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.

Monday, November 30, 2009

The Music of Your Life

Music has likely been an integral part of your life, and the lives of your ancestors, just as much as it has been a part of mine. It has often lead me to thinking what is it that our parents listened to, what about our grandparents and great grandparents?

I have previously recounted my mother's attempts, usually off key, at singing popular songs to me when I was very young. Her favourite rendition was her attempt at 'covering' The Crews Cuts' "Sh-Boom (Life Could Be a Dream)" - she had the 'Sh-boom' part down but struggled remembering most of the lyrics, leaving me rather bewildered at the possible meaning and relevance of the song. Her singing though was a break from the usual fare, played on the "hi-fi" in the living room, of opera or Scottish pipes and drums. The greatest shock to my system came in the early 1960's when, while searching in the seldom used cupboards above the refrigerator that every house has, I discovered that my parents had purchased a copy of Chubby Checker's "The Twist." I was horrified at thinking that my parents were secretly listening to the music of 'my' generation!

My parents began dating around 1946 as teenagers and no doubt enjoyed the 'big band' sounds, as well as the vocal offerings of Perry Como, Nat King Cole, and Johnny Mercer's "Personality." They listened to their music on the radio and eventually saw their favourite vocal groups and singers with the emergence of television in the late 1940's and early 1950's. My grandparents listened to Gene Austin's "My Blue Heaven" and to 'crooners' like Rudy Vallee and Bing Crosby in the 1920's and 1930's as teenagers and newlyweds - made easier by the boom in recording capped by the 'invention' of the 33 1/3 RPM long playing album.

As for earlier generations, I'm sure they entertained themselves with 'popular' music based on religious, patriotic and nursery rhyme themes as I suspect, or at least have found little evidence to suggest that they might have excelled in operatic arias.

So what about the music in your memory - please feel free to share your them and your comments in the comments section below.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Hadden Immigration Documents

I have previously recounted the immigration to Canada of my great grandparents Alexander Shand Hadden, his wife Jessie McKenzie Gaull and their children, Alexander (or Alec, as he was known), Andrew (Andy), John (Jock), and Edith in 1923. Alexander and his middle son Andy were the first to immigrate, followed later in the year by Jessie and the remaining three children.

I was delighted then when this week announced that they had added the Canadian Ocean Arrivals passenger declarations (Form 30A) database. This group of records contains the images of the pre-printed form that all passengers, adults and children, arriving at Canadian ports were required to complete. The form was officially in use between June 1, 1921 and December 31, 1924. Only those enroute to the United States were exempt from completing the form. I immediately searched the database and found the Form 30A for all six members of the family, although I had some extra work to do in finding Andy as his form was incorrectly transcribed so that he appears in the index as Andrea Samuel Hadden!

Alexander and Andy sailed on August 10, 1923 from Glasgow, Scotland aboard the S. S. Marloch, picture above. The ship had been christened in 1904 and made its maiden voyage in 1905, originally named as the Victorian, and had accommodation for over 1,600 passengers, the majority of whom, like the Hadden family, sailed 3rd class. Alexander listed that his current occupation was 'Seaman' but that his intended occupation was 'Farm Work.' He carried three pounds in British currency with him to allow he and Andy to join his mother, Mrs. Helen Gammie, at their destination.

Jessie, Alec, John, and Edith sailed on November 9, 1923 aboard the S. S. Metagama, all bound for Aneroid, Saskatchewan - and their first Canadian prairie winter.

As British subjects, they were not required to complete an immigration application or naturalization papers in order to immigrate to Canada (this would change but not until 1947) so the Form 30A is a great document to now have for the family, documenting their departure from Scotland and confirming my Canadian roots. Of course, I was also pleased to note from the forms that they reported no family members were physically or mentally "defective," there was no tuberculosis, and no one was "Otherwise debarred under Canadian Immigration Law."

