Thursday, December 31, 2009

Goodbye to 2009, Hello to 2010!

Well, 2009 is coming to a close and for me, not soon enough. It has been a mixed year at best. While there have been many exciting family history moments and genealogy 'happy dances,' 2009 has been difficult for Ellen and I as a result of Ellen's health scare that dominated the year.

Like other years, 2009 came in with much hope and promise for prosperity but soon saw Ellen experiencing mobility problems - suddenly losing her ability to walk, even shift herself in bed. Through a series of tests and scans, the problem was diagnosed and resulted with brain surgery in late February.While the prognosis is good and the results were immediate with the return of mobility, recovery from this type of surgery is very slow which curtailed many of the activities and plans we had made. 2010 therefore is a year in which we hope to really make up some of the ground we lost.

2009 wasn't all bad though - I started this blog that has now been read in 18 countries around the world and made incredible gains in my family history pursuits. I've had the chance to make connections with family members - "lost cousins" - whom I had always hoped to one day find. I now have Shand cousins, Gaull cousins, and unbelievably a 'new' Hadden cousin, all connected through the power of sharing information on genealogy sites, most notably Ancestry and Genes Reunited. On Ellen's side, I've made great connections with her Breithaupt, Kimmerly and Faulkner cousins. Through all of the connections, I have been able to collaborate in some problem solving and have seen my family database grow by more than 400%, albeit the growth was greater in Ellen's family than mine! If you are like me, the fun is in the chase, not just the victory so researching Ellen's family has been of great value.

I have also had the good fortune of making connections I never would have previously considered. For example, finding childhood friends of my parents to try and find out what they were really like, not just what they want me to believe they were like when they were young. The best example of this is connecting with John Perkins who along with his brother Ray made up half of the 1950's group, The Crew Cuts and who were both friends of my parents through their childhood and teen years. While we have spoken about the neighbourhood in which they grew up, I'm still waiting for the 'juicy' stories.

2010 will likely bring more connections and I hope, more depth to my family history. Not necessarily depth in generations but rather in an understanding of the full character of my ancestors. Hopefully too, some puzzles will finally be solved - I haven't given up hope of learning a lot more about my great grandfather John Foley. Without a doubt, we'll see more and more records becoming available online as the competition between subscription sites continues. Ancestry, Footnote, and World Vital Records, amongst many will be digitizing previously unavailable records and making them available to a world wide audience. I hope that many of these records are about my ancestors and yours!

Happy New Year! May you have health, prosperity and success in your pursuits in 2010!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Thomas Elliott Knox Obituary

Finding the obituary for an ancestor often provides invaluable information about the person and the life that they lead. Such is the case with my wife, Ellen's great grandfather Thomas Elliott Knox (pictured above during a visit to Orillia, Ontario on the far right along with Edward Latimer, Amy Squires Knox, his wife, and granddaughter, Tess Latimer in 1923) whose date of death had been a hard piece of information to find. Thanks to the Livermore Herald newspaper though, not only did I learn his date of death (January 30, 1938) but much more about the man, a prominent citizen in the Livermore and Oakland areas of California. Here is what the Herald reported about his death:

"Death claimed a former Livermorean, prominent in political affairs of Alameda county for more than fifty years, as Thomas E. Knox passed away at providence hospital in Oakland Sunday night."

"A resident of Oakland for the past several years, Knox had spent the greater part of his life here, actively engaged in business and public office. He leaves hundreds of friends to mourn his death."

"Knox was a native of Seaforth, Ontario, but he went to Berkely as a young man and there started his long career of public service, acting as town marshal and tax collector before the incorporation of the city."

"In 1882 he resigned his position and came to Livermore where he engaged in viticulture and later conducted a cement contracting business. For two lengthy periods he was a member of the city council, first being elected in 1900, serving for ten years, and returning to the board in 1916 to serve six additional years. He was Mayor of Livermore from 1903 to 1910, and from 1918 to 1922."

"Appointed postmaster in 1903, he served in that position for thirteen years, followed by a five-year period, 1916-21 during which he was a deputy county tax collector."

"Following the death of D. J. Murphy in 1921, Knox was appointed by Governor William D. Stephens to serve the unexpired portion of his term. Knox served jointly as mayor of Livermore and Alameda County Supervisor from his appointment to the latter position in October, 1921, until his resignation from the city office in January, 1922. He defeated John G. Mattos for the supervisorial post in the campaign of 1922 but lost to the late Ralph V. Richmond in the election of 1924."

Knox was an outstanding figure in the civic and social life of the community during his long residence here. Among other activities, he was one of the organizers and for many years president of the Pines Club which established the famous Livermore mountain property. He was a member of the Livermore Lions Club during his residence here, and was a member of the advisory council of the Livermore branch of the Bank of America. He had formerly been secretary of the Livermore Mutual Building and Loan Association."

"Funeral services, attended by many friends from this city, were held from the Grant D. Miller Mortuary in Oakland Tuesday afternoon. The city flag was at half mast during the day as a mark of final respect."

