26 October 2010

Camel Adventures, Pushkar, India

Time for a camel break. Whether blogspot will cooperate with text around photos remains to be seen.

My introduction to the Thar desert in Rajasthan, India, was on a sorely tested digestive system. Delhi-belly felled us one by one and the wonderful curries for breakfast, lunch, and dinner temporarily lost their appeal. So we are happy to have tents with toilets and wash facilities, despite water rationing. The ropes behind the tents look like an inoffensive way to hang a bit of laundry to dry, whereupon we discover the waste from our facilities flushing into open trenches that may or may not be moving along. Along to where, one wonders.

At night the temperature drops from over 40 degrees celsius to about 15. This is the desert, all right. And the Pushkar Festival and Camel Fair has more camels per square inch/acre than possibly anywhere else on earth. To fully embrace this experience, all I have to do for three days is not eat anything. Thus avoiding more internal combustion. Experienced sufferers advise bananas as tolerable.

The first foray into the fairgrounds is on a camel cart rather awkward and difficult to climb into. It takes a half hour to get there, four people on a cart, bumping along like peas on a drum. Children begin appearing out of nowhere to beg for money and shampoo. They are from the gypsy camp relegated to the outskirts of the fairgrounds. Pleas of “hello, hello” vary with “mama, mama.” A couple of them play Frere Jacques on their screechy little string instruments. Older and bigger hawksters start pestering us.

The small town of Pushkar has an annual religious festival devoted to the god Brahma, along with the famous livestock market.

Camels take precedence; horses and cattle are a minority. Thousands of people milling on the fairgrounds have staked out their spaces for tents and the animals they want to sell or trade. Many come from remote villages; some have never seen foreigners like us before. All the camels I could ever imagine, extending to the horizon. This desert area has been drought-stricken for three years. Cement pools here and there hold water for many purposes. Presumably it is well boiled for the ubiquitous chai.


Our guide explains how the camel bargaining goes, among the uneducated tribes people who don’t understand paper money. Buyers and sellers thrust signals to each other in intricate hand clasps that have a known value, conducted discreetly under a piece of cloth. Watching one transaction, our tour leader asks if he might take photos. The friendly reply was yes, but a cigarette or two would sweeten the permission. My name is yelled and echoed (self being distracted, so many camels everywhere). Wouldn’t you know it. No cigs with me. The one time my habit gets peer approval only for a lost bonding opportunity.


One day at 6:30 a.m. is my specially requested sunrise camel ride. This is what I came for. Digestive tract slightly more under control. On the spot financial calculations somehow result in charging me double the hourly rate. Lack of coffee probably made me acquiescent. Impassive camel tender Sadao leads me and Rahma the camel toward the familiar fairgrounds again. Solitary men here and there are squatting in the semi-darkness, enjoying a certain morning-type relief. Women seem to be invisible. Beware of thorny bushes along the track so not to rip your legs to shreds. Some camels are mean that way, deliberately rubbing up against injurious obstacles. But Rahma seems as oblivious as Sadao. Likely they didn’t have any coffee, either. Light from the sun slowly filters through the haze.

When we reach the tribal camping grounds everyone is busy preparing breakfast and morning chores. Fascinating to see the little fires of each little campsite—the smell of wood-burning smoke has been universal in this country since we stepped out of the airport an age ago. Vendors offer a variety of puffy deep-fried delicacies. Foreigner on a camel at this hour is a novelty. As we wander the camp, a man greets me as the owner of Rahma and invites me for chai. Without the backlash of Delhi-belly and visions of the water source, I would have accepted.


Sadao signals, time to turn back. Along the track he temporarily abandons me. This is more like it. I’m free to choose my forks on the trail, having figured out the steering mechanism. I’m sure the man recognizes an experienced camel rider. Meanwhile, the temple of Savitri, wife of Brahma, glows on a hill in the rising light. Glancing over my shoulder I glimpse a back fling of clothing as Sadao does what comes naturally onto the sand. Several tractors are warming up and zooming off to work (in the fields irrigated by our waste water?). They are playing pop Indian music at earsplitting decibels. Rahma and I are in synch. Sadao catches up to me just before we reach tent city. Hawksters are at me brandishing photos. They are rather good; fast turnaround.



