My paternal grandmother was born in Black Tickle, Labrador in December, 1885 to an English fisherman, Robert Parr, and to a mother whose name I do not know. I suspect she may have been Inuit, although I have found no proof of this. Black Tickle was settled when British seamen jumped ship in the mid 19th century. My great grandfather may have been one of them. British sailors and fisherman who elected to stay in the harsh conditions of Newfoundland & Labrador often married native women, so it is a reasonable assumption that my great grandmother may have been aboriginal.
My grandmother married my grandfather and had thirteen pregnancies – only seven of her children survived. My father was one of them. Life was very hard for my grandparents and the little I know of them came from letters from my father’s oldest sister and from stories my mother shared of what she knew. The stories invariably involve my grandfather who came from Ireland as a young boy and settled in Harbour Grace, Newfoundland. But of my grandmother’s lineage I have little to no information.
The above photo is of my paternal grandmother, Elizabeth Ann (Parr) Morrissey
I have come to understand how difficult life was for anyone of First Nations ancestry. First of all there was wide spread prejudice and bigotry toward them. In order to work and support a family many people of native blood had to keep that fact a secret or risk losing their job. Often they were cheated out of land as well as belongings. At that point in time it was very much a patriarchal society, which adds to my frustration and challenges.
The father’s surname was passed down to future generations and brides took their husband’s name. All of this makes it incredibly difficult and frustrating to find my great grandmother’s family. And if she was indeed Inuit as I suspect, I may never find any documentation of her birth, death, or other details. For the Inuit, like many First Nations peoples were not given to documentation through the written word, but rather through stories told and handed on verbally. Colonialism did its best to wipe out all First Nations practices – their language, their culture, and their traditions. So I may never know.
Yet, I will persevere. It has become important to me to know who she was; to know her name and where she came from. I carry her genes in my blood and bones, but I hope one day to learn her story. Who are you Great Grandmother?