Genealogical Researching On-site – A Rainy Day Activity

September 25th, 2015

At the time that I posted my last blog, I was leaving the Isle of Wight, England, after spending four days on the island. Residents told us that we had picked the worst possible week to visit due to the predicted rainfall. When we woke to a downpour on day two of our visit, I decided that a visit to the Isle of Wight Record Office was in order.

I was almost soaked through when I got to the office due to my refusal to spend potential research monies on cab fare. Fortunately I had bagged my research items in plastic! I learned that you should check to see if the coat, that you thought was waterproof, actually is waterproof. Maybe standing under the shower while wearing it when still at home would have been a good move!

One of my research goals was to find information about apprenticeship records related to my Atkey ancestors. I had checked the websites of Isle of Wight Family History Society and the Isle of Wight Records Office before I left home so I knew some the records that would be accessible like marriage records and apprenticeship indentures.

The staff at the Records Office were very friendly and helpful. Getting copies of the marriage records that I wanted was easy because the collection included photocopies of marriage registrations by parish in binders. These copies could be slid out and the staff would make copies for researchers.

My Research Finds
While I was locating the marriage registrations that I wanted, the staff located the original copy of an 1801 indenture for a James Yelf who was apprenticed to my 3X great grandfather, Isaac Atkey. I found the terms of the agreement quite interesting because some protection for the apprentice was required of Isaac. What a thrill it was to hold this document in my hands. I came home with a copy of it .

I was also able to access the “family” files for the Atkeys which contained information provided primarily by my distant cousin Fred Atkey who lives near London, England. He had provided considerable information about apprenticeship records going back to 1752.

My last find was a marriage record for my 3X great grandfather, James Atkey, who came to Canada as a Wesleyan Methodist missionary circa 1854. Of course, a scan of that record came home with me.

Preparing For Your Research Trip While Still at Home
My preparations for this trip can be duplicated for on-site research in Ontario. The key preparations are:

  • doing preparation research to find out what records are actually available at the repository that you intend to visit. If possible, print off information about records, in which you are interested, that are available according to any online indices. This saves time on-site especially if you have no Internet access or if they have no or few computers available for searching their on-line indicies.
  • making contact with the archival staff from your home prior to your trip might lead them to look for items that would be of interest to you.
  • taking your family tree records with you either electronically or on paper. I keep electronic files on my iPad but take some paper copies as backup. I “teeter” on the edge of going fully electronic but have not let go of keeping paper records and notations for fear of having nothing if my electronic equipment crashes or is stolen.
  • asking the on-site archivists if there are any other records that might be of value in your research. For example, the Records Office had fire insurance maps. Unfortunately for me, the ones in the collection did not cover the time period in which my ancestors had a boot and shoe making shop in Newport, Isle of Wight.

Questions to Ask of an Archivist Before You Go
It is a good idea to find the answers to these questions in advance of your trip:
Can I scan or photograph items in the collection?
Can I photocopy items myself or do I have to request that items be copied by staff members?
What is the cost of photocopying?
If I can photograph items, what is the cost of doing so? For example, at the Isle of Wight Records Office they had a flat fee for photography.
Do I have to pay in cash or do you accept credit card payments?
Can I view microfilmed records and if so can I save images to my own USB Flash Drive or do I have to purchase a CD/Flash Drive with the scans? The latter was the case at the Isle of Wight Records Office.

Don’t hesitate to move off the Internet and research in archived paper records. The thrills of holding an actual record and of finding family records that are not digitized and mounted on the Internet are well worth the adventure.

Some Internet Sites to Use to Plan Your Trip
The Archives Canada site or Canadian Archival Information Network is worth searching to find out about the archives that exist in Canada.

The Society of American Archivists has posted a handbook on line, Using Archives- A Guide to Effective Research, that can be down loaded for free.

Of course, “Googling” libraries and archives in the geographical areas in which you are interested would be another approach.

Alan Campbell

Copyright 2015

The Value in Visiting Your Ancestors Hometown

September 11th, 2015

By the time that you read this blog posting, I will be leaving England after having spent several days on the Isle of Wight, a primary ancestral home for my Atkeys. Former 17th century homes previously owned by my Atkeys still exist. I will likely be bringing back many photos when I return to Canada.
Not all people get a chance to travel to another country or even within the same country to see the ancestral homes of their ancestors. In some cases, in war ravaged countries there is nothing to return to see.

Reasons for Emigrating
I have found value in walking where my ancestors walked. Sometimes you find out why they left an area; poor farm soil, lakes, marshes or rocky outcrops. The latter were probably the reason that my John Atkey left the Muskoka District for Saskatchewan in 1883. The fact that he buried two young children there probably did not help either.

