Saturday, December 24, 2011

Santa Claus Is Coming To Town!

Tonight's the big night for all of us kids!

Christmas Eve in my parental home involved a mandatory bath followed by dressing in new pajamas before placing our Christmas stockings (large red felt socks) on the living room, and later recreation room, sofa. Each year was of course marked by a trip to see Santa and share with him what we wanted for Christmas, and to pose for a photo.

Below, my sister, my brother and I are pictured with Santa. I guess the photo to be from about 1964 based on our apparent ages. I love the galoshes we were required to wear as well as my Davy Crockett 'bulky-knit' sweater, made by our mother, and especially becoming with the wool 'fringe' adorning each arm!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Platt S. Miller's Magazine Cover

Platt S. Miller married Catherine Kimmerly on New Year's Day in 1854. The marriage took place in Napanee, Lennox and Addington County, in what is now the Province of Ontario, Canada. Catharine was my wife Ellen's first cousin, four times removed.

Although I had information about Platt and Catherine, Platt again came to my attention when I discovered his photo on the cover of the Ontario Genealogical Society's quarterly magazine, Families, Vol. 32, No. 2 (pictured to the right) from May 1993, while I was doing some volunteer proofreading work for the OGS.

This find was a stroke of luck! Although the information about the cover photo of Platt is not sourced, it nonetheless provides several leads about Platt, Catharine and their family. The following is the information provided about Platt and his photo:

"This photograph of Platt S. Miller, metal moulder, shown with the tools of his trade, comes to us from Margaret Jane Snider of Ocean Springs, MS.

Platt S. Miller was born in Napanee, Canada West, on 17 December 1830. He was the son of Garrett Miller, tailor, and Eleanor Wright.

Platt married Catherine Kimmerly on 1 January 1854 in Napanee. Their known children are: Margaret A. Eleanor, born 20 Novemeber 1854; Henry, born c.1856; George Maitland, born c.1860; Alice Felindann, born 5 May 1862 in Napanee; Catherine Adelaide; Francis Augustus; Aseneth, died at 6 or 7 years.

Platt and Catherine lived in Napanee through the 1860s then moved to the village of Almont, township of Almont, Lapeer County, Michigan, where Platt worked at the Lockhurd Foundry.

Catherine Kimmerly was born 1 July 1828/9 in Canada West, the daughter of Henry Kimmerly and Margaret Fretz, and the granddaughter of Andrew Kimmerly, UEL. She died 25 October 1906.

Platt S. Miller died 24 September 1900 in Almont and was buried there in the Ferson cemetery with his wife.

The original of this photo is a tintype, and is unusual in that Mr. Miller is pictured in his work clothes and with his tools. People of that period are usually photographed in their finery, so this picture is to be valued."

Platt and Catherine can be found living in Almont in the 1870, 1880, and 1900 US Federal Census records. In 1900, they reported that they had nine children but that only four were still living at the time. Thus far, I have been able to find eight of the nine children. More work is obviously need to track down their missing child.

The collection of Families can be found in the 'Members Only' section of the Ontario Genealogical Society's website at

Monday, December 5, 2011

My Cousin Was A Hero!

Until this past week when I was contacted through a "new cousin connection" who had read about our family in this blog, I didn't know that I had a cousin, a second cousin once removed to be exact, who had died a hero! In my last couple of posts, I have recounted the new 'cousin' connection. One of the many bits of new information passed on to me was about another cousin, Lt. Michael Warchola (pictured to the right) of the New York City Fire Department. Michael's great grandmother was Agnes (nee Sweeney) Mitchell Branchfield, my second great grandmother.

Michael, or 'Mike' as he was known, was born, raised, and lived his life in New York City. Like his older brother, Dennis, Michael joined the NYFD. Just two shifts before his retirement, the paperwork completed, Michael died saving the lives of others on September 11, 2001 at the World Trade Centre.

The events of that horrific day are indelibly marked in my mind as is the case with most of us. Yet, from the relative safety of my office in Canada, it was too easy to feel somewhat distant and removed, after all, I really didn't know anyone in New York City. Now, learning that a cousin, one of my cousins, was there and that he died saving the lives of others in his role as a 'first responder', a role he undoubtedly loved and worked hard at, makes the tragedy of the day hit 'home' that much harder.

I never met Michael but wish I had had the chance. I have learned from a number of tributes posted about Michael that he enjoyed history, especially stories of the strange and bizarre, a passion reputed to have developed from reading British tabloid newspapers at his grandmother's house. Michael was a Golden Gloves boxing champion who went to university in Buffalo around the same time I was in university in Toronto, just a 90-minute drive away. Mike and I both graduated from university in 1976 and, in 1977, after years spent on the waiting list, Mike joined the New York Fire Department.

On Tuesday, September 11, 2001, Lt. Michael Warchola led his crew from Ladder Company 5 into the 'B' stairwell of the North Tower at the World Trade Centre. On the 12th floor, he stopped to help a young woman who was experiencing chest pains. When the call went out to the emergency responders to evacuate the building, Michael was seen by other firefighters still tending to the woman, promising that he would soon also evacuate.

After the collapse of the building around him, Michael was heard over the radio, "Mayday, mayday, mayday. This is Ladder Company 5, mayday. We're in the B stairwell, 12th floor. I'm trapped, and I'm hurt bad." Michael was able to call out two additional maydays but his would-be rescuers were unable to reach him due to impassable debris.

Michael's body was recovered on Friday, September 14, 2001 and was carried out of the rubble by surviving members of Ladder Company 5. The world had lost a hero!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Connection Has Been Made!

In my last post, I recounted two "anonymous" comments that had recently been left for me on a May 2011 posting about William Mitchell's disappearance or perhaps, his abandonment for whatever reason of his family sometime in the mid-1890's. Both of the comments indicated that William's wife, Agnes Sweeney, my second great grandmother, had taken in a little girl named Mary Lafferty and raised her as her own. By the time this had occurred, Agnes had re-married to Joseph Branchfield and so little Mary was essentially raised as a Branchfield family member.

I concluded the last post by requesting that those who had left the comments to please contact me. I'm happy to report that Marie and Helen, daughters of Mary Lafferty Branchfield have contacted me and the information that they have begun to share is also pouring in (more about some of the discoveries and surprises provided so far will be shared in future posts).

Needless to say, I am thrilled to have been able to connect with these new 'cousins.' Although neither knew my second great grandmother (as Agnes passed away in 1928), they did know Agnes' children well as their aunts and uncles. I'm certain to learn much more about these family members who until now had only been names on records and in my database.

This branch of the family (my father's maternal line) moved from Scotland to the United States many years ago. While I always have wondered about the hardship of immigration that my ancestors experienced, particularly leaving family behind, usually knowing they would never again be seen, I continue to be amazed that we cousins could be living so close together and yet not know it. Just as I am amazed, based on the information about members of this family branch, about family resemblances, talents, and choices of employment that seem to run inexplicably through the family.

So thank you to Marie and Helen for reaching out and if there are more Branchfields out there, I'm waiting to hear from you too!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

3 Harvie Lane, Greenock, Renfrewshire, Scotland

I was fascinated this past week by a comment left on an older blog post (May 2011) by Patricia. The blog post detailed the 'disappearance' of my great great grandfather William Mitchell sometime in 1890's, essentially his abandonment of his family.

Patricia shared through her comment that my great great grandmother, Agnes (nee Sweeney) Mitchell Branchfield, had taken in her grandmother Mary Lafferty and raised her as her own. According to Patricia's comment, Mary referred to Agnes as her mother and to Agnes' children as her siblings. Clearly signs of very close relationships and most understandable given what must have been the circumstances.

