Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays

To all my friends, family, and especially to you, my gentle readers, I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Christmas in the Trenches

As part of the focus on the commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I this year's Sainsbury Christmas advertisement focused on the events that happened during Christmas 1914.


What occurred were a number of informal truces at various places along the Western Front. However, what needs to be remembered is that these truces did not extend throughout the theatre of war and there were still skirmishes occurring between Christmas Eve (December 24) and Boxing Day (December 27).

In various war diaries of the time there are hints of these events. From the The Bedfordshire Regiment in the Great War 1914 War Diary transcription:
24 Dec 1914 Relieved by Manchester Regt. at 8pm. Battn took over a section on their right from Dorset Regt. at about 9 pm. without any casualties. Wolverghem & Battn. Hd Qrs shelled by enemy. Reinforcements 69 R & File arrived.
25 Dec 1914 Christmas cards from Their Majesties the King & Queen distributed to all ranks of the Battn. Also present from Her R. Highness Princess Mary. Cold & frosty day. Quiet day. Germans semaphored over that they were not going to fire. Hard frost all day.
26 Dec 1916 Another quiet day. A little shelling by both sides. Some Germans came forward unarmed apparently with a view to friendly intercourse. A few shots fired in their direction as a hint to withdraw. Later, enemy shelled trenches & Wolverghem: damaged several rifles, but only wounded 1 man.
The personal diary of Regimental Sergeant-Major George Beck, of 1st Warwickshire Regiment, included details of those days. An image of the diary pages from the Dorset History Centre along with a transcription was included in the August 24, 2014 article "Midland soldier's poignant war diary reveals Christmas truce of December 1914" in the Birmingham Post:
24th Dec 1914 - Point 63
Quiet day. Relieved 2nd R DUB FUS [Royal Dublin Fusiliers] in the trenches in the evening. Germans shout over to us and ask us to play them at football, and also not to fire & they would do likewise. At 2 a.m. (25th) A German Band went along the trenches playing “Home, sweet Home” and God Save the King which sounded grand and made everyone think of Home. During the night several of our fellows went over “No Man’s Land” to German lines & was given a drink & cigars.

25th Dec 1914 - Trenches St Yves
Christmas Day. Not one shot was fired. English and German soldiers intermingled and exchanged souvenirs. Germans very eager to exchange almost anything for our bully beef and jam. Majority of them know French fluently. A few men of the regiment assisted in burying the dead of the Somerset Light Infantry who were killed on 19.12.14. Fine frosty day. Very cold.

26th Dec 1914 - Trenches St Yves
Unofficial truce kept up and our own fellows intermingled still with the Germans. No rifle shots fired, but our artillery fired a few rounds on the German 3rd and 4th lines and Germans retaliated with a few rounds on D Coys (Company’s) trenches. Two wounded.

In 1984 John McCutcheon wrote the song "Christmas in the Trenches" that poignantly described the scenes and thoughts through the eyes of a fictitious soldier named  Francis Tolliver.

For Canadians the version by John McDermott is probably most familiar to us.

So during this Christmas season, sometime between doing your Christmas shopping and attending those parties, take a moment to remember all those affected by war regardless of the side they were on during the conflicts.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Online Resources for Your Loyalist Research Project

When trying to research your Loyalist ancestors the challenge is locating those key records. It is even harder when you live a distance from that archive, museum, or library (You have checked the online resources of that library near where your Loyalist lived?) that holds a copy of the files you desperately want to read. Fortunately with the Internet it is a little bit easier (although still a challenge).

One thing to keep in mind are the following guidelines as to what defines a Loyalist:

  • Either male or female, as of 19 April 1775, a resident of the American colonies, and joined the Royal Standard prior to the Treaty of Separation of 1783, or otherwise demonstrated loyalty to the Crown, and settled in territory remaining under the rule of the Crown; or
  • a soldier who served in an American Loyalist Regiment and was disbanded in Canada; or
  • a member of the Six Nations of either the Grand River or the Bay of Quinte Reserve who is descended from one whose migration was similar to that of other Loyalists.

Here are just some of the online resources I use:

United Empire Loyalists' Association of Canada

  • List of Branches - Often the best place to ask for assistance is either the nearer branch of UELAC or the branch closest to where your Loyalist settled.
  • Loyalist Directory - Besides just the list of known Loyalists and whether someone has proven their descent from that specific Loyalist you may also periodically come across the actual application form that was submitted (like what I sent in for proving my descent from Lt. Caleb Howe of the Queens Rangers).

Ancestry ($)

Library and Archives Canada

LAC has a page describing the various fonds available both onsite and online that can aid in locating information on your Loyalist Ancestor. The following online collections may save you a trip to Ottawa (although it is a very nice city if I do say so myself).

Provincial Archives of New Brunswick

"Wallace Hale's Fort Havoc" collections are an amazing set of documents compiled by R. Wallace Hale that he has made available via the Provincial Archives of New Brunswick web site. Of particular interest to Loyalist researchers are the following starting pages:

Nova Scotia Archives

Until 1874 Nova Scotia and New Brunswick were one colony. New Brunswick was split off from Nova Scotia when the large influx of Loyalists leaving the thirteen colonies of what became the United States of America when the British lost the war and many of those Loyalists settled in Parrtown. If you have any New Brunswick Loyalist ancestors then checking the records at the Nova Scotia Archives needs to be done.
  • Nova Scotia Land Papers 1765-1800 - Volumes 1-25, the surviving records from 1765 to 1800, have been indexed and made available online. The searchable index contains 11,464 names of people who received land in the province during that time period.


New Brunswick, County Deed Registry Books, 1780-1930 - This unindexed collection of the New Brunswick County Deed Registry Books includes not only the usual land records of the settlers of New Brunswick (before 1784 New Brunswick was a county of the Colony of Nova Scotia) but also a listing of those that drew lots in Parrtown (later Saint John). The same list, although with some more details, can be found in Dr. Esther Clark Wright's book "The Loyalists of New Brunswick". You can find some instructions for looking through this collection in my post "Expecting only Deeds and Mortgages? How About a Will?"

