Tag Archive for genealogy

The Strattons

I continue to enjoy filling in some of the gaps in F.M. Emerson Holmes’ genealogy of the Holmes family. Recently, I’ve dug a bit deeper into the Stratton family.

Margaret Holmes was the second child of Andrew and Susannah Holmes and she travelled to Canada with her husband, a man named Stratton. F.M. Emerson’s genealogy for the Stratton family is threadbare in a lot of place. He knew very little about Margaret’s husband (only that his last name was Stratton) but he did have a pretty good picture of the eldest Stratton child, Mary Ann. The other two children, Joseph and Elizabeth were pretty sparse on details.

It was pretty easy to determine that Margaret’s husband was named John Stratton; they appear in several of the Lambton County censuses, living in Oil Springs. They disappeared after the 1881 census, but a few weeks ago, I found a record of a Margaret and John Stratten (note the ‘e’) buried in the cemetery in Strathroy, Lambton County. According to the cemetery transcription website that I found this data on, they died within a few months of each other in 1883. There’s no photo of the headstone, so I’m not sure if the transcriber spelled the last name incorrectly, or if the headstone is incorrect. (It’s also possible that this headstone is a completely different family). It’s also true that the Strathroy cemetery hasn’t been fully transcribed on other cemetery transcription websites, so I haven’t been able to cross-reference.

Strathroy is a bit of a hike from Oil Springs, but not unreasonably so. It’s also worth nothing that, at the time of their deaths, their eldest daughter, Mary Ann, appears to have been living in London, Ontario, which is closer to Strathroy than to Oil Springs. That might have something to do with the decision to bury the parents in Strathroy.

Elizabeth Stratton’s details were pretty easy to track down on Ancestry. Elizabeth Stratton married Samuel Wright, and they also went off to live in London. There are, in fact, a few extra children that F.M. Emerson didn’t know about: Margaret, Andrew and Fanny. Andrew and Fanny appear to have died young. Margaret disappears; perhaps she also dies young.

For a long time, I hadn’t been able to make any headway on Joseph Stratton. F.M. Emerson’s birthdate for Joseph (circa 1844) looks like a guess to me. Mary Ann was born in 1842, so I think he guessed the the next two kids arrived every other year. I can find the family in the 1861 and 1871 censuses, and Joseph’s birthdate looks like it should be closer to 1852 or 1853.

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Good Golly, Miss Molly Maguire

I’ve made my first real progress with the Irish roots of my Holmes ancestors. It’s not much progress, mind you, but it’s not nothing.

I’m pretty much resigned to the fact that the Holmes family will be a perpetual brick wall (a term that genealogists use to describe families that one can find no further data about, thus acting as a barrier to any further knowledge about ancestors). To some extent, this isn’t shocking: pursuing Irish genealogy frequently stumbles on the problem of the destroyed records. In 1922, the Public Records Office burned in a civil war battle, and most of the censuses (and many other records) were lost. I’ve seen a number of Irish genealogy presenters talk, encouragingly, about how it’s wrong to think that all records have been destroyed. Ireland had plenty of records, still, and you shouldn’t write off the possibility that there are some records to be found. But it’s increasingly looking like the records for my Holmes ancestors have not survived.

I’ve certainly had no luck with any of the searches I’ve tried in various online databases. But I decided to hire a professional genealogist to see if anything could be discovered. Several days ago, I received their report. And while they have also failed to find any definitive records, they did uncover some clues that might tell us a thing or two. But it’s in the realm of speculation, rather than “clear record.”
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Two Viola Duet

Are these two Violas the same Viola?

There’s a distant bunch of Bantam relatives who went off to live in Kansas. It starts with the family of John Sylvester Bantam, who moved from the Bantam homestead in Port Rowan, Ontario to Norton County, Kansas. John has a son Gilbert (“Gilley”) and Gilley has a son, Harold John Bantam, born 21 Apr 1907. According to Don’s notes, Harold married a woman named Viola. Don doesn’t know Viola’s maiden name.

