Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Facebook Genealogy

I can now admit to being an early 'adopter' of the use of Facebook, now one of the most popular social media tools in use. For a long time I felt like I was the oldest person on the planet to have a Facebook account. It was almost embarrassing when I told family, friends, and colleagues of my Facebook use. My reason for using Facebook was simple - it helped me keep an 'eye' on and stay connected to my children who were living in different locations, busy studying or starting out with efforts to establish their toehold in life.

Well, times have changed. Oh, I still stay connected to my kids in addition to many family members have been added to the mix. The biggest change however is that I use Facebook to help me stay current in the genealogy world! It is not the only tool I use for this purpose but it is one of the most frequently used in my genealogy 'toolbox.'

Much of my experience in genealogy is based on connecting. I do the research, well, because I love it. I'm intrigued with the information I find about my ancestors, the good and the not so good. They are all part of the fabric that makes me, me. But I connect with family members who share an interest in the discoveries of our mutual ancestor's lives. I connect with member of the genealogy community with whom I can share success-based techniques and tips, winning resources and tools, as well as useful information sources. This is where Facebook comes in for me.

Facebook, perhaps like all social media, allows me to "harness the wisdom of the crowd." I don't remember who said that or where I read it but it sums up nicely a chief benefit of what I call 'Facebook Genealogy.' If I have a genealogy problem that I am finding difficult to solve, one question thrown out to my Facebook genealogy friends and help arrives like the cavalry charging over the hill in an old western movie.

As important as the comfort of knowing that help is available might be, equally important to me and I hope to others is the ability to see and read those things that are of interest to my many genealogy friends. Seeing what professional or notable genealogist friends are learning from offers me an inherent mentorship of sorts in that I am being provided with a map to further genealogy learning opportunities I might not (maybe I should say probably wouldn't) have found on my own. I find out about upcoming events, who is attending, the topics being covered along with the different means with which I might be able to participate, even from a distance.

Internet World Stats published statistics to the end of March 2011 showing that there are now more than 664 million Facebook users worldwide, meaning almost 10% of the world's population are on Facebook. In North America, 50% of the population uses Facebook. In Canada, the percentage of the population using Facebook is 54.7% compared to 49.5% in the U.S.A. so there is still some room to grow.

Technology is moving us closer together rather than moving us further apart and while I can't predict the next iteration of social media, it is clear to me that it will likely entail a technology that further enhances our "need for social interaction and collaboration" (T. MacEntee, N.Y. Times).

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Frederick Henry Nusbickel

Frederick (or Fred as he was known) Henry Nusbickel is my wife Ellen's second cousin, twice removed. Fred was the grandson of Elizabeth (Wagner) Nusbickel, a sister of Ellen's second great grandfather, Jacob Wagner.

Fred was born in 1881 in Lyons, Wayne County, New York, the first son to Frederick Nusbickel and Anna Maria Kletzing. In 1905, Fred married Maisa Parker and the two subsequently left New York state and moved to California where Fred took up citrus farming. The 1910 US Federal Census shows Fred as being a 'nurseryman' of citrus trees in Glendora, California, which suggests he was an employee, but it appears that by the time of the 1920 US Federal Census, Fred had acquired his own lands and was listed as a Fruit Grower of Citrus Groves in San Dimas, California.

In a February 1945 letter to his sister, Tusanelda (Nusbickel) Simpson, Fred recounted a time when Ellen's great grandfather, Rev. Louis Henry Wagner, came to California for a visit: "I remember that when Maisa and I were living in Glendora, he [Cousin Henry as they called him] came to see us for about three days. He was attending a minister's conference in Los Angeles. I remember that on a Sunday morning after breakfast, I asked him if he wanted to go to church or to the beach. He asked what we would do if he were not there. I told him we would go to the beach. He said that he would like very much to see the Pacific Ocean again. So we all went to the beach. He rolled up his trousers and in his bare feet ran up and down the sands and gathered shells. As he was over sixty at the time, it did not occur to me that he would want to go in swimming. After Maisa and I had our swim, we were dressed and lying on the sand. He came up and asked if I cared if he used my suit to go in. I told him that I was much embarrassed that I had not brought another suit for him but that it had not occurred to me that he would want to go in. So he put on that wet suit and acted like a kid in the water. In fact, I had to insist that he come out, as I was afraid that he would get too chilled after a rather long time. We enjoyed his stay very much."

