Monday, October 26, 2009

Purist Versus Name Collector

Several years ago, a company sold purported family histories based on surnames. These "heritage" books complete with a "Certificate of Authenticity" really amounted to nothing more than a very general history of (in my case) Canada, an alleged family coat of arms, and a poorly completed compilation of individuals with the same surname extracted from telephone directories. Fortunately, we've come a long way since then although we now need to take a somewhat cautious approach about information we find on the Internet. It can be dangerous, I think, to accept a family history that is based solely on what someone 'found' on the web.

I have recently heard the opinion expressed by some genealogists that the only acceptable family history is one in which each and every one of the facts it contains have sources cited verifying the fact to be correct. To do less, the argument suggests, is simply 'name collecting.'

I tend to take a more 'middle of the road' approach in this debate. Without a doubt there is information available, and in fact even posted on reputable genealogical websites, that is flawed. I am not so much a purist however to disregard all information because it's lacking source citations.

My family history database has grown significantly this past year as the result of being able to connect with other researchers and/or family members who have shared their information collaboratively but not all of which is sourced. Including their information in my database provides me with the opportunity to collect the names of ancestors that I can go back to later when I have the time to take a more scholarly approach to verifying the information. I have encountered even recently incidents in which both myself and a colleague researcher have been incorrect in part but by putting the two halves together, I have been able to find the records that set things straight.

So my advice is to accept information but only after considering the source, recognizing that there is still work ahead and that by accepting the information, you are also accepting the challenge of doing the research alone or in collaboration with fellow genealogists whom I have found are always willing to share.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

It Would Have Been An Interesting Dinner Conversation

My wife, Ellen's great-grandfather Gilbert Wellington Faulkner (1856-1932) was the son of Francis Dwight Faulkner (1811-1872) and Ellen Kimmerly (1821-1896) - a true blending of families that have histories that seem diametrically opposed. Let me explain.

Ellen Kimmerly's grandfather, Andrew Kimmerly, was a United Empire Loyalist - essentially someone who by royal decree was recognized for their sacrifices and loyalty in remaining true to the British crown during the American Revolutionary War. There has always been some prestige attached to this designation in Canada as the decree extended to direct descendants who to this day (as long as satisfactory evidence is provided) can bear the initials 'U.E.' after their surname. My wife's Faulkner connection, on the other hand, is strongly linked quite directly to the American Revolutionaries.

The Faulkner family from which my wife Ellen is descended were well established through many generations in the Andover, Methuen, and Haverhill pre-American Revoltion area of Massachusetts and so would certainly have been in the caught up in the events of that time. Of particular interest to me is the connection of the Faulkner family to the famous Paul Revere ride.

Through the 1770's, tensions were running high between the colonists and the British government, leading to protest incidents such as the Boston Tea Party in 1773. In 1775, British troops were stationed in Boston and it is thought that they had plans to arrest revolutionary leaders John Hancock and Samuel Adams. On the night of April 18, 1775 the British troops began their move to Lexington where Hancock and Adams were located. Paul Revere set out on his ride, made famous by the Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 1861 poem, and traveled through Somerville, Medford and Arlington warning patriots along the way of the troop movement. After arriving in Lexington, Revere sent Dr. Samuel Prescott to deliver the message in Concord and then Acton. Dr. Prescott's destination in Acton was the home of Major Francis Faulkner, Ellen's second cousin, six times removed. Francis Faulkner is said to have fired three warning shots into the air as an alarm signal to assemble the local militia. The Faulkner home in Acton (pictured above left) had been purchased in 1733 by my wife Ellen's first cousin, seven times removed, Ammi Ruhamah Faulkner, the father of Francis.

As we approach the American Thanksgiving holiday, having recently celebrated the same event in Canada, how interesting would have been to have both branches of the family sit down to dinner together, loyalists and revolutionaries. I'm certain the dinner discussions would have been fascinating!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

My Ancestors Didn't Flush a Toilet?

Although this has been around for a some time, I only recently came across a whole new area for family research - privy archaeology! Yes, privy as in outhouse, backhouse, loo and any number of assorted other names.

While there do exist some less than honest 'looters' out there who sneak onto someone's property to dig for buried 'treasures,' there are serious amateur and professional archaeologists who excavate, with the permission of the landowner, very old privy pits to uncover various artifacts and family items. The idea is simple enough - in the days before indoor plumbing, families would dig a pit typically three to six feet deep, downwind of their homes, often in the back portion of their lot. Constructed above the pit was a small, hopefully private structure. Inside a wooden bench type seating arrangement was made with one or more holes, usually of varying sizes to accommodate different sized family members. This was the standard toilet for households. In fact, I'm sure many of us can at least remember this arrangement at cottages and campsites as we grew up.