"Knox leaves his widow, Mrs. Amy Squires Knox, a son, Thomas E. Knox Jr., and a daughter, Mrs. E. A. Latimer of Ontario, Canada. He was the grandfather of Mrs. Myrna Davis, Miss Evelyn, Thomas, Jack, Richard and the late Arthur Knox, children of his late son, Arthur Knox, and four children of Mrs. Latimer."

Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Wedding of Mattie Knox and Edward Latimer

When he lost his wife and daughter within the span of about eight months in 1901, Edward Arthur Latimer left Seaforth, Ontario, Canada and headed west. He went as far west as he could in fact, ending up in Livermore, California. Livermore, now part of Oakland, California was in the early 1900's a growing and bustling community. It was also the home for a number of former southwestern Ontario men who like Edward had left Canada.

Lloyd M. MacDonald from Stratford, Ontario had enjoyed a blossoming banking career in Hamilton, Ontario before settling in Livermore where he became the president of the Farmers and Merchants National Bank of Livermore. Also prominent was Thomas Elliot Knox, who like Edward was born in Seaforth but had settled in Livermore around 1875 where established a vineyard of 20 acres, became postmaster, then mayor, and finally county supervisor.

About five years after arriving in Livermore, Edward met and married Thomas E. Knox' daughter, Mattie Diona Knox. As the daughter of a prominent society member, Mattie herself was often the subject of the 'society pages' in the local newspapers. When Edward and Mattie got married the Oakland Tribune reported the acquisition of the marriage license and both the Livermore Herald and Livermore Echo reported on the wedding ceremony, reception and honeymoon destination.

The Herald provided the greatest amount of detail, although they got some parts wrong in their November 17, 1906 edition, stating the groom to be 'Edwin' rather than Edward and that the wedding took place on Saturday, November 9th when, in fact, is was Saturday, November 10th. On most of the important details of the wedding, both newspapers agreed. The wedding ceremony commenced at 9:00 p.m. in the evening with the bridal party entering the smilax and chrysanthemum decorated dining room of the Knox residence to the strains of Mendelssohn's Wedding March. About fifty guests had gathered for the ceremony. The reception was held in the basement of the home where "an elaborate wedding supper was served." James Clark served as 'toast master' introducing a number of speakers that included the bride's maternal grandfather, John Squires. The music and dancing were enjoyed by all until about one o'clock in the morning.

Both newspapers reported that Mattie was going to be missed in Livermore where she 'had the esteem' of all who knew her as the couple were taking up residence elsewhere. As the Herald reported, "Mr and Mrs. Latimer left Sunday morning on the 9:30 train for their home in Canada, a large number of wedding guests gathering to see them depart... Mr Latimer has prepared a home for his bride in Orillia, Ontario, where he is a prominent young business man and associated with his brother in the hardware business. He made many friends during his brief stay and impressed all who met him as being an able and energetic young man."

Mattie and Edward had four children and ten grandchildren. They passed away and are buried in Orillia, Ontario, the town they came to call home.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas!

From all of my family to all of you and your family members,

Have a Safe and Blessed, Merry Christmas!

And, I hope Santa was good to you, too!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Putting Food on the Table

For those who journeyed to a far off land in search of a better life, like my Gammie and Hadden ancestors in coming to early 20th century Saskatchewan, Canada, putting food on the table in the absence of modern Superstores meant hunting, fishing, trading and agriculture. Perhaps much in the same way it did for them in the Scottish Highlands. In 1904, the book "The Romance of Poaching in the Highlands of Scotland" was published, telling the stories of some of Scotland's greatest and most notorious 'poachers' - those who took game with a belief in a 'free forest.' The goal, of course, was to 'hunt' silently so as to avoid attracting the attention of local game wardens.

To accomplish the goal of putting food on the table, these silent hunters needed to be above all else, clever. My great uncle Alec Hadden shared with me many years ago, some of the tried and true methods that he knew were used in highlands when he was a boy. The top game catching 'tricks' were:

1. Raisins threaded with horse hair - the strands of horse hair needed to be not much more than one inch (about 2.5 cm) in length. Using a needle, a few strands were threaded through each raisin. These raisins were then scattered about the ground in an area frequented by pheasants. The pheasants, I'm told, would eat the raisins which would get caught in their throats because of the horse hair. The 'choked' pheasants would then fall on the ground to await pick-up by the 'hunter.'

2. Sulphur pots for Quail - Quail, I'm told, like to 'roost' in the upper branches of evergreen trees. To catch these birds, the silent 'hunters' would light a small sulphur pot at the base of the tree. The sulphur fumes would rise apparently causing causing the birds to lose consciousness and fall into the awaiting 'hunter's' hands.

3. Fishing with sulphur - another use for sulphur was to place a small amount in a glass jar with a cork top on it, running a short wick out through a small hole in the cork. By lighting the wick and floating the jar into a pool on a stream holding fish, the 'explosion' caused when the sulphur was lit would be sufficient to stun the fish and cause them to rise to the water's surface where the 'hunter' could then pick or scoop them up. The art to this technique apparently would lie in getting the quantity of sulphur just right - too much could shatter the jar, ending the 'fishing' trip.