More swaying, banging, bruising camel cart rides back and forth to the town.  Once, a dialogue with camel behind us as we sway and bang along. His driver teases us by allowing the camel close enough to put his head under our awning. Breakfast bananas are swiftly stowed out of sight. The drivers love the shrieking. Comes to mind: “If the camel puts his nose in the tent, can the rest of the camel be far behind?” Indeed.

Each time we disembark is a testing of our stiff limbs. We spend long hours exploring the holy sites, watching the contests and exhibitions in the arena, dazzled by the colours and commotion all around us. We pass stalls selling camel ice cream and camel dung paper. Only one pickpocket incident, during the mustache contest. Continual rehydration is necessary. Late afternoon “resting” in our tents is like baking in an oven.

A dozen of us go for a sunset camel ride, in a different direction. My camel is gratifyingly colourful but the local photographer-hawksters are mysteriously absent. We stop near a nomad tent with goats to watch the obligatory sunset. One camel handler lights up a cigarette. We see his camel likes to inhale the cigarette smoke. Puts his head down, sniffs heartily, and then tosses his head back in apparent enjoyment. Me with dead camera batteries. Is this how Camel cigarettes began?


Reading the newspapers later, we learn that some camel vendors will turn their unsold camels loose (and they did). In this economy the price of feed has escalated and they’ve lost the potential income from a sale. They can’t afford to take the animals back home and maintain them. It’s said they love their camels and treat them like family. Very very sad.





© Brenda Dougall Merriman, 2010

13 October 2010

Frasers: Part 10 (Perthshire)

A post of agony about the Frasers of Perthshire, to be tolerated with kind empathy. Especially by those searching for equally frustrating families like Smith and Jones. I noticed that I’d been spelling Killin in Scotland as Killean half the time so changes were made for consistency. They sound the same to me. For a long time I lived in an Ontario township where communities were named after places in Perthshire ... Crieff, Badenoch, Aberfoyle, Killean [sic] ... some kind of pre-ordained Scottish omen, I suppose. So I say Killeeeeeeen however it’s spelled.

My post about the town of Killin lamented the surprisingly (to me) scant number of Frasers in South Perthshire burials recorded by the Scottish Genealogy Society (SGS). I said: Why am I getting this sinking feeling that gt-gt-gt-Duncan’s grandfather may have drifted into Killin from Inverness-shire where the Lovat Frasers were concentrated? He would have been the age to be young and healthy at the time of the Battle of Culloden.


 We’ll have to scrap that romantic notion because not one Duncan Fraser appears in No Quarter Given, a work that took years of research by many scholars and may never be definitive.[1] There were plenty of Frasers who fought for Prince Charles Edward, most notably among Lord Lovat’s clansmen of Inverness-shire. Simon Fraser, 11th Lord Lovat, is the one who was executed after Culloden for his support of the controversial Young Pretender. Don’t get me started.

As for the “missing” gravestone of Janet Fraser and husband Alexander MacFarlane in South Perthshire Monumental Inscriptions, which I had viewed in person, cousin Lizzie rightly pointed out that the SGS was concentrating on pre-1855 inscriptions. (Self: I knew that, didn’t I?) Because from 1855 onward, Scotland has official registrations of deaths, along with births and marriages.

A research plan is needed. What do we know about our earliest ancestors?
➢Duncan Fraser was baptized 24 July 1783 at Killin. His marriage to Catherine Robertson took place at Killin on 18 July 1807. Duncan died 15 February 1867. His parents were:
➢John Fraser, baptized 17 June 1751 at Killin. His marriage to Janet Buchanan before 1783 has not been found; they had five children born after Duncan. John’s parents were:
➢Duncan Fraser and Margaret McKeracher. The couple had three other children later than John, but neither baptism nor marriage for Duncan has been found. A burial index at Stirling Archives indicates a Duncan Frazer of Luib (another nearby hamlet) was buried at Killin 7 January 1787. The date would fit this particular Duncan—if there had been a gravestone, it’s no longer visible.