Following my last post that introduced the Nusbickel family name and my wife's connection to it, friend and terrific genealogy blogger "Apple" provided a comment with a referral to the 'Old Fulton New York Post Cards' site. The Fulton history site offers access to more than 15 million old New York historical newspaper pages and what a treasure of information these old newspapers have been for my Nusbickel family research. For example, the Lyons Republican and Clyde Times newspaper, in the April 5, 1951 edition, published the following obituary for Fred:


Frederick H. Nusbickel of San Dimas, Calif., died suddenly of a heart attack, March 31, according to word received Sunday in Lyons.

Mr. Nusbickel was born in Lyons, the son of the late Frederick Nusbickel, prominent merchant of Lyons, and Mrs. Nusbickel. He was graduated in 1899 from the Lyons Union School, valedictorian of his class, and from Syracuse University in 1903, where he was a member of Delta Upsilon fraternity.

In 1905, Mr. Nusbickel began a career in California, pioneering in the perfection of pedigreed citrus stock, and developing from virgin soil his extensive citrus groves in Los Angeles and Ventura counties.

Mr. Nusbickel's first wife, the former Maisa Parker, died in 1922, and in 1926 he married Marjorie MacPherson Herlighy, who survives.

Also surviving are two sons, Frederick of California. David of Winter Park, Fla.; a step-son, John Herlighy, of California: four grandchildren; a brother, Thomas Raymond Nusbickel, of Glendora, Calif.; two sisters, Mrs. O. E. Van Slyke of South Pasadena, Mrs. R. S. Simpson of Lyons, and six nieces and nephews."

Although a newspaper account may considered as a secondary source of information, this obituary helps confirm information that I already had obtained and helps provide good clues as to where I need to look further for some primary information sources such as Maisa's death in1922 and Fred's second marriage. If you have ancestors who lived in New York State, particularly the Fulton, Wayne, and Erie County areas, these newspapers will be of great value to you.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Unique American History Connections in Family

There are possibly not many Canadians who can boast the unique connections that my wife Ellen can claim with her ancestor's connections to significant events in American history.

One of Ellen's fourth great grandfathers is Andrew Kimmerly, a United Empire Loyalist, essentially someone who remained loyal to the British crown through the American Revolution and was subsequently granted lands in the area of present day Belleville, Ontario in recognition of his loyalty.

Another of Ellen's ancestors from that era is Francis Faulkner, her second cousin six times removed, who fought against the British during the Revolutionary War. Francis' home in Acton, Massachusetts was, in fact, the destination of Dr. Samuel Prescott who travelled there after escaping from the British who had held him and Paul Revere, carrying the warning of the British troops being on the move. Francis, upon receiving the warning from Prescott is reported to have fired three warning shots into the air signalling the other town folks on April 19, 1775.

Now joining the group of ancestors is Philip H. Wagner, Ellen's second great granduncle and a Captain in the 65th Regiment of the New York State National Guard and later the 187th Regiment of New York Volunteers during the American Civil War. Philip was born in Wayne County, New York State, probably just after his parents and older siblings including brother Jacob (Ellen's second great grandfather) had immigrated from their homeland of Germany. It appears that Philip enlisted in the 65th Regiment, likely at Elmira, New York and while it also appears that he saw some action involving Rebel forces, his regiment under the command of Colonel William Berens was sent in July 1863 to New York City to assist in quelling the Draft Riots.

Philip led a company of troops and was assigned to protecting the treasury buildings on Wall Street. Colonel Berens in his report on the regiment's actions mentioned Philip and his role in New York, "At 11 p.m. orders came from General Couch to report with my command at Bridgeport, to General Hall, commanding at Fort Washington. At 7 a.m. next morning took the cars, arriving at Bridgeport at 5 p.m., and reported. I remained with my command at Bridgeport, doing guard duty, till the 14th, at 7 p.m., when I was ordered by General Hall to proceed to the city of New York. By great activity and exertion, a train of cars was gotten together and provided for the next morning. At 4 a.m. July 15, I put my men on board the cars, leaving our camp and garrison equipage at Fort Washington, and arrived at the city of New York at about 5 p.m. Before leaving Fort Washington, a battery of four howitzers, belonging to the Eighth New York National Guard, was attached to my command. On arriving in New York, I immediately marched my command to headquarters, reporting in person to General Wool. On the way from the dock, a large mob gathered about, and attempted to get possession of two negroes who were serving as cooks with the artillery company of the Eighth New York National Guard. I protected them from harm by placing them amidst the battery, and protecting the same by a company thrown on either flank.