Internet Archive

This is one of those great resources that just keeps on giving. Here you will find many out of copyright books that have been digitized for preservation. Just search for the keyword "Loyalists" or "Loyalist" and you will come across articles that may be only 2 pages in length to books with over 600 pages. You can read the articles and books on line or you can save them to your computer in PDF (and sometimes EPUB or Kindle) formats. Here is just a very small sample of what can be found:

Usually if I find a mention of an older book in an article on Loyalists I will see if it has been digitized and made available either through Google Books or the Internet Archive.

Monday, December 1, 2014

The Diary of Regimental Sergeant Major George Beck

The Dorset History Centre has embarked on an interesting project as part of commemorating the Great War of 1914-18. Daily they are posting the entries from the personal diary of Regimental Sergeant Major George Beck of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment. The full entries from his diaries will be posted but they are also tweeting the entries 100 years after RSM Beck wrote them.

Some of the diaries are of the usual stuff that soldiers deal with on a daily basis and can be quite drab and boring.

29th November: NIEPPE
"29th November: NIEPPE", Dorset History Centre, The diary of Regimental Sergeant Major George Beck, 19 Nov 2014, ( : 30 Nov 2014)

While other entries in his diary describe the action and activities of the battalion in detail:
13th October - CAESTRE
"13th October – CAESTRE", Dorset History Centre, The diary of Regimental Sergeant Major George Beck, 13 Oct 2014, ( : 30 Nov 2014)

What makes this interesting, at least to me, is that his diary is a personal one and not the official battalion or regimental diary. Although it may parallel what is written in the official diaries, he will also include items of a personal nature or of interest just to him.

If you are interested in reading the World War I battalion level war diaries (AKA WO 95) of the 10 Infantry Brigade: 1 Battalion Royal Warwickshire Regiment for the period of 1 Aug - 31 Dec 31 1914, they can be downloaded from The National Archives for the cost of £3.30 or viewed for free in The National Archives reading room at the archives itself.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Canadian Expeditionary Force Online Research Resources

On November 22, 2014 I gave an update of my talk titled "A Soldier of the Great War: A Research Case Study" to those that attended the Ottawa Branch of the Ontario Genealogical Society meeting. There I talked about the various resources I used to learn more about two Canadian soldiers of the First World War: Victor Sornberger and Samuel McKinlay.

For those that couldn't make it out to the meeting here are some of the resources I make use of when delving deeper into the lives of Canadian First World War personnel.

Library and Archives Canada (

This is the first place I visit when I learn that someone has served with the Canadian military during the 1st World War. There are many useful pages on the LAC site. LAC is currently working on digitizing all the serviced files of those that served in the Canadian Expeditionary Force. If the file isn't digitized yet, periodically (monthly) check the site for updates. Some highlights from their online collections are:

Commonwealth War Graves Commission (

Here you will find details on some of the 1,700,000 men and women of the Commonwealth forces who died in the two world wars. You may come across grave registration documents, registers along with photographs of the grave markers and cemeteries. (

Among the many collections on Ancestry there are some that directly pertain to those that may have served in the Great War:

Internet Archive (

The Internet Archive is one of those resource that keeps on giving. Here you will find archives of many web sites and also digitized books that are no longer in copyright. For example, searching using the terms nominal roll CEF returns 77 documents with titles as diverse as "Nursing Sisters Nominal Roll 1914" and "Yukon Machine Gun Section Nominal Roll 1915"

The Maple Leaf Legacy Project (

The Maple Leaf Legacy Project is a volunteer led effort to photograph of every Canadian War Grave from the various conflicts that Canada has been involved in. This includes the South African War (1899-1902), World War 1 (1914-18), World War II (1939-45), Korean War (1950-52), and all United Nations Peacekeeping Missions to the present day conflict in Afghanistan.

Canadian Expeditionary Force Study Group (

Many times when I can't find an answer to a question dealing with the CEF I may turn to the forums and documents made available by the Canadian Expeditionary Force Study Group. Often my question has already been asked and the participants of the CEF Study Group have provided a detailed answer on their forum.

World War 1 Trench Maps at McMaster University (

When I'm looking for a World War 1 trench map then I come here. They have digitized a number of trench maps for your viewing pleasure. You can zoom in on the map and actually read the names of the individual trenches. When combined with the battalion level war diaries found on the Library and Archives Canada site you may just be able to pinpoint where your ancestor fought in Europe.

Military History Research Centre (

This resource is available through the Canadian War Museum. In addition to being a physical library and archive the online presence has a catalogue of their holdings. Quite a few of their photographs have been digitized and are available to view via the Internet. Are you looking for the "Pigeon Service manual, Royal Air Force"? Then you are in luck since they have it in their collection. Many of the documents in the collection are available through interlibrary loan. Howveer, if you are in Ottawa and are planning on visiting the MHRC then call ahead or e-mail first to make arrangements since it is by appointment only.

Canadian Virtual War Memorial (

The Canadian Virtual War Memorial lists more than 118,000 Canadians and Newfoundlanders who have given their lives serving Canada or the United Kingdom. What is nice about this site is that you can upload your own images of your ancestors that fought in the various wars. That means you may also discover a picture that you had never seen before of the soldier you are researching.

Prisoners of the First World War (

The International Committee of the Red Cross has created a database of those that were held as prisoners of war during the First World War. If the civilian or serviceman was listed as a prisoner of war with their service record then checking this database and reading the information about life in the camps may shed some light into their life at that time.

"A Soldier of the Great War: A Research Case Study" video

At the November 22nd, 2014 meeting of the Ottawa Branch of the Ontario Genealogical Society I gave an update of my talk titled "A Soldier of the Great War: A Research Case Study". In this presentation I spoke about the various resources that are available to family history researchers to learn about those that served in the Canadian Expeditionary Force during the Great War of 1914-1918.