Unfortunately, the 1911 Scottish Census, the most recent made public, does not show Mary Lafferty living with Agnes and her family. In 1911, Agnes was residing at 3 Harvie Lane in Greenock, Renfrewshire, Scotland with her second husband Joseph Branchfield and their five children and two children from Agnes' first marriage (listed as step-sons to Joseph). On the census record, 3 Harvie Lane is listed as a "Common Lodging House," containing 13 rooms with windows and providing a home to 36 people. The most likely Mary Lafferty that I have found in 1911 Greenock was born around 1908 and whom might have become orphaned around 1918.

Common lodging houses were not the abode for the rich and famous and were often of significant concern for health and criminal activity issues in the 19th century United Kingdom. So my great great grandmother did not lead a life of luxury but more likely faced a daily struggle to make ends meet and keep her family intact. Joseph, her husband, at least worked, like most men in the area, at the nearby shipyards where he was employed as a labourer.

Unfortunately, it does not appear that 3 Harvie Lane exists any longer, likely having given way to some form of Greenock modernization. So Patricia, if you are reading this post, please contact me with more information at

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Gaull Family Information From A New Cousin Connection

My great great grandfather John Gaull had eleven children. He was one of seven children born to Mary Jane Gaull. With that level of proliferation, I shouldn't be surprised that I would have many Gaull family cousins and relations. I've had the great fortune to not only make a connection with a number of my Gaull cousins but also to spend some time with a couple of them. Still, I am thrilled that I have made another connection within the family.

I was recently contacted by Robert Stables, a second cousin twice removed. Robert is the great grandson of Mary Jane. I was also subsequently contacted by Sandra Stables, Robert's sister-in-law, wife of Robert's brother Alan. In addition to the excitement of the new connections, Sandra, who has been doing some family history research, provided me with photos!

Never before had I seen the grave and headstone of Mary Jane, who died in 1925 and is buried in the Cluny Cemetery, Cluny, Aberdeenshire, Scotland along with her son James who died in 1919.

The generational difference between Robert, Alan and I is easily explained. While we share Mary Jane Gaull as our common ancestor, I am descended from Mary Jane's eldest son John Gaull (born 1860) and Robert and Alan are descended from Mary Jane's youngest son John Glennie (born 1873). The age difference is expanded again as I am descended from John Gaull's eldest daughter, Jessie McKenzie Gaull, while Robert and Alan descend from John Glennie's second youngest daughter, Elsie Ann Glennie who was born just a couple of years earlier than my father.

In addition to the headstone photos that Sandra sent to me, I received the wonderful photo of Tillyfro (below), the farm in Cluny that was the home of Mary Jane Gaull and her husband Alexander Glennie. There really something about seeing an ancestral home and being able to imagine your ancestors walking the property and working the fields. I have read the name 'Tillyfro' on many family records over the past 30 years but seeing it is such a bonus!

(Photos provided by Sandra Stables, copyright 2011. Used with permission)

Friday, November 11, 2011

Remembrance Day - Fallen Family Heroes

Lt. Col. John McRae was born in Guelph, Ontario, Canada in 1872. On May 3rd, 1915, he penned one of the most famous of World War I poems, 'In Flanders Field,' commemorating forever the bravery of those who fought and paid the ultimate sacrifice. Sadly, McRae, a physician, died of pneumonia in France in 1918.

Since 1922, the poppy has been worn by thousands of Canadians in tribute to our fallen heroes. Initially the poppy campaign provided a source of employment and income for those who had fought in the Great War. Today, the annual campaign funds programs for veterans through the Royal Canadian Legion.

On May 17, 1916, young Jimmy Gammie, my great granduncle, left his farm to enlist in the Canadian Expeditionary Force. Maybe he had seen the posters stating, "Your Chums are Fighting, Why Aren't You?" All of 5 feet, 8 inches in height, Jimmy, who joined with his brother Peter, would fight in France with the 46th Battalion. He would know what it was like to hear bullets whistle as they closely passed, he would know the sound and vibrations of bombs exploding, he would know the pain of being wounded, and after recovering, he would know the fear of returning to the front lines. He would know dieing for his country. Jimmy never returned to his farm, there was no repatriation ceremony for him.

Jimmy's grave, pictured below, marked for all to remember him.

Jimmy is buried in France, not in Flanders Field but in the Bucquoy Road Cemetery, near Arras, with too many of his comrades, not far from the bridge he was fighting to gain.

James Little Triggs was even younger, only 15 years of age and just under 5 feet in height, when he and his twin brother Phillip, followed in their father's footsteps and joined the Royal Navy as cabin boys. On May 31, 1916, James didn't see the shells coming, as he toiled away below deck, that would sink his mighty battleship and end his young life.

Today at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, we remember them along with those who did survive but who have had lives filled with memories of the terrors of war. And we remember those still fighting and sacrificing their lives in the name of freedom.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

A Story Debunked - The Case of Margaret (Graham) O'Neill

Margaret Graham was born on September 5, 1854 in Canada West (previously Upper Canada and now the province of Ontario). As her birth was before civil registration commenced and as I have not yet checked the Roman Catholic records for area churches, I suspect her birth occurred in Simcoe County, north of Toronto as that is where the Graham family can be found in subsequent Canadian census returns.

Margaret was a student at the school in Holland Landing, Ontario when she was 6 years old according to the 1861 Canada Census. Her father, Patrick was a tailor from Ireland who had met and married her mother Catherine in Ontario. By 1871, the family had moved a bit further north in the province, settling in Sunnidale, Simcoe County, Ontario. It seems that by 1890, Margaret had had enough of life in mainly rural area in which she lived and so she she headed south to the city of Toronto.

It was here that met and on June 4th, 1894, she married William Emmett O'Neill. According to their marriage registration, neither had been previously married. I mention this fact as they married a little later in life than most. William was 42 years old and Margaret was 38. Oh, how their lives must have changed when over the course of the next four years, Margaret gave birth to a son (my grandfather John Graham O'Neill) and two daughters (Kathleen and Avila).

Although the family resided primarily in the west end of Toronto, they eventually moved to a house they purchased from their son's future father-in-law, John Foley, at 189 Pickering Street in the city's east end. This is where a family story passed on to me from my mother begins and now ends.

The house at 189 Pickering was not only lived in by my great grandparents through the 1920's and 1930's but was passed on through the family eventually becoming my parent's first home when they married in 1953. The house is small by today's standards, a two bedroom semi-detached home that was functional but could be cramped at times. According to my mother, Margaret (Graham) O'Neill died in the 'master,' front bedroom of 189 Pickering Street in 1937. When I lived in the house the story didn't really bother me but later in life, as I began documenting my family's histroy, I thought it a little creepy that I might have conceived in the very room that my great grandmother died in.

But she didn't! As a result of re-checking databases (in this case the Ontario death records on Ancestry), I found Margaret's death certificate. Margaret died on March 2, 1937 at St. Joseph's Hospital of chronic heart problems, a long way from my first home on Pickering Street. In fact, according to Avila O'Neill, who was the informant listed on the certificate, Margaret and Avila were residing together at 1739 Dundas Street West prior to Margaret's hospitalization. The funeral arrangements were made through Ryan and Son Undertakers on Dundas Street West and Margaret was buried alongside her husband William in Mount Hope Cemetery in Toronto on March 5, 1937.

A 'creepy' family story debunked and a lesson to re-check already mined databases learned!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Family Items in Nearly Old Newspapers

Newspapers have long been known to be a treasure trove of information about family. The use of old newspapers is a common topic at genealogy conferences, is the subject of informative webinars, and is a selling feature of subscription-based genealogy websites.

Typically, when I have used old newspapers to search for items about my family, I have sought out archives of newspapers published in the vicinity of my ancestor's home, hoping to find an announcement about a wedding or perhaps an obituary. I have had modest success locating small newspaper articles and sometimes, I have been lucky enough to find newsworthy items about their social life, their political views or events in their community in which they may have been involved.

