Deep in the Documents

Searching for Clarks in early Lower Canada

I’m deep at work sorting through hundreds of pages of early 19th-century documents at another great site, the online portal of Library and Archives Canada. As their home page explains:

As the custodian of our distant past and recent history, Library and Archives Canada (LAC) is a key resource for all Canadians who wish to gain a better understanding of who they are, individually and collectively. LAC acquires, processes, preserves and provides access to our documentary heritage and serves as the continuing memory of the Government of Canada and its institutions.


One of LAC’s most (potentially) useful resources is its collection of Canadian land records. For an overview of what they have, click here. Since we are looking at early settlers to Lower Canada, I’m particularly interested in:

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Monday: Map Day!

Lower Canada, 1802

Getting our bearings at the turn of the 19th-century

If we’re going to find Jonathan M. Clark’s kin in the early-1800s, we need to know where to look. Lower Canada—one of JMC’s two “official” birth places—has a very long and complicated history. For a decent overview, start here.

One point to keep in mind is that “Canada” as a unified, completely self-governing nation is a fairly recent creation. At the beginning, Canada, like all of the Americas, was heavily populated by a large number of Indiginous Peoples, representing many cultures, language groups, and political alliances and rivalries. For the first several centuries of European contact, Canada consisted of a number of colonies and provinces governed at different times by various European nations and one very large area controlled by a for-profit fur trading company (still famous for retailing woolen goods).

That’s a lot of history to catch up on. But to get started, we only need to understand a few basic places and dates, all centered around the modern Canadian Province of Quebec, or as it was known from 1791 to 1841, Lower Canada:

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Your Weekend Reading…

We’re on the hunt for the family and birthplace of Jonathan M. Clark. For background, start here. You’ll notice that we have conflicting claims for Jonathan M. Clark’s birthplace, namely:
• Derby, Orleans County, Vermont, USA and, across the border to the north,
• Stanstead County, Lower Canada (now Province of Quebec, Canada)

There is a lot to learn and discuss about both places. The histories of Vermont and of Lower Canada are complex and interesting and it’s easy to get distracted by background documents and a multitude of historical events of all kinds.

I want to break things down into smaller bits, and take one topic at a time. We will have much to say about Vermont in upcoming posts. Today, I’d like to steer you to one of the earliest and still most comprehensive published histories and genealogies of Stanstead County, Province of Quebec:

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Now, where were we?

As I mentioned in our previous post, Monday: Map Day!, we still have some essential mysteries to solve in the JMC timeline, the most important of which are: who were JMC’s parents and where was he born and raised? As it’s been a while since we last looked at this, I thought it might be useful to repost our original O!…Canada? History Mystery! No. 3, in which I collected and organized images, transcriptions, and links to the various documents that indicate Jonathan M. Clark’s (two!) “official” birth locations: either Derby, Orleans Co., Vermont or Stanstead Co., Lower Canada [now Province of Quebec].

Smith, Jones… Clark

One of the nicer assignments a genealogist or historian can receive is to trace the history and family of someone with a unique or distinctive surname. It is so much easier to trace families with surnames like Turck, Strickland, Rix or Clow, even if there are common variant or erroneous spellings like Turk, Stickland, Ricks and Clough/Claw/Klauw. But our man Jonathan, he who built the fine stone home in Mequon in 1848, carries one of the most ubiquitous surnames in New England and English-speaking Canada: Clark.

Over the past seven years or so, researchers including Nina Look, Liz Hickman, I—and others—have been trying to find the Jonathan M. Clark “needle” in the massive New England and Lower Canada “haystack” of Clark families. I think it’s time to finally collate our results, organize and set aside the “wrong” Clark families from the search, and see if we can discover Jonathan M. Clark’s roots.

This “sorting of the Clarks” may take quite a few posts.1 We will look at many sources, many family trees, and assorted maps and books to try and find Jonathan’s family. Along the way we’ll have diversions to other topics from time to time, I’m sure. But now, let’s get things started by taking another look2 at what we currently know about Jonathan M. Clark’s birth and family:

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Monday: Map Day!

That was fun!

I enjoyed our recent look at early Mequon pioneers and Jonathan M. Clark neighbors (but not kin) Cyrus Clark and Sarah Strickland. I hope you did, too. I was particularly struck by how mobile Cyrus and Sarah were throughout their lives, even in the earliest years of the Wisconsin Territory. You’d think that after making their arduous treks from the Atlantic seaboard to the wilderness of late-1830s Wisconsin, Sarah and Cyrus might settle down and stay in Mequon for a while. But no, it was back and forth across Wisconsin, from Mequon to Potosi to Grafton to Moscow and then on to Madison, Dakota Territory, and then back and forth between South Dakota and Oshkosh, Wisconsin.

