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.
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 Worldcat.org ,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 archive.org. 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
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 Canadiana.org, 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 Canadiana.org 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 Canadiana.org 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”.
April 24th, 2015
The value of having photocopies of original documents was driven home to me recently. While “surfing” records on the pay site www.Ancestry.com, for my great grandfather, John Atkey, I found a May and June 1874 militia payroll record for the 10th Royals raised at Toronto, Ontario, with his name as part of the list. Since the payroll records only contain dates of service, location of service, names of officers and militiamen, and their signatures; how do you prove it is a record for your ancestor?
Then an “Ah Ha” moment struck me as I looked at the signature of this John Atkey as it seemed familiar to me.
In my collection of materials for “my” John Atkey, I have a statement made and sworn to by him in support of his application for a patent for the south west ¼ of Section 32, Township 22, Range 3, of the 2 Meridian [a section of land in the North West Territories of Canada, now part of Saskatchewan] 31 October 1896. I compared this signature to the first one.
Without a doubt they were very similar and I felt that I had connected the two documents. A further check of my documents indicated that I had been lucky indeed because another document in my possession did not have John’s signature, instead his lawyer had signed it on his behalf. More documents rather than fewer would seem to be the best idea if you wish to make these document connections!
The Genealogical Proof Standard
Having only signatures and names to connect the two documents, although seemingly good proof, does not, according to Brenda Dougall Merriman in her book Genealogical Standards of Evidence-A Guide for Family Historians , represent a “reasonably exhaustive research for all information…” that would connect the two John Atkeys. Could I find any records of my John Atkey being in proximity to Toronto in the time period of his enlistment in the 10th Royals?
John and his known brother, Alfred, labourers, were captured in the Lovell’s Province of Ontario Directory for 1871, living at 156 Terauley Street in Toronto. Terauley Street was the section of present day Bay Street running north from Queen Street and ending at College Street. Family lore holds that John married Martha Rachel Bolton 27 July 1874 at Uxbridge, Township of Uxbridge, Durham Region, Ontario. An official record of this marriage has eluded me so far as has an 1871 Canada census record for John. By 1876, John and Alfred were captured in the Gazetteer and Directory of the County of Ontario living in Uxbridge, about 20 miles north of Whitby at the time.
Next steps will be seeking directories that locate John Atkey for the years between 1871 and 1874 and renewed efforts to locate the marriage record which may provide information about where John was living at the time of the marriage.
As noted earlier, more documents rather that fewer better tell the story of an ancestor.
My Sources of Information
Active Militia Annual Drill Acquittance Roll, Company 3C, 10th Royals Battalion of Active Militia for their Drill Pay for the year ending 30th June, 1874, Department of Militia and Defence, Accounts and Pay Branch, Nominal Rolls and Paylists for the Volunteer Militia, 1885-1914, R180-100-9-E, formerly RG9-II-F-6, Library and Archives Canada, downloaded from www.Ancestry.com 3 September 2014.
Statement made and sworn to by John Atkey in support of his application for a Patent for SW ¼ of Section 32, Township 22, Range 3, of 2 Meridian, dated 31 October 1896, homestead file no. 252255, Saskatchewan Archives Board.
Brenda Dougall Merriman, Genealogical Standards of Evidence-A Guide for Family Historians (Toronto, Ontario: Dundurn Press and The Ontario Genealogical Society, 2010), p. 9.
Lovell’s Province of Ontario Directory for 1871 (Montreal, Quebec: John Lovell, 1871), p. 58. This directory can be found at the Library and Archives Canada historical directories collection.
Gazetteer and Directory of the County of Ontario for the Year 1876 (Uxbridge, Ontario: J. A. Crawford, Publisher, 1876), p. 101. This gazetteer was found on the www.Ancestry.com website.
April 10th, 2015
A second website that contains information about soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice is that of Veterans Affairs Canada. At this website you can find the Canadian Virtual War Memorial and the Books of Remembrance.
The Canadian Virtual War Memorial
This database is searched by surname and given name. If you have used some of the other websites, you may find nothing new here except for an image of the soldier’s name on a monument and a description of the cemetery. You can add photos, newspaper clippings, poems, and obituaries to any name on this website.
Books of Remembrance
The names of all the WWI casualties can be found in the pages of the Books of Remembrance. The page (certificate) where your soldier’s name appears can be printed off at home or you can order the beautiful coloured certificate free of charge. Note that you can only request one at a time.
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission is another good site to check. The Commission’s mission is to ensure that those who gave the ultimate sacrifice are never forgotten and that their graves are maintained.
