Friday, June 25, 2010

The Obituary of Margaret McRae

Margaret McRae was my second great grandaunt. When she died on July 1, 1927, she was claimed to be the oldest living resident in Canada at 108 years young. Her exact age might be disputed as her obituary states her year of birth to be 1819 but her death registration gives her year of birth as 1820. Whether the year of her birth was 1819 or 1820, undoubtedly she lived a very long life especially in an era without antibiotics and a resulting high mortality rate.

One of the great aspects of finding family obituaries is that they often provide information about the person and their family that you didn't know. The Windsor Star newspaper published an obituary on July 2, 1927 that states Margaret was the mother of twelve children. I only know of ten so more research is needed to find the missing two. The son, "J.L.", that the newspaper reports Margaret to have been living with at the time of her death, is John Lawrence McRae.

I was particularly impressed with the reference to Margaret's friendship with Sir John A. MacDonald, Canada's first Prime Minister in the following is the Windsor Star obituary:

"At ten o'clock in the morning on the 60th birthday of her country, the oldest resident of Canada, whose age was nearly twice that of the Confederated Union, passed away quietly at her home at 4 Askin boulevard, Sandwich.

Mrs. Margaret McRae, 108 years of age, was born in Nova Scotian the days when the word "Canada" indicated to a Nova Scotian the equivalent of a foreign country. She was to live, as she grew older, in both the provinces of "Upper" and "Lower" Canada, to see them merged together, as she approached middle age, into a gigantic Union which included her native province as well, and to die upon the day when this great Confederation celebrated the Diamond Jubilee of its union.

Mrs. McRae was born on the 27th of January, 1819, in the beautiful Valley of the Margaree in Cape Breton Island. The rumbles of the Napoleonic wars were still in the air and veterans of the War of 1812 were as common as the Great War today. Brock's memory was a matter of yesterday and the blood of Tecumseh was scarcely dry upon the sod of Moraviantown, in the district where the child, born in Cape Breton, was to die 108 years later. On the very day, and almost at the very hour of her death, speakers in the town of Sandwich were addressing Jubilee day crowds from the porch of a mansion which had been Brock's headquarters in the War of 1812, a few years prior to her birth more than a century before.

Mrs. McRae was taken by her parents, as a child, to Three Rivers, Quebec. Later the family moved to "Upper Canada" locating at Wolf Island, near Kingston, Ontario. A she reached maturity, Mrs. McRae moved to Victoria County, where the greater part of her life was to be spent. Her father was a farmer and pioneer school teacher of the early days of the country.

Mrs. McRae, to the last days of her life, maintained a keen interest in public and passing affairs and last year exercised her right of franchise in provincial and federal elections. Her interest in the affairs of Canada was not only that of a resident, but the deep concern of one who had seen the country grow from infancy. She was a personal friend of Sir John A. MacDonald, and the "Fathers of Confederation" who are, to the present generation, figures of history, were to her living memories of the most active period of her long and useful life.

Mrs. McRae was the mother of 12 children, of whom only two are now living. She spent the last years of her life in the home of her son, J. L. McRae, 4 Askin boulevard, Sandwich. One other son, William, of Detroit, still survives of her large family. The body will be taken on Monday to Mount Pleasant, Michigan, for internment. No services will be held at the Border Cities home."

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Margaret McRae

My mother was an O'Neill and her mother a Foley, the family claiming strong Irish roots. I have generally struggled with tracing these alleged maternal Irish roots. Most records documenting my Irish ancestors state that they were Irish but list no county nor specific location in Ireland to help direct my research.

I have, however discovered that my mother wasn't as Irish as she might have thought. In fact, there appears to be a good dose of Scottish blood in her family. One set of my maternal third great-grandparents were born in Scotland - Ross and Cromarty, specifically. Finlay and Flora McRae immigrated to Canada around the early part of 1814 and settled in the area around present-day Glengarry, Ontario. They arrived with four children and had another five in Canada, the youngest of whom, Catherine, is my second great-grandmother.

One son, Colin married Margaret McRae (pictured above right in a photo that was published at the time of her death by the Windsor Star newspaper). Colin and Margaret, my second great-grandaunt and uncle, married around 1851 and had ten children between 1852 and 1870. Colin died November 12, 1894 of diabetes, according to his death registration. At the time the family was living in the Town of Eldon in Victoria County.

