Writing Your Family History – What Form Should it Take?

November 20th, 2015

The key to deciding what form your written family history should take depends upon who is going to be the audience for it. Printouts of family groups and family trees are interesting to genealogists but may not be as interesting or easy to understand for the non-genealogists in your family. For example, my wife is not interested in genealogy research but will listen to me telling the stories of some of the adventures of my ancestors. I use her as my critic for stories that I write because if she can’t read them with understanding, then the other non-genealogists in my family probably won’t either. That is when rewrites occur!
A number of years ago I moved away from my software program, Legacy, to begin using Microsoft Word to create family history books. I have to do the numbering manually but automatic footnotes make my life easier. I like to add lots of biographical material and use source citations extensively so this method, although more difficult than straight data entry into a software program, suits my audience. After the publication of my first book of this style, one of my cousins wrote me to say that she had read my book cover to cover three times. Encouraging words indeed!
Since that time I also began to write short articles about specific ancestors. My article “William Wilson Sims-Pioneer Citizen and Entrepreneur” about one of my great-grandfathers was written from the slant that he was an entrepreneur since he was involved in entrepreneurial activities like shipping wheat to Russia and helping set up a sugar beet cooperative in the early 1900s. When I wrote an article about my great-grandmother, Martha Rachel (Bolton) Atkey, for the book Women Pioneers of Saskatchewan it was written from the slant of depicting her courageousness when facing the death of some of her children at an early age and the rugged life of the early settlers in Saskatchewan.
Other methods can be used to tell the story of a family. Some writers have taken a number of photographs and written the story that each tells in order to share that information with family members. My home OGS Branch received a library donation that was a book which contained pictures of a home on a Century Farm as well as photographs of the contents, some of which were obviously antiques. Memories of life in the house were included in the narrative so that descendants could know about the lives of their ancestors.
So any topic is fair game. Do you have an ancestor who served in the military? Was your ancestor one of the first to homestead in a particular area? I have militiamen, homesteaders, boot and shoe makers, rebels, loyalists, farmers, war time factory workers, Sunday school teachers, and domestics among my ancestors. Whom do you have among your ancestors who has a story that needs telling?
I have a few books about writing in my book collection that I keep as reference tools:
William Zinsser, On Writing Well –The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction (New York: Harper Collins Publishers Inc., 2001).  I reread it when I need some “push” to get writing again.
Patricia Law Hatcher CG, Producing a Quality Family History (Salt Lake City, Utah: Ancestry Inc., 1996). This is an excellent resource if you plan to create a family history outside of a software program or online family tree.
The Board for the Certification of Genealogists, The BCG Genealogical Standards Manual (Orem, Utah: Ancestry Publishing, 2000). This book provides sample pages from family histories in an appendix to show how they can be written and cited. I refer to it on a regular basis. The new Genealogy Standards  that BCG has published does not have the appendices.
Cheryl Sloan Wray, Writing for Magazines (New York: McGraw Hill, Second Edition, 2005). Since I like to write for Branch and SIG newsletters, I seek out books that give hints on writing better. This is one of many that can be found on a bookstore shelf of books about writing. Note, buy this one used, as the new price is much higher than I paid a few years ago.

For those who prefer their resources on-line, a quick online check found the following. I am sure there are other sites as well:

Lisa A. Alzo’s Write Your Family History Step by Step

Lynn Palermo, writing as the Armchair Genealogist,  has a blog post entitled Writing Your Family History.

Alan Campbell
OGS # 12978
Copyright 2015

Who is Actually Buried There? How Cemetery Stones Can Lead You Astray

November 6th, 2015

In the Oxenden Cemetery outside Wiarton, Ontario, there is a cemetery stone with the following inscription if it is still legible:
John Atkey /1844-1923/Ellen T. Atkey Campbell/1879-/At Rest
[note that the “/” denotes the start of a new line of text on the stone]

One of my cousins quipped that Ellen must be about 135 years old now. Actually Ellen died 6 November 1952 at Weyburn, Saskatchewan, and is buried in an unmarked grave in the municipal cemetery there. Her husband, John William Edward Campbell, died 20 January 1940 at Wolsely, Saskatchewan. He was buried in the Lakeside Home Section of the Wolsely Cemetery. Why is her name on her father’s cemetery stone? That is a question for which I would like to have an answer even though my family history research is not suffering because of that lack of knowledge.

I was fortunate that my research began in Saskatchewan so by the time that I found the above cemetery stone it was not a puzzle to me. What can a researcher do if they do not have the background knowledge like I did? The first item I try to get is a copy of the information in the cemetery records. Sometimes this works sometimes it does not. I have found cemeteries whose records consist of a cemetery stone transcription done by OGS volunteers. Sometimes the early records have been lost.
How do you find out who has the records for a cemetery? For smaller cemeteries with no obvious office, contact the local municipality because either they are responsible for it or they can generally provide contact information for the people who are.

