Sunday, November 16, 2014

John and Elizabeth (Forbes) Calder : From Scotland to Canada

"Those who have left us are never truly gone until there is no one left who remembers them."

Their story began between 1810 and 1820 John and Elizabeth, the first generation of our family's Scottish heritage to come to North America, were born in the Highlands of Scotland. They married about 1837/38  and began their family; before leaving Scotland two children were born, Elizabeth Agnes and Christianna. These two specifically become very important to the story as they help establish time lines.

I must begin by saying that due to the scarcity of written records, much of John and Elizabeth’s early history is still missing.  The majority of what we would consider official records; birth, death and marriage certificates that normally would be found in the town clerk’s office, do not exist.   

The vast majority of written records about any family were held by the parish church, and as you can imagine there are a number of challenges in finding solid information, not the least of which is knowing where the person you're searching for lived.  If they moved around, say married in one place, children born in another and whether or not they stayed long enough in one place to establish themselves in the church.  Then contending with paper records, the A#1 enemy is fire! In the days when you heated and lit buildings with fire, a lot of family history literally went up in smoke.   Of course in our modern age many records are available in digital format, but still many more are not; I am hopeful that a clearer picture can be drawn of the Calders as time goes on.

Without records for documentation you can only make subjective conclusions about what happened during a given period.  However, there are many historical circumstances that can help you tell a story and be reasonably accurate in doing so.  Such is the case with John & Elizabeth.

The first document that was discovered which gave a glimpse into  John &Elizabeth’s life came in the form of  the 1851/52 census for Lancaster Township in Glengarry Co., Ontario, Canada.  Due to logistical issues in Canada at the time of the census, Canada West, where our Calders were living, did not begin until January 12, 1852.  

John Calder, 42 years old, and his wife (38) were living in the 2nd Concession Lot 23 Township of Lancaster. He was a blacksmith by trade with his business being located at the homestead. In the household were their daughters; Elizabeth Agnes 14, Christianna 12, Jennet 9, Catherine 7, Charlot 3, Sarah Ann (Nina) 1 month old, and one son Alexander age 5.  The 2nd Concession was identified as the village of Bainsville Ontario and Lot 23 was occupied by 6 families. It is unclear just how much land comprised Lot 23, but there were 5 farms and John’s blacksmith business. Some of the farms were 70 to 100 acres each. As John was not a farmer, his land holding would have been very small.

Why is all this important?

The dates and locations are important in establishing where our Calder family came from in Scotland.  If you remember from the previous blog, Uncle Bob talked about his grandmother being 3 years old when she came to this country.  That establishes 1842/43 as the approximate date of arrival, and the census confirms this and supports Uncle Bob’s recollections.  Jennet the first of the family born in Canada and was born in 1843.

Glengarry County, Ontario was a primary migration point for Scots fleeing Scotland between 1773 and 1853. Close to 3500 people came to the new highland communities in Canada.   Most came from the Lochiel, Glengarry, Knoydart and Glenelg, mountainous areas in the Inverness-shire Scottish Highlands.   Many of these people had been supporters of the Jacobite uprising of 1745 and they had suffered reprisals as a result, they left to find new homes and opportunities in Canada.   

Calder is an extremely common name in Scotland and, by extension, this area of Canada. It is not much of a stretch to believe that there were members of John’s extended family already in Canada at the time that he brought his family over.

In July 1852 John died,  leaving Elizabeth to raise the family. She is noted in the Lancaster Presbyterian Church Communion Rolls in 1857 and 1859. So she stayed in the immediate area up to the 1860's

In 1861 the census indicated that Elizabeth Calder had moved her family to Kenyon Township, Glengarry County and in the household were Elizabeth Agnes 24, Alexander 14, Charlot 12 and Ina Ann age 9.   

Christianna was gone by 1860 and was living in Morris and Orrissa (Lake) Smith’s residence in Gouverneur, New York, working as a domestic. 

Jennet Calder does not appear to be present in this census. According to Uncle Bob, she married a man with the last name of Morgan.  She would have been 19 at this point and certainly could have married and left home. To date I have no information on what happened to her and it's one of the many mysteries of this family.  

Catherine is also missing from the census. She would have been 17 by this time, but she is an even a bigger mystery, because until the census was discovered no one knew that Catherine existed.

There is one other name here that bears some explanation; in 1851 the youngest girl was identified as Sarah Ann, while in 1861 she was identified as Ina Ann.  The actual name of John and Elizabeth’s youngest daughter was Nina (pronounced “Nie-nah”).  It is a common thing in census documents (or any historical document for that matter) to have names written incorrectly as they spelled it the way they heard it.  

I’m sure you have heard of the practice of “Americanizing” a name when the person comes to this country.  That is more of a myth than a reality; while it did happen, more often than not the person recording the information misspelled it or spelled it like he heard it.  Another one of those great challenges to genealogical research.

The end is much like the beginning: there are no records that have been found to indicate what happened to Elizabeth Forbes Calder. Her eldest daughter married in 1865 and was living in Gouverneur, New York. By 1870 the two youngest daughters, Charlotte and Nina were also living in Gouverneur, NY and her lone son is not seen until the 1900 census where he was living in Michigan.  

So whether she passed in 1865 or 1870 or lived on to a ripe old age and remarried, we may never know, but as with all mysteries, they beg to be solved and we will see what happens.

To find out more about some of the information mention the following links may be helpful:


Glengarry Ontario Canada

Jacobite Uprising 1745

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