Beyond the Vital Statistics to the Stories
My most rewarding visit to a home of my ancestors was the one that my youngest sister and I made to Saltcoats, Saskatchewan. My Atkeys had farmed near Saltcoats as part of the Crescent Lake settlement which began circa 1883. My mother’s father got married in the Saltcoats Methodist parsonage and homestead in the area prior to returning to Ontario. My father lived in Saltcoats as a young man and helped his father in his boot, shoe and harness repair shop. My Uncle Alex lived and died there. My father came east circa 1940 to visit my mother who had been in an auto accident, ended up marrying her and only went back to Saskatchewan once on a visit even though in attitude he was a true westerner. There was little or no contact between he and his brother Alex due to perceived slights. Both could also be obstinate! I never met Alex, because he died before I had the time and money to make the trip to the west.

Constructing a “Picture” of a Relative Not Met
The rationale for the trip to Saltcoats included taking my sister to see the family grave markers, the homesteads/farms formerly owned by family members and the monument commemorating the Crescent Lake Pioneers. I also wanted to interview the local United Church minister because although Alex was a non believer, the two had become friends. As we strolled about Saltcoats, it became clear that I had a lot more sources of information than the local minister. If we stopped to chat with locals, who knew immediately that we were from “away”, a mention of my Uncle Alex usually brought the comment, “He was a character!” I listened to the stories they told carefully, made notes and then enlarged upon the notes back at my room before my memory of the details was lost. I gathered so much information that I was able to complete an essay about Uncle Alex for Families magazine, titled “Discovering Alex Thomas Campbell”.1 In the process I  gained an understanding of a man whom I had never met.

At the time that I wrote the article, some people decried it as not an appropriate article for Families because it wasn’t a research article. I chose to believe that it was a real example of research because it used all the usual sources of information but also added a lot of context via the stories of those who knew Uncle Alex. I think it is one of the best, most worthwhile stories that I have written because it made one of my ancestors very real to me. Isn’t that what this genealogical research is all about-especially if you aren’t related to the rich or royalty?

If you can’t physically travel to places where your ancestors lived, you can certainly explore those areas using Google Earth. You can live vicariously through local history stories about your ancestors or about people who lived in the same geographic areas and historical period. Two of my favourite websites for seeking local histories and information about historical events are and
Alan Campbell

Copyright 2015

1. “Discovering Alex Thomas Campbell”, Families,Vol. 45, No. 3, 2006, pp. 165-169. If you have an Ontario Genealogical Society membership, you can access this article in the members only site on the website.

Researching Your Family History at the Archives of Ontario

August 28th, 2015

Written by guest blogger Heather Lavallee, Executive Director of The Ontario Genealogical Society

The Archives of Ontario (AO) is the official repository for archival records documenting the history of Ontario. As such, they hold many records, documents, photos, and information in their collection which can assist you while researching your family history. The AO is located on York University campus in Toronto. They have collected information on how to prepare for your research visit and how to reach them once you’re ready.

Genealogy and Family History Resources at AO

Since a large portion of the researchers at the AO are genealogists, they have a variety of records, resources, and guides to help you with your family history.

One of the most useful categories of records are the vital statistics, or birth, marriage, and death registrations. It’s important to remember that these records are protected by privacy laws, meaning that the most current years are held by the Office of the Registrar General. Every year, records are transferred from the Registrar’s office to the Archives and then become publically accessible. Be sure to check the years accessible at the AO (under the “Vital Statistics Records Held by the Archives” heading) to ensure that the registration you would like access to is available at the AO. If you want to see something more recent, you will have to order (and pay for) a birth, marriage, or death certificate from the Office of the Registrar General.

There are other rich genealogical records available at the AO. Please read the links below for more information on the highlighted record category:

  • Estate files (wills)
  • Crown land records
  • Land Registry Office records
  • Government ministries and agencies, such as court records and psychiatric hospitals
  • Non-government sources, such as private organizations, corporations, families, individuals, and school boards
  • Maps
  • Microfilm from other institutions: census records, immigration records, federal voters lists, military records, municipal records

How to Access Records at AO

In order to access records at the AO, you need to do some research in advance to make sure that what you are looking for is accessible at the AO. Check against their Archives Descriptive Database, which is their online catalogue of material in the AO collection. (Tip: you will need the Reference Code to order any records from storage.)

While many of the records in the AO’s collection are held on-site in climate controlled vaults in the same building as the Reading Room (where researchers have access to conduct research,) most of the collection is held off-site. You still have access to these records, but you will have to plan your research and order them in advance! To do so, email a week in advance with the list of items you would like retrieved for you from storage and be sure to include the date of your visit in the subject field as well as the Reference Codes of the material you want to see. They will notify you when your order is ready for pick-up.

For the records that are available on-site, you will need to compete a request slip and give it to staff at one of the reference desks. Retrievals are done every hour on the half hour, and will be available for pick-up at a reference desk.

