Saturday, 17 December 2011

A Country Drive

Yesterday was a special day for a few reasons. Doug had the week off, and we decided to make a trip to Olds, AB to visit his Grandma Taylor. She is an amazing woman in her 90's who continues to live on her own, and we don't see her often enough. It's only about a 75 minute drive, so we are making an effort to get there more often.

I put together a plate of baking for her, and added some fancy chocolates. She loves cookies! We also picked up a poinsettia on the way to her place, to brighten up her condo. The smile on Grandma's face when we arrived said it all -- she was sure pleased we had come to visit.

We took a look at the many balls of yarn in her tv room, and listened to her tell the story about the minister's wife, who comes to visit every so often to pick up whatever grandma has knitted for the disadvantaged children in other countries. Mostly hats and scarves, she has knitted over 1000 now! Grandma loves to stay busy, and her eyes are not as good as they once were, so she is not able to do the needlework or put together the puzzles she once enjoyed. Knitting is perfect for her, and she sits for hours in front of the tv clicking away!

It was lunchtime, so we headed out to find a place Doug could have eggs benedict, his favorite. We found a Smitty's and went in to find it was lined up -- good sign it was a decent place to eat! Before long we were seated and had our lunch. Good soup for Grandma and me on a chilly day.

After lunch, we asked if Grandma would like to go for a drive. She was absolutely thrilled to get out and see the countryside, even though it was covered with snow. She grew up on a farm, and we heard many stories about life in the old days. Not a glamorous life, but it kept the kids out of trouble, and made them into good people, according to Myrtle. We heard about how much she enjoys living in Canada, as we have 4 distinct seasons here. She can't travel much any more, but says she doesn't really miss it much. How nice that she truly enjoys her home and her surroundings.

We listened to many stories about life on the farm, and the routine of each day, month, and season. Doug remarked that the scenery wasn't much to look at this time of the year, but Grandma said she really enjoys each season, and agreed that winter is a time of rest to some extent. The spring keeps people busy preparing the land and seeding, the summer is a time of tending the crops, and fall is when people harvest. Animals continue to need care during the winter, but generally it's a quieter time.

Grandma talked about the stature of the others in her family. She said her paternal grandpa (Iverson) wasn't very tall -- he only came up to her chin! Her maternal grandpa (Rice) was a tall man, however, at about 6 feet. They were all Norwegian. Grandma told us that the first few kids in her family were born in Minnesota, and the rest were born in Saskatchewan, where they lived in a Norwegian settlement. None of them spoke English until they went to school, and then gradually they all spoke English at home, as the kids didn't want to speak Norwegian any more, and they found it easy to learn the new language. Eventually, even the parents had to speak English. What a surprise to hear that Grandma didn't speak English until she was about 5 or 6 years old -- you'd never know it now!

After a few hours of visiting, we dropped her off at her lovely condo and said we'd look forward to seeing her over the holidays. We're hosting the family for dinner this year, and we'll happily anticipate hearing more interesting stories!

Friday, 2 December 2011

Family Traditions - Lefse

One of my favorite family traditions is making "lefse" each year before Christmas. This is a Norwegian flatbread, made with Russett potatoes, flour, real butter & real cream. The Smith family has traditionally brought everyone together to make lefse on the 2nd Sunday of December. Everyone contributes to a potluck lunch, and until this year, the whole gang has gathered in one person's home. The number has grown over time, and this year the family will gather at a hall, which will be wonderful.

As our family lives many hours away, and driving can be treacherous this time of year, for about 15 years we have had our own lefse-making day in Calgary. Sometimes I've invited neighbors to join us, and we've discovered that many of our friends share our tradition. Many years ago, I was quite excited to learn that my husband's family, who have Norwegian roots, also makes lefse! Grandma Taylor has a real lefse grill, and has loaned it to any of us who would like to use it. That's been good, but the Taylor family has also grown, so this year I ordered all of the equipment from a place in Wisconsin, had it shipped to a buddy of Dave's in North Dakota, and Dave was kind enough to bring it back for me.

This year we went to Sherry's for lefse in Calgary, and made about 10 dozen giant lefse. Really, they're about the size of a large pizza! A good time was had by all, and everyone got involved. The kids all helped with rolling and baking, and we all contributed to the wonderful food, which we grazed on all day. It was a perfect opportunity to catch up on life, with Hazel & Eric, and Rob & Corina with their girls. Emma & Teagan made it later in the afternoon, as they'd been to another party earlier in the day. Teagan was sporting some very fancy face paint, and did a great job of rolling!

All in all, it's a day for great fun & laughter, a wonderful opportunity to relax and catch up on everyone's lives, and we all go home with some traditional food to save for Christmas. I was really pleased to take home an extra package for Mom & Dad and Karen & Jeff. Even better, Doug & I will be able to deliver it in person when we visit them in Victoria in a couple of weeks.

We always miss the big Smith clan on their lefse day, but are really pleased to have established the tradition ourselves as well. Looking back at our family history, we're not sure if the tradition came from the Swedish Sundell family or if it was perhaps the Johnston family who influenced the Smiths in North Dakota. Whatever the case, we love our lefse, and it's just awesome to know we have carried on the tradition for over 120 years in our family!

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Photos and Other Treasures

When I started out looking through old photos yesterday, I had forgotten there were a few other interesting things in the box. I have a lot of old pictures, as I seem to have become the 'keeper of old treasures' in our extended family. I am not complaining, I'm just saying that sometimes I forget what is there.

Many of these are already scanned and saved to my computer, and copies are saved in a series of places, as I want to be careful not to lose the images. The originals remain in envelopes and boxes, and some are filed by family. They are becoming a bit fragile, so I do not generally display them. The electronic copies can also be fragile, so I've made a few backups.

Annie, Dorothy, and Stanley May in front of the old sod house in Saskatchewan.
Thanks to my mom's cousin, Dorothy Whitcomb for this photograph (and more!).