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission
Find War Dead
This database can be searched by surname and given name but provides many other search options. If you have used the Library and Archives website in depth, you may not find any new information here.
There are a number of other sites related to World War I soldiers:
The Canadian Expeditionary Force Study Group
The Canadian Expeditionary Force Study Group is dedicated to the study of the Canadian Expeditionary Force in the Great War of 1914-1919.
The Regimental Rogue
Michael O’Leary’s website provides information about researching Canadian soldiers of World War I.
The Canadian Great War Project
The Canadian Great War Project is another site that is collecting additional information about soldiers of World War I. Registered users can add information like letters from the front.
The C.E.F. Paper Trail: An Unofficial Guide to the Official Canadian Army Service Records from the Great War
You can also check out the C.E.F. Paper Trail: An Unofficial Guide to the Official Canadian Army Service Records from the Great War which identifies the various documents and shows examples of them.
Research and Background Books for World War I
There are a number of books that are available but I will note the ones with which I am familiar. The following are research guides:
Michael O’Leary, Researching Canadian Soldiers of the First World War, 2010 (available from Amazon as a Kindle book)
Kenneth G. Cox, A Call to the Colours-Tracing Your Canadian Military Ancestors (Toronto, Ontario: Dundurn Press, 2011) chapter five, The Great War: I Believe My Ancestors Fought with the CEF, pp. 130-174. This book is available from the Ontario Genealogical Society.
Glenn Wright, Canadians at War, 1914-1919: A Research Guide to World War One Service Records (Milton, Ontario: Global Heritage Press, 2010). I found this book quite comprehensive. You can get it in print or electronic form from Global Genealogy.
In terms of understanding what the conflict in World War I was like for the soldiers in the trenches, I highly recommend Tim Cooks’ two books:
Tim Cook, At the Sharp End – Canadians Fighting the Great War 1914-1916 (Toronto: Viking Canada, 2007).
Tim Cook, Shock Troops – Canadians Fighting the Great War 1917-1918 (Toronto: Viking Canada, 2008).
These books are available from Indigo, Amazon and Global Genealogy.
I hope that with the help of this and the preceding post that you will have success in “fleshing out” the story of your World War I soldiers.
March 24th, 2015
Much of this information is taken from an article that was published in Lambton Lifeline, Lambton County Branch, Vol. 31, No. 1, March 2014. Permission has been granted by Lambton Branch and the authors, Alan Campbell and Ann Hentschel, to reproduce it here.
The title of this post is almost misleading because a number of the men who joined the Canadian Expeditionary Force had just come from England a few years before. Some of them were British Home Children.
Of the valuable websites for researching Canadian WW I soldiers, that of Library and Archives Canada stands out.
Library and Archives Canada
The Canadian Expeditionary Force Service Files database can be searched by surname, by surname and given name and/or by soldier registration number. If you are fortunate enough to know the soldier’s registration number you are lucky as that information lets you key in on his records quickly.
Be aware that some soldiers signed up using alternate names or nicknames. Some soldiers lied about their age because they weren’t old enough to enlist or would have been considered too old to enlist. Some soldiers were dishonourably discharged then went to a different enlistment office and signed up under a different name. I searched for one of my collateral line ancestors, with the name that was on other records for him, David Edward Best. I did not find him until I searched on his last name only. I opened every one of the Best files until I found him indexed under the name Theodore Best, although he was listed as Theodore David Best on his attestation form. He listed his next of kin as Eliza Bell Best (wife) of Wiarton, Ontario, one of my great aunts, so my search was over.
For help in interpreting the World War I Soldiers’ Files check out the list of the abbreviations and their meanings. There is also help for reading the Record of Service or Casualty Form.
Library and Archives Canada is in the process of digitizing the records in this database. As of March 13, 2015, 129,271 of 640,000 files were available online. I have downloaded the digitized file for some of my Bolton family members. I was surprised to find that some of them never saw action at the front, instead they spent their enlisted time in Canada and England.
Circumstances of Death Registers
The Circumstances of Death Registers hold information about the battlefield deaths of soldiers. Do not expect a great amount of information. George Gray’s record [service number 81334] held the information that he was “Killed in Action” in the “trenches in the vicinity of Festubert”. The record contains no information about where George was buried as the location was unknown to the record keepers. These records do seem to give a more precise location of death.