I don't know if any of my ancestors used any of these techniques or if they knew of them simply because of common knowledge of the time - and I admit, I did not press for a confession (nor have I tried any of them myself!). But whether they were used because of a philosophical bent for the 'free forest' or used out of the necessity to feed a family, I was always amazed at how clever and inventive they were.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Who Are The Cole Children?

While I have written often about my direct Hadden ancestors arriving in Canada in 1923, they were not the first of the family to arrive from Scotland. In 1910, my great grandfather's aunt Isabella Reid Simon Cameron (nee Hadden) and her husband, Alexander Cameron left Aberdeenshire in search of land and a better life.

Isabella (pictured to the right in a photo provided by my third cousin, Mary (Maver) Cope's husband, Alan) was born on November 17, 1869 in Premnay Village in Aberdeenshire, the younger sister of my great great grandfather John Hadden. Their father, Alexander Hadden was a shopkeeper who moved the family from town to town around Aberdeenshire every couple of years - first Auchterless, then Fyvie, back to Auchterless, then off to Premnay. Finally, Alexander took his family to Insch where he seemed at long last to settle.

And it was in Insch that Isabella met and married Alexander Cameron on December 29, 1893. It appears, more from a lack of records, that Alexander and Isabella had no children in Scotland. It also appears that they journeyed to Canada separately, something that was not very unusual at the time. The husband would travel first and try to get something, however small and humble, established before being joined by his wife. Isabella and Alexander settled in the Maple Creek area of Saskatchewan, west of Swift Current and not too far north of the Montana border. Little would Isabella know that she was living not far from where her nephew Alexander Shand Hadden would bring his family just more than a dozen years later.

In 1916, the second decennial census of the Canadian prairie provinces (Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta) was conducted. Alexander and Isabella appear in the census lists living in Township 3, Range 15, Meridian W3. Living with them were two young children: Alice Cole, aged 7, born in the United States, Elmer Cole, aged 5, born in Saskatchewan, and presumably Alice's younger brother. The relationship of the children to Alexander is listed as step-daughter and step-son.

I think on a balance of probabilities, based on the timelines of their marriage and immigration, that it is unlikely that Alice and Elmer were from a previous marriage of either Alexander or Isabella. The offspring of an extra-marital relationship? Well, maybe but far more likely, I suspect is that the parents of Alice and Elmer had died, leaving them as orphans who were taken in and 'adopted' by Alexander and Isabella who had no children of their own, but likely had wanted to have some.

Perhaps more research, some luck, maybe combined with some good old fashioned collaboration with some of you will shed some more light on the identity of Alice and Elmer Cole!?

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Getting Younger As Time Goes By

As the saying goes "a Gentleman never tells" and apparently the other part of this might be that 'a Lady does not need to disclose her true age.' I have heard other family historians speak of ancestors who seemed to get younger as time went by and now I have a story of my own to share on this same theme.

Rebecca Sparling was the half sister of Ellen's grandfather, Edward Arthur Latimer. Rebecca's father, Richard Sparling died shortly after her birth in 1871. The following year, Rebecca's mother, Theresa Delmage married Edward Latimer, a Seaforth, Ontario shoemaker, who raised Rebecca and her 'Sparling' siblings as his own.

In January 1900, one week after her 29th birthday, Rebecca married Thomas E. Baker, the Secretary of the YMCA in Sarnia, Ontario and a man who was just 6 months older than her. The odd part is that their marriage registration shows Thomas' age correctly as 29 but Rebecca has accelerated to the age of 30! The following January, in 1901, Rebecca and Thomas, living in Sarnia, Lambton County, Ontario, welcomed a daughter, Frances Marion, into the world.

When I couldn't find the family in the 1911 Census of Canada, I surmised that perhaps they had crossed the nearby border and had moved to Michigan in the United States. I was half right - they moved to the United States but not to Michigan - they had moved to Buffalo, New York where Thomas was employed as the Secretary of the YMCA in that community. In 1910, the US Census shows Rebecca and Thomas, now the same age, 39, with their daughter Frances and two additional children who were born in Buffalo - a son, Howard born in 1904 and a second daughter, Mary born in 1907.

In 1920, Rebecca and her family were still in Buffalo and they were understandably all a little older - Rebecca and her husband were nine years older showing each of their ages to 48. I have not yet been able to find Rebecca or Thomas in 1930 (it's possible they moved back to Canada) but will be looking for the 'Lady' who ages nine years for every ten. I sometimes feel I'm aging fifteen years for every ten so finding her secret will be a priority.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Daniel Fitzgerald Died?