With the magic of technology along with the recording and creative efforts of John D. Reid a video has been created of the slides and yours truly talking about researching Victor Sornberger and Samuel McKinlay.

So for those that weren't able to attend the meeting in Ottawa  here is the presentation for your viewing enjoyment.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

BIFHSGO's 20th Anniversary

Much like people much be registered when they are born so must corporations. On November 16th, 1994 the British Isles Family History Society of Greater Ottawa was issued the Federal Letters Patent as a corporation.

How things have changed

  • Then, in the first issue of Anglo-Celtic Roots potential authors were asked to submit typewritten, double-spaced copy on standard 8.5 by 11 inches paper to the society post box address.
  • Today we're request to submit in electronic format using MSWord-compatible software via email.

  • Then the first issue of ACR contained none of the terms Internet, www or http. They came along in the final issue of the first volume.
  • Today every major article published has Internet references.

  • Then out of nine society directors one was a woman.
  • Today out of eleven directors eight are women including the president.

We've come a long way.

Tip: Did your recent ancestors own or were they on a board of a Canadian federally incorporated company? If you know the name of the company you can search for the details at Search for a Federal Corporation.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Call for Presentations for the BIFHSGO Conference 2015

The British Isles Family History Society of Greater Ottawa (BIFHSGO) is seeking proposals for presentations at its 21st annual conference, September 18-20, 2015 to be held in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada at Library and Archives Canada.

The three themes for the conference will be Scotland, Photographs in Genealogy, and Technology (including hardware, software, apps, websites, databases, social media, DNA analysis tools etc.). Proposals on these three themes for lectures at the conference on the Saturday and Sunday are sought as well as for workshops or seminars on the Friday.

Details on writing the proposals can be found at under the Conference 2015 heading. Please send your proposals to before January 31, 2015.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Facebook: A Valid Source to Cite or Not?

Recently the "The In-Depth Genealogist" published an article by Christine Woodcock titled "That Online Tree is NOT a Source!"1 While I agree with most of her article I do disagree with the last sentence in the following paragraph where she wrote [underlining is mine]:
"I’ll tell you what is NOT a source: Someone else’s research. Someone else’s tree. Someone else’s educated guess or deductive reasoning. Neither is information received in an e-mail, from a message board, mailing list or Facebook group."

I find that the last sentence is overly broad since, at least to me, it treats all information received over those media as invalid sources that cannot be cited. Although I do hope that the sentence applies to received information stated previously in the paragraph. Even a simple change to "Neither is the same information received..." would link that statement to the previous sentences as to what is not are sources to cite and I would, in principal, agree with the paragraph.

Earlier she had written "A source is a record of the event, documented at the time of the event with information given by a witness to the event." What makes the mode of communication that is sent by e-mail or posted online any less valid than placing an announcement in a newspaper or writing and photocopying a letter for sending by postal mail? Given that in today's modern world many family announcements are made by e-mail or Facebook why wouldn't an announcement distributed by any of those mediums be not considered a source? As discussed on the Evidence Explained forums, Facebook is accepted as a source for information and can be cited (

What needs to be evaluated, just like with any other document that is received, is who provided the information and when it was create in terms of proximity to the event. If the information being sent or posted is concerning an event from a bygone era or is a repeat of something said elsewhere then, as a good researcher, you should locate the document or post that is being talked about and cite that instead. Unless that too points to another document or post ... follow the chain until you get to the true source of the information.

Yet what about if I am an actual witness to an event and I post the information online or sent it out in an e-mail? Can and should someone else cite what I have stated as a source? I know I have received or seen those announcements of births, marriages, and deaths via e-mail and Facebook posts. Knowing the person that has posted the information and the fact it was posted the same or next day after the event, in my mind, has the same weight as receiving a letter in the mail announcing what has happened. I just make sure I save the information as a screen shot or in a text file just in case someone asks me to show my source for the recorded fact.

I do agree that hearsay information passed over those means of communication should not be cited. At best they should be treated as possible clues and follow up questions need to be asked such as "Where did you find that information?" and "Can you share the source of your information?"

As always: read, analyze, and think when using any potential source of information.

1. Retrieved 24 Oct 2014 at 11:41 am EDT

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Ottawa Shooting ... a few thoughts

Unfortunately Ottawa has joined the list that no city wants to be part of ... that of a target of violence and terror. I'm not going to repeat the details, rumours, and comments of what occurred on October 22nd, 2014. You can easily find them online from your favourite news source or from CBC at

While it is important to reflect on what has happened and to seek answers as to why it occurred it is just as important to not become fixated on this event.

So reach out to your loved ones by phone, text, Facebook, Twitter or in person. Give a smile to those you pass on the street, greet your neighbours with a kind hello, and say thank you to all those that stand in harm's way as part of their duty and calling. However, don't just do it when a tragedy strikes but reach out when all is good in the world.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Canadian Gravemarker Gallery - Beechwood National Cemetery photographed

From the Canadian Gravemarker Gallery Update Newsletter that came out October 1st:

"We are very pleased to announce that The Beechwood National Cemetery in Ottawa is now completely photographed and online. There are over 50,000 grave marker photographs to browse; and the cemetery owners report that there are over 90,000 burials in this "park-like" beautiful cemetery."

For those that don't know about this wonderful resource for images of grave markers in Canada they have almost 865,000 images from over 1,400 cemeteries across Canada and they are constantly adding more images every month.

Beechwood Cemetery in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada was established in 1873 and is the home of the National Military Cemetery and the RCMP National Memorial Cemetery. The cemetery registers for Beechwood Cemetery can be found digitized and indexed on Ancestry in the "Ottawa, Canada, Beechwood Cemetery Registers, 1873-1990" collection.

