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November 29, 2018

New York Almshouse Records Online

House of Refuge, Randall's Island, New York 1853 
Almshouse records are a genealogist’s treasure and often contain immigration details. Some contain basic information on each person admitted, such as the name of ship, the date of arrival in USA and the port of arrival. Others contain much more information.

In the early 1800s port cities in the United States bore the burdens of immigration. By the time immigrants arrived from their native country, many were tired, hungry, and poor. Many newly arrived immigrants ended up in the City Almshouse or Poorhouse. This meant the citizens of their new country had to take care of them.

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 (sometimes labeled a house of refuge), various hospitals, and a workhouse on Blackwell's Island (Roosevelt Island) to care for the poor. Some were admitted on a voluntary basis, others were sent by the local courts. There are many widows or single women. These women had no families to support them and had no recourse except to ask the city for help for themselves or their children. Abandoned children can also be found in these records.

Almshouse records for New York City exist from 1758 to 1953. Olive Tree Genealogy has an ongoing project to transcribe and publish all New York Almshouse Records that contain immigration information.

Project Number One
The first set of New York Almshouse admittance records is for the years 1782 to 1813.New York Almshouse Records 1782-1813.

The records contain the name of the person, date admitted, age, where from or born, complaint [illness], discharged, died, remarks.

Project Number Two
This set of New York Almshouse Admissions covers the years 1819-1840

These records include Name, Age, Place of birth, Ship Name, Where the person is from, Ship Captain's Name, Date of Bond, Sureties, Date Discharged, Death Date, Remarks, etc. Remarks often include genealogical details

Project Number Three
The third set of Almshouse admission records for New York city is for 1855-1858
It contains the following information: Name, age, country of origin, date of arrival, arrival port, departure port, name of ship, captain of ship, married or single, name of someone who knows them, how many times they have been on the island, and a section for remarks. 
Page from 1855 Almshouse Records
Image Credits:
Art and Picture Collection, The New York Public Library. "House Of Refuge, Randall'S Island." The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1853.

November 27, 2018

How to Obtain Canadian WW2 Military Service Files

My Father in WW2
World War 2 Canadian records are restricted. But they can be accessed and they can include documentation about enlistment, discharge, military units served with, and may also include other documents concerning medical history, medals awarded, personal evaluation reports and dental charts.

Library and Archives Canada holds military service files for those who served after 1918. Their website explanation of who can access what files and how to obtain them is a bit confusing, so I'll share  with you what I did to send for the military records of my father's brother, Clarence E. McGinnis. I knew Uncle Clare had been in WW2 as I have several photos of him in uniform. But I never knew where he served, what unit he was in, or what he did during the War.

I wrote a one page letter requesting the complete military service files for [individual's name] who was born [individual's full birth date or estimated year] in [name of city/town plus county and province in Ontario] to parents [names of father and mother].
Uncle Clare in WW2
I included my uncle's death date and a photograph of his tombstone as proof of death. Interestingly enough they actually returned the photo to me!

That was it. I mailed the letter and photo to

ATIP and Personnel Records Division
Library and Archives Canada
395 Wellington Street
Ottawa, ON  K1A 0N4

You can also fax your request to them at this number: 613-947-8456

Your request can be written as a letter or you can print off a blank copy of the Application for Military Service Information form [PDF 663 KB]  which should be filled in, signed and sent by mail or fax. 

Using the ATIP Online Request service is another way to submit requests.

After a wait of about 5 months a very large package arrived with Uncle Clare's complete military file. I estimate there are about 80 or more pages.  The wait was not unexpected as it is made clear on the Library & Archives Canada website that they are backlogged and requests can take up to 6 months to fill.
There was a lot of interesting information in the military file for Uncle Clare - such as details of his work history prior to enlisting. It include what he was paid! I wish my dad's files had been as complete.


I am really pleased to have some more details to add to my knowledge of my uncle. I knew him quite well but he never spoke of his military service or his early years. I suppose I was too young for him to think I'd be interested.
Plus he was quite old-fashioned regarding males vs females and since I was a female he'd be less likely to talk to me about what he would consider "man stuff"  

But I'm really enjoying reading through his files to find out where he went during the war (to England and France) and what he saw and did during that difficult time.

For WW1 personnel files you will be able to view these online very soon. Library and Archives Canada is busy scanning and uploading the full files to the online CEF Searchable database.

