Monday, June 26, 2017

Explaining Likely, Probable and Possible Identifications to my Cousins

This week I have been getting scans of some mid-1800s family photos ready for upload to Snapfish (I have no affiliation) so that I can have copies made to take with me to the Dean reunion in August. In doing so I was reminded that there are a number photos that have no identification and also some that are labeled with names that mean nothing to me.

Identified as
Mary McCullough
Mrs. Oliver Emerson
Mrs. Oliver Emerson
Identified as Oliver Emerson

When I took these photos out of their original album, which is preserved separately, put them in protective  sleeves and labeled them, I omitted Mary McCullough's name from her label and identified her only as Mrs. Oliver Emerson, so that is where my search began.

Even though it seemed to me like a common name, I searched All Collections on Ancestry for an Oliver Emerson in Quebec, Canada. That was it, no other information. I was rewarded with a top result that was a marriage record for an Oliver Emerson and a Mary Ann McCullough at the same church in Waterville, Quebec where my great-grandfather Dean and his siblings were baptized and he was married. Again, as I was looking at this record, I had no idea that the woman in my photo was Mary McCullough but my interest was piqued anyway because I have another photo in my Dean box that is labeled Alex McCullough.

Reading the marriage record brought me another clue, the bride's mother was named Martha Irwin (God bless pastors who included maiden names). Irwin is a known name in my family. My third great-grandmother, grandmother of the same Dean generation baptized in this church, was Jane Irwin. So who is Martha?

Well, I was already in Ancestry, so I decided to take a look at some member trees. Not the best research method, I know, but I was just trying to ID some photos. One of the first trees that contained Martha Irwin showed that one of her siblings was a Jane with a date of birth consistent with my Jane. The tree was not documented but contained dates and other facts consistent with my research. It showed that this Martha had married Thomas McCullough, that they had ten children including Mary Ann and a son named Alex. Following Mary Ann, this tree showed that she had married Oliver Emerson with whom she moved to Manitoba and had three children. A quick check of census records show an Emerson family in Manitoba with a family of three children and a Martha McCullough.

If I were thoroughly researching this collateral line, these searches would be just the beginning. But I am satisfied, for now, that I have identified the reason that these photos were in a family album. I mean, what are the chances that this is another Oliver and Mary Emerson?

Last night I was kind of picturing myself explaining these relationships to my cousins, telling them that Mary McCullough was likely the daughter of Jane Irwin's sister, making her the first cousin of John Dean. I was wondering if the words like likely, possibly or probably would even make an impression as they take in all this family history. These words are so meaningful to genealogists and family historians, be they hobbyist or professional. But will the mean anything to my cousins, or will they just take my searches at face value?

Maybe I should have time for a genealogy class added to the itinerary.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Yes, there were two deaths in the family that week.

Oh, how I wish I had been citing my sources when I first began my tree on Ancestry!  I don't know that it would have changed the story I'm about to tell you, but it would be great to know where I got the information about these ancestors.

I'm still getting ready for the Dean reunion in August and I'm really having a blast. I'm researching people who have been in my tree for years but who are collateral ancestors; not in my direct ancestral line. People I have not taken the time to dig into before.

As I mentioned in a post last week, I've been searching in Google Newspapers, I've also been searching in Ancestry for baptismal, marriage and burial records as well as census records and obituaries. So many dots are connecting for me as I work on all these people one after the other and I find myself wishing at least three times a day that I had been more interested in these details when my grandmother and her siblings were alive, but I digress.

Last week I mentioned that I found death notices for John Dean, my 2nd great-grandfather, Bessie Nimmo, his wife and Elizabeth Louden, Bessie's mother. What I found was this.

From The Sherbrooke Examiner, June 18, 1897

Almost the entire column has information about members of my family, but the first thing that surprised me was the comment that there were two deaths in the family that week. As I read on I found information about Elizabeth's death but also about someone I didn't know; William Millin from Belfast and his now widow, Martha, who were living with the family. I called my mother and she wasn't familiar with the names nor had she ever heard that we had family from Belfast. She thought maybe he was a farm hand but his burial record said he was a carpenter. It was a mystery and, I thought, likely to remain so.

A few days ago I discovered Martha again. Four years after the death of her husband she was captured in the 1901 Census of Canada living with John and Bessie's daughter Lizzie (now Elizabeth Morrissette) and her family. Again, we asked ourselves, who was this person that family members kept providing a home for her? Was it just out of duty because her husband had met his accidental death at the family farm? Could she be family? The census offered no clues, under relationship to head of household, it just said Martha was a pensioner.

Then yesterday afternoon I was looking at a tree that my mother had been writing out in 1988 when things suddenly came together for me. Bessie Nimmo had two sisters, Martha and Margaret, and a brother, Charles, and my mother had scribbled some details for them at the top of the chart. The dates looked familiar. I went into Martha's record on Ancestry. I have a photo of her, the photo at the top of my post. I enlarged it (which you can as well by clicking on it), I looked at the writing on the bottom. I gasped. Martha's husband was not William Miller - he was William Millen!!! I ran to my box of photos and turned the photo of Martha and William over...Belfast!

Martha Millen of Belfast was Aunt Martha. William Millen was family. There were indeed two deaths in the family that week.