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Delivery Men

We have a tendency today to pride ourselves on the advances made with household conveniences. There is a gadget or tool to do almost everything. We can chop, peel, clean and disinfect like never before. Our grocery stores are filled with not only fresh, organic foods but also with ready made or instant everything. Along the way to our modern world though, we have also given up some conveniences - the delivery of some food and products right to our front door. Ice was delivered for the 'ice box,' the predecessor of the refrigerator, coal was delivered through a chute to basement coal bins for furnaces, bread and assorted pastries were left at the front door, and milk and dairy products dropped off on porches or in really 'modern' homes, placed in a milk chute. The process was simple for residents of the home - you left the empty, glass milk bottles on the porch along with a note detailing your order for the milkman to 'fill.' Payment was by personal cheque, not credit card, left, again, with the milk bottle empties.

My grandfather, John Gaull Hadden, and his brother, Alexander Gaull Hadden, were two such delivery men in the first half of the twentieth century. Alexander, or Uncle Alec as he was known to me, my father and his siblings, was a Brown's Bread delivery man in Toronto. Uncle Alec is pictured above standing beside his horse-drawn delivery wagon. Many years ago, when Uncle Alec identified himself in the photo for me, he also informed me of the location of the photo, taken in 1928. Although there are only fields behind him and no buildings within sight, today that location is considered to be an older, very urban part of Toronto's east end.

My grandfather, John, delivered milk for Silverwood's Dairy with whom he was employed for over 35 years, beginning his dairy career on December 17, 1935. In 1947, he became a milk route inspector and, in 1953, a milk route foreman. As a child, my grandfather employed me as his 'assistant' - my job was to accompany him to the dairy on Sunday afternoons to balance his books, using a large. pull lever, adding machine. The pay was perfect from my perspective - a small carton of chocolate milk, fresh off the assembly line. Those were the days!

As the result of a car accident in August 1970, John was unable to return to his milk route and so he retired in February 1971.

I was fortunate enough to receive a summary of my grandfather's employment record with Silverwood's Dairy through a simple request to them many years ago for the information. With the more recent concerns and issues about privacy, I am not as certain I would be as successful with the same request today. But it costs nothing to ask and the rewards of obtaining this information are well worth the effort.

Giving Thanks

Happy Thanksgiving to my American, or at least transplanted Canadian and Scottish, friends and relatives. Today, across the USA, Thanksgiving dinner is being served at family gatherings and for genealogists, it is all about families. "Disturbing the dead and irritating the living" as the saying goes!

As my mother was born in Detroit, I must admit to occasionally feeling ties to my neighbours to the south. When I was young, I can now admit, these feelings typically resulted in feigning a mysterious illness so that I could stay home from school and watch the Macey's Thanksgiving Day parade on television. My recollection is that it sometimes worked but if I held the thermometer on the light bulb for too long, my mother, the trained nurse that she was, just didn't buy the 114 Fahrenheit degree fever that I was faking.

Here, in Canada, we celebrated Thanksgiving, a harvest holiday celebrated in various forms around the world, last month. In my family, we have started breaking away somewhat from the North American tradition of the big turkey dinner - likely something that would have been good news to the 'bird' pictured above with my cousin, Donald Hadden, in a photo taken in Garrick, Saskatchewan in the late 1930's.

So to my cousin David Hadden and his family in Florida and Louisiana, Hadden descendants that I've learned are in the Pasadena, California area, friends Doug and Suzie in Florida, and John Perkins and family in Louisiana, to the Kimmerly cousins known and unknown and, to the Faulkner and Knox cousins of my wife Ellen with whom we have not yet connected but one day hope to - enjoy your time together. I know that you are thankful for it.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Foley Puzzle

One of the joys of family history for me is the 'thrill of the chase.' There are however some genealogical puzzles that just don't seem to have a good solution - mysteries that remain mysteries. I come back time and again to these in the hope that I might see something new, some detail, no matter how obscure, that I seemed to have previously overlooked. One such puzzle concerns John Foley.

