Daughters of history: Island women presenting talk on late mother's research

Catherine and Mary-Carla MacDonald are carrying on the work of their mother Genevieve MacDonald, after she died of a stroke in March.

'There are so many questions we would just ask mom, now we have to go digging'

Catherine MacDonald (left) and Mary-Carla MacDonald plan on continuing their mother's work by presenting a talk on Miss Nelly. (Natalia Goodwin/CBC)

Catherine and Mary-Carla MacDonald are carrying on the work of their mother Genevieve MacDonald, after she died of a stroke in March.

Genevieve MacDonald did extensive research on Helen MacDonald, known as Miss Nelly, the sister to Captain John MacDonald — a colonizer that brought Scottish settlers to P.E.I. in the 1700s.

As financial times got tough, John was forced to leave P.E.I. for work, Catherine said, forcing Miss Nelly to watch over the estate by herself for years.

"Nelly, as unprepared as she was, ran the estate for 20 years. Little has been known about her until now. That's what we're trying to rectify," Catherine said.

It's a feat, Mary-Carla added, that makes Miss Nelly "an unsung hero of history."

Finding information on Nelly

"She was difficult to find information for, it took a lot of digging because women were not represented so well in history," Mary-Carla said.

"It's a man's history when you look at it — so it was a real passion of mom's to find as much information as she could."

The amount of history that woman knew about the Island is unbelivable— Mary-Carla MacDonald

Catherine said their mother's project started as a paper at UPEI, under historian Joanne Veer, and later turned into a book. After years of research, the book is now finished.

"Mom was relentless looking for information on Nelly," Catherine said.

According to Mary-Carla, their mother had piles of books and binders detailing the history of P.E.I.

"The amount of history that woman knew about the island is unbelievable — handwritten binders of stories she gathered from people and histories. It's amazing. She was so curious."

Carrying the torch

The daughters say up until the moment of her death, their mother never stopped researching Miss Nelly.

 "We're really lucky that she never had to stop anything that she loved," Catherine said. "She didn't have to stop doing the work for a moment."

Catherine said the two have been working on the paper with their mother for years now and will attempt to make the talk on Miss Nelly something special.

"I don't have the depth of knowledge my mother had … but we want to put her paper out there as closely as she would have done it."

'We want to do it justice'

"There are so many questions we would just ask mom, now we have to go digging just for little things that we took for granted that we would have asked her," Catherine said.

Catherine and Mary-Carla will deliver the talk on Monday, Aug. 14, at 7:30 p.m. at the Tracadie Community Centre in Tracadie Cross, P.E.I.

"We want to do it justice," Catherine said. "We want to do Nelly justice."

With files from Mainstreet P.E.I.