November 25, 2018

Part 2: Breaking Down That Brick Wall

Part 1 published on November 23 introduced the 30 year search for a county of origin for my Irish McGinnis Family. We continue with Part 2

Breaking Down a Brick Wall

Still unable to find a death date for the one remaining brother (Hugh) who was born in Ireland, I set my research aside. Then the breakthrough - two amazing women who have written several history books, spent many years going through newspapers to gather obituaries for people who had lived in Puslinch Township.  Doesn't sound impressive? It is. "A Celebration of Lives: Obituaries of Puslinch Township Wellington County Ontario" was published recently as a two-volume set consisting of 1,408 pages. There are over 6,500 obituaries. It's impressive.

An Obituary Reveals a County

It had limited printing but I managed to get the last copy. Of course I skipped right to the "M" pages and unbelievably there it was - an obituary for my Hugh McGinnis of Hespeler. His obit stated he was born in Co. Down Ireland.  I know an obituary is only as reliable as the person giving the information but it is another piece of evidence. I wish I could find his death registration but still no luck, even with now knowing the month and year and location of his death.

This morning I scrolled through every image on for a period of 12 months from his death with no success. His death is not there. But I have the obituary and that thrills me! It adds to the growing weight of clues.

Potsdam New York Gives More Clues

Second wonderful item - Hugh's wife was born in USA circa 1810. Due to finding other bits and pieces of clues, including finding her parents' and siblings' names, I found a record in 1830 in Potsdam New York which I was pretty sure was her family. Pretty sure, but not positively proven, so not good enough for me.

Did I mention that one of Hugh's brothers married one of his wife's sisters? The finding of the Potsdam record was important because I know that Hugh (and probably his siblings) was in America before 1831. This would give me more locations for searching if my theory about Potsdam was correct.

And there it was in my new-found obituary book. The obit for Hugh's wife stating that she was born in Potsdam New York in 1810!

A Theory is Proven

I love it when a theory becomes fact. Proven fact. I don't care how long it takes, I refuse to give up! And the moral of my story is that you should never give up either. You never know when that little tidbit of information will fall into your hands. Maybe it wasn't available when you first began your research. New data is being found and transcribed all the time. Who knows, maybe the piece you need is waiting for you right now.

Review Your Older Research Notes

So stop reading this blog post and go back and look over your earlier research! Is there a clue there? Something you couldn't find 10 or 15 or more years ago, but  maybe now you can? What are you waiting for???!!

November 24, 2018

1890 List of Shareholders Canada

Recently I found an old book called "Report of the Superintendent of Insurance of the Dominion of Canada for the Year Ending 31st December 1890"
The book was published in 1891 in Ottawa, Canada, and included in its pages are approximately 60 pages of names of shareholders and guarantors for various Insurance and Assurance Companies across Canada.
The date for the list of names is 1890 and the wonderful thing about these is that they include people from all over Canada, as well as USA and Europe.
Each individual has a residence listed, in some cases, an actual street address. What really intrigued me about these lists was that the residences included such places as:

Ontario, British Columbia, Nova Scotia, Scotland, New York, Quebec, Vermont, Pennsylvania, NWT, England, Illinois, India, Newfoundland, Manitoba, Cape Breton, Jamaica, Ireland, Kentucky, Tennessee, Massachussets, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Channel Islands, and Wales

These lists can be used simply to verify that an individual lived in a certain place in 1890. They also contain quite a bit of detail for some entries, which are terrific clues for further research.

November 23, 2018

Breaking Down That Brick Wall, Part 1

For more than 30 years I searched for a record showing where my McGinnis family came from in Ireland. I don't mean the town or village (although that would be nice), I mean the County. There were family tales that it was either Armagh or Down and that the family arrived in Upper Canada (present day Ontario) during the potato famine.

The Known

My McGinnis roots stem from a large family group that arrived in Puslinch Township, Wellington County Ontario circa 1831. At that time Ontario was a wilderness called Upper Canada and was very sparsely populated.

As anyone who has searched for ancestors in Upper Canada can testify, genealogy records pre 1851 are few and far between. There are no census records (they didn't begin until 1851), no vital registrations (they didn't start until 1869) and church records are sparse.

Catholic Records

If, like mine, your ancestors were Catholics in Ontario you're in for a challenge, as Catholic church records as most are in the hands of local priests who have them locked securely away. The public is not allowed access even to older records in the mid 1800s. There are a few scattered Roman Catholic Church records for some parts of Ontario available on FamilySearch but they are not indexed. There are none for Wellington County where my Irish Catholic ancestors settled.

