Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Monthly Slow News Summary: November 2011

Fab local blogger Jen from City and Baby formally invited her Edmonton readers to
shop at all the fabulous local independently-owned retailers this holiday season.
Coincidentally, November is Shop Local First month, and sponsor
Live Local are Edmonton's best resource for supporting local businesses.
On Slow Food:

I absolutely love this sidebar image from Lexie's Kitchen,
a website about cooking without most of the common allergens.
Found via Pinterest.

On Slow Fashion:

On Slow Design and Slow Home:
  • Historic Preservation Aligns With Green Renovation. And with slow design.
  • Sustainable lighting guru James Bedell has released his book Losing Edison, which walks you through lighting your home beautifully without sacrificing your eco-values. It's written with the average homeowner in mind, but I think a lot of interior decorators will also find it valuable.
  • My new favourite blog Slow Your Home gave us nine great reasons to have a slow home. (I'm not sure I agree that the minimalism or voluntary simplicity that she advocates elsewhere on her blog are prerequisites of having a slow home, but she certainly makes a persuasive argument for a slow home being decluttered and organized.)
  • My Green Birmingham posted a great interview with Slow Home Studio's John Brown.
  • Spain-based British interior designer Susanna Cots muses about the ideas of slow design on her blog. Brilliant stuff.
  • Spanish-language blog Monografica also discussed the ideas of Alistair Fuad-Luke about slow design in Elogio de la lentitud (In Praise Of Slowness). (I love that Chrome comes with a translation button.)
  • Zoe Saint-Paul from SlowMama wrote a great piece about the tiny house movement.
  • Speaking of sustainable home renos, EcoSalon have found the world's sexiest programmable thermostat. (Don't worry, that link is completely safe for work.)
  • The City of Vancouver's new Green Homes Program will require newly-built single-family homes and duplexes to not only meet minimum energy-efficiency, water-efficiency, and air-quality standards, but will also "provide the homeowner with the ability to easily install roof-mounted solar energy systems and electric vehicle charging systems in the future". Sweet!
  • The Strip Appeal design competition (to find ways to retrofit and reinvent older, small-scale strip malls to rejuvenate both the mini-malls and their neighborhoods) got some interesting coverage in the Edmonton Journal and the National Post. I love the shipping container pop-up-shop concept profiled in the EJ article, and the NP's point about immigrant communities turning strip malls into community meeting spots full of specialty shops and restaurants is borne out by the "Little India" area of strip malls on Edmonton's 34th Avenue. I can't wait to see the rest of the ideas that come out of this competition.
  • On a related note, the Atlantic had a fascinating post on the 19 Building Types That Caused The Recession. You might not agree completely with the thesis that the overbuilding of suburbia was responsible for the economic collapse, but anyone who is interested in place-making and urban planning will find the actual list of real estate products we need to rethink and suggested alternative building types really interesting.
  • The Wall Street Journal published a very slow-home excerpt from Deborah Needleman's "The Perfectly Imperfect Home": 10 Odd, Yet Essential, Elements Of Style. Please, Santa, put it in my stocking.
  • Here are two brilliant slow-design timepieces that have come across my radar: The Present, a wildly-successful Kickstarter-exclusive product by Brooklyn's Scott Thrift that shows the time of year instead of the time of day; and the ingenious 365 Knitting Clock by Norwegian designer Siren Elise Wilhelmsen (shown below) which makes time tangible by continuously knitting a tube at a rate of 2 metres per year. 
365 Knitting Clock, by Siren Elise Wilhelmsen, via.
On Slow Travel:
  • Nomadic Matt discusses Renting An Apartment While Travelling
  • Hubby and I are starting to plan our next big trip (which won't be for at least a couple of years), and we're thinking England (where we both have family history to explore and many museums we'd love to visit). So I'm really hoping that when we swing through Cornwall to have pints at pubs my forebears once owned, we can fit in an overnight stay at EcoSalon find The Scarlet. And maybe a spa treatment and a swim in the Atlantic.
  • Slightly closer to home is the LEED-Platinum-certified Bardessono resort in Napa Valley's Yountville. Winery bike tour, anyone?

On Slow Living:

On Sustainability:
  • This. Can we stop arguing about whether anthropogenic climate change is real and get on with finding solutions to it yet? No? Sigh.
  • Related: this amazing video showing two centuries of global warming, from 1800 to the present, from the same research group via The Guardian.
  • Meanwhile a draft summary of the newest IPCC report obtained by the Associated Press is saying weather-related disasters are likely to become more common as the planet warms.
  • EcoSalon interviewed The Story Of Stuff's Annie Leonard, who spoke last week at the University of Alberta. Lucky audience! (This one is a must-read. I'll be testing you on it. Seriously.)
  • Unless you've been avoiding the news altogether, you know that the protests over the Keystone XL bitumen pipeline and the recent decision to delay its construction while alternative routes are researched have been dominating headlines for a couple of months. GOOD posted a fantastic summary of what protesters should work toward next; meanwhile Canadian activists (and politicians) are switching their focus to the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline from the Oilsands through the Canadian Rockies to the British Columbia coast.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Slow Pastime: Genealogy

Since my teens, I've had an interest in learning about my family history. I'm fortunate to come from regions and families that are rich in records and fairly well-documented (at least for the male ancestors), so there is a lot of primary and secondary genealogical source material to work with. However, when I began, nobody had researched the families of most of the women in my family's ancestry, and there were a handful of mysteries: conflicting stories about the parentage of children who were adopted, whispers of an unsolved murder, and rumours of kissing cousins hidden deep in our family tree. Solving those mysteries, and tracing my husband's family (about whom we knew little) back a few extra generations through census and military records, has been one of my most satisfying hobbies.

