Wednesday 26 September 2012

Two Newly Discovered Letters on Document Red River Settlement History

2012 marks the 200th anniversary of the Red River Settlement by Scots who were assisted in settling what is now Winnipeg Manitobaby Thomas Douglas, 5th Earl of Selkirk. In honour of this anniversary, the National Archives of Scotland have unveiled two letters that were found in the papers of  Lord Melville. 

From the NAS website:
" New details about a Scots settlement in Western Canada have been revealed on its bicentenary, in two letters held by the National Records of Scotland (NRS). 

The rare documents have been unveiled by the Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs Fiona Hyslop on the 200th anniversary of the Red River Selkirk Settlement in Manitoba. The settlement - which has now grown to become the city of Winnipeg- was founded during the Highland Clearances by Thomas Douglas, the fifth Earl of Selkirk.  

The papers have been discovered by Scottish archivists in the Melville and Dalhousie collections, which were acquired on behalf of the public by NRS."

 To read transcriptions of these two letters, click here:

Saturday 22 September 2012

BIFHSGO One Week Later

It’s hard to believe that one week has passed already since the BIFHSGO conference. This year’s focus was on Scottish genealogy and featured some wonderful speakers.
I did not take in the Friday workshops, choosing instead to use the Friday as a travel day.

Late Friday afternoon, the heavens opened up and the torrential rains began, which set the mood for learning about Scottish ancestry. The conference officially opened on the Friday evening. The Don Whiteside Memorial Lecture was given by Vic Suthren, who spoke on the War of 1812. I have to admit that interest in this portion of Canadian history has always eluded me. However, Vic’s talk was really the first time I have understood the war and its impact in creating Canada as a formidable nation. As Albert Einstein once said, “if you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough” and that was certainly the case for Vic’s lecture. His knowledge is so vast and his depth of understanding so great that he was able to explain the importance of the war in terms that even I was able to understand and follow along with. Having grown up in Hamilton, I was fascinated by Vic’s comments about the Battle of Stoney Creek. As well, friends of mine are descended from John Chrysler and so the battle of Chrysler’s farm was also a fascinating point for me.

At the reception following the talk, I was able to meet many of the people I have come to have regular e-mail contact with. It was great to be able to put faces to the names.

Saturday morning was quite chilly and I was instantly regretting leaving my jacket back at home. The Plenary was given by Chris Paton. I have heard Chris talk before, and knew that much of what he was going to say would be what I have already heard, but I always enjoy a refresher as well as Chris’ sense of humour. He started out by having us all say a big “hello from Ottawa” to those back in the UK, which he recorded and has placed on his blog Chris presents his information very well and, like Vic, knows his subject so well that it makes the rest of us feel that we too can do research in the Scottish records. As part of the Q&A, Chris referenced the “Poor Law” records. His Irish accent had it sounding more like “Purr Law” and I saw people scrambling to write down this rich, new, never-heard-of-before resource! I was poorless with laughter. After several requests to repeat the name of this new resource, Chris switched tactics and responded with “skint” Of course, few understood that one either!

The next session I attended was Lucille Campey’s talk on the Selkirk Settlers. Earlier this year, I put together a family history book for a family whose ancestors were Selkirk Settlers in Belfast, PEI, having come from Colonsay. Last month, I wrote a couple of articles on the Selkirk Settlers for magazines as well as a blog post on the online resources available for researching Selkirk ancestry
Lucille is very much an historian and her talk was very much a history lesson. Throughout her talk, I kept thinking that Thomas Douglas, 5th Earl of Selkirk, received a raw deal in terms of how his UK peers would remember him. Lucille felt exactly the same way. Thomas Douglas really should be credited for bringing Celtic Culture to Canada. His desire for communities to transport their entire way of life to their new homes in Canada really was very innovative and was part of the reason for the success of the new colonisations. Lucille documented the path of the Selkirk Settlers from their start in Belfast, PEI, through Baldoon in Southern Ontario and then onto the Red River Valley in Manitoba. She portrayed a wonderful picture of both Lord Selkirk and of the hearty Scots whom he had assisted in re-settling in Canada.

Following lunch, my first session was “What’s New at FamilySearch” with Shirley Ann Pyefinch. I had the honour of attending a different workshop by Shirley Ann the previous month and once again was delighted with the wealth of information Shirley was able to share as well as how organized her presentations are. In both cases, after listening to Shirley Ann, I was eager to get home, get to my computer and get started on the various resources she provided.

My last session of the day was “McDNA” by Jane Buck. I have to admit, the whole DNA for genealogy purposes has never really interested me. However, Jane was a very dynamic presenter and I thoroughly enjoyed her talk. I left thinking “maybe…”

I opted not to attend the informal dinner Saturday evening, going instead to Byward Market for dinner. When I got the bill and realized they had charged me $8.25 for a draft, part of me was in awe at the audacity that allowed them to charge so much. Certainly, one could never afford to be an alcoholic in Ottawa!

