Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Learning a little history can help a lot

One of the most often queries I see in the various genealogy groups I haunt on Facebook is someone looking for information that doesn't exist. Not because the records have been lost to any man-made or natural disaster but because the records were never created.

If you have a stumbling block where you can't seem to find any of the records you are looking for then you need to dig into some history. For example, if you are looking for census records in Library and Archives Canada Census databases or on Ancestry for Manitoba, Canada prior to 1870 then you might run into some problems. Prior to 1870 Manitoba wasn't a province in the fledgling nation of Canada. So you need to look elsewhere.

One great source of information of what is available online and where to look next is the Research Wiki found at There you can find where to look and also what might not be available. Even better, if you do know of additional resources that aren't listed on the research wiki pages you can update those pages yourself to help other researchers.

You can also use your favourite search engine. In my case that means Google. However, don't over complicate your search. Remember that most web pages are written by people like yourself and not by computers. For example, there was a posting on Facebook that stated "... where or how to find British naturalisation certificates from the 1860?" All I did was go to Google and typed in "British naturalisation certificates" (without the quotes) and on the first page of results I came across the page from The National Archives in Kew with the title "Looking for records of a naturalised Briton" that had all the information on what was available and where to get the records. All it took was a few moments of my time to find the answer.

Knowing about the history of a place can also help you break through those brick walls. What were the county boundaries in New Hampshire in 1780? A check of the Atlas of Historical County Boundaries at might just able to answer that question.

As for those earlier Manitoba census records? A check of the FamilySearch Research Wiki brought me to the unindexed collection titled "Manitoba, Census Indexes, 1831-1870" at

Tip: So take the time to learn about the history of the place when you are having problems finding records. What you discover may just solve that brick wall dilemma.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Google Maps and Genealogy

Earlier this past year I had some spare time and so I took the "Mapping with Google" course that is offered online by Google. This course covered using Google Maps and also Google Earth but not just as a simple user of those tools but how to get the most out of both of those product. For me and my slightly older (OK, long in the tooth) computer I didn't get as much out of the Google Earth part as I could have but that was only because of the age of the computer and it couldn't run the latest and greatest Google Earth software. However, Google Maps is a different story.

One of the projects you do is to make use of the Maps Engine system of Google Maps to place pins on a map and then share the results with others. Since genealogy is a passion/hobby/future career I thought that I might see about placing on a map some of the local cemeteries and genealogy resources.

Well, what started as a simple project morphed into something else a week later. I decided to map all the various places of interest to genealogy researchers that might be visiting the Ottawa, Ontario, Canada area. First I added in the museums, archives and libraries that I knew about that had resource material available. That was the easy part. Then over a period of several weeks I added in the cemeteries found in the Ottawa-Carleton and Gatineau regions. Fortunately there are a number of wonderful on-line Canadian sites that have pictures and details of cemeteries in these places:

 In addition I made use of the other well-known cemetery sites covering United States and Canada:

Using the information from those sites I could plot the cemeteries on the map and then add a link to where to find more details. The end result was this map of Genealogy Research in Ottawa:

Google map of genealogy related research places in Ottawa
Genealogy Research in Ottawa
The neat part about this tool is you could easily use it to map out the various cemeteries and other places in interest when you are planning to visit an area to do research. That way you can best make use of your valuable time and hopefully not get too lost trying to find that out of the way cemetery of your 4th great grandparents.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

They Served Canada But I Want to Know More

You've found your ancestor's Canadian World War I "Attestation Paper" or "Particulars of Recruit" document so now what?

In my talk I gave in October at the "Canada in the First World War" event hosted by the Ottawa Public Library, the Ottawa Branch of the Ontario Genealogical Society, and the British Isles Family History Society of Greater Ottawa I touched upon a number of the resources I used to explore what happened to Victor Sornberger. I have previously listed the resources I used in my post 'Resources for "A Soldier of the Great War: A Research Case Study' but I never went into detail as to how I approached my research.

The first step in my research was to request Victor Sornberger's World War I service file from Library and Archives Canada in Ottawa. Since I live in Ottawa I was in the position of requesting the file to be viewed at their facility at 395 Wellington Street. I had my LAC User Card but if I didn't already have it I could have requested one via this form. Next I completed the Request for Retrieval of Document online form so I could look at the file when I next came to Library and Archives Canada (about once every two weeks). Now if I didn't live in Ottawa I could request via the Order Form for Reproductions the service file and the staff at LAC would digitize the file for me and send me an e-mail with the instructions to access the images. This isn't a free service but it also isn't very expensive as can be seen at their price list page.

Once I had reviewed the file, and since I was actually at LAC I also photographed the contents, I had some key documents I could use to find out more about Victor. The first was actually the file folder. On the front of the folder is was written "Deceased 28-3-52" so now I knew he died on 28 Mar 1952. A useful bit of information if I didn't already have that recorded.

Next was his Discharge Certificate. That document gave me the date and where he joined the Canadian Expeditionary Force and also when he was discharged . Plus it listed the places overseas where he served. Then there is his Casualty Form - Active Service paperwork. This document has details such as when he left Canada, when he arrived in England, and which ship. It lists when and where he was Taken On Strength (T.O.S.) and Struck Off Strength (S.O.S.) as he joined and left the various battalions and depots. Dates of disciplinary actions are listed (well ... not in Victor's case) and also when he was wounded plus the hospital stays.

Within Victor's file were a number of other forms that documented his wound and his care. These included details such as why his leg had to be amputated. Sometimes you will also come across dental charts, clinical charts with the patient's temperature fluctuations recorded, and maybe even wills.

I now knew when he was shot and with what battalion he was serving with at that time. The next step was finding out where the battalion was located. Fortunately the War Diaries of the First World War have been digitized. These are not personal diaries but the often dry and boring operational details of the brigades and battalions. Most of the time those mentioned are officers but occasionally a name of an enlisted man is recorded ... most often for heroism. Reading through the diary I was able to determine where in France his battalion was fighting on the day Victor was shot. Even better, included with that month's diary were the trench maps and the then secret orders for that specific operation.

Finally with all that information at hand I could use Google Maps to plot, within a few hundred meters, the location where Victor Sornberger was probably fighting when shot.

Overall it was about 8 hours of work from the reviewing and digitizing of the file to finally using Google Maps to figure out where he was when he was shot. During that time I learned more about what was happening at that time during the war and a bit more about a soldier's experience.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Backups - Part I (An Overview)

You have just spent the past two days working hard on your family tree and it is late at night. Do you a) go to bed or b) back up your work then go to bed? If you answered 'b' then I'm already preaching to the choir but for the rest of you you might want to read on.

We've all heard the warnings and think it will never happen to us so we keep putting it off until it is too late.What am I talking about?


Making a back up of all your hard work is like having an insurance policy. You really hope you don't need it but if something bad happens it is such a wonderful feeling to know you are covered. A back up can be as simple as copying your files to a USB memory stick or dropping those same files into a folder on Dropbox (as an example one of many Internet based storage sites).

