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June 18, 2018

Naming Patterns - Use Them With Caution

I've been following some genealogy discussions on mailing lists recently and noticed that many genealogists fall into the trap of taking sides on a question - sides that are emphatically one way or another, with no middle ground or room for a "Maybe...."

One of the discussions started over a seemingly simple question -- were there naming patterns for children in the 1800s in [fill in blank with any country].

Subscribers began to jump in with their opinions - all either YES or NO with reasons or rationale or examples to support their YES or NO stance.

But no one jumped in with "MAYBE.... SOMETIMES... YES BUT...."

Let's get real! Naming patterns existed.

Were they identical in all cultures? No

Were they identical in all centuries? No.

Were they always used? No.

It's easy to forget that our ancestors were living breathing people, just as we are. They fought, they loved, they cried, they laughed, they had good days, they had bad days, and so on.

Even if there are established naming patterns that are used 99.9% of the time (as is the case with the Dutch who settled New Netherland, now New York in 1600s) --- as researchers we must keep an open mind as to whether or not the customs might not have been followed

Maybe *your* ancestor fought with his father or mother and vowed to never name a child after him or her.

Maybe *your* ancestor was a free spirit and loved the name Lancelot even though the first born male in her family had been called James for the last 10 generations

Maybe your ancestor wanted to cozy up to his rich great uncle so he named his first born son after that person instead of his father.... and gave his second born his father's name.

If you find 7 children in a family and 6 are named after known family members (paternal grandparents, maternal grandparents, aunts, uncles...) then there is a good chance that the 7th was also named after a family member - but it's not guaranteed, they might have named that child after a good friend - or an important contemporary person or a benefector.

On the opposite side of the fence, you may be trying to find parents' names. You spot what looks like a naming pattern of children which fits with the parents you are fairly confident are the correct parents. But one parent's name is missing from the pattern... That's not the time to toss out your theory! There may be a missing child, one whose existence you aren't aware of, or who died. And that child may be the missing link, named after that one parent who is missing from the pattern.

So, use Naming Patterns as a guide. That's all it is, it is not a set of rules set in stone

June 17, 2018

Who was Annie Barton?

Who was Annie Barton? All we know of her is that she was born in 1866 and died in 1958, presumably in Hamilton Ontario Canada.

Recently a local Hamilton woman was digging in her garden when she stumbled on a tombstone buried in the dirt.

The word "MOTHER" was carved in red, granite stone. A cross and leaf design fills out the marker's top left corner. The stone reads:

"In loving memory of
Annie Barton
 Till we meet again"
This story intrigued me. I began to wonder about Annie. Could I find out more about her? One thing that is mentioned in the original story is that Annie was originally buried in Woodland Cemetery. A search found this burial in that cemetery:

George Barton
His wife Annie Barton

Could this be Annie? Why are the dates of death different? Did the stone engraver goof and that meant a new stone had to be made?

According to a family tree online, George married Annie White and had 3 sons, and yes, they lived in Hamilton.

Read more at Is there a body in my backyard? Woman unearths 60-year-old gravestone while gardening

June 15, 2018

Find Ancestors Immigration in Almshouse Records

In the early 1800's port cities in the USA bore the burden of immigration. By the time they arrived, so many immigrants were tired, hungry and poor they ended up in the City Almshouse. This meant the citizens had to take care of them. At first the citizens of the city asked the Mayors for funds to support the poor. Eventually they asked the states, and by mid-century some states (Pennsylvania, New York, Massachusetts) set up State agencies to deal with the issue. Eventually, beginning in the 1880's, the Federal Government nationalized the programs.

Dating back to the colonial era, New York City assumed responsibility for its citizens who were destitute, sick, homeless, or otherwise unable to care for themselves. The city maintained an almshouse, various hospitals, and a workhouse on Blackwell's Island (now called Roosevelt Island) for the poor.

These Almshouse records often contain immigration details, such as name of ship, date of arrival in USA and port of arrival.

Olive Tree Genealogy has an ongoing project to transcribed and publish New York Almshouse Records. The first set is for the years 1819-1840 and includes Ship Captain's Name, Date of Bond, Sureties, Date Discharged, Death Date, Remarks, etc.