Most of the above is based on parish register searches as indexed at FamilySearch.org. Parish extractions  for all of Scotland have not produced a “likely” Duncan married before 1751. Here is where we lose our thread, stalled at 1751.

It’s not as if the information is there and Duncan has somehow failed us. The available records do not include marriages at Killin which are missing 1699-1708 and 1720-1782. Um, yes, have we not heard this problem before? ... in other parishes and other families. Does anyone tell us why they are missing, or does the answer really matter? The records have disappeared through some kind of neglect or misadventure or might never have been written at all. So we have to suck it up.

Genealogists and family historians call this a brickwall or a roadblock problem. One strategy then, perhaps the only strategy, is the attempt to reconstruct every contemporaneous Fraser family in the area (SIGH). Say from 1700 to 1800 in this case. Tracking the available (Self: SO regretting over-usage of this word!) existing Fraser baptisms, marriages, and gravestones in and around Killin is the main way to do this.
At the same time, adjacent parishes and place names need to be kept in mind while searching databases and records. Additional monumental inscriptions need studying (but can’t expect volunteers to have recorded every burial ground in the country). Contact with local family history societies is essential—they have members’ interests, query pages, or copies of compiled family histories. Someone out there, in Wazoo, Australia, or Bottomley-on-Sprye, England, could have a missing link for me. I haven’t given up on the notion that Killin Kirk Sessions might have references to pertinent Fraser individuals (especially if they were naughty) because they do exist from 1723-1762.

Why did Duncan’s descendant Dr William Fraser (1810-1872), brother of my gt-gt-grandfather John, name his third son William Lovat Fraser? Did the doctor know from oral family lore something we don’t know? Oh no. Am I ultimately facing the complicated parish records of Inverness-shire? Complicated, because in that region the name Fraser is the equivalent of the dreaded Smith everywhere else.

Lizzie, our work is cut out for us. The next batch of monumental inscriptions is on its way to me.

09 October 2010

Silent Sunday

Photograph BDM, July 2010.

05 October 2010

George Porter Part 4: The Surveyor(s)

... continuing a small series on less-than-exhaustive searches for two mysterious George Porters.
One George disappeared from Upper Canada about 1800; another George surfaced in 1814, outlined here. Family origins for both are unknown. Two previous “Persons of Interest”have already been introduced. The Rifleman was said to be from Pennsylvania; the Blacksmith apparently originated in New England.

Speaking of Porter families in New England, one branch produced some prominent figures in the Buffalo and Erie County area of New York ... which is where? ... across and upriver from our George Porter the Carpenter’s first appearance in Newark (long since renamed Niagara-on-the-Lake but often referred to as simply Niagara). The next Persons of Interest:

The Surveyor
Augustus Porter (1769-1849) was born in Connecticut, the son of Col. Joshua Porter (born 1730, son of Nathaniel) and Abigail Buell.[1] The six children of this couple, by various accounts, do not include a George. Augustus was a surveyor who arrived in western New York in 1789 and became well-acquainted with the region.[2] His brother Peter B. Porter (1773-1844) later joined him, both purchasing extensive lands along the Niagara River to become pioneer residents, developers, and wealthy businessmen of Black Rock (Buffalo) and Niagara Falls. Augustus eventually became a judge and Peter became a general in the military, which are huge (and shameful) over-simplifications of their respective lives.[3]

The Person of Interest Part:
Number one, George the Carpenter named his second son Augustus. Not your run-of-the-mill name (the first son was David). The name does not occur in his wife’s family. It seems to be rare among the New England Porters. No use asking about baptismal sponsors ... George quite successfully avoided all contact with church and clergy in Newark and York. Number two, a descendant recalls a family tidbit that George himself had been engaged “as a surveyor” at one time. Number three, the Niagara proximity features again—but that is a given with all persons of interest. Residents on each side of the Niagara River were well aware of each other’s activities and considerable traffic—economic and social—went back and forth. References to leading citizens were published in newspapers on both sides.

