RESEARCHING FAMILY HISTORY REVEALS DIVERSITY
Norway, Scotland, France, England, Ireland and first nations all play a role in the detective work that swung from the Hudson’s Bay Co. to public libraries and lists of B. C. tribes
Irummaged through Mother’s tattered boxes and found a faded black and white photograph of a young couple. The woman, with slightly darker complexion than the man, wore a long black dress with a wide belt and shiny buckle. She rested her hand on the shoulder of a seated, mustached young man. I could see his vest under a suit jacket buttoned only at the top. With one leg crossed over the other, his shoe laces crisscrossed up inside cuff- less trousers.
Family members thought she may have been of first nations heritage.
I stared at them. They seemed to look back at me.
“ OK, Momma Louisa, maybe you can tell me about this picture?” I held it up.
“ Oh, that. They’re my parents all right, Nels and Anne.” She glanced at the picture then gazed out the window. “ He was seldom home. When he did come home, we had to learn to speak his language — French.” “ Was he from France or Quebec?” “ Don’t know.” She turned away and closed the discussion.
I persevered, “ What about your mother? Just look at her lovely textured dress. See? It has a slight flare. And look at her long sleeves, puffed at the shoulder.” Mother fidgeted. “ Her hair’s in a bun. She looks positively regal.” I waited a long time for a reply. “ I never forgave her.” “ What did she do, Mother?” She sighed with exaggerated patience. “ Nels was away so much, we couldn’t afford to live in town, only out in bush country. My four brothers went hunting and fishing for food. My sister and I had to take turns fetching water from the creek.”
“ That’s not so bad.” I hoped to keep her talking. Mother thought a lot and spoke very little even when she felt well.
“ She knew it was bear and cougar country. I was only a kid but she made me go alone a half mile to the creek . . . I ran all the way. . . branches hit my face. I always spilled the water. She always dismissed me with a wave of her hand and muttered gibberish.”
“ Was it a dialect, Mother, what tribe?”
“ Oh, she was just trying to scare me into behaving better. She knew no native language that I know of. But she fooled some folks, maybe.”
The conversation was over. And Mother’s life was over before I learned anything more.
But I remember Mother’s penchant for climbing the hills on camping holidays to look for bushes of soopolalie. She bent a branch over a cloth spread on the ground, then, with a stick, she tapped the berries free. At home she beat them into a foam for dessert. Except Mother was the only one who could tolerate the acrid taste. I suggested adding sugar but she shuddered a negative reply. To m e, t h e b e r r i e s s h e c a l l e d hooshum tasted like raw, pureed rhubarb spiced with Epsom salts and turpentine.
At the B. C. Archives, one official paper showed that my grandmother, maiden name Greene, originated in Norway. This information muddled my preconceived idea that she was of 100- per- cent first nations descent. I would have to search Nel’s ancestry. But how? I had no more names for clues. Delving was new to me.
I found an old list of B. C. tribes in the Cloverdale Public Library. But when I phoned or wrote to the bands’ offices for information, it seemed they did not want to share what information they had or had no staff to search their books for my family’s records. Also, some of them rejected me with non- replies or silence.
Staff at one Metis organization office I contacted about both my maternal grandparents were kind but unhelpful. They required official proof of my lineage from a Metis. I had none, only oral stories.
A relative suggested researching church records whenever I learned dates and details.
I even inquired unsuccessfully at the infamous residential schools.
Trying to establish my maternal heritage, I learned, required dogged resolution.
Because my dad died many years ago without leaving information about his Scottish ancestry, I decided to trace his genealogy.
I wrote to the Hudson Bay Co. in Winnipeg for copies of staff records during the mid- nineteenth century, the approximate time my greatgrandfather, Donald McAuley, may have been an employee. They sent, on inter- library loan, a reel of the company’s employees. At the local library, I cranked the tape, frame by frame, through the machine.
After many afternoons, I found Donald McAuley written in neat script in one of their filmed ledgers. He immigrated to Canada in 1832, probably via Liverpool.
According to personal files belonging to my late cousin, James ( Buster) Gordon, McAuley was born on the Isle of Lewis, Scotland, 1816. As a young man at Stornaway, he was articled to the Hudson Bay Co., sailed to Canada, then somehow found his way to York Factory. For his hike from Manitoba to Fort Kamloops, staff issued minimal food and supplies: 50 pounds flour, some salt, tea, a musket, one pound of powder, one pound of shot, an axe and some pots. He headed west, hunted and fished, made fires with flint, met with the Indians and bartered for furs to be picked up later by a voyageur crew. The furs were taken back to York Factory for shipping to England.