I have previously shared information and stories about my great grandfather John Foley who died in 1927 while on a business trip to Los Angeles, California. There are a number of reliable sources and documents that verify his death date. The puzzling aspect of John's life is determining just when and where he was born.

The family lore surrounding John Foley's life is the sometimes tragic tale of a man who in spite of being orphaned as a young boy and growing up unable to read or write, persevered to overcome personal and business setbacks to amass great wealth.

Moving back in time, the 1911 Census of Canada shows John living at 96 Pickering Street in Toronto with his second wife, Annie (McElroy), in addition to John's three children from his first marriage and his son, John from his marriage to Annie. John is listed as being born in April 1865 in Ontario, Canada. In 1901, the Census of Canada shows John as a widow (his first wife Mary Jane Fitzgerald died in 1899) living in Toronto with his three children and an elderly housekeeper along with two boarders who appear to be the housekeeper's children. Again, John is listed as being born in April 1865 in Ontario, Canada.

I have been unable to positively identify John in either the 1891 or 1881 Census of Canada which may be explainable through the family story that John made his living during this time of his life by working in the 'bush' - hunting and trapping. It just might be possible that as a result he wasn't enumerated.

John is found again in the 1871 Census of Canada, this time living with his parents and siblings in Barrie, Ontario. John is listed as being born in Ontario, Canada and eight years of age, putting his year of birth at about 1863. To further support all that the census reports state, John listed his age as 29 when he married Mary Jane Fitzgerald in 1894 and gave his place of birth as Barrie, Ontario. This places his birth around 1865. When he married Annie McElroy in 1903, John gave his age as 39 and again his place of birth was given as Barrie, Ontario. This places his birth around 1864. A final piece of information - when John died, the rather large monument at his grave lists his date of birth as February 16, 1864 (pictured above left).

So here is the problem - the 1861 Census of Canada lists John living with his parents, William and Bridget, in Pickering Township, Ontario. Not only was this census obviously conducted prior to any birth date used at other times in his life but John is listed in 1861 as being born in the United States around 1859.

Thus far, all of my efforts to determine the when and where of John Foley's birth has not solved the puzzle. Your mission, should you choose to accept it is to unravel this mystery and to please end my torment! Comments, tips, suggestions and, most of all, a solution are as always welcome.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Another Good Software Option

This week RootsMagic introduced a totally free and downloadable version of its RootsMagic software. This free version, known as RootsMagic Essentials, provides all of the core functions of the full version - but for free.

There are several software products available for Windows based computers and I have used most of them. Each of the major genealogy software products offers something I really like but unfortunately, no one offers a program I consider perfect - so I use the software I consider best suited to my preferences.

Many people who have expressed an interest to me in exploring their family roots know that there is software available but recognize that they don't yet know what would be best for them. My advice is usually always the same - if they offer a trial version, 'take it out for a test drive.' I have particularly suggested that they start with Legacy software as it provides a 'standard' version as a free download.

Legacy provides a very good user interface that allows for easy input of information and smooth movement between generations. Adding multimedia is also easy although I found the media 'library' view a bit awkward. As a free starter package though, it was, in my opinion, the best.

I would now add RootsMagic Essentials to that list for beginners to try or even for more experienced researchers who want to give RootsMagic a try. The full version of RootsMagic does offer much more, but the 'Essentials' version has all, well frankly, the essentials. Easy input of facts, source citations, multimedia, ease of switching between family and pedigree views, and a variety of printable reports.

I switched to the full RootsMagic software several months ago after first hearing about it from a distant cousin. The reasons for the switch were simple. While I prefer the large user interface screen layout of Legacy, I love the RootsMagic-To-Go portability feature that allows me to keep the software, my full database, and all of my documentation (records and photographs) on a USB memory 'stick.' In addition, I have come to fully appreciate the need for source citation (finally) and RootsMagic allows me to enter source information in the quickest, easiest, and most understandable way that I have encountered to date.