I always find it fascinating and exciting when I find a book that describes a direct ancestor and their family so when a fellow genealogist pointed me to the book "History of Toronto and County of York, Ontario, containing an outline of the history of the Dominion of Canada, a history of the city of Toronto and the county of York, with the townships, towns. villages, churches, schools, general and local statistics, biographical sketches, etc., Vol. 2" by Charles Pelham Mulvaney, I was elated. Mulvaney's two volume history was published in 1885, shortly before Mulvaney died. The book is now in the public domain so a digitized version of both volumes can be found on the Our Roots website in addition to the Internet Archive website.

The book confirmed other research that I had already completed but unfortunately left one mystery unsolved - when and where did Daniel Fitzgerald die? Daniel is my third great grandfather and was born around 1804 in Ireland. Mulvaney places the his origins as being Waterford, Ireland, a city known for its fine crystal. Mulvaney's biographical sketch indicates that Daniel emigrated to the USA, and Cape Vincent, New York, in 1825 where he married Rebecca Noble. Daniel and Rebecca had four children while in Cape Vincent, the eldest of whom, Lewis, my great great grandfather, was born in 1837. In 1843, according to Mulvaney, Daniel moved his family to Toronto, in what was then referred to as Canada West, where he purchased 100 acres of land at Lot 5, Concession 2. Mulvaney records that Joseph, the youngest of Daniel's three sons eventually purchased the family land and was still living there in 1885 when Mulvaney wrote his book. Also, as Mulvaney reports, Lewis purchased land not far from his family.

The 1880 map of the area confirms Mulvaney's report on the land holdings as the map clearly shows Joseph owning the large lot and Lewis owning a smaller (25 acre) lot a short distance away. What is interesting to note is that the map also shows Daniel occupying a small corner of Joseph's large lot yet Mulvaney's biography of Daniel states that Daniel remained on his land "until his death in 1844." If Daniel died in 1844, how could he be shown on the 1880 map. To add to the mystery are two further pieces of information. Rebecca, Daniel's wife, died January 20, 1879 in Toronto. Her death registration shows that she was a 'Lady' who died suddenly of old age. The informant who signed the registration was Daniel Fitzgerald!

Civil registration began in Ontario, Canada in 1869 so if Daniel died in 1844 as Mulvaney claims, there will be no civil registration record. If Daniel died after Rebecca's death in 1879 as both his signature on her death registration and the 1880 map indicate, then there should be a civil registration for his death - but there doesn't appear to be one!

Fortunately, I have also found that Daniel and Rebecca, along with other family members were buried in St. Michael's Cemetery in Toronto so a visit there along with a review of the burial records, if they are accessible, may clear up the mystery. But I'm going to wait until the snow is gone before I make that trip!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Family Pets

At some point in our lives, most of us have experienced the joy of owning a pet. Likely our ancestors also had pets. A dog, a cat, a hamster, goldfish, or for those who experienced the 1970's, a pet rock. Pictured to the left is our current pet, Chuck, a poodle-shitszu mix who guards Ellen day and night but whom I like to think of as my genealogy administrative assistant. Chuck is also a 21st century kind of dog, a fact evidenced by Chuck having his own Facebook page (one of the kids set it up for Chuck although I still got blamed for it).

Growing up, my family had an ongoing assortment of family pets - from Tim and Tom, the almost identical Persian cats to Murdoch (my grade 3 teacher's suggestion for a name), the beagle. Andy was our fun loving but too big St. Bernard who would drag my sister by the hood of her winter coat through the snow in the backyard of the family home - much to my sister's protests and displeasure (and maybe just too much to my delight). Andy was also responsible for 'eating' my father's willow tree. This was really not Andy's fault though as he honestly thought the small willow tree was a 'chew toy' planted for his amusement.

I am aware that my ancestral family had pets, at least on the Hadden side. My great grandfather, Alexander Shand Hadden, and his son, my great uncle, Alexander Gauld Hadden, both loved German Shepherds. My great grandfather's dog, Queenie, is in every photo that I have of my great grandfather.

Perhaps the strangest pet that my family possessed was Benjie, the Spider Monkey. Yes, the Spider Monkey! Benjie came to our family on loan. My mother was working as a nurse at St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto where a doctor that she worked with was looking to find a good home for Benjie while the doctor was away on a two year assignment. Needless to say, having a small spider monkey swinging from your drapes is a bit of a novelty in the neighbourhood, well, at least in my neighbourhood. The addition of Benjie to our household certainly added humorous moments to remember, especially as a result of visits by nervous neighbours whom despite reassurances just could not get comfortable with affection being shown to them by a monkey. I liked Benjie although he seemed to just tolerate me. The person in the family he really related to was my brother, Bob, perhaps because he was the youngest and therefore at the time the smallest family member who might not have been seen as a threat. Bob developed a 'call' of "Benjie, Benjie, Benjie, Boy!" that signified their special bond. Eventually, after more than the two years agreed upon, the doctor returned and Benjie left the family although just mentioning his name still brings smiles of recollection to the faces of those of us who knew him and remember his antics.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Genealogy Vacations

With the cold and the snow having arrived in my world, to the delight of many who no doubt wish for a white Christmas, I am already beginning to think about planning for next year's adventures. My wife, Ellen, and I enjoy ancestral quests - searching for family graves so that we can pay our respects to our ancestors and also to ensure that their final resting spot is maintained. We weren't able to venture out in 2009 to allow Ellen time to recover from surgery so 2010 will need to be well planned to compensate.