As I sifted through the Lockerbie and May photos, and went on to a few from the Smiths and the Waites, I came across a bag with a folded piece of paper in it. My aunt Marion had written on the paper, and inside I rediscovered the buttons from my great grandmother's wedding dress. Cool! There were a few other items in there, such as a pearl cufflink, a 'Band of Hope' pin/medal (from the Prohibition), and a gold chain with a small medallion from the International Order of Odd Fellows.

As I continued, I realized most of the photos had already been scanned, but I had misplaced them in my labyrinth of electronic files. Honestly, that is one big area I need to improve! It's a good thing I have attached many of the pics to our Ancestry tree, as at least they are all in one place, and attached to the correct people.

For today, have a look at some of what I found. There are many more treasures here, so if you're ever interested, come on over for a coffee and we'll look through them together. There are many memories in the boxes, and I'm always happy if someone writes down their story and attaches it to a picture. There are also many people who are not identified, and I need help with that as well. If these pictures would mean more to someone in another branch of the family, I will gladly hand them over after I scan them.

Jack & Mabel - early

Jack & Mabel - later days

Thanks to Aunt Marion, who passed these along, which belonged to Jack & Mabel Waite

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Old Photographs

I have seen many photos posted on social media this week, as it was Remembrance Day yesterday, and people wanted to honour the ancestors and family members who have served over the years. I checked our family, and there were a few in the military, but not many. Nonetheless, I remembered that I have a couple of big boxes in the basement gathering dust. Some of those photos have been scanned, and are posted to our Ancestry tree, but many have not.

Today is supposed to be a blustery day in Calgary, and I can't think of any reason to put the project off. Thinking optimistically, if the boys are out of bed before noon, I might even enlist their help. If I can determine who is in the pictures, we'll be in good shape to work together, as they are much better at scanning, renaming, and filing.

If there are some we can't identify, perhaps a Skype session with Gramma & Papa will be in order. I'm sure they'll know who's in the pictures, and looking through pictures usually sparks some good conversation around memories of the past.

We have only a handful of photographs for Doug's side of the family, and I hope to obtain more in the next while. We have a few family gatherings coming up soon, so I will put the word out that I am looking for some balance. My mother-in-law has recently retired, and although she is not tech-savvy, she may be willing to help me with identifying people while I scan pictures. I am hoping she will also help me to track down some of these images.

As much as I find it interesting and challenging to research our family history, and feel it is important to obtain proof of each person's existence, I also think it's important to collect & share the 'soft' information, such as stories and photos. Not everyone cares about the facts, but they enjoy hearing the stories. Others are not so interested in reading, but they may like the pictures of the people, the houses, and the surrounding landscapes.

Stay posted -- I hope to be able to post a few new photos soon!

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Exciting progress on "the other side" of the family: Mauritz & Becher

For many years, Dad and I have worked on the Smith family tree. We have also researched Mom's Lockerbie family as well, although she's never been as interested as we've been. Thankfully, a few others in that family had done a ton of work on the Lockerbie and May histories, so we had a head start.

We've always had our hands full with the Smiths etc., so I have also not made a major effort to seek out information about the Taylor/Becher branch of the family. This may be of interest to our boys one day, however, as it is Doug's family history. I accepted the low-hanging fruit as I could get it, through family conversations and Ancestry, and thought maybe someone in one of those families would be interested enough to do the serious research.

I remembered a few weeks ago that the Taylors and Browns came from Ontario, so I set out to make a list of the records I need to pursue when Dad and I go to Toronto to visit the provincial archives next spring. That got me thinking about the "in-law" trees, and I took a look at the big gap in our larger tree. The Mauritz and Becher families are quite sparsely populated, so I emailed Auntie Elly (my mother-in-law's sister) to ask if she had any new information.

We had a wonderful family celebration yesterday, and I mentioned to my mother-in-law, Carol, that I had sent a note to Elly, and explained that I really would like to fill in more of her family history for the sake of our children. Carol remembered that Elly had given her a package of information recently, and wondered if I'd like to read it over. Oh my goodness, what a gift!! I scanned the information quickly, and asked if I could borrow it for awhile, as I'd like to make a copy.

This morning I sat down to read it more carefully, and realized there are details of at least 2 new generations of the Mauritz family, and some very interesting stories about life in Romania and the surrounding area. There are also maps, and an explanation of where the family migrated to, and why they moved so much.

Next I began to read a document called "Recalling the Past: A Return to the Hartl Homestead," which was written in July 1994. I have not yet quite sorted out the connection, but it includes some members of the Becher family. I truly hope we have more information about Leopold Becher's history, as we really don't know anything about his past, or his parents. At first glance, there doesn't appear to be much, but I will take some time to check more thoroughly soon.

I hope to hear from Auntie Elly at some point, as I am guessing she has a wealth of knowledge, and she may be inclined to share with me. Fingers crossed!

Monday, 17 October 2011

New info from Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania!

Friday was quite a day. Just as I sat down to mull over what we'd found on our trip, I received an email message from Tom, our helpful volunteer at the Historical Society of Schuylkill County. He said they had found the will & estate records for old William Hay, who we found buried in Auburn, Pennsylvania. What great and unexpected news!!

Tom said he and Doc Pete had found the records at the Schuylkill County courthouse, which Dad and I didn't have time to visit last week. They are making a copy for us, and will mail it soon.

Some days you just count your blessings for the generosity of others.

Can't wait to see what the will says, and I hope we learn something about the missing generation of this family.

Monday, 10 October 2011

Mt. Moriah cemetery in Philadelphia

Friday, October 7, 2011

Feeling positive about our results of yesterday's visit to Pottsville, we decided to take some time to see the sights of Philadelphia. Really, it would just be wrong somehow to be here for the better part of a week without seeing the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall. After breakfast, we walked to 5th and Market, and signed up for the hop-on, hop-off tour, which took us on a 90 minute drive around the city highlights on a double-decker bus. We meandered back towards the hotel, and stopped at the Mumbai Bistro for a quick and tasty lunch.