The 'Essentials' version does not include the portability function but the basics are all there so for anyone asking me in future, I'll be recommending they try Legacy and RootsMagic Essentials. So go ahead - get started, the only price to pay is a lot of enjoyment!

The Reverend Ernest Royle

He was the Rev. Ernie Royle to thousands in his lifetime but he was Uncle Ernie to me. Kind, warm, quick with a smile, it was easy to see why he would be so widely respected in his United Church of Canada community and in the broader communities he called home.

Ernest Royle was born in 1935 and following graduation from divinity school, he was ordained in May 1959. It was a big year for Ernie as he also married Carol Hadden, my father's 'baby' sister. Children would come later - first Heather, then Doug, and last but not least, Janet.
The big city life never seemed to be an attraction for Uncle Ernie, in fact, with his easy going, good natured personality, he enjoyed the teasing of being accused of living in hamlets and villages where the big local festival was to celebrate the arrival of the first stop sign and the dilemma was determining where to put it as they had no intersections. I can recall, when Uncle Ernie was the minister at a church in Freelton, Ontario, teasing him about ministering to a flock that swelled one weekend per year when the Miss Nude Universe pageant was held at a local nudist colony.
He could also give as good as he took, on occasion winking at me and suggesting that we share a good Irish Catholic adult beverage because he was feeling particularly ecumenical. And it was show business that brought out his passion. The quiet man I had always known would explain in great detail his thematic plans for his latest production to be presented annually at his church. Each year's successful large scale production meant only one thing to him - an opportunity to begin planning an even bigger and more elaborate production for the next year.
Try as I might though, I couldn't picture Uncle Ernie as Rev. Ernie. I couldn't picture him leading a service and preaching, this quiet mannered man who was husband to my aunt and father to my cousins. This changed in the summer of 2004 when tragedy struck and my cousin, Doug died suddenly in his Montreal, Quebec apartment. Uncle Ernie conducted a memorial service at his church in Brantford, Ontario. For the first time, I saw the power of his ministerial gift - an eloquent orator who exuded compassion to those mourners present in spite on his own grief. A true demonstration of the greatness of this small town minister who will be forever and always, Uncle Ernie.
Uncle Ernie passed away after a brief illness in Brantford, Ontario on January 23, 2008. Broadway lost a great producer, Brantford lost a compassionate religious leader, his family lost a caring husband and father, and I lost a terrific uncle!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Gordon Gilbert Henry Wagner

Not many can boast of a series of lakes being named after a family member but my wife, Ellen, is one who can do just that for Wagner Lakes, located near Mount Drabble in the Comox District of Vancouver Island, British Columbia are named in honour of her Uncle Gordon Wagner (pictured left).

Gordon was born on June 15, 1914 in Redcliff, Alberta. Although some biographical information lists his place of birth as Markinch, Saskatchewan, Gordon listed his birth place as Alberta while acknowledging he spent many years growing up in Markinch, attending elementary and high school there before graduating from the University of Saskatchewan in 1938. Following university, Gordon accepted work in the nickel mines of Sudbury, Ontario but with the outbreak of World War 2, Gordon left the mines to join the Royal Canadian Air Force in Regina, Saskatchewan. Before 'shipping out' in 1941, Gordon married Ivy Madelaine Harvey. Following the war, Gordon returned to Canada where he and Ivy settled into life on Vancouver Island where Gordon became well known as a land surveyor.

Gordon retired in 1980, a lifetime member of the BC Land Surveyors society where Gordon was registered as member number 314. In 1976, his son, Gordon Keith Wagner would also become a member of the society, number 547. Sadly, Gordon's son, known by his middle name of Keith, passed away in 1978 two days before his 36th birthday of cancer. In 1979, Gordon and Ivy established the Keith Wagner Memorial Bursary for eligible Comox Valley second year Geomatics Technology students at the BC IT Foundation.