While conducting research on-line into ancestral roots in Scotland and Ireland, and soon enough on Ellen's side, in Germany, its easy to forget about the local places available to visit and because the family has moved away from many of the small towns and villages of our ancestors, there is a risk that these graves will never be known to today's family.

In 2008, our quest was to find the grave the of Ellen's great grandfather, Edward Latimer who had left his birthplace of County Fermanagh in Northern Ireland with his family to settle in Canada. The Latimer family settle in the village of Seaforth, Huron County, Ontario where Edward took up the shoe making trade. In 1871, Edward married a young widow named Theresa Delmage. Edward and Theresa had five children together who joined the four children from Theresa's previous marriage whom Edward raised as his own. Edward died in 1932 and although he had moved away from Seaforth, his death registration indicated that he was to be buried there.

Finding Seaforth was not a problem, especially with a GPS unit to guide us along the way, also programmed, of course, to point out the locations of our favourite coffee shop. Our first stop was to the town clerk's office where helpful staff provided directions to the two local cemeteries. Based on the ages of the of cemeteries, we selected the Maitlandbank Cemetery and followed the directions provided - "Drive along the main road until you see the farm equipment dealership, turn left and it'll be along that road." It was that easy. The tough part was locating the family plot as there was no cemetery office to direct us further so we walked the rows of the different sections of the cemetery and fortunately before long, we found it - the somewhat weather-beaten, moss covered monument marking the grave of Edward Latimer - and as it turned out several other family members. In addition, by inspecting the headstones of the surrounding graves, we found the graves of several other related families.

We travel prepared for these cemetery excursions with brushes for cleaning the headstones, a small garden trowel to tend to any weeds, a digital camera to carefully record the location and headstone information and in this specific case, Ellen purchased some perennial flowers to plant. The flower purchase was completed locally in Seaforth where we found a 'self-serve retailer' - choose what you want and deposit the cash into a box to complete your sale. No cash, no worry as a small sign pointed you to a self-serve credit card machine, complete with instructions - something I'll never find in the big city!

The results of our Seaforth visit (pictured above) make all document searches, real and tangible. While there is a connection that you feel finding something about an ancestor or that an ancestor signed, it really doesn't seem to compare to the connection of being in an ancestral village, walking the same streets that they walked so many years before, let alone being able to pay your respect to them at their grave. Its not too soon for me to be thinking about the 2010 connections to be made!

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Future of Genealogical Societies

The future of genealogical societies has been a cause for concern, at least for the past few years. Memberships have been declining even though it appears that there has been an increased interest in family history research. This has prompted a lot of healthy debate on how genealogical societies can be rejuvenated. With ever increasing resources available on-line, both free and through subscriptions, it is often easier to remain in the comfort of one's own home, conduct research and connect with others through social networking websites, blogs and email who share similar research interests.

The reality of genealogical research today is that on-line resources probably represent only about ten percent of all of the available material (at least by my estimate). This may start to change as efforts continue to digitize books and records but I think the monumental task of digitizing 'everything' is a long way from ever being completed. While on-line resources are great, and I personally subscribe to a number of them, they do not provide everything that is needed.

Genealogical societies then, need to look at how they can contribute real value to family historians because the current 'competition' isn't going away and will only get tougher. In Ontario, Canada where I live, there has been debate 'raging' (maybe too strong a term) about increased membership fees and not enough value being offered for the money to join and/or renew membership with the Ontario Genealogical Society (OGS).

Membership in the OGS is required in order to subsequently be able to join local branches. Clearly, in my opinion, the OGS needs to offer more than a portal for branch membership and it seems, unfortunately that for some, perhaps many, this isn't the case. John Reid, in his popular Anglo-Celtic Connections blog has offered a well stated argument for not renewing his membership. Unlike John, I have renewed my membership, although admittedly the fee increase caught my attention because once I started adding in the costs, albeit much lower, for each of the branches I wanted to also join, due to a variety of family connections, the cost really escalated. At some point, the cost of membership becomes prohibitive.

Am I getting the value I would like from the provincial society at $60 per year that I enjoy from the Toronto branch at $12 per year (based on 2010 individual membership fees)? Probably not. And I admit that I also don't have any 'quick fix' solutions for the problem but I will share some suggestions.

First, outreach. Too frequently I sense that societies wait for new people to just start attending meetings rather than being drawn in through an effective outreach program. Simply maintaining a web presence that informs potential members of when the next meeting is going to be held or providing information about registration for an upcoming conference is not enough. Getting into the local mall with an information and display booth, offering a free class through the local library or adult leisure education program will draw far more attention.