No matter how you do it at least back up all your important files, genealogy and others, at least once a month. Personally I backup the information on my desktop and laptop to an external hard disk on the first of the month. Also, after a day's work of research I will make a copy of all my genealogy files to a USB thumb drive.

So set up a reminder in your calendar to do a back up. If your genealogy software has a reminder function, put it in there also. Even better, if your genealogy software can automatically backup your database then set it to do so when you shut it down for the night.

But for your sake and sanity please:


Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Just When Did He Die?

As part of my research into my own family tree I also look at the descendants of the siblings off of my direct line. In order to help me and others in their research I post my tree on Ancestry (and other sites). It isn't often that I get contacted by another researcher but just a couple of days ago I received this comment attached to Wharton Dunwood Barton, my 1st cousin 4 times removed:
"Wharton D. barton was married to my Great Aunt--Mary Curren. Mary was born at the English settlement on the Queens/King county line. She came from a large family. The 1901 Census has the couple living in Saint john but theres no further records. Mary died as a widow in early March 1945 and was buried on 3-13-1945 at Fernhill Cemetery.. Can`t determine when Wharton died and for some mysterious reason-no record shows up at the provincial Archives. He obviously died some time after 1901 and sometime before 1945. Let me know if you have an answer."
Up until that time I had only recorded details up to the 1881 census of Canada of Wharton and his siblings since I have been trying to focus on my direct lines. But with this query I figured I should look into what happened to Wharton.

The first step for me was to confirm the details that were provided. A check of the death registration index of New Brunswick, Canada found at the Provincial Archives of New Brunswick web site confirmed that she is a widow and her husband is listed as "Wharton D. Barton". Additionally the informant is listed as "Mrs. Mabel Hayes" of Torryburn, a sister of Mary Barton (this will be important later).

I did a search for any "W Barton" that died between 1901 and 1945. A record for a "W Dunwood Barton", 48 year old male born at The Narrows, of Torryburn that died on 19 Jan 1906 in Torryburn was one of those listed in the search results. It looked very promising but I wanted to make sure. So the next step was to fill in the blanks for both Wharton and Mary.

I checked the Daniel F Johnson's New Brunswick Newspaper Vital Statistics but no mention was made of either of them. A search of the Brenan's Funeral Home [MC793] collection only returned a result for Mary. Checking the New Brunswick Cemeteries index resulted in nothing found for either of them. So it was off to Ancestry to find the census records I had not yet recorded. I found Wharton and Mary in 1891 living next to Wharton's brothers and sisters and then in 1901 in Prince Ward of Saint John, New Brunswick. But then the trail for Wharton goes cold. I still had one more basic fact to locate and that was their marriage. I had previously purchased the "Queens County, New Brunswick, Marriage Registers, Books B and C, 1861-1887" from the Associates of the Provincial Archives to help me in my research of the various families connected to my lines from Queens County. In that book was the entry for Wharton's and Mary's marriage on 29 Jan 1885.

But I still had that cold trail for Wharton. So it was back to Ancestry to look for Mary Barton in the 1911 and 1921 census for Canada. I first found Mary in the 1921 census of Canada listed as a sister in law of H. P. Hayes living in Torryburn. H. P. Hayes had his wife listed as Mable Hayes. This was probably the same Mabel Hayes listed as the informant on Mary's death registration. But I couldn't find Mary in the 1911 census using the Ancestry transcription/index. So I looked for Mabel Hayes and there listed as a lodger was a "Mary Porton". Could this by Mary Barton? Since I don't trust transcriptions, even my own at times, I checked the image of the census page. It was the Mary Barton I was looking for ... sigh, yet another bad transcription. She is listed as a widow so we know now that Wharton had died between 1901 and 1911. It seems to be that the 1906 registration of death for W Dunwood Barton is the right one.

One thing I did for this bit of research was to keep a log of what I had found (or not found). It did really help to keep track of where I looked and what I looked for. Below is what I recorded in Evernote as I did my research.

2013 Nov 22:
  • Searched PANB online for Mary Barton death. Found and recorded details. Maiden surname, as written, is Curran
  • Searched PANB online for W Barton death. Found possible for W Dunwood Barton. Date lines up but still need to verify
  • Searched DFJ for mention of either person. No hits
  • Searched PANB Brennan Funeral Home. Found reference to Mary Barton with no additional details, no mention of W Barton
  • Searched PANB cemetery index, no mentions found for either
  • Search on Ancestry for records
    • Found 1891 census for Warton Dunwood Barton and wife Mary. Living next to his siblings in Queens County.
    • Found 1901 census for Wharton Barton and Mary living in Saint John, Prince Ward.
  • Checked Queens County Marriage Register Books B & C. Found marriage on 29 Jan 1885.
  • found grave marker for W Dunwood Barton at Listed as having died 18 Jan 1906.
  • Search on Ancestry for records
    • found in city directories up to 1900
    • found Mary Barton in 1921 census living in Simonds Parish with sister Mabel's family (Hayes), listed as sister-in-law, widowed
    • 1911 census: Searched on sister Mabel Hayes and found mis-transcribed name of Mary Barton, lodger, widowed, living in the same household
Based on these results, the PANB death registration for W Dunwood Barton is believed to be the correct record for Wharton Dunwood Barton.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Finding Places in New Brunswick, Canada

One of the challenges you can run into when doing your research is finding out the "correct" spelling of a place and where it is actually located in the province. In my case I have a number of the family lines that settled in New Brunswick area in the late 1700 and early 1800s.

Buried within the web site of the Provincial Archives of New Brunswick is a very interesting page called "Where is Home? New Brunswick Communities Past and Present" found at On that page you will come across the listing of the counties of New Brunswick and an ability to search for places. When you bring up the details on a community you will find a description of the place, several maps, and distances to near by villages and towns.

One of those maps of particular interest to those researching ancestors in early New Brunswick is the cadastral map. The cadastral maps show the basic features of the area along with boundaries, lot number, and grantee's name for land granted. For example, the cadastral map below is for the portion of Kings County that includes Norton.
Provincial Archives of New Brunswick []

Friday, November 22, 2013

Call For Speakers: 20th Annual BIFHSGO Family History Conference

20th Annual BIFHSGO Family History Conference

The British Isles Family History Society of Greater Ottawa is seeking proposals for presentations at its annual conference, September 19 - 21, 2014, to be held in Ottawa at Library and Archives Canada.

Conference Theme

The conference will focus on three main topics:
  • English family history
  • Immigration from the British Isles, including Home Children
  • Genetic genealogy
Proposals are also invited for other conference presentations likely to be of interest to BIFHSGO members and for pre-conference workshops or seminars.


Please send proposals to before January 31, 2014.