Following his retirement from land surveying, Gordon pursued his interest in history, particularly family history! I'm fortunate to have a copy of the work that he completed, tracing his Wagner and Faulkner ancestors. His genealogical work is remarkable given that he completed it without the modern aids of computers, specialized software and on-line databases. The pre-computer and pre-Internet days of genealogy that I began my research in, and in which Gordon completed his, did not provide instant access to records. Rather, forms were completed and mailed to government departments and repositories, information was kept on hand written forms and charts - an often very long process that required patience (something I don't think I ever quite fully developed). In 1990 and 1991, Gordon donated much of the original family history source materials he had gather to the University of Waterloo in Ontario. The University of Waterloo was chosen due to its proximity to the location of the original 1840's Wagner family settlement. The documents collected and donated by Gordon continue to remain available to researchers through the university's special collections area.

Gordon dabbled in art, both painting himself and collecting the works of other local artists. He became an author, first self-publishing "From My Window," a collection of short stories and poetry. He explained to BC Bookworld magazine in 1988, "I sent my manuscript to four or five publishers and everyone wanted me to delay. Well, when you're 73, you can't wait around." His book was a success, requiring three printing and making the BC Bestsellers List. A second book followed, this time a memoir entitled, "How Papa Won The War."

Gordon passed away on October 14th, 1994 following which local Comox Valley societies petitioned to have the lakes located near Mount Drabble named in honour of his contributions toward preserving the Valley's heritage. On April 4, 1997 Wagner Lakes was officially named by the British Columbia Ministry of Environment, Lands and Parks.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Murder of Aunt Elsie?

It is difficult to imagine a more sinister tale in the family saga than the murder of a relative but that is the tale that I heard about dear Aunt Elsie.

Elsie Gaull (pictured right on board the "Cape Trinity" bound for Scotland) was a younger sister to my great grandmother, Jessie McKenzie Gaull, and the fourth of thirteen children born to John Gaull, a Monymusk, Aberdeenshire dairy farmer, and his wife, Harriet McKenzie. Elsie was born on the 10th of March, 1885 at Whitehuaugh in Chapel of Garioch, Aberdeenshire. There doesn't appear to be anything remarkable about Elsie's upbringing and it is likely that she was of great assistance in helping with her younger siblings. Elsie attended school and in fact, was still listed as a 'scholar' according to census records at the age of 16.

On July 10, 1913 Elsie married William Findlater at the Temperance Hotel in Kemnay, Aberdeenshire. Sadly, it appears that Elsie was widowed just a few short years later (perhaps as a result of World War 1 although no death certificate nor registration has been found to date for William). In 1920, as Visitor #61141, Elsie, then a widow according to the ship's passenger list, arrived in Canada to join her brother George who was living at 67 Pickering Street in the east end of Toronto. Elsie and George's older sister, Jessie and the Hadden family would join them around 1927.

In May of 1928, Elsie returned to Scotland for a few months to visit her now widowed father, John. She didn't particularly enjoy the voyage to Scotland and complained in postcards she sent my grandfather, John Gaull Hadden, that the weather was rough and perhaps as a result, she didn't have much of an appetite. In October 1928, she returned "home" to Toronto, as she listed it on the ship's passenger list, where she was employed by the T. Eaton Company as a dressmaker. However, with her father's health beginning to fail, Elsie again returned to the Gaull family farm at Cairnley in Monymusk. Her father, John Gaull passed away in July 1942 and this is the point in which the story takes a sinister twist.

Elsie, a widow, alone on the farm, was pursued according to family lore by a 'gold digger' who convinced poor Elsie to marry him only to then be murdered by the wretched man in order for him to gain possession of the prized family property. A compelling tale of intrigue - if only it were true!

Following her father's death, Elsie did re-marry in 1945 to George Duncan and she did predecease George, passing away on October 17, 1952 but rather than being murdered, Aunt Elsie's cause of death was a heart attack.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Meet Uncle Disney

No one knew Uncle Disney, in fact, no one had even heard of him. He was a rare find thanks primarily to a slow point in my research.