Upon reporting to General Wool, I was ordered to take quarters at Centre Market, and to report to General Harvey Brown, which I did. Pursuant to orders from General Brown, the same evening I sent two companies to guard the treasury buildings, on Wall street, viz, Company E, Captain [Philip H.] Wagner, and Company H, Captain [Christian] Schaeffer, and two other companies, along with some United States troops, to restore order in the vicinity of Union Square, viz, Company A, Captain Seeber, and Company D, Captain [Charles] Geyer."

Philip was mustered out of military service on July 1, 1865 and returned to his wife and family in Buffalo, New York where he made his living over the next years in the quieter life as a carpenter before passing away in an 1889 drowning accident.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Wagner Family Immigration Experience

The following is an excerpt from materials compiled by Gordon Gilbert Wagner, my wife Ellen's uncle, while he was researching the Wagner family history. Gordon's genealogy research was conducted the 1970's and early part of the 1980's when records were collected using 'snail' mail or by travelling to various repositories to search, find, and photocopy.

One of the documents that Gordon acquired was a memoir of sorts written by Anna May Tusonelda Simpson (nee Nusbickel), one of his second cousins once removed. In the document, Tusonelda (as she preferred to be known) retells the story told to her by her paternal grandmother Elizabeth Nusbickel (nee Wagner) about the Wagner immigration to the United States.

"In 1836 (date fixed by my remembrance of Grandmother Nusbickel telling me that she was 14 years old the year they came) a group of families from Siefereheim and neighboring Wollstein - three miles away, and the town from which my Grandfather Nusbickel came in 1839, although my grandparents never met until they lived in Wayne County, decided to emigrate to America. After landing in New York, they came up the Hudson, and took a packet boat on the Erie Canal. Whether Lyons was their ultimate destination or whether they were influenced to disembark by one, Philip Dorscheimer I do not know. I think the latter theory may be the correct one.

This man Dorscheimer was quite a character - he was a native of Wollstein, had been a miller in Lyons and later an innkeeper, and met the packet boats as they arrived. He influenced many to settle in Wayne County. This group included the Conrad Youngs, the Klippels, the Rodenbachs and the Wagners.

They were attracted to the rolling hills of Wayne County, not unlike the country they had just left in Rhinehessen. So they bought land and settled - many of them on adjoining farms or near by, all near the small settlement of Wayne Center. They were all members of the Evangelical Church, and continued their allegiance to the Evangelical Church in this country. They never were members of the Lutheran Church, established after Luther's death, but to the Church he founded, the Evangelical Church. Wayne Center is about eight miles from Lyons, and they drove this distance each Sunday for church services.

Ferguson's Corners is a hamlet east and south of Wayne Center - about three miles from Lyons. There is a school-house there, no longer in use. Behind it is quite a large cemetery, where many of the surrounding area had lots. The Wagners [referring to Heinrich and Anna Maria Wagner (nee Eckhard)] had a lot there. Quite a number of years ago, when my brother, Fred, from California was in the east on a visit, he and I went out there to see our ancestor's graves. We found the stone tilted, the markers not in good condition. So we had them repaired at our own expense - the least we could do in their memory. I went out later, and found the work had been well done. The cemetery, however is in a deplorable condition."

"Cousin Henry [referring to Rev. Louis Henry Wagner, Ellen's great grandfather] on his European tour with his Aunt visited Siefersheim but found no living relatives. He did visit cemeteries.

I remember that he came to Lyons after that trip and he brought my Father a cane from Ireland. It was of peat wood - black, with carvings of the snakes of Ireland, etc. up and down its length. A very handsome present. Other visits I remember was when he came with his second wife [Sarah Moyer], and Louis [referring to Louis Jacob Gordon Wagner, Ellen's grandfather] accompanied them. Louis must have been about five or six. My brother Fred and I were very fond of this little cousin, a year or two younger than we were. But we felt very sorry for him because he had a 'stepmother' - something very strange to our young minds, which made us feel very close to him."