For any of the microfilm reels in the Reading Room cabinets, you are welcome to access them as you wish as they are “self-serve.” If you are using one of the newer digital microfilm machines, you can save images for free on your own USB. If you would like to print out paper copies of microfilm material, there is a charge of $0.33 per copy.

The AO offers reproduction services, meaning they will give you high quality copies of their records for a fee. You are welcome to take images on your own using a digital camera, but you will first have to sign a Digital Camera Policy Agreement.

How to Access AO Records from Home

If visiting the AO in person is not an option for you, you can still access records in their collection from home or in your local public library.

The AO offers an Interlibrary Loan service for material that they have microfilmed. This means that you can order reels of microfilm reels through your local library, which will borrow the reels from the AO on your behalf. A few key records available to be borrowed on microfilm include vital stats, court records, Crown Land records, Canada Company records, cemetery transcriptions, and church records.

You can also view images from the AO collection online through the Visual Database. Check this database for photos, maps, architectural drawings, and documentary art.

You can see what items are held in the AO collection by consulting the online Archives Descriptive Database. While most items have not yet been digitized, you can search this database for information on records in their collection.

A recent exciting announcement was that the AO had partnered with FamilySearch to make birth, marriage, and death records available on the FamilySearch online database. As of the writing of this post, the dates below are what can be accessed online (including a scan of the original document!)

Exhibiting AO Research

Once you’ve completed your genealogical research, you may want to apply for the opportunity to exhibit in the AO’s Real Genealogy Stories exhibit case. The AO offers these cases to OGS members to

display their research findings from the AO and share family histories. To apply, please complete an application form available on the Members Only section of the OGS website on the Member Forms & Resources page.

Copyright 2015

The Personals- More Than You Wanted to Know

August 14th, 2015

I’ll agree, the title of this post was designed to catch your attention. Yet the information contained in personal columns, especially in the weekly papers, at times allows you to track a family through the years and can contain minutiae in which you have little interest. On the other hand, there are some “gems” to be found in these columns.

Types of Personals Columns

Let me first clarify what I describe as the personals. In some newspapers, there were actual columns labelled personals. These personal items can also hide under other column headings like “Local News” and locality headings such as town and township names. If you are accessing a newspaper on microfilm, or in digitized format on-line, spend the time to become familiar with the layout of the paper before embarking on specific research.

Finding a Marriage Notice and Proving Family Lore

My research in the newspaper, The Viking News, published in Viking, Alberta, will give you some idea of what you might find in the personals. My reason to begin searching in this paper was to attempt to find a marriage notice for Lillian Scott and F. S. Johnston. A less important reason was to find out if family lore, which claimed that Lillian was the first female clerk hired in a Viking bank, was true. I was able to follow the lives of Lillian and F.S for almost a year in the personals. In the process I found out that Lillian was a clerk in a local bank with the bonus of finding out something about one of her brothers as well:
“Serg. L. Scott returned from the front suffering from shell shock, visited with his sister, Miss Lillian Scott of the bank staff over Sunday.”1
Note that family lore about Lillian working in a bank was correct but I couldn’t yet claim that she was the first female hired.

I also found out that this couple was not above enjoying life:
“The Misses Lillian Scott and Rowena Harris and the Messrs. F. S.Johnston and H.G. Thunell attended the dance at Ryley New Year’s eve.”2 [reported 2 January 1918]
More importantly, this helped me zero in on a prospective year of marriage because now I was fairly sure that the marriage had occurred in 1918 or later.

My first research objective was accomplished when I found a marriage “notice” on the front page of the 1 January 1919 issue of The Viking News:
“Report has reached our ears of the marriage of F.S. Johnston to Miss Lillian Scott. The young couple were formerly Vikingites, the bride being employed at the Merchant’s Bank. The groom was agent for the Cleveland Tractor Company.”3
Note that the above is more of a personals type of notice than a true marriage notice. The additional information about Lillian’s place of employment now gives me an opportunity to research the bank to see if I can find any further information about her role there. Following up on the information about F.S. Johnston being agent for the Cleveland Tractor Company, I was able to find articles about demonstrations of the tractor and even find an ad that he had placed in the paper. I was able to research the Cleveland Tractor Company and then saw one of their tractors at an International Plowing Match. Adding a picture of the tractor, a small tracked vehicle, could add colour to any family history article that I plan to write about this couple.

Why did my ancestor move?

Personals can also provide information about why a particular ancestor that you are researching moved from one location to another:
“D. D. Mc Taggert has been transferred from our local Branch ( Wyoming) [Ontario] of the Bank of Toronto to the Branch at Kingston. He will be greatly missed in social and musical circles in our village…”4

Where did she work?