Proposal Submission

  • Each proposal should be written on one page and include:
  • Your full name, postal address, telephone number, and email address;
  • Whether the proposal is for:
    • a lecture (or several lectures) during the conference, and/or
    • a seminar or hands-on workshop on the Friday. Please indicate if the workshop will be a half day (3 hours) or a full day (6 hours);
  • Presentation title(s);
  • An abstract of up to 200 words describing each presentation;
  • A one or two-sentence description of your talk(s) for the conference brochure;
  • A 100-150 word biography;
  • Your audiovisual requirements;
  • Whether your presentation(s) would be aimed at those working at the beginner (general), intermediate, or advanced (specialist) level;
  • Whether you will provide a two to four-page summary of your talk, including references and website addresses, as a handout;
  • Whether you would be prepared to present remotely.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Coming To Your Census

With the advent of the digitization and indexing of the census pages from Canada, England, Ireland, Scotland and United States we have been spoiled in comparison to what researchers even ten years ago had to go through to find ancestors and relatives. Now we can visit many online sites that have made available those images and indexes. Some of those sites are free while others may require paying a monthly or annual fee to access the records. Even some of those pay sites may be freely available at your local archive, library or Family History Center.

Yet even with the indexes that are available some family members seem to be impossible to find in a census. There are many possible reasons they can't be found. Some of them are:
  • the hand writing by the enumerator is atrocious
  • the original microfilm was of poor quality
  • the original pages were damaged
  • the enumerator had no clue on how the name was spelled by the family
  • the person of interest has left the country or has died
  • the person's name may have changed due to marriage or due to "legal" issues
So what can you do to find them?

Some possible suggestions are:
  • Search for the household as a group but leave off their surname. 
  • Search for the youngest member of the household at the time of the census. Usually their age will be the most accurate.
  • Don't include the age or birth year of the person. For some reason it is not uncommon for women to not be exactly truthful when answering questions about their age.
  • Restrict the search to only a specific district, sub-district or town where they are believed to be living at the time of the census. This may reduce the number of possible names to look at to a manageable size.
  • If all else fails a page by page examination of the digitized images of an area may be necessary. Sort of an old school/new school approach.
For example, I was looking for the family of Arthur Finnie and his wife Elizabeth Ann (nee McMullen) yet I couldn't initially find them in the 1921 Census of Canada that has been made available on Ancestry. In this case I knew that they probably lived in Windsor and most likely had their 3 year old daughter Margaret living with them. So for the search parameters on Ancestry I specified the following details:
First & Middle Name: Elizabeth Ann
Birth Year: 1881
Birth Location: Ontario, Canada
Spouse: Arthur
Child: Margaret
Keyword: Windsor  [Exact match checked]
Gender: Female
Note that in this case I left off the surname for Elizabeth Ann Finnie but I did include her known birth year. The first match returned was a transcription for the household of Arthur Francise with wife Elizabeth, daughter Margaret and lodger Thompson Officer.

This is why being able to examine the image of the census record in question is so important.

1921 Census of Canada, Ontario, district 77, sub-district 41, Windsor, p. 17, dwelling 182, family 193, household of Arthur Finnie; RG 31; digital images,, ( : accessed 17 Nov 2013); citing Library and Archives Canada.

Looking at the image, at least to my eyes, the surname isn't "Francise" but is "Finnie", the family I am looking for.

So don't give up when searching for those family members apparently missing from the census. You may just need to be a little creative in your searches.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Stop, Pause, and Think

We've all heard of the expression "Stop, drop, and roll" to help put out flames if your clothing is on fire. I think there should be a saying "Stop, pause, and think" for genealogists that rely on other peoples work to fill in the blanks about their ancestors.

Recently I discover the name of my 6th great-grandfather, Jedidiah Fairweather, in the oath attesting to the marriage of his daughter Esther to Lt. Caleb Howe. You may want to see my recent posting for details of this discovery. Whenever I come across a new person on my direct line I usually search various online resources for other references to this "new" family member.

In addition to Google searches and checking for other online trees, articles and books I also check Ancestry for their record collections and public trees. Now I don't link to any of those public trees (part one of my genealogy research motto ... "Trust no one"). Instead I review what others have found for possible clues regarding potential records and other family members. Yet I often come across records and family members in those public trees that make me stop and wonder, "What were they thinking?

Here is one of the Ancestry tree hint records for Jedediah Fairweather. Can you see at least one possible problem with his family?

A hint for you ... Look at the date of death for his spouse and then look at the date of birth of the youngest child listed.

Do you see it now?

In this tree Benjamin, the son of Jedediah and Deborah, was born after the date of death of his mother. Yet this isn't the only tree for Jedediah Fairweather that this error occurs in. Several other trees have this same Benjamin being born in 1762 which makes a bit more sense. The "1792" could be from a simple typo when the first person entered in the information but this mistake has now been propagated on Ancestry and who knows where else. All because the people with this error didn't pause and take a moment to think about the information they were blindly adding to their family tree.

I'm not picking on this tree or on Ancestry since I've seen this problem occur many times in other online trees. And if truth be told, when I was first starting in my adventures in my own family tree I did this too. Yet if you just click to add a record or details about a family member without thinking about what you are adding then you might just be compounding and propagating a mistake.

So in the future, when consulting work compiled by others:

Stop, pause, and think!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Never Forgotten - Ronald "Red" McGregor Warrener

Ronald "Red" McGregor Warrener
"Dog" Company, 48th Highlanders of Canada
11 Jun 1913 - 25 Jul 1943

Died in the hills near Nissoria, Sicily, Italy

"The most gallant fight by 48th Highlanders on a day that was to be recalled with grimness, was the inspiring charge on a pinnacle on the ridge-top by 4 men of Dog Company. Only 8 Germans were holding it, and if there was room to deploy and flank it, this was not tried. The 4 Highlanders attempted to capture the hump of high ground in a gallant, but hopeless straight dash. L/Cpl. Dan (D.J.) Murray was killed on the lip of the first slit trench; he had almost reached the Germans. The body of Pte. Red (R.M. ) Warriner was found three feet away."
"Dileas: History of the 48th Highlanders of Canada, 1929-1956
", Kim Beattie, published by 48th Highlanders of Canada, 1957

Never Forgotten - Samuel McKinlay

Samuel McKinlay

'A' Company, 2nd Infantry Battalion, C.E.F.
2 Mar 1891 - 22 April 1915

A casualty of the Second Battle of Ypres

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Widow's Pension Application = One Less Brick Wall

On June 11th, 2013 Ancestry included in their collections for Canada a set of documents they titled "Canada, Pension Applications For Widows and Family of British Military Officers, 1776-1881". This collection is from The National Archives in Kew, Surrey, England and is described in the TNA database as "WO 42 - War Office: Officers' Birth Certificates, Wills and Personal Papers". So why am I so happy to find this collection? This is set of papers includes the applications by widows of men that served in His Majesty's military during the time of the American Rebellion and subsequently settled in that part of North America that remained loyal to the Crown (what later became known as the country of Canada).