The pits when 'filled' would be covered with dirt and gravel and a new pit was dug. Eventually time turned the 'contents' of these old pits into good, old fashioned dirt. But for reasons not fully understood, it seems that household and personal items also found there way into these pits. Archaeologists conducting a proper 'dig' can determine timelines and will unearth a variety of artifacts that can help better understand the lifestyle of the family who lived on the property. For instance, old medicinal bottles that might have contained an old-fashioned remedy or 'magic elixir' may tell the story of how the family dealt with illness, jewelery, plates and serving dishes, corsets, toys tossed into the pit by a mischievous sibling and even weapons have been found in these excavations. All help to make a connection to a family of the past.

I know that I would be excited to find items that belonged to some of my ancestors but somehow I take comfort in knowing that most of my ancestors arrived in Canada well after indoor plumbing was commonplace so I really don't have much of an opportunity to dig out my great-grandparents privy.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Name Change

When the Wagners and their cousins, the Breithaupts, settled in what was originally Canada West, now the province of Ontario, Canada, they chose to live, naturally enough, in the predominantly German settlement of Waterloo County, specifically in the town of Berlin. The area also featured a large Mennonite community who had immigrated from Pennsylvania.

With the outbreak of World War 1, however, things changed quickly as the German heritage became the focus a growing enmity lead by non-German residents. A bust of Kaiser Wilhelm II went missing twice from Victoria Park in the centre of the town and then disappeared for good. Recruitment for the local battalion was seen as being too slow, perceived as a symptom of an unpatriotic community heritage.

In 1916, a movement began to rename the town and although it did not have popular support, names were put forward to be decided upon through a referendum. Those in favour of the name change argued that maintaining the name of Berlin was unpatriotic and bad for business. Those in favour of keeping the name pointed to the bustling manufacturing sector unharmed by the town name and argued that the time was not right to be spending time on a name change debate when raising recruits and funds for the war effort should be the focus of attention.

The opinion of the Breithaupt family, as prominent citizens of the town, was considered to be of importance. The Breithaupts opposed the name change and suffered attempts at intimidation as a result. On May 12, 1916, about a week before the scheduled referendum, W. H. Breithaupt (pictured above right), then president of the Berlin and Northern Railway, had his home vandalised by "men in uniform" who cut his telephone line and rang his front door bell repeatedly before slipping a threatening note under in front door "stating what would happen if he did not support the change of name bylaw."

On May 19th, 1916 only 892 citizens out of about 15,000 cast their votes. W. H. Breithaupt the following day lamented in a letter, "We had a citizens vote yesterday on the question of changing the name of our city, a name it has had for nearly a hundred years, and I regret to say that those who want to change won by a small majority. No new name is as yet selected." The name was subsequently changed to Kitchener in honour of Lord Kitchener, Britain's Minister of War who died when his ship hit a mine and sank off the Orkney Islands.

The Breithaupts remained a family of prominence in the newly named city and today a city park bears their name.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

A Night Out Ends in Tragedy

On Thursday, April 3rd, 1930 Jessie Hadden (nee Gaull), her daughter Edith Hadden, aged 12, and her daughter-in-law Hilda Hadden (nee Smith) attended an open house at the Canada Bread Company, located on Danforth Avenue in Toronto's east end. They were accompanied by their Pickering Street neighbours, Elizabeth Masson and her 10 year old daughter, Patricia. This was early in the depression years and with tough times upon them, the open house with the offer of free 'souvenirs' consisting of rolls and doughnuts was not to be passed up.

Sometime after 8:00 p.m., the group of neighbours left the bread factory, arms loaded with baked goods, to head home. Others were also leaving the factory at the same time. Hilda Hadden described to the Toronto Daily Star newspaper what happened next. "We had stepped out into the roadway and passed over on to the devil strip. [Note: the 'devil strip' was a term used to describe the grass or dirt section between the sidewalk and the road]. Here we stood to allow a line of cars to pass. We saw a car coming at a fairly good rate of speed and it was turning out to pass two other cars. I believe it struck Mrs. Dowdell and her children first. Then we were all struck and thrown in every direction." A 'good Samaritan,' Thomas Ray of Virginia Avenue, stopped at the accident scene to assist police and, leaving his own wife and daughter at the side of the road, drove two of the injured to hospital. Jessie, Edith and Hilda Hadden suffered head and body bruises and were sent to the local hospital where they were treated and released.