I recently re-discovered Our Ontario, described as a digital portal, part of Knowledge Ontario, a not-for-profit 'collaborative' of library, cultural, heritage and community organizations. Our Ontario provides hosting and user interface tools for these organization's digital collections. Using just my surname as the search term, Our Ontario returned 634 matching items. When I found that one of the items on the first page of search results was a reference to the obituary for my granduncle Alexander Gaull Hadden from 1997, even though the newspaper image wasn't available, I knew there was cause to keeping looking.

Among the digital newspaper images that I subsequently found were multiple news stories about the sons of Alexander (Uncle Alec to me) and his wife Hilda, Robert (Bob) and David. Almost all of these newspaper articles appeared in the Stouffville Tribune (now the Stouffville Sun-Tribune). Stouffville is a small town to the north-east of Toronto, small enough that the hiring of David (my first cousin, once removed) as a town police officer (pictured right from a 1967 article) in September 1963 was front page news. Stories of David's crime fighting and that of older brother Bob, also a police officer at the time but in neighbouring towns, often found there way into newspaper.

My favourite story being about a 23 year-old man who David pulled over for a routine traffic stop. When David recognized the man from a wanted poster, the culprit took off with David "in hot pursuit." A short time later, when the suspect's vehicle blew a rear tire, the 'fugitive' "jumped from the car, pulling the [steering] wheel sharply to the left. He fell and the auto ran over his legs and hit a hydro pole. The suspect was arrested at the rear of a nearby house."

Fortunately, more than the real crime dramas of Stouffville were included in the local newspaper. Through the social column, "Stouffville Scene, What's going on," I learned that my Uncle Alec and Aunt Hilda spent a week visiting David, his wife Joan, and their children Penny and Gordon in December 1973, including having Christmas dinner together with members of Joan's family.

Of course, there are the more traditional sources of genealogy information from newspapers also available. I found the wedding announcement for my cousin Bob Hadden and his wife Marilyn from May 1958, complete with descriptions of the bride's dress and corsage as well as the maid of honour's dress. Somehow, my invitation to the wedding (as I'm certain Bob would not have forgotten his then 3 year-old cousin) must have been lost in the mail so these descriptions are all the more valuable to me now!

If you have some Ontario, Canada roots, perhaps Our Ontario may prove to be a goldmine for you as well!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

James Graham, Innkeeper

I have been enjoying the benefit, yes, benefit, of discovering new leads while proceeding through my genealogy database and citing sources for the wide array of facts that my family history contains that I failed to include when I first entered the fact information. The new 'leads' have resulted from chasing down documents that a fact referred to which I should have had a copy of but didn't or, I had a copy of and had now a chance to review for a second time.

Reviewing and analyzing a family history document for a second time is almost always valuable and eye-opening due to the facts and information that you can see which might have been overlooked for some reason on the first read.

While entering information about Patrick Graham and his wife Catherine (nee McRae), my second great grandparents in my maternal family line, there was information, particularly from census records that provided new leads to deepen my knowledge of the lives of their children.

Patrick, a tailor by trade, had immigrated to Upper Canada (now Ontario, Canada) sometime likely in the 1830's. Catherine was born in Glengarry County of what is now Ontario in 1822. I don't know when nor how they met but they married around 1838, according to Roman Catholic marriage registers. Their first child was James, born in 1842. Three daughters were to follow, including my great grandmother Margaret, born in 1854.

The census record for the family in January 1852, (the 1851 census in Canada was delayed) shows the family living in a frame house in the village of East Gwillimbury, north of Toronto, and oldest child and only son James going to school. About ten years later, the 1861 census records show that the family had moved about three miles west to the village of Holland Landing and that James had left school, moved north to the town of Barrie and was an apprentice shoemaker.

Sometime before 1870, James married Mary Ann Duffy and around 1870, they welcomed their first child, William, into their family. James had also taken up a new profession - that of innkeeper. In 1871, James and Mary Ann were living in the village (perhaps hamlet?) of Essa, Ontario, due west of Barrie. No mention is included in the record of the name of the inn that he kept and despite searches through various histories of the area at that time, I can find no mention of James or the inn.

Tragedy struck however on May 17, 1874 when Mary Ann gave birth to their second child, also a boy, and both mother and child died. According to the death registrations, the unnamed baby boy died within "a few minutes" of birth followed soon after by his 25 year-old mother.

Sometime before 1878, James re-married, this time to Mary Guilfoyle. James and Mary had three daughters, Catherine Louise, Mary Isabella, and Anna May. Over the next 25 years, James continued to live in the Simcoe County, Ontario area, occasionally moving between some of the area's small towns and villages. His profession during this time was always listed as Hotel Keeper. James passed away of heart failure at the age of 61, on June 19, 1903.

Looking at a record for a second time, in this case, a census record, lead to a cascade of new information, and records, connected to this family. My intention is to continue hunting for records about James' hotel as my gut instinct is that there have got to be some fascinating stories about life in the hotels of that era. The Barrie, Ontario library has an on-line obituary index showing that there are two local newspapers that contained obituaries for James. Unfortunately, other than giving the name of the newspaper and date of the obituary, no other details were available but it may be the best place of start. I can feel a field trip coming on!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Dividing the Family Along Religious Lines

My family was easy for me to understand when I began researching it's history. My mother's family was Irish and Roman Catholic. My father's family was Scottish and non-Catholic, aligned to no particular Protestant denomination. These distinct differences made it easy for me and helped point me to the correct research areas and repositories of information.

My father's conversion to Catholicism prior to his marriage to my mother was not warmly received by his family. So you can imagine my astonishment while checking, re-checking really, facts about my Sweeney ancestors to input source information into my genealogy database. I am directly descended from the Sweeney family through my paternal grandmother, Agnes Little. While examining the 1871 marriage registration of Edward Sweeney to Helen Dickson, my third great grandparents, I found all the usual information I would expect to find: name of bride and groom, their parent's names, the date and place of the marriage, their addresses at the time of the marriage, their occupations, names of the witnesses and the clergyman or official who performed the wedding ceremony. But there was another piece of information that I suppose I typically have glossed over - the notation of the banns.

In the case of Edward and Helen, their marriage registration clearly indicates their marriage took place "After Banns according to the Forms of the Roman Catholic Church." So my paternal grandmother's great grandfather, and grandmother for that matter, were Roman Catholic. A little more searching revealed not only the religious difference but that they were from Ireland!

Edward Sweeney's parents, my fourth great grandparents, were George and Mary (nee McMurray) Sweeney. Edward, like his parents, was born in Ireland. The family first appears in Scotland in the 1851 Census. Edward was 2 years old meaning that sometime between his birth in 1849 and the March 30, 1851 Scottish Census, the Sweeney family immigrated to Kirkintilloch, Dunbartonshire, Scotland. Given the timeframe involved, it is easy to surmise it to be most likely that they were escaping from the Irish potato famine.

The tie to the Roman Catholic church in this family line appears to have been broken when Edward's daughter Agnes, my second great grandmother, married William Mitchell in 1886 "according to the forms of the Scottish Episcopal church."

Friday, October 14, 2011

Checking It Twice

I've discovered unanticipated rewards for messing up by not including source citations in my genealogy database and having to now spend hours correcting the errors of my ways.

To give you a sense of scale, my database has almost 21,000 facts and just over 12,000 citations and that is after many hours of effort to correct the situation! While I have admittedly had a tendency to focus on my direct paternal Hadden ancestral line or puzzling maternal lines like that of John Foley, needing to add source citations has drawn me to revisit ancestral family lines like the Sweeneys, connected to my paternal grandmother.