The digitized images of each soldier’s record can be searched by browsing. In the help section you will find a chart that tells which digitized microfilm contains the surname that you are seeking. Then you have to browse. Fortunately the records are in alphabetical order. I tend to jump sections by guessing at what record number the particular surname will start at and enter a page number. If you go past where you should be, you can backtrack by entering a smaller page number. Don’t forget to record the page numbers of the record when found if you plan to find the document again without so much work!
Commonwealth War Graves Registers, First World War
The research strategy noted above is used for the Commonwealth War Grave Registers as well. These records provide information about the death of a soldier and next of kin information over a period of time. Sometimes the next of kin changed.
Veteran Death Cards: First World War
The Veteran Death Cards were used to track soldiers who died post war. Next of kin information can be quite complete on these cards. You might not find a soldier that you are looking for as I had some for whom I could not find a card. Perhaps contact was lost with them over time.
These records are accessed in the same manner as the Commonwealth War Graves Registers by checking the listing of links to the digitized microfilms which are organized by surname. The research process is the same browse method as noted above. These cards provide limited information at times and at other times they are a goldmine of next of kin information.
War Diaries of the First World War
Once you have the name of the unit that your soldier fought with, you can search the War Diaries database. The diaries do not contain a lot of soldiers’ names but will verify where a unit fought.
Medals, Honours and Awards
The Medals, Honours and Awards database can be searched by surname, given name, and service number. I would suggest that it not be the first database that you search unless you have a service number for your soldier.
As I noted at the first of this post, there can be a lot of information about your soldier on the Library and Archives website.
Next Post: More websites for finding information about WW I soldiers
March 12th, 2015
Library and Archives Canada’s recent announcement that the digitized collection of County and City Directories, Canadian Directories Collection, had more directories added to it was welcome news to this family history researcher. Directories are a great source of information for the years between censuses and especially the years after the 1921 Canada Census, the last one released to date.
Caveats to consider when researching in county and city directories
- county directories were generally created in the late 1800s and the early 1900s. City directories became more the rule as early as the 1920s.
- directories in the early years tended to record working people, such as farmers, tradesmen, doctors and lawyers. City directories collected information about employed citizens with fixed abodes. Note that most women, although productively employed in managing households, did not rate a mention in the early city directories. Female milliners [hat makers] and dress makers might get listed along with the occasional company owner or professional like a doctor.
- the information provided in a directory listing might not be up to date since a 1920 directory would probably be published the year before. People also moved mid year.
- some of the time you will be dealing with a nominal entry with no other family members to be found in the listings. You will need to have some idea of where your ancestor lived in order to ferret out the correct person.
Structure of a Directory
County Directories in Ontario listed farmers alphabetically by township, since they were the predominant business men of the era, and also provided a lot and concession number. Tradespeople and professionals like doctors and lawyers were usually found in the small and larger towns and were listed there, usually without any further location information such as a street address. The lot and concession number provides the key information that you need in order to access land records in Ontario’s counties. My great grandfather, John Pratt Campbell was captured in the Lambton County Directory for 1877, Bosanquet Township:
Campbell, Pratt, f……..7 16 [Source: Belden’s Illustrated Historical Atlas, County of Lambton, Ontario, 1880, Edited and Published with Additions by Edward Phelps, Sarnia, Ontario, Canada, 1973]
In the entry, the 7 refers to the concession number and the 16 refers to the lot number. The “f’ notes that he is a freeholder or owner of the land. In this case, the term was legally incorrect as the land was owned by his brother- in- law.
City Directories generally consisted of at least two parts. One part was the alphabetical listing of people in the city, usually those who were employed. Some of the later directories would list a wife’s name in brackets behind the husband’s name. In some cases, I have seen a notation following the name of a widow such as “wid[ow of] Andrew” which can help in establishing that you have the correct person. The second part of the directory, was a street listing of homes which generally provided you with the name of the owner of the premises. Checking both sections of the directory can lead to you finding family members living together. If they still use their common surname you can track members of a family in the alphabetical listing by checking for similar home addresses. Remember that this listing will only include the ones who are employed. The street listing of homes could catch the fact that a brother or sister is living in a married sister’s home. The same could apply to parents moving in with a married daughter. Look for connections.
Searching the Canadian Directories Collection on the Library and Archives Website
The collection is broken into two parts at this time, the first of which is a searchable database. Make sure that you check the available editions in the database so that you don’t waste time looking for an ancestor who did not live in any of the geographical areas covered by these directories. The second part which covers Hamilton, Ontario; Kingston, Ontario; London, Ontario; and Southwestern Ontario Counties, is only available in pdfs which can be searched individually. Each of the latter directories is broken up into several pdfs, so you will need to do some searching to find the section that gives you what you want. I downloaded the pdfs to my computer because I found that the searching was a lot faster that way.
