Thursday, February 24, 2011

Seeing Helen Shand

For Canadian researchers, there is a great Canadian website called Our Roots that describes itself as "a library, archive, museum and school all in one." On the site you can "check the collection to find Canadian local histories in French and English." Our Roots is "a national network of libraries, universities, colleges, archives, historical associations, businesses and individuals [that] have generously donated time and copyright permission to have their materials digitized" lead by the Universities of Calgary and Laval. The site operates a bit like the Internet Archive site, allowing users to search its digital book collection through a series of search boxes.

I used the site often and as Ellen's family has far deeper Canadian roots than my own, I have usually had success in finding important documentation about the Wagner and Breithaupt families in particular. My family's Canadian experience is 20th century, dating back to 1907 when Helen Gammie (nee Shand), my great-great grandmother immigrated from Scotland to the prairies of Saskatchewan in order to homestead. My searches of Our Roots for information or references to my ancestors that might be contained in a local history have been fruitless. Until now!

I recently tried one more time, this time using the term/surname "Gammie" to search the text of the full Our Roots collection. There were some 'hits' that the database provided me although I had very low expectations that I would find anything of any use until I stumbled on to a local commemorative history written by a committee to celebrate Ponteix, Saskatchewan. I recognized the town name as one that my ancestors had a connection to. There, on page 831 of Ponteix Yesterday and Today: Ponteix and District Volume 2, was a photograph of Helen (Shand) Gammie (below) as well as her husband Andrew Gammie, their son Peter and his wife Elva.

Helen Gammie (nee Shand) (1864 - 1951)

Andrew Gammie (1861 - 1926)

The book claims the photos were taken when Andrew and Helen were 19 years of age. I frankly doubt this to be accurate as it seems more likely to me based on the formal clothing they are wearing that the photos were taken around the time of their marriage in 1890 when Andrew was 29 years old and Helen was 25 years of age. The ages of 29 and 25 also seem to more accurately reflect the maturity of the subjects in the photos.

Helen gave birth to my great grandfather, Alexander Shand Hadden in 1883, shortly before her 19th birthday. Alexander's father was John Hadden, himself only 17 years old at the time of his son's birth. Helen and John did not marry but Andrew Gammie appears to have helped Helen take care of Alexander, listing Alexander as his step-son in the 1891 Scottish Census.

What a treasure it is to finally see my great-great grandmother - after more than 30 years of searching for her!


  1. Ian :
    I visited Peter & Elva in the 1970's Peter was quite deaf at that time. I couldn't spend much time with him but did go over to the community hall and met Elva, who was playing bingo I think. It seems to me that when my parents came to Canada in 1964 we met the whole family. Particular Ella Harddement who my father had been corresponding with over a number of years. Sorry I dn't seem to have too much information however if you have any questions I would be glad to consult with Anne who is a grand daughter of Andrew and Lottie GAMMIE.
    Stewart GAMMIE, Langley B.C.

  2. Thanks for the information, Stewart. I'm afraid I have lost your email address in a computer upgrade made last year. Can you send me your email address at Thanks, Ian