Monday, June 5, 2017

The Hunt

There are many reasons to love genealogy, but for me, the addictive part, the part that keeps me up way too late on occasion, gives my dust bunnies the upper hand and makes Donald a genealogy widower, is the hunt. That is what really got me hooked, I think, researching my family history. That is what turned it from an interest into an obsession passion.

And my first hunt ever, beginning nine years ago when I knew nothing about anything, was for the burials of two of my maternal grandfather's brothers who died in infancy. I knew where my grandfather was buried and his six other siblings, but I could not find little Benjamin or little Norman. Although I had a strong suspicion that I knew the answer, I had no proof at all.

Benjamin and Norman Parker died in Quebec in 1889 and 1903 respectively. From my home on Long Island, NY I searched whatever records I could find. I contacted family, I looked through family records, I manually combed the Quebec Vital and Church records (Drouin Collection) on Ancestry, I searched online cemetery listings and online newspapers.

Nine years and many hours of research later, yesterday I finally found my answer. In the online collections of the National Library and Archives of Quebec, I found the burial record of Norman Parker Smith. Reading the record breaks my heart but finding the record made me want to shout from the rooftops!

Norman Parker was the 7th live-born child of George Robert Smith and Isabella Frances Parker. He died at three months and twenty-two days and was the second of George and Isabella's nine children to die in infancy. The births and deaths of both babies were listed in the family bible, the only record I had of their existence when I began my genealogy journey.

A few years ago, Ancestry matched me with Norman's baptismal record. I never would have found it on my own in a manual search; he was baptized somewhere unexpected and only eight days before his death. I hoped that it would lead me to his burial record, but a manual search of the same church's records came up empty as did related cemetery and newspaper searches.

I strongly suspected that Norman was buried with his brother, Benjamin and that both brothers were buried in a cemetery in Buckingham (now merged into Ville de Gatineau), Quebec. George and Isabella began their married life and family there with Isabella's father and very early in my research I found an index of burials in a Presbyterian cemetery there that included members of Isabella's family, including her parents, but not the babies.

The Drouin collection on Ancestry is wonderful, but incomplete. The fact that it holds no records from the Presbyterian Church in Buckingham is one example but there are others in my Quebec families. Those records do exist in other places however, and yesterday's find was one of them. Unfortunately this record set did not include anything before 1900 which is the majority of the Smith and Parker records, but at least I know I'm headed in the right direction.

Baby Norman was baptized in Montreal just eight days before his death, and was buried in Buckingham two days later. The fact that in 1903 he was taken 125 miles away from Montreal or 272 miles from their home in Thetford Mines for burial leads me to strongly suspect that both he and Benjamin are buried in this cemetery with their maternal grandmother who died in 1881. Of course I will continue to search for records, but I think at last I have my answer.

Friday, June 2, 2017

I didn't mean to be gone so long...

...but that's just the way life is sometimes.

I'm O.K., things in my non-genealogy life have been a little stressful and there wasn't much time for research for a while which left me without much to share. I have missed it, mostly because my blog reading time was cut down also and that took me out of the genealogy blogging community all together, and that was not too fun.

But I am back at it, researching and hoping to catch up on blog reading this weekend.

John Dean
Elizabeth "Bessie" Nimmo

In August I will be attending a reunion of descendants of my second great-grandparents, John Dean and Elizabeth "Bessie" Nimmo, so this family has been one focus of what research I have done this year. One important complication of this research is distance; they lived in North Hatley, Quebec, an eight hour drive from my home on Long Island, NY, so anything not online is quite a distance away. Lucky for me, I do have good leads from Ancestry collections, family lore, photos and artifacts and a helpful if unreliable book about the families of the area.

Still, I have been unable so far to find burial records for either John, Bessie or Bessie's mother, Elizabeth Louden, who lived with them for years and is buried with them. After spending a lot of time on Google Newspapers over the holiday weekend, I now at least have death notices and approximate dates of death for all three.

While pay sites like and Genealogy Bank are great, (I've written previously about my many finds for the Matthews family of Pittston, PA) they do not have much Canadian content and of course their content is behind a paywall. Google Newspapers has a ton of Canadian newspapers and they are free. One big drawback is that while the papers on the pay sites are searchable thanks to optical character recognition, the papers on Google Newspapers have no search function. You must bring your time and patience to the search party but the rewards can be great.

After this weekend's searching I know that Elizabeth Louden was sick for many years before she died at 93 and 3 months and relied on her deep faith to see her through it. I know that John and Bessie's youngest daughter, Anna Mina, was not just a teacher at the little red schoolhouse my grandmother would attend years later, she was the teacher and seems to have enjoyed preparing her little scholars to give recitations and other entertainments for their neighbors to much appreciation. And I know that in 1912 when John and Bessie's eldest, my great-grandfather James Louden, lost an arm in a farming accident, his wonderful neighbors and friends helped with farm work and house work and even held a successful fundraiser for him while he and my great-grandmother, who was already ill, were recovering in the hospital.

So, whether it's one of the sites I've mentioned or something else like Chronicling America or in an archive or historical society, I highly recommend some newspaper research, I'm finding it very addictive.