LoveChild 15: My Father’s Parents, George and Jennie Shaw
“We’re all immortal, as long as our stories are told.”
― Elizabeth Hunter, The Scribe
George Brown Shaw
George Brown Shaw (presumably named after his mother's father, George Brown) was born in Ballymacarn, Ireland, in 1857. He was the second child and eldest son of Robert and Margaret Shaw. His father was a tenant, leasing his farm from a landlord. (If you missed it, see an earlier post about our Shaw/Brown ancestry.)
While still young (I'm guessing around 14), George was apprenticed to a watchmaker in Belfast, Ireland. He worked there for several years, and worked another year in Glasgow, Scotland. He then emigrated to Canada in 1880 and worked in Mitchell, Ontario (near Stratford). Perhaps as a watchmaker? But he may have also worked on a farm. Perhaps with horses.
George was about 20 when his father died, leaving his mother with five children ages 5 to 15. He returned to Ireland after he learned about his father's death, but in 1883, when George was 26 and his younger brothers were roughly 22 and 16, George again left for Canada, this time to stay. He was able to get a homestead near Birtle, Manitoba (west of Winnipeg).
The few pictures I have of George show a ramrod straight man. From what my dad and my uncles and aunts told me, I got the impression he was a man of his word, but also fairly strict and someone who expected his children to behave.
He was a good farmer, and was well-respected in the neighbouring community.
Mary Jane (Jennie) Sherritt
George Sherritt and his wife Sarah Jane were both born in Ontario. Their eldest daughter, Mary Jane (Jennie) Sherritt, born in 1874, was therefore a third generation Canadian. Mary Jane would have been about three when her parents began the trek from Huron County, Ontario to Shoal Lake, Manitoba. Her younger sister Ida Jane was less than a year old. (See the two previous Sherritt/Baird Ancestry posts.)
Like George Brown Shaw, Jennie's father eventually homesteaded in the Shoal Lake area, near the village of Silver Creek. But they made a number of stops along the way. They arrived at their homestead in about 1884, possibly around the same time as George Brown Shaw would have arrived at his homestead near the village or Birtle. So it took the Sherritt family roughly seven years to get to their final homestead.
An Unusual Courtship
One of my dad’s cousins told me that George Shaw first met Jennie Sherritt when he was 29 and she was 12, and that George decided then and there that he was going to marry her one day. It's quite possible, because George was farming in the same general area as the Sherritts. Given the dates of arrival in the area, it's even possible that they travelled the last miles to their homesteads together.
I assume that they'd have attended different churches, with the Sherritts being Wesleyan/Methodist and George Shaw being Presbyterian. However, both George Sherritt and George Brown Shaw were loyal members of the Loyal Orange Lodge, so that might have been how they met.
In any case, Jennie turned 16 in June of 1890, and five months later, she married George Brown Shaw, who would then have been about 33—just seven years younger than her father.
As the oldest in her family, Jennie would have been experienced at caring for a family since at that point, she'd had eight younger siblings, including a new baby, by the time she was married. One way to look at it is that she went from helping her mother look after their home and her younger siblings to looking after her own home and children.
Curiously, the 1891 Census lists Jennie as 19 and George as 28. Whether they were confused about their dates of birth, the census taker wrote the ages down wrong, or they didn't want people to know their actual ages, I have no idea. But it is interesting.
Jennie was a few weeks short of 17 when she gave birth to her first child, Sarah Jane (after Jennie's mother), at their farm in Birtle, Manitoba. Jennie's mother had given birth to her last child, Stella Maud, just six months earlier.
I can imagine the heartache Jennie and George, as well as Jennie's family, felt a little over seven months later when baby Sarah Jane died.
Eleven months after that, a son, George Andrew, was born.
According to the 1901 Census, between 1893 and 1895, the Shaw family moved to a farm in Shoal Lake. Mary Agnes was born in 1895. Then William (Bill or Willie) (1897), Margaret Ida (1898). (That year, Jennie's 24-year-old brother John died.)
In 1901, Jennie gave birth to twins Lawrence (Lorne) and Violet Jean. Another daughter, Grace, was born in 1903, but unfortunately, one of the twins, Violet, who I believe had always been sickly, died six months later.
In 1905, a little over two years after Grace's birth, Thomas Walter arrived. His birth place is listed as Russell, which is not far from Shoal Lake, so the family may have moved there before his birth. No doubt all their children were born at home, as was common in those days. Likely with another woman (neighbour, family member, or a midwife) in attendance.
According to the 1906 Census, George was now 46 (two or three years younger than he actually was) and Jennie was 31. Their children were 12, 10, 8, 6, 4, 2, and 1.
They were also now listed as living at Shoal Lake again, so they had presumably moved from Russell at some point.
In addition to the family, they had two other people living in the house: Hannah Berabosh, age 16, who was listed as German and worked as a domestic servant, no doubt helping Jennie. And Charles Bellamy, age 34, who was Scottish, and was there as a lodger.
The Census asked about animals, and they listed 75 horses, 7 milk cows, 14 head of cattle, and 6 hogs. I'm guessing there were also chickens, and maybe geese or ducks, but perhaps they didn't count.
A fourth daughter, Sarah Agnes, was born in 1907.
In January of 1910, George made the first payment of $1,902 on a mortgage for a farm south of Rossburn, Manitoba, which he bought from Alexander and Jessie Cummings. My guess is that the total cost was roughly $10,500 spread out over ten years.
I don't know if the farm house was already there or not. Probably.
