Archives for January 2022

Moving With The Times

Confessions of a Curator

I am writing this blog on the day the biggest snowstorm has hit in years!  I honestly sit here in a bit of awe that we are still in the midst of this pandemic almost 24 months later and that I am yet again working from home. But alas, here we are and do want to know the most scary thing of all?  – I am left alone with my curatorial thoughts… so many of those and let me tell you… yikes!

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The view of my backyard and my snowy birds just trying to find their meal.



What is a curator to do when her museum is closed?  Quite simply – I organize and organize some more…I have been working diligently over the past 2 years to organize and navigate our amazing museum collection.  We have close to 15,000 objects in our collection and I recently completed a collection plan for the site.  This plan included an in-depth review and physical inventory of the collection.  If there is ANY blessing to COVID, it is the gift of time.  I have had time to think and do things for our collection that would have otherwise been waitlisted.  

Much of my job doesn’t get seen by the public. I would say a good 75% of my day is “back of house” projects that make the “front of house” (ie exhibits and programs) look good. As tasking as it all seems sometimes – if the backend is navigable and all things traceable, my future self will be happy! The means better collecting, better exhibits, and more comprehensive programs.

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The Curatorial team made great headway in 2021 to organize several storage spaces in the museum. Here is the dynamic duo pictured in the furniture storage room.



What I am now working towards in the wake of this review is filling in the known gaps and making sure our County story continues beyond the 19th century.  The museum collection needs to start infilling post war story telling. Our grandparents and even more so now, our parent’s generation is now historical and as much as we don’t want to think about it, the stuff that is from their childhood, their angsty teenage years and early married days…are wanted for the museum. Objects from the 50s, 60s, 70, 80s, 90s and everywhere else….are needed. We need to make sure we tell the whole story of the County so that years from now and when there is someone else caretaking the County story….I know I have done my part in the collective preservation. 

My curator’s brain had to orient itself with that thought. The entire existence of our County history was not formed just 200 years ago….it was formed 25 and 50 years ago too and continues to be formed now…through these unprecedented COVID times and our everyday lives beyond this pandemic.  The stories that are in our parent’s living memory matter and we need them preserved.  I would love to hold some of the more obscure County tales in my hands….those unique objects that shape the physical, emotional, social landscape and character around us. While we have started this collecting with a couple of 1960s and 1970s wedding dresses, vintage toys, and household items…we still have a long way to go. 

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Wedding Dress worn by Debbie Morgan at Roblin in 1976. This accession is not yet available online, however it came complete with shoes, veil, catalogues, and photos.


 

To help perhaps inspire some of you…the museum is hosting a vintage space toy exhibit “FUN IN SPACE” this spring. These toys will surely bring back many memories of your own childhoods or that of your parents. These incredible toys, from the 1950s and 1960s, are demonstrative of a time when kids were in constant awe of the world above them, when the Space Race was full on, and when the moon landing was front-page news.  This collection represents a period of time when our world as we know it was changing, when technology was changing daily and it was widely believed that living off planet wasn’t too far off.  Our imaginations were soaring and the creation of these toys was a result of these exciting times. 

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Space People c1950.


 

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Space Patrol Walkie Talkies c1955.


 

This time is in living memory, so while NASA was not in our backyard here in L&A County- the narrative and the technology influenced our lives here 50 years ago and it changed an entire generation forever!

This is just an example of how one event impacted our lives. I haven’t even started with clothing, music, art, literature, social customs, County events and programs, and home trends, that also  need to  come together to give us a solid picture of these times from our not so long ago.

The Museum of Lennox and Addington want to collect for everyone and to tell stories from all walks of life.  Can you lend a hand?  Do you have story to tell me from these “newly historical” decades?  Email me at museum@lennox-addington.on.ca.  Your stuff may be just what we need!

A Plain White Treasure Box

Do you know that feeling of joy when you’re unwrapping a gift and you’re pretty sure you know what to expect? You open the gift box, you unwrap the object and suddenly you’re holding something completely different in your hand! That was exactly what I felt this past week when opening a box of artifacts. 

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The past few months I’ve been inventorying my way through the boxes stored in what has been functionally deemed ‘the military aisle’. Early last week I moved on to the next section of the aisle, and brought down a plain white box. I carried the box to my workstation, took the lid off, and saw that the inside was full of objects wrapped in opaque white tissue. I moved one of the wrapped objects onto the table, gently unwrapped it; and what’s now sitting in front of me, but an Austrian pig! Okay more accurately a ceramic piggybank with an Austrian maker’s mark. I bent down to table level, looked this itty bitty piggy in the eyes and started giggling really hard. Why was I giggling? Well if you take a look at the photo above you will see that the pig has a horizontal division in its colouring and this pattern, to my eyes, makes the pig look like its wearing pants. Immediately I am reminded of the internet debate of how a four legged animal would wear pants. If you don’t know this humorous debate I recommend looking it up. Looking at this piggybank I’d say pigs wear pants on all four legs, not just the back two. 