Second, stop printing. A significant contributor to rising costs for societies that then results in higher membership fees is the printing of glossy magazines and newsletters, the receipt of which is included as a membership 'benefit.' The content of these periodicals is a tremendous resource for the beginner and expert alike. Let's think about making them available electronically only. Modern family history research with its associated database software programs, email communications, and web search capabilities means that most family history researchers are pretty savvy with technology. Electronic postings are cheaper, accessible, and faster to get into the 'hands' of members, not to mention that they are friendlier for the environment.

Finally, enhance opportunities for collaboration. One thing I've noted with genealogists, we all love to share our information and we love to receive new information. 'Networking' and researching collaboratively with other researchers not only opens us to learn new tips and techniques but also to find solutions to research problems that we likely hold in common. There are numerous means to bring this about and those that don't work well can be discarded in favour of those techniques that succeed.

Genealogy is all about people - not only our ancestors but also our genealogical colleagues. Perhaps its time to move beyond the way we've always done things to try something new and maybe, just maybe have a whole lot of fun in the process. Something to think about!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Searching for Santa

Okay, I admit it. I couldn't resist the temptation to do a little genealogical digging in search of Santa Claus and his family roots. I also must confess that I didn't spend too much time conducting this research. Instead, I conducted a general search for our Christmas hero on Ancestry in order to find a good starting point. Unfortunately, I must report that I hit a brick wall!

Recognizing that Santa's address is North Pole, Canada H0H 0H0, I first restricted my search to Canadian records only. I was shocked that an obituary record was immediately provided to me by the Ancestry databases. Not wanting to believe that the obituary could possibly be for Santa, I quickly went to the record provided. What a relief - and for that matter, a mystery. The obituary was for actress Deborah Kerr who had passed away in November 2007 following an award winning film career that included notable performances in The King and I and From Here to Eternity. Santa was not named as a surviving family member in the obituary so what relationship could Miss Kerr have with him? Well, it turns out that Santa happened to be mentioned on the same page in the Toronto Daily Star newspaper as the obituary - the reference to Santa being related to a charitable funding raising campaign. Santa was also mentioned with the same charity reference on another page offered by Ancestry. This time a newspaper page listing an index of obituaries about notables who had passed away. Other newspaper references were provided through my Ancestry Canadian record search, all from the Canadian prairie provinces and none dealing with Santa or his roots.

So I broadened my search to include all Ancestry records. I found a Santa Elf Claus reportedly living at 999 North Pole Lane in Baltimore, Maryland. Clearly not the same Santa I was looking for as everyone knows Baltimore is not the North Pole and, to the best of my knowledge, its not even likely his summer home. I found another Santa Claus who married Alisa P. Porter on September 21, 2001 in Elko County, Utah. Again, a 2001 marriage just doesn't seem to fit and I suspect that the Mrs. Claus I had been aware of throughout my life wouldn't have been amused. Finally, there was the record of a one year old Santa Claus in the 1898 Pueblo and Jicarilla, New Mexico, US Indian Census schedule. This again didn't fit as 'my' Santa Claus is said to have Dutch roots.

Like all brick walls, I hope that perhaps this one might come tumbling down. Until that day, I will just have to continue to believe!

Monday, December 7, 2009

A Little Little

On Saturday, June 16th, 1928, a young woman named Agnes Little boarded the "Regina" in the Port of Greenock, Scotland. The ship was owned and operated by the White Star Lines, the same company that had built, and lost, the infamous "Titanic." The "Regina" was a large steamship, capable of accommodating almost 2,500 passengers along with almost 300 crew members.

Agnes, whose occupation was listed as a 'domestic,' was part of a Salvation Army Party, organized to take young immigrants to Canada. These groups, now considered quite controversial, had years earlier consisted mainly of young boys sent to Canada where they had a chance to gain 'farming experience' whereas the reality was often one of providing free or, at best, cheap labour. By the time Agnes was boarding the ship bound for Canada, emigration through this program had slowed. By 1939, it ceased altogether with the outbreak of war.

Agnes, a petite four feet, ten inches, had left her parents, James and Margaret Little, her three brothers, little sister Jenny, and the only home she had known at 26 Sir Michael Street in Greenock, to travel to Toronto, Ontario, Canada where she hoped she would find employment as a "Ward Maid."

As a British subject, there would be no immigration application required and she already had arranged for a place to stay - the Salvation Army Hostel in Toronto. She had money to help her settle in the far away land she had never seen before - the large sum of $10.00. Agnes had also been given the name of a Scottish family to look up once she had arrived in Toronto - the Haddens.

Shortly after she arrived in Canada on June 23rd, 1928, Agnes did contact the Hadden family and enjoyed the support that was offered to her by the family members, who themselves were recent immigrants, having arrived in Toronto only the year before after four years working a prairie homestead. Agnes was able to find work and a place of her own to call home, a flat at 44 MacPherson Avenue near downtown Toronto. She also started dating the youngest son in the Hadden family, John.

Agnes (pictured above right) married John in 1929 and the following year, they welcomed their first of four children into the world, a son they named Lewis.

