Wednesday, July 9, 2014

A Hanging Question

It is amazing what can be found when you know where to look. Of course, the problem is knowing where to look in the first place.

But let's start at the beginning. I needed a break from doing some of my own research so I checked in on several of the genealogy related groups on Facebook to see if there might be some easy to answer questions that I might be able to help with. One question in particular got my attention:
James Mack, capital punishment solider, for slitting throat of a corporal, 1866 Montreal....assume he was do I find out who he was? born? where? soldier in what army?
That definitely looked interesting. So where to look for answers concerning the event? I gave a couple of suggestions [edited for this blog]:

  1. Search through the various Montreal newspapers that were published at that time. The Google Newspaper Archive has a number of those newspapers digitized and online. But since no exact date was given and the OCR used by Google is OK but not great that might take some time.
  2. Search the "Quebec, Vital and Church Records (Drouin Collection), 1621-1967" collection on Ancestry for a James Mack that was buried in 1866 in Montreal.

As for which army, since it is pre-confederation it would be highly probable that it is the British Army garrisoned in Lower Canada. Looking through the digitized version of the Library and Archives Canada RG 8, C Series collection might give some answers. If you haven't used this collection then I suggest that you read my post "Library and Archives Canada RG 8, C Series How-To" for a walk-through.

I then did what I usually do when dealing with an interesting event (and hangings are definitely interesting events) ... I typed the details into a Google search box.

One problem many people have when searching for information on Google (or any other search engine) is that they over think the query. In this case I just typed in the basic information that was provided:
"james mack" montreal soldier hang
The second entry on the search results page was titled "CANADA.; Execution of a Murderer--Distinguished Visitors ..." and was from the New York Times. A click on that link and up came the headline along with a byline of:
Special Dispatch to the New-York Times.
November 24, 1866

Looks like the right time frame so I clicked on the link for the high-resolution PDF of the article and there he was along with a description of his crime and also the unit he was with. [I'll leave it to you, the reader, to go to the article in question from the New York Times]

What about the Drouin Collection? What kind of search can be used to filter out all the people you don't want to see and hopefully not filter out the person you do want to find? Well, the search criteria I used was as follows:
First Name: James
Last name: Mack
Year of death: 1866
Event: Enterrement [and checked the exact box]
The first result was for a James Mack that was buried in 1866 and recorded at Basilique Notre-Dame in Montreal. I clicked on the image and even with my rusty French I could figure out it was the right person. There he was ... James Mack, a solder with the Royal Artillery, aged 24 years, that was buried on 24 Nov 1866. All these facts matched the article from the New York Times.

So where else could you look? What about a Google search for '"james mack" royal artillery 1866'  One of the search results is for the "The Lower Canada Law Journal - A Monthly Magazine of Jurispridence, volume II, July 1866-June 1867" edited by James Kirby, Advocate, published in Montreal by John Lovell in 1867. In the "December 1866 edition, no. 6", page 122 there is a write up of "THE QUEEN against JAMES MACK" along with some interesting commentary as to the possible reasons as to why Private James Mack committed the crime. There is even a write up in the 24 Nov 1866 edition of the Utica Daily Observer on page 1 where, along with the reporting of the hanging, even another tidbit of information about the crime (such as the victim's forename) could be found.

1 comment:

  1. The Toronto Globe for Nov 24, 1866 has a report on the hanging and background. Murder and disasters are usually reported in numerous newspapers, worth remembering if the local paper isn't digitized..