Once we got back to the hotel, I checked the email, and found a response from Ken Milano. I called his cell phone, and asked if he would be willing to take us to Mt. Moriah cemetery. We had determined that visiting Frankford and the Cedar Hill cemetery would be too much to do today, and furthermore, Haldane Hay's grave at Cedar Hill was less important to see compared to seeing Edward MacHarg's final resting place at Mt. Moriah, as I am directly descended from that line. Ken cautioned us that Mt. Moriah was overgrown, as the cemetery owners walked away from it in April this year. I had read the same in the news, but I hoped it might not be too bad. I had the map of the area from our visit to the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, and knew where the plot was, so off we went.

Ken picked us up within about 20 minutes, and we headed toward the cemetery. He got us there, but it looked pretty bad from the road. We circled back and Ken drove in on the overgrown path, which was quite rough. After awhile, we saw a marker that indicated “Section 130” and noticed a car with the trunk open a bit further down the side path. Ken continued along, musing that it could be someone burying a body or something equally as sinister, and we came to a dead end. Unsure of where to go next, at Dad's urging, we turned around and went back to where the car was parked. There in the middle of the cemetery was a man mowing around one specific section. We asked him if he knew where we were in relation to the map we had, and he said he was maintaining Section 131, which was where some Methodist ministers were buried. Since the cemetery had been abandoned, he had been visiting every 2 weeks to maintain that section. Quite amazing, as it was not easy to access. He encouraged us to try to access the section we wanted, as it was adjacent to the Navy part of the cemetery, which was still being maintained by the military. We went back out to the main path, and continued along to what we figured was Section 142. Dad went ahead on foot, and paced out his best guess as to where it would be. As usual, he was bang on.

We jumped out of the car, and began to check the various stones for names and dates. We were not sure how our map of the section should be oriented on the ground, so Ken began phoning in to a colleague to ask whether we were even in the correct place. We were astounded by the brambles and the poor state of the area, and looked across a low fence to see someone maintaining the military part of the cemetery. We were quite frustrated by our inability to make sense of the map, and to find Plot 13. After a series of phone inquiries, we eventually determined we were in the right general area.

The last call Ken made was to ask about the “Latimer” stone, and he was told that it was placed in Plot 13, which was supposed to be the MacHarg plot. Hmmm. We looked all around that area, and found some small stones on the ground labeled “L” and “M” - they were perhaps to indicate a specific row, or could be to indicate the two families? In any event, we continued to probe the ground all around these stones, but did not find MacHarg anywhere. It was a shame, but at least we could say we had tried to find Edward and two of his sons. For our purposes, we'll perhaps think of this "M" stone as a marker for the "MacHarg" family.

We packed up and got back into the car, and thanked Ken for his willingness to take us to the cemetery, and for his effort to get us to the correct section. We would never have made it to the specific area without his help, as a taxi would never have agreed to drive in there!

Pottsville and Auburn, Pennsylvania

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Up and out the door early, we picked up our rental vehicle at 7:30, and were pleasantly surprised to be given a Chev HHR as a mid-size option. It was more like an SUV, and perfect for our trip up to Pottsville. I was glad to have brought along our GPS, although Dad was great at navigating with the map.

There was an Occupy Wall Street protest planned at Philadelphia's City Hall, so we left the area using an alternate route. We were on the freeway before long, and realized our left signal light wasn't working, so it was a little uncomfortable until we had it repaired in Pottsville.

We went straight to the Pottsville Historical Society, as it opened at 10:00, and we were warmly welcomed by “Doc Pete” and Tom, who volunteered to help us with our research. They had an amazing array of resources, and Tom helped us by searching through the microfilm for naturalizations. We found 3 of those, some military information, and a few other bits of information which we were not certain were related to our family.

One of the books contained an inscription for the old William Hay's marker in the “Old Cemetery” in Auburn. It was quite interesting, as he was referred to as the Old Scotchman, which made us think there may not have been many Scots in the area.

We were surprised not to find much else about the family, and where they were after 1840 is still a bit of a mystery. I called over to the Presbyterian Church, and Audrey was very pleased to see me – I dashed right over, and she helped me look through their old baptisms, etc., but we came up empty-handed. She said there was a time when the records were not kept all that well, but I have to wonder if they went to church there at all.

We thought of going to the County Archives, but realized there wasn't much else to find there, as the Historical Society had such a rich collection. We exchanged email addresses with Tom and Pete, and offered them a donation, which they very much appreciated. Doc Pete insisted we take some fossils and a chunk of coal from the area, and gave us two pilsner glasses with official certificates. I hope they will keep their eyes open for information about the Hay family in the years to come.

We left Pottsville at about 3:00, and headed for the old cemetery in Auburn. Doc Pete had given us precise directions, which were perfect, as we likely would not have found it without his assistance. We were thrilled to see the old gravestone from the road – it was the first stone we spotted, and it was in pretty good shape, considering how long it had been there. There were no other Hays in the cemetery, but we were happy to have tracked down old William.

Our trip home was smooth sailing, as we felt pleased to have found some new information, and the traffic wasn't too bad heading back into Philadelphia. We returned the car and went back to the room to change before finding a nice fresh-food place to eat a light dinner.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

The Free Public Library & back to the City Archives & the Historical Society

We've been walking a lot, so today we decided to take a taxi to the library, as it would be a very long hike. It's quite an ornate building, similar in some ways to the Alberta Legislature Building, with a wide staircase and decorated pillars & high central ceiling. On the second floor, we found the Map room, and beside that, the Microfilm room. Groan!

