Skip to main content

a case for why you should avoid my family altogether

old family reunion photo
i've recently succumbed to the glitzy allure of an account on ancestry.com, which is kind of like crack, if crack was made up of little green leaves and ended up giving carpal tunnel syndrome from using it all the time. come to think of it, crack would have a better reputation if it did that, although i have a feeling that dropping it after a month or two of free access is likely to require some serious detox.

i feel kind of bad, because i took some pride in the fact that i had found out so much about my family without ever spending a nickel to do so, and now i've given in to the most commercial vehicle for peddling your dead ancestors on the planet. that feeling is somewhat mollified by the fact that i've accomplished in less than a week about six times what i was able to accomplish on my own and have found out that, contrary to what i previously believed, i have some pretty illustrious, albeit very distant, progenitors. i also have some pretty questionable ones, but that's a story for another time.

as dazzled as i am by how far back i've been able to dig [once you've located a relative who was nobility of any sort, you've hit genealogical paydirt, by the way], my favourite part of this exercise is some of the weird stories i've been able to find about the strange things these people actually did with their lives, like defeating a french invasion with an unholy army.

ok, maybe it wasn't exactly an unholy army, but it does make me realise that it's a minor miracle that anyone in my family turned out even marginally sane, because it's clear that we didn't get off to a great start.

welcome to our humble home
the story involves a fairly distant relative by the name of john earle. he was born in poole, dorset, england around 1678, but emigrated at a young age to the english colony of newfoundland. the colony was still a pretty wild place, and a man who came from the commoner class could establish himself as a landowner there pretty much by picking a place he liked and constructing something on it. hence, large parts of my family are comprised of poor people from the southwest of england who figured that living in the colony sounded pretty swell when compared to living in poverty in the home country. of course, no one told them about the winters, or that it was comparatively expensive to get stuff there, because there were about eight people in any given area and they hadn't quite figured out the whole farming thing because newfoundland is known to get snowfall as late as may.

nonetheless, young john was determined and plunked himself down on a cute little island [later] named little bell island with his new wife some time in the mid-90s. 1690s, that is. john wasn't entirely thrilled with his new home: there are historical records about how he complained about the prices of staples there. most people are not noted in history books for their whinging. people put up with this, i'm guessing, because john earle had repelled the french navy at the age of eighteen, which is the sort of thing that earns you the right to bitch.

in 1696-7, the french, eager to extend their empire from the adjacent province [colony] of quebec [new france] and to get their paws on newfoundland's considerable booty [meaning the lucrative fishing and fur resources], staged an assault on the island with two barges full of soldiers. two boats might not sound like a lot, but when you consider that the area they were invading was inhabited solely by poor englishmen trying not to starve to death in winter or die of the plague, it's clear that two boats would have been more than enough.

john apparently liked his new home enough to fight for it, but he didn't have the means to push back two boats full of professional soldiers. in fact, he and his wife had the tiny island all to themselves, which was great when they wanted to get crazy drunk and sing traditional songs into the wee hours, but not so great when it came to doing battle. john did have a cannon, which was clearly useful and some imagination.

come be our friend, forever...
when the french arrived [no, i don't know who told him they were coming, but let's just leave that aside for now], the were fired on by the cannon, which struck and sank one of the boats before it could inflict any damage. when the survivors and those in the accompanying boat looked up, they were faced with john's disturbing creation: an army of scarecrows standing on the crest of a hill, ready to do battle.

at that point, historical sources say that the french were fooled into thinking that, contrary to their pre-invasion intelligence, the british had forces there to defend the area and they quickly headed back where they came from. i would like to put forth, however, that it's equally likely that the french saw a gang of scarecrows staring out at them with their dead eyes and firing a cannon and decided that whatever the fuck lived on that island was something they wanted nothing to do with. that seems like a completely reasonable decision to me.

the rest of newfoundland didn't fare so well: the french used another approach and completely leveled the city of st. john's in 1697, killing everyone and burning the place to the ground, but continuing to avoid the nutjob with his island of scarecrows. eventually, the english sent their soldiers over and rebuilt the fort around which st. john's had formed, since there wasn't anything left to defend. john lived a long life on little bell island and, as far as i can tell, his family remained the only inhabitants there until after his death around 1750. both his sons moved to the mainland, probably to get away from the scarecrows.

wait, come back! i only want to hug you and will totally not suck your soul through your eyeballs!

Comments

Subway Dreaming said…
Very interesting! I love genealogy.

My mom's family is from Newfoundland and they came from Poole too (many generations ago). I haven't done ancestry.ca but I have thought about it. My grandfather preserved a lot of oral history and I documented some of our family tree before he passed away. I can go back to the late 1700s, but I would be interested in going further back.
Kate MacDonald said…
That's about as far as I was able to get back on the Newfoundland part of my family as well. It's actually remarkable how well preserved many records from the area are and how much is available for free online. Happy searching!

as long as you're here, why not read more?

wrong turn

as some of you are aware, i have a long-term project building a family tree. this has led me to some really interesting discoveries, like the fact that i am partly descended from crazy cat people, including the patron saint of crazy cat ladies, that a progenitor of mine once defeated a french naval assault with an army of scarecrows, that my well-established scottish roots are just as much norwegian as scottish, and that a relative of mine from the early middle ages let one rip with such ferocity that that's basically all he's remembered for. but this week, while i was in the midst of adding some newly obtained information, i found that some of my previous research had gone in an unexpected direction: the wrong one.

where possible, i try to track down stories of my better-known relatives and in doing so this week, i realised that i couldn't connect one of my greatĖ£ grandfathers to his son through any outside sources. what's worse that i found numerous sources that con…

dj kali & mr. dna @ casa del popolo post-punk night

last night was a blast! a big thank you to dj tyg for letting us guest star on her monthly night, because we had a great time. my set was a little more reminiscent of the sets that i used to do at katacombes [i.e., less prone to strange meanderings than what you normally hear at the caustic lounge]. i actually invited someone to the night with the promise "don't worry, it'll be normal". which also gives you an idea of what to expect at the caustic lounge. behold my marketing genius.

mr. dna started off putting the "punk" into the night [which i think technically means i was responsible for the post, which doesn't sound quite so exciting]. i'd say that he definitely had the edge in the bouncy energy department.

many thanks to those who stopped in throughout the night to share in the tunes, the booze and the remarkably tasty nachos and a special thank you to the ska boss who stuck it out until the end of the night and gave our weary bones a ride home…

eat the cup 2018, part seven :: oh, lionheart

it all seemed so magical: england's fresh-faced youngsters marching all the way through to a semi-final for the first time since 1990. everywhere, the delirious chants of "it's coming home". and then, deep into added time, the sad realization: it's not coming home. oh england, my lionheart.

now, if we're being really strict about things, my scottish ancestors would probably disown me for supporting England, because those are the bastards who drove them off their land and sent them packing to this country that's too hot in the summer and too cold in the winter. and indeed, shops in scotland have sold through their entire stock of croatian jerseys, as the natives rallied behind england's opponents in the semi-final. however, a few generations before they were starved and hounded from the lands they'd occupied for centuries, my particular brand of scottish ancestors would have encouraged me to support england [assuming that national football had even…