Now I am a proud descendant of the Loyalist Lt. Caleb Howe of the Queens Rangers and one of my brickwalls has been "What is Esther's, his wife, maiden surname and also when and where were they married?" This questions has stumped experienced researchers that have been looking into this family for far longer than I've been doing my research. There were guesses as to Esther's maiden surname but no proof to back them up.

A search of this collection revealed that Esther had in fact applied for a widow's pension since Caleb died in 1810. Ancestry only took me to the first page where Caleb was mentioned so I brought up the web page for The National Archives and looked for the WO 42 collection. From the page displayed on Ancestry I knew the documents were in the WO42/61 set. A quick search revealed that I could freely download (I like free) the complete WO42/61 collection of documents. Now I could have just moved forward in the Ancestry collection page by page to find all the documents preserved pertaining to Caleb and Esther but it was just going to be easier to download it all in one bundle as a PDF. I started reading through those pages for any additional clues and then it was in front of me ... that document we have all been looking for ... my Howe Holy Grail ... an oath by someone stating Esther's maiden surname AND the month, year and town they were married.

WO/42/61 document 182, p. 1
Transcribed it appears to reads:

Jedediah Fairweather and Samuel Fairweather at present
of the Parish of ____ in the County of Kings and Province of
New Brunswick - make oath - that they were present at the
marriage of Caleb Howe, - who was a Lieutenant (during the Amer
ican Rebellion) in His Majestys Service in the Provincial Regiment
called the Queens Rangers, and who at the close of the Rebellion - placed
on the Half Pay of _ Regiment, - with Esther Fairweather - Daughter of 
Jedediah, - and that the Marriage was performed & solemnized - between
the said Caleb Howe and the said Esther Howe in the then town of 
Parr, now the City of St John, in the Month of January 1784 by the
Reverend John Beardsley a Missionary of the Church of England.

One mystery after many years of searching as been resolved. All due to keeping an eye out for new collections and constantly revisiting those problem ancestors.

Tip for today: Keep your eye out for new collections and sources of information. You just never know where you will find that next clue.

Update 1: Correction to the date when the collection was released on Ancestry
Update 2: Minor corrections to transcription

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

But the math doesn't work!

Recently I received an obituary for a 4th cousin once removed, Diane Carol Sharpe. Now if you aren't already using obituaries in your research you should be since they are often a wonderful source of information concerning a person's life and the names & locations of their children. In this case the following detail was included in the notice:

Born 1945, in Saint John, NB, she was the daughter of the late Ronald and Florence (Cameron) Lyttle.

I already had her linked to her parents Ronald Reginald Lyttle and Florence Elmina Cameron through the obituary of her brother Kevin who died in 2002. Now I had her birth year. Only one problem ... her father would have been 15 years old at the time of her birth. This raised a really big red flag. Now there are a couple of possible explanations (there may be more but these are the ones that immediately came to mind).
  1. The information about her year of birth was incorrect.
  2. The age of her father at the time of his marriage to Florence was incorrect in the civil registration.
  3. Diane isn't the biological daughter of Ronald Lyttle.
  4. Ronald was actually under the age of majority when Diane was conceived.

I knew that Florence had divorced her first husband since that fact was recorded in the New Brunswick registration of the 15 Dec 1949 marriage between Ronald Reginald Lyttle and Florence Elmina (Cameron) Nickerson. I hadn't looked for Florence's first marriage but that became my first task. It was an easy find since the Provincial Archives of New Brunswick (PANB) has digitized and placed online, with a searchable index, the birth (1810-1917), marriage (1847-1963) and death (1815-1963) records of that province. There I found the registration for the 28 Mar 1942 marriage between George Robert Nickerson and Florence Elmina Cameron. The facts in this marriage concerning Florence lined up with the facts stated in her 1949 marriage to Ronald Lyttle.

Next was a shot in the dark ... had Diane married on or before 1963 in New Brunswick? I got lucky this time. The first search using Lyttle as the surname resulted in no matches but when I used Nickerson Diane's 13 Apr 1963 marriage to George Ray Sharpe was listed. Looking at the image it was plain to see that she listed her parents as George Robert Nickerson and Florence Elmina Cameron. She also signed the registration as Miss Diane Nickerson. Diane's age when married was 18 years and that means she was born about 1945. So that matches her obituary. However, we now have evidence that her father, at least in a biological sense, wasn't Robert Reginald Lyttle but George Robert Nickerson. In a perfect world we would also need to have Diane's birth registration document where hopefully it would list her father as George Robert Nickerson. But that record is presently restricted under the privacy laws. For now, at least in my tree, her father will be listed as George Robert Nickerson. My quandary has been resolved.

Tip for the day: As valuable as obituaries are, like any other record, you need to be able to back up the assertions made with other evidence.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Start With What You Know ...

When doing genealogy research, whether your own or for someone else, it is important to start with what you know. In this example I will be talking a query that was sent to me due to my participation in the Facebook "Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness - RAOGK International" group.

I consider this a good query since it asked a relatively straightforward question and provided enough clues to easily search for the information requested. Below is what was sent to me:

I am searching for a birth record for a Victor(e) Berube most likely the son of Jean Baptist Berube and Marie Modest Oulelet. Most records state he was born in 1824-25 but I see a baptism in 1821. Here is the accurate household in 1871 02, St-Nicholas d, Lévis 154, Quebec

Household Gender Age Birthplace
Victor Bérubé M 46 Q
Caroline Bérubé F 42 Q
Jules Bérubé M 19 Q
Lactitia Bérubé F 7 Q
Odina Bérubé M 4 Q

Much of the family still lives in Desraele Quebec, and Michigan.. I think there are links to New Hampshire as well but if we could find a birth record for Victor or a death of the father that would clear up many a family tree and the misinformation that he must have a different father because of the birthdate, Note that the wife and husband in most trees have the same exact birth and death dates.

The census record is from the 1871 census of Canada. My first step was to locate the image of that census record to verify what had been sent to me (part of my "trust no one, verify everything" philosophy of research). I found the record plus additional family members. The next step was to confirm the maiden surname of Victor's wife. For that I searched the Drouin collection on Ancestry for a baptism record for one of the possible children. There I found the baptism entry for Maria Latitia Berube, the daughter of Victor Berube and Caroline Trepaunier.

Next was the marriage registration for Victor and Caroline. Again the Drouin collection was searched and the very first record that appeared in the list was the 25 Nov 1845 marriage for that couple. Fortunately, Victor's parents were listed as Jean Baptiste Berube and Maria Modeste Ouilet. I've now confirmed the information provided concerning Victor's parents but the question still hasn't been answered ... when was he born?