Eventually, Margaret would find her way further west and into Michigan where she appears in the 1910 US Census living with her son Christopher in Mount Pleasant City, Isabella County. At some point, Margaret moved back east of the St. Clair River into Ontario and settled into a home at 4 Askins Avenue, Sandwich (now part of Windsor), Essex County, Ontario. It was here that on July 1st, 1927 that Margaret passed away.

The Windsor Star newspaper the following day, July 2nd, 1927, memorialized her in an obituary entitled "Oldest Resident of Canada Dies on Nation's Birthday." Margaret's death registration lists her age at the time of death as 107 years, 5 months and 4 days! Oh, what history she would have witnessed.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Happy Fathers Day, Dad!

I`m proud that I am like my father - not in physical appearance but in my sense of humour and view of the world and the people in contains.

My Dad was raised in an impoverished world, one that he rarely talks about. It was a world in a Great Depression when there was no food in the house, where as he says, the rats were bigger than he was, when he ate butter by the handful because it was the only thing they had (he doesn't eat much butter anymore as a result).

My Dad made sure that his own family didn't experience the same fate. When he lost two sons (Brian in 1957 and Stephen in 1959) as a result of genetic disorders, he took on a second occupation to pay the bills and make sure that we had all that we needed.

My Dad ensured that we were exposed to culture, at least I think that was the goal. Growing up, I had little choice but to listen to either pipe bands or opera playing on the stereo so you can imagine my shock at finding my parent`s secret stash of 45`s containing The Twist by Chubby Checker - they had been closet young people all along but for some reason did not seem to want me to know! My Dad taught me to play and enjoy the game of chess at the age of three - because my mother couldn't grasp the game and my father needed a practise opponent.

My Dad made the mistake of telling me that alligators lived in a neighbourhood ravine where we would go for walks so he was forced to carry me on his shoulders through the ravine as I had no intention of being eaten by one of the creatures. My Dad convinced me that he had been a cowboy in the town of Deadwood and had been a best friend of Gene Autry - even the neighbours joined in on this one, filling me with tales of adventures in the Wild West!

My Dad was the first over the boards to celebrate my hockey championship in 1968 and to then make certain that my goalie stick and the game puck were preserved as trophies to mark the occasion.

My Dad spent about 1000 hours building a model sailing ship with everything replicated in an authentic way. Even the rigging had to be researched and every knot tied, using tweezers and a magnifying glass, in just the same way it was done on the original. My Dad is still an incredibly detailed artist (a gift I did not inherit!), specializing in finely detailed pen and ink drawings and precisely shaped and hand painted miniature historic figures.

My Dad is a proud Scotsman and is the father of a proud son!

Friday, June 18, 2010

A Gaull Tale

My second great-grandfather, John Gaull (1860-1942) raised 13 children who were born between 1879 and 1904. Evidence indicates that John was not the biological father of all 13 but assumed a parenting role to all. To my knowledge, based on documentation gathered to date, George Irvine Gaull, named after the twin brother of John, was the first of the Gaull children to strike out from the family farm for North America, and Canada specifically. In 1910, George immigrated to Toronto, Ontario where he eventually married and operated a small grocery store on Pickering Street.

In 1920, a younger brother, William Fowler Gaull, also immigrated to Canada. As was required by Canada at the time, William completed a Form 30A. This form was in use for only a relatively short period of time, that is from June 1, 1921 until December 31, 1924. During this time all individuals, including children but excepting those enroute to the United States, arriving by ocean vessel, were required to complete the form. Use of the form is reported as being inconsistent with some immigration offices requiring the use of the form as earlier as 1919.

If you are lucky enough to have an ancestor who immigrated to Canada during this period, these completed forms provide a wealth of genealogical information including name, age, occupation, birthplace, religion, destination and name of the nearest relative in the country from which the passenger came. The form also provides the ship name, date of sailing, intent to settle, and the amount of money carried.

William Fowler Gaull was 23, born in Kemnay, Aberdeenshire when he immigrated in May 1920 to Canada. He sailed 3rd class from Liverpool, England aboard the White Star Lines S.S. Megantic with $25.00 to his name. He was single at the time and intended to join his brother, George, and settle in Canada. He indicated that he could read and write and spoke English. He listed his `race`as `Scotch.` I should note that I was raised to always tell people who asked that I was Scottish as Scotch was a drink!

