Saturday, 27 January 2018

St. Distaff's Day and Our Textile Ancestors

This week's blog post will appeal to those of you who are trivia and history buffs, but there is a genealogy connection. On January 6 I attended the St. Distaff's Day celebration at the Fort St.John North Peace Museum. The North Peace Spinners and Weavers Guild were there to show visitors the ancient art of spinning wool. I tried it out myself and let me tell you, it is quite labour intensive! You take the wool and wind it onto the drop spindle. Bit by bit, you stretch (draft) the unspun wool out and twist it as thin as possible. Then you wind it around your drop spindle and continue the process. When your piece of batting is finished you twist the end onto another piece of batting and continue the process of thinning it and twisting it. It took a bit of coordination to keep the unspun wool from getting tangled up into the newly spun wool. Needless to say my spun wool was full of lumps and bumps, and no one will be using it to knit or crochet. But it was actually a lot of fun to try. The ladies there were all very enthusiastic and patient teaching everyone. I was assured that for a first attempt I actually didn't do too badly.

Now for the history part. Spinning wool has been documented back to Egyptian times. It was one of the most important roles of women. Not only were clothes made from the wool and other fibers spun, but sails, aprons, hats and blankets as well. To spin enough for clothing would take weeks. Enough for a single sail could take months. This was a job that women of all classes did. It doesn't matter if your female ancestor came from a poor or wealthy family. She would have been spinning wool regardless.

The spinning wheel greatly reduced the time involved. Though no one is positive of the actual origin of the spinning wheel, some believe it was invented in India. It came to Europe in the middle ages when explorers brought it back with them from the Middle East. Even with a spinning wheel, it was still not a quick process. There were a few spinning wheels on display at the demonstration. One of them comes from Quebec, and I was told it dates back to the early 1800's.

St. Distaff's Day (January 7) was the day when women would resume this work after the twelve days of Christmas. It signaled a return to the normal everyday duties. There is actually no St. Distaff. The word distaff refers to the stick or spindle that holds the unspun wool. It gives the ability for the hand spinner to have what is essentially a third hand. Men would not resume work until the following Monday (called Plough Monday). Since men were still idle on St. Distaff's Day, it has been documented that they would play pranks on the women trying to resume the work of spinning. A favourite one was apparently to try and set fire to the piles of flax waiting to be spun!

Now for the trivia and genealogy connection. Today we have terms and phrases that seem to have no context in our modern world. Have you sometimes wondered where they come from? Because of the importance of spinning in our ancestor's lives pre industrial age, some of these words made it into popular language and are still used today:

  • Spinster: Because of the labour and time involved, the majority of spinning usually fell to girls and unmarried women. This is why we also see the term "spinster" on marriage documents. Even today the phrase is used, though it has developed into a more derogatory term to refer to an older woman who has never been married.

  • Distaff Side: Sometimes in the more scholarly genealogy writing, you will see a reference to the "distaff side" of a person's family lines. This is referring to what we now call the maternal line. 
Over the years, many occupations arose out of spinning and weaving. If your ancestor was listed in any of the occupations, they were involved in textiles in some way. This list also includes occupations from the industrial era in textiles. It was extracted from the site Hall Genealogy Site Old Occupation Names. This is in no way a complete list, it's just a sampling.

  • Alnager/Aulnager: The official who examined woolen goods and gave them a stamp of approval

  • Antigropelos Maker: A maker of waterproof leggings

  • Archil Maker: One who made purple dye from lichen, to be used in textiles

  • Back Tenter: Someone who worked behind the weaving looms, clearing out the debris by ducking under the big industrial looms. Because of their smaller size, this was a job mostly done by children.

  • Back Washer: The person who cleaned wool in the process for worsted wool (a higher quality wool yarn).

  • Bat Maker: Made the wadding used in quilts and mattresses

  • Bayweaver: Made baize. This is the fabric that today you would see on pool tables.

  • Beamer: The person who set up the yarn for looms

  • Cambric Maker: Made a fine linen fabric called Cambric

  • Carder: Combed the wool or cotton

  • Card Maker: Made the combs for carding wool

  • Card Nailer: Maintained the teeth on the carding machine

  • Cemmer: A person who hand combed yarn before weaving

  • Danter: Female overseer in a silk winding room

  • Delaine Weaver: Made a light wool cloth called Delaine

  • Deviller: Ran the machine that tore rags- a "devil"

  • Doffer: Replaced empty bobbins on the loom

  • Doubler: Twisted the yarn in mills

  • Fear- Naught Maker: made a thick woollen cloth that provided a protective layer 

  • Fettler: Cleaned the mill machinery

  • First Hand: Silk weaver who owned their own loom

  • Flax Dresser: The person who prepares the flax for the spinner

  • Flowering Muslin: Did embroidery

  • Gaunter: Glove Maker

  • Grey Cloth Dealer: Sold greycloth, which was the finished products of the looms before bleaching and dyeing

  • Hackler: Combed the flax before linen making

  • Hairweaver: Wove with horsehair

There are Guilds right across Canada that are keeping the tradition of spinning alive. Along with my local group, a quick google search gave me some others:

  • Camilla Valley Farm has an extensive list of Guilds from Canada, the U.S., the UK, Australia and New Zealand

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

New Brunswick Ancestors: Update to the PANB County Guides

A while back I wrote a blog post about the County Guides at the Provincial Archives of New Brunswick (PANB). They are a wonderful resource, but at the time of writing they were last updated in 2006. I'm happy to say that over the holidays, the PANB gave us a Christmas gift and updated them. In this post I'm going to highlight some of the changes. You can see my original post on them for reference here.

