Friday, 18 April 2014

Ethics in Genealogy – Part 2: If We Decide To Share Information Then What Do We Share?

In my last blog I dealt in passing with the topic of 'what should we share'. This blog is a more in-depth look at what I think we should consider and is a reflection of my approach when dealing with some very delicate issues in my books, publications and even in the data I store on my computer:

Issues With Sensitive Data

When writing my second book The Families Catudal I had to decide how to handle a very sensitive issue and that was the issue of adoption. I had six individuals who were alive and who I knew had been adopted. One of the five was not legally adopted but was raised by an Aunt and Uncle. It was always a known secret. One was adopted as a young child by his grandparents and raised without being told of his adoption until uncovering the truth himself at the age of 30. Two of the adoptees were Native babies adopted by a couple who could not have children themselves. I am not sure if they ever knew of their Native background. Another of the six was born out of wedlock while her mother was still married to someone else. Once the first spouse died the mother married the child’s birth father. The child was then adopted by the birth father. Only one of the six was adopted without secrecy and lies. Why is any of these explanations important? To show you how complicated the issue of adoption is and why it is all but impossible to document correctly without hurting a lot of people.
You might be asking yourself “What’s the big deal?” Well there are some major issues: Do you document an adoption when it was a open secret? If the adoptee does not want his or her status known do you document it anyway because you have the data? What if the adoptee’s birth parent(s) want credit for the birth of the child who they gave up for adoption but the child does not want it exposed? What about the illegitimate child’s right not to have that particular piece of information out there for all to know? What about the generations to come who look for their own family history and, because no one documented an adoption, end up never knowing their real heritage?
How I have handled this information was to ask each person who had been adopted, when is was possible to do so, how they wanted the information presented. That is how I handled the issue in my first book too and still ended up getting a great deal of heat from one birth parent who felt that they had the right to have all of their children documented whether or not they were then adopted out or not. I haven’t changed my mind on this issue and think that the generations that come after will have to work it out for themselves. It is my opinion that you honour the wishes of the one who was adopted. It is far more important to respect those who are affected by disclosure now than to document something that someone in the future may or may not find useful.

Moral Issues

Adoption is not the only sensitive issue where people have differing opinions on how the information should be documented and discussed.
I know of several cases where a child was sexually abused by their father or uncle. In some of these cases the people directly involved have all passed away, yet I have been contacted by extended family members asking me not to write about these circumstances in my book. The same is true for spousal abuses, suicides and illnesses – specifically anything to do with mental illness. Someone made the comment to me that to publish this type of information would make the immediate family look bad. Therefore, I have made it a point not to discuss or divulge certain types of information about people living or thought to be living in my publications. When the person or persons who are or were affected are no longer alive I have asked their families for permission to include sensitive information about their relatives. If I could not ask because I had no contact to the immediate family I simply did not add the information. The types of information that I have been very careful with are, in part, stories of child abuse, sexual abuse, spousal abuse, incest, suicide, adoption, sexual orientation, mental illness, drug and alcohol abuse or addiction and criminal activity.
Two issues about documenting this type of information are: it may hurt those still living and secondly, maybe the common knowledge that ‘Uncle so and so’ liked little girls was not true. Maybe he was just a bit strange and somehow a rumour was started to scare children away from him. Who knows?
I have also not even documented any of these issues in my database. The problem with documenting sensitive or speculative data is that eventually when one dies someone else will then be in possession of ‘the truth’. Then what? Will they too feel the moral responsibility to honour and respect confidential information. It is for this reason that when I do know something for certain about someone but have been asked specifically not to divulge the information then I have opted not to document that information anywhere at all.
In saying this, I have documented some illnesses, the ones that have no impact on those living or where I have been specifically asked to document such information, and one case of incest. I documented the one incest case because it was the very first such conviction of its type in New France and happened to be a very distant relative.
What about information that you know, absolutely know, is true. Should you pass it on in a publication/book/blog? I had two very large dilemmas about two different Catudals: One was an arsonist and another was a pedophile. Both were tried in court. The pedophile was convicted. It is a long story about the arsonist who, if I were to explain what happened, would help to identify him. Suffice to say that he did set a number of fires that caused a lot of damage but thankfully took no lives. Both of these men are alive. In the arsonist's case, I'm not sure if his wife even knows about his past. So, the question was, do I publish that information in the book I was writing or not. I chose not to. It was just too great a risk of damaging innocent lives; by that I mean the extended family of these perpetrators.
These really weren't the only dilemmas I had but they certainly were the most extreme. I guess each of us in the position of passing on sensitive information, and that means most of us, need to check our moral compasses and make sure they're working before taking that step of revealing information simply because they are in possession of that information.

Privacy and Identity

I never publish identifying information, birth date and birth location, for anyone alive or thought to be alive for the very unlikely event that that data could be used to steal someone’s identity. This is a very controversial issue and there are strong arguments on both sides of the table.
One side says that if you look in the Internet at social networks, such as Facebook and Google+, you will see that the majority of people give out that information freely and they are not necessarily victims of identity theft. What can having information on someone’s birth date, birth place and mother’s maiden name actually get you? some people ask.
On the other side, I remember having my wallet stolen. I went to those that be and told them what had happened. I did not have any documentation to support my claim because all of that had been stolen. They asked me my mother’s maiden name, my birth date and where I was born. After answering those three questions correctly they re-issued my birth certificate to me. I used it to get my driver’s licence. I used my birth certificate and driver’s licence to get my health card and so on.
Now-a-days, at least in Canada (where I was brought-up and in Germany where I now live), you have to provide a guarantor in order to prove your identity. However, not all guarantors are checked for validity. That is why I always choose to side on the side of extreme caution and don't document identifying information on those living or thought to be living.

Family Secrets About Illnesses

My experience after distributing my first book, The Extended Catudal Family History, was that most were pleased that I did not divulge certain medical ‘secrets’ about their particular families yet displeased that I did not add information about other families.
A case in point was that in my last book I had added information on someone who I myself knew well and as such knew him to have been mentally handicapped. He had since died so I made mention of that fact. I was asked by his family members to remove that information from my next book because it made the family ‘look bad’. Yet someone from another family wrote to tell me that it was so interesting to know about a disability from that particular family as they too knew someone from a related family who was also mentally handicapped and thought that maybe more of this type of information should appear in the next book. The thinking was that we may be able to spot health trends specific to the Catudal families lines.
Keeping that in mind, I recently posted a question to a Catudal group in the social network Facebook asking if any members of their particular line of Catudals had suffered from Alzheimer’s disease. I know that my particular line of Catudals has been hard hit with this degenerative disease. I said that they could answer me through e-mail if they preferred. Several answered using Facebook but most answered through e-mail asking me not to divulge the information being passed on to me as it would upset family members. Of course I wouldn’t knowingly upset anyone but it saddens me to know that we could be helping one another to be alert to potential health risks but we cannot because most would rather that information be with-held as they feel that it would put a bad light on their particular families.