To hopefully resolve the quandary of when Victor was born a search of the Drouin collection on Ancestry resulted in finding an 1821 baptism record for a Victor Berube. But is it the right Victor Berube? Reviewing the record and a bit of typing into Google Translate helped me with the French. From the looks of it it is the right record:
"The eight of September one thousand eight hundred twenty one, we the undersigned priest by the parish priest of St. Boch, was named Victor was born the same day of the legitimate marriage of Jean Baptiste Berubé farmer and Modeste Ouellet Jean Dionne godfather, godmother Marie Faucasse. The father is absent, the sponsor alone ___ sign with us." Quebec, Vital and Church Records (Drouin Collection), 1621-1967 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2008. 
The reason for doing all the work above now becomes evident. The parents in the baptism registration matches those in Victor's marriage record. From this record we now know that on 8 Sep 1821 he was born. But the question lingers, is this truly the same person as listed in the census? The Victor in the marriage record could be the second child named Victor if the first Victor died between 1821 and 1824. However, no burial records or additional baptisms were found.

So it is my belief that the Victor Berube in the query was born on 8 Sep 1821. As usual, all dates recorded on census records need to be taken with a grain of salt (or a whole mine's worth of salt!)

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Resources for "A Soldier of the Great War: A Research Case Study"

On Saturday, October 26, 2013 I gave a talk at the Ottawa Public Library called "A Soldier of the Great War: A Research Case Study". The talk was a case study giving real-life examples. Below are the web pages I referenced in the talk.

Library and Archives Canada:
Main Page:
Service & Opening Hours:
User Card registration:
Soldiers of the First World War Search page:
War Diaries of the First World War:
Courts-Martial of the First World War:
Thematic Guides to Units of the CEF:
Service File Abbreviations:
Reading a Casualty Form:

Canadian Virtual War Memorial:

C.E.F. Paper Trail:

CEF Research :

Commonwealth War Graves Commission:

Internet Archive:

The Maple Leaf Legacy Project:

WW 1 Trench Maps (McMaster University):

WW1 Hospital Locations & Casualty Clearing Stations: 

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Oct 26th, 2013 Talk - A Soldier of the Great War: A Research Case Study

At the Nepean-Centrepointe branch of the Ottawa (Ontario, Canada) Public Library on Saturday, October 26th, 2013 at 11 a.m. I will be giving a presentation as part of their "Canada in the First World War" program. This day is being held in partnership with the British Isles Family History Society of Greater Ottawa and the Ottawa Branch of the Ontario Genealogy Society. Along with my talk, archivist and historian Glenn Wright will give an overview on searching for information on your military ancestor, historian and strategic analyst Andrew Godefroy will present the Ottawa Branch's Ryan Taylor Memorial Lecture on the contributions of Canada and Ottawa to the Great War, and Robbie Robertson and Bob Anglin from the Canadian War Museum will be there to help identify Great War artifacts. This free event starts at 9 a.m. and ends at 3:30 p.m. and you don't even have to register in advance, just show up and learn more about Canada in the First World War.

My part of this will be a talk titled "A Soldier of the Great War: A Research Case Study". At the recent BIFHSGO Conference in September one of the visitors to the research room asked me to find out how her cousin Victor Lou Sornberger lost his leg in the Great War of 1914-18. I will be going through the steps I took to get the file, what was found and where I looked next for more details. I will cover the basics of visiting the Library and Archives Canada building in Ottawa to review his service file, locating digital copies of  the war diaries, and finally figuring out roughly where on the battlefield he suffered his wound.

If you are in Ottawa I sincerely hope you will be able to make it out to the "Canada in the First World War" day.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Saving Money When Searching ScotlandsPeople

Several years ago I decided to document the various lines of my McKinlay family that came to Thornliebank, Renfrewshire, Scotland sometime between 1838 and 1841. That meant I would need to make use of ScotlandsPeople to locate the images of birth, marriage, death, and census records. I won't divulge exactly how much I spent looking up records but it was less than a one week trip to Scotland ... although not by much. Yet ScotlandsPeople is still one of the more affordable sites that charge you to get and see images of the records. However, I did learn some lessons on how to save money when searching ScotlandsPeople.

Census Records

For the 1841 to 1891 decennial census records you can make use of FamilySearch to locate individual family members. However, much of the information on the census has not been transcribed. If the person wasn’t born in Scotland then the birth location may have been left blank. Additionally the index doesn’t have all the family members listed in the transcription so it makes it very difficult to make sure it is the right person based on their family. Also the specific details on what page to find the record in ScotlandsPeople are not in the index.

If you have a subscription to Ancestry or have access to a library or archive with the Institution/Library version of Ancestry you can access transcriptions of the 1841 to 1901 decennial census records. The index includes all the people in that household. The transcriptions have all the information from the census and the index includes the parish number, enumeration district, page and line number so you can easily find the record on ScotlandPeople.

Findmypast is much like Ancestry except that the results don’t place the person in question in context within the household. This makes it difficult to transcribe the household in the correct order.

ScotlandsPeople is the gold standard since it includes all the available decennial census records (1841-1911) and the associated images. If you can find them in Ancestry or Findmypast then you know they can be found on ScotlandsPeople. However, unlike Ancestry and Findmypast where you have a subscription, on ScotlandsPeople you pay for each image that you haven't viewed previously.

Birth & Baptism Records

FamilySearch has transcriptions for both statutory and old parochial registers in the "—Scotland, Births and Baptisms, 1564-1950" collection. The statutory registers cover the period between 1855 to 1875 plus 1881 and 1891. There are also some records outside of those years. You can also order microfilms to view the documents to verify the transcriptions. As a plus, you can look for people in the statutory records based on the names of parents. This feature is not readily available on ScotlandsPeople. Even better … FamilySearch is free.

Search for people using FamilySearch and then, by knowing all the details from the search results, you can focus in on the right person on ScotlandsPeople using much fewer credits than just using ScotlandsPeople by itself.


The Scotland, Marriages, 1561-1910 collection on FamilySearch has both the old parachial and statutory registers covering the same years as the birth and baptism collection. FamilySearch allows you to search the OPR marriages on the name of the father. This is not readily available on ScotlandsPeople. However, not all parish records have the father’s name included in the transcription. Not everything on the original record has been transcribed by FamilySearch so looking at the image on ScotlandsPeople is critical.


Only ScotlandsPeople have the death records available. There are no other sites with transcriptions of all the death records.

Tip When Using ScotlandsPeople

If you search on a surname, a date range, and a district/parish you will probably get a very long list. However, that list can save you money over time. Copy and pasting the results into Word or Excel gives you a useful checklist as part of your research log and to do list. Since ScotlandsPeople keeps track of your searches you can also refer to that search under the "Previous Searches" tab and click on the names of the people found to view the images. It won't save you a lot of money but a credit here and a credit there may mean you save enough to view another image.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Talk: "Saving Money When Searching ScotlandsPeople"

As part of this month's BIFHSGO's Scottish Genealogy Group meeting I will be giving a brief presentation titled "Saving Money When Searching ScotlandsPeople". I will be talking about some of the tips and tricks I use to wisely spend my money when researching my Scottish ancestors.