For example, under date 1820 March 11 Elizabeth Kennedy age 34 is listed as having died June 14, 1820; her daughter Mary Ann died Nov. 5, 1820

Researchers can use the clues in the Almshouse records (admission date, ship captain's name, owner's name, etc) as well as census records, to narrow the time frame of arrival. Families with children born in one country, such as England, and then in New York will find it much easier to narrow the time frame of immigration.

June 13, 2018

Search Those Siblings!

Why search siblings? You're only interested in YOUR ancestor, right? WRONG!

Researching and tracking siblings, finding their marriages, children, deaths etc can provide you with answers to questions about your own ancestor.

Let's assume you have not been able to find your great great grandfather's mother's surname before marriage. You know her first name is Mary but that's it. You find great great grandpa's death record and view it in anticipation. But sadly the informant (great great grandpa's second wife) didn't provide a surname for her mother-in-law.

You can't find great great grandpa's marriage record so no help there. But - what about a sibling? Hunt for great great grandpa's youngest sister's marriage record. Look for one of his brothers' death records. Don't overlook turning any stone available to you in your hunt for your own ancestor - remember your ancestor and his siblings shared the same parents, and those parents are your next generation back.

June 11, 2018

Ancestor Letters on Past Voices: Letters Home

Ancestor Letters on Past Voices: Letters Home

These letters are so wonderful to read -- they speak of illness in the family, deaths, births, crops, weather,family and friends. I uploaded Canadian and American letters, but still have dozens to put online.

Here's what's new:

Letter to James A. McChesney, Esq., Port Ontario, New York,from A. C. Dickinson, Smith Town, July 13, 1844; postmarked Peterboro, U. C., July 22, 1844, and Kingston, U. C., July 24, 1844

Letter from Albert Bertram Mudge during WW1 to his mother in Guelph Ontario, 1915

Letter to William Robertson McGillivray in Ontatio, Canada from his brother James McGillivray in Egilsay, Orkney Islands, Scotland, 1857

Search the index to all Canadian letters

Letter to Alvah Bush, Albany New York, from her sister, M.M. Bush, Cooperstown, New York 1843

Letter to Mrs. S. C. Hoskins, Sheffield, Massachusetts, from her daughter Helen, Hampton, Virginia 1849

Letter to Mr. John H. and Anna Northrop, Hebron, Washington County, New York, from Lydia Wells, Lisbon 1829

Letter to Jacob Sharpless, care of Dr. Parrish, Philadelphia Pennsylvania from Blakey Sharpless, Weston

Letter from John McCoy, Captain of the Augusta Co. Militia during the Revolutionary War from Staunton, Augusta Co.Virginia to Thomas Jefferson, 1781 (yes, THE Thomas

Letter to unidentified person from Simeon Baldwin, New Haven, [Connecticut], January 4, 1808

Letter to Mrs. Mary Bradford and sister Sarah Jane, Northumberland,Pennsylvania, from Louisa, York Pennsylvania, 1839

Letter to Miss Charlotte H. Ladd, Boston Massachusetts, from her mother, Portsmouth, New Hampshire, 1830

Letter to Miss Mary C. Cook, Great Falls, New Hampshire,from Fanny, Concord, New Hampshire, 1847

Mr. S. Newton Dexter, Whitesborough, New York, from Miss Mary Dexter, Providence, Rhode Island, 1823

Letter to Mr. Franklin Hoskins, Sheffield, Berkshire County,Massachusetts, from Wm. Gleason, Jr., Moresville, New York 1840

Letter to Mr. Samuel V. King, China Grove, Georgetown, South Carolina, from M. L. Wilkins, Springfield, 1842

Search the index to all USA letters

June 10, 2018

Bringing Your Ancestor to Life

Daily Witness, Montreal. Monday June 9, 1913
One of the genealogists I follow on Twitter (Dan Ford) recently tweeted something I thought was genius. Here's what Dan said:

"I looked up the weather on the exact date that my Irish ancestor arrived at Ellis Island to better imagine what her arrival was like. Turns out record-setting heat wave, poor Irish lass. I used an online local newspaper to get the weather report."

I love that Dan did this. What a super idea to put more personality into our ancestor's lives. When we add a tidbit of detail to an event that affected an ancestor, we take that ancestor from being a cardboard cutout of a name and date, to a living breathing person just like us. 