Things Change

After I published my first book and started working on my second book I had gotten to the point of adding family pictures or updating family pictures to add to the new book: A number of couples had since separated or divorced; a couple of families had become estranged. When I contacted those families where things had changed or become strained I was met with what one could best describe as hostel reactions to the idea of having pictures of either themselves, former spouses, their children, their parents and any other combination added to the book. I did as they asked but it saddens me because in every case the person or persons being removed or not added were long time members of the Catudal family or one of its extended family members. In a couple cases I was even asked to remove the divorced spouse’s name entirely; that I did not do as that is a part of public record but I did remove all pictures when requested to do so. That was very sad.

In Conclusion


Years ago I was asked by someone if I could tell her some information about her grandmother, such as, what she was like, what did she like to do, did she suffer from any ailments, what was her relationship to her siblings and so on. I was stymied. The person asking was a very distant cousin, something like a cousin 7 times removed or some wild number like that. She was asking me? We would all like to know what our distant relatives were like. Did great great grandpa run moonshine during prohibition days? Do we have heroes or deserters in our family history? Do we have people in our family history who did extraordinary things? Does our particular family history line have a history of depression that we don't know about? There are a million questions which all of us would love to have the answers to but very few of us would like that sort of information that affects us specifically to be known about or shared with others. That is the nature of the beast. Do we share and if so what do we share is certainly not clear-cut by any means. I have only give out my position on that issue. I'd love for you to leave me a comment sharing your views.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013


Ethics and Genealogy


I once belonged to a user group which specifically dealt with issue of ethics as it pertained to genealogy. The two areas with the hottest debates were issues dealing with 1) sharing data and 2) what kind of data should we share - if we could agree on the issue of sharing in the first place.

To Share Or Not To Share: my personal experience


Although not a specific topic solely related to Catudal genealogy I am daring to tread these waters because of the 10 years I've spent researching Catudal family history – the 10 years represents over 10,000 hours! When I started researching parts of my family history I readily shared whatever I had with anyone who was interested. It didn't take long for me to learn that sharing information was often a one-sided street; so often that I started to feel used.

This is what the typical scenario used to look like:

I received an e-mail from someone who had seen one of my posts or had somehow found out that I had done quite a bit of research into Catudal family history. They'd say something like “Hi there, my grandmother/grandfather was a Catudal. Their names were such and such. Do you have any information on my line?

Nice enough, right? I would have spent a couple hours pulling out all the documents I had for their line and would have put together a lineage report for them. I would have mailed all this to them and would have asked them if they could fill-in a couple blanks for me. For instance what was their father and mother's name and when and where were their parents married and I would have also asked if they had any wedding photos of their grandparents/parents/great grandparents – anything. And this is what would have happened almost every single time:

NOTHING

A big fat nothing. Not one piece of info back, no pictures AND not even a thank-you! In all the years I've been helping people find their Catudal roots I have only had 5 responses where the person actually not only thanked me but offered some information that I was missing.

Earlier this year someone wrote to me asking about a particular Catudal's involvement in the Rebellion of 1837-38. They indicated that they had information to share as well. I wrote the person in a general way giving them clues to what I had and they wrote me back that they could add to what I had so what did I do? I sent them all documents pertaining to that event and one of our Catudal family member's involvement. They then wrote me back thanking me – that was nice – but adding that they didn't have any other information as I felt led to believe. Sucks to be me, again!

Each time I've experienced this phenomenon I swear I'll never ever share again. Of course being the optimist I am I think that the next person will be different but almost always I'm disappointed again and again. So I decided to change how I share...

This is what the typical scenario now looks like:

I changed my strategy in that when someone e-mails me a request for information I only send out an ancestry chart showing their particular line back to Jean-Baptiste Catudal dit St-Jean and then wait to see if they respond. Now I usually get a thank you – things have improved - but still no sharing from their side.

The other side of the coin regarding sharing is the audacity some people have of taking the information given and using it as their own. Here are a couple 'unthinkables' that happened with sharing data...

As I was close to publishing my first book I made one final trip to the Canadian Archives in Ottawa to shore up my research. Seeing that I live in Germany, going all the way to Ottawa was no easy nor cheap feat. I met an employee who happened to be an expert on one of the family names I was researching for my book. I had one brick-wall left and I was hoping beyond hope that this person had that information or could help me find that information. The long and the short of it was that this person did not have the information I was seeking and had, in fact, never heard of my particular side-branch of the family. It was this person that turned out to be thrilled because they now were learning something new. I asked this person not to publish anything on the Internet or elsewhere until my book was finished. It was agreed.

A few months later I published my book with this never before, as far as I had ever heard, information. I sent out a letter to a large number of people letting them know about my book and giving them a slight glimpse into the 'new' information. One person wrote me back and told me that that wasn't new information at all. She had seen that on a Web site just recently. It turns out that the person who worked for the Canadian Archives, the one who promised not to publish my data, did. That wouldn't have been so bad but they took the credit for the years of research I had done to gather all of this particular family's data. I was not pleased.

Another unthinkable happened when a cousin of mine wrote to me and asked me about a family tree she came across at Ancestry.com. Apparently this tree had all of her hard researched data complete with her private notes, everything! And, who was the source given for some of that data? Me!

You see, my cousin had given me her gedcom as a way to archive it off-site and I had given her mine. We did this so that if ever, God forbid, something like a fire or whatever were to occur and we hadn't had a backup stored off-site then all of the years spent researching would be lost. At face value, it looked like I had given her data away. Luckily she knew me better than that and together we worked at finding out how her data got leaked. Well, apparently she had sent her gedcom to, not only myself but also to at least one other cousin who she thought would respect her hard work. That cousin didn't. My cousin also sent her a document containing research that I had done, a pdf file. This person passed that document on as well. The person she sent the information to published everything online and took my name from the pdf file and put it on some of the stolen data as if I were her source. That kind of theft takes a very special sort of person, the kind that not only steals from others but then makes-up sources to cover their tracks. My cousin and I tried to get Ancestry.com to force this person to take the plagiarized information off of their site. Ancestry's policy clearly states that they will not tolerate plagiarism but Ancestry.com refused to act on our case. They offered no help what-so-ever.

I can't tell you how many times over the last decade that I have come across people who have harvested someone's data and published it as their own. People who probably would never think of stealing someone's purse or wallet don't bat an eye at stealing information. It comes down to how we view 'information'. In genealogy there is the added assumption that 'my' family history belongs to me. The fact that someone spent years of research and hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars doing the research into a family that I belong to seems to have no bearing.

Not so long ago, if we wanted to know something we had to either go to the library and borrow a book or we had to buy a book. There was no Internet.

