Sunday, October 13, 2019

Six Years and Shifting Gears


It is hard to believe that it is six years since I started this family history blog. My first post, Help from the Grave, was dated mid-October, 2013. Since then, I have tried to post an article every two weeks (except during the summers) about my ancestors. This is post number 148.

Over these six years, I made a lot of progress with my research. I broke through several brick walls facing the Shearman family, who immigrated to North America from Waterford, Ireland (Breaking Down My Shearman Brick Wall); I tracked down the elusive Lucie Bagg, half-sister to Stanley Bagg (Lucie Bagg: Her Story); and I unraveled some of the mysteries surrounding my great-grandmother Samantha Rixon’s family (The Ancestor Who Did Not Exist). Writing the blog has helped me to focus on important questions about these people, explain my conclusions and back them up with notes and footnotes.

I knew nothing about my great-grandmother Samantha (Rixon) Forrester until a few years ago, and my research revealed that some of the family stories about her were untrue.
This research has given my husband and me a great excuse to travel to Scotland, Ireland, northern England and London. We’ve also been to Winnipeg, Toronto, rural Ontario, New York State, Brooklyn and Philadelphia. In Montreal, we have become familiar with people and places in Mile End, a neighbourhood that is far from our house but was familiar territory to my ancestors.

I have been very lucky to be a member of a family history writing group. Calling ourselves Genealogy Ensemble, nine ladies meet monthly to share our discoveries and improve our writing skills. Every few months, I simultaneously publish my stories to both Writing Up the Ancestors and to that group’s collaborative blog, www.genealogyensemble.com. Two years ago, we collected our favourite articles and published them in a book we called Beads in a Necklace: Family Stories from Genealogy Ensemble.

I’ve also become involved with a similar blogging project in the small community on the coast of Maine where I spend my summers, encouraging people to write about their own families and summer memories.

Now it is time to shift gears. The new posts will continue, but at a slightly slower pace as I am starting to pull together the articles from my blog, revise and update them where necessary, and collect them into a self-published book. Actually, two books, one for my father’s side of the family in Upper Canada and the western provinces, the other for my mother’s Montreal ancestors and their colonial New England ancestors. These two families’ stories are very different, so two separate books will make everything more manageable. Still, it will involve a lot of work.

As for Writing Up the Ancestors, in the coming year, I will focus again on my Montreal roots, especially the Bagg family. They were well known in Montreal’s 19th-century English-language community and, believe it or not, there is still a lot to learn about them.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

The Man of the Family



I was just eight years old when Grampy, my mother’s father, died, so I have few memories of him, only photos. There’s one of him holding me on his lap when I was about a year old, and another that shows him playing a toy musical instrument. A shot of him demonstrating his stone-skipping skills on a Maine beach was probably taken in 1956, during the last summer of his life.

At that time, children were to be seen and not heard; not all grandparents were as involved as he was, and that makes these photos all the more special.

In fact, he was close to all the women in his family, young and old, as he provided moral support and financial guidance to his mother and his three unmarried sisters, as well as to his wife and his daughter.

Frederic Edmund Murray Smith was born in Montreal in 1879 to Jane Mulholland and her husband, John Murray Smith, a bank manager. Fred was the third of their six children. His was a life of privilege, as the family lived in a grey-stone house on McGregor Avenue (now Dr. Penfield Avenue), on the slope of Mount Royal. They also had a summer cottage on the shores of Lake St. Louis, in what is now one of Montreal’s West Island suburbs.

In 1891, Fred’s seventeen-year-old brother, Henry, died of appendicitis. Three years later, when Fred was just 15, his father succumbed to a heart attack, and Fred became the man of the family.

Women supposedly did not understand money matters, so his mother and sisters looked to him for advice. For example, many years later, when his sisters finally sold the house on McGregor, the task of handling the sale and helping them move to an apartment fell on Grampy’s shoulders.

Fred decided not to attend university, but started his career as a messenger. It did not take long for him to move up the corporate ladder. In 1918, he was a manager with the Royal Bank of Canada, and in the late 1920s, he was with Verret Stewart Co., a firm that was an agent for Windsor Salt.  Between 1930 and 1936, there was no profession listed beside his name in the Montreal Lovell’s street directory, but he went to work as treasurer of Champlain Oil after the depression and stayed there until he retired.

Fred, Joan, Janice, Gwen around 1950
He lived at home with his mother and sisters and remained an eligible bachelor until age 37, when he married Gwendolyn Bagg. Their only daughter, Joan, was born two years later, in 1918.

Fred and Gwen were both quiet people, more interested in spending time with family than in enjoying Montreal’s night life. In fact, Fred was a strict Presbyterian who never appeared at the dining table without a jacket and tie, and would not allow my mother to play cards on Sundays. But my cousin who is 10 years older than I am remembers him as kind and having a good sense of humour.

In a 1946 letter to my father, Fred described his view of marriage: “We … hope that you both may have as happy a life together as your future father-in-law had in his married life, keeping in mind that it is a partnership, which means both of you have to give and take, and that in the home, it is the woman’s department.”

For the first dozen years of their lives together, the Murray Smiths lived on tiny Selkirk Avenue, near the corner of Cote des Neiges and Sherbrooke streets, two short blocks away from Gwen’s mother’s house and several long blocks from Fred’s mother’s house.

skipping stones, around 1956
In the late 1920s, my grandparents decided to build a larger house. According to my mother, when they looked at the architectural plans, they did not realize how big it would be. Not only was the house more than they needed, but their timing was bad since Fred lost his job during the depression. Fortunately, Gwen’s Aunt Amelia Norton helped out financially, but this must have been hard for Fred. He was accustomed to helping others. My grandparents lived in that house for the rest of their lives, and he died there, of a heart attack, at age 77.

Grampy is buried in the Murray Smith family plot at Mount Royal Cemetery with his father, mother, brother, three sisters and wife. My mother is buried with them.

This article is also posted on www.genealogyensemble.com 

Notes:
Legally, the family name was Smith, however, because Smith was such a common name, the family used Murray Smith as if it were a hyphenated last name.

The row house on Selkirk Ave. is still there, the Murray Smith family home on McGregor was demolished to make way for a high-rise apartment building, and my grandparents’ house on Saint-Sulpice became the Iraqi consulate.