Side Note: I have the original mortgage for the farm and 12 receipts for payment to Alex Cummings, dated 1910 to 1919. It's unusual in that the money loaned to George for the down payment actually came from Jessie Cummings, Alex's wife.
A fifth son, Robert (Bob) Alexander, was born on February 13th, 1912 in the new farmhouse. Two years later, Jennie gave birth for the 12th and last time to a daughter, Violet Jane (Jean). Between the age of almost 17 and 39, she'd given birth to 12 children, roughly one every two years. And if I'm counting correctly, she and George and their children had moved four times.
Being a member of the Orange Lodge was important to George.
I have letters transferring George Brown Shaw's membership in the Loyal Order of the Orange Lodge from Ireland to Canada in 1890, and affirming his membership in 1900, 1903, and 1912. If you click on them you can see the larger photos. Basically, they attest to his having regularly received the Degree of a Purple-Blue Royal Arch Purple Marksman. ??
Two other keepsakes
The George Brown Shaw Family
Judging by the ages of the youngest children, this family photo was taken around 1922-23.
Back row from left, Margaret, George, Bill, Agnes, Lorne.
Middle row from left, George, Walter, Sarah, Grace, Jennie.
Front row, Robert and Jean.
It was common to name a child after a child who had died. In this case, both Sarah and Violet were named after siblings who lived less than two years.
This is the only picture I have of George and Jennie together. The date was January 16th, 1924, and the occasion was their daughter Margaret’s wedding. I assume this is the wedding cake.
Unfortunately, just over a year after the above photo was taken, on February 18th, 1925, George Brown Shaw died. He was 67.
Below, is the obituary from the Rossburn newspaper.
George Brown Shaw is called by death.*
Was Well Known Throughout Southern Manitoba ...Valued Citizen of Rossburn District
Rossburn, Manitoba, February 25. A well-known and highly respected citizen of this district passed away last Wednesday evening, when George Brown Shaw died at his home south of town. Mr. Shaw had been sick for almost a year, and his death was not unexpected.
Mr. Shaw was widely known through this central part of the province and was a valued citizen of this community.
The late George Brown Shaw was born at Ballymacarn, County Down, Ireland, in 1857. While still young, he became apprenticed to a watchmaker and spent several years in Ireland and one at Glasgow, Scotland, in that capacity. About 1880 he came to Canada and resided at Mitchell, Ontario for a short time, returning to Ireland again when his father died. He spent a short time with his mother on her farm, and then in 1883 returned to Canada, came to Manitoba and homesteaded near Birtle. Later he moved to Shoal Lake.
His next home was at Russell, but after a short stay there he returned to Shoal Lake. Fourteen years ago he bought a farm south of Rossburn on which he resided until his death. On November 1, 1890, he married Mary Jane (Jennie*) Sherritt, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Geo. Sherritt, now of Kelloe, Manitoba.
He is survived by a widow and ten children, five boys and five girls. The children are Mrs. I. W. Taylor [Agnes*], Rossburn; Mrs. Laughlin Cameron [Grace*], Kelloe: Mrs. Albert Roney [Margaret*], Imperial, Saskatchewan; George Andrew, Shoal Lake; Lawrence, at Kelloe; William at Rossburn; and Thomas Walter, Robert Alexander, Violet Jane and Sarah at home.
The funeral was conducted on Saturday by Reverend M. E. Nixon. A short service was held in the home at 12:30, after which the funeral cortege proceeded to Rossburn, where a public service was held in the Union Church. The members of the LOL (Loyal Orange Lodge*) attended in a body. Internment was made in Rossburn cemetery.
The late Mr. Shaw was widely known throughout the central part of the province, and was a valued citizen of this community during the period of his residence here.
He is not dead, but sleepeth,
In quiet, peaceful rest.
Jesus his spirit keepeth,
In the mansions of the Blessed.
*This obituary is taken from A History of The Shaw Family of Ballymacarn, published in August, 2008.
*I added a few names, all italicized.
When George died, Jennie was 50 years old, and had four children still at home—Jean (11), Robert (who turned 13 five days before his father’s death), Sarah (16), and Walter (18).
According to my father, the farm had been very well-run, and with the help of her children, both the younger ones and a few of the older ones who had farms nearby, Jennie was able to keep it going.
Robert had already been working on the farm since he was young, but after grade eight, he left school to work full-time with Walter.
Jennie's family was still near-by. When her husband died, her parents were in their mid-70s.
I was looking at the time line, and between the ages of 50 and 67, Jennie lost not only her husband, but her sister, Margaret (age 44); her mother, Sarah Jane (85); her father, George (89); her sister, Stella (54); and her second son, Willie (51). I know Willie's death was a huge blow to her.
But Jennie's story didn't end there and I'll be talking about her more.
. . .
Can You Relate?
I never met George Brown Shaw, so I can't say much about him. But I did know Jennie in her later years. I knew she'd had a pretty hard life, although I doubt she'd have said so. But thinking about all the responsibility she must have had, from a very early age, and all the travelling and moving they did, starting from when she was only three, makes me think that if anyone epitomizes the word "pioneer" to me, it's Jennie. Or, as I knew her, "Granny Shaw." By the way, her children, even as adults, always addressed her as "Mother."
Do you have a family member who inspired/inspires you in some way?
. . .
LoveChild: Life Lessons from an Ugly Duckling is the story of my struggle to adjust to the life I was given, and my eventual discovery that, not only had I become a swan but, contrary to my perceptions, I had always been one. Though I didn't realize it until many years later, my life was part of a much bigger plan that all made perfect sense.
I'll be blogging my story once a week.
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