This personal caught my eye because of name Fitzgerald, my 2X great grandmother’s married name, but it also gives you more information about an ancestor’s occupation if you are relying on census information:
“Miss Tena Anderson has accepted a position in the office of W. E. Fitzgerald, barrister of Watford.”5

The Feared Knock on the Door

Even sad news made the personals:
“Mrs. Alice Parker 503 George Street, has received the following telegram dated Ottawa, April 23.
‘Deeply regret to inform you cable received today states 124514 Private Kenneth Lee Parker, infantry, officially reported killed in action, April 11th. – Officer in charge record.’”6

Don’t ignore this potential source of information about your ancestors. Just be aware that reading the personals can become addictive!

Watch for a guest post by our Executive Director Heather in two weeks, “Researching Your Family History at the Ontario Archives”.

1. The Viking News [Alberta], 8 May 1918.

2. The Viking News, 2 January 1918.

3. The Viking News, 1 January 1919, p. 1.

4. Wyoming Village and Vicinity, The Observer [Sarnia, Ontario], 20 April 1917, p. 7.

5. Wyoming Village and Vicinity, The Observer, 20 April 1917, p. 8.

6. Sarnia Weekly Observer, 27 April 1917, p. 5.

© 2015

So You Think You Have a Brickwall- Part 3

July 24th, 2015

More questions for you in your quest to shatter  brickwalls. Have you:

Expanded your research into collateral lines of your family?
In this series of posts on the topic of brickwalls, you have read about my efforts to extend my research into collateral lines. I began my research into my Campbell line with an obituary for my great grandfather John Pratt Campbell, a copy of his marriage license, the one given to the bride and groom, with no parents’ names given, and a family group sheet for a James Campbell for whom I did not know the connection to my family. My Campbell grandparents were both death many years before, my father had passed away, my mother knew little and my one uncle on the Campbell side thought we were looking for money and did not have any genealogical information anyway. Fortunately the obituary gave information about each of John Pratt Campbell’s children and where they were living at the time of his death. Although as according to the time period, the daughters were listed as Mrs. James Campbell, Mrs. Joseph Young, Mrs. Sarah Colbert, Mrs. John Cameron, and Mrs. Leslie Plewes; I was able to track them in censuses and learn more about them.  Once I had exhausted vital statistics records I then started to search for my great uncles and great aunts’ living descendants . My collection of pictures, copies of documents and family stories came primarily from these collateral line contacts that I was able to make.

Expanded your research to include neighbours and friends who migrated with your family?

After I had found my great great grandfather John Atkey in the 1881 Canada Census for Stisted Township, Muskoka District, did I bother to investigate his neighbours?1 No. It was only when I began extensive research on his wife’s Bolton line that I discovered that the William Harper family listed above them in the census was connected to the Bolton family. In fact William’s wife, Betsy (Nunn) Harper was a first cousin of Martha (Bolton) Atkey, John’s wife. Now, years later, I can check with descendants of the Harper line as to whether stories from the Muskoka District homesteading era passed down through the Harper family. Researching neighbours, especially those who lived close by may lead you to published stories that include information about your family.

James Atkey, sibling of my John, took in two British Home Children, George and Polly or Mary Singleton. I would not have know anything about their treatment if it was not for a neighbour who wrote that James and Ann his wife were “…kindness itself and gave these children not only a good home but a Christian upbringing.”2 The two children took the Atkey name maybe as a measure of respect for James and his wife Ann. Do check family histories, stories and diaries created by neighbours and friends.

Expanded your concept of potential research sources?

Many researchers check census records and vital statistic records and do not go much farther. Consider the following sources of information:

land records, wills, probate records, employment records, voters’ lists, newspaper articles, fraternal organizations’ records, military records, diaries, letters, court records, coroner’s reports, county and local histories, immigration records, border crossing records, funeral home records, interment ledgers, birthday books, funeral or condolence books, websites with historical background, and the list could go on and on.

Look at the timeline that you built based on my earlier recommendation and ask yourself “What records could exist for this family”? Alternatively find a genealogical research guide for the particular geographical area that you are researching and check to see what additional records are mentioned.

May your brickwalls be shattered!

Next post in two weeks: The Personals- More Than You Wanted to Know

Alan Campbell

OGS #12978






1. William Harper family entry, 1881 Canada Census, District 131, Muskoka, S. District Y, Township of Stisted, p.1, Library and Archives microfilm, reel no. C-13244.

2. William G. Cheshire, Wiarton to Big Bay. Colpoy’s Range, As remembered by William G. Cheshire (Wiarton, Ontario: Wiarton Indexing and Mapping, 1974), p. 6. The copy that I accessed is held at the Owen Sound Public Library.

So You Think That You Have a Brickwall-Part 2

July 10th, 2015

Continuing in the same theme as the previous blog here are some more questions to hopefully trigger some avenues in your research to obliterate your brickwall.