Martha Stewart Living have a free downloadable PDF for a 7-generation fan chart. via Pinterest.
Researching family history and genealogy is also an inherently Slow activity. By documenting your family history, you are creating an heirloom of sorts, that you will share with other family members and hand on to your children; and you are creating a deeper connection to places where your family has lived (perhaps even planning trips to see those places yourself). Often, people become close friends with their distant cousins or people with similar research interests who they meet through their research. The research process itself can require a lot of patience and persistence, once you've exhausted the initial connections to information that already exists online - which can easily get you really deep into your family's history, if you're lucky enough to have a family that has already been researched (The first couple of days I spent exploring my family tree online took me back to 1464 on one branch of the family, and another branch supposedly traces back to Geoffrey Chaucer, although there are some links there that really need verification.). Also, the latest genealogical software and the trends toward record digitization and cloud data storage are conspiring to make family history research ever more accessible and immediately rewarding to casual hobbyists. That means now is a great time to get started on your family tree (especially since family gatherings during holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas are great opportunities to ask your relatives any questions you need answered!). Personally, I'm a fan of the Family Tree Maker software and the / / subscription websites for most online research purposes, but there are lots of free resources out there to help you with your research, and lots of genealogists who are blogging about research strategies and resources. I won't list them here - that's what Google is for - but the Library and Archives Canada website has a comprehensive guide that's both a great place to start as a beginner, and a good reference with links to practically every major website and society.

For the past couple of weeks, I have been working on two tasks. With Remembrance Day on my mind, I decided to look at all the guys in my family tree who served in World Wars One and Two, to see if I could add documentation of their service using these tips from Library and Archives Canada. I was able to add a half-dozen Canadian Expeditionary Force records so far, but most of my family were in the Navy and the Merchant Marine, so I'm still figuring out where exactly their records are held. This can be tricky for Canadians, since the records are split between Canada and the UK, and some of them burned in the Blitz.

My other task has been trying to track down the family of my husband's great-great-grandmother, about whom I knew only what was documented after her marriage in 1879. She's the only Scottish ancestor we've found in our tree, so adding her story to our family history will not only fill in a missing female branch, but create a connection to another country and its history. Family stories say that Christy married her husband, who was a gunner in the British army, as a result of a Lonely Hearts column in a newspaper. I knew her approximate date and place of birth:
Christie (or Christy) Peckham, nee MacFarlane (or McFarlane or McPharlane),
born about 1844, or Sept 1846, or 8 Sept 1844 (depending on which census record you believe), in South Cove, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia (according to family records),
Scottish, Protestant (Methodist or Presbyterian, depending on the census).

All the usual online searches were coming up blank, so I needed to use a more old-school approach. 

First I figured out where, exactly, South Cove is, thanks to an 1885 history of the area that's been put online by the Google Books people and a little hunting on Google Maps (thanks, Google). It turns out that South Cove is in Victoria County, southwest of Baddeck on the south side of St Patrick's Channel on Bras d'Or Lake. I also learnt from the 1885 history of the county that most of the Scottish residents along the Channel spoke Gaelic as their first language, and weren't fluent English speakers (the historian had relayed this information as a way of excusing his very short entry on the area).

Once I knew the family's location, I started looking at the online lists of cemetary inscriptions to try to find the MacFarlane families. There was a cluster of MacFarlane grave sites in Boularderie, and another in Orangedale, but both those cemetaries could be too far from South Cove for a Victorian-era burial. I made a note of the names I found in case they'd be handy later on.

The next step was to look at the 1881 and 1871 census forms for the area to find probable families. South Cove itself wasn't identified in the census, so I needed to figure out which district it was in. I ended up spending a few days' worth of my free time gradually reading the original-copy images of all the census forms for Victoria county for 1881 before I found the right district: Little Narrows. Little Narrows is just west of South Cove on the channel, and the high proportion of Mi'kmaq surnames listed in the district (compared with others which were overwhelmingly Scottish) is consistent with Washabuck being nearby South Cove. There were two multi-generational households of McFarlanes living side-by-side listed, and (as I had suspected) the transcriber had misread the entries, so they were entered as having the surname Farlane. No wonder the families weren't showing up in the search engine results! (This seems to be a common problem for the Mc and Mac surnames, since many of them in the census forms I read had been entered by the transcriber as if the Mc was just a middle initial M instead of part of the surname. This is why it's important to take a look at the original copy instead of relying on transcriptions.)

Next I compared the list of family members from 1871 to 1881, and sure enough, an adult child named Christy was present in 1871 but absent in 1881, and was very close to the right age to be our Christy. Eureka! Based on the census, her parents are Murdo and Mary McFarlane, both born in Nova Scotia, and Murdo's parents are Donald and Christy McFarlane, both born in Scotland. They would have emigrated around the time of the Clearances.

This is pretty decent circumstantial evidence that I have found the right family, but not absolute proof. The next steps are to enter the information for this family into my family tree, then follow up any 'hints' the software gives me - and to look for confirmatory information. I'm hoping that one of the decendants of Christy's siblings or cousins are also working on their family tree, and will be able to provide confirmatory evidence. I also hope to make a trip to the area around Baddeck (where my husband and I honeymooned, coincidentally) the next time I'm in Nova Scotia to take some photos and touch base with the local historical society to find out what they can tell me.

PS: Library and Archives Canada is facing funding cuts and mandate changes that dramatically limit the ability of the national archive to preserve and provide public access to Canadian historical and genealogical documents. Read more and take action here.

PPS: I'll tell you more about the kissing cousins and the murder mystery in a future post, I promise. Sorry to tease!