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February 18, 2012

Looking For an Ancestor in Canada, eh?

Fiona asked some very intriguing questions on my AskOliveTree blog about her Anderson family from Scotland to Ontario Canada. Because I covered so many different aspects of Canadian genealogy in my response, I decided to publish Fiona's question and my answers here on Olive Tree Genealogy blog  Here is Fiona's question:

George Anderson was born in 1806 or 1807 in Roxburghshire in Scotland. Jessie Powell was born about 1805 also in Roxburghshire. We don't know when they married however their son Archibald McLaren Anderson was born in Scotland in 1822. Their daughter Janet was born in 1835 but we are not sure if she was born in Canada or Scotland. We know George, Jessie and Janet (and their youngest child Elizabeth) all died in Canada in the Huron County area. We have photographs of their tombstones in the Wingham Cemetery. George died in 1857, Jessie, Janet and Elizabeth all died in 1880. We know Archibald arrived in Australia from New York in November 1852. We can then follow his movements from then..
Our questions are as follows:
1. When did the Anderson family migrate to Canada from Scotland?
2. What happened in 1880 to cause three deaths in the one family?
3. Was Janet born in Canada? We believe Elizabeth was born in Huron County in 1848.

Fiona - I edited your email for space reasons and removed question 4, preferring to focus on your first 3 questions. First I must thank you for a well-written query. You summed up what you knew, what you don't know and what you found out. You also provided me with a list of resources you have used. Well done!

And now, on to my answers. I hope you'll be pleased with what I found and my suggestions for further research.

I don't usually do actual research for a question but yours intrigued me as the death registrations for Jessie and her two daughters should be online on and on FamilySearch. These will show the cause of death for each and thus would answer your question #2.  So I had a quick look and found all three. There are many extra clues in death registrations too.

Death registrations show that Jessie died of old age. Janet (who is registered as Jeanette) shows her place of birth as Dumfries Township Canada and her cause of death as consumption. The informant for both deaths was John Anderson, a Miller of Wingham. I suspect John was a son of Jessie and George because in 1870 he buried his 3 month old daughter Jessie - no doubt named in honour of his mother.

I had to hunt for a bit for Elizabeth's death registration as she died a married woman and so was under the name Elizabeth Linklater (her husband being Peter). Elizabeth also died of consumption in 1880.

Suggestions for Further Research

Census Records

Since her death registration shows Janet/Jeanette born in Dumfries ca 1835, you could look for the family in the 1851 census. Much of the 1851 census for Ontario is missing but being curious I decided to have a look at Canadian census records on Sure enough there they are - not in Huron Co. but in Blenheim Twp Oxford County.

The family consists of George, Jessy [sic], Janett [sic] 18, John 16, William 14, Margaret 12, George 10, Isabella 6 and Elizabeth 4. All the children are listed as born in C.W. which is Canada West, which is present day Ontario.

Widen Your Search Parameters
Don't forget to expand your search if you can't find someone first time. So even if you think the family is in a certain location in a certain year, if you don't find them, widen your search parameters - don't exclude other locations.

Wildcards Are Your Friend
Use wildcards. Jessie was found as Jessy. Janet was found as Jeannette and Jeannet. This is where wildcards are useful.  A search for Jes* for example would pick up Jessie, Jessy and any other variant spelling that begins with Jes.

The family is still in Blenheim Twp in 1861. Jessie is now a widow. They must have had a bit of money for they are shown as living in a 2-storey brick home. Most of their neighbours were in log or frame houses either 1 or 1 1/2 storeys.

Land Records 

George is listed as a farmer so it is possible you will find him in land records, which would narrow the timeline for his immigration from Scotland. You could now get the Agricultural Census for each census year. The Agricultural portion of the census will provide you with a land location and more details such as how much land was pasture, how much was cultivated, and so on.  Few Agricultural Census are  online so you may have to order microfilm in to a library or family history center for this.

You can also check the CLRI which is the Ontario Land Record index to find if George was a first time buyer of Crown land, and if so you will then have an exact year of purchase and under what conditions he acquired his land. This will also indicate if there might be a petition on file.

There may also be tax or assessment records available for the pre-1851 time period for Oxford County. I would also check Waterloo County as that is where Dumfries Township is located.

Immigration Records (Ships Passenger Lists)

Unfortunately Ships Passenger Lists to Canada before 1865 are few and far between. It was not a requirement that passenger lists be archived before that year. There are some surviving lists but they are few and far between. The best idea would be for you to go to  the online project called Filling in the Gaps and check each online project to look for your ancestors. The online projects include shipping company records, steamship records for bringing passengers down the St. Lawrence River once they landed in Canada, Immigration Officer records and so on.


Based on what I found online we now know that your family arrived in Canada ca 1835 or earlier. If Archibald was born in Scotland in 1822 you now have a timeline of 1822-1835.

We know a few more children from the census records. It is possible that by researching each of their movements you will find out more about the family in Scotland and in Canada and their arrival. There may be an obituary for one of their children which gives details of the parents' arrival in Canada.

One item of great interest I think is that three of George and Jessie's children gave their mother's maiden name as SLATER at their marriages. You have her maiden name as POWELL. It's the kind of discrepancy that is great fun to research!

Please do let us know how it goes. I'm quite interested in this family now.


Dawn said...

Good job on sharing your research trail!

Celia said...

Such a helpful detailed research answer, Lorine. Definitely shows how important it is to search broadly as well as narrowly, when trying to find details of our ancestors. Thanks for posting all the digging that could be done!

Lorine McGinnis Schulze said...

Thanks Celia & Dawn - I really enjoy doing this kind of digging. Am pleased if my explanation helps anyone else!


Lisa Suzanne Gorrell said...


Thank you for a wonderful post. I have Upper Canada ancestors and now I have some other records to search. I didn't know about agricultural census. My Gleesons came in 1828 or so and left for South Dakota in 1880.

Lorine McGinnis Schulze said...

Lisa, be sure to read my two posts about the online Agricultural Census records. Some are online (partial) and some are not. will take you to the two articles I wrote to explain how to find some on Ancestry

Fiona said...

Wow! Lorine, thank you so much for answering my query. I am blown away that you took the time to answer it.

I do have a small confession to make - a day or so after I emailed you I found the death records for the Anderson women. What I didn't know was how many children they had!

I shall start looking straight away into the links you have provided -am sure we'll find much re using your links.

We do have one more mystery to do with Archibald Anderson. I shall email more details on that to you separately.

Many thanks again


Lorine McGinnis Schulze said...

Hi Fiona - I'm glad my post was helpful and has gievn you some ideas for further research. Please do let us know what you find on your ancestors!