Have you:

Built a complete timeline of the individual or family that you are researching?
I like to build a timeline that includes births, marriages and deaths for the individual and all other members of the family. Then I insert census information such as year and geographic location. Add city or county directory entries which also provide the year and geographic location information. Add dated geographic information that is sometimes provided in obituaries for siblings of a person who has died. Add any information from military records, occupational records, in other words, any record that you can collect for this individual or family.

Next, look for the holes. What are you missing? Where might you find that missing record? Do the records before and after the missing record give any hints as to a geographical location in which you should search for this record? Share your timeline with other genealogists who might bring a new perspective to your research because of the record sets that they have searched in their own quest for information.

My “non” brick wall was that of one of my Sims ancestors, Israel, who lived in Hamilton,Ontario. No official death record seemed to exist for him. I built my timeline for him using city directory information from Hamilton. He was listed in the 1900 city directory as a wood turner. In the 1901 city directory, he was indirectly listed in the entry for his wife “Sims, Eunice (wid Israel)…”. Now I had a narrow window in which to search for other records of this death. With the help of the Hamilton Branch of OGS, I was able to get an obituary for him and funeral home records. Interestingly, according to his obituary and the funeral home records, he is buried in the same cemetery as his mother and two siblings but neither the cemetery records nor the stone on the family plot contain any information about him. This is a reminder that a researcher has to “cast the net” wide to catch as many different records as possible.

Given up too soon in a search for a particular document or the information that it might contain?
I personally do not consider a search for better records to ever be finished. I found an official Ontario birth record from 1870 that was inaccurate to the point of a female [one of my great aunts] being registered as a male using the father’s name as the name of the child. From all the birth dates that I found her in other records, I have settled on the one listed in my mother’s birthday book since this great aunt was my mother’s namesake and I figured that this aunt’s birth date was one that she was likely to get correct.

Don’t stop looking if an obituary or other record if it is not recorded in an index. First check to see if the index covers the time period or the geographical area in which the news item or record would be kept. I have seen situations where one county in a State is not included in an index for whatever reason. Many researchers are not aware that census records for parts of some counties do not exist for the 1851-52 Canada West Census. As a result, some Branches of the Ontario Genealogical Society have indexed assessment records for those years to at least have a head of household list of inhabitants of a given township. Do not assume that because an item in not in an index that it does not exist. Look at the original records if they still exist.

In my personal research, a William Campbell was referenced in his wife’s obituary as having died 24 years earlier.1 I was able to find his death notice which noted that he had died in an accident. The births, marriages and deaths index for the local paper, The Forest Standard, Forest, Ontario, did not have an obituary listing for William. I checked microfilmed copies of the Standard for the time of the accidental death and found a very descriptive story of his death in the Thedford news column in the December 2, 1915 issue of the paper.2 Don’t give up too soon!

Checked on-line or local indexing sources that change over time?
As many genealogical organizations are involved in ongoing indexing of records, do go back and check to see if your ancestor is listed in an index if it is not a static one.

Some indexing of records in on-line situations, such as that of allows for correction of errors. A record that may not have been a “hit” in an earlier search might be a “hit” if a correction of terrible indexing has been made. I had a Sims ancestor indexed under the surname Wis. Never would I have considered that as an alternate spelling to use in my search.

Left your contact information in likely spots to encourage family contacts?
Leave “tracks” so that people can find you. Obviously, building family trees on any of the on-line software programs is a good route to make contacts. Having your DNA done by one of the companies which has a built in way to connect with people with similar DNA is another route. I have also had results via some of the “old” ways of leaving tracks. I left a query on a rootsweb surname list and had a “hit” nearly ten years later which opened up a collateral Campbell line that had been blocked by lack of information. I had an elusive Smith connection that was filled in simply because I had left my research interests and contact information on file at Grey Roots, the archive for Grey County, Ontario. One of the Smith descendants decided to visit the place where her great great grandmother lived and do some family research while she was there.

Although I know that some people don’t have much faith in placing queries in genealogical newsletters, I have had some luck that way. An article in the Ontario Genealogical Society’s Newsleaf resulted in a telephone call from a researcher on the very day I received my paper copy in the mail. A request for information about a family in an OGS branch newsletter resulted in an email with contact information for a live contact for the family in a matter of days. An article about British Home Children that was published in two Branch/SIG newsletters and also posted on the Global Genealogy website, brought several emails.

So the “bottom line” is that you use as many strategies as possible to let other researchers know who you are researching.

Look for the third post in this series two weeks from today.

