Passing the Torch

I suppose one could argue convincingly that Genealogy is an old person’s game. After all, they have time for research and documentation, they focus more on the past as they get older, they have the memories of the people in the family tree. If you look  into it a bit deeper though another trend emerges. Each family will likely have a Genealogy champion, but there are others who share the interest from an early age. I got interested trying to figure out my cousins and other relatives when I was a boy, and I had the example of my great aunts in Cleveland who were the clear family research point people in the 1940s and 1950s. But it goes back further than that. The paper genealogy of the John Price family was originally researched over  100 years ago by my 2X great uncle Albert Price and actually published in 1917.

My great aunt Helen enlarged and updated Albert’s work in 1959. Helen’s task was taken up by her nephew Donald Fawcett in the 1970s and 1980s. Don added another part of my family – the Hawleys – to his list. My cousin Anne Houle did a really great job on my grandmother Houle’s family and I was able to get a copy of that. And then I came into the picture.

I seem to be the default family historian right now, and I’ve done my best to build on what came before – I stand on the shoulders of giants. I found out as much as I could about the McDonald/MacDonald side of things, and did some difficult work in Italian to research my wife’s family. I have been aided by Napoleon and the Catholic Church in my research – how’s that for strange bedfellows!

Right now I am looking to the next generation to pick up the torch – I have a cousin Brad Way who might be the next in line. And my grandson Teddy seems to have the same sort of laser focus that could get into Genealogy some day – assuming he’s interested.

The job gets more complex as you go. Albert was keeping track of 4 generations from John Price. Helen looked after 6. Don added more families and went up to 7. I’m up to 9 and the outer branches of the tree are getting further and further away. It certainly helps that there are searchable databases online and a lot of census data has been indexed – in Canada, the US and the UK. I also have access to a lot of information from other family trees and I try to make my information accessible to anyone who needs it. I’ve also been lucky that most of my family came to Canada a long time ago from mostly Anglo-Saxon places. Maria’s stayed in one area in Italy that had great record keeping so that was also a great stroke of luck.

One area where I’m destined to fail is with the family photos. I have a bunch that my grandmother owned and my mother gave me – some are of the Clancy family of Centreville – and I am hopeless in identifying any of the people in them. Even my mother was of no help. I also have some excellent photos of the Price family reunion taken around the time Albert was compiling the genealogy. But aside from my great-grandmother and my own great aunts I can’t say who’s who. And sadly I don’t think there’s any institutional memory left to assist. Maybe some distant cousins could help but I don’t know them personally. At least these are paper copies of black and white photos from a century ago – so they have lasted. Who’s to say what’ll happen with the selfies and .jpgs we make today.

When I do recognize some of my great aunts it’s a revelation. I knew them in the 1950s as old Victorian ladies. It’s quite a surprise to see them as young and beautiful as they were in 1909 or so. So I take what I can from the old photos and try to document as much as I can.


Here’s the younger generation from a Price family reunion in 1917 or a bit later. Aunt Helen isn’t there as far as I know. Maybe she was the photographer. My grandmother is in the middle row far right – looking serious. Aunt Geneva is dead center looking ravishing. Aunt Alice is at the back – 2nd left and Aunt Julia is in the back far right. I haven’t a clue who anyone else is – but wow! what a bunch.

It’s stuff like this that makes family history all worthwhile.

Genealogy to the Cloud

I’ve been interested in genealogy for a long time – since I was a kid I guess. Back then I tried to figure out how those great-aunts and uncles and innumerable cousins fit into the family tree. i had it pretty much figured out by age 10. Then it was just a matter of filling in the charts.

It helped that a couple of generations before me were also family history nuts. The best ones were my mother’s aunts from Cleveland – who researched a rather comprehensive history of their family back in the 1930s. There was no way to have an electronic version of the family tree back then, nor print out any sort of chart. The work they left me is neatly typed into a small ringed binder, with a page for each person and grouped by family and generation. It goes back as far as they could – into the 1700s. It’s a priceless collection of 19th and early 20th century family data. I’m sure it was dug out by hand in the library, through personal contact and the contents of old family bibles.

This foundation was built upon in the next generation by my cousin Donald Fawcett –  son of one of the original ladies. Don carried on with the research and even computerized some of it. He was an electronics expert with Bell AT&T and bought one of the earliest personal computers. Unfortunately he backed the wrong horse – CP/M – when it came to operating systems. Don had a text based genealogy program with its own classification system all electronic, but in many ways similar to the Victorian aunts. When he passed away in the mid 1990s his computer system died with him – fortunately I was able to get a paper copy of his files.