In 1987 I started working in a government library as a researcher. This was before the Internet became public. The Internet existed but was only used by universities and special libraries. In order to do a query I had to write up a case. That meant I had to decide how I was going to word the search. The perimeters of the search had to be detailed in order to reduce the number of false hits. Why was this all important? Cost. We were allowed a budget of $50.00 a search. Each hit cost $10.00. That meant that we would put in a search and say that we wanted only 5 hits. Only 5 hits would be returned and a bill would be sent to the Library in the amount of $50.00. We would spend a good hour or more fine tuning a search so that the results would be as relevant as possible. Can you imagine? Now, you go into Google or any search engine, enter any thing and instantly you have hits, dozens, hundred, thousands and more all in a part of a second and all at no extra cost. Twenty-five years ago data was hard to come by and it was expensive. Information wasn't cheap in any sense of the word. Today it has no intrinsic value.

Today, if you want to know something, anything, there's an app for that. Many apps in fact are free. At least that is how most of us view it. What we don't realize is that we have become the commodity. There is no such thing as free. But because the access to information has become instant and seemingly free it has no value to us, save for the very brief satisfaction of learning something new or answering a nagging question or something trivial such as that. We now don't respect intellectual property. We view the written word or the song sung as if it were our right to have even though we did nothing to earn it.

It is ILLEGAL to take information someone else has created. Illegal! But many if not most think nothing of stealing other people's work. It is so easy to cut and paste or simply to download. Nothing to it. It isn't even a question of doing anything wrong anymore. Everyone does it. Everyone on Facebook that shares a picture they found or a video they found somewhere on the Internet is stealing if they didn't ask the person who created or made the item for permission to use it.

When I was writing my first book I was contemplating publishing my work in pdf format, which would have saved me many thousands of dollars had I done so. While I was thinking about this I sent out an e-mail to cousins asking them what they thought. I told them that I would be password protecting the pdf so that to view, print or copy the data one would have to have the password. One of my cousins wrote to me and told me that if I wanted to charge for the data that she would find a way to crack the pdf file. She said that I had chosen to do the family research and that that information belonged to the whole family. I had no right to sell the book whether in pdf file format or in hard copy. I told her that the project I was working on was not only for my family but was going to be housed in various archives around the world. I likened my book to other history books, they belong to us in the sense that any history book is our history because we are a part of the human race. Did she expect people who research and write books on topics that relate to us to give us not only their books but all of their source data as well for free? No answer came back.

Many amateur genealogists argue why should they be expected to duplicate the effort. If I've already got the information why would I mind passing it on?

I used to belong to a group which discussed ethics in genealogy. In one of our discussions on sharing, Barbara A Brown reprinted a quote by Richard Pence:

"I am no longer buying any tools, appliances, or lawn equipment. You all have already spent a lot of money on this stuff, so why should I duplicate that? Lend me everything you have. It is only right that we share."

After all these years researching New France genealogy I have found that very little that we now find online, put there by private individuals, has much value. The reason is that much of it is simply copied from one family tree to another without sourcing, making the information all but useless and secondly, most importantly, anyone doing serious research has been burned many times by people expecting them to give away all of their hard work or even worse by those 'harvesters' who steal the work of others without so much as a thank-you. No, the Internet presence by most of the serious researchers has become rare indeed. Having said all this, having ranted a fair bit, I'm thinking of putting all of my Catudal research online. At least then, when someone takes my work to claim it as there own then that work will be correct.

What Kind Of Data Should We Share?


It's been my experience that people don't want to share the very types of information they are so hungry to know about others.

I once posted a question in the Catudal Facebook page asking the members to let me know if anyone in their Catudal line had or had had Alzheimer. Two answered on that Facebook page, the rest wrote me privately telling me who in their family had or had had Alzheimer but asked me not to make it public. The stigma of having an illness associated with the debilitation of a relative's cognitive capabilities was very present. It never occurred to me that this would be an issue associated with shame. My motivation was to see if we as Catudals had a higher ratio of Alzheimer than the norm. It wasn't meant to be a scientific demonstration but I had hoped to see if some family lines had a propensity for this illness as opposed to other lines. I did see some disturbing trends in two sides of the Catudal family lines but couldn't publish my results because I'd been given the information in confidence. But, a big but, most people who wrote me asked me to tell them the results. People don't want to divulge their dark truths but they sure want to know someone else's.

I have been privy to many, many stories of sexual abuse, alcohol abuse, incest, run-ins with the law and suicide. Each and every time the person passing on the information wanted me to stay silent. I stayed silent. In fact I never even wrote the information down. I was too worried that if my data were ever passed down when I die that someone else with no moral compass would publish the information hurting many families in their wake. Was I right? Have we no right to know if our family line has a higher level of Alzheimer than another of our family lines? What about families with higher suicide rates? What dirty laundry do we launder in public and what not?

You'd be surprised how many people have complained to me about their right to know.

Then comes the question of 'is what you know to be true, really true?' I mean did weird Ted really like little girls or was that some malicious gossip that had no basis in truth?

In my Catudal research I spent a great deal of time searching through newspapers and found a really interesting story about a Catudal arsonist who was quite active for a while. He was caught but there was a jurisdictional issue. One body gave up their claim of jurisdiction so that this person could be prosecuted in the other jurisdiction solely. It was discovered that the other jurisdiction never had the right to prosecute in the first place. The short and long of it was that the arsonist got off over this technicality. There was no question of his guilt, he was caught red-handed. I knew all this when I wrote my second book The Familes Catudal but I never published the facts. I struggle with that now and again. All of this information is in the public record. It's not easy to find but the court records are out there. The reason I didn't publish this was because the family of the individual is alive and I don't know how much they know or don't know. Was I right? Do we not as a community, a world community, have a right to know if an former arsonist lives next door to us? I mean, if it is a matter of public record and has been through the courts then it isn't hear-say anymore, is it?

How far do we go?

Personally, I have not documented stories of child abuse, sexual abuse, spousal abuse, incest, suicide, adoption, sexual orientation, mental illness, drug and alcohol abuse or addition and criminal activity. The one caveat is with the subject of adoption. If the adoption occurred more than 100 years ago I add that openly to my database. Also, if all parties agree to that information being documented I have done so. Otherwise I've made it a policy to steer clear.

I think most every one of us would love to find someone who could tell them fun and interesting stories about our forefathers: what did they do for a living, did they have hobbies, did they have illnesses and so on. Yet, in most cases, it has been like pulling teeth to try and gather anything but raw data to describe our Catudal family. Luckily, there were a few who were so very kind to share wonderful memories with me so that I could document them for future generations but unfortunately they were not in the majority.

I once had a lady write to me asking me if I had stories about her great grandmother. She wanted to know more about her than just when and where she was born, married and died. Imagine, she expected me, a pure stranger, to have that sort of information. Information she herself didn't possess. Information that almost no one shares any longer. How sad!

I wish we could share pictures and stories of our families. I wish those with whom we share information with would be fair and give us credit for the hours of research we did. But that's just not the norm. It's truly amazing how cheap people have come to view information.






Thursday, 25 October 2012

French Naming Conventions



The Use of Last Names - In General

Until recent times in history, the 11th century, last names were not used. There were a lot less people and generally you were known as ‘John the baker’s son’ or Mary the seamstress from Orono.