1. Mrs. Shadrach Randall, 83, Dies in Bosanquet Township, The Sarnia Canadian Observer, 27 August 1940, p. 3.

2. Thedford news column, The Forest Standard, 2 December 1915, p. 5.

Alan Campbell
OGS # 12978

So You Think That You Have a Brickwall- Part 1

June 26th, 2015

In your attempt to break down your brickwall, have you:
Networked with family and collateral lines?
I have found that collateral line family members, like second and third cousins, often had information that was of value to me in my research. How do you reach these knowledgeable resource people? With the advent of Facebook, and social media routes like it, you have a chance of making contact with a cousin. If the contact is not made on a genealogically driven page or group, and the person does not appear to be interested in genealogy, then go the next step and ask to be “introduced” to the family historian in his/her family. This can work whether it is by old fashioned letter or just by chance meeting. Carry “business” cards with you containing your contact info for cases like that.

The posting of a family tree on one of the online sites like will bring you into contact with cousins. I “mine” trees for information. A lot of errors you say. That can be true but as I move through the many interconnected trees, I often find a date, place or name attached to an ancestor which helps me focus my search for  that person . Sometimes I contact the poster to ask how they came by the fact- family lore? an obituary? Not all posters respond but a number do.

Collected artifacts from family and collateral lines?
I try to get as many copies of original documents and photographs as I can. Many of mine came because I corresponded with collateral line family members. I received my first picture of my great grandfather John Pratt Campbell from a contact made with a centenarian in Saskatchewan. He even remembered seeing my great grandfather when he was a small child. Don’t harass people but do ask more than once for materials. It took me almost five years to find out which of her three children had my one aunt’s genealogical papers. Then it took a cheque to get it shipped to me for copying.

After my mother’s death, my siblings and I cleaned out her house and discovered many family history related items. I asked that I be able to take them initially and make copies of them. It wasn’t until at least two years later that I found out that my oldest sister had taken my mother’s Saskatchewan birth certificate. Anyone who has researched in Saskatchewan knows that the land designation for a rural place of birth pinpoints an exact spot that is easy to track through records. I had done the research the more rigourous way in the meantime.

Assessed your assumptions?
Be careful that you don’t make assumptions that deter you from doing research that will bring additional records to your attention. My great grandfather, noted above, was living in London Township, Middlesex County, Ontario, as of the 1871 Canada Census. By the time of the 1881 Canada Census, he was living in Manitoba. Early in my research, I made the mistaken assumption that he had gone from London Township to Manitoba. Wrong! It was only because I picked up an index that included gazetteer entries, after my planned research was done at an archive, that I found an entry for him in 1877 for Lambton County. I was able to find out via the assessment records that he had been in Lambton County between 1872 and 1878. As well, in the land records I found court summons and sales of property that involved members of his family including his wife. Don’t forget to check the between the censuses records!

Assessed your understanding of the geography of your family-especially changing boundaries?
If you are researching in Ontario it pays to have access to maps which show the progression from Districts to Counties through history. A search for vital records [births, marriages and deaths] can lead you through church records, district records, county records and provincial records. Be sure to educate yourself about where to look when.

Be aware that in Ontario some townships were first in one county and then in another. Records may be found in two different places depended upon the era.

One of the valued books in my collection is Townships of the Province of Ontario, Canada which is available from The Ontario Genealogical Society. The authors noted the changes in townships over the years. When I am researching, I find it a great resource when I come across a vital record in an database and I don’t recognize the township that is noted as a place of birth. Sometimes it helps eliminate unlikely “prospects” when you are seeking a particular individual because the event occurred at a great distance from where the family lived.

Another valued book in my collection is Genealogy in Ontario-Searching the Records also available from The Ontario Genealogical Society. Yes, you can probably find a lot of this information on the Internet in various places but I find it good to have it all in one place. This book contains maps of Ontario through history and good descriptions of the records that were kept, what they contain and how to access them.

Checked your family stories against a historical timeline?
See my blog post of May 27, 2015, “Family Stories – Truth or Fiction?” for an example of the need to put your ancestor in a historical context [related to my ancestor Andrew Sims].

Analysed the documentary material that you already have?
I find that it pays to go back and check the copies of the original records that you have taken over the years. Reading them carefully will steer you away from false assumptions in some cases. In re-reading a homestead record for my grandfather James Percy Sims I discovered that I had missed the notation that initially he had lived with his brother Andrew while he cleared and plowed his land. I was able to pin down another ancestor’s location and the historical records he left behind because the document gave the land designation for his brother’s farm.

Considered what other documents could exist because of your ancestor’s job, religion, interests, and membership in organizations?
Was your ancestor a church layman? Did he run the Sunday school program for a church? Was he a member of a fraternal lodge? Do records exist because he had a job for which records were kept? Even the progress of a farmer with his land was noted in the yearly assessment records of a municipality. There are a number of listings to found in books and probably on the Internet of the various record sources that exist. For a presentation at an OGS Conference, I sought information about women’s organizations and my final bibliography ran to ten pages!