John D. Reid has mentioned he is slowly exploring the lives of the 98 soldiers of the Great War of 1914-18 that are buried in Beechwood Cemetery. He will be posting some of those details on the anniversary of their death in his well-known blog Canada's Anglo-Celtic Connections. On September 21st John gave details on what he was able to find about the first WW1 Ottawa soldier, Thomas William Hardingham, that was buried at Beechwood Cemetery.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Where are you Laben Mazey?

One of the attendees to the seminar I co-presented at the recent 20th Annual BIFHSGO Family History Conference had run into a problem where she couldn't find a death registration. What made it seem strange to me was that the person's name was fairly unusual. In her e-mail she spelled his name as "Leban Mazey". The known facts are:
  • He was born in Llantwitvairdre, Glamorganshire, Wales in 1841
  • He was married to Margaret Jones in 1867
  • The last known place he was in was in Llanwonno, Glammorganshire, Wales in the 1901 living with his daughter and her husband

My starting place was Ancestry (just because it is usually open) and when I searched for Leban Mazey born 1841 only a few entries popped to the top of the list. His birth registered in the Cardiff registration district along with the 1901 census. But an interesting thing jumped out at me ... in both cases his forename was spelled "Laban"

Ancestry sarch results for Laben Mazey
So off to my favourite free site for genealogy research and that is FamilySearch.

When searching FamilySearch, especially when you know the region to look, it is a good idea to limit the Location the country. In this case, I restricted the search to only return records for Wales. I also used the spelling of "Laban"

FamilySearch,org search page for Laban Mazey

And a whole slew of records were returned including the link to an image on Findmypast for his marriage registration ... not the index but the registration document itself (Happy dance since it saves £9.25 because it doesn't need to be ordered!). But it seems he was married in 1865 and not 1867. But we can't get sidetracked but that discovery (stay focused!). What is also found appears to be his death registration in Pontypridd district in 1905. Since he was found there in the 1901 census it is a fairly good chance that it is his registration. search results for Laban Mazey, born 1840-1842, restricted to Wales as the location

But the only way to be sure is to order the death registration from the General Register Office and pay the £9.25.

Don't forget about checking the newspapers. The National Library of Wales has been digitizing and indexing a number of newspapers at the free Welsh Newspapers Online site. Sometimes you get lucky in finding a notice of probate, the person selling an item, a family notice, or you find out the person is not a saint but more of a sinner.

Yet why didn't we find his death in the FreeBMD index on Ancestry? After a few more searches I did find him on Ancestry but his last name was transcribed as "Mazet". Looking at the image from the index book I can see how it may be seen that way. Fortunately FamilySearch used their own transcribers for this index.
FreeBMD, "England & Wales, FreeBMD Death Index: 1837-1915," database, ( : accessed 23 Sep 2014), entry for Laban Mazet, Mar quarter 1905, Pontypridd district; citing the General Register Office's England and Wales Civil Registration Indexes.
FreeBMD, "England & Wales, FreeBMD Death Index: 1837-1915," database, ( : accessed 23 Sep 2014), entry for Laban Mazet, Mar quarter 1905, Pontypridd district; citing the General Register Office's England and Wales Civil Registration Indexes.

So today's tip is if you can't find the information within one site, check the other sites that hold the same collection. The transcriptions used for the indexes may be different.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

20th Annual BIFHSGO Family History Conference Brick Walls

One of the activities I set up for the Research Room at the 20th Annual BIFHSGO Family History Conference that took place the weekend of September 19-21, 2014 was a brick wall board. If you know of any pointers or solutions to these problems posted by the attendees, don't hesitate to leave a comment (with additional information and/or contact details) or contact me and I can forward on the information to the poster. My e-mail address is:

The Brick Walls

Name: Lydia Ferin
Dates: b. ~1798, d. ?
Question: When and where was she born? When and where did she die?
Details: Lydia was married to Nathaniel Chamberlain (b. 1788) and settled in Chelsea, Quebec. Moved to Osgood circa 1856 - no trace after that.

Name: Christian Doho (Dohoo)
Dates: married ~1738 in Southwark
Question: Where was he from?
Details: Had several children born in Lewisham, Kent. Name later changed to Dohoo. Doho was (and is) common name in Africa. This is part of a One-Name research project.

Name: Eunice Hutchins
Dates: b. ~1807 in USA, d. 1 Mar 1891 in Chelsea, Quebec
Question: Who were her parents?
Details: Eunice married John Bradley and subsequently Thomas Childs. Lived in Chelsea Quebec.

Name: Archibald Campbell Turner
Dates: b. ~1790
Question: Where was he born?
Details: Indicated are that he could have been born in Ireland but lived in Scotland before emigration to Canada in 1820.

Name: Samuel Dowdall, Private Canadian Fencibles 1816
Dates: 1809-1816
Question: Is there a regimental roll or list for Canadian Fencibles Regiment at their discharge in 1816?
Details: Would like to find out Samual Dowdall's place of origin and if he had transferred into the Fencibles from another regiment. There was a Samuel Dowdall in the 41st Regiment in the Niagara Theatre during the War of 1812. Would like to determine if this the same Samuel Dowdall as that found in the Canadian Fencibles.

Name: Midghall/McKervney
Dates: 1890+
Question: Looking for the Kathryn Jackson of Australia that is/was researching the same uncommon surnames. She had left messages on several boards 10 years ago but is not longer responding or seeing the messages left for her. Would love to contact her.

Name: Peter Grant
Dates: b. ~1815 in Inverness, Scotland, d. 17 Apr 1890 in Ontario, Canada
Question: Who were his parents? Where are they?
Details: Peter Grant was a Justice of the Peace in Ontario. Did he possibly study low in Scotland? He came to Canada about 1836 but we don't know which ship. He married Elizabeth Muir about 1855 in Gainsboro Township, Markham. He lived in Pelham.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

A Research Methodology Case Study: When did John Wragg die?

