Shawn L. Bird

Original poetry, commentary, and fiction. All copyrights reserved.

poem- roots December 19, 2017

Filed under: Poetry — Shawn L. Bird @ 11:35 am
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And what of you?

Do dark mornings creep around your heart

Reaching through night

Pushing past sight to wrap you tightly

In tomorrow?

What of you?

Your lonely walk, your feet tapping

On cobblestones in ancestral towns,

tripping on the roots of the family tree;

calamity or peace?

I see the dream

That’s you.


poem-searching July 19, 2016

Filed under: Poetry — Shawn L. Bird @ 2:03 am
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I’m searching for you

street after street,

household after household.

Your entire block has vanished,

uncountable mystery.



(I’ve just spent 2 days combing 2000 entries in the 1921 Montreal census in search of the block where my father lived.  I can’t find it in any of the districts, though I have found addresses within 5 mins walk in all directions. It’s like they forgot to enumerate his neighbourhood. So frustrating!).


genealogy: stories everywhere! October 16, 2011

I have been doing genealogy since my teens.  It has gotten much, much easier in recent days, as more and more records are scanned and available on line.  One upon a time you had to send to England for copies of hopeful extracts from parish records, now you can look at the records on your home computer and print them off immediately if they pertain to your ancestor.

You only get little peeks into the lives of your ancestors, but sometimes those peeks are fascinating.  For example, I think parts of the life of Thomas Mosses, my great, great, grand-father would make an interesting novel.

Thomas was born in 1799, and worked in London, England as a wood engraver.  Back then, wood engraving was the way to illustrate books, and there are still a lot of books in libraries (or for sale on google!) that he contributed to.  On some records, he’s listed as an artist, on others he’s listed as a wood engraver or just engraver.    He appears to have lived a rather ‘romantic’ life!

In 1820, when Thomas was 20 or so, he married Ann Walker, who was a couple years older than him, at the parish church in Islington.  The next place he shows up in on the bapismal record of a pair of boys in 1824: Thomas Alexander and William George.  They could have been twins, but more likely, Thomas just liked to get this task done efficiently.   The next baptism for Thomas and Ann was for Isabella in 1826.  Then things get interesting.

April 3, 1831 Ann is buried.  She is about 35 years old.

In 1835 , there are two baptisms where Thomas is the father.  George, son of Thomas and Ann, and Harriet son of Thomas and Elizabeth.    More searching revealed Thomas, widower, married Elizabeth Rogers January 1932 at St. Anne Limehouse.  It is not good for man to be alone, as the Good Book says.

It doesn’t look like he was alone much, though.  According to the records, on July 7, 1831 Thomas Alexander died, but on the same day daughter Ann was born.  On the baptismal certificate (June 1837, but her birthday is recorded) Ann was born to Thomas the engraver and Mary Mosses at a parish a little out of the way from where the normal family baptisms were done.  Mary?!  Still no sign of a marriage certificate for Thomas and Mary, but if baby Ann was born in July 1831, she was likely conceived in October 1830, and Ann the wife was still around.  A little cheeky to name the illegitimate child after the wife you were cheating on, isn’t it?

His wife Elizabeth died July 1836.  He married again, to Sarah, who was about 30.  Presumeably that was in 1837

Thomas Sr. was buried March 1844.  He was only 45 years old.  He left an interesting legacy in artistic expression, and baptismal records!

Almost a year after his death, in February 1845, Thomas Sr shows up in the church records again as another pair of his  kids are baptized.  Another son Thomas, who was born to Thomas and Elizabeth in April 1835, and Sarah Ann, born to Thomas and Sarah in 1838.

Sarah lived a rather long life, dying in 1867.  Elizabeth’s children had long lives, and son Thomas, who was my great-grandfather, offers many of his own mysteries.  Ann’s children fared the worst.  Isabella died in the workhouse at 24 years.  I’m not sure whether George or William George lived to adulthood.

Just these little snippets suggest a very interesting stories unfolding, don’t they?  A whole book could happen just in 1830-31.

In Diana Gabaldon’s Voyager, Claire remembers her love left in 18th century Scotland, and her return to his time:

He had been fixed in my memory for so long, glowing but static, like an insect frozen in amber.  And then had come Roger’s brief historical sightings, like peeks through a key hold; separate pictures like punctuations, alterations, adjustments of memory, each showing the dragonfly’s wings or lowered at a different angle, like the single frames of a motion picture.  Now time had begun to run again for us, and the dragonfly was in flight before me, flickering from place to place, so I saw little more yet than the glitter of its wings. (p. 338)

I am peeking through keyholes, but I would love to see these wings fly!


easy infamy May 7, 2011

Filed under: Commentary — Shawn L. Bird @ 11:02 am
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I’m not sure that I can adequately describe the rush of joy and connection that happens when one has been hunting down the family tree, and finally finds them.  There they are, all the members  of the household listed chronologically perhaps a cousin staying, perhaps a couple missing.  Using the census for genealogy is a fascinating and instructive tool.  One travels back by decades: where are the kids now?  who’s living near the grandparents?  what happened to that lost brother?  Most of these people were dead before I was born, but they are my family.  They are my link to the past.  I want to know about their lives.  Seeing their names on the census, reading their address and professions makes them real in a completely different way.

I traced my father’s maternal line back 5 generations using the census, discovering siblings and cousins we didn’t know about.  We had mysteries in the paternal line.  As a baby grandpa lived alone with his mother.  Was his father still in London?  Why doesn’t he show up on any census (or death record). Look!  At 21 Grandpa had a wife   (Oh! The birth index shows they had 3 little kids in the next couple of years!)  But 2 years later he was in Canada marrying my grandmother and she ended up with 3 kids.  What happened there?  Oh!  He shows up in California on the 1931 US census with another woman!  Wow. Grandpa really got around.  We wouldn’t know him at all, would have no ideas about these important parts of his life without the census.  He hadn’t admitted them in life, but it was important for the family to understand who he was.  He had a pattern.  It helped understand the sense of loss of childhood abandonment, and it told us that there were 3 other little kids back in England who felt a similar abandonment.  These were important connections.

At the moment the Canadian census is being compiled, and they ask you an important question at the very end.  Do you want this information available to future generations  in 92 years?  Choose yes.  The joy you will provide the great, great, great grandchildren when they see your names and your mundane information is far more profound than you can conceive.  It’s easy to speak to the future, just check the affirmative box.


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