So why on earth am I rambling about how a pig would wear pants? The answer is simple, because I wanted to share with you a moment of joy brought to me in just an everyday moment of my job. A week or so later, I‘m still cracking up every time I look at the pig. There were three more artifacts I found just in this box, which made me smile.

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The first of these artifacts is pictured above. Upon first glance, with the artifact in a neutral position. I assumed that it was a very simple pair of garden snips. Upon gently squeezing the two handles together the artifact reveals itself to be a very small curling iron. When I saw this I had a moment of pure delight, this was completely unexpected. I had never seen a non-electric curling iron before. With a little research I learned that this hazardous hair appliance would have been used by warming the metal end in a fire then applying it to the hair like you would an electric curling iron. This frequently resulted in burns. Personally, I have never been so thankful for modern hair styling tools.

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Another artifact from this box is an ironstone bowl. Many museums have plenty of examples of ironstone, this is because ironstone was much more durable for transport than other more delicate ceramics such as porcelain. When English potters were sending their wears over to North America they found that ironstone was one of the most popular materials as it was less expensive and stood up to the trials of rural North American life. How does this bowl from the late 19th century lead to a moment of joy? Very simply, because we have only a snapshot of its history. This bowl was found in an abandoned unspecified Methodist church likely south of Napanee. As far as we know this is the only bowl that was found in the abandoned church and doesn’t that bring up a number of questions. Is this the only surviving member of a set? If there was only one, what did the church use it for? Did the bowl even belong to the church or was that just a convenient place for someone to get rid of it? I don’t know the answer to these questions but it brings a little bit of wonder to my job getting to take a moment to just imagine the different possible pasts for this bowl before it came to the museum. 

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The last artifact I’m going to talk about was actually the only military related object in this box. Coming across this case it immediately peaked my curiosity. With a little research a heartwarming story unfolded. In the months approaching the first Christmas of World War One, a 17 year old Princess Mary, of the British royalty, wanted to use her private allowance to purchase a small gift for every soldier. Though this wasn’t feasible it prompted a public fund where people on the home front could donate a little money to give a gift to every soldier associated with the British Empire. It took several years but eventually almost every solider had received a small gift generally of tobacco or a small writing case all kept in one of these small metal cases. Starting with the good will of a single 17 year old girl in 1914 it snowballed to a six year campaign to deliver a gift to every soldier. I find myself now in 2022 reading this story, and I can feel my day brighten up a little. 

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Like everyone, there are days doing my job where the next task (or box) seems like just more of the same, but I was super lucky this past week to be reminded that every day brings at least a little surprise. Sometimes there’s a little truth to those old adages; it’s good to spend a little time stopping to smell the roses, or giggling at the pigs, whichever you prefer

Genealogy, DNA and a New Pair of Eyes

Let me start by saying I feel a bit like the guy who has been on the end of the bench most of the hockey game, but late in the 3rd period with everyone else tired and sore I am put in and I happen to be in front of the net when a shot from the point deflects off my leg and goes into the goal and we win the game.  Will I be recorded as scoring the winning goal?  Yes.  Was my play the main reason the team won? Not really.  Will I tell the story of my winning goal for years to come? Of course, I will!!

Kim MacGregor and I are both volunteers at the Museum of L&A. We recently combined an interest we share, and did a presentation titled “DNA and Other Genealogical Tools to Solve Adoptions and Other Family Tree Mysteries”. The presentation went as well as could be expected in an online environment where you speak to a camera and receive feedback through brief typed messages in the chat window.  One audience member came forward and asked her question live.  It was refreshing to hear from someone, almost in person, and hear about her tree “brick wall” and share some suggestions about how we might approach it. 

Her problem intrigued me and a couple of days after the presentation I contacted her to see if she was interested in my assistance and she was. 

Her 3X great grandfather (on her direct paternal line) shows only a mother and no father on his birth certificate. For upwards of 50 years, they have been trying to identify this unknown man, let’s call him Mr. 4X. I think I may be able to help with DNA analysis, but it may be a long shot. Her 3X great grandfather was born in 1796, so Mr. 4X is likely born in the 1770’s or earlier and I should find him in or around Little Thurlow, Suffolk, England in 1795. Autosomal DNA (Ancestry uses this type of DNA) can be useful back to 7 or 8 generations at most and this is 6 generations back from her, so we may need some luck.

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To put this in perspective, she will be half 5th cousin to anyone who is descended from the same man. The good news is that we have a lot of 5th cousins, typically in the thousands. The bad news is that we will share a very small amount of DNA with them. Typically, only 0.05% when we do match and we will only show a DNA match on about 15 to 30% of the 5th cousins who have tested.

She shares her Ancestry tree and gives me access to her DNA results. She has already done DNA testing on herself, her father, a sibling and four 2nd to 3rd cousins on the paternal line. The DNA results have also been cross posted to other sites such as GEDMatch and MyHeritage to increase the pool of matches to work with. She has even tried Y DNA testing for her father and another male on the paternal line with no close relatives or a clear male line identified.