Mrs. Dowdell and two of her children were more seriously injured. Mrs. Dowdell received a fractured skull and it was initially feared she would not survive the injuries. Her son Albert, 11, received a broken arm in the accident but it was 9 year old Helen Dowdell who was the most seriously injured. Helen died the following day at Toronto's famous Hospital for Sick Children of internal injuries despite receiving excellent care, including blood transfusions from her distraught father who had rushed to her side after learning of the accident a couple of hours after it occurred.

Three and a half weeks after the accident a coroner's jury found 18 year old Philip Hutchinson of Bastedo Avenue in Toronto, responsible for the death of young Helen. Hutchinson was subsequently charged with manslaughter. It was noted at the coroner's inquest that Hutchinson was unable to see the fine print on a paper that was handed to him, causing the inquest's Crown Attorney, Hal Gordon, to point out that his vision was defective.

Source: The Toronto Daily Star newspaper, April 4 and April 29, 1930 editions.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Always Check The Census

The use of a census to take 'stock' of a nation has been around for thousands of years. The Romans in fact are said to have used a census to track the number of adult males available for military duty. More recently, early North American census taking has been used for settlement planning, identifying government representation needs, tracking agricultural and business growth, and, of course, taxation.

From a genealogical perspective, census returns are perhaps the most valuable resource available. As genealogists, we study families and the census returns show us the population of areas by family. I have found that when I hit a 'dry' time in researching, one of those occasions when I just don't seem to be able to find the document I want or really know where to go next, examining census returns usually provides the clue that breaks the 'brick wall' and leads to a wealth of additional information. As an example, I experienced this when, in one of those 'dry' times, I decided to track my Gaull ancestor's movements through Aberdeenshire, Scotland. As I examined each census return in chronological order (from earliest to most recent), I discovered the family included a person in 1901 who I had never heard of previously. This individual, listed as the grandson of my 2nd great grandfather, lead me to the discovery of "Uncle Disney" (more on him at a later date).

Without a doubt, birth and death records are primary sources and I love finding marriage registrations as they can typically contain a wealth of interesting tidbits of information about the couple, their parents, their residence, and their friends or siblings who may have served as their witnesses. While census returns are considered by many to be a secondary source of information, there is still room for debate on this topic.

When I find an ancestral family in a census, unlike other documents, I am given the opportunity to see the whole family and some of its activities like occupations, who was going to school, who the neighbours were, perhaps what type of house they lived in, and sometimes what the annual income was, etc. It is also important to check to see if there was a page two of the census return (check the page before and the page after the return of the page the family appears on) because if the family lived on a farm as many ancestors did not too long ago, the frequently completed agricultural census will tell you what crops they were growing and what type of livestock they kept.


If you have any comments or questions, please feel free to contact me at

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Scholarly Approach Pays Off

In the 1970's and through to the mid-1980's, Gordon Wagner completed an extensive amount of genealogical research into the Wagner family's history (Gordon's research papers were donated to the University of Waterloo, Ontario ( This included the Faulkner family of his mother, Lottie Marion Faulkner. Gordon's work was completed without the advantage that computers and large databases today offer us. His tools were paper forms like pedigree charts and family group sheets - something that many of us who started family history research in that era might remember well.

Gordon also did not have the same opportunity to complete his work collaboratively - certainly he made some connections with distant family members who offered up some additional bits of information, likely anecdotal and without sources. These connections would have involved letter writing and the use of what we know refer to as 'snail mail.' Now we enjoy almost instant contact through email and electronic chats and the opportunity to collaborate with other researchers.

One such current collaboration is to be congratulated for a significant breakthrough piece of work. John Carew, Dr. Alaric Faulkner, and Ian Smillie connected to uncover an error in Gordon's research on the Faulkner family that now clearly identifies Sylvester Faulkner's paternal lineage. Sylvester, born in 1780 in Sturbridge, Worcester, Massachusetts, USA, was identified by Gordon Wagner as the son of Peter Daniel Faulkner and Chloe Cram. The work of John, Alaric (Ric), and Ian over the past few months has provided a convincing and compelling argument that this was incorrect and that Sylvester's true father was Peter Faulkner, a cousin of Daniel Faulkner, who married Chloe Cram.

As John Carew informed me, "The situation has developed to the point that Sylvester has a credible, verifiable ancestry to the line of Edmund Faulkner in Andover, Massachusetts and we have a family tree that takes Sylvester Faulkner’s descendants of today back 400 plus years to Kingscleare and Richard Faulkner, in 1597."