I often wondered how my great aunt, Jane (Sims) Hobbs survived after being widowed some five years after her marriage in 1881. I got part of the answer when I found an article in the OGS journal, Families, that described how the Ancient Order of United Workmen #88, a fraternal organization which her husband had joined, would pay out a sum of money between five hundred and two thousand dollars to a member’s widow.1 There is value in seeking out every possible record!

1. Helen Schmid, The Ancient Order of United Workmen, Families, Vol. 21, No. 2, 1982, pp. 67 and 70. OGS members can access digitized copies of all previous issues of Families in the members only section of the website.

Alan Campbell
OGS # 12978

Who is She Actually? How Names Can Change in a Person’s Lifetime

June 12th, 2015

Genealogists new to the hobby often make the mistake of looking for exact names and excluding any names that are not. I learned my lesson regarding how names can change when I traced the life of Angelina Rowell born 4 October 1876 at Barrie, Ontario, to parents, John R. Rowell and Angelina Hennam.

Birth, Marriage and Death Records Cause a Debate

As I traced Angelina’s life, I found her marriage to Samuel Campbell 13 July 1898 at Springfield, Manitoba. Her parents were noted as John Robert Rowell and Eva. The witnesses were Thomas G. Colbert, Margaret Colbert, and Ida Huston.

Angelina died 8 July 196l, age 89, at Delta, British Columbia. Her son, W. S. Campbell, provided that information that her husband was Samuel Simon Campbell and her parents were John Robert Rowell and Angelina Hennam. This last record would seem to sum up Angelina’s life. Then a genealogical “speed bump” occurred. A second cousin, when presented with the above records, argued that she had met Samuel Simon Campbell’s wife and her name was Erris. She was adamant so I did not argue with her but recorded the information and restarted my research into Angelina’s life.

The Value of Genealogical Queries

A response to a ten year old rootsweb query, from a researcher in California, resulted in me meeting his parents who were living near Toronto. His father, a grandson of Angelina or Eva, remembered mail coming into their house addressed to Erris Campbell when she had moved in with them after Samuel’s death. The grandson assumed that it was a nickname for Angelina. He and his wife provided me with a copy of an obituary for Samuel Campbell that noted that he had married an Eva Colbert. I had tracked John Rowell and his second wife into Manitoba, then most of the family disappeared. I found John in Seattle, identifiable by his trade of lather. Where had Angelina or Eva gone? I looked back at her marriage record and decided to search for the Thomas and Margaret Colbert who were witnesses to her marriage. In the 1891 census for Manitoba, I found an age appropriate Aris Muriel Colbert living with a Thomas and Margaret Colbert. Ida was one of their children. This would seem to explain the Eva Angelina Rowell who was an Eva or Erris Colbert prior to her marriage to Samuel Campbell.

An Open Mind is an Asset
Why was Angelina’s name changed? I haven’t yet met the cousin who can explain the change. Having learned my lesson about keeping an open mind about name changes through a person’s life, I felt that I should share the story with my readers to alert them to the need to keep that open mind.

Family Stories – Truth or Fiction?

May 29th, 2015

Many genealogists and family historians have been told or have “inherited” stories about their ancestors. The quandary for them is how much of any story can be believed. The sad truth is that no story can be taken at face value and must be confirmed with documentation. The historical plausibility test can be applied in order to test a story as well.

Checking historical timelines can help you decide whether or not an ancestor could have been involved in a particular war, migration or similar historic event. I was told that a collateral line member of my family had a rifle used during the war of 1812 by my 2X great-grandfather, Andrew Sims. Unfortunately for the story teller, my Andrew did not even come to Lower Canada from Ireland until the 1830s, well after the war of 1812 was over. Now if the story teller was to say that the rifle was used in the 1837 rebellion of Lower Canada, he would have a better chance of being correct, as an Andrew Sims served in the Two Mountains Loyal Volunteer Cavalry according to payroll lists. At the time of the rebellion, Andrew was living in St. Jerusalem d’ Argenteuil, a township in the District of Two Mountains, Quebec.

Elements of Truth
It has been my experience that there is an element of truth in most family stories. According to one of the family stories I was told, the daughter of a great aunt married a second time and traveled with her family to Ontario, Oregon. She was diagnosed with tuberculosis and was deported from the USA on the basis that she could become a burden on the state. I was able to find information that she had spent her last few years at Ninette Sanitorium in Manitoba. I did not find an actual deportation record but did get a copy of her visa from USA immigration. The family also turns up in the Ancestry database, Aliens precleared in Canada. Many of the facts of the story could be proven.

On the other hand, I read numerous stories about female children being “adopted” by some of my collateral line Campbell families and then marrying into the same family. I found children taken in but the rest of the elements did not follow the storylines. An Alma Neta Campbell was taken in by her aunt Amy (Keeler) Switzer and then married Roderick McKenzie. Another female, Eva Anglina Rowell was taken in by a Colbert family, who changed her name to Eris Muriel Colbert, and she later married one of my great uncles, Samuel Campbell. Each story had that small element of truth but that was all.