Sorry about not posting for the past week but I was involved in the very successful 20th Annual BIFHSGO Family History Conference this past weekend where I was not only the host of the Research Room but also a co-presenter on Friday for a seminar on researching your English and Welsh ancestors. As you can imagine it was a busy week.

One of the challenges we all faced as a beginner was not knowing where to look for answers. Sometimes even what should be the easiest question to answer becomes a major brick wall for someone just starting out. The following question was asked at the Friday seminar and here are the steps I took to find the most likely answer:


When did John Wragg die?

Known facts

  • He was living in Dunstable, Bedfordshire, England
  • An elderly aunt said he died the day she was born which was August 25, 1901
  • His wife's name is Annie Marsh
  • The following children are known: Rosa (b. 1876), Lydia, Annie, Lucy, William, John, Dorothy Lydia (b. abt 1891)

Step 1 - Finding out John Wragg's birth year

Which the last child born about 1891 I decided to start looking for the family in the 1891 census of England. Since I have a world subscription to Ancestry that was the easiest place to look for the family, especially since their search system allows me to include all his children as part of the search. Below is the Advanced search screen I used for the query.

As you can see, I only entered in the very basic details and restricted it to collections from England online.

When I focused the search results to the 1891 census of England there were only two results that percolated to the top of the list. Of those two, the first one had five of the seven children that we knew about.

Unless additional information appears the proves otherwise I'd say that the first census is the one we are interested in.

1891 census of England, Yorkshire, Civil Parish of Sowerby, Sowerby Bridge, folio 101, page 2, Household of John William Wragg; digital images,, ( : accessed 23 Sep 2014); citing PRO RG 12/3600.
1891 census of England, Yorkshire, Civil Parish of Sowerby, Sowerby Bridge, folio 101, page 2, Household of John William Wragg; digital images,, ( : accessed 23 Sep 2014); citing PRO RG 12/3600. 

Viewing the image of the census reveals some information we didn't know when we started.
  • His full name appears to be John William Wragg
  • He was 38 years old when the 1891 census was taken so he was born about about 1853
  • He was born in Wadsley, Yorkshire
  • He is recorded as being a labourer in 1891

Step 2 - Set the limits on when he died

Can we find him and the family in the 1901 census of England (according to the elderly aunt he should still be around)?

1901 census of England, London, Civil Parish of Camberwell, folio 143, page 4, Household of John Wragg; digital images,, ( : accessed 23 Sep 2014); citing PRO RG 13/506.
1901 census of England, London, Civil Parish of Camberwell, folio 143, page 4, Household of John Wragg; digital images,, ( : accessed 23 Sep 2014); citing PRO RG 13/506. 

This looks to be the household but now they are residing in Camberwell, London and not all the children are there but that is understandable since the eldest children are of marrying age and have probably moved away. But it does seem that John Wragg is alive in 1901, but is he still living in 1911?

A search for him in the 1911 census of England returns no results that appear to match but searching for Annie Wragg, born about 1853, in Swindon, Wiltshire (from the 1901 census) returns her listed as a widow living with a son Jack, age 24 years, in Dunstable, Bedfordshire.

So it appears that John Wragg died between 31 March 1901 and 2 Apr 1911, the dates of the 1901 and 1911 census respectively.

Step 3 - Finding his death registration

Using FreeMBD (just because I like to highlight other resources, especially if they are free, but you can use Ancestry too for this) I entered the details I believed I knew were correct into their search form:

Surprisingly there were only two possible entries found. A John William Wragg that was 52 years of age that was recorded in the registration district of Luton and a 2 year old in the registration district of Rotherham. I'm fairly certain we can rule out the 2 year old.

So what does the registration district of Luton include? Clicking on the Luton link a screen pops up stating that "The district Luton spans the boundaries of the counties of Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire". He was in Bedfordshire in 1891 and his widow is back there for the 1911 census. This looks promising. Following the links on FreeBMD to find out more about the Luton registration district brings up a page on UKBMD that has Dunstable on the list of civil parishes for that district.

You could stop here and order his death registration from the General Register Office (never order it from Ancestry since they tack on a surcharge) to confirm that it is him. But there is one more place to check and that is the "England &Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1858-1966" collection on Ancestry.

Step 4 - Extra Credits

A search of the "England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1858-1966" collection results in finding the following entry:
Name: John William Wragg
Probate Date: 4 Oct 1904
Death Date: 20 Aug 1904
Death Place: Bedfordshire, England
Registry: London, England
Looking at the entry on the index page you see that he was of the "Crown" inn Houghton Regis near Dunstable. This actually matches additional information that was known about the family (but not divulged until I had found this record). Even better we now know that he died on 20 Aug 1904., "National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1858-1966," database and images, ( : accessed 23 Sep 2014), John William Wragg, probated 4 Oct 1904; citing Principal Probate Registry. Calendar of the Grants of Probate and Letters of Administration made in the Probate Registries of the High Court of Justice in England. London, England., "National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1858-1966," database and images, ( : accessed 23 Sep 2014), John William Wragg, probated 4 Oct 1904; citing Principal Probate Registry. Calendar of the Grants of Probate and Letters of Administration made in the Probate Registries of the High Court of Justice in England. London, England.

Everything appears to fit with what had been provided. Except that the elderly aunt was wrong as to the day and the year of his death.

Just remember to always take with a grain of salt anything that has been told to you. There is usually a kernel of truth contained within but stories need to be verified.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

What's in a name? Just Confusion

"What's in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;"

William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, Act II, Scene I

Only if that was true when it is comes to the names of places and people when doing genealogy research. As I posted in "When is a Wilkerson a Wilkinson?" following the possible variations in a surname can cause no end of confusion. It can get even worse when a person changes their forename like Oscar James Little AKA James Austin Little (but that is for another day and another post).