The good news was that the staff were fabulous!! They went out of their way to help us with newspapers and maps, and the microfilm readers were much better than those we had found anywhere else. They had a reader that was connected to a computer, so I could scan images and save them to a flash drive, which was great. I found obituaries for Haldane Hay and James MacHarg, but in my excitement to save them, I forgot to note the name and date of the newspaper I was looking at. After lunch, I trudged back upstairs to find them again, and made paper copies and noted the sources. A lesson for me!!

I was excited to hand Dad a reel which I knew would contain Lily Hay & John Smith's marriage announcement, and we did find it, but it didn't contain any new information. We hoped it would say more about their parents or where they all lived, but were were disappointed. C'est la vie!

Once we were done there, I asked Dad to come back to the City Archives with me, as I had forgotten to check a couple of Lockerbie names while we were there. We zipped over, and spent about an hour the,re searching, but came up with nothing. Oh well -- at least I had no regrets, as I had been feeling badly about forgetting to check the first time.

When we were done there, it was about 3:30, so we took a taxi to the Historical Society, and Dad left me to work there. He'd had enough for one day, so went back to the hotel for a rest. I had a list in hand, and tackled what I could. I started out with a few books about Schuylkill County and Pottsville, but came up with nothing. Then I requested what I thought were old records from the old Presbyterian church in Frankford, but was sent to the microfilm room. Oh my goodness, at this point I had been staring at microfilm for hours, and couldn't imagine I'd find much, but it was my only hope.

First reel out of the box, and I found John Smith Jr. within a few minutes. We knew his month and year of birth, but had not found his birth record until now. So we now have his birth and baptism - yay!! A further search did not show anything for his younger siblings, so the family must have moved soon afterward. This reel also had John Smith & Lilly Hay's marriage, which Mandy Johnson had found a couple of years ago. Nice to see it for myself, though, and to realize it was the same source. I wished we had that nice reader/scanner in order to save this source, but at least we have a photocopy of it.

I packed up at this point and nearly ran back to the hotel to show Dad my newest little bit of information. We were both pretty tired, so didn't feel much like walking too far, and we went to a little Mediterranean/Italian place about a block away for dinner. They had great food, and we sat out at a table on the sidewalk and enjoyed watching some of the locals.

All in all, not a bad day, but a little short of my expectations. Thursday will be better, I hope, as we have reserved a car, and will be driving to Pottsville to check out the Hay family.

Presbyterian Archives & the Historical Society

Day two we walked about a mile to the Presbyterian Archives. A nice building, and we thought there would be some good potential to find more information about the Smith family in the Frankford area of Philadelphia. Sadly, none. The staff were quite helpful, and there is a nice place to work there, but the records we were looking for were nowhere to be found.

We walked back to our hotel, and stopped for lunch and coffee along the way to re-energize and to sort out our priorities. After freshening up, we tried the Historical society. They have an amazing collection of records, and we didn't realize we could have accessed an online tool beforehand to check out what they have available. We settled in at a table with great lighting, and off we went to see what we could find.

There were many stacks/shelves of family histories that had already been published, and also many county and church history books. Beyond that, there were countless records, ranging from letters to scrapbooks, that a person could request and read in a "restricted reading area" that was supervised. I found a letter from someone who had written to the society in the 1950's, requesting some information about the Hay family, but that was about it. The staff were very friendly and helpful, and each had a unique way of being able to help. They obviously enjoy their jobs, and make a good effort to assist.

We were pretty tired after a day of nearly no results, so off we went to re-assess our plan of action for Wednesday and beyond.  Dad suggested we find a good seafood restaurant, so off we went to Devon's, which was a good place to end the day!

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Philadelphia City Archives

First day in Philly was spent at the City Archives, pretty much from opening to closing time. After being warned by local genealogists that it was a less than friendly place to work, we were pleasantly surprised to receive great service. We found a few birth records and some death records, and were sometimes allowed to look at the actual Birth Indexes and Birth Registers, as the microfilm was very difficult to read. We were told that in the very near future, people will not be allowed to handle these books, as they are very old and fragile. Perhaps the day will come when someone will take the time to scan these old books, and have them available as pdf's instead of microfilm.

For lunch we went to check out the "food trucks" about a block away, in the university area, and that was a perfect choice for a break. Lunch for 2 was only about $7.50!

Today we're off to the Presbyterian Church Archives ... hoping to find a few new leads!

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Philadelphia, Here We Come!

After months of planning and doing as much research as possible ahead of time, we leave today for a week in Pennsylvania to research the Smith, Hay, MacHarg, Lockerbie, and Sundell families. Ultimately, we hope to find out more about John Smith, as he has remained so elusive over the many years we have researched our roots.

We have contacted a few professionals ahead of time, and have set out a plan of action for each day this week. We will no doubt find a few new bits of information, as there is much to find in Philadelphia and the surrounding area.

Stay tuned for our progress!

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Back to North Dakota, on to Red Wing, Minnesota & Eastern Canada

We had always wanted to see our own country, and the opportunity to travel across Canada was on the horizon. The boys were 11 & 14, and it was a perfect time for us to head out to see as much as we possibly could in 30 days. Doug managed to get the time off from work, and we started packing!

This was a busy year! Dad and I had covered a lot of ground this spring, but there were a few questions remaining. At the same time, I knew I would be traveling across Canada with my family. When we started to develop a plan for our journey, I factored in a few days south of the border. It was a little tricky to convince my guys that it would be a true adventure, but they were hooked when I showed them the pictures of the gravestones in the middle of the Bolme's field. That, along with the DVD of the TV broadcast, were enough to entice them to go along with my plan.

We headed out with our van, loaded down with everything we'd need to camp every so often. Yes, we had a roof-top carrier, which held our tent and sleeping bags, etc. That left more room inside for us to spread out and enjoy our books and whatever else we had for entertainment. I did encourage the boys to look outside every so often, to see the amazing scenery.