I didn’t get into serious genealogy myself until around 2007 – after I retired. So I sidestepped all the paper based and early MS-DOS and Windows desktop programs. By the time I got started Genealogy had begun a serious migration online with companies like Ancestry. Although Ancestry maintained a desktop program for many years it increasingly focused on online databases and searchable family trees posted by its members. It’s a fairly costly exercise to be a member, but it’s worth it for the wealth of information. Anther excellent online resource is FamilySearch. And FamilySearch is free.

Since I had all this paper information, I thought the best thing to do was to put it online for others to use if they wanted to. So I spent a few weeks keypunching it into an Ancestry tree. I realize that Ancestry gets a lot of free information to use as it wishes – and content is king for them – but I know what I have done so far has been of benefit to others.

Ancestry has even decided to get rid of its desktop program (Family Tree Maker) at the end of 2016 and just concentrate on its Web based interface. This has caused a lot of waves in the genealogy community, especially among those who want their personal privacy and control of their own data. I do think a desktop based system is good for keeping an offline backup. You can also print a lot better charts with your own program. Right now I am looking into Legacy 8.0 as an alternative. However I’ll still continue to do most of my research online. It just makes the most sense. It’s easy enough to export your online tree to a GEDCOM file and then import it into a desktop program.

I haven’t been idle myself. In addition to updating and fleshing out the older information – some of which is now 80 years old – I have been able to research a lot of my great-grandfather MacDonald’s family. I was lucky that most of the early data about the McDonald/MacDonald clan (not sure how it was spelled originally) is found right here in Canada – in fact in a tiny town called Newburgh, Ontario. That same area is where my mother’s family lived – although I don’t think a bunch of staunch Methodists would have had much in common with a crazy bunch of Irish and French Catholics. My great grandfather Richard MacDonald had about 10 kids – and I’ve got most of their genealogy in my family tree now.

Maria’s family also comes from a tiny town in Italy which happened to be governed under the Code Napoleon back in the early 1800s. Napoleon left the legacy of civil registration for births deaths and marriages, and this tiny town in Abruzzi put it all on the Web. So – wonder of wonders – I was able to trace most of Maria’s family history back to 1780 or so. This was an incredible stroke of luck, even if I had to do the research in Italian. Maria’s mother got me back to the 1880s with her personal history and I got back another 100 years with online data. So I’m sold on doing as much as you can with the Internet.

In conclusion, I hope I’ve convinced you to set yourself up online for genealogical research. It’s probably the killer cloud application – nothing comes close to being able to look at millions of family trees and census data back to the early 1800s – all searchable five ways for Sunday. My great aunts would have approved. I doubt  that they’d like Twitter though.




The Devolution of Coffee Brands

I was pushing a shopping cart in Giant Tiger the other day when I saw this can of coffee on sale. It certainly brought back some memories.

Back when I started in the Food Biz (an eternity ago) just about every large food manufacturer was in the coffee roasting and processing game – General Foods, Procter and Gamble, Standard Brands, Nabob, etc. And each one had a flagship brand or two. I’m most familiar with GF – they had Maxwell House (mainline), Sanka (decaffeinated) and Yuban (premium) brands in Canada at least.

Over the years the technology has changed – when I started it was all about freeze dried and soluble (instant) coffee. Ground roast was on the way out. Today with coffee pods and drip coffeemakers and French presses the instant coffee products are dinosaurs.

And what of those iconic brands? Only Kraft has hung onto their big brand Maxwell House – and added Nabob to their portfolio. Even a mighty brand like Folgers was dumped by P&G a few years ago. Some of the famous coffee brands go back 100 years and yet they are Giant Tiger loss leaders today. What happened?

  • Some brands lost relevance. Maxwell House is a much nicer blend today than it was in 1970. In fact it overlaps the premium area once held by Yuban. There’s also a Maxwell House decaf which took over from Sanka. Maxwell House had enough “legs” to make the other brands irrelevant and unnecessary, so they disappeared.
  • Some brands were not core interests to their owner. Folgers is still a big seller but P&G prefers to sell diapers and laundry soap so Smuckers (Smuckers? really?) has the Folgers brand today. What was of limited interest to Procter & Gamble made a nice diversifification for Smuckers.
  • Some brands were aggregated than resold. That’s where Hills Bros. comes in. A bunch of secondary brands – MJB, Hills Bros., Chock Full o’ Nuts, Chase and Sanborn, and Kauai Coffee – all of these ended up with the independent Italian coffee roaster Massimo Zanetti. Many of these brands were aggregated and operated by Sara Lee before Zanetti bought them. All are well known – Kauai is particularly famous in Hawaii. But most are simply brands you’ve heard of – you will buy if there’s a good deal – but nobody wants to pay a premium for them. They are OK for a coffee roaster though – a company like Zanetti is strictly in the coffee business so having a bunch of brands probably suits their business plans.