Newspaper Records

There were few newspapers in that time period for Ontario. Of the few that were published, not many have survived. Those that survive for the area I need are not indexed. So an approximate date of an event is a necessity in order to hunt for an obit or other record.

Ships Passenger Lists

Ships passenger lists arriving in Canada were not archived until 1865. There are many substitute ships passenger lists but my McGinnis don't show up on any. Don't get me wrong - there ARE some records for this early time period in Ontario - tax and assessment records, land records, and a few other miscellaneous record sets. But every local area has different records that have survived.  So it's a long process to find out what records exist and where they are kept.

The Known

Back to my Irish family who arrived from somewhere in Ireland circa 1831. I have land records for them. I have tax and assessment records back to 1833. I have death records. I have marriage records. I have some Catholic Church records of baptisms in the 1840s. I have  Catholic Church burial records for many of them. In fact with my 30 plus years of research on all branches of the original McGinnis settlers, I've got an entire filing cabinet drawer full of relevant documents.

I have searched all 9 children of the immigrant McGinnis settler down several generations. I've hunted for obituaries and death records in particular, praying for a mention of a town or county in Ireland.  Nothing.

However there was one son for whom I have not been able to find a death record or obituary. I knew he died between 1881 and 1891. I knew where he lived. But nothing could be found.

Family Lore & DNA

Family lore from descendants of his branch claimed Belfast as his place of birth. Family lore from my branch claimed Belfast as the place of birth of my great-grandfather's sister.

I had my brother's DNA done. We linked in with McGinnis families near Belfast. I contacted a descendant of one of the two known sisters from Ireland. She had early photos and on the back of one was written, in period handwriting, "Katesbridge Ireland" Katesbridge is in Co. Down and not far from Belfast.

This was all pretty exciting for me as it definitely gave me enough clues and pieces of circumstantial evidence to hesitantly proclaim that PERHAPS my Joseph McGinnis was from Katesbridge or Belfast in Co. Down. Perhaps.

Part 2 to be posted on November 25th. Breaking Down That Brick Wall

November 21, 2018

Never Assume - Develop a Theory Instead

Steve asked Olive Tree Genealogy a very good question about making assumptions from details on a census.
How can one determine the relationship of individuals on the 1860 census. On the 1860 Hardy County Virginia census, my great grandfather Thomas Wilson is placed below a Pamelia Wilson, and above that a Judy Wilson. Can I safely assume that Thomas is Pamelia's son born out of wedlock? 
Steve - This is an important question in genealogy. The short answer is "Absolutely not!"

Don't Assume! 

The meaning of "assume" is to suppose without any proof. 

You should never assume anything in genealogy research. You can however create what I call a Working Theory, based on the facts you have found.

List the Possible Scenarios

In the example you gave, you don't know how Thomas is related, or even if he's related at all. Let's look at some possible scenarios (with the caveat that you have not told me the ages of the individuals and that's an important consideration when developing theories).

1. Thomas might be Pamelia's son.

2. Thomas might be Pamelia's nephew.

3. Thomas might be Pamelia's cousin.

4. Thomas might be adopted

5. Thomas might be from a completely unrelated Wilson family

There are other possibilities depending on the ages of Thomas and the other individuals in the census.

Develop Your Working Theory

A simple definition of "theory" is a supposition, or an idea that might be true but are not yet proven.

You think that Thomas might be Pamelia's son. That's a good working theory.

Prove or Disprove Your Theory

 Your next step would be to search for records that PROVE or DISPROVE your theory.

* Can you find Thomas or Pamelia in 1850 or 1870 census?
* Look for Thomas' birth record
* Look for Thomas' marriage record
* Look for Thomas' death or obit

Continue researching Pamelia. Find out what you can about her. Is her father named Thomas? That might add a little more weight to your working theory (although that still would not be proof of a mother-son relationship). Perhaps Pamelia has an obit that mentions a son Thomas.

The bottom line is that unless you find proof, it's only guesswork or assumptions. And genealogy is about facts and truth, not guesses. Guesses based on a record you found are important to aid you in developing a working theory but you still must prove (or disprove) that theory.

November 19, 2018

1877 Letter from Adeline Atkins p 4

Olive Tree Genealogy is pleased to publish 4 pages of a letter written in 1877 by Adeline Atkins to her Aunt and Uncle informing them that her grandfather has just died.