As I have proceeded through my ancestral families, where I have cited fact sources I have been attaching the digital images of the documents, usually in JPEG format. Adding the images not only makes for a more robust database but eliminates the need to later hunt for the document on my computer hard drive if I want to review it at a later date. One difficulty I have encountered is having a fact but no digital image that I used as the fact source, applicable where I know a digital image was available and used. This has 'forced' me to re-think the fact to ensure that it fits and usually to re-search for the record. I have been successful in retracing my original research and finding the source but now I look at the source information with, I hope, a more mature understanding of genealogy research. Questioning the search results with even basic questions like 'Is this really the right family?' and "Do the ages or dates match for all family members?' has uncovered some facts that I once believed to be true that are not correct for my family.

The best example I can offer was my tracing of a Hadden family through Aberdeenshire, Scotland several years ago only to later, based frankly on gut instinct, to discover that the family was in no clear way, related to me. All because I had neglected to look at all of the information that my great grandfather's birth record offered. Specifically in that case, I had neglected to pay attention to the occupation listed for my great great grandfather.

Checking the the facts and sources twice is allowing me to not only improve the quality of my database but also to 'prune' the family tree of unverifiable facts and in some cases individuals.

In my next post, I will share a discovery on the Sweeney family that I had not for some reason noticed previously, even though I have had a copy of the digital image of the record for years.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Been Away For Too Long

It's been far too long since I added to my blog but I've been in the research desert, and thus I had little to share. As America sang, "In the desert you can remember your name ..." but that felt like about all I could remember or offer.

While research leads turned into dead ends, I began to focus on updating my genealogy database, making up for my carelessness in the early days. You know, entering data based on reliable sources, usually with documents I had saved electronically on my computer hard drive, but no sources cited. Who needed a source citation when I had the original document? When I had finally realized the error of my ways, I suspected that my database really couldn't be in too bad a shape. Wrong again!

Lots of great information and facts about the 12,000+ ancestors are contained in the database however, my rookie way of thinking left me without having all of the facts displayed with proper source citations. Even though I find it easy to add the citations with my RootsMagic 4 software, it is nonetheless very time consuming. In addition to citing the sources, I have been attaching the supporting documents to the facts and although this takes just a few extra computer 'clicks,' it does represent even more time especially because I don't always remember where I filed the original document!

So, although I have been somewhat absent from blogging, I have been tediously busy with genealogy! The only time saver for me has been using a new computer that is so much faster at completing tasks than the five plus years old computer that I thought might last until I retire from my day job next summer. Lesson learned - when it takes twenty minutes for your computer to start up, it's time for a new computer!

As a footnote, I can't let today pass without mentioning that today is the 'anniversary of my death!' While that sounds a bit (?) melodramatic, it was on this date one year ago that I 'flatlined' while in the intensive care unit of our local hospital. I guess if you are going to have that experience, being in the intensive care unit is the best place possible. While I have some clear memories of that day, the moment of crisis is not one of them. Based on what the doctors, nurses and my wife, Ellen, have told me, the ascending paralysis caused by Guillain-Barre Syndrome managed to reach my chest, causing me to stop breathing and subsequently go into complete arrest. Ellen had been called into the hospital very early that morning by the nurses who had been observing my rapidly declining health. She arrived just as the medical emergency was called.

If not for the quick actions by the hospital's medical staff, I wouldn't be here today. I certainly owe them a huge debt of thanks!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

From Leather to the Pulpit

Not all of my great grandparents could read and write which perhaps explains why I have not heard of any letters or family records containing their thoughts and reflections. My wife Ellen on the other hand is more fortunate. Her great grandfather Louis Henry Wagner (1857-1945) began a diary when he was 15 years old. In all, Louis filled four leather bound diaries in his lifetime although he did not make daily entries during his 'diary days' of December 1872 to November 1891.

While census records along with birth, marriage, and death vital records help build a framework of family activities, Louis' diaries put 'meat on the bones' of that framework, helping to explain how events unfolded and decisions were made. In reading through Louis' diaries, I was particularly taken with his entry of August 4th, 1877 when he provided a summary of the events of the previous four years during which time he had fallen away from using his diary.

Louis wrote:

"Recalling the principle events which happened within the last four years, it is quite probable that I may miss some very important occurrences for which though I am myself to blame, since I neglected to keep a diary until the beginning of the present year.

In the Fall of the year [18]73, I quit schooling and bargained with my uncle [Louis Breithaupt] to learn the tanning trade to which Grandpa [Jacob Hailer] would not consent since the term I was required to serve - being five years - would take me some months longer than my 21st birthday. This afterwards proved a benefit to me. The bargain was made as Uncle today certifies on Grandpa's back porch. Of course, all orally. It was as follows: That I was to stay in the tannery three years - being taught there in that time everything that was to be learned. The remaining two years I was to serve in the store. I was to receive my board at his house and either an annual pay of $50.00 or annually $30.00 and the remaining $100.00 at the end of the term of five years. This was left to my option. Of course, I decided for the former.

Grandpa said: Do as you please; but I'll not consent.

But there remained the old story: I had to do anything and everything. Was to do this and was to do that. Never set to work at anything to be learned at the trade. I complained. Uncle told me to work at anything I liked in the tannery. I did so as well as I knew how but being a boy of 16, I failed the object I sought after. As matters stood, I was perfectly disgusted with Uncle on my apprenticeship.

I was therefore heartily glad when Will [William Henry Breithaupt] went to Toronto on 17th March 1874, and gave me a chance to get into the leather store. I therefore took that position to which Uncle did not even say a word, knowing full well that I would earn him more there than in the tannery. Here I remained until the Fall of 1875.

In the meantime Will had taken a "B" certificate in Day's commercial college and returned. Being not always needed in the store, we were sometimes sent to the tannery to make belts - something we hated to do more than anything else.

As it had been granted me in the bargain to go to some college during the term of my apprenticeship and as I was perfectly sick of being at home, so I insisted on Uncle that I would like to go the Northwestern College at Napierville, Illinois in the Fall of 1875. As he could do nothing else so he gave me always a mute reply which I took for his consent.

I consequently took leave of Berlin on or about the last of August...."

It was near the end of his first term at Napierville that Louis describes he "embraced true religion which afforded me unspeakable happiness" that lead him to a career as a minister in the Evangelical Association, like his father before him.

I sometimes find it difficult to determine the occupation or series of occupation that my great grandfathers pursued, let alone have a description left to me of exactly how my ancestor found his vocation.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Conquering Cancer One Step At A Time

Around this time in each of the past two years, I have proudly bragged about my daughters and their fundraising through the 60 km (about 37 mile) Walk to End Women's Cancers, previously the Walk to End Breast Cancer, in support of research at Toronto's Princess Margaret Hospital. All walkers in this fundraiser must raise a minimum of $2,000, no small task in tough economic times, to participate in the two-day event in addition to being able to find the stamina to endure the long walk.

In my post last year I concluded by indicating that we hoped to expand the team through the inclusion of my son and I. As last year's post indicates, fighting this terrible disease is important to us as it took the life of my kid's mom and has touched the lives of far too many friends and relatives. This year the team did expand as my son joined his sisters and trekked through the city on two above seasonal warm, sunny days. I had to abandon my commitment to participate due to my 'fling' with Guillain-Barre Syndrome last fall and my need for more recovery time but next year, who knows?

The 2011 walk had more than 4000 participants who raised more than $9.4 million. The Hadden team, named after Karen's Wings, raised more than $6,400 on the strength of John, Lisa and Jenna's fundraising that included everything from a charity soccer game to bake sales. In the end, the three 'warriors' raised their hands triumphantly as they crossed the finish line hand in hand (pictured above). A great job done very well!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Young Louis Henry Wagner

Louis Henry Wagner began a diary, really a set of what turned out to be four leather-bound diaries, when he was 15 years old. The diaries document some of the milestones, good and bad, that occurred in his life. The diaries are important records of the events in the Wagner and Breithaupt families during the latter half of the 19th century as well as providing an interesting perspective on the life of a young man living in Berlin (now Kitchener), Ontario, Canada during that pre-cable television, pre-video game era.