I open her tree and it is a thing of beauty. Without a doubt the most complete tree I have ever seen. She has over 9000 people with over 14000 records and notes on many of her DNA matches to identify confirmed or suspected lines. She has even identified a group of DNA matches on her father’s side, but has not been able to single out a likely candidate to be related to Mr. 4X.

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This is my chance!  Her tree is so good it is like we have a power play for the last two minutes of the game. I just have to get in front of the goalie and something is bound to deflect off me and go into the goal.

I start digging into the tree, but she appears to have already looked into most of the avenues I would suggest. 

I try the next closest potential matches and they only have partial trees so I build them back, but they are all in US locations back to the early 1700’s and mostly in Virginia, so no usable leads. There is a single match in Australia that looks hopeful, most lines trace back to Ireland and Scotland but, one line goes back to Essex County, next door to Suffolk County. I search further, but the line ends up connecting to a known line in the tree and not the line we are looking for.

You also need to become knowledgeable on the geography of the country and the immediate area to know if matches are even close to the area we are looking at. Also be aware that place names and boundaries can change over time.

Time to try a different approach. I copy the DNA match group from her father’s side into an Excel spreadsheet and see if I can find any patterns. I create smaller groups where the DNA matches appear to share DNA with her and each other. I eliminate groups where anyone has an identified ancestral couple who could not have descended from Mr. 4X.  I also highlight in green groups that might tie to Mr. 4X or his ancestors.

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The red and orange highlighted are out, the green highlighted are the paternal line potentially and the unhighlighted I have not yet classified. I then find a group (the green band towards the bottom) who match each other, but are quite distant and have no identified potential lines.  The group also has a single match to the earlier group of the known paternal line.  I look at them in detail and only some have accessible trees and none go further back than 3 generations.  Again, I start building the most complete tree back to my time line – the 1770’s and see if there are any locations close to the mother in Suffolk County in England.  Remember that we will be dealing typically 6 generations back from the DNA match and if the tree is complete, I will have 64 4X great grandparents to try to identify and locate.  I find a lot of Yorkshire and Lancashire families before one Essex County family shows up.  A quick check with Google and the town in Essex is only 20 miles from the town in Suffolk.  There may be a possibility, but this is only in the tree of one of the DNA matches.  I go back to the match list and try a trick I use.  I look for matches who may have ancestors outside England to reduce the size of the tree I will have to search.  I find one with a Scandinavian name and most of the close ancestors, except for one line, trace to Denmark.  I build the England part of the second tree and it starts, like the other one in Utah, but I soon see the same last name popping up – Wyatt, and then it traces back to the same family back in Essex.

Suddenly I have a suspect for Mr. 4X – John Wyatt born Dunmow, Essex England in 1771 and still living there in 1795.  I think I just felt a puck bounce off my shin pad.  The goal light is on. I think they are crediting me with the goal.  Time to use that goal celebration that I have been practising for years.

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But wait.  The game isn’t over yet.  We have to defend our lead.  Have I jumped to an early conclusion?  Are there other suspects I should consider?  Yes, this is just a lead but, I think, a very strong one.

We go on to build the tree around him and the case looks better.  Ancestry is giving us over 20 Thrulinestm to DNA matches through two other sons of John by a different woman.  We still need to build the case and a Y DNA match between her father and one of the Wyatt male lines would be ideal.  She has already reached out to a couple of Wyatt descendants to see if we can make that Y DNA match and she has been busy adding documentary evidence to the new additions to the tree with some reinforcing the match and some twists to the story.

So how did I answer the mystery so fast?  It was 4 days from contacting her to sending an email saying, with some proof, that I think John Wyatt is the man she is looking for.  The simple answer is that I was in the right place at the right time and took a look with a new set of eyes.  Without the vast amount of work she had done to build her tree, identify the common ancestors that many of her DNA matches descend from, make extensive notes on names and locations found in the trees of DNA matches and get other relatives tested to add to the pool of DNA matches, I face months of work to get to this point, if I can even get this far.  Identifying an unknown father for a birth that took place 225 years ago is always a big ask.  DNA testing has opened up possibilities we could only dream about 20 years ago.  It also takes a bit of luck and ours had to do with the Utah ancestors, but that is a story for another day.

If you would like me to be that “new pair of eyes” to help with your family tree mystery, you can contact me through archives@lennox-addington.on.ca.

Museum hours

Monday – Saturday: 10am–5pm

Macpherson House & Park hours

Closed for the season – stay tuned for 2023 updates

Archives Hours

Monday – Friday: 10am – 12pm*, 1pm –4pm

*closed from 12pm –  1pm 

Museum and Archives daily rate

Adults (ages 13+): $3
Children (ages 12 and under): free

Museum & Archives location

97 Thomas St E, Napanee, ON K7R 4B9

Macpherson House & Park location

180 Elizabeth Street, Napanee, ON K7R 1B5