The other item I seek out is an obituary or death notice. Often the obituary will tell the location of the burial. Sometimes a second notice can be found in a newspaper which tells more about the memorial service and burial. Unfortunately obituaries do not always note the correct burial place so try to get as much information as possible.

In the process of researching one of my Atkey lines, I found a cemetery stone with the following inscription in Kirkton Union Cemetery, Kirkton, Ontario:
Hammond/Maitland H./Hammond/1913-1982/Evelyn L. /Routly/ 1917-2005
When I checked with the person in charge of the cemetery, his records indicated that neither was buried in the plot. Where were they? I found Maitland’s obituary which noted that his body had been donated to medical science. I have not found an obituary for Evelyn to date but I because of my contacts as a retired teacher, I was able to send out a query. Three people later I had made contact with a friend of one of Mait’s daughters. She initiated contact with this daughter for me and I received the information that Evelyn had donated her body to medical science as well. In your research, don’t forget to consider the possibility that a person could have donated their remains to medical science.
Alan Campbell
OGS # 12978
Copyright 2015

Those Pesky Source Citations!

October 23rd, 2015


As new genealogists, I am sure that some of you are questioning what we “long in tooth” researchers are saying about noting source citations for the facts that we find. As a newbie to genealogy, I had the same concerns. Those source citations slowed me down. Only when I found that I wanted to go back at a later date to compare new data to the information in that source did I realize why it is so important to cite sources. I will never forget Helen Maddock, former archivist at the Lambton County Archives, describing the researcher who rushed in the door a year after her first visit and demanded access to that “green book” that she had used during the visit the year before. With a researcher accessible collection of books exceeding several thousand, Helen could only look at her and say, “Title? Author’s Name?” In my own case, even remembering the colour of the book would be suspect!

Including Additional Information in Citations 

The reality is that keeping good source citations saves a researcher a lot of time in finding a source again. After having found finding many family histories that were not cited and the author deceased or his/her location unknown, I have come to appreciate a family history that has source citations either as endnotes or footnotes. That is why I now footnote extensively. Why footnotes? I use Word to create my family history books because I wish to include reams of biographical information about my ancestors and I want to footnote the information in that as well as to footnote the key names, events, dates and places. I use footnotes so I can see the citations as I write my biographies. Others may prefer endnotes, and I suppose that I could change my footnotes to endnotes, but for one factor. I like to use my footnotes to “argue” about the value of my facts or to provide additional information that would interrupt the flow of the story if used in the narrative that I am creating.

What is the Veracity of the Record?

A recent situation concerned placing a marriage registration for my 3X great grandfather into my family history. Unfortunately, no parent’s names were given in the marriage registration. What helped to pinpoint the family relationships on one side were the names of the witnesses. James Atkey had married Jane Trafalgar Grapes.  Elizabeth Grapes, and George Grapes were two of the witnesses and probably siblings of the bride because birth registrations for her family note siblings with these given names. The clincher was the signature of Charlotte Waterloo Grapes who was a sister of Jane. How many Charlotte Waterloo Grapes do you think would exist in the town of Newport, Isle of Wight in 1835? As well, I knew that Jane’s parents [blame it on her father] had a habit of using a second given name relating to the British activities or personalities in the Napoleonic war.  Adding this information in the footnote was a way of noting the potential veracity of the record I was using.

Another example of how you can help future researchers and yourself is this footnote that I used for my grandfather’s brother, James Campbell. I have not found a marriage record yet so for a citation/footnote I used the following information:

“Cemetery transcription for Ida Mary Keeler Campbell, Yorkton Cemetery, Yorkton, Saskatchewan. Transcribed by the author. Ida is buried with James Campbell in lot 45 B6 in the Switzer section. Her sister Amy Keeler Switzer is buried in the same section. The date of the probable marriage is estimated from the birth dates of the known children.”

Sometimes time dulls memories. Does the record belong to your ancestor? For one of my grandfather’s siblings, Samuel Simon Campbell, I used the following citation/footnote:

“Death registration for Samuel Simon Campbell, British Columbia Vital Statistics, registration no. 35381. Although the names given for his parents are incorrect [Patrick and Martha when they should have been Pratt and Margaret], there is no doubt about the family connection because the informant is his eldest son Roy H. [Hoy] Campbell.”

So when you are about to be “lazy” regarding the recording of a source citation for a fact that you have found, consider the value of being able to easily find the same source at a later date if new information comes into your hands and a comparison needs to be made.

My go to source for proper citation of sources is Evidence Explained – Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace by Elizabeth Shown Mills. Elizabeth also created a quick reference sheet, QuickSheet: Citing Online Historical Resources.

Cite those sources and save yourself and others some grief!


Alan Campbell

Copyright 2015


Location, Location, Location- So Important in Genealogical Research

October 9th, 2015

How do you know where geographically to search for your ancestors? This is especially problematic if you are tracking a single person and not a family. Having a person of the approximate age and of similar origin is not proof that you have found your ancestor. Knowing where an ancestor lived, or knowing the contemporaries who emigrated with him or to whose location he might emigrate are further bits of information that could help to identify that ancestor.

