Great War Death Toll Underestimated By 1 Million?

The statistics for the Allied Powers of the Great War, now often called World War I, from 1914-1918, are staggering:

Military dead: 5,525,000
Military wounded: 12,831,500
Military missing: 4,121,000
Total: 22,477,500 KIA, WIA or MIA

Canada’s share was overwhelming: military dead (64,976) as a percentage of Canada’s 1914 population of 7.2 million was 1%, with and additional 2% of the population returning as wounded (149,732). [Newfoundland, a separate colony, had similar figures — .7% deaths, 1.1% wounded.]

The 100th anniversary of the war has led to quite a flurry of research of its various aspects. A new collection of essays, The Cambridge History of The First World War, is a 3 volume massive work of 2,352 pages, covering the Global War (v. 1), The State (v.2) and Civil Society (v.3).

It has broken some new ground in looking at the toll in human lives lost. Antoine Prost, emertius Professor of History at the  University of Paris, writes in his essay The Dead, in v. 3 (Civil Society), argues that a combination of errors, confusion, and an inclination to publish low figures, led to an underestimation of the death toll. It could be off by anywhere from 1/2 to 1 million. In analyzing casualty lists of the warring parties, Prof. Prost noted that there is considerable confusion “concerning places whose borders had shifted; there is inconsistency in recording the deaths of soldiers from sickness, and prisoners of war who died in captivity; and there is uncertainty surrounding the number of soldiers reported missing.”

It is not surprising that — regarding the mental health of those soldiers not returning with physical wounds — the numbers for those psychologically damaged by the experiencbc8e88f-c11d-422b-b035-baf6eae78fbeces of the Great War is likely also considerably underestimated. For a physician to diagnose a returning soldier as suffering from “shell-shock” was to make it less likely that he would receive a pension.

This might well have been the situation of my grandfather’s brother, Ernest McEwan, a Great War soldier, who in 1935 died from an “overdose of aspirin” following a cancer operation. He not only endured the incredible stress of the War on the ground, but after the War was a guard on the trains that took Chinese men of the Chinese Labour Corps, drafted to fight in the War, from Halifax, Nova Scotia to ships in Vancouver, British Columbia as part of a “forced deportation” back to China and Hong Kong. (The British did not want the Chinese labourers to settle in United Kingdom or any of the Colonies.)

As background on the Great War, the 3-volume work is a fascinating resource, but the price is also amazing: The 3 volumes purchased together are $380 (Amazon $361);  individual volumes are $150 each (Amazon about $130). You can preview the Table of Contents for volume 3 here.

To consult it, it’s probably easiest to find it at a good University library. Search worldcat to find a copy near you.


Mystery solved? James Doyle’s wife Ellen …

EllenKilbyKellyWho exactly was James Doyle’s wife ? Well, we do have a nice picture of Ellen with James, but what has been baffling for a while now was .. what was her family name?

One cousin’s handwritten sketch of the family seems to spell her name Kilbee.

And there were Kilbys in the Ottawa area. One, by the name of Francis, was about the right age to be a brother. But his obituary fails to make mention of Ellen.

As I slowly put together the list of children of James and Ellen, and collected documents and transcripts of records, another possibility seemed to appear. Son William’s marriage license lists him as son of James Doyle and “Ellen Kelly.” Hmmm.

Its part of the detective work that makes family history both interesting and challenging!

POWs of World War 1 searchable database

The International Committee of the Red Cross, Geneva, has the WWI records of the International Prisoners-of-War Agency in its archives. In 2008, the ICRC’s archivists began a project to restore and scan its lists and index cards.Through summer 2011, it annually handled hundreds of requests for information. That’s when ICRC stopped taking requests, so it could begin digitising the materials.

The good news is that after 3 long years of work, ICRC put a searchable database online in August 2014! Visit it here

During the First World War, the International Prisoners-of-War Agency collected, analysed and classified information it received from the detaining powers and national agencies about prisoners of war and civilian internees. It compared this information with requests submitted to it by relatives or friends, in order to restore contact between them. The Agency’s collections consist of some 500,000 pages of lists and 6 million index cards. The Agency’s archives also contain diplomatic correspondence between the ICRC and the warring countries on protection for detainees and reports on visits by ICRC delegates to prisoner-of-war camps.

To get an idea of the Agency’s work, and samples of the types of materials, download the ICRC pamphlet on the Agency and archives here.

Sources on Irish Immigrants to Canada and the 1847 Typhus Epidemic

A unique new source of information for some 1847 Irish immigrants to Canada has gone online. The Montreal Sisters of Charity, known as the Grey Nuns, kept a diary of sorts of the Irish immigrants they cared for in the summer of 1847, as well as the Irish widows and orphans they helped find homes.