Louis began his diaries on December 15, 1872. His accounts of life at that time are filled with church services that were clearly at the centre of the family's life, completing a range of chores and errands like "fetching" hides for the Breithaupt's Eagle Tannery or loads of hen dung for use as fertilizer, and fishing with his cousins. Christmas 1872 is described as a time of for church services in the morning and the evening. In between, the family "had a splendid turkey for dinner." Louis received a 'cravat' from his mother Margaret (Hailer) Bean (previously Wagner) and her sister "Aunt [Catherine (nee Hailer)] Breithaupt (pictured above right in 1907)." In addition, he received 25 cents from "Grandmother Breithaupt" [Barbara Catharina Goetze].

Louis was born in Grove, New York, USA in 1857. When he was only one year old, his father Jacob died, just a couple of months after moving the family to Berlin, Ontario. Louis' mother, Margaret re-married in 1862, shortly after Louis' fifth birthday. Interestingly, among all of his recording of the family member visits to his home and trips being taken by family members to neighbouring towns and villages to visit relatives, Louis always refers to his mother's second husband, Daniel Bean, as "Mr. Bean" and never references him as his step-father. While I can't assume that there were any problems between Louis and Daniel Bean, the references don't suggest to me a close relationship.

By the time Louis had begun his diaries he was living with the Breithaupt family, his Uncle Louis Breithaupt and Aunt Catherine along with their children, Louis' cousins. It is clear from many of Louis' early diary entries that he felt a particular affection for his Aunt Breithaupt. In early December 1872, Aunt Breithaupt gave birth to her ninth child, Catherina Louise 'Katie' Breithaupt. Aunt Breithaupt, as Louis consistently referred to her as, experienced a tough time recovering from the childbirth. As Louis described in his January 2, 1873 entry, "I had to go along to Preston with the teams to fetch hides today. Aunt Breithaupt was very weak this evening. Johnny [cousin John Christian Breithaupt] and I had to go and fetch Doctor Bowlby. We brought Aunt Brehler [referring to Harriet Brehler (nee Hailer)] along out. When we came home Aunt Breithaupt had given them all a farewell in this world, she thought she had to die, but she got better again."

In addition to describing the gradual recovery to good health of Aunt Breithaupt, Louis left behind a record of weather reports for his southern Ontario town and a unique glimpse into teenage life during a time long past.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Trial of Roseannah Mitchell (nee Dowds) - Her Words and Summary

This is the final post in a series of five that summarizes the trial of my third great grandmother Roseannah Mitchell (nee Dowds). Roseannah had been charged with multiple counts of theft by housebreaking in 1877 Glasgow, Scotland. This final post in the series is my transcription of the essential components of Roseannah's statements to the court. The original public court records are housed in the National Archives of Scotland from which I have obtained copies for a fee.

October 3, 1877 Statement

"My name is Roseann Dowds or Mitchell. I am a native of Ireland, 36 years of age, a hawker, and I reside at 77 Havannah Street, Glasgow.

I deny the charges preferred against me viz (1) of breaking into a house in Malvern Place on or about 24th August last, and stealing therefrom a cloth coat and various other articles of clothing; (2) of breaking into a house on or about 17th September last in Bernard Street Bridgeton and stealing therefrom a lustre dress, and various other articles of clothing; and (3) of breaking into a house in Naburn Street Gorbals, on or about 25th also and stealing therefrom a sateen petticoat and other articles of clothing.

A woman of the name of Joann Walker called upon me on Thursday last. She had a knitted shawl with her and a thing with bugles on it, and two pieces of silk.

She laid these articles on the top of my chest lid and afterwards they were put into my chest. I did not give Mrs. Prentice a suit of black clothes to pawn.

I can't say if I was in Bernard Street, Bridgeton, on 17th September, for I am hawking about from street to street.

I did not on 26th September pawn with Jack in Burrell's lane, Glasgow a Thibet petticoat, but a lad named Patrick Blession was sent with a petticoat and a tartan napkin by Joann Walker to pawn. I gave a boy, Robert Smith my own petticoat to pawn. He also got a bundle of clothes to pawn which I got fro Joann Walker.

All which I declare to be truth, and that I cannot write."

October 24, 1877 Statement

"The declaration emitted by me on 3rd current, which has now been read over to me and is docquetted and subscribed as relative hereto is all correct with this exception that I should have said that Joann Walker called on me on Wednesday last, and not on "Thursday last" as I stated in the Declaration. I wish to say, with reference to the first of the acts of Housebreaking preferred against me as and to which I emitted the Declaration read over, that I fell down the outside stair of my house, and was confined to the house for eight days. I was attended to by the Dispensary doctor at the Hannah whose name I don't know. I also want to add that a day or two after I got up Joann Walker gave me a black silk dress, a jacket, and another article I don't remember what it was, and asked me to sell them. I did so to a Mrs. Hanlon in the Bazaar and got £2.3/. Walker gave me the odd 3/ for my trouble. Three weeks after this again, I sold for Walker another dress, but I can't tell the material. I sold it to the same Mrs. Hanlon, and got 15/ for it which I gave to Walker with the exception of 1/ which she gave me for my trouble. The dress now shown to me with a sealed Label attached, and which is docquetted and subscribed as relative hereto is the dress I sold for 15/.

I deny the charge of having on the 21st September last broken into a house in Victoria Street, Govan, and occupied by Patrick Malley, by means of a false key, and stealing therefrom a pair of trousers, a silk tunic, two merino dresses and a brown skirt. I also deny the alternative charge of resetting these articles or any of them between 20th and 30th September last, in my house in Havannah, or in Bazaar, or elsewhere.

It being now explained by the Sheriff Substitute that the merino dress which the Declarant stated she had sold for 15/ for Walker was one of the articles which she was accused of stealing from Malley's house by means of Housebreaking on the 21st September last, Declares I repeat my statement that the merino dress now shown to me, and docquetted and subscribed with reference to this Declaration is the merino dress I sold for Walker. The pair of trousers now shown to me with a sealed Label attached, which is docquetted and subscribed as relative hereto is a pair of trousers which I bought some time about the beginning of July last from a tailor's shop at the head of New Wynd. I bought them for a lodger of the name of Neil McKenzie. I paid 14/6 for them, which McKenzie paid me. He left me owing money, and telling me to get them cleaned, and as McKenzie didn't come back. I got Joann Walker to pawn them for me. The silk tunic now shown to me with a sealed Label which is docquetted and subscribed as relative hereto, was brought to my house by Joann Walker, and was found by the detectives when they came. I wish to add that I knew Joann Walker was a dealer in the clothes market, and so thought the articles that she had in her possession were honestly come by. I can't explain why, being a dealer, she asked me to sell certain of the articles. I can't write."

November 15, 1877 Statement

"I wish ... to say that I was not aware that any of the articles which were in my possession, or which I referred to as being in my possession on 3rd October last were stolen. All of which I declare to be truth, and I cannot write."


I am amazed that convictions were obtained for each of the charges brought against Roseannah. Upon being convicted for stealing the clothing, Roseannah was sentenced to 8 years in prison.

I recognize that mine may not be seen as the most objective of opinions due to my direct relationship with her but it seems clear that nothing directly tied Roseannah to actually stealing the clothing articles. In a worse case scenario, there could be a possibility that Roseannah could be seen as being in possession of property obtained by crime however she was never charged with that offence. And what of the mysterious Joanna Walker, a woman arrested at the same time and in connection to the thefts but then released as police felt she was a prostitute not a thief. At best it adds up to reasonable doubt.