I remember visiting my grandmother Agnes, or Granny as I called her. She was already suffering from the effects of cancer when I was a young boy but she somehow was always able to muster up enough strength to entertain and play with me. The cancer finally prevailed and Agnes passed away on November 18, 1958 at the age of 50. Though she called Canada home, she will always be remembered for proudly proclaiming her Scottish heritage through the words, "My tongue is my passport."

Friday, December 4, 2009

Podcasts and Videos

The Internet has continued to marvel me with the continuing opportunities for learning. As technology advances, it is becoming simple to find new and improved forms to gain a better understanding and new knowledge of all things genealogical.

With the digitization of historic documents and books ever increasingly making these resources available on-line, the Internet continues to be a fabulous source for findings items of great research value. But from a learning perspective, perhaps one of the still most under-utilised sources of education for family historians are the videos and podcasts that are now available.

I used to think of YouTube as a website for the marginal and bizarre. The site where you could find short video clips of something strange, presented through grainy cell phone images. If it ever was that, it has advanced and been embraced by genealogists in large numbers. Type the words "genealogy" or "family history" into the YouTube search box and you will find more than 125,000 links to videos that will provide everything from beginner's lessons to advanced tips and techniques.

But one of my favourite 'new media' resources are the podcasts. These are essentially audio files, like a recorded radio broadcast, that cover just about every topic imaginable. For the family historian, I think you're really missing out if you are not taking advantage of these, primarily free, resources. Although the name 'podcast' is derived from Apple's iPod, you don't have to own an iPod to listen to them. Podcasts can be played right from your computer (or any mp3 audio device) if you want and finding podcasts is easy. You can download the free iTunes software from the Apple website and then, after opening the iTunes program, click on the Podcast tab, search for "genealogy." You'll be amazed at the number of 'shows' that are available. By simply clicking on the 'subscribe' button, your iTunes software will download each new episode of your selected podcasts as they become available. You can also listen to any episodes that you might have missed by clicking on the 'get all' button. And don't limit yourself just to genealogy - by searching under 'history' or for the history of the country of your ancestral roots, you may find even more to help set context for the lives of your family members.

I happen to have access to an iPod and I have a one hour commute to work and back home. This provides me with two hours of education each day. So here are a couple of my favourite podcasts with links so you can enjoy them as well.

The Genealogy Guys podcast, the longest running, regularly produced podcast, is available for free. Hosts Drew Smith and George Morgan cover a range of topics, always offering expert advice and tips on research and the use of technology by family historians. They even mentioned this blog in one of their episodes, so what's not to like. The 'Guys' have also produced a number of video interviews with a variety of experts that are available at

Another real favourite is the collective work of Lisa Louise Cooke who just has to be one of the busiest genealogy educators in the world. Lisa's podcast, Genealogy Gems, is a treasure trove that blends tips and techniques with news, crafts, and most importantly, fun. As for the busy part, well, in addition to the free Genealogy Gems episodes, Lisa now offers extra 'premium members only' shows through her site, regular Family History: Genealogy Made Easy episodes for Personal Life Media, and produces a series of videos for her Genealogy Gems YouTube 'channel' in addition to a monthly podcast for Family Tree Magazine.

Finally, a third suggestion to consider and especially if you have British roots, the National Archives of the United Kingdom offers a series of podcasts that deal with the history and records of the UK. I don't have a significant family connection in the UK but the historical context to what life might have been like in the past that these podcasts provide is not only very informative but often provide suggested research tips and strategies that can be applied in other areas.

Give these a try and let me know what you think or share your favourites in the Comments section below. As always, I can also be contacted at

Christmas Traditions

I'm certain that all families who celebrate Christmas develop their own traditions, probably like my family, a blend of practises that my parents agreed upon early in their marriage. While I can't say for certain which of my parents was responsible for which tradition, Christmas was always a magical time. Annually, we would follow the same pattern each year.

Everything started with the compulsory visit with Santa Claus. This was important for two reasons: one, my parents wanted a photo of their children posing with Santa even if it might have a bit over-priced; and, two, I had to let Santa know what I wanted for Christmas. While I can't say that I was all that interested in the photo, reason number two was extremely important.

The real excitement began to build early on Christmas Eve. Although I don't remember it as a must-do, annual ritual, the family would often bundle into the car for a leisurely trip through the surrounding neighbourhoods in search of houses with Christmas lights. The more splendid the display, the longer the pause to take it all in. My parents also knew that the certain radio stations would be broadcasting NORAD 'reports' on the progress Santa was making, followed by my gazing skyward to see if I could spot him and typically, I was certain that I could.

Christmas Eve at my childhood home didn't include any special dinners or snacks rather, it was the one night of the year when I didn't dare complain about having to take a bath. On the assumption that I had somehow managed to remain on Santa's 'nice' list, I saw no reason to blow it when the 'finish' line was in sight - complaining, I firmly believed, might be just enough to tip the scales and shift my position from 'nice' to 'naughty.'