The lesson learned in all of this is to accept nothing at face value and to attempt to find documentation that proves or disproves a family story. If you do decide to share the story with others without documentation, please be ethical and note that it is an unproven family story.

Men of the “Cloth”-Tracking Records for Preachers, Pastors and Priests

May 15th, 2015

When you look at a baptismal or marriage record, you may not pay attention to the name of the officiant at the event unless you think that he/she is a relative. If the officiant is a relative in whom you are interested, where do you get information about him/her?

A disclaimer, I have done more research into protestant, Wesleyan Methodist ministers and Congregationalist ministers so will not pretend to have research experience with other faiths. Perhaps someone who does will be prepared to offer me a blog post with research tips about researching other religions’ leaders. I will speak to research primarily in the mid to late 1800s.

If you are really lucky, your ministerial ancestor left a diary or was well known enough to have a book or article written about him. I went to the Dictionary of Canadian Biography website and entered the word “minister” in the search box and had 2279 hits on the word with information about many ministers of various faiths being returned. You can search this site using the person’s name. I also did a Google search on the name of a local “saddlebag” preacher, affectionately known as Uncle Joe Little, who travelled around Lambton County, Ontario, Canada, on horseback to spread the word of God. I was able to find books about him that I could download for any potential research that I wanted to do. A Google name Search is not always a successful route as I did not get any good hits on some of my other names.

Local histories sometimes have sections about the religious faiths that were in the geographic area. Most of these are not in depth but may provide dates a minister was at the given church. A caveat in these histories, is the fact that they were often compiled by the families who stayed in the area. Any minister who moved on after a few years might receive little mention. Many Canadian local histories can be found at the Our Roots website in digital form [a free site]. Ontario Genealogical Society Branches may also hold or know of the location of local histories for their geographic areas.

Many churches published church histories, sometimes more than one. You can do Internet searches on a church name or by using the name of the faith with a geographical locality in order to try to find books or blog posts about it. Don’t forget that you can search for books on ,which searches library collections and can tell you the closest locality that holds a copy of a church history. Contacting the local Ontario Genealogical Society Branch in your area of interest is also a way to find out about access to information about a particular church. A number of Branches have done inventories of places of worship in their geographic areas. Local archives often hold collections of church histories as well. On the Ontario Genealogical Society website, in the members only section, there is a collection of digitized histories of churches in the Roman Catholic Diocese of London. Look under the tab OGS Databases.

Sometimes books filled with information about a particular religion can be found. I have a copy of Cyclopaedia of Methodism in Canada containing Historical, Educational, and Statistical Information, dating from the beginning of the work in the Several Provinces of the Dominion of Canada, and extending to the Annual Conferences of 1880 compiled by the Rev. George H. Cornish, which is a Global Heritage Press reprint [Global Genealogy ].
My personal success story relates to searching church annual reports. I was able to track an ancestor, Rev. Charles Bolton, over about 10 years by reading digitized Canadian Congregational Year Books [annual reports], which I found via a Google books search and on I found out the name of the religious based program he graduated from, when he was ordained, where he was placed as a minister and the dates , and even was able to read some of his reports on his ministry with particular congregations. The ultimate success was to find a picture of him in one of the year books. Another bonus was finding a list of the periodicals published by Congregationalists at that time:
Canadian Independent                                        monthly
Canadian Messenger                                            monthly
Montreal Witness                                                  monthly
Aurora                                                                      monthly

Of the above, I have accessed the Canadian Independent and have copies of the death notice and obituary for James Atkey, my great great grandfather, originally a lay preacher and teacher to the Indians in Keppel Township, Grey County, Ontario, for the Wesleyan Methodists. He joined the Congregationalists after a falling out with the Wesleyan Methodists. The Canadian Independent can be searched through, a part free and part fee based site. Unfortunately I found that the Canadian Independent was covered by the fee based portion of the site. Fortunately I was able to talk with a representative of at an OGS Conference and he offered to find the items for me and send me digital copies of them. A large educational or library institution might have a subscription to that you could use as access. I found that there were no South Western Ontario access points like that when I checked. Some Toronto based institutions might well have subscriptions. I have not yet searched for any of the other periodicals on-line to see about accessibility.

Newspapers, especially weekly ones, would probably be a good source of articles about new ministers, beloved ministers leaving a congregation and of course obituaries which might be a source of information about the said minister’s career. Keep in mind that it would be a good idea to search newspapers not only in the geographic location where the minister died but also ones that covered areas in which he was previously posted to a church or where members of his family lived at the time of his death.

I would be interested in hearing from readers about other sources of information for men of the “cloth”.