Perhaps I am applying 21st century thinking to a 19th century circumstance and reading the statements of all the participants is not unlike reading a Dickens novel and while Fagin's manipulation of Oliver pre-dates Roseannah's run in with law, it seems that the same societal culture may have survived.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Town of Berlin Becomes Kitchener

Today, August 23rd, marks the ninety-fourth anniversary of the Ontario cabinet's 'order-in-council' that officially changed the name of the town of Berlin to Kitchener. The name change became effective as of September 1, 1917. In recognition of this historic and then controversial decision, I am re-sharing a post from the past about the views and involvement of some of my wife Ellen's family's involvement in the controversy.

When the Wagners and their cousins, the Breithaupts, settled in what was originally Canada West, now the province of Ontario, Canada, they chose to live, naturally enough, in the predominantly German settlement of Waterloo County, specifically in the town of Berlin. Jacob Wagner and Louis Breithaupt married Mary and Catherine Hailer, respectively, who were the daughters of the first German settler in the region, Jacob John Hailer. The area also featured a large Mennonite community that had immigrated from Pennsylvania.

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Trial of Roseannah Mitchell (nee Dowds), Part 4

Roseannah Mitchell (nee Dowds) is my one of my paternal third great grandmothers. Around the beginning of May 2011, I discovered that Roseannah had been charged and convicted in 1877 with several counts of theft by housebreaking. This post, along with the three previous posts, summarize the statements and evidence that was used against Roseannah during the trial held in Glasgow. The original records from the trial are housed in the National Archives of Scotland and, for a fee, I obtained a copy of the records (the NAS provided high quality copies and appear to have been very thorough in ensuring I received everything requested).

Fourth Charge

Mary Ann Malley was a shopwoman who resided at 17 Victoria Street in Govan, near Glasgow, where she lived with her father Patrick, a boot and shoemaker. Mary Ann described their flat (or apartment) as a room and a kitchen, located up one flight of stairs in the building.

According to Mary Ann, on Friday, September 21, 1877, she and her mother left the flat at about noon and locked the flat door. They returned at about 3:00 p.m. and found the door locked just as they had left it. Mary Ann subsequently noticed a little while later that a tunic and dress belonging to her, a dress belonging to her mother, as well as a skirt belonging to her sister were missing. These items, according to Mary Ann's testimony, had been hanging either in the flat entry or in the one room of the flat. Patrick Malley later reported the theft to the police. In early October 1877, Mary Ann stated she went to the police station and identified some of the missing items that the police had recovered.

Mary Ann's testimony was corroborated by her mother Bridget Malley (nee Welsh). Mary Ann's father, Patrick later also identified a pair of trousers belonging to him that Mary Ann had not mentioned in her statement.

Anne Brierton (nee Hanlon) lived at 65 Drygate in Glasgow with her husband Charles, an engineer. Anne worked at her father's fruit and vegetable stand in the Bazaar at Cowlings in Glasgow. According to Anne's testimony, sometime near the end of August 1877, Roseannah Mitchell showed her a black silk dress, a jacket and a tunic, asking Anne if she would buy them, a common practise of hawkers at the bazaar. Anne purchased all three items for £2, four shillings and six pence. Anne saw Roseannah on a couple of other subsequent occasions at the bazaar but didn't purchase anything. Finally, Anne stated that she went to the police station where she again saw Roseannah and the basket Roseannah used to carry her articles for sale but she was unable to positively identify any of the clothing articles.

Anne's sister, Mary Hanlon lived at 18 North Albion Street in Glasgow and knew Roseannah from seeing her at the bazaar. Mary stated she never purchased anything from Roseannah but had seen both her sister Anne and mother Ann Hanlon buy articles from her in the past. Mary testified that she identified a dress bought from Roseannah and later recovered by the police but added that she had never seen Roseannah with the dress.

Anne and Mary's mother, Ann Hanlon (nee Brannon) also knew Roseannah from the bazaar. Ann stated that her daughter, Anne purchased a dress, jacket and tunic, for which she had loaned her daughter £2. Later, according to Ann, Roseannah came to their house where Mary Hanlon tried on a dress, found that it fit fine and so it was purchased. Ann did not obtain a receipt for the purchase stating that this was not unusual in dealing with hawkers.

The Police

William Booth was a criminal officer (Detective) with the East District of the Glasgow Police. William was assigned to investigate the thefts from the Cullen and Smith homes. He subsequently arrested Roseannah on September 29, 1877 in High Street, Glasgow. Booth stated he took Roseannah to her Havannah Street home that he then searched. During the search, Booth found a cape and a napkin that Roseannah stated belonged to her. Booth also stated that during the search, he found a key that when tried "easily" opened all the doors to the flats where thefts had occurred.

Booth further testified that he arrested Margaret Prentice (nee Brown) whom he stated denied involvement in the thefts but that when shown the recovered articles, stated that Roseannah had sent her to the pawn shops with the clothing items.

Agnes Grant was a police search woman who stated that she searched Roseannah who was wearing a red flannel petticoat when processed at the police station.

John Anderson was a criminal officer with the Govan Burgh Police. John stated that he saw the recovered clothing articles in the Glasgow police station that "resembled" the articles stolen from the Malley residence. According to Anderson, he took the key found by William Booth and found that it easily unlocked the door to the Malley's flat.

The Co-Accused

Margaret Prentice (nee Brown) was a widow living at 1 Muse Lane, off Duke Street in Glasgow. Margaret's statement was clear - "I am entirely innocent." Margaret stated she had never seen any of the clothing articles that the police showed to her and that the pawnbroker who identified her "must have mistaken me for some other woman" although she did admit that in past she had pawned some articles for Roseannah, the articles she pawned were not the stolen items and she had dealt with a woman at the pawn shop, not a man.

My Opinion

The police admitted in their statements that they had arrested a third woman, named Johanna Walker, when they had arrested Roseannah and Margaret. According to the police, Johanna was known to them as a prostitute, not a thief, so they released her and had been unable to subsequently find her again. In her statement, Margaret Prentice indicated that while she was lodging with the Mitchells for about a three week period, an unknown woman who could have been Johanna Walker did come to the flat on possibly three occasions. Margaret stated she, nor anyone else, ever spoke to the woman so had no idea as to what the stranger wanted.

While it might be at worse case suspicious that Roseannah appears to have been in possession of a key that opened the doors to all of the various flats involved, it is possible that locking mechanisms used at the time and in the homes of the less-than-wealthy families involved, were not sophisticated and overly secure locks. I think it highly unlikely that Roseannah had been able to fashion herself or have made for her a universal "master" key capable of fitting the locks of diverse neighbourhoods and buildings. In addition, no witnesses could place Roseannah at any of the residences at the times of the thefts. Is it possible that Johanna was the thief and Roseannah a subsequently an unwitting victim of circumstance?

The evidence, especially that of Ann Hanlon (nee Brannon) who stated that Roseannah not only sold her some clothing but also offered to purchase some articles from Ann demonstrates the business Roseannah was in - acquiring articles from a wide variety of sources in order to sell them at a hopefully higher price later.

In the next and final post on the trial of Roseannah, I will share Roseannah's own words from the court records.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Trial of Roseannah Mitchell (nee Dowds), Part 3

My last post was probably overly long in summarizing the witness statements and evidence presented in 1877 at the trial of my third great grandmother, Roseannah Mitchell (nee Dowds). Roseannah had been charged with multiple counts of theft by housebreaking and her trial was held in December 1877. This post will summarize the witness statements and evidence involved in the next charge against Roseannah.

