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?