The meeting is taking place between 10:00 a.m and noon on Saturday, October 19th, 2013 in room 226 of the City of Ottawa Archives located at 100 Tallwood Drive, Ottawa, Ontario.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

One is the Loneliest Number

Genealogy research is one of those hobbies that is often a solo activity. If you are lucky you will have at least one friend or family member that shares a passing interest in this time consuming hobby. Yet family members and friends often roll their eyes as you talk about the minute details concerning how you found that record that has eluded you for years.

So why it is such a solo activity? Could it be the hours spent in libraries and archives reading books and pouring over microfilms? Or maybe the late nights when everyone else has gone to bed and you are just looking for that one digitized record or database index entry that still eludes you.

Yet that doesn't have to be the case. Over the past several years I've been fortunate to meeting and talk with other family history researchers that have similar regional or family interests. So where do you find these elusive like minded people?

Many towns and cities have genealogy societies. Living in Ottawa means I'm lucky enough to several groups near by. I belong to the Ottawa branch of the Ontario Genealogical Society, British Isles Family History Society of Greater Ottawa and Sir Guy Carleton branch of the United Empire Loyalists's Association of Canada. Historical societies are also another venue to meet and talk with others that may have your passion into researching the history of the people and places you are interested in. Don't forget about the local libraries, archives and museums. Talk to the curators and ask about who else drops by on a regular basis that may share the same interests as yourself. Many times the archives and museums have educational talks so drop by and meet those that also have taken the time to listen to the talks. There are also the Latter Day Saints' Family History Centres. Besides being a great resource for genealogy material you also can meet and chat with other researchers there.

If you have a tree on Ancestry have you explored the "Recent Member Connect Activity" page? There you will find a list of who have save the same records that you have used to people within their own tree. Maybe you have added photographs to your online tree. Has someone linked your picture to someone on their tree? If so, have you taken the time to send them a message asking about their connection to the people referenced in picture?

On Ancestry and several other genealogy sites you can share your family tree. Have you taken some time to search other trees for common relatives? Even better, have you sent the owner of the tree an e-mail or message asking about their connection? The owner just might be a distant connection.

In this age of social media there is also Twitter and Facebook. Search on the hashtag #genealogy on Twitter and you will come across many others talking about genealogy research (#familyhistory also works). On Facebook you will come across many regional and family focused groups. Read and participate in those online discussions.

For myself I've done all the above and have connected with many people either researching the same families or at least the same region. Many times they have been able to provide a different perspective on what I've been researching. When I run into a brick wall concerning some distantly connected relative I know I can always reach out to a cousin to ask for their input as to where to look next. Sometime they even have the answer to my problem!

So take a step away from your computer or microfilm and reach out to other genealogy researchers. Share your war stories and know that there are others with the same interests.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

McKinlays in Londonderry

For some years now I've been working on the family of my 3rd great-grandparents James McKinlay/Margaret Orr with much success in finding records in Scotland. Through the various Scottish census records I learned that the family appeared to have come from Ireland but I had no idea exactly where. Yet that is often the case with many of those that left Ireland.

My next clue came about from the fortuitous 1855 birth of my great-granduncle James McKinlay in Scotland. That was the first year of the Scottish civil registration and the form used gathered more information than in subsequent years. From that document I learned that my 2nd great-grandfather James McKinlay was born in Londonderry, County Derry, Ireland around 1823.

I searched various sites until I came across the Irish Family History Foundation. I searched for each child I knew about but too many results came back so I got a little creative in the searching. I searched baptisms using the first name of the father, James, the last name of the mother, Orr, the county Derry, and finally a 10 year date range centered around 1825. A transcription of a baptism record for a Rebecca McKinley was listed. Rebecca is the sister of my 2nd great-grandfather James McKinlay. The transcription matched what I had found in the census records:
Name:    Rebecca McKinley
Address:    Back Mountain
Gender:     Female
Date of Baptism/Birth:    25-Apr-1830
Parish/District:    ST. COLUMB'S
County:    Co. Derry
Denomination:    Church Of Ireland
Father:    James McKinley
Mother:    Margaret Orr
Just today I came across October 2013 edition of "Irish Lives Remembered" magazine. Normally I have time just to quickly glance through the index but I noticed they had a focus on Londonderry. This time I took a bit more time to read the articles. One of them mentioned the 1831 census abstract of Londonderry. A quick Google search brought me to Bill Macafee's transcription of the microfilms. A download of the Excel version of his transcriptions resulted in finding a James McKinley living in Templemore parish (guess where St. Columb's is located?) in N. W. Liberties Barony in Londonderry, Bishop Street [outside]. Could this be my 3rd great-grandfather? Even better there is a John McKinley in the same location and next record number. Could this be a brother of my 3rd great-grandfather?

I still have much work to do but the tip for today is don't stop looking for information on your ancestors. More records are coming online everyday and you will continue to learn about new resources.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

But my name is always spelled ...

Many times we get stuck finding records and documents concerning our ancestors because we get fixated on the spelling of a name. With a last name of McKinlay I have seen a number of variations in the spelling and pronunciation (ah those poor telemarketers from non-English speaking countries). For my own last name I commonly see it spelled as "McKinley" or even "MacKinlay". I have seen similar variations where my ancestors' names have been recorded so I just accept it and carry on.

Several years ago I was asked by the husband of my aunt to look into his family lines. Since this was just a first pass at this part of my tree I concentrated on looking for what could be termed "low hanging fruit". These are the records such as the decennial censuses along with birth, marriage, and death registrations recorded in the government files. With these kinds of records now indexed by and it is normally an easy task of find, read, analyze, and record. As always I started with what I knew and worked back in time. Everything was going great until John Haughton, the 2nd great grandfather of my aunt's husband.

In my tree John Haughton was born about 1821 in Ireland and married Jane Girdwood probably sometime before the birth of their daughter Mary in 1844. John and Jane had a large family of at least 11 children. When I first came across the mention of John and Jane Haughton in their son John "Hutton"'s Ontario registration of marriage document. Of course if I had been paying attention to that digital image and followed the process of "find, read, analyze, and record" my life would have been so much easier. Instead I skipped the middle two steps and paid for it later on.

With some additional research I was able to find the family of John and Jane in the 1861 census of Canada West in Rawdon township, Hastings County. Here the name was recorded by the enumerator as Houghton.

1861 Canada West census, Rawdon, Hastings County, population schedule, p. 70 (stamped), Household of John Houghton; digital image, ( : accessed 27 Sep 2013); citing Library and Archives Canada microfilm C-1033

In the 1871 census of Canada they were still living in Rawdon township, Hastings County. The last name is spelled Haughton by the enumerator. However, they have everyone being born in Ireland.

1871 Canada census, Rawdon, Hastings, Ontario, population schedule, p. 11, family 41, Household of John Haughton; digital image, ( : accessed 27 Sep 2013); citing Library and Archives Canada microfilm C-9993
John and Jane Haughton were next found in Tiny township, Simcoe county in the 1891 census of Canada. The children living with John and Jane are back to being born in Ontario and the name is still spelled Haughton.

