I’m not exactly sure, but I think I was in high school when I was given a copy of a family-tree-filled booklet called Those Irish Holmes. I’ve only found a few references to it online, and those references suggest that it was published in 1987 (but with a question mark after the date) — I would have been in university in ’87, and I’m sure I had my copy before that. My parents moved during my first year of university, and I never saw the book after that move.
I’ve never really known how the Holmeses arrived in Ireland, but I’ve always known that my Holmes ancestors were Irish. My father strongly identified as Irish; my mother didn’t express any particular affinity with any national origin, although she has a lot of Irish in her with a French streak as well, based on the family tree.
I’ve found enough information from that original book, online, that I can reassemble the fragments I recall about how the Holmeses came to Canada. It starts with the family of Andrew Holmes and his wife Susan/Susannah. In 1845-49, the Great Irish Famine was in full swing. Compounding the problems of the famine was Irish fever — a typhus epidemic that took hold in Ireland, and moved to England.
It appears that Andrew and Susan packed up with 6 of their 7 children (the eldest, Mary Ann, stayed in Ireland with her husband) and sailed off to Canada. I have conflicting information about whether this took place in 1845 or 1847. New York had enacted some legislation with the goal of keeping Irish immigrants out in an attempt to prevent the epidemic from arriving and Canada knew full well that it was going to see a dramatic rise in possibly sick Irish arrivals. The arrival station at Grosse Île, Quebec, ramped up its quarantine procedures and prepared for the influx. Today, there’s a monument on Grosse Île which reads, “In this secluded spot lie the mortal remains of 5,294 persons, who, flying from pestilence and famine in Ireland in the year 1847, found in America but a grave.” One of the names recorded on the memorial is Andrew Holmes, who died in 1845.
On the weekend, I started to suspect that one of the key family tree connections in the Houle line was based on extremely weak evidence. At this point, I’m pretty sure that connection is wrong.
This whole process feels, in odd ways, like programming. I’m reading a document that I didn’t produce, and I’m having to glean from it what the original author was thinking. It’s a lot like reading someone else’s code. “Why did you put that there? What made you think it was important?”
The problem goes back, again, to Pierre Houle. It’s pretty crucial to understand who his parents are. Once he arrives in Dover Township, he and his family are fairly well documented. There are certain circumstantial hints about his parentage available in the documentation:
I think I’ve reached the point of needing an Ancestry.ca subscription. All the good data is in there.
Gervais Houde. Oh, how I hate you. All of you.
My grandmother is a Houle — a name variation of Houde, which happens to be a particularly old family name in Quebec. Apparently Houde is in the top 50 most-common surnames in Quebec, and there’s a particular ancestor, Louis Houde, who came over to New France (aka Lower Canada, aka Quebec) in 1647. (Interesting aside: Wikipedia says that in 1653, the population of New France was 2000, so he was an early settler) He’s a mason by trade and in 1655 he married Madeleine Boucher. Let’s not talk about the fact that he was 37 and she was 13. No good can come of dwelling.
Louis Houde has a son named Gervais Houde (born in 1664) who married Anne Catherine Denevers (that name might derive from a noble title — the Count de Nevers/Count of Nevers. w00t! I might secretly be all noble or something!)
I’ve found the section of Don’s material that has all the old photos of me throughout the years. Eeep. It was a whole other gender ago!
Also some news clippings from when I was in school. There are two newspaper articles from my high school days. It’s funny; I remember the days when the photos were taken, but I couldn’t quite remember the events that precipitated them. They’re both from 1983.
In the first case, there’s a photo of 17 students from grades 9, 10, and 11. I’m one of the grade 11 students. This article related to the University of Waterloo-sponsored math contests: these, I think, would be the Pascal, Cayley, and Fermat math contests (our high school did a lot of math contests). Apparently our scores placed our high school first in south-western Ontario. I, of course, recognized a number of the faces from that photo, including my high school friend and Canadian math prodigy Eric Veach (who’s been at Google for a good while now).
The second photo had to do with a set of computer contests run by the American Computer Science League. If they’re the ones I’m thinking about, they involved a number of exercises (something like six to ten), each done on a different day, where you’d code a program to a spec and the instructor would test your program against some pre-defined test data to see if you got the right output. According to the article, Northern came in 33rd against 346 schools, and 1st in Canada. Interestingly, I remember almost everyone in this photo — even the ones I had little interaction with. Eric’s there, again, and my other close high school friend, Chris Irie, is hanging out in the back row. I think Eric and I are the only grade 11 students — all the others were a year ahead of us.
All this to say, hey, I was there! I kicked ass! I took names! And then I promptly forgot most of those names over the years. Humf.
This just gets more and more interesting. It looks like “my” Joseph Peters was born in 1772 in Chatham, Middlesex, Connecticut and his father, Samuel Peters, was born in Hebron, New York. It looks like they migrated to Canada (probably because of the American Revolution) and ended up in Ernestown, Ontario (near Kingston). Joseph ends up dying in 1841.
The “other” Joseph Peters was born in 1770 in Ernestown, Ontario and ended up moving, at some point, to England where he died. No wonder people conflated them.
Making it even more brain-teasing, for me, is that a lot of my family comes from the area around Chatham, Ontario (which has a nearby Middlesex county for good measure). It’s hard to see Chatham, Connecticut and not think, “wait, is that a mistake?”
Another Torontonian, Sheila Dowdell, seems to have done a lot of legwork on this family — although it turns out that the genealogy of Dorcas Watchman Snyder is the history that’s harder to get at the truth of. She’s written some interesting posts on bulletin boards and has copies of Joseph’s birth, marriage, and death records on a Mundia.com profile.
I’ve encountered my first big mystery in the genealogy research. I do a few things as I digitize the research. I scan the pages — mostly, these pages are divided up into main family lines. Then I try to transcribe the large number of charts into a software product called MacFamilyTree, and that tool has some synchronization capabilities with a website called FamilySearch.org (run, as most of these sites are, by the LDS).
Genealogy websites are, basically, databases. And I understand databases. But I also understand that trying to decide that two records really are the “same” person requires a certain amount of human interpretation.
On Friday, I finally started taking a crack at the genealogy info that I picked up a year and a half ago.
Here’s the story. When I was in grade 7, my teacher (Mr. Cowan) gave us a homework assignment to construct a family tree. I called my grandfather (my mother’s stepfather) for help with some names. He was able to pull some info together, and I was able to write out a few generations. My grandfather, however, never stopped researching after that.
That was 1978 or 1979. My grandfather died in 2007. He spent almost 30 years figuring out where the different connecting families came from and who all the descendants were. He hasn’t touched the Holmeses, instead looking at his family (English Smiths and Bantams with smatterings of German lines), my grandmother’s family (French Houles and Irish Kehoes) and my bio-grandfather’s family (Irish Dyneses/Dineses, Nelsons and Kelleys).
After my grandfather died, no one else in the family seemed interested in this material, and it looked like it was headed for the trash bin. So I spoke up!
My grandfather did very little of his research with computers. Most of it is type-written, with family tree charts drawn on (I think) graph paper with type-written names. My grandfather was a compulsive organizer (and he was never far from his label gun), and it’s clear that this stuff was a labour of love.