Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Further Evidence for a Family Heirloom

Way, way back in January 2011, I wrote about a family heirloom, specifically a cane or walking stick (pictured below) that my wife was told belonged to one of her ancestors. She hoped that I might be able to identify who that ancestor was.

A year ago, I wrote about using the inscription on the cane to identify the original owner. The task was made somewhat easy as the inscription was "J.J.H." plus the year "1876." My wife had only one ancestor with those initials who was alive in 1876, John (Johann) Jacob Hailer, her third great grandfather. There are no family stories known to us about the reason behind the cane so we don't know if it was a birthday gift or perhaps a Christmas present, or even if Jacob, as he was known, needed the cane to support himself when walking.

Of course, having only one ancestor, or family member for that matter with the correct initials and alive in the year inscribed does not provide conclusive evidence that John Jacob Hailer was the owner, just that he was the likely owner.

Recently, while researching another ancestor in the Wagner family, I returned to the scanned copies that I made of original documents and photographs on file at the University of Waterloo, part of the Wagner-Hailer fonds. This collection of documents was donated to the university by my wife's uncle Gordon Wagner following the 'completion' of his family history research in the 1970s and 1980s.

While visiting the university, I had scanned almost all of the documents including several nineteenth century diaries. There are as a result hundreds of images from that visit and I admit that I have not yet 'processed' all of them. When looking to see if I happened to have a specific document related to another ancestor, I went through these images one by one, stopping when a photo of great-great-great Grandfather Hailer appeared. Obviously I had not looked carefully at the photo previously (I have a few different photos of Mr. Hailer) so I had noticed an important detail. There he was in the photo holding the very cane that I had identified as likely being his.

John Jacob Hailer died in 1882 so the time frame for the photo below (cropped from the original on file to emphasize the cane in his hand) is between 1876 and 1882. While it's nice to have been right, finding the more compelling evidence is better!


  1. What a rush that must have been to confirm! Thanks for sharing this story. I've been enjoying your blog since I stumbled across it while researching some of my Canadian heritage.

    I hope to have similar success with a few of my own family heirlooms... there's still a lot of work to be done! :)

  2. Thanks for the great comment and I'm certainly glad you are enjoying the blog, Yvette! Finding the confirming photograph was certainly a 'rush' that I enjoyed sharing with my wife who was absolutely floored to see her great great great grandfather holding the cane we have in the house.

  3. Here is link to his family of Waterloo Region Generations.