Typhus felled many of these new immigrants. The typhus epidemic of 1847 was an outbreak of typhus caused by a massive Irish emigration in 1847, during the Great Famine, aboard crowded and disease-ridden ships known as “coffin ships.”

In Canada, more than 20,000 people died from 1847 to 1848, with many quarantined in “fever sheds” in Grosse Isle, Montreal, Kingston, Toronto and St. John.

In Montreal, between 3,500 and 6,000 Irish immigrants died of “ship fever” (typhus) in what were known as “fever sheds” in a quarantine area called Windmill Point in 1847 and 1848. These immigrants had been transferred from quarantine in Grosse Isle, Quebec, the Canadian equivalent of Ellis Island.

Due to a lack of suitable preparations, typhus soon reached epidemic proportions in Montreal. Three fever sheds were initially constructed, 150 feet (46 m) long by 40 to 50 feet (15 m) wide. As thousands more sick immigrants landed, more sheds had to be erected.

The number of sheds would grow to 22. Troops cordoned off the area so the sick could not escape. The Grey Nuns cared for the sick, carrying women and children in their arms from ships to the ambulances.

According to Montreal journalist and historian Edgar Andrew Collard, 30 of the 40 nuns who went to help became ill, with 7 dying. Other nuns took over, but once the surviving Grey Nuns had convalesced, they returned. Priests also helped, many falling ill after hearing the last confessions of the dying. When a mob threatened to throw the fever sheds into the river, Montreal mayor John Easton Mills quelled the riot by himself joining those providing care — giving patients water and changing bedding. He died in November, serving less than a year in office. The Roman Catholic Bishop of Montreal urged French Québécois to help their fellow Catholics. Many travelled to Montreal from the countryside to adopt children, in some cases passing their land on to them.

The typhus outbreak also hit Bytown (Ottawa). With the arrival of over 3,000 Irish immigrants, the fever first appeared in June 1847. The sick were initially cared for by the same community of Sisters, the Grey Nuns. As the numbers of sick swelled, “fever sheds” had to be erected in Ottawa too. Approximately 200 died in quarantine. The Rideau Canal was even shut down in an effort to prevent further spread of the outbreak.

The University of Limerick’s online family history archive contains the Annals of the Sisters. They are translated into English from the French, and the original French text is also part of the archive. All items are downloadable.

The documents are not indexed but are searchable, and still provide tremendous insight into the circumstances and effects of Gorta Mor — the Great Famine. They offer a stirring tribute to the Sisters of Charity and their care for the sick and dying.

A Genealogy Visit to the New York Public Library

I always enjoy Manhattan. I’ve spent summers, and at one point, 9 months there, and do enjoy the City. One of the great places to visit is the New York Public Library, 42d Street building. If you ever watch movies or TV, then you’ve probably seen the impressive entrance on Fifth Avenue. The two great lions protecting the entryway are a well-known sight, and I watched tourists having their picture taken with them!

I spent part of 2 days in the NYPL, since I was already in town to research at the American Kennel Club library/archives (my grandfather’s brother bred and showed airdales).

Once you come in the front door, walk straight through the large open space … if you can. You’ll probably stop, just to take a look around. It is a most impressive “foyer” !

After you’ve taken it all in for a few minutes, you’ll want to head to the right, down the hallway. There are signs pointing to Room 121, Milstein Room. You’ll take a left before the corridor ends and walk down a ways, basically into Room 121.

Folks at the reference desk (to your right) are most helpful, and always take plenty of time to understand your question and even offer some new ideas for searching. There  are a nice collection of databases available online through the computers that line the wall near the desk.

If you are thinking of looking at physical books from the Library’s collection, you’ll want to have that information (from the online catalogue here) available right away. A runner actually has to go to get your book for you and that can take some time. And I would recommend looking for your preferred resources in the online catalogue, no matter the form. (There is such a rich selection of materials, it pays to browse the website under the tab Research, and to read the Library’s guide to planning your visit.)

If you use Twitter, you can follow the library @nypl  the genealogy room @NYPLMilstein and the archives @NYPL_Archives

I was looking for the Dallas Morning News and Fort Worth Star-Telegram. The online catalogue indicated that they were available electronically. Though they aren’t listed in the hand-out materials, (click hand-out to see a copy for yourself!) and the person at the desk did not know of a microfilm copy, the online catalogue quickly sent us to the historical newspaper database.

As always, in local archives or big city libraries, it’s the staff that is the greatest resource. My experience with the Genealogy room and the Microfilm room showed me that NYPL’s staff is indeed a wonderful resource!

Thanks to all who dedicate themselves to helping patrons at NYPL!

Happy researching if you’re searching the NYPL collections!