Submitter: Peggy S. who sends the following information on the family

I found this letter in the old Atkins Family Bible. There wasn't much there in the way of births, deaths, in the first pages, sadly. There were many Atkins' in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. Sarah's Father was Robert Atkins and her mother was Anne Teskey. The family was from Ireland I have Anne's mother as Sarah Bowen. I don't know if any of her relatives moved to the Sault. Sarah Anne Atkins came with my Great Grandfather, William Shunk.The letter must have been sent to Sarah since it was in her Bible. I don't see a niece named Adeline in Canada and I have no children listed that would show great aunt names.

November 16, 2018

1877 Letter from Adeline Atkins p 3

Olive Tree Genealogy is pleased to publish 4 pages of a letter written in 1877 by Adeline Atkins to her Aunt and Uncle informing them that her grandfather has just died.

 Page  4 to follow

Submitter: Peggy S. who sends the following information on the family

I found this letter in the old Atkins Family Bible. There wasn't much there in the way of births, deaths, in the first pages, sadly. There were many Atkins' in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. Sarah's Father was Robert Atkins and her mother was Anne Teskey. The family was from Ireland I have Anne's mother as Sarah Bowen. I don't know if any of her relatives moved to the Sault. Sarah Anne Atkins came with my Great Grandfather, William Shunk.The letter must have been sent to Sarah since it was in her Bible. I don't see a niece named Adeline in Canada and I have no children listed that would show great aunt names.

November 14, 2018

1877 Letter from Adeline Atkins p 2

Olive Tree Genealogy is pleased to publish 4 pages of a letter written in 1877 by Adeline Atkins to her Aunt and Uncle informing them that her grandfather has just died.

 Pages 3 and 4 to follow

Submitter: Peggy S. who sends the following information on the family

I found this letter in the old Atkins Family Bible. There wasn't much there in the way of births, deaths, in the first pages, sadly. There were many Atkins' in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. Sarah's Father was Robert Atkins and her mother was Anne Teskey. The family was from Ireland I have Anne's mother as Sarah Bowen. I don't know if any of her relatives moved to the Sault. Sarah Anne Atkins came with my Great Grandfather, William Shunk.The letter must have been sent to Sarah since it was in her Bible. I don't see a niece named Adeline in Canada and I have no children listed that would show great aunt names.

November 12, 2018

1877 Letter from Adeline Atkins p 1

Olive Tree Genealogy is pleased to publish 4 pages of a letter written in 1877 by Adeline Atkins to her Aunt and Uncle informing them that her grandfather has just died.
Pages 2,3 and 4 to follow

Submitter: Peggy S. who sends the following information on the family

I found this letter in the old Atkins Family Bible. There wasn't much there in the way of births, deaths, in the first pages, sadly. There were many Atkins' in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. Sarah's Father was Robert Atkins and her mother was Anne Teskey. The family was from Ireland I have Anne's mother as Sarah Bowen. I don't know if any of her relatives moved to the Sault. Sarah Anne Atkins came with my Great Grandfather, William Shunk.The letter must have been sent to Sarah since it was in her Bible. I don't see a niece named Adeline in Canada and I have no children listed that would show great aunt names.

November 11, 2018

Honoring Ancestors on Remembrance Day

I have many military ancestors. Here are some of those who gave their lives during war:

My 3rd great-grandfather Levi Peer's brother Stephen Peer fell at the Battle of Chippewa during the War of 1812, leaving behind a pregnant wife and young son.

Philip Edgar Peer
All of my grandmother's brothers fought in WW1. Her youngest brother, Philip Edgar Peer (called Edgar by family), died in France in 1918 just days short of his 21st birthday.
Cecil Sandercock
My husband's great uncles Bill and Cecil Sandercock also fought in WW1 along with their father Samuel. Both Bill and Cecil were killed, one year apart. Bill was killed Aug. 23, 1917, his brother Cecil was at his side. One year later almost to the day, on Aug. 28, 1918, Cecil was killed.  
Bill Sandercock

WW2 saw the death of my Uncle, James Nevin (aka Nev) Bonar. He died October 23, 1944 in Belgium at the age of 27.

Please take a few moments today to remember those brave men and women who fought and died, and those who are still fighting in Wars around the world.