Obviously it helps to have some idea about where your ancestor lived in any given period of time. Sometimes, the names of employed family members in the same geographical area will help identify an individual as the one you are seeking. Enjoy the search!
Alan Campbell OGS # 12978
December 15th, 2014
Toronto Branch is planning a one-day workshop on 6 June 2015 on Genetic Genealogy and its uses in family history research.
We are looking for speakers who would like to be take part. The workshop will deal with the main types of DNA testing that are used by genealogists as well as how the results from genetic testing are used in conducting or supporting genealogical research. We hope to offer lectures for audiences at the beginner level as well as for people with a more advanced level of knowledge who have used DNA testing. You’ll find our detailed call for presentations at http://torontofamilyhistory.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/Call-for-Speakers-Genetic-Genealogy-Workshop-June-2015.pdf.
The deadline to submit a proposal for this workshop is Saturday, 17 January 2015.
December 13th, 2014
In My Own Backyard!
Vigilance is necessary regarding unregistered cemeteries. I was reminded of this recently when bulldozing of a stand of trees on a farm at 8947 Petrolia Line, Brooke Township, right in my own county of residence, Lambton, resulted in damage to a pioneer cemetery. Dana Thorne, Archivist at the Lambton County Archives, provided the following article about this Methodist Episcopal Cemetery for the Lambton County Branch of the OGS newsletter, Lambton Lifeline [December 2014 issue].
Alan Campbell President
Click here for the full article.
December 11th, 2014
Registration is now open for the National Genealogical Society’s 37th Annual Family History Conference – Crossroads of America, which will be held 13–16 May 2015 at the St. Charles Convention Center in St. Charles, Missouri. Conference highlights include a choice of more than 150 lectures, given by nationally known speakers and subject matter experts on a broad array of topics. The conference will open with The Tales of Pioneer Paths: Rivers, Roads & Rails given by J. Mark Lowe, CG, FUGA, a full-time professional researcher and educator, and former APG president.
Continuing NGS’s goal of providing quality educational opportunities to its participants, the conference will feature a variety of lectures for all skill levels from beginner to advanced. Lecture topics covered at the conference will include: researching in many Midwestern states; national and regional migration paths; land, military, immigration, and naturalization records; ethnic and religious groups including African American, German, Irish, Jewish, Native American, Polish, and Scots-Irish; methodology, analysis, and problem solving; and the use of technology including genetics, mobile devices, and websites useful in genealogical research. The Board for Certification of Genealogists’ Skillbuilding track will again be an integral part of the conference and presented over the four days of the event.
Registration is currently open. To register online, visit the NGS website at http://conference.ngsgenealogy.org/event-registration/ and complete the registration form.
The online searchable program is available at http://conference.ngsgenealogy.org/agenda/ and the PDF brochure is available at http://goo.gl/x92kAg. The brochure includes an overview of the sessions, tours, pre-conference events, registration times, and rates, as well as general conference and hotel details. Attendees are urged to visit the conference blog, which will feature tips on local and regional research facilities as well as things to do in and around St. Charles and updated information on hotel availability and local restaurants.
Founded in 1903, the National Genealogical Society is dedicated to genealogy education, high research standards, and the preservation of genealogical records. The Arlington, Virginia-based nonprofit is the premier national society for everyone, from the beginner to the most advanced family historian seeking excellence in publications, educational offerings, research guidance, and opportunities to interact with other genealogists.
December 6th, 2014
In Search of Your Scottish Ancestors
Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2015 @ 7:00 p.m. ET
Speaker: Christine Woodcock: https://www.genealogytoursofscotland.ca
While many people want to know more about their Scottish heritage, they don’t know where to begin. Fortunately, researching our Scottish ancestors is a fairly easy task. Knowing where to look is usually where we get tied up. This talk will get you started in researching your Scottish ancestry as well as how to make the most of your research.
Christine Woodcock was born in Scotland and raised in Canada. She is a genealogy educator with a particular expertise in Scottish records. She is also a lecturer, writer and blogger with a focus on Genealogy, Using Online Resources, Connecting through Social Media, and, of course, Scottish ancestry. She runs Scottish research trips to the Scottish Archives in Edinburgh to help genealogists discover their Scottish heritage.
OGS webinars are free to OGS members. Up to 100 people can access this webinar at one time. The room will open 10 minutes before the session is scheduled to start. It is no longer necessary to pre-register for webinars.