Finding a Location for Your Ancestor 
As for location, I usually try to find out from living family members or from recorded family stories all of the information that I can about an ancestor. I like to go beyond the direct family line to collateral lines as well. The caveat with this research is that any information not derived from a trusted original source should be treated carefully. For example, in my own research the family of my first cousin, once removed, Margaret Ellen (Colbert) Reid emigrated from Manitoba to Ontario – Ontario, Oregon, that is. Had I not clarified which Ontario she moved to, I could have engaged in an extensive and fruitless search for her family in Ontario, Canada. My first lead to the Reid family came from a relative who remarked that her parents had sent a letter to request family pictures from relatives in Oregon. Luckily, I later made contact with a family member who gave me the whole story of Margaret who emigrated to the USA but was deported back to Canada a few years later because she had tuberculosis – but that is a story for another post.

Be Careful With Assumptions
Don’t assume a connection to a specific province or county just because the name of the town or city is similar. I dealt with a query for information about an ancestor who had lived in Lambton Mills. The author of the query assumed that Lambton Mills was in Lambton County. I hadn’t come across a Village of Lambton Mills in 30 years of living and researching in Lambton County. It was not to be found in the book Lambton County Names and Places.1 What was the next step? I moved my search to the Internet and used a Google search. A Wikipedia article noted that the Village of Lambton Mills “was a settlement at the crossing of Dundas Street and the Humber River. The settlement was on both sides of the Humber River, in both the former Etobicoke Township and York Township, within today’s City of Toronto, Ontario, Canada.”2 Was this the location the researcher was seeking? Since in all likelihood it was, I sent her Toronto Branch of the Ontario Genealogical Society contact information and wished her well.

Preliminary Research About A Geographical Area Where You Believe Your Ancestor May Have Lived
Some “digging” on-line is a good idea before you assume that you have found the potential geographical location of your ancestor. I had a researcher from the United States contact me for information about how to access the courthouse in a township in Lambton County in order to get a marriage record for a family member who married in 1834. She made an assumption that the method of keeping records in Ontario would be similar to that of the county courthouse system found in the USA. Some advance research about the record keeping systems in Ontario would have been a good idea. A check of the history of Lambton County would have told her that unless her ancestor was of First Nations birth [native Indian] or Catholic and French Canadian, the odds were not good that she had the right location. Much of Lambton County had not been settled that early. The few Anglicans and Methodists who might have been in the area that early were probably serviced by a saddle bag itinerant preacher travelling on foot or by horse to reach these outlying areas. I am sure that the researcher was not impressed when I told her that itinerant preachers’ records could be lost or stored anywhere within a large geographical area. For example, the baptismal record for my grandfather, John William Edward Campbell, was stored in the Niagara Conference Methodist Episcopal Church Baptismal Record,3 even though he was part of an Anglican family and was baptized in Bosanquet Township, Lambton County, by an itinerant preacher. For those unfamiliar with Ontario geography, Niagara Region is at least a two hour drive by car away from Bosanquet Township. Consider the time that would have been involved in travelling that far by horseback before the era of good roads.

So having told you about all of the pitfalls of finding a location and records for your ancestor, what tools exist to help you? These are some Province of Ontario tools:
The Ontario Name Index on the Ontario Genealogical Society website can direct you to possible locations related to a name which you enter into the search engine.
The Ontario Locator on the Ontario Genealogical Society website allows you to search on a city, town, village, township or regional municipality name in the province of Ontario.

The Ontario Locator can be found on the Geneofun.on.ca website. A “tip of the hat” goes to Kathryn Lake Hogan UE who posted this website on the Ontario Genealogical Society Facebook group.

Post a query on the Ontario Genealogical Society Facebook group. You do not have to be a member to do so. Or if you have narrowed your search to the county or municipal level, post your query on the appropriate Branch Facebook group if one exists.

Do contact a Branch of the Ontario Genealogical Society if you have narrowed your search to the county or municipality that it represents. See the OGS website for Branch website information and contact information.

I have a copy of Alan Rayburn’s book, Place Names of Ontario,4 in the collection of books that sit close to my computer. The contents are not all inclusive, but I enjoy reading the background behind both the name and location of a given village, town, township or other municipality.

A final caveat for you – remember that some of the above are indexes and may not contain all of the possible town and village names that existed over time. Good luck in your search!

Alan Campbell
Copyright 2015

1. A. J. Johnston, Lambton County Names and Places, (Lambton County, Ontario: Lambton County Council, 2nd Edition, 1942.)
2. Lambton Mills, downloaded from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lambton_Mills 9 October 2015
3. Louise I. Hope, Index to Niagara Conference Methodist Episcopal Church Baptismal Register 1849-1886 Part 1: A to K and Part 2: L to Z (Toronto, Ontario: The Ontario Genealogical Society, 1994.)
4. Alan Rayburn, Place Names of Ontario (Toronto, Ontario: University of Toronto Press Inc., 1977]

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 ourroots.ca and archive.org
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 reference@ontario.ca 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 Ancestry.com 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