November 9, 2018

A Canadian Case Study Part 3

Continued from Parts 1 and Part 2 of A Canadian Case Study

 Further Research Avenues

William should be found in 1861 Ontario census or in 1861 England. Many of the 1861 census returns for Ontario are missing so we can't conclusively say he was not in Ontario that year. A search of English records for 1841 and 1851 may find him with his parents. I would search under his parents' names, but realize that Delia can be a nickname for Bridget and that Bridget may be an Irish name.

Of course there's always the chance that William's parents also came to Ontario. If so, they might be found in the online records.

I'll continue sharing my research into William pre 1868, and William's parents, John and Bridget Stephens,  in Part 3

Develop a Working Theory

Looking for John & Bridget in 1851

After I said that there was always the chance that William came to Canada with his parents I decided to search Essex County for John and Bridget Stephens in the 1861 and 1851 census. I believe I may have found them in Malden Township in 1851. That makes good sense as William probably met his first wife Elmira close to her home. She's two pages away from the Stevens family that year.

They are listed as John Stevens [sic] born England, aged either 54 or 34, a Pensioner and his wife Bridget, born England, age 52 or 32. She is Roman Catholic, he is Episcopalian. This clue about their religion might help you to locate church records for the family.

There is a John Stevens age 7 or 1, as well as a William Stevens age 12 on the same page. Just to throw a twist, they are both listed as being born in "Canada". Both boys are listed as Roman Catholic which does make sense if their mother is Bridget. It is very difficult to know if they are living in the same house as John and Bridget because the census page entries are a bit different.

Usually on the second sheet of 1851 you see how many are in each family by checking for an entry for type of house - log, brick, shanty..... whenever there is a new type of house listed, that's a new family unit. On this particular sheet, there is no entry for type of home until the 25th person. So I am not sure who the two boys are living with.

I did find a William Stevens in Malden in 1861. He is age 17, labourer born England living with a family that is not his. He was probably a farm labourer living with a local farmer. He is listed as Roman Catholic. The change in religion from 1861 to 1871 doesn't concern me greatly as that was not uncommon. Perhaps his mother raised him as Catholic but once he married he switched. My own Irish McGinnis ancestor did the same thing.

It may be quite challenging to prove that the John and Bridget I found in 1851 are your William's parents but I would use my find as a working theory. A working genealogy theory simply means you must set about to find evidence that will prove or disprove your  theory.

I suggest you continue researching this John and Bridget and see what you can discover about them. There may be a piece of the puzzle hiding in the records that will link your William to them or put them out of the picture entirely.

You might also consider hunting for the birth of William in English records. You can use FreeBMD to search the indexes for a birth for the period 1837-1983. 

This has been a fun and challenging query to work on and I hope you can continue to research and find new information. 

November 7, 2018

A Canadian Case Study Part 2

Wildcards are Your Friend! 

Continued from Part 1 of A Canadian Case Study

Elmira's Death

Using I searched first for Elmira's death. Using wildcards for both first and last name, I typed *lmira Ste*en* into the search engine, with keyword "Essex" and date of death 1873 +/-2

*lm*ra allows for variant spellings of Almira, Almyra and Elmira, Elmyra
Ste*en* allows for variations in the surname such as Stephens, Stephen, Stevens and Steven

And there she was. Almira died 12 Mar 1872 of consumption which she had for 9 months. The informant was William Stephens of Anderdon, so we know it is the right person. I'm already suspecting that little Annie may also have died of the same disease as it was very contagious. But back to Almira. She is listed as having died at age 23 years and 7 months and was born in Malden Township Essex.

Clues: We can look for Almira in the 1861 and 1851 census for Malden Township. But I want to hunt for Elmira's marriage to William first.

Elmira's Marriage to William James Stephens

 When I found Elmira's death record, very nicely gave me some "Suggested Records" for individuals they believed might be Elmira. I've learned not to ignore these but to check them out. The first thing I noticed was that there was an Almira Lane listed in 1851, 1861 census and the Ontario Marriage Records. I've shown you this in the image below.
Suggested Records for Almira
And bingo, what appears to be her marriage to William. He's been transcribed incorrectly as Shephard instead of Stephens but we can be 99.9% certain it is him. There's no image attached so if I were you I would get the original image from the Archives of Ontario or a local FamilySearch centre to verify.