(I’ve just reviewed his notes, now, and noticed something that I had recorded incorrectly: I had Harold listed as the father of Viola’s two children, Jerome and Carolyn, but Don is clear that the two children were from an earlier marriage).

So I went spelunking on Ancestry to find out more information about Viola. The suggested hints that I’ve found aren’t entirely clear on the topic, but there are two dominant stories. The first is that, according to some sources, Viola’s name is Viola C. Lamb. The primary sources for this are some other folks’ Ancestry records, and a reference to a headstone-recording website. That website is telling me that Viola’s name was Lamb (but that doesn’t appear to be data on the actual headstone). I’m guessing that the other Ancestry users picked up that name from that website. Many of these websites are transcribed and maintained by genealogy societies, and they may bring other sources to bear to flesh out the data, but it’s not clear where the name “Lamb” originates. Her headstone says that she was born on 16 Sep, 1910. Her headstone is shared with Harold, so this is clearly “my” Viola.
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Poor Marion

More learnings: Marion and Milton had just been married. Marion was 35 in December 1937, when she married Milton McVicar. On Jan 3, Marion’s younger brother Beverly died (he’d had poor health for all of his life). The following month, Milton died.

Weird Connections

I’m putting together details about some of my Smith relatives. The Smiths were the oil family, and many of them became involved in local politics.

My great-grandfather’s sister, Marion Gertrude Smith married a man named Milton Duncan McVicar, who was a member of the Enniskillen Council, and later Reeve, and Lambton County Warden, but in 1934, he was elected to the Ontario legislature as a Liberal-Progressive.

As an M.L.A. (although in Ontario, these days, we tend to say M.P.P.), he had a number of successes which made him popular back in Lambton County, but in 1938, he caught a serious cold/influenza/pneumonia and died on Feb 3rd, 1938.

2000 people attended his funeral, “representing every walk of life in the country.” Newspaper write-ups described it as the largest funeral in town in years. The Premier, Hon. Mitchell F. Hepburn sent provincial secretary, Hon. Harry C. Nixon to represent him at the funeral (probably because McVicar died while in office).

Here’s the connection that really jumped out at me: one newspaper write-up includes this tidbit: “It was largely through his [McVicar’s] efforts that the Government established a park at Ipperwash Beach.”

Ipperwash Provincial Park, of course, is the site of the Ipperwash Crisis and the death of Dudley George.

Bio-Granddad

One day in the late 80s, I was back at my parents’ house, between semesters at University. “I think you look like my father,” my mother said, rather matter-of-factly, and somewhat out of the blue. She went off to another room of the house and came back with a cardboard stationery box that I had never seen before. Inside the box, she produced a large head shot photo of her father, Walter Dynes, for comparison purposes.

I’m pretty sure that I was in my early twenties. Until that moment, I had never her say a word about her father. I don’t think that she ever mentioned him again.

At some point in my life, I’d come to understand that her father had died quite a long time ago, and that the person I considered to be my grandfather was, in fact, her step-father. Certainly, by the time of the great grade 7 family tree homework assignment, the details provided by my grandfather clearly spelled out the three maternal grandparents. But my bio-grandad’s figure seemed to cast no shadow over my family: he wasn’t talked about, no photos were out, and no stories about him were ever told. When I refer to him, I often call him my “biological grandfather” — a term that feels distant and removed. But it also feels apt because he seems distant and removed.

My father’s father, Vidal Holmes, was also dead. He died shortly before I turned two. But I was aware of his absence in a way that I was never aware of Walter’s absence.

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“We Never Talk About It”

Many months ago, I was looking over some old family photos with my aunt, Janey. There was a woman I didn’t recognize in a few pictures, and on the back of the photo, she was identified as “Beatrice”. “Who was Beatrice?” I asked Janey.

“I don’t know,” she said. “Oh, wait. Maybe she was Ralph’s first wife?”

“Ralph’s first wife?” I said.

“Yeah,” she said. “We never talk about it.” My family seems to have a lot of stuff that we never talk about.