Tusonelda was born in 1882 in Lyons, Wayne County, New York and lived her whole life there. She married Dr. Reuben Spencer Simpson around 1913 and passed away in 1971.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

'Unusual' Names Help

One of the lessons I have learned over the years to get through 'brickwalls' in my research is to look to 'unusual' names for an answer. 'Unusual' or unique names will typically narrow the search through databases to records that aid in going around those 'brickwalls' when going through them isn't working. Using this technique in addition to researching 'laterally' in a family through a sibling, have been research lifesavers for me.

Such is the case in researching my wife Ellen's ancestors prior to their time in Canada. Ellen's second great grandfather, Rev. Jacob Wagner, immigrated to the United States with his parents Heinrich and Anna Maria Wagner (nee Eckhard), along with his older sister Elizabeth, in 1832. The family settled in Lyons, Wayne County, New York State. Although I know much of Jacob's life as a 'preacher' in the Evangelical Association, little was known about the remainder of his family's life in Lyons. Until I noticed that his sister, Elizabeth,
about whom little was known (pictured above right), had married Frederick (Friedrich) Nusbickel in 1843.

Frederick, as further research indicated, also had immigrated from Germany and had arrived in the United States in 1839. The family story has it that Frederick found employment on a farm and saved his full wages, living off the means provided to him in an 'immigrants trunk' his father had given to him. Eventually, his saved wages allowed Frederick to purchase land in Rose, New York for he and his wife Elizabeth to settle and raise a family on.

Finding Nusbickel records is much easier than finding Wagner records. In U. S. Federal Census records, Frederick can be seen making his living farming in Rose, New York but by 1880, he and his son, Frederick (Jr.) had opened a hardware business in Lyons.

Frederick and Elizabeth had four children that I know of: Mary b. 1847; Frederick b. 1849; Elizabeth b. 1851; and, Catherine b. 1855. The senior Elizabeth Nusbickel passed away in 1896 and Frederick (Sr.) died a year later, in 1897. Little would have possibly been known about Ellen's second great grandaunt had she married someone named Smith or Jones.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Tracking O'Neills

My mother was an O'Neill and she had two brothers, still both living, who are O'Neills. My mother's father, my grandfather, was John Graham O'Neill (although throughout his adult life he preferred to be called Graham and signed his name J. Graham O'Neill). That is the easy part, the part that I know from personal experience.

Getting beyond my grandfather to my O'Neill great grandparents was not too much of a challenge thanks initially to the O'Neill family cemetery plot in Mount Hope Cemetery in Toronto, Ontario. The photo below shows the headstone from the O'Neill family plot. Clearly marked on the stone are the names of the four adults and one infant buried in the plot. Missing from the headstone is my grandfather's name who is also buried in the plot.

William Emmett O'Neill was the first to be buried in the family grave when he died in 1924. He was joined in the grave in 1927 when his grandson, John William O'Neill, the infant son of John Graham O'Neill and Gertrude O'Neill (nee Foley), died. William's wife Margaret O'Neill (nee Graham) died at 189 Pickering Street
in 1937 (creepily in the very bedroom in which I was conceived according to what my mother told me) and was interred with her husband and grandson.

When William Emmett O'Neill and Margaret Graham married on June 4, 1894 at St. Mary's Church in Toronto, Ontario, they would not have been considered to be young people. William was listed as being 42 years old and Margaret was 39 years of age. Their marriage registration indicates that both were Roman Catholic and that they were both born in Canada. Unfortunately, this means that they were born prior to the commencement of civil registration in 1869. Remarkably, despite their ages, William and Margaret had three children - a boy (my grandfather) and two girls, Kathleen who would enter the convent and become Sister St. Edwin, and Avila who never married.

The records about this family, though at times difficult to find, paint a picture of a middle class family that seemed to maintain a comfortable but not luxurious lifestyle. In 1911 for example, the census shows the family living at 400 Margueretta Street in Toronto's west end. In that census, respondents were asked to report on their annual earnings in 1910. William reported that he had earnings of $500 from his work as an insurance agent. To gauge the current equivalent value of $500 in 1910 today, I used a number of online calculators. The buying power of $500 in 1910 is about $11,500 today, hardly a wealthy annual salary. The better comparison however was able to be drawn from a Statistics Canada report that shows the average salaries or earnings for production workers and supervisory and office workers. William's earnings in 1910 were slightly above the average for production workers but was about half the annual average earnings for supervisory and office workers.