The tradition of using a surname took hold among the nobility first, and then gradually, by the 14th century, most people started to adopt a last name.
Did you know?
Last names began to be used by commoners at different times throughout Europe. The practice came into fashion in France in the 13th century while it didn’t take hold in Germany until the 16th century. Last name usage was not compulsory in some Scandinavian countries until the 20th century.

Today in Iceland and Norway last names are still not used by its Native population and even though non-Natives do have last names they do not use them in day-to-day dealings. I recently was on vacation in Iceland and took a look at their telephone book. People are listed by their first names first and then by their last names. So, in order to find someone in the telephone book you first look-up the person by their first name and then follow down the list until you find their last name.
Last name usage in the beginning, by our standards, was somewhat confusing. A person could be called Sam Taylor because he sewed and his daughter could be named Sandra Atwood, because she lived near the woods. If you came to a town you had never been to before then you would not know that Sandra Atwood was Sam Taylor’s daughter.

It was not until the 15th century that surnames began to be inherited rather than to be taken from one’s appearance, job, town and a whole host of other possibilities.

Please keep in mind that this is a very general look at how last names came into being and how they were formed. Last name usage was and still is a very complex subject and varies immensely through-out the world.

Saint’s Names

In 1703 the Rituel du Diocèse de Québec was written. This book set out the rules, which the church and its people were to follow, including the names one was allowed to choose when naming their child.

“The Church forbids Priests from allowing profane or ridiculous names to be given to the child, such as Apollon, Diane, etc. But it commands that the child be given the name of a male or female Saint, depending on its sex, so that it can imitate the virtues and feel the effects of God’s protection.”1

The list includes 1,251 acceptable names for boys and 373 for girls.1

The Structure of French-Canadian First Name

Up until the mid-1900s French-Canadian first names given at the time of baptism had a certain structure. Usually, not always, the child was given three names. The first name, often Marie or Joseph indicated the sex of the baby. The second name was often the name of the sex appropriate God-parent. The third was the name the child was called.

Sometimes the child’s baptism record may only show one or two of the names, usually the first and second but not the name the child was called. Sometimes the child was baptized with only one name but the family bible shows the three names. For instance, my Grandfather, Adelard, was baptized as Napoleon, period. When I asked my Grandmother what my grandfather’s full name had been she said Joseph Napoleon Adelard; however, I had never seen the name Joseph associated with him. Never-the-less, my Grandfather is known to have had all three names. As an aside - Napoleon was not my grandfather’s Godfather’s name - there is always an exception to the rule.

Another example is my grandmother. She was baptized as Marie Anna Anastasia Yvonne Tremblay. She was called, in everyday life, Yvonne.

Baptismal Names

Often times, especially in small rural towns, two or more children born roughly at the same time but to different parts of the extended family will have the same names. It was, up until the late 1800s, usual when baptizing a child to give it the sex appropriate name of the godparent. For instance, a man named Ignace Lafrance has two brothers: one named Jean-Baptiste and the other Jean-Paul. Jean-Baptiste and his wife have a baby one month before his brother Jean-Paul and his wife have their baby. Jean-Baptiste’s baby is a boy and so they ask Ignace if he would act as the godfather. The baby is baptized with the name Ignace. One month later Jean-Paul and his wife have their baby and it too is a boy. They also ask Ignace if he would be their child’s godfather. Now you have three people named Ignace Lafrance in one small town, two of whom are roughly the same age. It can make determining kinships a bit tricky.

Sometimes gender specific names were given to the opposite sex but almost always appear as the second name, such as Marie Joseph for a female or Jean Marie for a male.

Some names that now-a-days are gender specific were earlier also gender specific but for the opposite gender, such as Phillipe which was historically a female name but now is a male name, or the name Anne which was a male name but now almost exclusively a female name.

Reuse of First Names

It is extremely common to find, in the French-Canadian family, all boys and all girls being given the same sex appropriate first name such as Jean for the boys or Marie for the girls. A family’s naming profile might look like this: Marie-Louise, Marie-Angélique, Marie, Marie-Josephe, Jean-Louis, Jean-Baptiste and Jean-Paul. The child in question would be called by the second name most often but it is also common to see for instance Marie-Louise documented on her marriage certificate simply as Marie making it impossible without other documentation to tell the difference between her and her sister who only carries the name Marie.

Many times one will find huge errors in the genealogical record due to mistaking one person for another because of the practice of giving the same first name to more than one child. An example of this can be found with the person for whom our first Catudal to come to New France worked. His name was François Duplessis dit Faber (1689-1762); his brother’s name was François Antoine Duplessis dit Faber (1703-1733). Some very reputable researchers have interchanged the two brothers without realizing it because the second brother often was simply called François. Both brothers were in the New France military. One of the two brothers died in 1733 during a battle between the Renard (Fox), the Sauk Indians and the French. The other brother upon retiring went to France to spend out his final days. It is the latter François Duplessis dit Faber (1689-1762) for whom our Jean-Baptiste Catudal dit St-Jean worked.

Another practice, which was very common amongst our French ancestors, was to re-use the name of a child who had died. This practice was used up until around the early 1930s after which it seems to have gone out of favour.

A practice which has been a major stumbling block to some people researching family history is the practice of re-naming a child the same name as one of the children in the same family who did not die. Although this is rare, and I have to admit I do not understand the dynamics, it did occur or at least that is what the records show. I am not referring to the practise I discussed above where-by all boys and all girls in one family would all be given the same sex appropriate first name, usually Marie and Joseph, but would be called something else in everyday life. I mean that some families show two children with identical names who grow-up and get married and have their own children all the while using the same first name.


French-Canadian Women Kept/Keep Their Maiden Names

French-Canadian women living in Québec today keep their maiden name and are known by that name in religious, administrative and legal documents; not by their husband’s names. It has always been so; even when present day Québec was a part of New France.

As a part of the civil law system found only in Québec, the rest of Canada follows the British common law system; women in present day Québec continue to use their maiden name for all things official.

The present day French-Canadian women living in Québec may be introduced as Mrs. Chabot wife of Mr. Chabot at a gathering but for all things outside of a social gathering she is referred to by her maiden name.

When the Treaty of Paris was signed in 1763 bringing an end to French rule and to New France, the present day province of Québec was formed albeit quite different in land mass as we know of it today. It was only a thin strip of land that lay on the North shore of the St. Lawrence River. However, what had been New France territory until then still housed a large number of French speaking people who still practiced the French ways. This included women who often times kept their maiden names

Once British rule began and a border between the United States and Canada was established, Canada came under British rule. Those who strayed outside of Québec, although allowed to maintain their traditions, often found it easier to conform to the British common law system. By the late 1800s one can see some of our relatives start to move out of Québec to other parts of Canada, mostly Ontario but also to Alberta and to the USA. The further a-field they went the more likely they were to adopt the naming conventions of the British.

French-Canadian women of the next generation outside of Québec started to take their husband’s name much more readily. This trend started to change in and around the early 1970s and early 1980s when it became a cry from the women’s liberation camps that women should be allowed and encouraged to keep their maiden name.

