Friday, 27 October 2017

Searching for my White Privilege

We hear the term "white privilege" quite often in the news these days. Since I have researched my family tree I thought I would explore my own ancestral roots of white privilege. First I will start with my ancestors with the surname of Shepherd - my father's side.

My great great great grandfather, James Shepherd, lived in Lancashire, UK, during the early 1800s. He was listed as a collier. This meant he was a coal miner.


I have no pictures of this branch of the family, but the above woodcut shows how coal mining was done at the time in the UK. I see no white privilege here. Do you?

One of his sons, William Shepherd, was also a coal miner and he moved east to West Yorkshire, UK. He was my great great grandfather, carrying on the traditional employment as a collier.

My great grandfather, William Henry Shepherd, also lived in the West Yorkshire area. He started off as a riveter, and graduated to become a Stationary Engineman. This form of employment involved operating a steam engine in a fixed location. A Stationary Engineman could have worked in a coal mine to lift material or people with steam engine power. Or, he could have run a steam engine in a textile factory. I do not know. (The picture below is just a stock photo of a textile factory - none of my relatives are shown.)


My grandfather, Frederick Shepherd, born in 1896, worked as a bobbin seeker prior to World War I. A bobbin seeker worked in a textile factory. As a bobbin seeker he would "place bobbins full of yarn, or of rovings, on creel of spinning, winding, warping, or other machine or of loom; often also removing empty bobbins; sometimes also helped in keeping machine clear of waste; sometimes specifically designated, e.g., roving frame creeler."

He would have probably started working at the age of 14, or, maybe earlier. However, my grandfather was the first male Shepherd in my line who became literate. Was this the start of white privilege?

My English grandparents emigrated to Canada in 1922. My father was born in Leeds, Yorkshire, UK, prior to their coming to Canada. They never owned property in Canada, but always rented apartments. I still seek out white privilege on this side of the family.



 The other side of my family, surname Howard, comes through my mother's ancestors. Will we find white privilege here?

Thomas Howard was an Irish immigrant who came to Canada in the 1820s. He settled in what then was known as the Eastern Townships of Lower Canada (Quebec). This is the southern region of Quebec that was originally settled by New Englanders in the early 1800s.

Thomas Howard is my great great great grandfather and he was a farmer. One of his sons, James Howard, is my great great grandfather, and he too was a farmer. One of James' sons, Thomas George Howard, is my great grandfather, and he too ... yes, he was a farmer. And one of his sons, James Carroll Howard, was also a farmer.

Now, James Carroll Howard (1894-1956) is my grandfather and I have an actual photograph of him taken in 1916 when he was 22 years old.


 Does my grandfather look like a picture of white privilege? He could have used a makeover I guess, but still, I am sure his attire was quite fashionable for the times. That is probably his father's prize bull calf. I am not sure. The picture was taken on his father's farm in Beebe, Quebec.

Where did my grandfather go to school? The photo below could have been where he went to elementary school. I cannot verify this, but it is a good guess - the school at Griffin's Corner.


I wish I had more photographs, but they are hard to find. However, given that I do have photographs of the Howard side of my family, perhaps this is a sign white privilege can be found there. Do you think? Below is the church that my grandfather and grandmother Howard attended at one time.


Surely this old Methodist/United Church has seen better days, and thus, was probably in much better repair when my grandparents attended it.

I am still searching for evidence of white privilege in my family history. Maybe some day, I will find it.