Almost Métis

I used to think my dad’s ancestors were Métis. They’re not, but I ended up with a seemingly permanent interest.

The Métis are a Canadian group, a mixture of Anglos and Indians from the area between the Great Lakes and the Rocky Mountains. Not all mixed-race people in Canada are Métis, just the ones where the men in the founding group were employees of the Hudson Bay Company.

One of those men was John Hourie (1779-1857). He came to Hudson’s Bay in 1800 from South Ronaldsay, one of the Orkney Islands off the northern coast of Scotland. About 1809 he married Margaret Bird, a Shoshone (“Snake”) woman. She was adopted daughter of James Curtis Bird.

Howery is not a very common surname. When I was maybe 13 or so and just getting started with genealogy, I knew almost nothing about my father or his family. I eventually eked out the information that his grandfather was Elmer Phillip Howery, who everyone agreed was born in England. (Recently it’s occurred to me that probably I was not hearing the difference between English and Anglo that would have been significant for my mother and some of the others I was talking to.)

I wrote confidently to Somerset House, the English vital records place. Nothing. No record, they said. In fact they had no records of any Howerys. That’s just England, though. Since it was obvious Howery is a British name (so naive back then!), I started thinking Howery is probably a Scottish name. Maybe Irish.

In those pre-Internet days each little nugget of information was a treasure. My access to information was essentially just the local library and quarterly issues of The Genealogical Helper.

I could also order Family Group Sheets from the LDS Genealogical Library in Salt Lake, but I had to be pretty focused. I needed to have name, date, and place. It’s hard to finesse a form when you don’t have much real information. There was no Family Group Sheet for Elmer Phillip Howery, so I was out of luck.

Lucky me. I found Black’s Surnames of Scotland (1946). Yep, there’s an entry for Hourie. I wasn’t finding anything remotely similar anywhere else in Europe, so I was sure this was going to be my family.

One of my strategies back then was to use phone books to find addresses of people who had the surnames I was looking for. The Grand Junction Public Library didn’t have a large collection but they did have some. I would also call directory assistance and do a little fishing for names and addresses. My allowance at that age wasn’t so high I could afford a lot of stamps, so I had to be cagey, looking for the best opportunities. Then too, most people never wrote back, even though I learned to type on my mother’s fancy Olivetti, she taught me to use business format, and I enclosed stamped return envelopes.

With my Howery search I eventually connected with Ian Howrie in Dallas, Texas. He told me, in one paragraph, the story of his ancestors John Hourie and Margaret Bird from Red River, Canada. I was sure that was my connection. The other people I talked to mostly agreed.

I think it was probably several years before I made contact with Pat Sorenson in Yuba City, California. That was through one of her ads in The Genealogical Helper. She couldn’t help with my line, not directly, but she offered the very firm advice that my line probably belonged to the large clan of Midwest Howerys and Howreys descended from Jacob Howry of Howrytown, Virginia, and he in turn from (she thought) the Mennonite Hauris and Howrys from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.

Pat turned out to be right. I gave up my Métis ancestry, almost without noticing. Too bad. I think my dad would have liked that line to pan out. Many years later when I wanted Ian Howrie to do a DNA test for the Hauri DNA Project, I couldn’t find him again. The whole Métis piece just receded into the distance, although I think there might be distant cousins here and there who still think we’re descended from John Hourie and Margaret, his Shoshone wife.

More Information

  • John Hourie“, Red River Ancestry <www.redriverancestry.ca>, Dec. 5, 2016, retrieved Aug. 23, 2020.
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