Another of the challenges faced by all family history and genealogy researchers is to accurately record where an event took place. Some people try to keep it simple by using the place name as it exists now when adding details to their family tree. However, that can create some interesting brick walls when it comes to locating some of those hard to find records. What I try to do is to record the name of the place as it was at the time.

As some of my gentle-readers may have guessed, I've been spending the past several weeks researching various lines that originally settled in what is now called the Regional Municipality of Niagara and that is where it gets interesting. For example, a place like Niagara-on-the-Lake, Regional Municipality of Niagara, Ontario, Canada also is known by the following names (years are approximate and depended on when the necessary legislation was passed and signed law):
  • 1781-1788 Butlersburg, Montreal District, Province of Quebec
  • 1788-1791 Butlersburg, Nassau District, Province of Quebec
  • 1791-1792 Butlersburg, Nassau District, Province of Upper Canada
  • 1792-1798 Newark, Home District, Province of Upper Canada
  • 1798-1841 Niagara, Niagara District, Province of Upper Canada
  • 1841-1851 Niagara, Niagara District, Canada West, United Province of Canada
  • 1851-1867 Niagara, Lincoln County, Canada West, United Province of Canada
  • 1867-1970 Niagara1, Lincoln County, Ontario, Canada
  • 1970-now Niagara-on-the-Lake, Regional Municipality of Niagara, Ontario, Canada
And that is just one place!

So why is it important to know the various names of a place? When looking for land records and if you are just looking for Niagara and ignoring Newark or Nassau then you will probably miss all those critical early records. You might also ignore a key record just because the place name used is not the same name in use today.

It can get even more confusing for early records in Ontario since there were counties created in 1792 but they co-existed with the district names until about 1851 when the districts were abolished. The counties during that period were for electoral, land registration, and militia purposes. So even though Newark was in Home District in 1792 you will also find land registrations and probates listed as being in Lincoln County.

Yes it can get very confusing at times. The Archives of Ontario even has a page called "The Changing Shape of Ontario" where you can view and download maps showing the progression from districts to counties from 1788 to 1899.

So look for web sites and other resources that can help you figure out that correct name. In my case I purchased AniMap County Boundary Historical Atlas by Gold Bug for my USA and Ontario research (Ontario is only district and county borders unfortunately and not place names). I also make use of the web pages of various historical societies and even Wikipedia to give me clues and pointers. Also for the United States of America there is the online Atlas of Historical County Boundaries that is available for free. Don't forget about gazetteers to help you out in figuring out what something is called, which county or country it may be and when.

1. Niagara-on-the-Lake was the postal designation from the 1880s but it wasn't until 1970 when the Town and Township of Niagara was merged that the name became "official".

Monday, September 8, 2014

Robert Wilkinson: A Loyalist or Not?

In my past post, "When is a Wilkerson a Wilkinson?" I was dealing with the Wilkerson/Wilkinson family that settled in the Township of Thorold in Niagara District, Upper Canada. My interest in this family is due my aunt's husband asking me to see if the family story of being a descendant of Loyalist that served in Colonel John Butler's Rangers is true. The good thing is yes, it is true and my aunt's husband is a descendant of the Loyalist Lt. Jacob Ball (the Elder). Before anyone asks, the paperwork for the certificate application is in progress with a draft that needs to be reviewed by my aunt's husband before my final check.

Yet I didn't stop there. I was curious as to if any other of my aunt's husband's lines were also descended from Loyalists. One interesting possibility popped up and that is Robert Wilkerson, the son of Robert Wilkinson, who married the granddaughter of the United Empire Loyalist Lt. Jacob Ball (the Elder).

The starting point anytime I look for a Loyalist connection is the United Empire Loyalists Association of Canada web site. On that site there is a Directory of Loyalists and, if known, that lists indicates whether the person is "proven" or "expunged". A search of that directory results in finding a Robert Wilkerson listed:


WilkieJamesMuster Table HMS "Clinton", Document # ADM 36/9966 Public Record Office, Kew, Surrey, England. Copied by Frank Davis, transcribed by Mette Griffin Detail
WilkinsAndrewCharlotte Co., NBNYGBS; V40 N2 Apr 1909Detail
WilkinsIsaacHome DistrictUEL ListDetail
WilkinsMartinHome DistrictUEL ListDetail
WilkinsRobertSerj'tMidland DistrictExpungedUEL ListDetail
WilkinsenWill'mMuster Table HMS "Clinton", Document # ADM 36/9966 Public Record Office, Kew, Surrey, England. Copied by Frank Davis, transcribed by Mette Griffin Detail
WilkinsonJohnMuster Table HMS "Clinton", Document # ADM 36/9966 Public Record Office, Kew, Surrey, England. Copied by Frank Davis, transcribed by Mette Griffin Detail
WilkinsonRich'dCapt.Eastern DistrictUEL ListDetail
United Empire Loyalists Association of Canada, Directory of Loyalists, database ( 8 Sep 2014), Robert Wilkerson entry.

Since I know there are several spelling variations of the name I also make note of other potential Loyalists such as the Robert Wilkins that is listed as "Proven".

Clicking on the Detail link for Robert Wilkerson brings up the recorded details:

Surname : Wilkerson
Given name : Robert
Rank :
Where Resettled :
Status as Loyalist : Proven
Source :
Notes (Expunged, Suspended, Reinstated) :
Regiment :
Enlistment Date :
Date & Place of Birth :
Settled before war :
Date & Place of Death :
Place of Burial :
Wife Name :
Children :
Biography :
Proven Descendants : Col. John Butler 2010-03-29; Col. John Butler 2010-04-12;
Military Info :
Loyalist Genealogy :
Family History :
Family Genealogy :
Other Info :
Reserved :
United Empire Loyalists Association of Canada, Directory of Loyalists, database ( 8 Sep 2014), Robert Wilkerson details.

