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!