Late Saturday night, I decided to give the first session Sunday morning a miss allowing me a bit of time to pack up and get organized and check out of the hotel. I was sorry to have missed Patricia Whatley’s talk on Scottish Poor Law.

I started my day with Ed Zapletal’s presentation on "Writing for Publication". I have enjoyed working with Ed in the past and have to say that I learned a great deal from him at this workshop. It really does make a difference having someone who knows their subject do a presentation. My particular interest in attending the workshop was in learning about copyright and I left feeling much more confident and knowledgeable. At one point, Ed was talking about copyright on pictures taken from the internet and that just because they are in the public domain does not mean they are not subject to copyright laws. Ed gave three websites where pictures can be accessed and each of these websites provides information on how to cite the source. As an example, Ed chose a photo of Sir John A MacDonald from the Library and Archives Canada Collection. My maiden name is McDonald (we were Mac at one point) and my son has repeatedly asked if we are related to Sir John A. Of course, everyone believes they have a connection to a famous ancestor, but I have been honest and stated “no, probably not” However, the photo that Ed used took me by surprise. It looked remarkably like my paternal grandfather. I can’t recall a whole lot of what Ed said about using these photos, as I was fascinated with the detail of Sir John A’s facial features and his classic “McDonald nose”. After that I decided I was going to contact my cousin in Aus and ask him for a DNA sample! Fortunately he works in a bio-chem lab, so will be more accommodating than the males on my maternal side.

After lunch, I was the session chair for Lucille Campey’s talk on the Scots in Ontario. This was a fascinating look at migration patterns as well as the UK governments strategic placement of the new colonisations in Ontario. Once again, I was taken in by the fascinating history as well as the new resources that Lucille discussed in her talk. History was never really a subject that grabbed my interest in school, but genealogy has changed my outlook, especially when history and ancestry are tied together in such a fascinating way.

The last talk of the conference was given by Chris Paton. I heard Chris’ talk last year on the murder of his three times great grandmother and the double sadness behind this event. (“There’s Been a Murrdurr”) so opted to get a head start on the long drive home.

The conference was very well put together, delivered some terrific lectures and was thoroughly enjoyable. Thank you to BIFHSGO and to the conference organizers.

Forces War Records Searchable Database

Forces War Records has a fully searchable database. The database is searchable by service number, nationality service type or by specific years.

Search results provide an index of all personnel with the name you are searching, giving you rank and record name as filters. You can then view the record for the person you feel might be your ancestor. The initial search is free but you must then subscribe to view the records. Subscriptions are:

3 Months

6 Months

12 Months

From the database you will find:

  • Service Records
  • Regimental or Unit served in data
  • Battles Information
  • Medals Received
Forces War Records will continue to search for you and will notify you of possible matches. You can sign up for their free e-newsletter.

If you have military ancestry, this database is certainly worth a try.

Friday 21 September 2012

New Database For Those Searching Hebridean Ancestors

Bill Lawson has spent many years tracing the families that once occupied the Outer Hebridean islands. Now, Bill has a searchable database with over a quarter of a million names. His sources are unique to the Hebridean Islands. Currently the database consists of an emigration database, with many of these families making their way to Canada. 

The database can be found at

An initial search is free, however, to view the results of the search, you need to purchase credits. Credits are £1 each (10 credits for £10, 20 credits for £20 etc). 

You can also sign up for a free newsletter to help you keep abreast of the additions to the database. 

Happy Searching! 

Sunday 16 September 2012

Special Borders Tour for Descendants of the Border Reivers

This is an add-on package to the basic genealogy tour. The Border region of Scotland has a long and tumultuous history. Families known as Border Reivers were notorious for raiding the homes, farms and towns of other families. The battles that the Border Reivers entered into were not in name of country, but in name of family. Names like Armstrong, Robson, Elliot, Graham, Routledge, Dickson, Oliver, Johnston and Nixon were scattered throughout the Border region and were quick to defend their family's honour.

This add-on package allows for three days in the Borders. Although stationed in Melrose, trips will be made to Hawick and the Hawick Heritage Hub (archives),  Kelso, Jedburgh, Langholm, and Canonbie. Tours of the battlefields of Flodden, Solway Moss and Ancrum Moor are also on the itinerary. There will be an opportunity to visit the Borders Family History Society as well.

Saturday 15 September 2012

Special Highland Tour for Descendants of Selkirk Settlers

This is an add-on package to the basic genealogy tour. The Highland Clearances were some of the darkest times in Scottish Highland history. Many families who were burned out of their homes later emigrated to Canada with the assistance of Thomas Douglas, 5th Earl of Selkirk. This add-on package will help you re-visit some of the highland areas that once were home to the Selkirk Settlers.