  • Guide to Family Histories

This is new section that has me tickled pink. Clicking on the link provided will take you to the index's search screen. Type in a name and the results will tell you if there's a written family history about your person at the Archives. According to the Introduction, this can be anything from a couple of lines of information to a whole book. Included in the index is any or all of the following:
  • Surname
  • First Name
  • Archive Reference Number
  • Remarks
  • County Location of the ancestor 
Using the reference number you can find out whether it's on microfilm or not. If it is, you can use inter library loan to obtain it. In the introduction they also suggest looking at the index Guide to Biographies at the Provincial Archives. This can be accessed here.

  • Census Returns
No big changes here. But there is a mention that transcripts are available for purchase from the Associates of the Provincial Archives. I do not remember seeing that last time.

  • Vital Statistics
They've combined the old version sections Returns of Birth, Marriages and Deaths, and Burial Records into one section here. It's been updated what's available online on their main BMD databases. They've also added a link to the government website for accessing records that are still under privacy restrictions. The main databases tend to be listed in all the County Guides, but there are some that are County specific. It's a good idea to check and see what unique collections are available for your ancestor. For instance, the databases Early County Marriage Records (RS155), and Marriage Bonds (RS155A) are not listed in the Madawaska County Guide. However, they do have a collection called Repertoire des mariages de diocese d'Edmunston, N.-B. et du compte d'Aroostock (MC301).

There's also what I believe is a new addition to the Guides, Index to Death Registrations of Soldiers, 1941-1947. This index has death information for WWII soldiers who were New Brunswick born, but died elsewhere. They warn that is not a complete collection. Also making it into the collection are some American and non New Brunswick born. The certificates themselves are not available to view online, but by looking at the microfilm F20079 you can see the certificates. They are filled in like a normal death registration, so you will get to see such information as birth date, cause of death, and parents' names and birthplaces.

The information on the cemeteries databases have been updated. They've also added that there is some cemetery transcriptions at the Archives that is not included in their database.

  • Land Records
Along with information on the Land Petitions and Land Grants collections, there is a new collection added to some of the Guides called Registry Office Records (RS##). Not all Counties have this collection in their Guide (Northumberland County is one that doesn't). The year range for each County is different, but it says among this collection are:
  • Deeds
  • Leases
  • Liens
  • Mortgages
Also included are some wills. This is a place where beginning genealogists might not think to look for a will. Sometimes people would use a will to transfer ownership of land to the heirs and/or spouse. If your ancestors did not have a lot of money, there's a good chance that instead of looking at probate records, you should be looking at land records to find a will. 

The RS# associated with this collection is different for each County, so if you're contacting the Archives for microfilm numbers make sure you have the right collection number.

  • Immigration Records
Not much has changed here, but they have added a note that Passengers to New Brunswick: The Customs House Records; 1833, 1834, 1837, 1838 by Daniel F. Johnson (MC80/1263) is available to view at the Archives.

  • Court Records
This section has microfilm numbers for both the Probate Court Books, and separate microfilms for the Probate Court files. Read over the instructions to save yourself some grief. For instance, the Madawaska County Courthouse had a fire in 1909, and destroyed most of the records from 1873-1909. Also note that if you are looking for a probate file post 1930, they can only be viewed at the PANB. Meanwhile in Victoria County, you can get microfilms of files up to 1972.

The Court of Equity Records is still not available online either as an index or complete digital image.

  • Education Records
This section also has no new collections that I could pinpoint from the old version, but still worth checking out, especially if your ancestor was involved in the education system.

  • Directories
They have noted that an online index to the Hutchinson and Lovell directories is available on their website. You can access it here for the Hutchinson directories and here for the Lovell directory. Both indexes list Name, Street, Community, County, and Occupation.

  • City Council Records
Because the record sets differ for each County, I cannot immediately tell if there are new ones added. As before, not all microfilm numbers are listed. Some collections you will have to request the numbers.

  • Newspapers
As with the section above, the newspapers listed are different for each County. I cannot immediately tell if there are any new newspapers added, or if any years have been added to existing ones. Also like the City Council records, you may have to contact the Archives to get the microfilm numbers you need. You can also look at their online index Daniel F. Johnson's New Brunswick Newspaper Vital Statistics. It was originally compiled by Daniel F. Johnson and put online by the Archives in his memory. You have the option of a name or a full text search. Just remember that if you search by name, make sure you are putting in all the name variations you can think of. My grandmother was a MALLAIS, so I've had to look at MALLET, MALLETT, and even MALLEY to find ancestors. If you're looking for a MC or MAC name, try also M' in your search (i.e. M'Donald).

  • New Brunswick Museum Vertical Files
No changes to this section.

  • Church Records
I like how they've improved the look of this sections. It's much cleaner looking and easier to find a specific church. They've also updated what's available. I looked at the Burnt Church records in Northumberland County. I mentioned in my original post that this was the my grandfather's people were a part of. There's a new microfilm for St. Ann's that covers the years 1891-1938. Happy dance!

  • Other Institutions to Contact or Visit
Another updated section. Along with mailing addresses, they've also included phone numbers and websites if available.

  • Website References
A new section that gives you web addresses for the PANB, LAC, the Associates of the Provincial Archives of New Brunswick, and Service New Brunswick.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got a list of microfilm numbers to make.....