It took 2 days of driving to reach Fargo, which is near the farm we were looking for. I was quite surprised at how quickly the beans had grown since I was there only a few weeks before. We enjoyed visiting Jeff Bolme and his son, and we were sorry to miss meeting Jeff's wife. Dad had wondered if perhaps there was another grave there with Melvina and little Lily, so Jeff offered to help us to probe the ground in the surrounding area. The boys took a turn, too, although we came up empty-handed. Doug and Jeff took some time to straighten up the stones once again, and we were pleased to leave them in good shape. It was good to connect again, and I hope to stay in touch with the Bolmes.

After all of that excitement, we went on to the Mall of America, near Minneapolis. The boys loved it!!! Such a perfect reward for their patience with my little side-excursion. Little did they know, I had another one planned for the following day. We went on to Red Wing, where the Sundell family had settled in the late 1800's. I was thankful for the GPS on that part of the trip, for sure. We went to Vasa (pronounced VAY-sa) to find the Swedish cemetery, and saw many graves of our ancestors. Some of the stones were very unique, indeed. We left there and returned to Red Wing via some dirt roads ... very interesting! The next day, Doug and the boys went to a water park while I visited the County Courthouse and the local Historical Society. I found many source documents, and then a book about the history of the area, which contained a little information about the Sundells. I purchased the book, and was so pleased to have added to our collection of sources.

Once we left Red Wing, it was full speed ahead to the Niagara region. Truly, I was floating on air by now, and couldn't really care if we saw more. Reality was that we had many kilometres to cover, however, so we carried on.

Fast-forward to New Brunswick, where we visited some distant relatives in Fredericton. We had never met, but had corresponded by email. Dr. Gary Waite is my 2nd cousin, 1x removed. He and his wife, Kate Hayward, have a lovely daughter, Eleanor, and we had an amazing evening. It was a little awkward to just show up at their lovely home, but we got on just fine, and had a wonderful visit over dinner and a great deal of wine. The kids all enjoyed their time as well, and we were sorry to have to leave the next day.  We have kept in touch a little, and I sincerely hope our paths cross again one day.

Another big fast-forward in our journey takes us to Ottawa, where we visited friends at their amazing summer cottage. Before we connected with them, however, we happened to come across a farmer's market, where we saw a truck with the logo for McGregor's Produce. What were the chances? Yes, this was the same McGregor family from Mom's side that Dad and I visited with a few years prior. We hunted down their stall at the market, and found a few distant relatives there. They had no idea who we were, and I wasn't great at explaining the connection, but we were all pleased to know we were all family, and it was a welcome coincidental encounter.

Not much else that related to our family history on this very amazing trip, but it was remarkable in a few ways nonetheless. Our boys now have a little taste of what it's all about, and years from now they will still remember the incredible sight of the two white gravestones in the middle of a beanfield.

Monday, 5 September 2011

North Dakota & Minnesota - spring 2007

After a few years, we had amassed quite a collection of facts, but we realized it was time to chase down some real source documents. We hired a consultant named Joan Wieser to help us, and she was a real gem. There were many email messages back and forth, and eventually we felt we were ready to make the trip to North Dakota and Minnesota.

We flew into Winnipeg and rented a car, which we drove down across the border. It was quite an interesting beginning to the trip when we were stopped at the border and our vehicle and all of our belongings were searched. It took about an hour, and we couldn't help but feel a bit like criminals, as we sat in a little room and waited. Eventually we were told we could go, and we proceeded to Langdon, ND.

Sunday June 3, 2007

Checked in at the Langdon Motor Inn (the only place in town?). We phoned Rita Maisel and Wilbur & Joanne McGauvran – they all came to meet us right away. We went to visit the cemetery first, and then drove to the old Waite farmland. We met George and Vernice Balsdon, who live there now, and their place was a bit of a museum, with many pictures and game trophies mounted on the walls. We drove back to town for dinner at the Crossroads – one of two decent places to eat in town! Next to the McGauvrans' place for dessert (strawberry rhubarb pie) and to see a very old bible with many McGauvrans listed inside. We hoped for some solid ties to the Waite family, but no luck.

Monday June 4, 2007

We got up and walked over to the Calvary Cemetery and took photos of the stones.
  • Betsy McGauvran
  • Charles Wait
    William Wait
  • Wait family stone – but nothing specifically for Joseph. Where could he be buried?

Went to the courthouse and had some help going through the indexes, where we found:
  • A second marriage for John E. Arnold!
  • The marriage documents for Jack/Mabel, which we already had
  • Nothing regarding Joseph Wait’s death
  • Found Charles and William Wait
  • Found Mary Bell listed as born in Cypress ND in 1907, not 1904.
  • No record of Lester or Gladys in birth records.
  • County Recorder’s office had already sent the land records to Joan Wieser.

We were directed to the school across the road to access the Catholic Church archives. Jackie Krum (Crumb?) helped us there, and we looked for Joseph in the cemetery records, but nothing was listed there. Just Charles and William. Still not sure if Joseph is buried there! Jackie also took us to look at the records in the vault downstairs, but there was nothing regarding the Waits in there at all. It seems a few years are missing altogether, and we left feeling disappointed.