McAuley was a butter and cheese maker. He also tended the company’s livestock. He met and married an Indian princess, Mary Anne Warpotkwa in 1868, in a Catholic ceremony in a Presbyterian church. They had six children.
On a hunch, my son searched the Vancouver Public Library’s archives and found a copy of their barely legible marriage certificate. It settled my family’s arguments about correct spelling of names. Also, this certificate was our only official documentation that Mary Anne was first nations.
Mary Anne’s obituary in the Kamloops Standard- Sentinel, January 6, 1922 ( with a different spelling of McAuley) reveals some of the couple’s story: MRS. MACAULAY DEAD IN CITY
AGE 110 Daughter of Indian Chief. She was born four years before Waterloo. Her descendants number fifty- one. Widow of Donald Macaulay, long in Hudson Bay Service in District. There passed away yesterday, at the home of her granddaughter, the oldest person in British Columbia, if not in Canada. Mrs. Mary Macaulay, aged 110, daughter of an Indian Chief of Dead Man’s Creek. Mrs. Macaulay was born in Savana in 1812 . . . At an early age she married Donald Macaulay, who entered the service of the Hudson Bay Company. He died in 1912, aged 92 . . . Four of their six children survived. Mrs. Macaulay was a woman of strong force of character and retained all her faculties up to the end . . . she did very fine sewing which was the pride of her manifold descendants. She came of a long lived race but long out- distanced her family as to age, her last remaining relative, a brother, dying 29 years ago at age 100. During her extraordinary long life Mrs. Macaulay enjoyed remarkably good health. She died with her teeth as white and as firm as when she was 25 years old. Her eyes were of unusual brightness, and never seemed to grow old; she never had spectacles. She instilled in her descendants at all times the highest moral principals and was always the essence of complete fairness. With her, one of the first and most vital axioms was that honesty was the best policy. She played a Christian- like part throughout her life said one of her grandchildren, today, and if there is a heaven she has certainly gone there. Other sources say that Mary Anne spoke Interior Salish and French fluently, and English haltingly. She learned some Gaelic from her husband, his only spoken language.
One of Macaulay’s daughters, Margaret, my grandmother, married Alex Brown. They had one son before she was widowed. She married another Scot, Alexander Graham Gordon. They had five sons and four daughters. Three of the daughters were teetotalers. Once, my husband, in one of his benevolent moods, gave Aunt Annie a bottle of wine. She poured the “ wicked spirits” down the kitchen sink. The fourth daughter, Aunt Kit, “ drank a wee drop for her health but only occasionally, mind you.” I was named after her.
One of the sons was my dad, Malcolm Gordon, nicknamed Toby, a building contractor, who married my mother Louisa Anne Perrault in Kamloops. They moved to Penticton where they raised six of us kids on a fruit farm during the Depression. We had food to eat but no money to spend. Dad and his brothers played Scottish quadrilles on their fiddles at many family gatherings. I can still see him, in my mind, pausing from fiddle playing, holding his fiddle down with one hand, bow in the other, and calling square dances. There were bagpipes, too. Eventually, through the years, the musical instruments evolved to guitars and karaoke, and quadrilles became golf and other games.
At the last Gordon clan reunion in Penticton, in 2000, 120 relatives attended.
We enjoyed the “ group hug” the most. With the host in the middle, we all spread out in a circle and held hands, while the eldest guest or another chosen one broke the chain and started circling inward pulling along all the others. The spiral continued moving smaller and tighter until no one could move. Cheers erupted. The reverse routine resulted in a wide circle, again. They still joined hands and whooped toward the centre. The startled host had nowhere to duck. So, of course, he just froze under the umbrella of clapping hands and laughed with all the others. Some family members suggested the Hug may have been a variation of a first nations celebration.
I seldom joined in the group hug. We all had chores to do — mine was videotaping the festivities. I sang to myself A Gordon For Me, words and music by Rbt. Wilson: “ A Gordon for me, a Gordon for me, if ye’re no a Gordon, ye’re no use to me, the Black Watch are braw the Seaforths and a’, but the cocky wee Gordon’s the pride o’ them a.’ ”
I relish the possibility that I inherited musicality and wordsmithing from the Scots, emotional depth from the French, tenacity from the Norwegians, spirituality and artistic ability from first nations, and a sense of humour from the eclectic mix of nationalities. What’s more, I married an Irishman whose mother was English. I’m a British Columbian all right. Gloria Barkley
TOP: Margaret ( McAuley) Gordon and her sons: Don ( standing), Malcolm, Bill, Angus; seated, George ( Brown), Margaret and Bob, taken in Kamloops, 1909.