But here is what the transcription showed: William James Shepherd [sic] age 25 born England s/o John and Bridget, Willliam living Anderdon married Almira Lane, age 23 d/o Levi and Patience, living Colchester. They married 10 Nov. 1868 in Amherstburg Township in Essex

To learn more about Elmira you can look at the 1851 and 1861 census for Almira Lane in Malden Township. 

Little Annie's Death?

I may have found little Annie's death. She is recorded in Ontario Death records as Sarah Almeda Stephens but after her first name Sarah, it appears the name Ann has been written and then crossed out with one line. The reason I believe this may be little Annie is because she died of consumption at age 3 years, 6 months in October 1873,  she was born in Anderdon and the informant was William Stephens, farmer

To be absolutely sure this is the correct individual we could hunt for her birth registration under Ann or Sarah or even Almeda. You do need to verify that this is not a different child and a diffferent William Stephens


So what have we learned from these records?

William was in Ontario at least by November 1868 when he married Elmira/Almyra Lane in Essex County.

Elmira died in March 1872.

William & Elmira had one daughter known who was born in 1870 probably in April and who died in October 1873.

William remarried in 1875. At both of his marriages he gave his parents' names as John and Bridget.

William was a farmer and thus a search of land records is warranted. Finding out when/if he purchased land in Essex Co. will provide a better timeline for immigration

Continued in Part 3

November 5, 2018

National Heritage Digitization Projects

The National Heritage Digitization Strategy (NHDS) is providing $1 million to support 21 projects by archives, libraries and documentary heritage institutions throughout Canada. 

This is wonderful news. The following 21 projects will be funded by the NHDS:
  • Colony, Confederation and Country: Accessing the National Story Through the Lens of Prince Edward Island’s Historical Newspapers (Robertson Library, University of Prince Edward Island), Charlottetown, Prince Eward Island ($45,685)
  • The Robin Collection: Digitization, Access and Preservation (Musée de la Gaspésie), Gaspé, Quebec ($43,742)
  • Early Photographs of the Innu and Atikamekw Peoples (Université Laval Library), Québec, Quebec ($28,742)
  • Forging Fur-ways: the North West Company Fur Trade Collection (McGill University Library) Montréal, Quebec ($15,963)
  • Set of 146 Early Books in Indigenous Languages (1556-1900) (Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec), Montréal, Quebec ($22,511)
  • Digitizing Past Issues of Bulletin d’histoire politique (Association québécoise d’histoire politique), Montréal, Quebec ($6,525)
  • Le Son des Français d’Amérique : Mixed Traces and Memories of Continents (Cinémathèque québécoise), Montréal, Quebec ($86,812)
  • Digitizing and Publishing Heritage Collections on Canadian History (Document Management and Archives Division, Université de Montréal), Montréal, Quebec ($81,141)
  • Discovering the Heritage of the Association canadienne-française de l’Ontario (1910–1990): A Living Memory! (Centre for Research on French Canadian Culture, University of Ottawa), Ottawa, Ontario ($86,805)
  • Digital John Buchan, 1st Baron Tweedsmuir (Queen’s University Library), Kingston, Ontario ($65,033)
  • The MacGregor Collection (The Canadian Canoe Museum), Peterborough, Ontario ($9,925)
  • Digitizing Inuit Artistic Heritage (Inuit Art Foundation), Toronto, Ontario ($80,786)
  • Healing and Education Through Digital Access (Algoma University), Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario ($86,890)
  • First Nations and Métis Oral History Digitization Project (Provincial Archives of Saskatchewan), Regina, Saskatchewan ($8,700)
  • Indian History Film Project Digitization (First Nations University of Canada), Regina, Saskatchewan ($19,414)
  • The Idea of the North: Exploring Evidence of Resilience and Change (University of Saskatchewan), Saskatoon, Saskatchewan ($83,058)
  • Smoke Signals, Satellites and Servers: Digitizing the ANCS Television Archive (Sound Studies, Faculty of Arts, University of Alberta), Edmonton, Alberta ($36,744)
  • Chambermaids to Whistle Punks: The Labour and Lives of B.C. Women, 1890–1970 (Satellite Video Exchange Society), Vancouver, British Columbia ($16,098)
  • BC Gay and Lesbian Archives Audiovisual and Graphic Material Digitization Project (City of Vancouver Archives), Vancouver, British Columbia ($71,015)
  • What Becomes Canada: Digitizing Narratives of Exploration, Settlement, and Contact (Vancouver Island University Library), Nanaimo, British Columbia ($17,015)
  • Native Communications Society Digitization Project (Northwest Territories Archives), Yellowknife, Northwest Territories ($86,796)

November 2, 2018

A Canadian Case Study Part 1

Mixups & MisTranscribed Records, Oh My!