At a time when I didn't know where to direct my research focus, a 'dry spell' as I refer to it, I decided to track the movement, if any, of my Gaull ancestors through Aberdeenshire using the Scottish census returns. I found John Gaull, my great great grandfather, listed in each census, taken every ten years, from 1861 through 1901. There was something different about the 1901 census however. Sure, John and his family were prospering on the the dairy farm that John ran at Cairnley, near Monymusk, Aberdeeenshire but listed as a family member was a month old infant named Disney Hay. Disney's relationship to John, the head of the household, was listed as grandson.

In researching my ancestry, I've come to know this Gaull family well, or so I thought. Older relatives had told me stories of their time as children on the farm, of the trouble they had caused from time to time. But no where had there been a mention of anyone by the name of Disney nor was I aware of any of my great grandmother's sisters marrying someone by the name of Hay. Who was this grandson?

To my astonishment, Disney Hay, I discovered, was the illegitimate son of my great grandmother, Jessie McKenzie Gaull. He was born on February 18, 1901 at the Cairnley farm. His father was a local farm servant also named Disney Hay. Jessie would later marry my great grandfather Alexander Shand Hadden and have three more boys, including my grandfather, John Gaull Hadden. Disney was my grandfather's half brother and an uncle my father, his siblings and their first cousins would never know.

I don't have a photo of Uncle Disney but do know that on the day he turned 18 years of age, standing all of 5 feet, 3 inches, with dark hair and blue eyes, he joined the Royal Navy. For the next 11 years, through to 1929, Disney served on a number of ships before being discharged to take up a civilian life. Disney eventually married and had a son Leonard.

More searching is required but one day, just maybe, I will have a photo through which I can really 'meet' Uncle Disney.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Growing Up Ellen

If you were to grow up as Ellen, you would have been born on a Friday in April 195? (a gentleman never really tells!). You would enter the world and be given the name Ellen Louise Wagner. The local newspapers on the day you were born would warn of an impending rail strike and the steelworkers would be threatening to strike for higher wages. Immigration would make the front page as news of the largest wave of Dutch immigrants to Canada, 1,300 in all, arrived in Halifax.

In sports, the New York Rangers hockey team were battling the Detroit Red Wings in the finals for the coveted Stanley Cup championship. The Rangers had been victorious in their 'home' game the night before played in Toronto's Maple Leaf Gardens! Apparently, the Rangers own 'Gardens' at Madison Square, was unavailable for their use necessitating the home games being played away from home!

Automobiles, the 'horseless carriages' of a previous generation, were becoming more sophisticated and expensive but a bargain could still be found. The car ads on the day you were born boasted that a used 1949 Mercury, complete with a radio and a heater, was selling for $1,795.

If you grew up Ellen (pictured above, age 2), you were the youngest of four children born to a golf course designer and superintendent and a registered nurse. As the 'baby' of the family, your brothers and sister probably thought you got away with way too much - and they might have been right! You grew into a 'Gidget' type 1960's look, full of a perky zest for life bubbling within a 5 foot petite frame.

As a adult, you would experience the ups and downs of life eventually to marry a tall, dark, and handsome man (okay, maybe I've embellished this last part in a somewhat self-serving manner). You would celebrate the triumphs of six children, worry about the trials of their life experiences, and embrace the joy of being a grandmother.

There is much we can glean from the newspaper reports about the day we were born that helps set the context for the world and environment in which we were raised. And, as we scour the records for information about ancestors, there is much we can celebrate and share about our own life experience - like growing up Ellen.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Nana's House

My mother's parents lived two doors away. Granddad and Nana O'Neill lived at 185 Pickering Street (pictured as it is today on the right with my home at 189 Pickering Street partially seen on the far left of the photo). Their house wasn't really larger than any others but it stood out as one of the few detached homes on a street of semi-detached houses.