There really isn't much there. However, for the Proven Descendants there are two references:
  • Col. John Butler 2010-03-29
  • Col. John Butler 2010-04-12
These refer to the UELAC branch and the date of approval of the certificate application. This is a great thing to find. Since I belong to UELAC and I am also doing this as part of a certificate application I sent an e-mail to my local branch genealogist asking to retrieve either one of those certificate application. He forwarded me the e-mail of the Col. John Butler branch genealogist and after a few e-mail exchanges I had a copy of the application sent to me by mail (postal mail, not e-mail).

One thing I did when asking for a copy of the application and supporting documentation was to ask that all except the first four generations from the Loyalist be redacted. That way I preserve the privacy of any living people listed yet I still have enough information that I can bridge from my records to the generation(s) that I am missing.

In the packet I received paper copies of the wills for Robert Wilkerson and his father Robert Wilkinson plus the Certificate of Family Lands and Additional Bounty with Robert Wilkinson's name on it.

Township Papers for Thorold, microfilm MS658 (Toronto, Ontario: Archives of Ontario), reel 471, no. 000144, Certificate of Family Lands and Additional Bounty for Robert Wilkinson, issued 9 Feb 1791.

Here you can read that the board has "...examined into his character and pretensions, and find that he as received two hundred Acres of land in the Township of No 9 in the District of Nassau as a Loyalist..."

This, interestingly enough, is the only documentation that I can find, with the exception of an entry1 for his grandson, David Wilkerson, son of John Wilkerson, where it says "...grandson of Robert Wilkerson, a native of Pennsylvania, of German descent, who came to Canada as a U. E. Loyalist during the American revolutionary war".

Since I'm not a trusting sort when it comes to genealogy research I like to have some corroboration to statements made. To that end I've looked in the following references for any mention of Robert Wilkinson or Robert Wilkerson:

  • "The Loyalists In Ontario: The Sons and Daughters of The American Loyalists Of Upper Canada" by William D. Reid
  • "American Loyalist Claims (AO12)", Library and Archives Canada, Robert Wilkinson file, microfilm B-1177, volume 99, image 352. A claim reviewed in October 1783 was made but was found to be "perfectly groundless" by the examining board.
  • "American Loyalist Claims (AO13)", Library and Archives Canada, Robert Wilkinson file, microfilm B-2432, volume 67, images 601-602. This is the petition made that was reviewed in October 1783.
  • "British Military Records", Library and Archives Canada, RG 8, C Series.
  • "Loyalist Lineages of Canada" compiled by Toronto Branch, United Empire Loyalists' Association of Canada (c) 1991. Published by Toronto Branch, United Empire Loyalists' Association of Canada, Toronto, Ontario.
  • "Biographical sketches of loyalists of the American Revolution" by Lorenzo Sabine
  • "Loyalists in the Southern Campaign of the Revolutionary War" by Murtie June Clark
I still have several tasks to do:

  • Locate the first grant mentioned in the above Certificate of Family Lands and Additional Bounty.
  • Review the notes of W. G. Reive that have been placed within the collections of Library and Archives Canada. 
  • Scan the shelves of the library of the Sir Guy Carleton Branch of UELAC that are held at the City of Ottawa Archives.
  • Look through the Heir and Devisee digitized microfilms.
But as of yet, nothing has been found to corroborate the statement that Robert Wilkinson/Wilkerson is a Loyalist.

If you have any suggestions as to where to also look for additional evidence that Robert Wilkinson was a United Empire Loyalist I would be happy to hear from you.

1. Historical Publishing Company, editor, The History of the County of Welland, Ontario, Its Past and Present, Containing a Condensed History of Canada; A Complete History of Welland County: Its Townships, Towns, Villages, Schools, Churches, Societies, Industries, Statistics, Etc; Portraits of Some of Its Prominent Men; Description of Its Various Historic and Interesting Localities; Miscellaneous Matter; Biographies and Histories of Pioneer Families, Etc. (Welland, Ontario: Welland Tribune Printing House, 1887), p. 488, entry for David Wilkerson.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

When is a Wilkerson a Wilkinson?

One of the many challenges we can face when exploring our various family lines is coming across a surname change in one of the branches. In my case I was researching the Wilkerson line that, around the mid to late 1780s, came to what later became known as Canada. Much like most of my research I was working from the present to the past. Everything was going just fine until I came to the Robert Wilkerson that was born about 1785 and died July 21, 1843. That is when the problem began. OK, actually he wasn't the problem. It was his father or more correctly how his father spelled the family name.

On handwritten notes found in the collections of the Niagara Peninsula branch of the Ontario Genealogical Society that at the time were housed at the Thorold Public Library but are now at the St. Catharines Public Library there was comment on the Wilkerson page of "Robert Wilkinson or Wilkerson" with one of the children listed as "Robert". It just happened that on the same day I was looking at the collection another couple was also researching the same family name. Except they were coming at it from the John Wilkerson (husband of Anne Hoover) branch.

Since I am a doubting sort when it comes to documents that I have no idea as to their source or providence I could only use that note as a possible clue or guidepost. I knew I had to dig further to verify this change of surname and make sure the Wilkerson and Wilkinson families were one in the same. Since the events took place in the early history of Upper Canada and civil birth, marriage, and death registrations are non-existent I decided to use will and land records. Yes, church records are a possibility but many have been lost in this early time of Ontario and even then many don't record the names of parents when it comes to marriage records or funerals.

My first stop was the Niagara Settlers web site. This is an amazing resource for those with ancestors that settled in the Niagara Peninsula region after the American Revolution. There you will find transcriptions of land transactions and petitions along with some old township maps. There I found transcriptions under the name of Robert Wilkerson Sr. for a number of land transactions to his sons made via wills. But it this the right person since the transcription says Wilkerson and not Wilkinson? The only way to be sure is to get a copy of the wills.