1891 Canada census, Tiny Township, Simcoe East, Ontario, population schedule, p. 37, family 152, Household of John Haughton; digital image, ( : accessed 27 Sep 2013); citing Library and Archives Canada microfilm T-6368

But where where the heck was the family in 1881? They weren't found in any of the indexes I had access to in 2011. I had clues from documents concerning the children that the family should have been in Tiny township by then but nothing came up in the searches. So I went "old-school/new-school" in my search. I treated the digitized images as if they were on microfilm and went through each page for Tiny township until I came across this:

1881 Canada census, Tiny Township, Simcoe North, Ontario, population schedule, p. 61, family 254, Household of John Hutton; digital image, ( : accessed 27 Sep 2013); citing Library and Archives Canada microfilm C-13251

The enumerator wrote the last name as Hutton. Probably just as he heard it and since he might not have known the family he wrote it the way he thought it was spelled. Once again the children are back to being born in Ireland. If it wasn't for their son Noble I would have probably not recognized that this was the family of John and Jane Haughton.

Let's revisit the marriage registration of their son John. If I had actually paid attention to what was actually written on the document (the read and analyze steps) I might have saved myself hours of manually stepping through the census records. The clue was right there ... some of the authorities were writing the Haughton name as "Hutton". Just like it might have sounded!

Tip for the day #1: When stuck finding a name, try saying it out loud and have someone else write what they just heard.

Tip of the day #2: Never, ever skip the read and analyze step when looking at records. Many times the brick wall you have can be solved by reviewing your records that you already have.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

BIFHSGO Conference Research Room and Brickwalls

As John Reid mentioned in his Anglo-Celtic Connections blog, this past weekend I had the pleasure to be the host of the Research Room at the BIFHSGO 19th Annual Family History Conference in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. The focus of this year's conference was on Irish genealogy research.

In the Research Room we had a number of computers with donated access to sites such as,, Genes Reunited, The Genealogist, British Newspaper Archive, and the Irish Times Ancestry Search. Along with those online resources we had a number of skilled and very patient volunteers to help the attendees with their research problems.

Being a conference focusing on Irish family history we had many questions concerning how to find their ancestors in Ireland and all the issues related with doing research from a distance. We also had some success stories:

  • One woman spent at least 6 hours finding records and documents concerning her family in Nova Scotia. She had the guidance of a number of our volunteers to help her out.
  • We had one participant find the newspaper article concerning an ancestor that confirmed a family story.
  • A transcription of an Irish parish register confirmed an aunt's research and also led to a possible collateral branch.
This year we also added place where people could post their "brick wall" problems.
Our "moss and ivy covered" brick wall.

In the next several weeks the information on those cards will be posted on the BIFHSGO web site in the hopes that someone might be able to help solve a problem or too. I will also be going through them to see if I can possibly find some answers for their brick walls. I will be posting my findings in this blog along with how and where I discovered the answers to the questions.

However, there were some common methodology related problems with many of the posted brick wall problems:
  • Not knowing what records are available (or aren't available in some cases)
  • Not understanding what records are available in the various collections
  • Assuming everything must be online
  • Not knowing when the various civil registrations started for births, marriages, and deaths
When you come across a new collection learn what is actually included in the collection. This can save hours of frustration when attempting to search for records that aren't included in the collection.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

You mean it isn't like the ad?

I came across this comment at the end of a plea for assistance in a Facebook group related to Canadian genealogy, "I have looked on and and I have found nothing." I just shook my head and thought that yet another person has fallen victim to the TV ads put out by Ancestry. You know the ad ... just put in your name and the names of your parents and the records will just automagically appear.

Unfortunately, that is just not the case for many people. For this poor soul he was looking for records that would give the date of birth of someone that was born before the days of civil registration. This usually means some serious finger work needs to be done.

So where do you start when you have a situation like the above? You've checked Ancestry and FamilySearch and you have nothing. All you know is the name, approximate year of birth, the forenames of the parents, and province and township the person lived in. Since there are many possible places to look let us start with reexamining the records online ...

First of all find the person in the earliest census record that you can. In the Canadian census records one of the questions asked is what religion are they. When looking for records in the pre-civil registration period that answer is one of the key clues. Depending on the census and if the family had land you might also have access to the agricultural schedule. That may give you the lot and concession (if living in Ontario) where they lived. If they were farmers, then check out the Canadian County Atlas Project for maps of the various townships. Sometimes the maps will indicate the nearby churches. If they lived in town then local histories might give a clue as to the churches in the area.

You now know where they lived, their religion, and the nearest churches. The next step is to do a search (Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc.) to find out where the various parish records might be. A search for the name of the church and township might even reveal that the parish is still in existence. Reach out by telephone or e-mail to the parish or diocesan archive. Of course you may just run into the problem where the records have been lost in time. For some strange reason older churches have a tendency to get struck by lightning and then burn to the ground. Something to do with putting a big metal object on a tall wooden steeple if think.

Whatever you do don't give up if the first avenue of research results in nothing. Where else might the birth be recorded? Newspapers? Grave markers? (Although that can cause other issues. See my post titled "Zombie in the census?") Military enlistment records? Family bible? The diary of the minister who baptized the person? The diary of the mother? (I've used that one to confirm details.)

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Zombie in the census?

My motto when doing genealogy research is "Trust no one, verify everything, and even if it is written in stone it may be wrong." In the case of when I was trying to determine the exact date of death of my 3rd great grandfather, Robert Howe, this motto was my guide.

Robert Howe was born around 1823 most likely in the area of the Parish of Norton, Kings County, Colony of New Brunswick (later Canada). He was the oldest child of nine children of Charles Howe and Hannah Baxter. On 14 Nov 1848 in Kings County, New Brunswick Robert married Sarah E. Pickel. However, the problem with Robert started with what was written on his grave marker.

The Canadian Gravemarker Gallery, digital images ( accessed 15 Sep 2013), photograph, gravestone for Robert B. Howe (1826-1900), Hillsdale Baptist Cemetery, Hammond Parish, Kings County, New Brunswick, Canada.

According to what was written on the stone it was fairly clear that he died in 1900. This was a replacement stone since the original marker had faded away due to the ravages of time and weather.

There was only one minor problem. I found him in the 1901 census of Hammond, Kings County, New Brunswick, Canada living in the household of his son (and my 2nd great grandfather) Frank Howe.

1901 census of Canada, New Brunswick, district 18, sub-district C-1, Hammond, p. 3, dwelling 31, family 31, Robert Howe; RG 31; digital images,, ( : accessed 1 Oct 2011); citing Library and Archives Canada microfilm T-6442

Since I'm fairly certain that enumerators of the 1901 census were not given instructions to count zombies I knew something was wrong and I didn't think the problem was with the census record.