Today it is fairly common to see women throughout The United States and Canada using their maiden names in favour of the option to adopt their husband’s name. In most parts of Western Europe, women are known under their husband’s name – that part of women’s liberation never quite caught on in Europe.

Alterations by Personal Choice

A common phenomenon which started upon immigration to the new world was that people changed their own names for any number of reasons: to sound less ethnic, to be more pronounceable in English, to change a surname which had unpleasant connotations associated with it, or maybe simply to be able to hide. Often times the names were direct translations of their original names, Schneider to Taylor or Schwarz to Black.

First name alterations were also fairly common and can often be seen when French Canadians went to the States in search of work in the late 1800s. You often see simple alterations such as someone changing a first name from Jean to John or François to Frank and the like. Sometimes our relatives changed their names completely, so much so that the new name might not have resembled their birth name at all as in the case of two brothers, Dominique Catudal (1827-) [2643] and Jean-Marie Catudal (1831-After 1880) [2654] who both moved to Vermont in the late 1850s. Once there they changed their names to John St. John; both of them. They lived in the same town and both took the same name.

In present day Canada the Change of Name Act, R.S.O 1990, c. C.7 Section (2) states that if one changes their name then as a matter of confidentiality the following will happen:

(a) the application shall be sealed and filed in the office of the Registrar General;

(b) no notice of the change of name shall be published in The Ontario Gazette and no notice of the application or of the change of name shall be given to the Ministry of the Solicitor General or any person;

(c) if the person’s birth was registered in Ontario, the original registration shall be withdrawn from the registration files and sealed in a separate file, and a new birth registration showing the new name shall be made; and

(d) the change of name shall not be entered in the change of name index or noted under section 31 of the Vital Statistics Act . R.S.O. 1990, c. C.7, s. 8 (2); 1997, c. 17, s. 4 (4, 5); 2006, c. 19, Sched. B, s. 3.

God help the genealogists who come after us, they do not stand a chance of finding someone who decides to change his or her name.

Not only is it possible in present day Canada to change your last name but also your first and or middle names as well. I once worked with Bridget. Bridget was her third attempt at finding a first name that she felt suited her; she had always kept her last name intact though.

Alterations Not By Personal Choice — “Do You Ear What I Ear[1]

Anthropology is made up of four disciplines: Social Anthropology – the study of cultures, Archaeology – the study of artifacts  Physical or Biological Anthropology and Linguistics – the study of language. While majoring in Anthropology I remember sitting in my first year class of Linguistics and the professor saying uhungry? wachyaeet? Most understood him to mean ‘are you hungry? what did you eat?’ and that was indeed what he had said. He had just speeded up the words and cut off the endings of the words as we might do when talking to friends. He used to like doing this at the beginning of class; a sort of attention-getter and many times we did not have a clue what he had said. I learnt that particularly across cultures that one might think they are hearing one thing but without the experience or benefit of the other’s language or culture we can make some amazing errors in judgment about what we hear.

When an English speaking enumerator took the census in a predominantly French speaking area, often times the French names were spelt the best way he could make out from the sound of the name. Often times the English enumerator just did not care to be accurate. There has always existed a tension between the French and English parts of Canada and we see many interesting adulterations of French names because of this.

Other problems occurred such as a person being asked their name, misunderstanding the question because they spoke another language and then answering the assumed question. Rather than understanding the question “What is your name?” they may have thought they were being asked “Where do you come from?” So an answer of Les Cèdres instead of Massias would cause the official to put down something like Cedar. From then on the person would be known as Mr. or Mrs. Cedar.

During a census it was not uncommon for the person answering the door to be a child who sometimes mispronounced their last name so that the census taker might have documented Lafrance for Lafrain or Tompay for Tremblay.

When depending on someone else’s memory to ascertain a third party’s surname it can often times be falsely recounted. For instance, you ask your grandfather the married name of his Aunt who has been dead for 20 years and who was never really welcomed in the family after her marriage to the rotten so-and-so. He might remember her married name as Laspé when in reality it was Lapres. After not having used or referred to a particular surname for a long time people can easily mix it up just enough so that the name they say no longer has any relationship to what the actual name had been.

Spelling and Standardized Spellings

How many times have you given your name to someone only to have him or her ask you “how do you spell that?” It is assumed that you can answer the question. It was not always so.

Once last names came into use the next problem occurred and that was how to spell the last name. Most people did not read or write so it was left to the person recording an event to write the name the best way they could. Perhaps at another event the person’s name would be written down by someone else. Sometimes in both occurrences the name was spelled the same; many times this did not happen. I have seen records referencing the same person, documented by the very same priest over the course of some years with different spellings of the person’s last name.

A big obstacle when searching records for a certain name is that there are no standardized spellings of first or last names. This means that a name can be spelt many different ways, without making a spelling error, but sound identical to one another: Case in point, Audet, Audette, Odet and Odette or the German name Myer, Maier and Meier.

Bad Handwriting and Faded Records

As you know, very few people in the history of our Country and consequently our family could read and write. Those who could sometimes wrote just beautifully. They were in the minority. Handwriting can be so sloppy that it makes the record useless to anyone. Now with the use of computers the problem of misspelling is becoming rarer but the transcription of the old documents into various databases by well meaning people who do not document when there is a question regarding spelling and make a ‘best guess’ is now becoming a fairly big problem. There are standardized methods people should employ when copying data from old records and that includes copying exactly what is there even if it does not make sense. One can always make a note about what one thinks about what was documented but it is only an opinion. Many people are now putting their guesses into a growing number of databases.

Consistency of Last Name Usages

For some unknown reason many of our relatives oscillated between their last name and their dit name without apparent rhyme or reason. Often records of our Catudal relatives suddenly have them documented as St-Jean and back again. I have found no consistencies in this phenomenon.

Soundex

In Genealogy all names can be sound coded in order that one can look for all possible sound-alikes and this ‘sound coding’ is called soundex.

<algorithm, text> An algorithm for encoding a word so that similar sounding words encode the same.

The first letter is copied unchanged then subsequent letters are encoded as follows:
bfpv  = “1”
cgjkqsxzç  = “2”
dt = “3”
l = “4”
mnñ = “5”
r = “6”

Other characters are ignored and repeated; characters are encoded as though they were a single character. Encoding stops when the resulting string is four characters long, adding trailing “0”s if it is shorter. For example, “SMITH” or “SMYTHE” would both be encoded as “S530”.7

The name Catudal has a soundex code of C334, which means that the names Cautal, Cottel, Catadal and 50 other names must be considered when searching for Catudal. This covers only sound-alikes.

The Meaning of  the Name Catudal

The name Catudal comes from the Breton language. Catudal comes from the name Caduudal which is first seen in the record from 840 to 847 and from the name Cadodal which appears in 1060. The prefix Cat, in the ancient Breton language, means combat. 11,12 ‘Uuo’ is a preposition and a prefix meaning ‘enough’. The ending ‘Tal’ means ‘to have value’ or ‘to make payment’. Therefore, the name Catudal means something a kin to, ‘to be good at battle’.