Next to the library:
  • Dad found a new obituary for Joseph. Says his funeral was at St. Alphonsus Catholic Church. That’s 2 obits now, and both have the same date, so we think it’s fairly accurate, and that might be all we ever find on his death.
  • Rita Maisel hunted us down there and talked to Dad more about the various aspects of the Waite/McGauvran relationship. She can’t prove they’re related, but “just KNOWS they are!” No real proof yet, but nice to know she thinks like we do!
  • Called Adrian Olson, who is the pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Hannah. He didn’t know where the old records were, but suggested we talk to Vera McIntosh, a long-time resident and parishioner. I called her, and talked to her husband Don. He said they’re in a safety deposit box in Langdon, and they’ll have a look next time they’re in town. He also said there is a Centennial Book that might have some notes about the Waite family. I think that’s the book I saw in the library today, and if so, there’s nothing there.
  • We told Vera and Don McIntosh we’d send the copy of Gladys’ birth record so they can see what we’re after. Their contact information is: PO Box 76, Hannah ND 58239. 283-5469 is their phone number.
  • Vera also said we should check the Hannah Moon newspaper, which is available on Microfilm at Bismark’s historical society. She thinks we can borrow it by interlibrary loan – they’ll mail it to us.
  • Phoned Richard Rose (256-5895), who is president of the Cemetery committee, but there was no answer. We would like to ask to have the Wait area at the cemetery probed to see if there are 2 or 3 graves there – they may be able to determine if Joseph is buried there.
  • Need to look for the Oct 6th, 1887 issue of the Courier Democrat newspaper (Langdon ND) to see if there is any obituary for Betsy McGauvran. That could give us another way to tie the McGauvran and Wait families together.

Our work in Langdon was done for now, and we drove to Fargo to check into the Microtel Inn for the night.

Tuesday, June 5

Went to find the university (NDSU) library and were told the genealogical collection has been moved to another building. We found our way there and poked around a lot, but didn’t find much there this morning.

Drove to meet Joan Wieser at the 144 exit, near Christine. From there we went about a mile east and then about 5 miles south to the farm where the gravestones are. We turned left and there were a few people standing in the bean field. Went in and met Jeff Bolme, who is the farmer living there now. We met Joan and her assistant, Jill. The local TV crew was there and they interviewed all of us about it. The story was quite interesting, as there were 2 gravestones in the middle of the bean field. One for John Smith Jr.'s first wife, Melvina, and the other for their young daughter, Lily. The theory is that they may have died from a plague of some kind, so they were buried away from the house so nobody else would catch it. Jeff grew up on the land, and his father always wondered who the Smiths were. He insisted that the family respect the graves, and Jeff was instructed to be careful whenever he drove machinery near the area. Sadly, his father passed away 2 weeks before we called to say we were the missing family he had always wondered about.

After we talked to Jeff about the stones, he gave us directions to the Schmitt cemetery, which is close to his place – about ½ mile east, and then north on the road for about a mile. There are about 20 graves there on the right side of the road near some trees. Lily Smith is buried there, as well as Martha Oleah Smith. Interestingly, Lucie Herrick, who was about Lily’s age and a neighbor, was also in that cemetery. We have a theory that the Herricks were either very good friends from Philadelphia, or may be even related in some way. There was one unmarked grave between Lily and Martha which could be John Smith's, but there is no identifying marker, and the area often floods, so it could have migrated from elsewhere. Although Joan Wieser inquired, we could not get any information from the church that currently maintains the cemetery.

After that, Jeff Bolme took us to another field that is about 2 miles south and a mile west of his place (near the sign saying Ft. Abercrombie is 2 miles south) – there is a tree standing by itself in the field, with a bunch of branches etc piled at the base. In amongst the junk is a piece of a headstone and the footstone. No words are inscribed on it, and the main piece of the stone is missing. We wondered if it might be where John Smith is buried. Jeff also thinks there might be another grave on his property, where the two stones are, and we agreed it’s possible, as there are extra head/footstones.

Next we drove back into Fargo and went for dinner. We invited Jean Pohl to join us, but she preferred to have us meet her later for dessert and coffee at the Radisson, so we did that. Jean is Dad’s second cousin, as she was the daughter of Sallie Lincoln Smith and Jacob Johnson. We had a great visit, and she told us she had heard John Smith was a chemist who made gunpowder in the war. She gave Dad a picture of her mother and Mamie with a few other people. I promised to send her the pictures from today and a printout of the family tree. I’d like to visit with her more some day.

Wednesday, June 8, 2007

Up early again, and off to the NDSU library. I found John Smith in Wahpeton in the 1885 census – could be a different John Smith, but he’s from Switzerland, so I think it’s worth checking. We didn’t really find much else, and we said goodbye to Joan and Jill. Joan had word from her husband that the information from Bismark has arrived in the mail, so she was keen to see what was there. She offered some good advice for how we could proceed with our research.

Dad and I checked out of the hotel and went to the RRVGS library next. We poked around and didn’t find much, but I noticed Fay Littlefield’s email address on the wall and copied it down. I saw that she has written a book on the history of Fort Abercrombie, and think it’s worth staying in touch with her, as she might know something. I’d like to email her and let her know that we saw the stones and that we are still looking for John’s death information.

We made our way to Grand Forks next, and after getting a room, we went to the Chester Fritz library at NDU, as we had been told by Rita Maisel that they have the best collection of information. Certainly they did have good information, and very helpful staff. I think we could easily ask for assistance in the future. They have a special copier there that doesn’t damage the big plat books, and we used that. They also had a full subscription to Ancestry, which we used to find a few new things, including Isabella Mason’s family in the 1851 census! I also tried to track her brother Robert, and may or may not have found him later. We found Jacob Johnson’s land at Pine Lake MN, and copied that page for tomorrow/Friday.

Thursday, June 7

Back to the library early in the morning, and found a few things, but nothing really all that great. I took some extra time to look for Doug’s family (Rice, Iverson) in the system and found Simon and Barbara Rice in 3-4 census’ and then found Simon’s land application info.

I told Dad I wanted to take an hour to just shop and relax, so he had a nap in the car. Then we went to Best Buy, and I found a voice recorder. It was my intention to use it for various interviews, or even just to have on while we drove in the car, but I never did really use it, as it felt a bit too intrusive or awkward. I do wish I had more details of many of the stories, however, and regret that I didn't make better use of it.

On the drive from Grand Forks to Bemidji, it poured rain most of the way. We arrived in Fosston which is in Polk County and realized that’s where Simon and Barbara Rice lived at one time. There is a historical society there, and we wanted to get back to it the next day, but that didn't happen. We were near to Jacob Johnson’s land and the Smith land. Polk, Clearwater, and Beltrami counties are much closer together than we realized, and some day I will likely return to poke around some more.