As the first and eldest of her grandchildren, the sun rose and set on me - or so I've been told was Nana's way of seeing the world. Gertrude Ellen O'Neill (nee Foley) was almost 57 years of age when she became a grandmother for the first time. By the time she was in her early 60's, she was experiencing health problems caused by diabetes and a poor heart. She was unable to climb the stairs to the bedrooms and bathroom, necessitating the installation of a bed in what otherwise would have been the dining room. A heavy wooden commode stood nearby should she need it.

The living room, located immediately to the right as you entered the house, was decorated in vintage 1940's - a heavy, green and as I recall scratchy fabric 'chesterfield' or sofa lined the area beneath the front window, its matching chair version - Granddad's chair - not far away. The latest technology, a large black and white television completed the furnishings.

Due to her inability to go upstairs, I was often sent to retrieve articles that my grandmother needed. But I was a reluctant errand boy for the stairs were dark, creaky and, at the top of the staircase perched on the wall as if looking down on those who dared the journey, was the largest, ugliest, most grotesque crucifix ever to adorn an Irish Catholic home. My mother's younger brother, William 'Bill' O'Neill to this day loves to recount the time when he was still living at home and I had been sent on one of Nana's errands to fetch something upstairs. My strategy as a child was to befriend the crucifix by making small talk, apparently hoping through this that no harm would befall me. Uncle Bill was having a bath, the bathtub being located on the other side of the wall holding the crucifix.

As I ascended the stairs that fateful day, I began my befriending conversation with "Hi God. How are you?" Uncle Bill, on hearing this and apparently unable to control himself, took on the role of 'God.' "I'm fine. How are you?" he boomed from the bathtub. I don't recall my feet actually touching any of the stairs on my way down and I'm told that Nana gave proper what for to Uncle Bill for scaring her grandson. But never again did I go up those stairs!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

I Remember Stephen

Stephen Gerard Hadden was born on December 2, 1957 at St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Stephen was born just ten months after an older brother, Brian Joseph Hadden passed away at the too tender age of 10 weeks. Stephen shared with Brian however the then fatal, now predominantly treatable, affliction of hydrocephalus also known as 'water on the brain.' Unlike older brother Brian though, Stephen got to go home from the hospital.

I remember Stephen, pictured left in our mother's arms with me smiling back at the camera in the only known photograph of him. He and I shared the small upstairs bedroom located at the back of 189 Pickering Street in Toronto. I had the bed all to myself, not because I wouldn't share but because Stephen preferred his bassinet - all attempts at moving him into the crib failed due to his loud protests. Stephen loved that bassinet, or at least seemed to from my perspective. It fit well in our little room, nestled between the bedroom door and our window that looked out onto the backyard of the house.
My mornings always started the same - wake up, jump out of bed, run over to the bassinet and see what Stephen was doing. Usually he wasn't doing much but I associated that to his being a baby - I didn't understand hydrocephalus, let alone know of its impacts. Oh sure, there were the times when I would sit on the living couch beside my father when Dr. Hoare, the pediatrician, visited Stephen upstairs with Mom. During those visits, my Dad would look worried and sad but I just thought he didn't like needles any more than I did, and that's what doctors would give you every time you saw them.
My morning routine changed abruptly on Valentine's Day in 1959 when I ran to the bassinet to find it empty. Racing downstairs, I found my mother in the kitchen tending to my new sister, Lou-Anne. I asked my Mom where Stephen had gone? Her reply is as clear to me today as it was over 50 years ago, "He's gone to play with the angels."
I remember walking about half way down the stairs to our home's basement and sitting down. I sat there for what felt like a long time, at least to a three year old, wondering why Stephen would want to play with angels when I was willing to play with him anytime he wanted. Of course, I understand now the gentle attempt that my mother was using in telling me that my brother had passed away but, from time to time I can still see myself sitting on those stairs and I remember Stephen.
My sister often complains about how hard life was growing up the only girl with two tormenting brothers. But I wonder what life in our family would have been like if Brian and Stephen had lived. Oh, what chaos we might have caused!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Genealogical Serendipity

Wikipedia, the online collaborative encyclopedia, defines serendipity as the "effect by which one accidentally discovers something fortunate, especially while looking for something entirely unrelated." Such was my experience this past week.