Third Charge

Barbara Smith was a millworker residing in a ground floor flat at 47 Naburn St., Hutchesontown, Glasgow. Barbara testified that between 9:00 and 10:00 a.m. on Tuesday, September 25, 1877, she went up two flights of stairs in her apartment building to the flat of her sister. There she remained until about 3:00 p.m. She stated that when she returned to her flat in the afternoon the door was locked just as she had left it but that once in her flat, she noticed some cloth sticking out of a chest drawer. On further inspection, she found that four petticoats, two jackets, a plaid, a napkin, a tunic and a silk cape were missing.

She reported the theft to the police and over the next few days, she attended the police station to identify three petticoats, the silk cape, the tunic and the napkin that police had recovered. Barbara further testified that she knew Roseannah well as Roseannah was a 'hawker' who had been in her building almost daily for the past year even though Barbara stated she had never dealt with Roseannah personally. She had a "strong impression" that she had opened her sister's flat door to Roseannah but because she saw Roseannah so frequently she wasn't really sure it was her.

Elizabeth Gray (nee Smith) was Barbara's sister. She corroborated that Barbara was in her flat between 10:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. on September 25, 1877. Barbara left her flat but returned shortly afterwards telling her of the theft. Elizabeth stated that she went with Barbara to the police station when the missing items were identified.

Mary Jack (nee Duncan) was a widow who lived at 33 Duke Street in Glasgow and worked as a pawnbroker at 8 Burrel's Lane, Duke Street, Glasgow. Mary testified that on September 26, 1877, Roseannah 'pledged' a petticoat and was given 5 pence and a pawn ticket. Mary also stated that on September 29th, police arrived and removed the petticoat from the shop. Mary later identified Roseannah as the individual who had 'pledged' the item.

Patrick Blession lived with his mother at 1 Muse Lane, off Duke Street i Glasgow. Patrick testified that he took a woolen napkin to McGuire's pawn shop on September 26, 1877 and that Roseannah had given him the article in her house at Havannah Street. He stated that he received £2, 6 pence and a pawn ticket which he turned over to Roseannah.

Michael McElaney was a pawnbroker's assistant who resided at Stirling Road in Glasgow. Michael testified that on September 26, 1877, Patrick Blession 'pledged' a woolen napkin in McGuire's pawn shop and was given £2, 6 pence and a pawn ticket. Michael further stated that on September 29th, a woman 'pledged' "a pair of trousers" under the name Jane Mitchell and was given 6 pence and a pawn ticket. He later saw Roseannah at the police station but could not identify her as the woman who had 'pledged' the trousers explaining that he had been very busy at the time of the exchange so he didn't remember much of the woman.

Robert Smith resided with his father, Thomas Smith, a shoemaker, at Havannah Street in Glasgow. Robert testified that he knew Roseannah "as she lives below us." Robert testified that Roseannah asked him to take a petticoat and tunic to a pawn shop for her. He went to Conway's pawn shop, accompanied by Roseannah who waited outside the shop for him. He received 8 pence and a pawn ticket that he gave to Roseannah. Robert stated that Roseannah paid him a half penny. According to Robert, she told him "to give my own name but I did not do so but gave in her name."

Finally, the court heard from Edward McKay, a pawnbroker's assistant at Conway's pawn shop at 2 Duke Street in Glasgow, resided at 183 George Street in Glasgow. Edward testified that on September 28, 1877, at about 9:00 a.m., a person using the name of John Mitchell of Duke Street 'pledged' a petticoat and a tunic and was given 8 pence and a pawn ticket. Edward stated that he later gave these goods to the police when requested. Edward also couldn't remember nor identify the person in the transaction.

The jury found Roseannah guilty of theft by housebreaking.

My Opinion

As was the case with charges one and two, there doesn't appear to have been much of a defence, if any, offered on behalf of Roseannah. It might be that Roseannah was possibly in possession of articles that had been reported as stolen in the worst case but even with this, the witnesses were unable to positively identify the persons involved in the transactions that might have then linked back to Roseannah. There can be numerous reasons as to why Roseannah didn't complete all of the pawn transactions herself. As a 'hawker' I suspect she regularly bought, or otherwise received as barter, articles from a range of sources, both honourable and quite possibly dishonourable. Successful 'hawking' involved like most entrepreneurial activities, buying low and selling high. Roseannah again appears to have been an easy, expendable target for the charges chiefly on the fact that she daily was in the vicinity of where the theft occurred, the infamous being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Trial of Roseannah Mitchell (nee Dowds), Part 2

Roseannah Mitchell (nee Dowds) is my third great grandmother. She was also convicted of theft by housebreaking in 1877 in a Glasgow court and was sentenced to eight years in prison. I have obtained the court records, including the statements of the witnesses, for the trial. Without a doubt Roseannah and her husband, James Mitchell, appear to have lived a hard life, scratching out a living in a hard knock world.
The following is a summary of the evidence that was presented to the jury in 1877 on the first two charges.

First Charge

Anna Thomson or Cullen, wife of David Cullen, lived at Malvern Place, Comely Park, Glasgow. She testified that on August 24, 1877, sometime between 10:00 - 11:00 a.m., the following articles of clothing were stolen from her home: a cloth coat, cloth vest, cloth trousers belonging to her husband and a silk dress, jacket, and tunic belonging to Anna Cullen.

Anna stated that she left the house, a second floor flat, at 10:45 a.m., locked the door, and returned at 11:10 a.m. When she returned, Anna states she found the door to flat locked, just as she had left it, and nothing in the flat looked out of place. She didn't notice the missing articles until about 7:00 p.m. that evening when she was putting other items away in a clothes chest. Anna asked a neighbour to report the theft to the police. Anna later identified the missing articles at the police station. She also testified that she did not know Roseannah Mitchell (Dowds).

David Cullen, Anna's husband, corroborated his wife's story and stated that he had been in and out of the house for various periods of time throughout the day. He testified that he reported the theft to the police and did not know Roseannah Mitchell (Dowds).

John McCann was an assistant pawnbroker to Charles Shannon at 4 Saint Joseph's Place, Abercromby Street, Glasgow. John stated that during the afternoon of August 24, 1877, Margaret Prentice (nee Brown) 'pledged' a coat, vest and trousers for which she was given £1 and a pawn ticket. Margaret, according to John, used the name of Mary Stewart for the transaction. John positively identified Margaret Prentice (nee Brown) as the woman who pawned the clothing articles.

Second Charge

Margaret Smith (nee Shearer), was the wife of William Smith, a cotton-yarn dresser, and lived on Bernard Street, Bridgeton, Glasgow. She testified that between 1:00 and 2:00 p.m. on September 17, 1877, her house was entered by someone using a 'false' key. She further testified that two dresses, two jackets, two napkins, a beaded bertha and a child's blouse and dress were stolen from her house. Margaret stated that when she returned to her home at about 1:30 p.m. the door to her third floor apartment was still locked and nothing looked out of place. Later in the day, she found the drawer where the clothes were kept to be empty.

Margaret told a neighbour, Mrs. Cree, of the theft. Mrs. Cree in turn told Margaret that a woman had been in the building selling things door-to-door. Margaret reported the theft to the police and later identified the recovered beaded bertha and napkins at the police station.

Margaret's sister, Matilda McDonald (nee Shearer), testified that she went with her sister to the police station and helped identify the recovered items.

David Cree, Jr. lived next door to the Smiths at 159 Bernard Street in Glasgow. David stated that at about 1:00 p.m. Roseannah Mitchell (Dowds) came to his flat door, selling pinafores. According to David, Roseannah was carrying a canvass bag over her shoulder. He stated he was able to identify Roseannah based on a mark on her face. He also testified that he didn't know if Roseannah had gone to the door of the Smith flat and he did not hear the door to the Smith flat open after Roseannah had left his door. David further stated that his mother was in bed at the time this occurred so she had not seen the woman.