William listed his parents as being John O'Neill and Mary Murphy on his marriage registration. Just as the headstone indicates at his grave, William also consistently listed his birth date as February 26, 1849 in census records. For his marriage registration however, when he indicated his age to be 42, the math would suggest a year of birth as 1852. I did find John and Mary O'Neill, my second great grandparents in the 1851 Census of Canada West (as the current Province of Ontario was then called).

William was listed in that 1851 census as a one year old living with his parents John and Mary, along with an older sister, Hanora, aged 4, and John's mother and my third great grandmother, Hanora O'Neill (no maiden name known). John and his mother were listed as both being born in Ireland but Mary was listed as being born in Canada around 1828. It appears that Mary was about 18 or 19 years old when she married John who would have been probably about 33 or 34 years old.

Unfortunately, no additional information about the O'Neills can be found and the usual databases sources used don't seem to be able to help despite using various surnames variations and data 'mining tricks.'

Sunday, May 15, 2011

William’s Abandonment Issues

Put me on the list of those who wish their ancestors had shot some video of important moments in my family’s history and uploaded it to YouTube. Aside from actually being there, at least the videos might help fill the gaps and answer the questions that the documents about my ancestors and their troubled times leave void.

I have recently been spending time pursuing my paternal grandmother’s family and while I had initially believed that her family branches looked fairly stable, I have found them bending and shaking through many storms. My paternal grandmother is Agnes Little, a four foot, ten inch ball of fire born in Greenock, Refrewshire, Scotland, who was the daughter of James Little and Margaret ‘Maggie’ Mitchell.

Margaret Mitchell was the second child born to William Mitchell and Agnes Sweeney, my grandmother’s grandparents and my great-great grandparents. William was born around 1868 and Agnes was born in 1870, both in Scotland. They married, as teenagers, on September 28, 1886 in Greenock. On the marriage registration William listed his parents as James Mitchell and Rose Ann Dowds. Agnes’ parents were listed as Edward Sweeney and Ellen Dickson.

All seemed good and stable. William worked at the local Greenock shipyards as a Labourer and the year after they married, William and Agnes welcomed their first child, a daughter they named Ellen into their new family. In 1889, Margaret was born followed by Edward in 1891, William in 1892, and James in 1895. It was at this point that things started to take unexpected twists and turns.

In 1897, another daughter, Matilda was born. Her birth registration clearly states that William was her father and Agnes was her mother. While she like her other siblings, was born in Greenock, the specific location of her birth is not a street address or a hospital but rather “H M Prison” or Her Majesty’s Prison in Greenock! The National Archives of Scotland file catalogue does not list any court records regarding Agnes so I’m uncertain as to why she would have been in prison at the time she gave birth to Matilda.

I usually welcome the finding of a family record on which the registrar or other official has included additional information but the birth registration of Agnes’ next child, a daughter named Agnes born in 1899, included a notation unlike any I had previously seen. In the section of the registration that names the parents, no father is listed. Rather the following is the full text of the parent’s name section: “Agnes Sweeney wife of William Mitchell, shipyard labourer, who she declares, is not the father of the child, and that she has had no personal communication with him for close on 4 years."

So Agnes has clearly declared that her husband William left her around 1895 and that he was not the baby’s father. No clues were provided in the document as to who the father might be.

In 1901, Agnes was living at 40 Dalrymple Street, a multi-family building, in Greenock West. Living with her were her two youngest children, daughters Matilda and Agnes. Also living with her were two boarders – 18 year old Cecillia McCormick and 22 year old Joseph Branchfield. Agnes indicated that she made her living as a shopkeeper and no doubt the two boarders helped her ‘make ends meet.’ Agnes’ older children can be found living with Agnes’ mother elsewhere in Greenock.

Just more than two months after the 1901 census had been completed; Agnes gave birth to another daughter, Catherine. Catherine’s surname was listed as “Sweeney or Mitchell” and again the registrar made a note in the parent’s name section, "Agnes Sweeney who is married to William Mitchell, Shipyard Labourer, who, she declares, is not the father of the child, and, further, that she has had no personal communication with him for eight years."

In 1903, Agnes gave birth to a son named Joseph Branchfield but this time the father was listed as Agnes’ 1901 ‘boarder’, Joseph Branchfield. Yet another notation was made by the registrar naming Agnes Sweeney "married to William Mitchell, Labourer, who, she declares, is not the father of the child, and further, that she has had no personal communication with him since he left her 8 years ago."

