Thursday, March 28, 2013

My Favourite Female Ancestor

March has been designated as Women's History Month and I don't want to let the month pass without highlighting my favourite female ancestor - Roseannah (sometimes Roseanna or Rose Ann) (nee Dowds) Mitchell, a paternal third great grandmother of mine.

Why is Roseannah my favourite? Well, it isn't because she achieved something of great benefit to all of mankind. No, she's my favourite because she provides colour to my ancestry. I'm not speaking of skin tone or pigmentation but rather Roseannah spent several years in prison as a convicted thief.

While some might consider Roseannah's criminal and prison records as scandalous and embarrassing  I am proud of Roseannah and proud that I am her great-great-great grandson.

I admit that I was startled to learn through a search of the 1881 Scottish Census records that Roseannah was in that year a 'guest' of her Majesty's hospitality in the General Prison for Scotland. Roseannah, or Rose Ann as she is named, is listed on line 16 from the 1881 Scottish census record page seen below. What could she have possibly done to warrant such a circumstance?

Following up, I was able to locate her court files in the National Archives of Scotland and obtain of copy of all the documents describing the evidence used in the case that resulted in Roseannah's conviction to the eleven charges of theft and the resultant eight year sentence of imprisonment. I summarized the trial and evidence in a series of blog posts (from August 2011). The posts can be found at: The Trial of Roseannah Mitchell (nee Dowds), Part 1; Part 2; Part 3; Part 4; and, The Trial of Roseannah Mitchell (nee Dowds): Her Words and Summary.

My pride in Roseannah is based on my sense that she did what she had to do to sustain her family. I can't avoid the image that she lived in a Dickens novel, an unrefined Eliza Doolittle working as a 'hawker,' buying and selling odds and ends, often articles of clothing, always trying to make a few cents in order to feed her children. I'm proud to have an ancestor who demonstrated that level of devotion to family. That Roseannah was convicted of several crimes based on evidence that would not, in my opinion, stand any legal test or challenge in a modern 21st century courtroom, is irrelevant, not embarrassing.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Minnie Has Been Identified!

Back in November (2012) I posted a photograph that had been sent to my paternal grandmother, Agnes Hadden (nee Little). The photograph of a young woman included an inscription on the back "To Agnes from Minnie with Love." I had no idea as to who Minnie might be and what connection she had with my grandmother.

Minnie (seen above in the photo sent to my grandmother) turns out to be Wiliamina 'Minnie' Gammie. Minnie was identified by my cousin David Hadden of Florida.

Here's what I know of Minnie: she was born Williamina Alexander in 1904 in Aberdeen, Scotland. In 1905, she was adopted by Andrew and Helen Gammie (Helen Gammie was Helen Shand when she gave birth to my great grandfather Alexander Shand Hadden in 1883). 

There were four Williamina Alexanders born in 1904 - 1905 in Aberdeenshire and as I don't know the names of either of her birth parents, I can't pinpoint nor document her exact date of birth. In April of 1907, Minnie, as she was referred to, boarded the ship 'Lake Erie' and immigrated to Canada with her Gammie family consisting of parents Andrew and Helen, brothers Andrew, Peter and James, and sister Helen Ruby 'Ella.' The ship's passenger list that documents the journey records that the family arrived in Saint John, New Brunswick and was bound for Saskatchewan.

Minnie married George Loken in 1927 and passed away in Swift Current, Saskatchewan in 1986.

I am unsure as to the connection with my grandmother but can theorize that Minnie may have met my grandmother while visiting the family when travelling through Toronto and they struck up a friendship.

Many thanks to my cousin David and for those of you who offered great suggestions on how I might try to identify Minnie.

Friday, March 1, 2013

A Wagner Family Artifact Comes Home to the Family

You never know what contacts you might make as a result of an online family history blog. Sure, I've had the great pleasure of being contacted by long, 'lost' cousins but never before did I imagine that a family artifact would find it's way back to the family as a result of my blog.

Don Wagner (no known relationship to my wife) runs the Soldier's Museum website. As a history buff, Don also finds and collects historical artifacts. One of Don's finds was a small, hard covered book (pictured below) entitled, "Americans' Guide to Hindustani." The book is best described as a pocket-sized dictionary containing the Hindi-Urdu translations of useful English language phrases and words, likely a useful book to have if you were born in Saskatchewan, Canada and posted during World War 2 to north India.

On the inside flyleaf of the book (pictured below), the soldier who owned the book had written his name and regimental assignment, "F/O Gordon Wagner - 229 Group RAF India."

When Don decided to do a little research to see if he could find any additional information about the soldier, a Google search lead him to my blog post about Ellen's uncle, Gordon  Gilbert Henry Wagner. Don left a comment on my Gordon Wagner blog post and then also contacted me by email to see if we could determine if 'my' Gordon Wagner was the same Gordon Wagner who had written his name inside the book.

There are precious few records available in Canada covering the 1,159,000 Canadians who served in World War 2 and there are access restrictions to the service files of those who survived the war, including Gordon. Fortunately for me, Gordon had two passionate interests that he pursued in his retirement. Genealogy and writing.

Gordon's genealogy research served as the initial basis for my own research of the great history connected with Ellen's family. Gordon's passion for writing resulted in the publication of several books, including his autobiographical recollections of his time in the Royal Canadian Air Force, entitled "How Papa Won The War" (published by the Flying-W-Publishing Co. in 1989). 

On page 157 of the book, Gordon wrote, "In their campaign to chase the Japanese out of Burma, the British army needed aircraft to transport supplies and paratroops into the jungles of north-western Burma. The Royal Air Force received the army's request and asked the Royal Canadian Air Force to supply the aircrews. The RAF would fly us to India, providing the planes and the base. The RCAF would form two squadrons, train the crews and take the squadrons into Burma. At least that was the plan, a good one really."

Gordon provided a copy of his new assignment to the RAF, dated September 12, 1944 to the 229 Group India.

So both 'my' Gordon Wagner and the Gordon Wagner who owned the book were both assigned to the 229 Group in India during World War 2. It's still possible that they are two different people but I doubt that very much.

I agreed to a price for the book (or maybe it was a finder's fee) with Don and he mailed the book to me. It arrived back in the hands of the Wagner family today!