We drove around Bemidji and found the historical society in an old train station. Then we found a room for the night and went to a recommended family-run Italian restaurant – it was nice, as dad and I were both getting sick of the chain restaurants!

Friday, June 08, 2007

Today we had our work cut out for us: The courthouse and the local university library opened at 8, the historical society was open 10-4, and the other historical society for Clearwater county was open at 10 as well. We planned to drive to see the farms, too. Clear day today, so conditions will be good for viewing.

First we went to the courthouse, but they sent us to the new County Administration building. We found some birth registrations and some information about Otto’s land foreclosure. There was a legal document as well as a newspaper clipping, so we took copies. I photographed some of the items, and we decided that was all we’d find there. Next we went to the old train station and visited the historical society, which was disappointing – not only was the lady not helpful and not that friendly, there wasn’t much of anything to find there.

After lunch we drove back to Shevlin, where the old Clearwater County information was, and that was a little better. We found some little news tidbits in the Gonvick newspaper that was on microfilm there. One item said Otto and another fellow had gone to scout out the Saskatchewan situation, and the newspaper said they planned to move there. A few months later another edition of the paper said Otto had left that week. Not sure about Alice and the kids, as Dan had just been born that week. Tamara supervised the facility – she was helpful, and we took her card in case we needed to be in touch again later. We also found out which cemetery to visit for the Johnsons’ graves.

Next we went to search for the Immanuel Cemetery near Aure, and it was near where the old town used to be. Interestingly, there is not one thing left to indicate it was ever a town. We took pictures of the graves and then went to find Otto’s land. It was not an ideal place to settle, and appeared to be very difficult land to work. We agreed that Otto was not great at choosing land! Here it was all treed and rocky, and must have been very difficult for them to make a life here.

From there we went to Gonvick, and found the Johnson graves at the Lutheran Church before going to find where their land was near Pine Lake. Much nicer land around there!

We drove as far as Thief River Falls and found a Super 8 for the night. We got quite skilled at finding reasonably priced accommodation that had breakfast and wireless internet included!

When we got back to Winnipeg the next day, we had a little time before our flight, so we called Johnnie Shewchuk, and he came to meet us for lunch and a good visit. He was so pleased to share news about some work and special acknowledgments he had received at the university recently. We were sorry not to have enough time to go and see for ourselves, but it was good to at least have a visit over lunch.

All in all, it was a wonderful trip, but as always, we were left with a few loose ends to tackle in the future. We were so very pleased with the work Joan Wieser had done – even though we did not get the results we were after, it was certainly not for lack of trying, and we agreed her skills were amazing.

Ottawa, Ontario 2003: The Archives & beyond!

After mailing away for various certificates and having some success with most branches of the family, we realized that we could access more information if we visited the National Archives, which are located in Ottawa. We talked a little about it in the spring, and husband made sure it happened by giving me the gift of a trip to Ottawa for my birthday.

Dad and I gathered our notes and sorted out what we needed in order to make the best of our research time. We found a great suite hotel, about 2 blocks from the archives, and then realized the Anglican Church archives were in the same area, which was a great bonus. A few families in our tree migrated through Ontario, so there were many records to search for: the Waites, Stevensons, Mays, Manhards, Masons, and Arnolds, to name a few.

This was our first major trip, and we had a lot to learn about this type of research. First, some places were closed on the days we visited. We didn't anticipate that, but such is life. We did well, however, as the hotel was near to the archives, and had a kitchen, so we could rest whenever we needed to, and there was plenty of room to spread out our notes in the living room. We rented a vehicle, and drove for many hours through various towns, checking municipal records and visiting cemeteries.

The staff at the archives were very helpful, and were always patient with us. We found a few new bits of information, and although some of it was not really great “source” info, it was quite interesting at times. For example, we found some correspondence between Benedict Arnold and his sister, Hannah, a spinster who raised the children from his first marriage as well as his illegitimate son, John Sage Arnold. His second wife apparently wanted nothing to do with these children, and it sounded as though Hannah was quite happy to have them. We were hoping to find some evidence of who John's mother was, but no such luck. There were some theories, however, such as the possibility that she was the daughter of a wealthy ship captain who was based in New Brunswick for awhile. We will likely never know for sure.

We also found a helpful fellow at the Anglican archives, who helped us search for more of the Waite family, although we came up empty handed. I purchased a copy of a photo of the original church where Joseph Waite and Isabella Mason were married, as the church had burned down years ago. We knew where they were married, had their parents' names, and the names of the witnesses, and now could better visualize the event.

We also visited Smiths Falls, and were sorry to find that we could not access any source records there, but pleased to find a cemetery where a few of the Arnolds were buried. We also happened to find Thomas Foster and the infant Foster son, Willie, who were the “other” family of Mary Manhard. Who knew she had been married twice?! We learned that John Sage Arnold was buried at Leheigh Cemetery, in Kitley, Leeds County, but we did not have enough time to go there. I hope to find someone through RAOGK to take a photo for me some day.

Another day we drove to Cornwall, and again were disappointed, as the one place we thought we could possibly find out some information about the Waite family was closed. We drove around and noticed the Catholic church, which was near the historical society, but again, nobody was available to talk to us. A lesson learned! A few years later, when I visited the area while driving across Canada with my family, we stopped in while they were open, but still found no helpful information. Our only hope now is the church, which was not open either time I was there.

From there, we drove towards Quebec, and up around the eastern part of Ontario (Glengarry, Prescott, Vankleek Hill, and Alfred), checking out the occasional cemetery and chatting to people along the way. We found a historical society which was mainly concerned with the King's Royal Regiment of New York (KRRNY), a military lead which we hoped would give us the proof we needed to link our Waite ancestors to the “old” Waites, but we were not able to get what we were after. It was a nice day for a drive, at least, and although it was a bit frustrating to come away empty-handed, we enjoyed the journey.