Betsy Dunn (nee McDougall), the wife of John Dunn, a boilermaker, lived in a flat directly below the Smith flat on Bernard Street in Glasgow. Betsy testified that at about 1:00 p.m. on Monday, September 17, 1877, she saw Roseannah going upstairs in the building. "I took a good look at her, knowing she was a stranger." Betsy stated that she didn't hear anything out of the ordinary after seeing Roseannah, including any doors opening, and she did not see Roseannah come downstairs and leave the building. However, Betsy did testify that 15 minutes after Roseannah went upstairs, Mrs. Smith told her that her house had been entered. She then told Mrs. Smith about the "stranger woman" who "was alone and carrying a bag over her arm. There was nothing in it."

My Opinion

The justice system, then and now, places the burden of responsibility on the prosecution to prove guilt 'beyond a reasonable doubt.' Roseannah was found guilty by the jury based on what I think was very flimsy, circumstantial, and at times contradictory evidence. Nothing placed Roseannah near the Cullen home on charge one nor ever in possession of the stolen articles. In fact, the evidence suggests that the stolen clothing articles were in the possession of Margaret Prentice, using the name of Mary Stewart when she pawned them. Margaret Prentice testified that not only did she not steal the clothing, the pawnbroker's assistant, John McCann, was mistaken when he identified her as the woman who 'pledged' the clothing articles in the pawn shop.

On charge two, there were two witnesses, David Cree and Betsy Dunn, who placed Roseannah in the building around the time that the theft of the Smith clothing occurred. Roseannah herself did not refute that she may have likely been there, explaining that as a 'hawker' she went from place to place all day long selling various articles to make a living. No one saw or heard anything that directly links Roseannah with the theft of the clothing.

I'm certain that without the benefit of forensic evidence, prosecuting cases may have come down to credibility in 'he said - she said' scenarios in the era of these charges being heard by the court. It doesn't appear however that any substantial defence was put forward for Roseannah that would have pointed out the conflicting timeline offered by Betsy Dunn who stated that Roseannah went upstairs in the building at 1:00 p.m. and that at 1:15 p.m., Mrs. Smith told her about the theft from her flat even though Mrs. Smith's evidence was that she had not returned home until 1:30 p.m. and didn't notice the missing articles until later in the day. Betsy Dunn also stated that the bag she saw Roseannah carrying had nothing in it although no one seems to have asked her how she knew it to be empty.

If there is doubt, the accused is to be acquitted but Roseannah was somehow found guilty. I can't help but feeling that the proceedings were based on 'marching the guilty party in.' It seems Roseannah didn't stand a chance of finding justice and being acquitted - but then I'm a proud great-great-great grandson.

Friday, August 12, 2011

The Trial of Roseannah Mitchell (nee Dowds), Part 1

Court records can provide a bounty of genealogical information, especially if one of your ancestors has a central role in the records. I have been fortunate enough to find such records at the National Archives of Scotland concerning my third great grandmother, Roseannah Mitchell (nee Dowds). Roseannah was born around 1835 in County Derry, Ireland and married James Mitchell on September 4, 1855.

The trial of Roseann (or Roseanna or sometimes Roseannah) Mitchell (nee Dowds), was held in Glasgow in December 1877. Roseannah had been held in custody prior to the trial on eleven counts of "Theft by Housebreaking." The Crown Attorney, William Watson, proceeded by way of indictment on the eleven counts, alleged to have occurred between August 24th, 1877 and November 15th, 1877. For the purposes of the trial, 34 witnesses were called and numerous alleged stolen goods, all of which were clothing items, were presented as evidence.

Roseannah consistently maintained and professed her innocence, including in two sworn statements, which form part of the 100 plus pages of the court file that I have received.

The list of witnesses was as follows (as it appears in the records):

1. Walter Cook Spens, Esquire, advocate, sheriff-substitute of Lanarkshire.
2. James Neil Hart, writer in Glasgow.
3. George Brander, now or lately clerk in the sheriff-clerk's office, Glasgow.
4. John Lindsay, now or lately clerk in the sheriff-clerk's office, Glasgow.
5. John Campbell, now or lately sheriff-officer's assistant, County Buildings, Glasgow.
6. Henry Banner Hill, now or lately sheriff-officer's assistant, County Buildings, Glasgow.
7. Anna Thomson or Cullen, wife of, and now or lately residing with, David Cullen, joiner, in or near Malvern Place, Comely Park Street, Glasgow.
8. David Cullen before designed.
9. John McCann, pawnbroker's assistant, now or lately residing in or near Abercromby Street, Glasgow.
10. Margaret Shearer or Smith, wife of, and now or lately residing with, William Smith, cotton-yarn dresser, in or near Bernard Street, Bridgeton, Glasgow.
11. Matilda Shearer or McDonald, wife of, and now or lately residing with, John McDonald, shoemaker, in or near Bernard Street, Bridgeton, Glasgow.
12. David Cree, junior, son of, and now or lately residing with, David Cree, engineer, in or near Bernard Street aforesaid.
13. Betsy McDougall or Dunn, wife of, and now or lately residing with, John Dunn, boilermaker, in or near Bernard Street aforesaid.
14. Barbara Smith, mill-worker, now or lately residing in or near Naburn Street, Hutchesontown, Glasgow.
15. Elizabeth Smith or Gray, wife of, and now or lately residing with, William Gray, powerloom-tenter, in or near Naburn Street aforesaid.
16. Mary Duncan or Jack, pawnbroker, now or lately residing in or near Duke Street, Glasgow.
17. Patrick Blession, now or lately residing in or near Meuse Lane, Duke Street, Glasgow.
18. Michael McElaney, pawnbroker's assistant, now or lately residing in or near Stirling Road, Glasgow.
19. Robert Smith, son of, and now or lately residing with, Thomas Smith, shoemaker, in or near Havannah Street, Glasgow.
20. Edward McKay, pawnbroker's assistant, now or lately residing in or near George Street, Glasgow.
21. Mary Ann Malley, shopwoman, now or lately residing in or near Victoria Street, Govan, near Glasgow.
22. Bridget Welsh or Malley, wife of, and now or lately residing with, Patrick Malley, in or near Victoria Street, Govan aforesaid.
23. Patrick Malley before designed.
24. Annie Hanlon or Breirton, wife of, and now or lately residing with, Charles Breirton, engineer, in or near Drygate Street, Glasgow.
25. Mary Hanlon, daughter of, and now or lately residing with, Patrick Hanlon, fruit and vegetable merchant, in or near North Albion Street, Glasgow.
26. Ann Brannan or Hanlon, wife of, and now or lately residing with Patrick Hanlon before designed.
27. William Booth, now or lately criminal officer in the Eastern District of the Glasgow Police.
28. Agnes Grant, now or lately female searcher in the Eastern District Police Office, Glasgow.
29. John Anderson, now or lately criminal officer in the Govan Burgh Police.
30. Margaret Brown or Prentice, widow, now or lately residing in or near Meuse Lane, Duke Street, Glasgow.
31. Donald Stewart, now or lately sheriff officer at the County Buildings, Glasgow.
32. Bernard McLaughlin, now or lately sheriff office at the County Buildings, Glasgow.
33. Archibald McKenzie, now or lately constable in the Partick Burgh Police force.
34. Dugald MacPherson, now or lately sheriff officer and bar officer at the County Buildings, Glasgow.

The items of evidence, seventeen items in all, the alleged stolen goods, ranged from napkins, to petticoats, to dresses, coats and trousers. Finally, the Crown Attorney entered into evidence Roseannah's prior convictions for theft, dated April 8, 1871, August 26, 1873, May 28, 1875, and January 7, 1876.