This 7 night package takes you to Oban (where the ships sailed from), and into Mull (2 nights), Iona and then Skye (2 nights). From Skye we travel to Dornoch (2 nights) with a side trip into the Kildonan Valley. Upon our return, we stay in Glasgow in preparation for the flight back to Canada.

Friday 14 September 2012

Tracking Emigration

Emigration is the act of leaving one's home country. Immigration is the act of arriving in a new country. There are lots of databases with ship's lists or even immigration documents, but very few that track those leaving Scotland.
FindMyPast has a list of passengers leaving the UK

The University of Aberdeen has an emigration database

If you are having a hard time tracking when your ancestor left Scotland, give one of these emigration databases a try.

Good luck!

Monday 10 September 2012

Mournful Monday

Today is the 13th anniversary of the day my world was rent asunder. The day I became an orphan. The day my mother died. My father died in 1987. I recognized earlier this summer that he has been gone almost half of my life. How can that be? He was such a huge part of my world. Fun, entertaining, easy-going. He was the life of any party but never in a negative or embarrassing way. He grew up with family Ceilidhs on Friday nights and loved when people came over for an evening. Whether playing cards, playing music or enjoying one of the many neighbourhood parties. Dad loved kids. Which was a good thing since I had a habit of bringing home stray ones. He was really flexible which is another good thing since my mum’s huge menagerie of relatives were frequently at our house. And he loved my granny to bits. His mother-in-law. Even when she stayed for 3 months, or six.

My dad had a hard time at the end of his life and his death really was the only thing that gave him peace. But he left too soon and far too young – days shy of his 59th birthday.  
I miss him every day and find myself frequently laughing at some of the things he said or did that are still vivid in my memory. Even today.

 My mum died on September 10, 1999. She had a rare disorder but in the weeks just prior to her death, she was better than she had been for years. In the end, it wasn’t the disorder that took her. It was a heart attack, and a massive one at that. She would have wanted to die suddenly, but not alone. I’m sure she was terrified in those few minutes before she left us. And her pain would have extended to knowing her grandbabies would grow up without her to spoil them. They were her pride, her joy, her reason for living.

 Like my dad, mum was the life of any party. The light in any room. People were drawn to her. Ours was the house where others gathered. It was inviting, relaxing, open and fun. Both of my parents had an amazing sense of humour. My mum inherited the Crawford wit. My dad was incredibly tolerant and would spent countless days, nights, hours listening to her retell the jokes, the tales that made others laugh. One of my fondest memories from childhood is the night 15 of us were crammed into a very small three bedroom cottage. The rafters were still exposed. Mum was in the far left bedroom, her brother from Scotland in the far right. My aunt and uncle occupied the middle bedroom and the kids (9 of us) and the family dog shared the living room. I was lucky enough to have the sofa bed that I shared with my cousin, my bestie and the dog. We didn’t get a wink of sleep. Mum and her brother, Craig had started telling jokes before retiring for the night. One joke would remind them of another and the chain reaction kept all of us awake and in fits of giggles all night.
Mum called herself the “Middle Child” Of course, she failed to mention that she shared that title with 18 others. Mum was the person everyone poured their hearts and souls out to. She was accepting, non-judgmental and a fierce and loyal friend. She was the best friend to each of her siblings and to her children.

Her passing has left a huge gap in our lives and in our family. We miss you mum.

Sunday 9 September 2012

Grandparents Day – Granny Crawford

My grandfather, Harry, sired 21 children. An amazing legacy for any man. My gran mothered all of them. She loved them, took pride in them and missed them when they weren't around. She was adored, loved and admired in return. Perhaps Harry's greatest legacy to his descendants was the woman he chose to mother them.

Gran never had a lot of materials in her life. Her wealth was in her children.  She was a bright and active woman, a good mother, a good neighbour and a loyal friend.  Granny had a wonderful sense of humour, a quick wit and a brilliant smile. She was the type of woman whose children and grandchildren craved spending time with. At night she would be surrounded by her kids, listening to their stories and relating her own. 

My Gran loved family life. She enjoyed a good waltz as well as a good sing song. One of her favourite things to do in Canada was have a sing song with my dad (her son in law) playing the mouth organ as her accompanist! And she loved a good game of cards. All of her grandchildren grew up being the only ones in their world who knew how to play "stop the bus."

Granny enjoyed many, many visits to Canada, and our home became hers when she was here. She initially came for three weeks at a time. That quickly expanded to 6 weeks. Then three months. Her last two visits were for six months each. Oh what I would give to sit at her feet one more time and listen to her stories. Except this time, I would write them  down!!