What are some tidbits you might look for, and add, to the story of your ancestor during a specific event? Here are some ideas based on an ancestor's immigration:

  • the weather that day
  • the season
  • what type of clothing he or she might have been wearing
  • a historical fact (was there a war going on, a political event, or anything of historical importance?)
  • a description of the ship he/she sailed on
  • find a description of the port of arrival and the port of departure
  • find out how your ancestor would have gone on from the port of arrival to the final destination 
  • look for an ad in the newspapers in the origin country for the ship your ancestor took - there may be ticket prices noted
  • how long was the voyage - check the first page of the ship manifest as that information is usually noted there
  • how old was the ship - often you can find details of when and where it was buiilt, and more
These are only a few quick ideas and based on an immigration event. Let your imagination run wild and try to come up with more, especially surrounding different events such as the birth or baptism of a child, a wedding, a funeral, a move to a different location.

Of course after reading Dan's tweet, I rushed off to try to find out what the weather was the day my maternal grandparents arrived in Quebec on 9 June 1913 at 8:10 p.m.  I had previously found an ad for their journey, information on the ship, and so on, but had never thought to find out what the weather was that day. It's not always easy to access Canadian newspapers but I managed to find one for Montreal on that date. Granddad and Grandma's ship landed first in Montreal then went on to Quebec so I added the weather report (Fair and Cool) to their story.

There was even a report on the front page that snow had fallen in Montreal that day! My poor grandmother must have been horrified. 

Have fun! It's your opportunity to make your ancestor come alive.

June 8, 2018

Identifying a WW1 Uniform of a UK or Canadian Ancestor

Traditionally it was very common for soldiers to have their photos taken in uniform before leaving for overseas (England). Usually a soldier was given leave to go home before being shipped overseas and that is often when these photos were taken.

If he had brothers, or a father or son who also enlisted, they would try to have a group photo taken. This was not always possible, as leaves for individual soldiers might not be in the same time period.

Many portrait studios such as Eatons, had template mats to enclose the photo. These mats were pre-printed had spaces to fill in the soldier's name, sometimes his unit plus other details.

These mats were often brightly coloured with the words "For King & Country" or "For Service in the Great War" (it varied). Ornate frames could be purchased which had the same wording. Sometimes there would be a Canadian Maple Leaf at the top which 'stuck up' beyond the edge of the frame

If there is no photographer mark on the photo (back or front) there are clues that might help you determine a date and place.

First Clue

Determine whether or not the soldier is in a Canadian or British uniform. Both Canadian and British uniforms were used by the CEF (Canadian Expeditionary Force). Men were usually issued a Canadian uniform when they enlisted, and they kept this for everything done in Canada. After they arrived in England the Canadian uniform would almost always be switched for a British one. (The reason for this switch was that the British uniforms were better quality and lasted longer)

Here are a few of the differences that might help you determine if the uniform is Canadian or British:

1. Canadian uniforms had 9 buttons on front (7 on the actual front and 1 on each front pocket) but the British one had fewer, and they were larger. There is an exception to this - if the soldier was in a Canadian Highland Regiment, his top sometimes just had 7 large buttons

2. Canadian uniforms had pointed cuffs, the British had straight (horizontal)

3. Canadian uniforms (except for the Highland ones) had stand-up collars, British uniforms did not.

So, if the soldier was in a Canadian uniform for this photo, there is a very good chance it was taken in Canada. It could also have been taken soon after arrival in England (before he was given his British uniform)

If he was in a British uniform it was almost certainly taken in England or in France. There were studios in France, behind the lines, where men could have their pictures taken to send home.

There is also a chance that the photo could have been taken on his return home from the war but this is not likely because the norm was for these photos to be taken before war's end and generally before going overseas.

Second Clue

Back to clues for determining when the photo was taken -- look for the badges on his cap and collar. Often on first joining, a soldier was issued with a badge that was a maple leaf with the word "Canada". It took time before he was issued with his unit's badge. You can go beyond this simple comparison (Canada badge versus Unit badge) by finding out about the unit's history -- and what badges they had in what years. This change in badges varied unit to unit so you would have to check for your soldier's unit.

More Clues

There are many more clues such as weapon versus no weapon; type of weapon; type of kit (belt, canteen etc); helmet verus hat, and so on. These are very detailed minute differences that would be hard to spot and also require a detailed explanation/description


One caveat - soldiers from Newfoundland never had Canadian uniforms so everything they were issued (kit, weapon, badges etc) was different. So basically none of the clues I've given apply to a Newfoundland soldier.