Dressed in new pajamas following the bath, it was downstairs to the Christmas tree for the evening's formalities - the hanging of the Christmas stockings. We didn't have a fireplace to hang stockings, in fact no one in the neighbourhood had one but it didn't matter as somehow Santa had always been able to work around that problem. No, I hung my stocking over the living room sofa - a bright, red felt stocking with my name 'written' across the white top with glitter. This always meant posing for another photo that was followed by the leaving of milk and cookies as Santa would likely require nourishment after carrying large amounts into my living room and positioning them perfectly under the tree for me to enjoy the following morning.

Sleep never came easily on Christmas Eve. In fact, I can recall at least one occasion when my younger brother, Bob, insisted that I go downstairs shortly after midnight to see if Santa had already stopped at our house - he hadn't!

Christmas morning always started early - 6:00 AM was considered a late start. I made sure that I excitedly informed my sleepy parents that Santa had indeed visited us before I ran downstairs to dive into the toys and gifts. My favourite part of Christmas morning though was going through my stocking. It always seemed to be filled the the most amazing assortment of small games and toys, candy and, filling the 'toe' end of the stocking was always the largest apple or orange that I had ever seen. The stocking content would change over over the years but the large apple or orange was always sure to be found. Although I would never understand the reason Santa put that large fruit into the stocking first or even why he would think that it would be something I really wanted, there was an odd sense of comfort in knowing each year that it would be the last item to pull out.

Following a day filled with trying out all the new toys and games, Christmas dinner was turkey and all the trimmings, topped off with plum pudding with rum sauce - my father's favourite. Some of the memories of family Christmases seem to fade a little as the years go by - but the feelings never do - that sense of family.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Scottish in the Irish

My mother, Anne Margaret O'Neill (pictured left) was born on October 4, 1930 in Detroit, Michigan, USA. Her father, John Graham O'Neill, had moved the family, consisting of himself, his wife Gertrude and their year-old son Edwin, from Toronto, Ontario, Canada to Detroit in 1929 to take a job as a grocer. As the daughter of an O'Neill and a Foley, my mother was proud of her Irish roots. I don't think she ever knew though that she also had Scottish ancestors.

It was well known that my mother possessed a stereotypical "Irish temper" but a trait, also seen in her Scottish second great grandmother, may have brought out her fiery and determined best. That second great grandmother was Flora McRae.

There is much research yet to be pursued regarding Flora but what is known is that she born around 1776 in Scotland and that she married her husband Finlay McRae around 1800 in Inverness. Finlay and Flora left Scotland about 1815 or 1816 and settled in the Glengarry area of what was then Upper Canada. Finlay and Flora had nine children; the first five were born in Scotland with the four youngest being born into the family in the years following their arrival in Upper Canada. Catherine, the youngest in the family, was born in 1822 and is my mother's great grandmother. Unfortunately for the family, sometime between 1822 and 1828, Finlay died.

It seems that a Donald Cameron eventually promised to sell Flora some good land in the Township of Thorah but on seeing the land after her move from Glengarry, a determined Flora demanded that Mr. Cameron provide her with land more to her liking. A one hundred acre lot was agreed upon which Flora and her children "built a good house and cleared about 8 acres on the west half of Lot No. 4, 1st Concession of Eldon." The matter of Flora's land petition and sought after relief for the granting to her of a deed for the land was considered between July 22, 1830 and April 28, 1831. A determined Flora, able to only speak Gaelic, was successful.

Sadly, as reported in the Orillia Times on May 5, 1876, "Mrs. Flora McRae, of the great age of 100 years, who lived in a house by herself, a few rods from that of her son, Colin McRae, Kirkfield, was last Thursday found dead sitting by the fireside, with her clothes almost completely burnt off her body. She was not severely burnt, but when found life was extinct."

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

An Innocent Little Boy?

Many parents, myself and my parents before me included, take their young children to a photo studio in order to have the cute, innocent image of their children preserved in a photograph to be framed and hung in the home with pride.

Although I can't say that I ever thought of my paternal grandfather, John Gaull Hadden as being cute or innocent, it appears that my great grandparents, Alexander and Jessie Hadden felt that way. The photo to the right is of John when he was estimated to be three or four years old. If this is correct, the photograph was taken around 1913 or 1914. The photo (original in my possession) is printed on post card type stock and, typical of a postcard, the back has space for a stamp, an address and a message. It also identifies the photography studio as the Elite Studio, 5 Market Street, Aberdeen.

This studio was located about three and a half miles from the home at 6 Piries Lane, Woodside, Aberdeen in which John is said to have been born (according to John's oldest brother, Alexander). The Elite Studio was a "well known Aberdeen firm of photographers" and the proprietors were George and William Morgan. Although I have been able to track down other examples of their photography work, I have been able to find little more about the two brothers and their business.

What is clear though is that John was dressed in his 'Sunday' best and some expense was made to capture this image including some faint colourization - rosy cheeks, brown hair and eyes, brown socks and boots, and of course, John's prop, the red-brown pail. What John could not have known at the time of his trip to the studio is that in about ten years, he would leave Scotland, never to return, and begin new adventures in Canada.