So ... where to start to solve this little mystery?

The obvious place is the Vital Statistics from Government Records (RS141) from the Provincial Archives of New Brunswick website. New Brunswick has digitized and placed online the birth, marriage and death registration images. Even better, you can view and download the images for free! It should be simple to find Robert's death registration ... right? Unfortunately, wrong. His death registration couldn't be found there.

In my collection of goodies I received from various family members was the collected memories of Pearl (nee Howe) Holland, one of Robert's granddaughters. In that collection was the story of Robert's death that she wrote in 1979. Pearl wrote that she was eight years old when Robert died. Oops, that doesn't help to much since her birth was about 1891 and she was writing about an event that took place almost 80 years ago. Next stop?

So off to Library and Archives Canada to see if they have a copy of the Kings County Record, the newspaper that was and still is published in Kings County, New Brunswick, Canada. I got lucky. They did have the years between 1901 and 1911 available. A few clicks of the mouse and I placed an order for the microfilms.

Wait a second ... where did that 1911 date come from? Since Robert wasn't in the 1911 census I was fairly certain he was really and truly dead by then. So an initial upper bounds had been set for this manual search for his obituary or death notice.

I started looking in the Kings County Record edition that came out just after 31 Mar 1901, the date of when the 1901 census of Canada started. Remember, he was supposedly still alive on that date. Fortunately this is a weekly newspaper with not too many pages in each edition. A short time later on the second page in the 25 Oct 1901 edition I came across this little tidbit, "Howe - At Hillsdale, on Oct. 23, R. D. Howe, aged 81 years."

The genealogy happy dance was quietly performed while in the LAC reference room.

However, the real treasure was also on that same page:

"Robert D. Howe an aged resident of Hillsdale died at his son's residence on Wednesday as a result of being severely burned. The deceased had been in rather a poor state of mind for some time past and was ailing with dropsy being confined to his bed. On Monday unnoticed by those attending him, he got hold of the matches and set fire to his bedding which was soon a raging mass of flames. The smoke attracted the attention of the occupants of the house who at once rushed to the unfortunate man's room. The son Frank Howe received severe burns about his face and hands in the attempt to save his father. After a severe fight the fire was subdued, but not until the water supply was exhausted and all the surplus milk about the place was utilized as a fire extinguisher. The deceased was eighty one years of age and leaves a family of sons to mourn the loss of a father."

Everything in this article about Robert's tragic death had been mentioned in Pearl Holland's story. The only thing she was mistaken about was the year. It was 1901 not 1900. A minor little mistake that has confused many researchers of the Howe family tree.

The moral of this little tale? Always verify the dates on the grave markers. Especially if the gravestone is a replacement.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

When Asking for Help ... Part 2

In "When Asking for Help ... Part 1" I wrote about how not to ask for help in the many genealogy related groups on Facebook. Here is an example of a query that caught my attention and with a little bit of research I was able to answer some of her questions:
"Hoping someone might be able to help me understand as I don't know much at all about the military. Why would the 1st Battalion of the 15th Foot. (The Yorkshire East Riding) have been in Fredericton, York County, New Brunswick back in 1967 [sic]? My 2x great grandfather who was from Calne, Wiltshire, England married on 26 March 1867 in Fredericton. I found them on the 1871 UK census back in Calne. I'm searching out for someone to do a lookup for me in England for his Muster Roll and Military record. Emily Caroline Witham was born 8 April 1846 in Fredericton but I've not found out much about her at all other than the 1851 census. This is a big brick wall on my tree."

This query caught my attention for a number of reasons. The first is that when I was growing up I lived near Fredericton for several years. The posting also contained specific information related to the queries. There were also clearly started questions and requests for information being made. Finally, the original poster of the questions provided some additional information shortly after the first query was posted:

"This is all I have that I'm trying to figure out: "Quoted Text: Morning News (St John), 1 April 1867 "m. 26th ult., by Rev. Wm Armstrong, James BREWER, Bandsman of 15th Regt. / Emily WITHAM, Fredericton (York Co.)" I'm guessing on the 1st Battalion of the 15th Foot."

Now it got interesting. There are a couple of names, a couple of dates, and regimental detail from the original newspaper article. Since I do a lot of my research using the Internet I had a few places I could start with. But first I needed some background information. What was the 15th Regiment? Was it the 15th Regiment of Foot? So off to Google with the search "15th regiment new brunswick". That pointed me to a blog posting by the York Sunbury Historical Society titled "15th Regiment of Foot in Fredericton in the 1860s".

First question had been answered. That was almost too easy. The look up of James Brewer's service record was the next challenge. Since the 15th Regiment of Foot is a British regiment I went to and started searching the British military records for James Brewer with a keyword of "15th". Only 3 James Brewers were listed and one of them really fit the profile: James Brewer of the 1st Battalion of the 15th Regiment of Foot was medically discharged in St. George, Bermuda on 5 May 1870. Five pages of his discharge papers had been digitized. On page 2 was a listing of where he served including New Brunswick and on page 4 was where he was born, what he looked like, and where he was planning on living after his discharge. All the details matched.

Finally, to confirm all the dates related to the regiment and marriage I checked the digitized British Military and Naval Records (RG 8, "C" Series) collection at the Library and Archives Canada web site. This is a great resource for pre-Confederation military files in Canada but it is really buried on their site. If you want to use this resource, as a starting point, click on the Help link on the page to figure out which digitized microfilm you need to look though. There was no mention of James Brewer  on the index cards but there were letters back and forth concerning the delay of movement for the 15th Regiment of Foot to Bermuda.

So with a "good question" and about 3 hours of research the poster of the query was very happy.

Friday, September 13, 2013

When Asking For Help ... Part 1

I'm in a number of groups on Facebook that deal with genealogy in specific areas of Canada. I joined those groups so that I might be able to learn more about the resources available for researchers like myself and maybe, just maybe, help those in need of genealogy assistance. Many times people are asking for help in finding out more about an ancestor that lived in those area. Maybe they have a census record for that distant family member and then that person disappears, other times all they have to go on is that a family story that stated the ancestor lived in a specific place at a specific time.

However, one thing in common with many queries is that they rarely provide enough information for someone help to them. Here is a real life example from a regional group that even after 2 weeks has yet to have a single reply, "I am working on Sinclair, Hunter, McKays and so many other family trees. It has been difficult finding the families. I hope someone on this page will be able to help me".

The problem I see with this kind of overarching plea for help is that they have only provided surnames, and relatively common ones at that. When asking for help try to give specifics and focus on one person. What do you already know about the Sinclair family you are looking for ... forenames are a good start. Birth (baptism), marriage and death (funeral) dates can really help in narrowing the focus. What county where they living in? Finally, what were the records that you first or last seen them? Was it a census record or maybe a baptism transcription?

In part 2 I will show a query that caught my attention and ended up with me learning a little more about the military in pre-Confederation New Brunswick.