Michelle (Stephens) Hutchinson sent Olive Tree Genealogy a great puzzler from her family tree. Here is Michelle's email which I've edited slightly for length.
I've hit a bit of a brick wall in my search for my 2nd Great Grandfather William James Stephens, and I was hoping you'd be able to provide some direction. 
 I've told that he may have immigrated from England to Canada due to a scandal with a scullery maid, or that he was hanged as a horse thief.

Over the years, I've been able track down some information about him, but have never been able to get any details about his life before Canada.

William James Stephens, at 28 years old, first shows up in the 1871 census in Essex County Ontario, along with a woman who is most likely his first wife, Elmira at 23 years old.  William's age here is most likely a miscopy, and should have been 26 years instead, as all further records point to a birthday in 1839 or 1840.  I have not been able to track down the marriage certificate for this.

Next, he appears in a marriage record as a Widower in 1875, marrying my 2nd Great Grandmother Annie McLean.  They spent the rest of their lives together in Essex county.  In this marriage record, his parents are listed as John and Bridget Stephens, and his birthplace was England.

I've been able to prove that he was not, in fact, hanged as a horse-thief through his death certificate from 1906 in Essex county.

I haven't been able to find any details about his first wife (Elmira) other than her appearance on the 1871 census... and can't confirm if she came over with him or if she met him in Canada

So the questions I'm trying to answer are:

1) Who was Elmira?

2) Where was William James Stephens living in England before his immigration to Canada?

3) Was there in fact any controversy in his life?

Could you offer any suggestions on how to answer these three questions?
Olive Tree Genealogy Answers:

Thank you for outlining what you have found and what you want to know. That's a great help when posting a query. I can answer question #1 as I've found the marriage record of Elmira and your great grandfather William James Stephens and several other records concerning her. I believe I may also have found William's parents but that find needs to be verified.

Finding Clues and Figuring Out Where to Look Next

First I had a look at that 1871 census you mentioned. I wanted to see if there were clues that might have been overlooked. My first step was to head to to view the census image for myself.

You are right to not worry too much about age variations. Sometimes it is a simple misunderstanding of the census taker's question, sometimes it is not the individual giving the answer and sometimes an individual did not know his/her exact age or birth year!

Elmira's birth location is given as Ontario so that's an indication that she and William met and married in that province. I made a note to hunt for their marriage certificate.

But I wanted to keep studying the 1871 census first - and there's another clue for future research - the fact that William is noted as a farmer. Most farmers owned land. And an immigrant from England wanting to being farming would almost certainly purchase land shortly after arrival.

Land Records - A Valuable Resource
So a search of land records would be in order. It's probably too late for him to be entered in the CLRI (Computerized land record index) but I'd start there anyway. That would give you a precise land location if he's the first time owner of the land. From there you'd get the Abstract Indexes to Deeds to find out when his name first appears as being on the land.

This would help narrow the timeline for his immigration.


Unfortunately there are no comprehensive ships passenger lists of immigrants arriving in Canada prior to 1865. Until that year, shipping companies were not required by the government to keep their passenger manifests.  There are however lists that survived and other records which replace those passenger manifests. You can view a complete list of what is available and where it can be found, both online and off, at Filling in the Gaps

These alternate records include Shipping Company records, Immigration Agent records, Steamships on the St. Laurence records and more.

More Clues

A third clue is the birth of his daughter Annie who is shown as age 1 in the 1871 census. Finding her birth registration (if it was recorded) might give you more details for William and Elmira. Sometimes birth registrations have exact residence (land) locations of the father.

Little Annie provides us with more places to research. Since she doesn't appear in the 1881 census with her father and his second wife, it is probable that she died between 1871 and 1881. Finding her death certificate may provide new details on your family. 

Another clue, not found in the 1871 census, but which you gave me in your email, was that William was listed as a widower when he remarried in 1875. This means that Elmira died between the taking of the census in 1871 and his second marriage in 1875. So the next step would be to look for her death registration on

Looking for Elmira and William

Now we have several clues and ideas of where to look next in the online records. Let me walk you through what I did to find more on the family. I'll share my steps and the outcome in Part 2 of this Case Study.