I also had a lot of fun learning something about early photographic techniques and historic attire and applying that new knowledge to the Cyrus and Sarah (Strickland) Clark family cabinet cards and tintype photographs. In the future I hope to apply these new skills for a fresh look at the few photos we have of members of the Jonathan M. Clark family.

Back on the JMC trail…

Speaking of the Jonathan M. Clark family, we still have some key mysteries to solve in the JMC timeline, the most important of which is: who were JMC’s parents and where was he born and raised? This is something that I have been working on for a long time, in collaboration with JMC descendant, and friend of the Clark House, Liz Hickman, Clark House museum director Nina Look, and others. In particular, Liz and I have gone through piles of information on Clark families in northern Vermont, New Hampshire, and southern Quebec, and I’d really like to take the time to collate and evaluate the information we have, and try to find Jonathan Clark’s roots.

So, time to head north, eh?

As we’ve discussed before, we have multiple authoritative, official, federal government documents in which Jonathan M. Clark stated he was born in Derby, Vermont. Or in Stanstead, Lower Canada. (It depends on which authoritative, official, federal documents you look at, of course!) And that brings us to today’s map:

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Tintypes! part 2

Dating and interpreting old photographs, part 4 of 4

In our final look at photographs from the family of early Mequon settlers Cyrus and Sarah (Strickland) Clark, we’ll look at two more tintypes, one full-length portrait of Cyrus Clark, and a similar dual portrait of Cyrus and daughter Ida Estella (Clark) Van Slyke. We will examine the clothing, props, backgrounds and other aspects of both photographs, and try and determine when and where the photos were taken.

If you missed our previous explorations in photo analysis and the lives of Cyrus and Sarah Clark, you may—at least—want to check our previous tintype post, Why is Cyrus smiling?, before heading on to these wonderful photos:

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Why is Cyrus smiling? Tintypes!

Cyrus Clark (tintype, detail). Photo courtesy Steven Clark Van Slyke. Click to open image in new window.

Dating and interpreting old photographs, part 3 of 4

For our next to last look at photographs from the family of early Mequon settlers Cyrus and Sarah (Strickland) Clark we’ll start to take a closer look at three images made with another popular photographic process from the era, the tintype. We will examine the clothing, props, backgrounds and other aspects of the photographs, learn more about the tintype process, and try and determine when the photos were taken1. Once again, thanks to Clark and Strickland descendants Steven Clark Van Slyke and Lynnette Thompson for the photos and family history assistance.

If you’re new to the discussion, I recommend you read our previous post, Cyrus Clark’s Cabinet Card, and click the links there for additional background on the family and the other Clark portraits. To begin, let’s take a quick look at all three of our Cyrus Clark tintypes:

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Cyrus Clark’s Cabinet Card

Dating and interpreting old photographs, part 2

Today we take another dive into photo research and dating, as part of our look into the lives of Cyrus Clark and Sarah Strickland Clark (here, here, here, here and here). Thanks again to Clark and Strickland descendants Steven Clark Van Slyke and Lynnette Thompson. Without further ado, here is part two of our initial Clark House Historian attempt at analyzing historic photos1.

Let’s start with the photo of Cyrus that we’ve used on our previous Cyrus and Sarah posts. Here’s the front:

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Clark House Museum Update

It’s been “one of those weeks” here at the Clark House Historian’s actual house. Nothing unfortunate, but assorted “real life” tasks have kept me from finishing several more substantial posts. (Yes, there will be another photo analysis post or two featuring Cyrus Clark. And tintypes, too.)

News from Clark House Museum director Nina Look

Fortunately, Jonathan Clark House museum director Nina Look has just written and distributed the September, 2020, newsletter for the Friends of the Jonathan Clark House, and I can share it with you today. It’s filled with news and photos about the Clark House and some of our current and future projects.

If you’d like to open and/or download the complete, five-page PDF, click here. Or, if you want to catch up with your Jonathan Clark House news here on the blog, click “Continue reading” (below) and enjoy.

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Back to School, 1839!

Daniel Strickland hires “the first teacher

There are a number of conflicting claims to the title of “first teacher” in Mequon. One of the first was Mary Turck Clark. She led classes for her siblings and four neighbor children in the loft of her father’s cabin in the summer of 1839.

The History of Washington and Ozaukee Counties, relates a number of other “firsts” for area schools and teachers. Among them is the story of how the school committee1 hired its first teacher, led by Daniel Strickland (father of Sarah A. Strickland Clark).

In the sprit of our previous Back To School salute to education, here is that tale:

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