I have commented previously on the great benefits that can be achieved using Google searches for family names. It struck me that a similar benefit might likely be achieved in searching for information about the streets and neighbourhoods that our 'ancestors' lived in. While conducting a search for historical information about the street on which my parents were raised, and for that matter, the street on which I spent my early years, I came across an article that confirmed part of the family story about an embarrassing moment for my father taking his little sister to get the autographs of his boyhood friends, John and Ray Perkins, two members of The Crew Cuts (pictured right and see Embarrassing Moments, September 24th). Through a series of events I will not detail to protect his privacy, I came upon John Perkins' phone number.

For some context, John Perkins and his younger brother, Ray, lived about half way between my parents' childhood homes on Pickering Street in Toronto's east end. Both brothers attended Toronto's St. Michael's Choir School following which they eventually formed a vocal quartet with choir school alumnae, Pat Barrett and Rudi Maugeri. In 1954, they recorded Sh-Boom which charted at #1. Other hits followed including Earth Angel which hit #2 in the charts. In 1984, the group was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame.

As genealogists starting out, we learn that speaking with older family members is one key to effectively beginning the search into our ancestral roots. Finding a contact point that was a childhood friend of my parents with whom to talk about my parents and their neighbourhood and environment, it seemed to me would add a whole new enriching element to the image I have of my parents as they grew up. While I must frankly admit to being extremely reluctant about 'cold' calling a complete stranger, I finally mustered up the courage and called John Perkins.

John Perkins was gracious enough to speak with me about the 'old' neighbourhood and the Pickering Street environment of the 1930's and 40's, providing me with a more complete picture of the lifestyle and activities that my parents as children and teens experienced. Thanks to John Perkins, I have found a whole new collateral approach to discovering the experiences of my family.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Are You Ready For A DNA Test?

I can recall having to read The Double Helix, James D. Watson's account of the discovery of the double helix structure of DNA. For a 13 year-old more interested in sports, it didn't seem at the time to be very exciting or important - but it was required high school reading. Today, DNA is at the core of real and fictional crime drama - a simple cheek swab exonerates the wrongfully accused or alternatively, is the single most compelling evidence of guilt.

But DNA has really come to the forefront of genealogical research as well.

I am not a DNA expert but know from research that all of our family members share some common biology. All of our cells have a copy of our DNA. Females have XX chromosomes and males have XY chromosomes. There are therefore two possible DNA tests available - the Y chromosome test for the paternal line and the Mitochondrial (mtDNA) test for the maternal line.

The Y chromosome is passed on generation after generation between fathers and sons. Using the results of Y chromosome tests, a series of numerical markers, shows common paternal ancestors, with some changes over time due to mutations, and can show us our 'deep' ancestry including the migration patterns that occurred in our family lines. The results of testing won't tell us how we are related thus the continued need to research paper records. But most importantly, as more people explore their ancestry using DNA testing, our opportunities for collaboration continue to expand. By including the numeric marker results from DNA tests into databases, matches can be made and further family connections achieved. Because the Y chromosome is only carried by males, only males can take this test but women can ask their father, brothers, paternal uncles or nephews to take the test.

The mtDNA test is too broad to determine family connections but it can be used to weed out some of the Y chromosome test result matches and narrow down family connections.

I must admit that I have not yet tested my DNA although I am certain that such a test is in my future. It just makes good sense to take advantage of yet another tool in further exploring my ancestry. And, remembering the significance of my Scottish roots, the costs associated with these tests has dropped considerably with a good 33 marker Y chromosome test now available for less than $100. The more people who are tested, obviously the more expanded the databases become and the greater the opportunity for connections. So, is a DNA test in your future?