From the will of Robert Wilkinson, written 12 May 18131

Step 1: Finding the Wills

The first thing I had to do was to find the wills in question. For that I headed over to the Archives of Ontario web site and their online "Ontario Court of Probate and Surrogate Court Records: Wills and Estate Files - A Pathfinder" document. From the clues I'd already been able to gather I know (or presumed) the following:
  • Robert Wilkerson died 21 Jul 1843 [from his grave marker]
  • John Wilkerson died in 1827 [from hand written notes in the Thorold library]
  • Robert Wilkinson died in 1813 [from hand written notes in the Thorold library]
So it seemed that all the deaths happened before 1859 so that is a good thing for me since there are actually online indexes on the Archives of Ontario web site:

Inventory 22, Appendix A1 (Court of Probate)
Inventory 22, Appendix A25 (Surrogate Courts)

I didn't find any Wilkerson or Wilkinson names from the townships and counties in the Niagara area in the Inventory 22, Appendix A1 (Court of Probate) index but a check of Inventory 22, Appendix A25 (Surrogate Courts) had quite a number with those surnames from Lincoln county.

The next step to locate the microfilm that has the information from the Surrogate Court was to locate the records for Lincoln county. I went to the Estate files section and found that all the possible name variants for this family in Lincoln county could be found on microfilm MS 8421. That was almost too easy. Through the Ottawa Public Library I knew I could order that microfilm via the Interlibrary Loan program. The hardest part was the waiting for the microfilm to arrive ... almost 3 weeks but it finally did come in.

Step 2: Saving the Microfilm Pages

The reading of the old handwriting can be a chore and, depending on the scribbles, sometimes near impossible. Instead of attempting to do the work at the library I made use of the one and only microfilm reader with USB saving capabilities at the main branch of the library to save the pages as images. Since the pages on the microfilm reader were larger than what could be scanned in in one shot I scanned them in piecemeal (top, bottom, left, right, etc.) with the expectation of being able to stitch them together at home into a readable document.

[As an aside, whenever you scan a microfilm page make sure you scan it at the highest resolution possible and save it in TIF format. Although it makes for a huge file it will be a good thing later on when you need to zoom in or do any editing to the pages.]

Once I got home I was able to use Microsoft's free (yes, FREE!) Image Composite Editor to just drag and drop the various parts of the pages onto the edit screen and it automagically created perfectly stitched together single pages for me.

Step 3: Reading and Transcribing

This for me is always the most painful part of genealogy research. But I have found that if I don't do this, especially for long handwritten documents, I can easily lose track of what I've read and that leads to confusion. Always a bad thing when doing research. A few days later (I had to take breaks so I wouldn't go too crazy) I had the wills transcribed. By the way, the more practice you have in reading and transcribing these documents the easier it becomes.

Step 4: Analysis and Conclusion

This was the interesting part. I now had the transcriptions of the wills of the Robert Wilkinson and that of two of his sons to work from plus digital images of the wills to verify what I had transcribed (yes, sometimes I even doubt my own transcriptions).

In the will of Robert Wilkinson of the Township of Thorold, Lincoln County, Niagara District, Upper Canada dated May 12, 18131 he leaves the following property to his sons:
  • Lot 46: to son Robert
  • Lot 47: to son John
  • Lot 70: one third (south end) to son Jacob, two thirds (north end) to son Robert
  • Lot 93: one third (south end) to son Jacob, two thirds (north end) to son John

Previously Robert had given by deed the following lots
  • Lot 92: to son Jacob
In the will of John Wilkerson2 of the Township of Thorold, Lincoln County, Niagara District, Upper Canada dated August 21, 1827 he authorizes his executors to “…sell my real or landed estates and to make legal titles for the same…”. The lands in the Township of Thorold, Lincoln County, Niagara District are:
  • Lot 47
  • Lot 70

The will of Robert Wilkerson3 of the Township of Thorold, Lincoln County, Niagara District, Province of Canada dated July 18, 1843 has the following lands listed in the Township of Thorold, Lincoln County, Niagara District:
  • Lot 46: to son Robert Morgan
  • Lot 69: two thirds to son Robert Morgan
So from these documents we see that the land that Robert Wilkinson bequeathed to his sons John and Robert appear in the wills of John Wilkerson and Robert Wilkerson. In addition to the aforementioned wills, extracts4 from the Abstracts of Deeds taken from the Register of Thorold Township provide details concerning the early land transactions of that township. These extracts confirm that the lands stated within the various families. By following these wills we can see the surname change from Wilkinson to Wilkerson.

1. Ontario, Estate Files (1794-1930), microfilm MS 8421, Will for Robert Wilkinson, dated 12 May 1813; Archives of Ontario, Toronto.
2. Ontario, Estate Files (1794-1930), microfilm MS 8421, Will for John Wilkinson, dated 21 Aug 1827; Archives of Ontario, Toronto.
3. Ontario, Estate Files (1794-1930), microfilm MS 8421, Will for Robert Wilkerson, dated 18 Jul 1843; Archives of Ontario, Toronto.
4. Niagara Settlers, Settler Records “W”, Thorold Township, Welland County, Extracted from the Abstracts of Deeds, Register of Thorold Township, 2 Sep 2014.

Monday, September 1, 2014

September Backup Reminder

For those in the Northern Hemisphere either the children are already back to school after a fun summer or they will be going back in the next several days. So maybe you will have a little bit of time to yourself to make sure you have all your valuable genealogy (and other information) backed up.

photograph by Gino, distributed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license

If you are using a computer to record all that information see my posts below for tips on how you can make backups:
Backups - Part I (An Overview)
Backups - Part II (Local backups)
Backups - Part III (Cloud Storage) 
Backups - Part IV (Wrap up)

But for those not using a computer to record and track all your various genealogy records what are you doing about all your shelves of work that you have painstakingly gathered over the many years? How are you making sure they aren't lost due to some sort of disaster? It would be awful to lose a wall of binders and books to a fire, flood, tornado or hurricane.

photograph by Ada Be, distributed under CC BY 2.0 license

It is something to think about. How do you back up binders? I look forward to your comments.