The pattern and the big picture is clear. At some point in the mid-1890’s (even though all the math in Agnes’ declarations doesn’t quite add up), William Mitchell abandoned his family, perhaps as a result of whatever issue landed his wife, Agnes in prison. Subsequently, Agnes took in boarders at her Dalrymple Street ‘apartment’, one of whom was a younger man named Joseph Branchfield. Joseph and Agnes it seems shared more than just the apartment. Eventually, on September 12, 1905, Joseph and Agnes married. The marriage registration indicates that Agnes was a spinster, simply by legal definition an unmarried woman although no death registration can be found for husband William nor can a reference to divorce proceedings be located.

Margaret ‘Elizabeth’ Branchfield was born to Joseph and Agnes in 1907 and in 1911, the family, with the five youngest children, was together, living at 3 Harvie Lane in Greenock.

Agnes died September 2, 1928 of colon cancer and heart failure at the young age of 57, still married to Joseph. William, her first love, was, it appears, just a distant memory.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

My Ancestor Did What?

[NOTE: This post was originally published on Thursday, May 12, 2011. Unfortunately due to technical issues with the Blogger site, the post was lost so this is my attempted rewrite of the original.]

There are some occasions when I am amazed by the events that I uncover in my ancestors lives. The lives of James Mitchell and Rosannah (sometimes Rose Anne or Rosean) Dowds, my 3X great grandparents is just such a case.

I'm fortunate enough to know the names of all sixteen of my great great grandparents. I also know the names of all sixteen of my 3X great grandparents on my father's side of the family or my paternal line - but only six names of 3X great grandparents in my maternal line (so more work needed there with a heavy dose of Irish records education thrown in for good measure). While I have tended to concentrate on my Hadden ancestors (my father's paternal line), I have recently spent time researching my father's maternal family, the ancestors of my grandmother Agnes Little.

Agnes' great grandparents, and therefore my 3X great grandparents were James Mitchell and Rosannah Dowds. Both were born in Ireland, James in County Fermanagh and Rosannah in County Derry. James and Rosannah married in Glasgow, Scotland on 4 Septemeber 1855. It seems that neither was literate as they both signed the marriage registration with an "X."

In 1861, James and Rosannah can be found in the Scottish census records for that year living on the Glasgow Road in Old Monkland with their first child, a one year old daughter named Margaret. James was employed according to the record as a "Predsman in Pit." I have no idea as to what that job refers to and the job title is a best effort to decipher the poor penmanship of the census enumerator. Any assistance with identifying the nature and type of job that this refers to would be most welcome!

Although I would have thought it would have been easy to find the family in subsequent census reports like 1871 and 1881, that is not the case. Failing to find the family in those records, I turned to the Scottish National Archives that includes a searchable catalogue of their records holdings. To my astonishment, I found records relating to Rosannah and two criminal trials. According to these records Rosannah Dowds Mitchell was convicted in the High Court at Glasgow on December 28, 1877 of theft by housebreaking. For this crime, she was sentenced to eight years in prison. The record of this trial notes that this was not Rosannah's first offence!

I have contacted the Scottish National Archives and requested a fee estimate to receive a copy of the files and I will of course share the results of the process and the contents of the files if I am lucky enough to receive them. While it is possible that their was another Rosannah Dowds Mitchell living in the same vicinity as my ancestors, I suspect the Rosannah who is the subject of the court file is 'my' Rosannah as she appears in the 1881 Scottish Census as a "Prisoner" at the General Prison for Scotland in Perth, Perthshire, listed as "Rose Ann Dowds or Mitchell," a married 45 year-old 'hawker' who was born in Ireland. Similarly in the 1871 Scottish, Rosannah can be found as a 'criminal prisoner' in a Glasgow prison which may be related to the previous conviction noted at the 1877 trial.

I suspect that Rosannah's convictions may be related to stealing in order to provide basic sustenance for her children but this may only be my way of rationalizing my great-great-great grandmother's criminal ways! The photo above right from the Scotland National Galleries depicts a gloomy High Street in Glasgow, Scotland during the Mitchell family's time there. Only a review of the trial documents may enlighten me as to her true motives.