William listed his mother, Harriet Gaull (nee McKenzie) of Glenhead, Kemnay as his next of kin in Scotland and his occupation was listed as Stone Driller. Adding to value of the Form, William is described as being 5 feet, 8 and one half inches tall with a `fresh`complexion, grey eyes and dark brown hair. He reported that he had no distinguishing marks or scars and I assume, this included tattoos.

Although William had indicated his intent was to settle in Canada, he did return to Scotland where he married Mabel Tobin with whom he had at least two children - a daughter in 1938 and a son in 1941. William passed away on 19 July 1985 in the City of Aberdeen.

To learn more about the Form 30A and to search for your ancestors who may have completed one of these forms, I recommend visiting the Canadian Genealogy Centre, part of the Library and Archives Canada site.

Monday, June 14, 2010

World Cup Ancestry

It's World Cup time. Thirty-two nations are being represented in South Africa as they compete in "the beautiful game" for a chance to hold aloft soccer's World Cup trophy. Of course, the four years of bragging rights are a sought-after bonus, as well.

I tease my wife Ellen that I notice a pronunciation change to her birth name of Wagner whenever the World Cup rolls around - suddenly her birth name takes on a clear German sound, more like 'Vogner.'

In the spirit of the World Cup, I thought I should re-publish an earlier post about soccer in the Hadden family (from September 2009):


Soccer has deep traditions around the world. Many fanatics ‘religiously’ follow their favourite soccer, or perhaps more properly, football clubs. Last night, my son, John and I took in a match featuring the fabled Scottish side Glasgow Celtic. Although raised in the Canadian tradition of hockey, John has developed a soccer expertise, complete with favourite teams in various leagues. So how did a young man, raised in the hockey mad culture of Canada, develop a passion for soccer? Could this be an inherited trait?

I don’t think my inheritance theory can truly be substantiated but I can, with some certainty, state that my son didn’t develop his passion for soccer as a result of any influence from me or, for that matter, his paternal grandfather. Could there have been some influence of this trait from his paternal great-grandfather? I knew that his great-grandfather (my grandfather) John Gaull Hadden played soccer. I had his worn, but bronzed soccer shoes, complete with tacked-on strips of leather that replaced long lost cleats. But to what extent was he really involved in the game?

It's easy to imagine that as a boy growing up in Aberdeen, he learned to love and play the game but could he continue to play in Canada? The shoes suggested he did but I needed further evidence. Two items have confirmed his continued involvement in the game. First, in the photo to the right , John Gaull Hadden is seen on the right with an unidentified teammate while playing for Parkvale F. C. (Football Club). The photo was taken in June 1935 when John was 25 years old. The second "proof" was found in a Toronto Star newspaper article! On July 30, 1942 the newspaper reported the outcome of a game between the 'Toronto Shipbuilders' and 'Lancastershire' clubs played on a rain soaked field at Toronto's Riverdale Park.

With the 'Shipbuilders' up by by a score of 3 - 1 midway through the second half of the game, "Lancs got back into the game when John Hadden rifled home a penalty kick, but that was as close as they got." Unlike some of today's sold-out stadium matches, only 20 spectators were on hand to witness John Hadden's goal.

I've heard some claims that family traits could be observed through up to five generations. Could a love for the 'beautiful game' be such a trait in the Hadden lineage?

Monday, June 7, 2010

Chasing a United Empire Loyalist Connection

I have traced one family line of my wife, Ellen's direct descent from Andrew Kimmerly, her 4th great grandfather. Andrew, who was born in Tyron County, New York State in 1765, was a United Empire Loyalist, that is for one of many possible reasons, he remained loyal to the King during and after the American Revolutionary War. Some loyalists may have felt a sense of personal loyalty to the King, others may have been concerned that the Revolution would result in less desirable outcome than living under British rule even if they disliked the impacts of that rule, and perhaps others simply hoped that resolution without revolution was achievable.