My father has a brother named Ralph. That’s not who we’re talking about. The Ralph we’re talking about would be my grandfather’s brother, James Ralph Holmes. My grandfather was the youngest of three children. Abbie Estella Holmes was the oldest, but she died at the age of 20, due to complications from pregnancy. Ralph was the middle child, closer in age to Stella. When Ralph came of age in the midst of the great depression, he moved to Detroit to find work. My grandfather, Vidal, ultimately took over the family farm and raised his own children there. Ralph and Vidal both died about a month apart in 1968, shortly before my second birthday.

Beatrice is not, in fact, Ralph’s first wife. I still have no idea who she is. One possibility is that she was a nanny that briefly helped out with child-rearing duties.

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Giving up the Dead

I’m having an email correspondence with a genealogist in Ireland. I’m looking to hire her to find records on my Holmes ancestors before they came to Canada. It’s been a slow conversation, with a number of delays, but I’m hoping that something will come of it.

But today we were talking about a particular part of the tree, and while looking at my records for that part of the tree, I realized that I’d failed to transcribe some data.

Here’s the story. I’ve mentioned before that the first of my family to come to Canada are Andrew and Susan (Susannah) Holmes, who emigrated here in 1845. I’ve also mentioned that Andrew died in quarantine at Grosse Île, Quebec. But they brought with them six of their seven children, who spread out and several of those kids end up in Lambton County, where I grew up.

So I’m interested in the one that stayed behind, Mary Ann Holmes, born around 1811. She was the oldest of the seven children and she was already married at the time the family moved to Canada (the second oldest, Margaret Holmes, was also married, but she brought her husband along to Canada with her). Some time before 1861, Mary Ann joined the rest of the family in Canada. Her husband, James Dowler, remained in Ireland. The author of Those Irish Holmes’ writes, “‘Tis said he loved the Emerald Isle, the thrill of its strife, and another woman.”

Mary Ann went to Lambton County and moved in with her brother, John Holmes and his wife, Mary Wilkinson. John and Mary only had one kid, but Mary Ann brought five with her. The youngest of those five might have been born in Canada, if the censuses are to be believed. If so, either Mary Ann was pregnant on the ride over, or James Dowler wasn’t the kid’s father. Or the censuses are wrong. This line of the family doesn’t have it easy. Mary Ann’s daughter, Ann Dowler, died in the London Insane Asylum. Her older brother, Thomas, might have also spent some time there.

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Revising Those Irish Holmes

I’ve written, before, about the booklet I had as a teenager: Those Irish Holmes’, by F. M. Emerson Holmes. The booklet was a family tree of all the descendants of Andrew and Susan (Susannah) Holmes, who came to Canada from Cavan County, Ireland, in 1845.

A few weeks ago, I got hit with a bit of a genealogy bug after letting it sit for a while and I started finishing up my revision to that booklet. Basically, I’ve tracked down almost all of the original names in the book and updated them with the latest information. Unsurprisingly, in the 35 years since the book was first published a large number of the people documented have since died, including F. M. Emerson himself.

Newer generations are harder to find the details about. Sites like Ancestry don’t share details on anyone marked as still living although you can occasionally find a name in the most recent census (the Canadian 1921 census is the most recent census that’s publicly-available).

As an aside: I feel like there’s been an up-tick in quality on how people have been using Ancestry. Just a few years ago, it felt like a bit of a slog to pick and choose the good quality records from other people’s trees; recently, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how much good-quality information people have been adding. One area that’s really been helpful is in regards to photos. When I started adding photos to my family tree a few years ago, it seemed at the time like photos were rare. Now I’m fascinated by the number of distant family members I find with really good-quality photos attached to them.

Also in the last few days, I’ve learned a few more details about a bit of a family mystery.

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What even are children?

Dear friends who have children, or spend a lot of time in their presence (without cowering in fear, like I do): I’m looking for some help identifying the age of these kids. How old do you think the kids are in this picture?

John and Matilda Holmes

I know who the three older kids are, but I’m trying to identify the baby. It’s either my father, or my father’s older sister, Elizabeth, who died as an infant. If it’s the latter, then this might be the only picture of her that I know of.