Grandparents Day - Papa Harry

My maternal grandfather, Harry Crawford, fathered 21 children. Papa Harry and I also had a special connection. Perhaps because I, too, had been a bairn who lived under his roof. Apparently Harry had missed not having a baby in the house over the seven years since his youngest was born, and he just doted on me. When my parents made the decision in 1960 to emigrate to Canada to live, Harry tried to convince them to "leave the bairn until you get settled". Mum and dad knew that if they did that, Harry would never send me over to Canada, so they told him they were all going to travel together. Since that hadn't worked, Harry accompanied us to the airport. Harry told them that he was going to take me for a wee walk while they checked themselves in. Some time later, they realized Harry hadn't returned and so they went looking for us. They found Harry and I on our way to the train station. Harry told them he was heading home with the bairn. My gran often said that my moving to Canada was a big heartbreak in Harry's life, and there were times that she would find him wiping away a tear. When she'd ask what was wrong, he'd say he was "just thinking about the bairn and hoping that she was alright".

Saturday 8 September 2012

Medieval Database

A new genealogy database has been launched. This one for medieval ancestry. The time period is 1093 - 1314.
The database is called People of Medieval Scotland. Here's the link:


An interesting article was published late last month in the Scotsman about Scottish DNA. It's not all oatmeal and whiskey!

Tuesday 4 September 2012

Who Are the People in Your Neighbourhood? aka Cluster Genealogy

Do you remember this song from Sesame Street?
Who are the people in your neighbourhood….
They’re the people that you meet
When you're walking down the street
They're the people that you meet each day

Well, that’s important information to know about your ancestors too. Who were the people in their neighbourhood? Examining the connections to your ancestors, whether cousins, workmates or neighbours is a great way to learn more about their day to day lives and is really a key way to understand their social history, by adding context to their lives. Knowing about the people in your ancestor’s lives helps to make sense of the dates and events and helps to breathe life into their stories.

The official term for this type of genealogical research is “Cluster Genealogy” It is getting a lot of press lately, but for many of us, it is the way we have been doing business for years. An ancestor’s “cluster” is their extended family, their friends, their neighbours, their workmates. Census records, passenger lists and wills are great ways to identify additional family members.

Ok, I know you understand the whole “moving across the lines” thing. Searching not just your direct line, but their siblings, cousins, and perhaps even in-laws. But why neighbours, you ask? Well, in many instances, neighbours may actually turn out to be relatives. If a family were miners or fishermen or weavers, quite often you will find that they not only shared an occupation, but also that they lived near one another. For instance, my miners would have worked for the same coal company and lived in the miners housing provided by that company. I can see in the 1861 census returns for Slammanan that they lived within blocks of one another. Often next door, or just a few doors down.

Slamannan is a village in south east Stirlingshire. Mining employed a large portion of the population. The population of the village in 1861 was 482. Of those, 28 were Fowlers. There were a number of small mines in the area of Slamannan. By looking at the 1861 census records, it is easy to connect siblings living with their spouses and children.

Similarly, in Roughrigg, a small mining village in Shotts Parish, there were two families, the Crawfords and the Fowlers. Certainly these weren’t the only families, but they were large families. As you go through the children of these two families, you find that there were three separate inter-marriages. Three of the 10 Crawford children married three of the 11 Fowler children. This of course deepens the family connections with the offspring of these three couples sharing the same maternal and paternal grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins.

When it comes to emigrating, you will often find that family groups migrated together. Ships lists will show parents and several children. In my husband’s family, three of the other passengers aboard the same ship as his paternal great grandparents married into the family once they arrived in Canada. This group settled in the same town and worked at the same factories. They were witnesses at each other’s weddings and christenings. They lived within a three block radius of one another. They attended the same church and show up in the church registers. They are buried in the same cemetery. One daughter in particular seems to be the place where new emigrants went to live. She is listed as a next of kin on several sets of attestation papers and her address is used as the home address for the enlisting soldiers.

Recently, I was playing around with a search engine and entered the name of one of my brickwall ancestors. Lo and Behold, I found him and his immigration papers to boot. I entered the names of his  two brothers (one of whom is my grandfather). I found them on ships passenger lists. Interestingly, their destination was the home of a cousin, who at the time was living in Windsor, Ontario. Windsor is on the border with Detroit, Michigan. Later research shows that these four men all went to Michigan where they went to work for the Ford Motor Company. My grandfather and one of his brothers returned to Scotland. The other brother migrated west to San Francisco. The cousin remained in Detroit, working for Ford.  

I have a photo of my grandfather and another man in Michigan. The person who gave it to me told me they thought the other man was my grandfather’s brother. I have other photos of his brothers and am convinced that neither one of them is the second man in the photo with my grandfather. However, now knowing about the connection with this cousin, I have to wonder if he is the second man in the photo.