Whatever Andrew's motivation, he, like many, was probably not particularly welcome in his home community following the Revolutionary War and he moved north to Upper Canada (now the Province of Ontario). In 1789, Lord Dorchester, the then Governor of British North America, proclaimed that the Loyalists and their descendants should be allowed to append the post-nominal letters "UE" after their surname "alluding to their great principle, the Unity of Empire." The Loyalists were compensated for war losses if they met the strict criteria that was established. Andrew received 100 acres of land and 200 pounds. Andrew settled on land in the area of Richmond, Lennox and Addington County, married Susannah Sagar [Sager], herself a native of Albany, New York, and together they had 15 children.

As Ellen is a direct descendant of Andrew, she is entitled, should I succeed in my efforts to fully document this ancestral line, to use the post-nominal letters "UE," although this confers no special privilege to her. I just like the challenge because it is much harder than it first appears.

The challenges to compiling the necessary documentation are, as would be expected, in finding sufficient reliable sources prior to civil registration in Ontario, which commenced in 1869. Fortunately, a number of histories including biographical sketches were written about the Loyalists in the last half of the nineteenth century with references to source documents, notably church records that document Andrew and his family. It's Andrew's grandchildren that present some "brick wall" challenges. In addition, with the introduction of privacy legislation over the past twenty years, more recent events become a little more challenging and necessitate applying to different provincial jurisdictions for documents concerning Ellen's parents and grandparents.

Even though "access" to government records is supposed to have equal footing with "privacy" protection in most legislation, risk-averse government jurisdictions sometimes focus too much on the privacy component and place obstacles in the path of those who desire access. Just something more to heighten the challenge! I'll report periodically on my progress as I suspect that to provide frequent updates might be like asking you to watch paint dry!

Friday, June 4, 2010

My Alex Haley 'Connection'

There is a lot of excitement growing as the 2010 Southern California Genealogical Society Jamboree gets closer. The Jamboree, scheduled for June 11, 12, and 13 in Burbank, California, is one of the largest annual genealogy conferences. This year, Jamboree is featuring an opportunity for attendees to be a part of a live Genealogy Gems podcast, produced and hosted by my friend Lisa Louise Cooke.

Lisa's podcasts are always entertaining and educational. For the live podcast, Lisa has lined up Maureen Taylor, the Photo Detective, Suzanne Russo Adams of, and Chris Haley, genealogist and nephew of author, Alex Haley, the author of Roots. Seeing the Alex Haley connection sparked memories from a past hobby pursuit.

For some reason, now forgotten, I began collecting autographs around 1980. This was around the same time that I began pursuing my family's history (in a genealogy world that did not include computers, software, and online databases). I started the autograph collection by initially writing letters to celebrities of all types. I would enclose a small, blank file card along with a stamped, self-addressed envelope, requesting that they sign the card and return it to me. To my amazement, it worked. Notable individuals like Sir Laurence Olivier, Henry Kissinger, Sen. Edward Kennedy, and Jonas Salk, all signed and returned my file cards.

Emboldened, I began sending photos that I cut out of books and magazines. A favourite magazine to use for this purpose was the annual Life Year in Photos. Below is the full-page photo that I sent to Roots author Alex Haley. Mr. Haley signed the photo, inscribed to "Ian G. Hadden - warm wishes to you from Juffure Village's head woman, Mrs. Binta Kinta, and me, and from the whole ROOTS family of Kunta Kinte! Alex Haley."

He also sent a letter to me, typed on his personal stationery and on which he even typed in a corrected phone number. The letter was dated, April 21, 1981 (the same date he signed the photograph). His letter reads, "It's my pleasure to sign the picture you've sent, which is enclosed. But pray drop me a note advising in what magazine, and what issue, did that excellent picture appear, as I'd love to obtain one, if possible. I'm sure that the occasion was my first return to Juffure Village after Roots had been published, when there were many photographers clicking away. As I say, I'd just love to obtain a copy of this one. Best wishes, Alex Haley"

Alex Haley's Roots earned a Pulitzer Prize special award in 1977. The book, a novelization of his family history, also became a hugely popular television miniseries that still ranks among the most watched television broadcasts of all time, earning nine Emmy awards.

Roots also caused a huge surge in the popularity of genealogy although I don't think it had that impact on me. My family history interest developed as a result of other events. Nevertheless, I treasure the autographed photo and letter sent to me all those years ago by none other than Alex Haley. Unfortunately, I won't be able to attend this year's Jamboree - but I'll be listening to the Genealogy Gems podcast when it is published!