When George the Carpenter’s son Augustus was born about 1798, the family was in the town of York. But George still had some unresolved property claims in Newark. Did he pull the name Augustus out of a hat? Or did it come from his own unknown, now forgotten, ancestral line? Or could it be he deeply admired a well-known entrepreneur across the river? A man, coincidentally, with the same surname ...

The Surveyor’s year of birth makes him a contemporary of the Carpenter. Augustus from Connecticut was unlikely to be the captured Rifleman in 1794, if we are to trust the report of the Rifleman being a “native of Pennsylvania.”

The Other Surveyor
Admittedly, I am hung up on the name Augustus. So hung up I might suspend credibility with this one. In 1788 Augustus Jones (c1757-1836) was sworn in as a Crown surveyor near Newark.[4] From 1791 to 1800 he served as chief surveyor for the old Nassau District of Upper Canada which encompassed the Niagara peninsula and well beyond. Augustus came from a family settled in Newburgh, in the Hudson River Valley, and had trained as a surveyor in New York City.

 Does it defy possibility that, when George the Carpenter first came to Upper Canada, he worked on Jones’ survey crew for a year or so? If Augustus Jones actually recorded the names of his axe men, chain bearers, and so on (few surveyors seemed to do this in their working diaries), it might give us a reason for the naming of George’s son ... assuming he had great respect for Jones.

The earliest surviving survey diary of Augustus Jones is from the winter of 1793 with no names of the men he hired.[5] His 1797 diary, at work on the Grand River, illustrates the occasional reference to the largely nameless employees: “one of the hands” was bitten by a rattlesnake, and applying some roots to the wound “made the man easy.”[6] 

Both scenarios for naming a child Augustus—the surveyor in New York State, and the surveyor in Upper Canada—would eliminate the name as a clue to family origins. 

Now that I’ve taken up this much space, the promised Doctor will have to wait till next time. It’s not all bad to have your imagination working for you when the target keeps dodging. But the circles around the bulls-eye target expand wider and fainter. Perhaps these preliminary surveys of “Persons of Interest” will clarify where more disciplined and focused research should apply.

[1] Albert Welles, History of the Buell family in England: from the remotest times ...(New York: American College for Genealogical Registry, Family History and Heraldry, 1881), 108 and 110. [Dates of birth vary slightly in other family accounts.] 
[2] James Harvey Hotchkin, A History of the Purchase and Settlement of Western New York (New York: M.W. Dodd, 1848), 14.
[3] Charles Mulford Robinson, The life of Judge Augustus Porter, a pioneer in western New York, by his great-grandson, Charles Mulford Robinson (Buffalo: Buffalo Historical Society Publications, 1904).
Bob Kostoff, “Porters Prominent Locally,” Niagara Falls Reporter (http://www.niagarafallsreporter.com  : accessed 17 June 2010), 2 August 2005.
[4] “Augustus Jones,” Dictionary of Canadian Biography (http://www.biographi.ca/ : accessed 23 September 2010).
[5] Crown Land Survey Diaries, Field Notes and Reports, “regarding a survey of Burlington Bay to the Forks of the Thames,” [Augustus Jones, January-February 1793], RG1-59, vol. 47, no. 614; Archives of Ontario microfilm MS 7438.
[6] Correspondence and Memoranda Relating to Surveys, “Survey at the River Ouse for Capt. Brant,” [Augustus Jones, from August 1797], RG 1-2-1, vol. 46, 75-76; Archives of Ontario microfilm MS 7438.
    Some of the books can be viewed on Google Books or Internet Archive.

© Brenda Dougall Merriman, 2010.