Postcard from Port Dover, Ontario

Postcard from Port Dover, Ontario
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Beach at Port Dover — Photo by P. Dumas

Port Dover is a small town in southern Ontario, Canada, on the coast of Lake Erie. Now famous for its Friday the 13th gatherings of motorcyclists from across Canada and the USA, the town was settled by Loyalists in the 1790s and saw action during the War of 1812. Continue reading

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Do you qualify for the letters U.E.?

Many Canadians have ancestors who remained loyal to the British Crown in the American revolution and, having found themselves on the losing side of the war, were forced to rebuild their lives in Britain’s Canadian colonies.

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Today, Canadian descendants of Loyalists can still apply to the UELAC (United Empire Loyalists Association of Canada) to include the initials UE (for Unity of Empire) after their names because the title is hereditary. This is a unique quality amongst Canadian honours. It doesn’t come with any special status or rewards anymore, but at one time it was worth 200 acres of land.

The post-nominal letters and this designation come from Lord Dorcester’s 1789 Proclamation, in which he notes:

Those Loyalists who have adhered to the unity of the Empire, and joined the Royal Standard before the Treaty of Separation in the year 1783, and all their children and their descendants by either sex, are to be distinguished by the following capitals, affixed to their names: U.E. alluding to their great principle the unity of the Empire.

Continue reading

Using the Records Loyalists Left Behind: The Search for Henry Anguish

Using the Records Loyalists Left Behind: The Search for Henry Anguish

Over the past month I’ve been looking at Loyalist history and the records that have been preserved and digitised for historians and family historians alike to use to find out more about the early European and Loyalist American settlers in Upper Canada (now Ontario). Several of my ancestors were Loyalists who settled near the shores of Lake Erie in Upper Canada and many of their descendants are still living in the region.

Today I wanted to demonstrate what can be found within these records. I did this briefly with my look at Jacob Anguish’s request for aid that is found in the Haldimand Papers. Today I want to show what can be found across a range of sources for one person, namely Henry Anguish, Jacob’s son.

Henry is my 5x great-grandfather. Over the course of his life he moved from Canadian to American-held territories and back again. This demonstrates the fluidity of movement across borders during peacetime between the Canadian and American territories. He was one of the first Europeans settlers in the area of Tonawanda, New York. By opening the first tavern in the area in 1811 and creating the first building in what would become the village and then town, he is sometimes referred to as the town’s founder. However, he ultimately settled in Rainham Township in Haldimand County, Upper Canada. Continue reading

Fighting for the Unity of Empire

Fighting for the Unity of Empire

For the past few weeks I have been writing about the digitised sources available for historians and genealogists (family historians) alike for finding out information about Canada’s Loyalist ancestors. I wanted to take a slightly different perspective on the blog today by looking at what it meant to be a Loyalist.

Who were the Loyalists?

United Empire Loyalists were men and women who were in the thirteen colonies in America and who opposed the American revolution. Estimates of their numbers vary, but there were perhaps around 50,000 Loyalists.

These were people who:

  • lived in the American colonies as of 19 April 1775 (the date of the Battles of Lexington and Concord) and either joined the Royal Standard before 1783’s Treaty of Separation (aka the Treaty of Paris) or demonstrated loyalty to the Crown, and settled in British-held territory, OR
  • were soldiers who had served in an American Loyalist Regiment and then relocated to Canada, OR
  • were members of the Six Nations of either the Grand River or the Bay of Quinte Reserve and were descended from those whose migration patterns were similar to the Loyalists’.

There were Loyalist regiments, Loyalist forts and garrisons, and Loyalist settlements. Continue reading

Loyalist Records Online: An Overview

Loyalist Records Online: An Overview

For the last few weeks I’ve been writing quite a bit about using digitised Loyalist documents (check out my reflections on the struggles inherent in finding specific records and my detailed look at an injured Loyalist’s plea for financial support for his family). I’m thinking that a well-organised overview of some of the digitised sources I’ve been using and writing about might be in order. The resources are presented in a confusing enough way on their own sites; here we might be able to make a bit more sense of them.

Haldimand Papers

Search Page: The papers have not been transcribed and there is no online searchable index. There is, however, microfilm reel C-1475 that contains a typed index of names. Watch out for misspelled names and try to think up and look for alternative spellings. Also look for potential relatives; if a specific person you are looking for is not in the index, they may still be mentioned near a relative’s name in the actual records and were simply missed. Continue reading

A Loyalist’s Request for Assistance in the Haldimand Papers

A Loyalist’s Request for Assistance in the Haldimand Papers

I recently wrote about some of the great online resources now available for conducting research into Loyalist history and experiences in early Canada, and alongside this I reflected upon some of the struggles that go along with trying to search through and utilise these great records. As databases that are very much the straight-forward digitisation of microfilm reels made in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, rather than having been created as an online resource, they are not user-friendly. They are simply organised by microfilm reel. Their related search engines have limited scope (usually just name and location) and give detailed information on where to find associated records in the microfilm, but no links to the digitised version of the source. At times it can be difficult to simply find the online database itself!