I had only the minor role to play of feeding the 'team' with the references and notes left by Gordon. Their success was brought about by strong collaboration and perseverance. My work now begins as I have a messy database of Faulkners to organize.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

A Grave Discovery

About a year ago, I was lucky enough to find a photo of the grave headstone for my 4th great grandfather James Hadden posted on Colin Milne's NE Scotland Genealogy website ( Colin had posted a number of photos of what he refers to as "strays" in the hope that genealogists and family members will be able to connect with the graves of their ancestors - as I did.

The headstone, located in St. Peter's Cemetery on King Street in Aberdeeen, Scotland (pictured above right) lists seven individuals - Mary Smart (James Hadden's first wife) who died in 1840, William Hadden (James' brother) who died in 1842, William (James' son) who died in 1862 at the age of 12, James Hadden himself who died in 1871, James George Wood Hadden (James' son) who died in 1890, Jessie Jamieson (James' second wife) who died in 1896, and finally, Alexander Hadden (James' son and my 3rd great grandfather) who died in 1914. The headstone inscription provides relationship and death dates, inferring that perhaps all seven individuals are buried in the same grave. But is that even possible even with the almost 75 years between the first listed death and the last?

The current standards for graves in the city of Aberdeen provides a limit of four internments per grave. Fortunately, the city "Bereavement Services" staff were able to provide some information from their records about this Hadden grave that addresses the question, in part.

The grave was purchased on December 22, 1842 by James Hadden. The date of purchase is important as the headstone indicates that Mary Smart died in October 1840 and James' brother, William died in November 1842. It is therefore highly probable that neither of these two were buried in the grave. Unfortunately many of the cemetery records were lost years ago so the existing records can only confirm that Jessie Hadden (nee Jamieson), James' second wife; Alexander, James' son and my 3rd great grandfather; and, John McNight, James' step-son, not listed on the headstone, are buried in the grave (an eighth name in the mix).

The Aberdeen city staff have informed me that "In the olden days in Aberdeen it was not uncommon for family's to use graves for close friends or even neighbours as money was so tight." It was also not uncommon for headstones to list the names of family members purely as a memorial to a family member who was buried elsewhere. In fact, Colin Milne has reported finding headstones that list someone along with where their grave is located. In addition, he has even found situations of the same person being listed on two separate headstones in two different cemeteries.

At least part of this puzzle has been solved and just for the price of asking the very cooperative staff of the city of Aberdeen.

Monday, October 5, 2009

I'm Average - Apparently!

Dick Eastman who has been publishing Eastman's Online Genealogy Newsletter ( since 1996, today had a story in which he provided the results of a survey he conducted with over 2,000 newsletter readers. I checked the results, frankly more out of curiosity, to see where I landed. Well, it turns out I'm rather average - an outcome that sometimes can be considered as a bit of let down but in this case I think provides some rather interesting insights into the broader genealogical community.

When it comes to experience, 40.6 percent of respondents said they had more than 20 years with a further 31.5 percent indicating they had between 10 - 20 years of experience. I have about 30 years of family history experience, so pretty average.

When it comes to experience with technology, 55.6 percent said they were advanced to expert with the majority using a cable or DSL Internet connection for their computers operating on a Windows XP platform. 84.5 percent said that was their top website - just like me. Most have attended a conference and/or seminar and considered it a worthwhile experience. For social networking, something I've commented on a few times, 61 percent use Facebook and 23 percent use GenealogyWise - again like me.

It seems the only noteworthy area in which I veer away from average is the software I currently use. Family Tree Maker is the most commonly used, followed in order by Legacy, The Master Genealogist, and RootsMagic. I have written before that I have switched to using RootsMagic because I really like the ease of citing sources of my information and love the RootsMagic To Go feature that allows me to carry a full version of the software and all of my records and photos on a USB drive (also referred to as a flash drive, memory stick, etc.). As much as this might seem to place me in a minority 'position,' I must confess that I have current versions of both Family Tree Maker and Legacy on my computer - so I suppose its back to average for me.

The interesting point in all of this for me is the observation that as a whole, it appears family historians are a technologically savvy group. Despite having started their craft in an age when personal computing was extremely limited, they have embraced the technological resources of this millennium maybe because we know that's the way to find the records and information that we have been trying to track down over all those years.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

It Was a Tragedy Nonetheless

The loss of a loved one is always a difficult time in life. When that loss occurs suddenly and without warning, it can be even more devastating. Such would appear to be the case in the circumstances surrounding the death of my 4th great-grandmother, Mary Gaull (nee Christie).