Please keep in mind that although the Catudal name can be traced to the 800s, it does not mean that we have any relationship to those who may have carried that name because, as mentioned above, last name usage did not start until the 11th century among royalty and the 14th century for the rest of the population of France, and it was not until the 15th century that last names were handed down from father to child. Just because someone was known as he who is good in battle does not mean that we are related to him. It does not mean that we are not related but rather that we cannot assume that to be the case.

The dit name of St-Jean has both habitational and religious roots. Many places in France carry this name. The place names were given as a dedication to Saint John the Baptist.

Be Very Flexible

I remember one of the first people I entered in my database was my great grandfather Alfred Tremblay. I had some trouble finding a record of him because someone had gone and spelt his name as Fred Trembly. Well! I thought. What is wrong with them! I recounted this experience to a member of the Nipissing branch of the Ontario Genealogical Society looking for sympathy. She started to laugh. She said, “Is that all?” Now some ten years later I often look back on that time with a wistful gaze and think to myself “If only it were that easy all of the time.”


Dit Names

A very important aspect to French Canadian naming conventions is 'dit' name usage. For an in-depth discussion of dit name usage please see my blog http://www.catudals.com/2011/05/dit-dite-names.html. 


Sources — Specific

1.         Electronic Source; Montréal, PRDH-Programme de recherche en démographie historique Université de. First and Last Names. In,
2.         Electronic Source; 2005, Musée de la civilisation. Men of Faith and Action. In, http://www.mcq.org/seminaire/english/chap2/photos/22-7-7_pcouv.htm
3.         Electronic Source; Couture, Patrick. La Nouvelle-France-New France Map. In, http://www.republiquelibre.org/cousture/images6/AAACARTE.GIF - On page 57.
4.         Book; Goodridge, Alberta: Goodridge Social and Agricultural Society. Harvest of Memories: A History of the Districts of Beaverton, Goodridge, Larkin, Maloy, Truman and White Rat, 1999.
5.         Book; Society, Forgotten Echoes Historical. Forgotten Echoes: A History of Blackfoot and Surrounding Area, 1982.
6.         Electronic Journal; MyFamily.com. “Do You Ear What I Ear.”
7.         Electronic Journal; die.net. “Definition: Soundex.”
8.         Electronic Source; Wikipedia. Genealogy. In, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genealogy
9.         Electronic Source; Ancestry.com. Name History and Origin For. In, http://www.ancestry.com/learn/factsfact.aspx?fid=10&ln=
10.      Electronic Journal; Wikipedia. “Image: Bretagen Map.Png.”
11.      Loth, J. M. (1884). Vocabulaire vieux-breton. Paris,, F. Vieweg.
12.      Loth, J. M. (1890). Chrestomathie bretonne. Paris,, É. Bouillon.

Sources — General

Luc Lépine, The Military Roots of the ‘dit’ Names (From December 2002 Connections ©2002 QFHS – Québec Family History Society)
Linda W. Jones, Genealogy: Acadian & French-Canadian Style
Bob Quintin, The “dit” Name in Franco-American Genealogy
Rev. Cyprien Tanguay, Dictionnaire généalogique des familles Canadiennes, Volume 7
André Corvisier, L’Armée française de la fin du XVIIe siècle au ministère Choiseul: le soldat, Paris, 1964, 2 volumes.
Robert J. Quintin, The “Dit” Name: French-Canadian Surnames, Aliases, Adulterations and Anglicizations.



[1]          Neil, Michael John. Ancestry Daily News article. 27 July 1999.h ttp://www.rootdig.com/adn/earwhatiear.html

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

How Do You Pronounce The Name Catudal?



Many names have more than one possibility on how one can pronounce them but the variations on the pronunciation of the name Catudal runs the gambit of possibilities.

I posted the question on the Internet asking those who have the Catudal name or come from a Catudal family to tell me how they pronounce their name. Here are the answers:

Ca-Da-Dal, Cat-U-Dal, Ca-Tu Dal, Catch-U-Dal, Cat-Uh-Dal, Cat-Sue-Dal, Ca-Tu-Del, Ka-too-dul, Cat-ah-dal and Cat-a-dell.

A cousin of mine, Michel Catudal, told me that the French do not pronounce the ‘u’ in Catudal like ‘oo’ but rather more like a ‘ü‘ which does not have an English equivalent.

Laurie Catudal Campbell, told me that as she grew up she did not like all the mispronunciations. She said that “Cat-oodle“ was a common mispronunciation. She also endured a lot of teasing in the form of children asking “if we had caught our doll yet“.

Donald E. Catudal said that he dreaded the first day of school each year because “The teacher would always butcher our name and everyone would laugh. I think they would say Ka-too-dul and laughs ensued.”

Two people who responded were adamant that how they pronounced the Catudal name was the ‘right’ way; both, however, pronounced the name different from one another.

So the answer to how the name Catudal is or should be pronounced is to pronounce it the way you do. Whichever way that you do pronounce Catudal, one thing is for sure; you will be asked to spell it.


Thursday, 23 February 2012

The Plot Thickens - Jacques Catudal and the Rebellion of 1837-1838

Some time ago I posted a bit about how Jacques Catudal (1794-1873) moved his family from St-Jean-Baptiste de Rouville to Napierville seemingly to get away from his family. The move happened sometime between 1827 and 1829. After the move there was no further involvement between Jacques and the other Catudals, except for a very short contact period with Jacques’ brother Honoré some 20 years later. By no contact I mean that Jacques did not appear on any baptism, marriage or burial record as a witness for any of his siblings or cousins and they did not appear on any of his or his children’s records after the move.

Jacques created a story that he passed on to his children and their children and that was that he had been born in France and that a close relative, presumably his brother, Georges Cadoudal had been tried and convicted of treason and had faced the gallows. The rest of the family had been given the options to either face the same fate or leave France. They chose the latter and came to Canada.

In my book The Families Catudal I tell the story of why I believed that Jacques moved away and made up this elaborate story – in short here: During the Rebellion of 1837/38 Jacques' family seem to have been heavily involved as Patriots of the movement; in fact, Jacques’ brother Gabriel was killed at the battle of St-Charles on 25 November 1837 (the books say it was Jacques brother Louis who was killed but the priest presiding over the burial of the fallen man mixed up the names of the two brothers and it was actually Louis’ and Jacques’ brother Gabriel who was killed – I have very strong circumstantial proof to substantiate this claim and if you want the proof just e-mail me at catudal@gmx.net and I’ll be happy to show you). Jacques on the other hand was a Loyalist and fought on the side of the English during the Rebellion. I thought that was reason enough for the split in family relations but recently I found out a bit more...

