  Yolanda

The Spirit of Resistance 12

The events of the Northwest Rebellion eventually led to the surrender, by Riel, against overwhelming odds. He felt this would save further blood shed and that the ensuing trial would provide a platform from which to air the grievances of the Metis people. He did not wish his actions to be known as those of a “madman”, the defense’s main tool. This did not help him. After pleading the case of the Metis for an hour, the judge finally lost patience and along with the jury, sentenced him to be “hanged by the neck until dead”. The arm of the law could not be seen as weak.

I often ponder the many aspects of the Riel situation. I think about my grandmother, Josephine Daigneault and how she must have heard the story many times as a child; perhaps there were still relatives living who were affected by the death of their relative.

I think about Riel’s situation;  how he was thrown into a situation he may not have been fully prepared for because he was educated and religious. His father was a man of strong opinion and ambition and probably gave him a strong sense of responsibility towards the community.

Talk of his sanity brings to my mind the religious raptures that the nun, Marie L’Incarnation experienced as she went through the trials of establishing a convent in the New World.  We are taught that we must put our faith in God when we are overwhelmed with fear. Belief can overcome.  That is what it would take to face the strong possibility of death.

I think Riel’s life is an example of being swept up by forces out of our control, about fighting against greed, deceit and inhumanity. Rest in Peace, cher cousin.