Mary Christie was born on February 22, 1818 in Broomhill, Kintore, Aberdeenshire, Scotland, the daughter of Alexander Christie and Mary Divorty. In 1843, Mary married John Gaull, a farmer who was 12 years older than her. John Gaull seems to have experienced success for in 1861, John and Mary were living at Whitehaugh, Chapel-of-Garioch, Aberdeenshire in a house with five windows, certainly more than any of their neighbours could boast. Living with them was their daughter, Mary Jane and their grandson, Mary Jane's son, John Gaull (my great-great grandfather).

Tragedy struck the family however on August 19, 1879 when Mary (Christie) Gaull went missing. Her body, sadly, was discovered at about noon, four days later on August 23rd in the River Don near her home. Her death was registered as a "supposed" suicide, as neighbour Albert Edward informed the local registrar.

An interesting element of Scottish civil registrations is the ability, generally on the basis of an affidavit, for the civil record to be corrected. A separate Register of Corrected Entries was maintained and the original record was marked with a 'margin'-type note cross-referencing the original record with the appropriate corrected entry. And so it was with the death of Mary (Christie) Gaull (or Gauld as it was sometimes spelled).

One of Mary's first cousins was Dr. Peter Divorty (Mary's mother and Peter's father were sister and brother). On September 22, 1879, the registrar accepted the corrected cause of death information as certified by Dr. Divorty. The corrected entry indicated that Mary was "Between the 19th and 23rd days of August 1879 Found in the River Don in a place known as the "Dam Pot," and about 400 yards from the Dwelling house at Whitehaugh parish of Chapel of Garioch and County of Aberdeen" and that the cause of death was "drowning" - not the "supposed" suicide as originally recorded. A family tragedy still but at least one now without an affixed stigma.

Friday, October 2, 2009

My Favourite Websites

There are perhaps now billions of websites available on the Internet so it can be a challenge knowing where to go for family related information. I thought I would share some of my favourites with you. This isn't an exhaustive list but more a list of the sites that I use all the time.

My number one site (shamelessly excluding this blog, of course) is, the Canadian 'edition' of There are 'editions' or versions of the Ancestry site for several countries, such as the United Kingdom, Germany, Australia. The Ancestry site provides a number of free tools and information but it is a paid subscription based site for database access. The databases are fully searchable and provide either electronic image of the original document (that can be saved to your computer) or indexes of records. With a World Deluxe subscription, the databases associated with all countries can be accessed which comes in handy when I am helping friends get started with their research. In addition, the site can be used to post and share your research results through a family tree that allows you to connect with others who may be researching the same family lines - like cousins you didn't know about!

Number two has to be Google, and I include in this Google maps, books, images, etc. Not only do I find great benefit from general searching for information but the site offers search techniques, many of which I have yet to discover, such as timeline searching to help set better historic context for the events and happenings in the world in which my ancestors lived. Google Books provides access to the full or partial text of many public domain books, some of which can be downloaded in PDF format for later reference.

As my paternal side is Scottish, my number three site is ScotlandsPeople is the official site for the government records of Scotland such as birth, marriage, and death registrations, census records, parish records and, wills and testaments. The site offers pay-as-you-go searching of the records - essentially you purchase credits and use the credits to view search results and document images. Although I find some of the database search criteria to be a bit limited, I have been successful at finding hundreds of family records and at a price cheaper than a trip to Scotland to search in person. The site is seen as a model by the heads of many jurisdictional archives as the best way to provide access to historic documentation and records.

From a Canadian perspective, the sites of Our Roots (ourroots,ca) and the Canadian Genealogy Centre of the Library and Archives Canada ( has to be listed at number four. Our Roots provides fully searchable access to thousands of Canadian local history books through a national network of libraries, archives, universities, colleges, businesses and associations. The Canadian Genealogy Centre provides searchable access to the record collections of the Canada's national archives, Library and Archives Canada, although the number of viewable documents remains limited.

Rounding out my top five is GenealogyWise ( which is a 'Facebook'-type social networking site for genealogists. Registration is free and once registered, you can join special interest groups such as those set up for different software programs or geographical locations or surname groups. The site provides the ability to connect with other genealogists to share suggestions, seek help, and make friends.

Finally, although not purely a site, I recommend listening to genealogy podcasts that can be listened to through your computer from the podcast website or downloaded if you have access to a digital media player like an iPod (from which podcast gets its name). My favourite is The Genealogy Guys produced each week by George G. Morgan and Drew Smith ( George and Drew have been regularly producing their podcasts for over four years and this past week they even mentioned this blog - quite the honour for me! Another excellent podcast to recommend is Genealogy Gems ( produced by Lisa Louise Cooke. Listen, learn, and enjoy!