Recently I had the good fortune to come into contact with Richard Brown who is the retired Head of History and Citizenship at Manshead School (England) who has among other accomplishments written many books one of which caught my eye and that was My Three Rebellions: Canada 1837-1838, South Wales 1839 and Victoria, Australia 1854. I contacted Richard and we corresponded back and forth. I told him about my research regarding distant family members and how they fought on opposing sides. He sent me a link for the site Les Patriotes de 1837@1838, Les Rébellions de Bas-Canada. Richard told me that he recognized the name Catudal and the link is where he had come across that name in association with the Rebellion.

The site has some java problems!!!  You can do a search for the name Catudal on the site and it will come back with the results but if you try to see any of the documents then, if your system is like mine, it brings back an error and I have to do a CTRL ALT DEL to kill my browser session before I can use my browser after that or I have to reboot, so be careful – I have written to the admin of the site but he has not replied. Anyhow, it isn’t necessary to retrieve the documents in order to see the big picture.

The break between Jacques and the rest of the Catudal family probably did not happen between the years 1827 and 1829 but rather most likely after July of 1836 and definitely over a difference in political ideologies. You see, Jacques Catudal was a Patriot and not only attended Patriot meetings, he was an organizer. As late as 1836 he is shown as having started a petition with others encouraging people to join the movement. He actively participated in meetings as can be seen in July of 1836 by him moving a motion and seconding another in one of the meetings.

That means that Jacques Catudal, for whatever reason switched sides mid-Rebellion. He was a turncoat! That sure would have been quite a blow to the rest of the family and it may not have been only Jacques' wish to distance himself from the Catudal clan but just as much the wish of the rest of the family that he stay away.

Richard Brown told me that it wasn't completely unknown for Patriots to change sides. Richard wrote "It’s one of the great imponderables of the rebellions in Lower Canada why many people who had been Patriotes in the mid-1830s chose not to support the rebels and, as in Jacques’ case, actively supported the authorities."

Monday, 9 January 2012

Another Catudal Mystery

Recently a cousin of mine wrote to me to ask me if I knew anything about some stories that had been told to him by his father who had, in turn, been told the stories to by his father. The line of Catudals that the story comes from is the line starting at Magloire Catudal (1831-1891), my direct line in fact. Before commenting let me tell you what was passed on to me:

My cousin said that his grandfather had told his father that some of our ancestors had fled from France to Ireland to escape the Revolution. Marie Antoinette’s name had some sort of significance to the story as well but what, is not known.

He said that the Catudal family was loyal to France’s nobility and when the French Revolution was gaining power the Catudal family fled to Ireland where they stayed hidden. Some made their passage to the New World along with some Irish immigrants.

The story goes on: Apparently one of our great uncles went to France to fight for a heritage claim.

We were the closest family line that should have received the heritage. The story is that financial resources were collected inside my family to send one of our family members to represent us in court in Europe (France?) for a court dispute. The dispute in court went for so long that our ancestor ran out of money and had no choice but to abandon and to come back in North America.

The amount laid claim to was worth 100,000,000.00 (One hundred million!) – Dollars or Francs, the denomination was not known.

That is one heck of a story! Is it true? Have any of you heard anything about a Catudal connection to Ireland? to a legacy that had such a huge value??

This story has a number of parallels to the story created by Jacques Catudal (1794-1873) to distance himself from his Catudal relatives; the story that said that he came from the Georges Cadoudal line and when Georges was beheaded for having tried to assassinate Napoleon this line of Catudals was given the option to either leave France or face the same fate as Georges. They left and came to the safety of Canada. This story is a total fabrication; however, here are the parallels between my cousins story and the Catudal/Cadoudal legend:

  • The setting for both stories is the French Revolution
  • Georges Cadoudal was a rebel in that he was devoutly loyal to the French nobility. Napoleon on the other hand was a radical Republican. In fact in 1791 he was the president of the local Jacobin club whose mission was to wipe out aristocrats and bishops. The parallel - the story from my cousin states that our Catudal line in France was loyal to the monarchy.
  • The year 1793 was significant to Marie Antoinette, Napoleon Bonaparte and Georges Cadoudal. Marie Antoinette was tried and executed in October 1793. Napoleon’s first noteworthy military action was when he managed to take back Toulon from the rebel forces in November 1793.  It was in 1793 that Georges Cadoudal, a Chouannerie (royalist uprising), started the western rebellion of France in Vendee, Bretagne against the Revolution. The parallel - the story from my cousin mentions the French Revolution.
  • Georges Cadoudal did flee to England a number of times to escape when the French forces got too close to capturing him. The parallel - the story from my cousins mentions the apparent need of our Catudal family members having had to flee to Ireland because of the French Revolution.

Inconsistencies between the legend of a Catudal/Cadoudal connection and the story from my cousin:
  • The biggest discrepancy is that the name of Georges Cadoudal is not a part of the story from my cousin but does play a major role in the legend of a Catudal/Cadoudal connection.
  • There is an inheritance in my cousin’s story and no mention of one in the Georges Cadoudal legend. In fact Georges wasn’t particularly well off at all nor did he come from an affluent family.
  • Georges went to England to avoid capture while the story from my cousin has Ireland as the country.
  • Although not terribly significant, one of the differences between the two stories is that I have never heard of this new story before. I have spent more than 8 years intensely researching all things Catudal and have written 2 very large volumes on the topic and till now have never heard a mention of anything like this. What is also strange is that this story comes from my direct line: Magloire was my great great grandfather.
  • Something else rather strange is that the story or legend of the Catudal/Cadoudal connection was told to me by several people, all of whom come from the line starting at Jacques Catudal (1794-1873). It was Jacques who made up the story to distance himself and his children from the rest of the Canadian Catudals. My line of Catudals, the line with this new story, does not cross paths with Jacques' line. In fact you have to go all the way back to the first Catudal in New France before there is a connection between the two.

My cousin does not know which person went to Europe, presumably France, to fight for this huge inheritance but his understanding is that it was one of Magloire Catudal’s sons.

So my question is have you heard of this new Catudal mystery? If you have could you please e-mail me at judy@catudals.com It would be great to be able to find out if this new story is in fact a true story or if somehow it is a variation on the Catudal/Cadoudal legend.

Just as an aside, I have checked ship’s passenger lists showing passengers coming from Europe to Canada and the States and have not found anyone with the name Catudal, or one of its variants /adulterations /dit forms /misspellings, on any list that cannot be accounted for. I mean that every Catudal on every ship that I have been able to find were Canadian or American Catudals travelling to and fro either for work or pleasure. There were no stray Catudals on those lists. Please keep in mind, that isn't conclusive proof at all; it just means that all sources I am aware of holding such data have no record of Catudals from Ireland or France as having immigrated to Canada or the States.

Monday, 26 December 2011

UPDATE: British Home Children and a Catudal Connection

The update is written in red below

Have you heard of the British Home Children? It seems to be one of the very best open secrets of the 19th and 20th centuries. It was a scheme devised to alleviate the financial burden on Britain of its poor or impoverished children. Rather than look after their own, they sent poor children whether orphaned or not to their colonies of Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa in the form of cheap child labour.

