The Way We Were

The following article first appeared in "The Low Down to Hull and Back News" in the September 08, 2010 issue. Reprinted with permission.

Name is Brown? Good luck tracing fanily history

Collecting names for the family tree is an uncommonly labour-intensive task

by Louise Schwartz

If Brown is your surname, good luck tracing your family history. Brown is one of the most common family names among Canadians of British descent, making it difficult to pin down which Brown might be a distant cousin.

The challenge doubles if your lineage includes Browns on both sides. Such is the case for Wakefield resident Marilyn Dunn (nee Brown).

Her parents came from two unrelated Brown families who settled in the Wakefield area almost two centuries ago.

The Way We Were
Some of the Brown descendants who attended the Browns of Brown Lake reunion in August 2010. Photo courtesy Tina Hunt.

Bessie Brown, Marilyn Dunn's mother, could trace her Canadian roots back to her paternal grandparents Robert Brown and his wife Nancy McKittrick. First-generation Canadians, they emigrated from Ireland in the mid-1800s. They are buried together at Hall Cemetery on Rockhurst Road, where the gravestones for other Browns can be found, along with a few unmarked graves. Marilyn Dunn's father, Harold Brown, was a fourth-generation Canadian.

The first three generations of males - Harold's father, grandfather and great grandfather - each bore the first name Luke.

They became known as Grey Luke, Black Luke, and Red Luke, based on either temperament or hair colour, or both. Indeed, Black Luke had a reputation as a not-too-savoury character.

Other Browns were also differentiated by nicknames, such as Bob-on-the-Hill, Irish Willie, Tom-in-the-Swamp, Whisky Tom, and even White Luke.

Most of the Browns lived at what became known as Brown Settlement, in a flat area at the south end of Brown Lake. There were so many that one old-timer (not a Brown) declared: "Anyone not a Brown was married to a Brown." Many were farmers, raising beef cattle and growing barely enough crops to sustain their families.

None of their homes had electricity or indoor plumbing. Since no one could afford a car, everyone kept horses.

In the early 1940s, the federal government began buying up properties around Brown Lake to expand Gatineau Park, eventually expropriating the holdings of those who wouldn't sell. Houses were razed, moved, or burned to the ground. One of these relocated homes still stands behind the former site of Hamilton Motors in Wakefield. At one time it belonged to Marilyn Dunn's grandfather.

Unraveling the family connections within and among the Brown families has become the passion of Debbie Dunn St. Jean, Marilyn's daughter. She grew up hearing her mother's recollections of early years at Brown Lake.

The Way We Were
Black Luke Brown, taken at an unknown date and location. Photo courtesy Tina Hunt.

About fifteen years ago, Debbie started piecing together the two distinct Brown family trees. Today, the tombstone data of over 400 individuals are stored on her computer. When printed, the family trees stretch out 28 feet.

In spring 2009, Debbie and her mother took part in an interpretive walk to Brown Lake, sponsored by the Friends of Gatineau Park. Now uninhabited along its shore, Brown Lake has become much larger, flooded by busy beavers who took over when the farmers left. As a result of the changed landscape, Marilyn and others had difficulty locating former homesteads. She recounted events of her youth, such as harvesting butternuts in the fall. The nuts would be stored in attics to dry, broken open a few months later with hammer and anvil, and baked in Christmas cakes and puddings.

Debbie was one of the leading forces behind the "Browns of Brown Lake" reunion this August, the first since 1994. Her objective was straightforward: organizing these reunions helps keep the family connections strong. It must be working, since more than one hundred turned up at the Wakefield Legion to find long lost relations or gossip about old times.

Debbie's message to others is simple. Many early settlers here lived a simple and, no doubt, hard life. Although few gained fame or fortune, they should be remembered for the legacy they did leave behind - dozens of descendants who cherish their roots here and continue to call Wakefield home.

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