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


  1. Great find! Amazed at your ability to read the script.

  2. Would you have any information on Caleb and Esther Howe's children beside your own direct ancestor? I saw an online record of an Esther Howe who was married to Robinson Merrithew, a private who served in the War of 1812 and settled in what is now Perth-Andover, NB. Any provable connection? Thanks!

    1. I have only been able to find and document two children of Lt. Caleb Howe and Esther Fairweather:
      - Submit (b ~1786, baptized Dec. 1786) wife of Wills F. Knox
      - Charles (b ~1790, d 1839) husband of Hannah Baxter