There were a number of organizations responsible for the emigration (read deportation) such as: Barnardo’s, Annie Macpherson, Maria Rye, Fegan Homes, Dr. Stephenson, the National Children’s Home and so on

There were well in excess of 100,000 children taken from Great Britain between 1833 and 1939. Their ages usually ranged between 6 and 15 years of age but some were as young as 3 and they were simply known as “The Home Children”

Often the agencies responsible for these “Waifs and Strays” changed dates of birth and last names of the children so that they could never trace where they themselves came from. It is as if they were simply thrown away not even with the dignity of a past or identity to hold onto.

This wasn’t the only time that Britain engaged in this practice but it was the last.

The majority of the children were sent to Canada. They were set-up on farms as indentured servants working until the age of 18 without pay or the right to medical care and they were not allowed to go to school.

As part of my research for my book, The Families Catudal. I came across a 1911 census that struck me as kind of odd.

Please Click on Image to Enlarge

Under the entry of Barthelemy Catudal’s family was an “adopted” daughter name Sara (sic) Clarke. The entry noted that she was 17 years of age and had come to Canada in 1904 at the age of 10 at which time, presumably, she had gone to live with Barthelemy’s family. What was strange is that I never heard of her at all - Barthelemy was my great grandfather. My grandfather would have been 11 years old at the time of the 1911 census and old enough to have remembered her but he nor my great aunts and uncles never once mentioned her. I tried to find out what had become of her but could never find any information on her, until recently.

Also of note in the above census is the fact that all of the school aged children were shown to have attended 10 months of school for the year 1910 but not Sarah. As I said, the British Home Children were not allowed to go to school; they were on these farms to work, period.

I managed to find Sarah on a passenger list along with 75 other children on the ship The Bremen. They had set sail from Liverpool, England on 18 February 1904 and had arrived in Halifax on the 27th. One child was being sent on to Sturgeon Falls, Ontario another to Barrie, Ontario and the rest were all headed to Knowlton, Québec from whence they would be distributed to various farms in Québec as child labourers.

Please Click on Image to Enlarge


I was really dumbfounded when I saw her name on a passenger list carrying so many children sailing all alone. It occurred to me that she and the rest must have something to do with The Home Children and started to look deeper into this often times horrible legacy. This is when I came into contact with Perry Snow who’s own father had been one of these outcasts. He has spent many years developing a comprehensive database of British Home Children: the database has over 57,000 British Home Children records, in order to make sure that these children would not be forgotten, to show that they mattered, that they were someone and so that their names would live on.

I submitted Sarah Ann Clarke’s name to Mr. Snow to be entered into his database, along with the vital record details I have to date uncovered such as, her entry on the Passenger List from 1904, the 1911 Census, her marriage record, the 1920 USA Census entry and the 1930 USA Census entry. Sarah now will live on. She did exist and she did matter!

Please Click on Picture to Enlarge


A little bit about Sarah: She was a Methodist and was married on 29 October 1915 in the Lawrenceville Methodist Church. At the time of her marriage she had been living in Bedford Village. Her husband, Alex J. Bresette, who was a fair bit older than she, had been living in South Durham prior to their marriage. On the 1920 Oxford, Maine census it states that she and her husband had moved to the States in 1915 (shortly after their marriage), that they were not American Citizens and that Sarah came from the coastal town of Margate, England, about 75 miles Southeast from London. It was a stroke of luck that the enumerator had entered the town rather than just England. He had struck out the town’s name and left the word England on that line but it is clear to see the name below the crossed out line.

The Census states that Sarah’s mother had been born in Wales and her father Australia. Alex’s father had been born in Canada while his mother had been born in the States. He is shown as being employed on a farm.

The Census also shows that both Sarah and her husband could read and write but neither had attended school. They owned their own home but it had a mortgage.

On the 1930 Census it shows that the couple had moved about 10 miles away from where they had lived in 1920 to Mechanic Falls, Maine and that they no longer owned their own home but rather rented for $16.00 a month. This time they stated that they had immigrated not in 1915 but rather in 1924 and were still not American Citizens. Alex did odd job while Sarah kept house.

Sarah and her husband do not appear to have had any children.

I have yet to be able to find more on Sarah but will continue to search. Well, perseverance does pay off. Today I found Sarah's death information as well as her husband's. After having lived all those years in Maine, she and her husband moved back to the same town where she had been 'placed' in 1904. She died on 17 December 1949 in Sherbrooke, Québec, Canada. He death record, which I found through Généalogie Québec - Institut généalogique Drouin, had her birth date as having been 3 July 1891.

Her husband Alexander John Bresette died on 3 April 1957 in Montréal, Québec, Canada. I'm so please that we now know where she is. Now, I will try to find her grave marker, if there was one and if it survived...

Now that I have a possible town where she was born and know that she and her husband probably lived out their lives in Maine I am sure that I will be able to put together a more complete picture of this, until now, forgotten soul.

If ever you would like to know more about the British Home Children then I highly recommend Perry Snow’s book Neither Waif nor Stray which can also be purchased as a PDF book. It chronicles his father’s search for his identity only to be met with brink walls at every turn. After Perry’s father’s death, Perry began a mission to put to rest, once and for all, the question his father so much wished and had tried to have answered in his lifetime and that was “who am I”. Perry’s father, Frederick George Snow (1909-1994), would have been so proud of his son if he could have seen what Perry discovered. As I read Perry’s book I could see that the passion he had that sustained him through the stonewalling and incompetence of the ‘system’ was turning into not only a quest to solve the riddles about his father and where he came from but had broadened to include all such souls. The quest became one of making sure that all BHC would find their rightful place in history, Sarah Ann Clarke being one of them.

Perry writes on page 8 and 9 about what it felt like for someone who fell under the umbrella of the Home Children:

If I asked you to identify yourself, how would you answer? Invariably, you would volunteer your name. Although many others might have the same name, it is the first step in identifying yourself apart from others. Next, you might tell me your date of birth, because although many others might have an identical name, few others would have been born on the same day. Then you might tell me your Parents’ names. Many others might have your name. A few might have been born on the
same day, but no one -- apart from your siblings -- could have your Parents. You can only have one biological Father and Mother, and your moment of birth is unique to you alone. You might then specify where you were born. No one else on earth could have been born with your name, to your Parents, at a specific time, and in a specific place. You
might produce a Birth Certificate to validate your claim to be who you say you are.

My Father was riddled with doubts every time he identified himself. All he could say was what his caretakers led him to believe was true. When he said, “My name is Fred G. Snow,” he thought to himself, “I think.” When he said, “I was born on Larch Road, Balham, London on September 17, 1909,” he thought, “I have no birth certificate to prove this.” When he said, “My Parents were John George Snow and Annie Gifford/Snow,” he thought, “at least that is what they told me.”

Your identity allows you to value yourself as a unique person of some worth. The absence of an identity contributes to your devaluing yourself as a useless thing. If you know who you are, you feel like a “somebody.” If you do not know who you are, you feel like a “nobody.” The majority of the British Home Children were labelled as worthless, and believed they were worthless.