We took a day to explore Mom's side of the family, the Stevensons and the Mays, and went to visit the family members who still live in the Ottawa Valley. Noreen & Steve McGregor live at Glenroy Farm, a fabulous Bed & Breakfast, which is also home to McGregor's Produce. A few years later, when Doug and I drove across Canada with the boys, we ran across some of the family at the farmer's market in Ottawa. Very cool encounter!

When Dad and I went to meet the family, they were so hospitable. We met up at Bonnie Jane's Scone & Bookshop in Arnprior, which was owned by the McGregors' daughter, Janie Birkens. After a bite of lunch and some tea, Noreen took us around to see many of the sights, including, of course, a cemetery, where we took photos of the stones for Elizabeth Lytle, and many of the Mays and Stevensons. She also took us back to their farm, which was so beautiful, and decorated for the autumn season with many pumpkins, etc. That part of the family tree is quite solid, as there are still family members living in the area, and they shared many wonderful stories with us.

Overall, it was a super trip, as we were able to cover so much ground. It may be some time before we are able to tie the “old Waites” to the new ones, but hopefully it happens some day.We realized at some point that many of the records we sought were only available in Toronto, at the provincial archives. That trip is one we hope to make in 2012.

One day when the archives were closed, we took off in our rental vehicle, a Toyota Highlander, and covered as much ground as possible. We drove south to Brockville, which was called Elizabethtown many years ago, and stumbled upon the Manhard Cemetery. Across the street was the Manhard United Church, too. We spent a lot of time there, taking pictures and wishing we had better supplies to clean off the gravestones, as many were discoloured and partially covered with moss. Some were illegible, and others were in good shape. We didn't know how some of the names fit into our tree, so I took as many notes as possible, and snapped many photos.

Friday, 12 August 2011

Swift Current

Alan, Doug, Blanche (kneeling), and Kelli

In the early days of our research, we wondered if there were other family around who might have stories to share. One day, we talked about the Smith and Waite homesteads in SW Saskatchewan, and realized there might still be some family there. Dad remembered that Doris Thoreson lived in Swift Current, and we checked the online phone book to discover that there were a couple of Waites in that area as well. We decided to just phone them up and hope for a friendly response. I found the name and number for Doug Waite, and Dad dialed the number. As luck would have it, Doug was there, and welcomed our call.
Don Smith & Doris Thoreson

We found out that Doug's brother Alan lived nearby, and that they stayed in touch with Doris. We were really encouraged by this news, and decided to drive out to visit. Dad talked to Doris as well, and she invited us to come to her place, and said she would invite the others to come and meet us.

The five hour drive was just great. This was our first road trip, and Dad told me many stories along the way. I now wish that I had a voice recorder and that is something I say every time we go on a trip. I suppose that would perhaps stifle the conversation to some extent. We passed through Medicine Hat, and talked about some of the good old times with Lyle and Marg Smith, who had lived there for many years, and had raised their family there.

We arrived at Doris' place in the afternoon, and spent a little time getting acquainted. She had searched through some of her things, and had a few letters from my grandmother, Gladys, to share with us. So comforting to see that handwriting after so many years! We shared some of the results from our research, and took notes about Doris' extended family to add to our tree when we returned home.

Alan Waite was busy, but Doug and Blanche Waite joined us, and told us about their families. They also brought along some wonderful photographs, and encouraged us to take them home to scan them, as their daughter Angela lived nearby me in Calgary, so they said I could just drop them off to her afterward. How exciting to learn that there were more relatives living close to us, and in addition, I learned she was a writer! Her brother still lived near Cabri, and helped to farm the family's land.

Dad took us all out for a nice dinner, and although we had intended to stay overnight at a motel, Doris insisted we stay with her. We rested well, and the next morning we said farewell to Doris and drove to Cabri to Doug and Blanche's lovely home. They clearly treasure the past, as there were many photographs of the homestead and some of the farm implements, and they had a framed copy of the auction from when the Waite family left the homestead in the dirty 30's and moved north. We talked about how sad that must have been for the Waites, as they had worked so hard to build a life there, and like so many others, they had to literally walk away from everything. We have one picture of the wagon train as the family left their home.

Fortunately for us, Doug and Blanche live near to the old homestead, and they know the current owners of the land. We had permission to go onto the land and to poke around the remaining buildings, which were in poor shape, but still standing. How exciting!!

We went for a drive and before going to the land, we visited the Bestville Cemetery and the Verlo Cemetery, where a few family members were buried. First we discovered Mary Belle Waite's grave (died 1918), and then Bella Waite (died 1920). Mary Belle was my grandmother's sister, and had died as a young lady. Family lore says she was the favourite, and that Gladys and brother Lester were not treated as well by their parents, Jack and Mabel. We did not expect to find Joseph Mason Waite (died 1939) or Robert Waite (died 1957). Another surprise was to discover the grave of Mabel's father, John Arnold (died 1924), who was the great-grandson of the infamous Benedict Arnold. We took some pictures and signed the guest book, and hit the road again.

We drove onto the old Waite land, and took our time looking around. I hung on to every word, as the Waites and my Dad talked about how life would have been for the family in those early days. You could see where the old machine shed had been, and there was a small shed still standing. Some old rusty implements were lying around, and we wandered over to the big barn, where the windmill still stood. Near the barn was the base of the ice house, and we guessed at where the house had been. An old rusty bedspring lay abandoned in the field, and we recalled a photo of Grandma Smith (Gladys) sitting on it, so I took a shot of dad in a similar pose. After awhile we decided we'd seen all there was to see., and we went on to Hazlet, where the Smiths had farmed.

The Smith land was at the edge of Hazlet. There were no buildings left on that land, but we saw the grove of trees that would have been planted as a windbreak, and imaged how it might have looked in those days.