Sometime after Rosannah's release from prison, she and James moved their family to Greenock in Renfrewshire. They lived on Charles Street in Greenock when their son William married Agnes Sweeney in 1886 and they were in also living on Charles Street in Greenock when their daughter Helen married Dougald Carmichael in 1889.

Tragedy struck the family again however when on the morning of February 16, 1899 the body of James Mitchell was found drowned in Cowdenknowes Dam. A subsequent 'Record of Corrected Entry' was registered by the Procurator Fiscal, a Scottish public prosecutor who investigated all sudden and suspicious deaths similar to a coroner that we might be more familiar with. The Procurator Fiscal determined that James Mitchell drowned in the Dam sometime between 4:00 p.m. on February 15th and 10:00 a.m. on February 16th. The drowning was further determined to be accidental. Sadly, James was listed as having no fixed address but usually resided at the Smithston Poorhouse (also known as the Smithston Poorhouse and Asylum).

As for Rosannah, she died in December of 1905 at the age of 59 years, the victim of a stroke. A generation of hardship and tragedy in the family ended.

Census Day in Canada!

Today, May 10th, is Census Day in Canada! All Canadians are asked to complete a census form that asks for the basic census information we have typically found in past census records like name, gender, relationship to 'head' of the household, marital status, and language. Completing the census, which can be completed online or on paper, is voluntary.

Last year, in July, I wrote about the error in judgement being made by the federal government in a) making the census voluntary and, b) providing respondents with the option of not allowing their information to become public after the elapsed statutory period of 92 years.

According to most dictionaries a census is an enumeration of the population, in this case Canada's population, at a point in time. I not certain that if I voluntarily choose not to complete the census tomorrow, Canada's population is really enumerated. I'm certain that statisticians can use mathematical formulae that I may not fully understand to derive the country's population but I struggle with the concept that it equates to an enumeration.

As for the election that I can make to not let my information be made public in 92 years, to address any privacy issues and concerns that I may have, seriously? I have no real prospects of being alive to worry about the disclosure of the information the census asks of me. I don't know what would be so scandalous for the public to find out that I have an address, I'm married, and I speak English. I think all of my family, friends and co-workers already know that information and didn't need to wait 92 years to get it. I can even figure out this level of information for Stephen Harper, the Canadian Prime Minister who is married with two children, is employed (the result of the recent Canadian federal election), and lives at the Prime Minister's residence (24 Sussex Drive) in Ottawa, Ontario. I didn't need Wikipedia, which goes a step further and even provides his date of birth, to figure this out.

Statistics Canada, the arm of the federal government in Canada that is responsible for the census hopes to have one in three households complete a "long form" of the census that will ask for additional information. It has always been my view that all households should have received the long form and should be required to complete it.

I have completed my census return (I chose to complete it online), I elected to make the information I submitted publicly accessible in 92 years and I asked to receive a long form. If one of my descendants wants to further research their family history, and all the research I am currently doing is mysteriously lost, I ought to try to help where I can. All Canadians get the chance to do the same today!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

For Mom - Anne Margaret O'Neill

Anne Margaret O'Neill, 'Mom' to me, left us in January 1994, a victim of cancer. She left behind a husband, her children, and perhaps most important to her, her beloved grandchildren.

Anne (also known as 'Anna', 'Mom', and 'Granny') was born in Detroit, Michigan, USA. Her parents had moved to Detroit from their home in Toronto, Ontario because work was available for my grandfather - and finding work in the Depression era of the 1930's was important. My mother's older brother, Edwin ('Ed') had been born in Toronto a couple of yearas prior to the family move and a couple of years after my mother's birth, the family expanded again with the birth of William ('Bill') O'Neill.

Following the death of my mother's paternal grandmother in Toronto in 1937, the family moved back to the house my grandfather had inherited. The same house became my parent's home after they married in 1953 and was the house that I was raised in through my early childhood years.

My mother graduated from Notre Dame High School in 1948 and entered nursing school as it was referred to then at St. Michael's Hospital in downtown Toronto. She graduated as a Registered Nurse in 1952. My mother loved nursing but took a hiatus from her work from the mid-1950's through the early 1960's during which time she gave birth to five children in six years, only three of whom survived to adulthood. It wasn't until I became a parent that I could even fathom the anguish my parents must have experienced at the deaths of my brothers Brian (1956-1957) and Stephen (1957-1959).