In my experience, searching for Loyalist records online involves a lot of jumping around from website to website, trying to find the search page and the actual digitised resources, translating the microfilm details from your search into something that’s meaningful for the online, digitised ‘reels’, jumping from image to image within the designated reel to find the correct volume and then the correct page, and then, if the quality of the decades-old microfilmed image was good and the digitised image of the microfilm sufficient, working your way through the text.

It seems to me that a lot of this confusion could be cleared up by a simple reorganisation of the digitised files. Continue reading

The Struggles of Searching for Loyalist Records

The Struggles of Searching for Loyalist Records

Recently I’ve been looking into some Loyalist records from early Canada. Thanks to government-funded digitisation programmes such as Héritage and the work of Library and Archives Canada, many sets of records once only available in the British Library or on 1960s-era microfilm at select national libraries are now online and free to access.

The digitised, handwritten documents found in such collections as the Upper Canada Land Petitions and the Haldimand Papers (two sets I’ve used quite a bit) also serve as excellent reminders that just because a source has been put up online does not mean that it will be easy to search through, read, or use. Even databases with an integrated online search application can give difficult or incomplete results due to many different factors. First, searches are often limited to name and location: content or subject is left out. This is promising for family history and genealogy research, but what if I want to know about early settlers to a specific region or find examples of cultural interactions between different groups? I’d have to go through page by page. The search engine (and, in some ways, the presentation of the collection) has therefore been aimed at genealogists rather than historians.

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Excerpt from the Petition of Jacob Anguish to Lieut. Col. Peyster of Niagara, dated 4 August 1784. The Haldimand Papers, H-1448, 399 (pp. 419-21), Images 335-7.

The search results may also be affected by the quality of penmanship and the skill of the archivist. Continue reading

Sources 101: The Canadian County Atlas Digital Project

Sources 101: The Canadian County Atlas Digital Project

This post is the first in what we plan to be an on-going series on sources for primary source research on the web. I’ve decided to begin with a favourite of mine, and also one of the more difficult to navigate: The Canadian County Atlas Digital Project.

History:

Between 1998 and 2001, 43 county atlases were digitised by researchers, librarians, curators, and students at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. They digitised the pages of atlases found in McGill’s Rare Books and Special Collections and recorded the names and properties on the atlases in a simple, searchable online database.

What you’ll find:

The database contains scanned copies of the atlases as well as the names of individual land and business owners. It also provides a brief overview of the origins of the atlases and title page information for every atlas included in the project.

How to use it:

I found it somewhat challenging to navigate the website and discover the full extent of the information contained within the database. The Home Page, In Search of Your Canadian Past: The Canadian County Atlas Digital Project, gives your four options to choose from: Project Overview (background information on the origins and methodology of the digitisation project); County Atlases (information on the creation of the 19th century atlases); Search; and Project Credits (a list of the people involved in making the database).

Search gives you two main options: People and Maps. It also includes two new options not found on the home page: FAQ and Abbreviations (useful for interpreting the search results). By clicking on People, you can search by one or more of the following terms: Last Name, County, Township, Town, Birthplace, and Occupation, and whether to restrict your results to an exact match for the last name and to only results with an attached image. By clicking on Maps, you are taken to an interactive map of southern and central Ontario. Click on a county to bring up an interactive map of the county, in which you can find more details maps of individual townships, or choose from a drop-down list of counties, townships, and towns.

Research potential:

The Canadian County Atlas Digital Project is an excellent resource for individuals interested in researching their family history. If you had a male land-owning ancestor living in Ontario between 1874 and 1881, it is worth making a quick search of their last name to see if they are on there. Prominent individuals also paid to have biographical information, business information, and portraits of themselves or their homes included in the atlas, and so it could also provide information on prominent individuals in their communities. The descendants of Loyalists (of particular interest to those of conducting research on British and American colonial history!) can also be found throughout the atlases.

Reflections:

The database clearly shows its age, but the information and images contained within make it worth struggling with the minimal options, buttons, and lack of menus. The search function is fairly straightforward and gives you detailed information (where possible) and results that link directly to a close-up image of their property on the relevant page of the atlas, as well as a zoomed-out image in which to situate the search results.