For a brand that was as well respected as Hills Bros. or Chase and Sanborn it’s quite a comedown to being sold in a discount store like Giant Tiger but at least they are still out there. Hills Bros. is pretty good stuff too – I’m enjoying a cup as I finish this post. Cheers!

The Full Monty – Sorta


When it comes to blogging, I’ve been all over the place, really. I wrote articles on my personal website using HTML back in the 1990s. Then around 2002 I started posting at Blogger – I don’t think Google owned them at the time. Then my online IDs got messed up and i had to start over in 2007 at Blogger – although I did manage to recopy some of my older posts from 2002. Finally I switched to WordPress when I set up my own blogging site here. Not exactly consistent but there ya go.

I can’t get everything in one place since my earliest stuff can’t be exported and imported as XML. However I’ve managed to bring over my earliest Blogger posts to this site. So I guess there’s at least a partial Monty if not a full Monty now at this site. Everything published under Almontage is here at least.

It was scary. The importing plugin required me to go over to my old Blogger site, export everything to my PC and then import from there. When I tried the import I got some errors about exceeding site capacity and then I couldn’t log in. I thought I might have borked the site completely, but after a while things cleared up and I do appear to have the earlier posts here, now dating back to 2007 (Whew!)

All’s well that ends well, but I don’t think I want to try this again anytime in future.

Super Cascode

2016 will mark an anniversary of’s been 60 years since we got our first television set at home. A great story to tell my grandkids… Grandpa grew up without the benefit of television.

We were by no means early adopters. I can remember watching “Howdy Doody” at our “rich” neighbors back around 1952, and my uncle actually got a TV set before we did so I can just remember my Dad watching New Years Day football games there in 1955. But it was 1956 before my parents scraped together enough money for a “down payment” on a set of our own. I can remember my mom putting away coins in an old tin box labelled “television fund.”

I’m sure we probably paid round $400 in all with the TV, cables, outdoor antenna and a couple of stout wires to turn the head around for best reception. That would have been about $3500 today. Big time purchase. What that got was a basic 21 inch tabletop model (my uncle the woodworker built us a base to sit it on.) Black and white? Of course. No remote or electric antenna control? Naturally. But it was a “Super Cascode” chassis. It said so right on that little spring loaded door on the front that concealed the brightness, contrast and picture stability controls. Picture stability? That was my first experience with an oxymoron.

Nobody knew what “Super Cascode” meant, but it seemed high techy and a good idea at the time. I believe it had something to do with signal amplification, and boy did we need that where we lived. The simple tuner knob gave us a choice of 3 US channels (maybe 4 on a good day but don’t count on it.) There was no CBC or CTV available back then where we were trying to watch TV.

And how incredibly analog things were. The chassis itself was an all tube design, and if something went bad you called in the repairman. He took a look at the TV, opened up his manual, unscrewed the fibreboard back (ooh, scary!) and tapped a few tubes. After a bit he extracted the offending tube, replaced it from his big box of parts, and voila! You paid his bill and went back to watching your jumpy, snowy picture.

Kids never made the viewing decisions back then and we couldn’t watch until homework was done anyway. With a choice of 3 channels decisions were pretty easy. Dad liked news, sports and old movies, Jack Benny or Sid Caesar and of course “Gunsmoke.” The wee ones did get to watch old cartoons on WCNY-TV Watertown – but Dad had to go outside and move the antenna with the cable pulls.

With comparison today’s 500 channel universe, LCD monster screens HDTV, Netflix etc it all seems so primitive. And it was. But we thought of ourselves as so terribly modern when that TV first graced our living room. I suppose we were.


Deep in December, It’s Nice to Remember

Now that we’ve survived the ugliness of November and Black Friday nonsense, it’s time to move on to a more positive experience in The Last Month of the Year.

Those who know me well would be surprised to find out I include Christmas in that positive experience. Although the 25th of December has profound religious significance, the time leading up to it and most of the day itself is a personal turnoff – an exercise in Marketing and consumer largesse. However for a long time I countered this negativity by concentrating on the Advent season – we all know anticipation is better than when the day gets here, and Advent is all about waiting and reflecting on the wait. My sweet little granddaughter reminded me yesterday that the Advent wreath is out now, along with the Advent calendar. Bless her heart.