My mother often displayed an off-beat, quirky sense of humour. While in high school, she and a friend would pass a local funeral parlour while walking home from school. They started making it a habit to stop in and visit the funeral parlour each day - just to see who was there! The anecdotes from her professional life working in a hospital ranged from technical medical procedures to the bizarre. Her favourite however was always 'The Chocolate Cake' story.

St. Michael's Hospital, or St. Mike's as it is locally known, operated in an older part of the city not known for glitz and glamour. As such my mother's patients were often those that suffered from alcohol and mental illnesses. My mother worked on "1D", a first floor unit that was close to the street and all that the rundown neighbourhood had to offer. She worked with a close-knit team of nurses and they used any occasion to brighten otherwise tough days.

One such occasion was the birthday of a colleague unit nurse. Mom's best fiend, Marie (known in our house as 'the tall blonde') baked the birthday cake and spread far more chocolate icing on it than was required. As Marie was carrying the cake into work for the birthay ccelebration, the cake fell out of it's box, landing on the florr of the hospital's lobby. My mother and Marie quickly assessed that with the excess icing, the cake could easily be salvaged by re-spreading the icing that remained.

A short time later as my mother was walking through the lobby, she encountered two nuns dressed in their full black habits (the hospital was run by the Sisters of St. Joseph religious order). The nuns, thinking that someone had defecated on the floor, called to my mother and pointed out the brown lump. Without missing a beat, my mother told the nuns not to worry and promptly put her finger into the 'lump' then put her her finger bearing the brown goo into her mouth, proclaiming"Ummmm, it's wonderful!" The shocked nuns hastily left to report that a nurse was having some kind of breakdown.

In her retirement years, my mother shopped, a lot. She explained to me that she was simply exercising her "God given right to spoil" her gandchildren.

Happy Mother's Day, Mom and to all mothers in heaven or still struggling here on Earth! You deserve a day to be recoginized for the nurturing care we have all benefited from.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Plus Side of On-Line Family Trees

The use of on-line family trees has certainly been a contentious issue for a long period of time. I have heard many people express the opinion that these on-line trees should be avoided completely as they are filled with erroneous information. Unfortunately that can often be true.

Too often, I have encountered well meaning individuals who proclaim a relationship to royalty or persons of historic significance because they found the information on the Internet, the inference being that if it's posted on the Internet is must be valid and correct. This is similar to the argument that an elder family member 'once upon a time' researched the family and told them they were related to royalty or persons of historic significance and therefore it is true.

From my experience, it is absolutely true that on-line family trees can be suspect and error filled. I have maintained a posted public family tree on the Ancestry site for several years. It is absolutely not perfect and sadly not everything in my posted tree is correct and not all facts have sources. Some would advise me that I should therefore not post the tree. I disagree.

My posted family tree is what I consider the other posted family trees to be - a work in progress. For instance, there was a time in my research life when I saw no need to cite my sources when, after all, I had downloaded and filed a digital image on my computer pertaining to a life event or fact in an ancestor's life. As my research continued and I found more and more ancestors and acquired more and more documentation, I discovered that I couldn't possibly remember which document verifying a fact was stored in which file nor could I keep track of matching the documentation to the ancestral life events. So, for some time I have been very busy 'backtracking' and recording source citations in my genealogy database. I know of many reputable genealogists who fall into this same category. I currently have just over 12,000 individuals in my database so there is a lot of work ahead for me to prune my tree and cite my sources.

This is where I see the benefit to me of on-line family trees. In a number of my family branches, I have been successful at finding other researchers that are researching common ancestors, some with whom I have made solid collaborative contacts. Their trees may also contain errors however they may greatly assist me by pointing to facts that I can research, verify, obtain and cite sources for. I'm experiencing a few direct benefits from these on-line family trees.

One, I am able to gather solid source evidence for the events in the lives of numerous ancestors; two, I am gaining exposure to and experience with the records of previously unfamiliar jurisdictions; three, my skills with properly citing sources has greatly improved; and four, my database has become richer and more meaningful as a family history. This has allowed me to periodically replace my on-line family tree with a version that will be more helpful to family members with whom I am collaborating as well as for family members with whom I make new connections.

My family tree has many branches and I owe a debt to those family members, however distant from me, who are pointing me in the right direction to do my own research on a branch where I can find records, verify facts and cite good sources. My advice - use the on-line family trees that you find but also use common sense and be slow to accept what you find as true until you have the facts verified and sourced.