That said there are a lot of real positives about the month of December, to wit:

  • Significant birthdays. Jesus of course. But two rather remarkable women were born in December – my mother (Dec.17) and Maria’s (Dec. 25 – the big day itself.) Those anniversaries are good for a lifetime of memories and of course one lady is still with us and making more. And speaking of getting bombed, my brother-in-law Serge shares his birthday with the anniversary of Pearl Harbor (Dec. 7.) He’s never allowed to forget this.
  • Christmas music. My collection goes back to stuff recorded close to 60 years ago although I’ve probably been collecting in earnest for about 35. I’ve got some on vinyl, but mostly it’s on CDs now. It’s largely traditional stuff – not too much of the pap you hear in Shopper’s Drug Mart. I’ve got everything from the Moody Blues to the Philadelphia Orchestra, from Nat King Cole to the Chieftains. It’s all good. For those of you who may wonder what rock groups have to do with it, just listen to Justin Hayward sing “In the Bleak Midwinter” and get back to me.
  • The CP holiday train. I saw this train a couple of times shortly after we moved to Almonte, when the trains still came here. Now I’d have to go to Smiths Falls I guess. The experience is impressive – the locomotives are decorated with thousands of lights, the rolling stock is vintage CPR Pullmans and business cars, and where else could you hear Jim Cuddy or Wide Mouth Mason perform from inside a boxcar stage? Well worth planning a trip when the train rolls through a town near you.
  • Light Up the Night. Nothing says small town Christmas better than this early December Almonte extravaganza. The crowds each year attest to its popularity. Come see for yourself but get there early to find a parking spot.
  • The first snowfall. It’s a lot easier to take when you’ve got the snowblower ready, you don’t have to drive in it and you really haven’t seen any snow since March. December snow is much nicer than it is on Valentine’s Day.
  • Christmas at home. It may happen this year. Let’s hope it does.
  • The grandchildren. Nothing makes the holidays like watching them through the eyes of a child. They are already gearing up to come here as often as they can this month – whether on Christmas itself or to do their own Christmas shopping at The Hub’s special kids day. Can’t wait to see what presents they choose.
  •  Freedom Day. I celebrate it every year on the Winter Solstice. I retired on Dec. 21, 2004. 11 years and counting.

Wishing you all a Happy December.


Costco Hell

I spent some time in Costco the other day. As a life experience it ranks up there with:

  • I enjoyed a Leafs – Oilers hockey game.
  • I had a root canal procedure, and a wisdom tooth extracted.
  • I underwent a prostate biopsy without anesthetic.

You might get the idea It wasn’t the most fun I had that day. Fact of the matter is there is nothing much more in the shopping universe I dislike than a trip to Costco. Here’s why:

  • Those Costco shopping carts. Big. Hard to maneuver. Ugly. Put a continuous track on one and a Costco shopping cart could easily substitute for an Bradley assault vehicle.
  • Costco customers. Their average IQ must be around 70. A typical one is aimlessly pushing a fearsome empty cart the wrong way up an aisle with two screaming kids riding shotgun.
    They dawdle. They block your way. They cut in front of you. They clutter the parking lot with carts. They never say “excuse me.” Oy…If we sent a division of Costco carts and drivers to Syria, ISIS would be finished before the weekend was.
  • You have to pay for all this aggravation. My daughter convinced my wife to pay extra for a Costco Executive Card. This card apparently has a “cashback” feature, but nobody’s ever handed me $20 as I left the building.
  • Shopping ambiance. It ranks right up there with the finished goods warehouse at the Unilever Bramalea plant. The milk and veggies are kept in areas with a temperature slightly warmer than winter in Resolute. The staff keep the customers guessing by changing the cat litter location from one side of the store to the other.
  • Selection. It’s great if your favorite brand of everything is Kirkland, and you have boffo storage space at home. Maybe you need 2 liters of artichoke hearts if you are feeding the Italian army this Christmas but for two old people? Also if there is something you really like that’s only available at Costco, they’ll discontinue it or change the recipe.
  • The clothing and books aisle. Looks a bit like the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. Customers act the same way.
  • The annoying food sampling booths. No, I do not want to eat overcooked tortellini with rose sauce at 10 AM.
  • Checkout lineups. The checkout staff are friendly and efficient but plan on being there a while. It’s guaranteed there’ll be 10 carts ahead of you, and 4 or 5 more typical Costconians will want to cut in – since they have cruised the store for an hour and now have one item to buy.
  • Getting in and out of there. Remember we have the same customer set but now they’ve exchanged their Costco war chariots for SUVs and 4X4 pickups. A Costco parking lot is not the place you want to take your brand new just off the lot set of wheels. It’s the closest thing to a demolition derby in real life that I know of. You start to back out and someone parked immediately behind you does the same thing – without a glance. You get out in the exit lane and at once another nimrod cuts you off to get into the parking spot vacated by the first moron.
  • Getting home after a Costco experience. You now have to unload several huge shopping bags, numerous bulky items that wouldn’t fit in the bags and 100 lbs of cat litter. This has to be navigated up the garage steps, through the house and down to that boffo storage area you have in the basement. Just hope you got enough fridge space for the artichoke hearts.

My wife has promised that we now have enough kitty litter to preclude another Costco trip anytime soon. I suppose I should be grateful for small mercies.

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